Practicalities when studying abroad

Posted on 5th September 2023

Are you thinking of studying in the US or abroad, or have you already accepted an offer from an overseas university? It’s a time to feel excited about all the opportunities that await you, but it’s also good to take some precautions to make sure your experience goes as smoothly as possible. Below are some important points to keep in mind before you jet off.

1- Visa and passport

One big thing you’ll want to get sorted before leaving for abroad is your student visa, and your passport. In order to study abroad, you will need a visa (immigration permission), unless you are a dual citizen and hold a passport for the country in which you will be studying. For international students going to the US, the visa you’ll need is called a F-1 visa. You can read information about this type of visa here . Your university should give you information about obtaining the visa you need, and you can always reach out to their international student centre if you need further assistance.

If your passport isn’t valid for the time you’re studying plus an additional six months, you should arrange to get this renewed. Generally, you can do so within a few weeks, usually via the post, but sometimes there can be delays and you may have to pay an extra charge and/or attend a meeting in person if you need a new passport very quickly.

2- Phone SIM cards

Look into the best SIM cards for where you're going, ideally which allow you to phone home for very little as well as make calls within the country. Know what you're going to get before you arrive. Try to find SIM cards with deals for phoning your country of origin. WhatsApp is great for calling and messaging via wifi/data, and Skype is also a good option, as it has a call function you can add as an app in your phone. You can subscribe to make calls to UK mobiles and landlines from the US for less than £10 per month.

More recently eSIMS have been created, which you can instal into your phone in place of or in addition to a physical SIM. This allows you to have cheap data or calls when abroad, and still keep your UK number if you want to.

3- Banking

Make sure you have a debit card (or ideally two) that allows you to get money out and pay for things without any foreign transaction fees. Exchanging cash is generally a bad idea, but it’s prudent to have a small amount with you when you arrive.

Before leaving the UK, you can get a Monzo bank card, which you can use in the US and EU without exchange fees. A Wise account also allows you or a family member to transfer money between currencies without fees. It’s worth the extra time to set these up before leaving, as using your UK bank for international purchases and transfers can be extremely expensive, and not a sustainable way to manage your finances whilst studying abroad. Also, make sure you have a backup for money if your card stops working. Once you’ve arrived at your destination, you may be able to set up an account as a student with a local bank. This will save you lots of hassle (and money!) in the long run.

4- Local customs

Read and learn about local customs before you arrive. Speak to nationals of that country and ask them what annoys them about visitors! Learning cultural differences is one thing that makes studying abroad such a fun and valuable experience. Do a little research ahead of time to make sure your transition is as smooth as possible. For example, British society tends to be reserved, and people rarely phrase their opinions in a direct or confrontational manner. However, other cultures may express themselves more directly, without meaning to be rude or aggressive! Knowing this beforehand can prevent you from taking things like this personally and having your feelings hurt. Being aware of other things, like etiquette and different words for things within English-speaking countries, is also a good idea. Whilst you have some time to learn the local language in non-English speaking countries, it’s good to learn a few phrases before arriving: even those who speak English will be pleased you’re making an effort at communicating in the local language.

5- Housing

Make sure you have looked into the housing offerings of your university, as this can vary quite a bit country to country. Most universities in the US provide housing, at least for the first year, but Dutch universities don’t usually do this. Finding housing in major Dutch cities can be competitive, so students will need to set aside time to arrange this before the beginning of the school year.

Even if housing is provided, you’ll want to know if you’ll need your own furniture and bedding, for example, and whether small appliances like a kettle, microwave, and/or refrigerator are allowed. Even things like how much closet space is provided will help you pack well for move-in day!

Making the decision to study abroad is one that will set you up for a great adventure, and an experience you’ll never forget. By taking a few steps to ensure you’re prepared for your adventure, you can avoid unpleasant surprises and focus on all the fun.

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