Getting ready to go abroad and understanding international travel basics is very important. Planning to be abroad is important too. This information will help you to prepare.
- Getting abroad
- Arrival in country
- While abroad
- Communication abroad
- Preparing to travel back to the United States
- Returning home
Passports and visas
To travel internationally, you will need a passport. Your passport is a document that identifies you as a citizen of the United States. If you need to apply for a passport, the application, requirements, and process can be found on the U.S. Department of State website.
Apply as soon as possible. Passport processing time can vary depending on the time of year but can typically take anywhere between six to twelve weeks (sometimes more). Apply early to ensure that you have sufficient time to apply for a visa, when required. Expedited processing is available for an additional fee. Once you receive your passport, check to be sure the information is accurate. Then sign it immediately because it is not valid until signed.
Passport applications may be submitted to either:
- Register of Deeds Office in the Isabella County Building (located at 200 N. Main Street in Mount Pleasant) or
- Mount Pleasant Post Office by appointment-only (located at 813 North Main Street) or
- Passport office in your hometown.
If you already have a passport, check the expiration date. Most countries require that your passport be valid for at least six months beyond the end date of your program.
Before leaving the U.S., it is strongly recommended that you make at least two copies of your passport (one to take with you and one to leave at home). Should your passport be lost or stolen while abroad, it will expedite the process to have the copy to present to the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate to apply for a replacement.
A visa is permission from a foreign government to enter their country and remain for a specified period of time to study, intern or visit. Please be aware that it is the traveler's responsibility to apply for a visa when it is required. Research the entry requirements of your host country right away and, when required to apply for a visa, submit your application as early as possible (typically 90 days prior to departure).
The visa application requirements and the processing times vary greatly from country to country. It may be possible to mail the application (use trackable mail only!) or you may be required to drop it off in person or through the use of a visa service. Once granted, the visa will be stamped in your passport and the passport will be returned to you.
Note to students who are not U.S. Citizens: Visa requirements may be different for citizens of other countries. You must contact the nearest consulate for the destination country here in the United States to inquire about applying for a visa based on your citizenship. You may also check the visa application webpage of the country's consulate located in your home country for the requirements. Be sure to inquire if there are any special procedures you must follow to apply for a visa while in the U.S.
In addition, make an appointment with your International Student Advisor to discuss your immigration status while studying abroad and the necessary paperwork to re-enter the U.S.
FBI identity history summary check (background check)
Certain countries require an FBI Identity History Summary Check when applying for a visa. This process may take up to twelve weeks, so it is important to begin early. Also note, this process is not free and you will be required to pay a fee (see their website for the most up to date cost). There are 3 options on how to submit your application:
- Electronically submit your request
- Mail your request directly to the FBI
- FBI-approved Channeler
- An FBI-approved Channeler is a private business that has contracted with the FBI to submit your request on your behalf.
Additional information about this option can be found on the FBI website.
Booking a flight
Most students participating in study abroad programs are required to make their own travel arrangements. Here are some tips:
- Wait until you are accepted by CMU AND the host institution before purchasing airfare
- Acceptance letters typically confirm the date on which you must arrive. If it is possible to arrive earlier, this information will be included
- The cheapest option is not always the best option!
- Make your reservation through a travel agent or through the airline directly. Websites may have good prices but may be difficult to contact if you need to change your flight and want to talk to a customer service representative
- Whenever possible, choose a direct flight
- Alternatively, if direct is not available/too costly, choose the itinerary with the least number of stops and connecting flights
- With flight delays being so common, each additional stop increases the chances of missing your next connection and delaying your arrival by one or more days
- Purchase a round-trip ticket. Many countries require proof of a return flight; they may not issue your visa or allow you to enter with a one-way ticket.
- Review the refund and change of date policy when purchasing your airfare. It is very common for students to change their travel plans before coming home
- It is recommended that you consider purchasing travel insurance through the airline or travel agent. Be sure to read what the policy will cover expenses (e.g., lost baggage, change of travel dates for covered reasons, etc.)
- Typically, you will need to check-in online 24 hours in advance for your flight
- Shop around! Spend some time checking with different airlines before settling on a ticket. A website to get you started that works with students is studentuniverse.com
- You may also contact the airline directly or work with a travel agent
- Never pack essentials (documents/computers/medicine/money or bank cards) in your checked luggage.
