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Preparing to Go Abroad

Pre-Departure Information

preparation for departure

© 2004 IAU

Students are likely to have many questions during their preparations for studying or traveling abroad. Listed below are some of the most common questions and concerns. Click on a question below to view the suggestions we make for each topic.

What should I pack?
What kind of money should I carry abroad?
Should I plan to use a cell phone?
Where should I go to check e-mail and use computers?
Should I bring my laptop computer?
Will I need a voltage adapter for using electronics?
What safety precautions should I take?
Do I need additional immunizations?
How can I meet new people?
Why should I be aware of news and events of the country where I am going?
What media sources can I consult to stay informed about news and events?



Pack light! During the semester, students tend to accumulate a lot of things without realizing it. Plan for all types of weather and bring clothes that can be layered to avoid carrying around extra weight.

Here is a list of things to pack that students often forget:

  • Gift for Host Family
  • Additional Copy of all Important Documents
  • Guide Book
  • Pocket Dictionary
  • Backpack for Weekend Traveling
  • Journal
  • Money Belt
  • Prescription Medicine (for ENTIRE stay & copy of prescription receipt)
  • Small Umbrella
  • Family Photos
  • Alarm Clock
  • Converter

Money Matters

It is best to take a credit card or an ATM card with a credit card logo. Travelers typically receive the best exchange rates when making purchases with an ATM/credit card. In addition, money can be directly withdrawn from US bank accounts using an ATM card. A small processing fee may be charged if using a different bank. Be sure to check with your own bank before departure. It is wise to bring several traveler's checks, but they should be used for emergencies only. The exchange rate is generally higher for traveler's checks and many charge commission to cash them. Students may also want to take $100 cash in the local currency to avoid high airport exchange rates upon arrival. Foreign currency can be ordered before departure from local banks.

Cellular Phones

Cellular phones are a good way to keep in touch with friends and family while abroad. Students may purchase cellular phones abroad and activate them with prepaid calling cards. Unlike in the United States, cellular phone companies typically won't charge to receive calls (make sure to check the individual plan). Using a cellular phone to call internationally however, can be quite expensive.

E-mail and Computers

E-mail is a less expensive alternative to phone communication. All program sites are equipped with computers and internet access. However, computer rooms abroad may not be the same as the extensive computer labs that you find at American universities. Remember, if living with a host family, internet access is not a typical home commodity. Internet cafes are often the best bet for using computers for e-mail, internet research, etc. They charge a nominal fee for internet use, and they often have good coffee! Students should plan to find the internet cafe which is most conveniently located for them. Internet cafes are also a great place to meet the locals and other travelers!

Laptop Computers

If bringing a laptop computer, make sure it has the proper hook-ups and surge protectors to support it. Also, if students bring their laptops, they should be aware that if they have problems with their own personal laptop, it probably will not be easy or time efficient to repair it abroad. For this reason, it is recommended that students back up their work continuously. It is also a good idea for those with a warranty to check with the manufacturer for the laptop repair process prior to departure.

Adapters and Using Electronics

Most countries require adapters for electronic devices. These can be purchased at any travel store or electronics store. The adapter needed will depend on the country and the voltage of the electronic device being used. In many cases, it is recommended to buy less-expensive appliances such as hair dryers, once abroad. They will be more powerful than ones purchased in the United States, they won't require an adapter, nor will they have to be transported.


Regardless of whether a student is traveling to a small town or a large metropolitan city, the fact remains the he/she is not a local citizen and will most likely be recognized as a foreigner. As in any "tourist culture", it is important that students remain aware of their surroundings, use good judgment and take the following simple precautions:

  • Do not go out alone at night
  • Protect personal documents and keep a copy of them at home with friends or relatives
  • Know how to ask for emergency or medical help
  • When traveling, always carry the phone number and address of the hotel in which you are staying and leave your itinerary with the program director at your study site
  • Keep family and friends at home informed about travel plans
  • Do not yell, curse, or speak loudly in public places (especially not in English)
  • Do not drink alcohol in excess or use drugs
  • Do not confront locals
  • Walk away from confrontational people (local and/or tourists)
  • Always stay away from physical confrontations
  • Call for taxis (safer), rather that hailing one off the street (risky)
  • Always sit in the back seat of a taxi
  • When in doubt, watch the locals for appropriate behavior
  • Fold bills individually for easy access to smaller denominations
  • Avoid taking out large amounts of cash in public
  • Do not keep wallet in back-pocket in large crowds
  • Know where you are going before leaving
  • Try not to open a large map in public. Instead, fold maps so that the section needed is facing out.
  • When alone, walk with purpose
  • Avoid looking people in the eye and smiling, especially in big cities (this is an American custom that is hard to change)
  • And most important...USE GOOD COMMON SENSE!

USD Safety & Security Policy [pdf 52 KB]

A Safe Trip Abroad (Information provided by the US Department of State)

USD Safety Abroad


Students should check with individual consulates to for specific requirements regarding immunizations. Arrangements for immunizations and physical exams should be made as soon as possible if needed.

The USD Student Health Center (SHC) offers physical exams by appointment and can administer some vaccinations. Students need to bring information about their travel requirements, immunization records and any necessary forms to their appointment. Currently, Hepatitis A (2-dose series), Hepatitis B (3-dose series) and tetanus vaccinations, are available for a fee. Payment for immunizations can be made by check or USD Campus Cash. SHC staff can prescribe anti-malarial medication and provide referrals to local travel clinics for other immunizations needed.

Please visit the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention for more information regarding immunizations:

Meet New People!

Make an effort to go out and meet the locals! It is tempting to stay in your comfort zone, but by going beyond what you are familiar with, you open yourself up to many new experiences. Not only will you learn more about the culture you are living in, but you will also learn more about your own culture, traditions, and beliefs. In addition, your speaking skills will improve like never before! Find out where the locals go, where other students at your school hang out, etc. Host families, local students, or other USD students who have gone before you are great resources for finding out how to meet people.

Be Informed!

Take the time to get to know the country you are visiting before arrival. Keep up on current events and brush-up on history. People from other countries tend to discuss controversial issues such as religion or politics, more than Americans and are quite savvy on US politics. Remember, much like most Americans, they only know what their media is telling them. It is a good idea to brush up on American foreign policy (good and bad) before departure. It is also important to know about the current events of the country abroad (see links below). Being informed will give you an insight to the customs, communication (verbal/non-verbal), and beliefs of the society of which you will soon be a part. It will help you to assimilate into your new environment and is the key to understanding another culture.

Visit the following on-line newspapers!

Argentina -

Austria -

Chile -

France -

Germany -

Ireland -

Italy -

Japan -

Spain -

United Kingdom -