- Be sure to put them in your carry-on bag.
- Before you begin packing, take some time to consider what you must take with you.
- Do not take valuables with you that could be lost, stolen or damaged during your travels.
- Leave items at home that have monetary or sentimental value to you.
- Mark all luggage, inside and out, with your name and address.
- Mark your checked bags in some distinctive way (i.e. bright colored tag or ribbon), so they are easily spotted.
- Travel light; it is safer and easier.
- Airlines limit the weight of a suitcase or have an overweight luggage fee that can be costly. Check with your airline for full details on restrictions.
- Read the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) website for details and updates.
Arrival in country
Immigration and customs inspections
Once you arrive in your host country, you will be required to go through Passport Control and Customs. Have your passport ready, any arrival documents given to you to complete on the plane, and, when required, proof of immunizations. It is important to be respectful and cooperative as you proceed through this process. The immigration official will check your documents and stamp your passport to approve entry.
Once you proceed through immigration, you will collect your luggage and go through customs. It is not unusual to have your luggage opened and searched. Your luggage may even be x-rayed. It is also possible that you will be simply waived through without having your luggage searched at all.
- U.S. Customs and Border Protection: provides information regarding regulations when traveling to and from the United States
- Transportation Security Administration: provides current information on regulations and restrictions on transportation, including air travel
DO NOT MAKE ANY JOKES ABOUT BOMBS OR SMUGGLED ITEMS. This is taken very seriously by security officials and even joking about this will cause you serious delays.
Getting from the airport to the program
On your own. Some programs will expect you to get from the airport to the program on your own (bus, train, taxi). You will receive instructions about how to do so by email from the host institution. Be sure to carry those instructions with you.
Airport pick-up. Some programs will have someone to meet you or offer airport pick-up or arrange for taxi service for you. It is usually necessary to sign-up for this service if you want to be picked up, so be sure to submit all necessary travel information by the stated deadline.
What if your flight is delayed? If your arrival is delayed and you miss the pick-up service, carry the instructions with you about how to get to the host institution on your own. Be prepared to pay for the transportation in local currency (can typically exchange money in the airport).
Confirmation of arrival
Once you arrive and have settled in, be sure to contact your family to confirm your safe arrival. Before you depart, be sure to let your family know you may not be able to call immediately after landing and ask them to allow 24-48 hours for you to be in touch. You may not have internet access at the airport or immediately once in your accommodation.
We recommend that you leave your family and/or friends your flight itinerary. They can use that information to check the airline website to see that the plane arrived safely.
Shortly after arriving at your destination, please log into your online My Study Abroad account and fill in your overseas contact information under "Address Abroad”. This will ensure we have the correct contact information in case of an emergency.
Balancing study and free time
It is very exciting to be abroad and natural to want to explore new places and cultures. It is important to remember that your primary purpose for participating in a study abroad program is to study which means attending classes and completing your coursework. Other goals that you may want to achieve and get out of your study abroad experience are also important, but you will need to balance your academic, co-curricular, and personal goals. Global and intercultural learning is an important aspect of study abroad that takes place both in the context of your structured program (class, internship, research projects, etc.) as well as during your time exploring and making new friends.
Be sure to consider your schoolwork when planning your excursions. Remember, all courses taken abroad are for academic credit and will be counted in your CMU GPA. A great way to incorporate travel into your study abroad experience is to visit local sites during the regular term and travel to distant places during school breaks or after your program has ended.
Tips for balancing study and free time
Create a study schedule
- Get to know the expectations, schedule, and assignments listed in your course syllabi
- A daily schedule to manage your workload in a new academic context and new life may be very helpful in managing your class and study time and free time for cultural exploration and fun
Partner up with a study group
- Find a study group to join or take the initiative to create one
- A study group will help you to adjust to the new academic environment, feel less lonely, and be part of a support group during those times you will need to prioritize study
- Study groups are also good opportunities for intercultural learning as you work with new colleagues at the university who can help you navigate the teaching and student culture
- It is helpful to have a colleague in your classes that you can trust to help keep you on track when the going gets rough. You can do the same for them too!
Make your extra-curricular travel intentional
- Learning is always intentional! While studying abroad, you will be surrounded by a wealth of cultural and intercultural learning as well as personal growth opportunities
- Do your research and try to intentionally plan free time explorations so you can get the most out of your experience abroad
Making time to relax and spend time with friends.
- You are abroad to primarily study and learn, but it is equally important to make time for rest, relaxation, and simply ‘taking it all in”
Exercising and eating healthy
- Exercising and eating healthy will help you be more focused in your classes and have more energy
- It can also help to calm your nerves and lower your stress levels
- You may consider joining a gym or intramural sports
Once you arrive at your program location, you may wish to independently explore the country or region. You will find that there may be multiple ways to undertake your exploration with varying levels of cost. Local public transportation systems are usually the most cost-effective alternative.
There may be several options for public transportation at your destination: local buses, trams, subway and monorail, passenger ferries, and, of course, taxis and ride-hailing services. Do some research on local and regional transportation before you set out on the program so that you know what to expect.
Major international airlines may offer flights within a specific country or region. However, it is usually the case that major international airlines charge higher airfare. There may be reputable regional airlines (e.g., in Europe, regional carriers are Ryan Air and Easy Jet) that offer low-cost, no-frills flights to major destinations. When making an airline reservation abroad, keep the following points in mind:
- Be aware that regional carriers will generally have stricter luggage rules relative to major international and US carriers (e.g., charge for checked luggage, one carry-on item, etc.)
- Be sure to check the baggage rules, including carry-on, in advance
- Confirm the airport name (as opposed to the city name) that your flight will fly into. Don’t assume that you will fly into a city’s major airport and may instead fly into a regional airport.
- Be sure to research transportation options at your arrival airport.
- Whenever possible secure transportation from the airport into town ahead of time.
- Read the “fine print” before booking a ticket regarding delays, rebooking, cancelation, and refunds.
As opposed to the United States, trains are a convenient and relatively inexpensive (sometimes cheaper than air travel) form of travel within many countries or a region in many parts of the world. Some train systems may even provide student discounts (when you show your student ID) that will make the exploration of the destination country more accessible for you.
Some tips that may help you with rail travel:
- You may need to purchase a ticket in advance, with a reserved seat, to ensure that you have a place on the train. Some train systems may require you to purchase a ticket as well as a separate seat reservation.
- Be sure to ask what is required when making your purchase.
- Limit the amount of luggage you take. This will make train transfers with a limited amount of time and stairs to climb much easier.
- Large suitcases can typically be stored in luggage racks at either end of the train car but will be out of your sight.
- Luggage racks above your seat will be small and hold carry-on-size luggage.
In many major cities, subway systems offer a convenient and inexpensive way to get around. In many systems, you will be able to purchase a single-use ticket or a pass that will allow you unlimited use of the subway for a specific time (day, week, or month). Some cities will also have student discounts that you may be able to take advantage of by presenting your University I.D. at the time of purchase.
In many cities, underground (subway) and overground transportation systems may have their local often unique names. In Paris, the subway system is called the Metro, while in London it is called the Underground (colloquially referred to as the Tube), which is distinguished from the London Overground, a suburban rail network serving London and its suburbs); the Berlin underground system is called U-Bahn. Some transportation systems are referred to by the systems initials: in Bangkok, it is called the BTS Skytrain (Bangkok Mass Transit System) or just Skytrain.
Some things to keep in mind when using the subway/overground system:
- Hours of operation.
- Carry your subway ticket with you
- In some systems, such as Vienna or Rabat’s Tram System, which do not have a gated entrance system, you are required to have your subway pass at all times when using the system; police officers may request to check its validity at any time
- If you don’t have a subway pass, you may be fined on the spot or taken to the subway system’s main station to be issued a citation
- In some systems, such as Berlin’s, you must validate your ticket before boarding. Typically, the machine that validates your ticket is on the platform. An unvalidated ticket could result in a fine
- Pay attention to your upcoming stop. In some systems, doors close fairly quickly, and you may miss your opportunity to disembark
- Pay attention to the process of boarding and disembarking from the train
- In some countries, like England and Japan, the boarding process is highly ordered; those getting ready to board the incoming train line up and do not board until passengers disembarking have exited the train
- In other places, this process may be relatively disorganized and a bit chaotic
- Observe local customs around noise level and the appropriateness of offering your seat to others
- Be aware of the opportunity for pickpocketing in crowded subway trains
If you are in a city, bus systems may be extensive. However, if you live in the suburbs, buses may not run as often, and you may have to find alternative methods to get around. Most city bus systems offer smartphone apps that allow you to keep track of when your next bus is coming, which can be extremely useful.
Licensed taxis and ride-hailing services (Uber, Lyft, and their local versions)
Taxis and ride-hailing services may be the most convenient modes of transportation but may also be the mode of transportation that will have the most impact on your budget.
CMU strongly discourages students from driving in a foreign country. Rules of the road may be different. For example, in some countries, you may have to drive on the opposite side of the road from where you normally drive, which may make driving more challenging and potentially dangerous. You may also be required to obtain a local driver’s license or International Driver’s License, and you will be subject to all local driving laws and penalties. You will need to purchase insurance coverage in a foreign country.
Before you leave, check with your phone provider to make sure that your phone can be used internationally.
Research international travel plan
- Contact your cell phone provider to decide the best way to arrange your phone plan. Every company will provide different levels of coverage for other countries, so it is important to determine if your current phone and/or plan will work abroad.
- If your phone/plan will not work internationally, it might be cost-effective to purchase a temporary international travel phone with service at your destination.
Replace your SIM card
- You may find it cheaper and easier to use your phone by purchasing a SIM card in-country. SIM cards can usually be easily transferred from one mobile device to another. It will mean that you will also get a new, local phone number.
Turn off your cellular data
- If you decide that an international phone plan is too expensive, be sure you turn off roaming and data on your phone when you are abroad. This will limit both the use of the battery of your phone, as well as the extra charges that may occur if your phone goes into roaming.
- Turning on your WIFI option will let you connect to local WIFI spots. While this may limit your tools of communication, it will be an effective way to keep your overall cost down.
If you lose your phone abroad
- Activate the “Find My Phone” feature.
- Use a roommate or friend’s phone to call yours.
- Retrace your steps.
- Contact your current phone carrier.
If you are not able to find your phone
- Change passwords, especially for those apps and websites on your phone that give access to important information (banking and other personal information).
- Remote erase your phone (you will want to contact your current phone carrier for information on how to do this)
Ways to prevent your phone from being lost
- Make sure you activate the lock code on your phone.
- Ensure your “Find my Phone” and “Lost Phone” modes have been activated to use in case your phone is lost or stolen.
- Back up your phone before you travel. This will help in the case of a lost phone and transferring your data to a new one.
- Contact your current phone carrier to see if they offer any international insurance programs.
Before travel, ensure you have a hard copy list of emergency contacts (in case you do not have access to your phone for whatever reason).
- Know what the equivalent of 911 is in whatever country you are studying.
- Know where the nearest US Embassy or Consulate is located--at your program location or while you are traveling--and their contact information.
Preparing to travel back to the United States
- Confirm your return flight with the airline.
- Download the airline’s app to receive texts about your flight. The time of departure can change so be sure to have the latest information. Be sure to confirm that you will be on the flight.
- U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Duties and Tariffs
- When you return to the United States, you will need to declare any souvenirs or gifts that you purchased while you were abroad. There is a monetary limit on the amount of goods you can bring into the United States, without paying taxes. All items that you either purchased or acquired while abroad will have to be declared on the declaration form you will be given to complete on the return flight that you will hand to a U.S. Customs official after landing.
For further information and monetary limits, you can review the U.S. Customs' publication Know Before You Go.
- Readjusting to life in the United States after spending time abroad can take time. This time period is the re-entry phase of the cultural adjustment curve.
- Just as you may have experienced some culture shock while adjusting to your host country, you may experience what is known as reverse culture shock when you return to the United States. You may be slow in re-acclimating to your life at home or find yourself more easily frustrated with the way things work. Though it can be challenging, know that these feelings are absolutely normal! The resources listed below are intended to help you readjust to life in the United States.
- CMU Counseling Center – CMU offers free and confidential counseling services for currently enrolled students. If you find yourself needing to talk to someone in a confidential manner, there are counselors that are able to assist.
- What's Up with Culture? – This website offers great information and resources about the adjustment to life at home after being abroad. To access this information, click on the 'Module 2 – Welcome Back! Now What?' folder on the left column.
- Life After Study Abroad – This website, hosted by StudyAbroad.com, offers a variety of articles about reverse culture shock, adjusting to home, and ways to process your study abroad experience.
- Many students find that the best way to get past their reverse culture shock is to share their experiences with others! Luckily, there are many opportunities for you to do this while on campus at CMU.
- Attend re-entry events! These are a great way to meet and talk with other students who recently returned from abroad. You can share stories and hear about what others did abroad.
- Consider getting involved with the International Club. You may enjoy spending time with a student from the country or region where you studied. You also can be a great resource for new international students, as you understand the adjustments they are going through as they begin their time at CMU.
- Volunteer at the Study Abroad Fair. Held every September, volunteers are usually needed to talk about their programs to prospective students. It's a great way to talk about your experience abroad with people who are very interested in hearing about it!
- Submit photos and videos to be used in Study Abroad promotional items. We are always in need of photos and videos; we use them in our printed promotional materials as well as in our social media posts. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org (be sure to include your name, the country you studied in, your major and where you are in the picture).
- Employers today want employees with international perspectives and cultural competency. Your study abroad experience gives you an edge on these things in a competitive job market. If you aren't sure how to translate your time abroad into your resume and cover letter, check out these resources:
- CMU Career Development Center – The CMU Career Services office is located in Ronan 240. They offer walk-in advising on resumes and career guidance. You can also set up an appointment online with a career coach. They can help you maximize your study abroad experience when getting ready for the next steps after graduation.
- AIFS Student Guide to Study Abroad & Career Development – This guide offers great tips for marketing your study abroad experience and creating a toolkit of your newly acquired skills.
- Effective Marketing of your Study Abroad Experience to Employers - StudyAbroad.com offers this great resource for identifying your new cultural competencies and how you can use those in resumes and interviews.
Go abroad again
- If you loved your time abroad, consider going again! There is no limit to how many times you can study abroad. Consider another program for a different length of time or search the different faculty-led programs available. Check out our program program search to see where else you can go!
- If you'd like a different type of international experience, consider doing an internship abroad! Internships are another great way to explore a new country, receive credit and boost your resume for post-graduation employment.
- Consider looking at master's programs abroad. Many students elect to pursue graduate degrees in another country. This can also give you a leg up in the job market and allow you to spend an extended amount of time in another country.
- Teach English Abroad
- In many countries, speaking English is becoming a necessity for competing in the global job market. This has created a demand for English teachers abroad, particularly native English-speaking teachers.
- To teach abroad, most positions will require a bachelor's degree and a foreign language teaching credential. The acronyms for these credentials vary, but the most common are:
- TEFL: Teaching English as a Foreign Language
- EFL: English as a Foreign Language
- TESL: Teaching English as a Second Language
- ESL: English as a Second Language
- TESOL: Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages
- CIEE Teach Abroad
- CIEE will help place you into a teaching position abroad and secure the necessary certification and visas. They currently place teachers in China, Thailand and Chile.
- Peace Corps
- If you have a passion for volunteerism and want to combine that with your love of travel, consider the Peace Corps.
- The Peace Corps is a volunteer program funded by the U.S. government. Peace Corps volunteers undergo two months of training before being placed in a work site abroad for a period of two years.
- Most Peace Corps volunteers work in developing countries in fields related to social and economic development; placements can be in government, schools, non-profits, NGOs, businesses, IT, agriculture, environmental preservation and healthcare.
- For more information visit the Peace Corps website.
- Fulbright Program
- The Fulbright U.S. Student Program is the largest U.S. exchange program offering opportunities for students and young professionals to undertake international graduate study, advanced research, university teaching, and primary and secondary school teaching worldwide. The program currently awards approximately 2,000 grants annually in all fields of study and operates in more than 140 worldwide.
- A graduating CMU student has won a Fulbright grant nearly every year for the past five years. For more information, visit the CMU National Scholarship website and/or contact Dr. Maureen Harke at email@example.com.