My College:

A Study Abroad Checklist

Suzanne Shaffer

When my daughter applied to college, a strong study abroad program was on her must-have list. So, when the opportunity to study abroad presented itself her junior year, she completed the required documents, was accepted to her preferred program, and left the following autumn for Paris.

As a parent, I was excited for her, but back then I didn't know anything about what she needed to do to get ready for this experience. My first stop was the college’s study abroad website. It explained how the program worked, the documents and preparation my daughter would need, and tips about how I could help with the process.

Students typically meet with an advisor before applying to study abroad programs. After meeting with the advisor, they complete applications (usually online). Each application is different but most contain a statement of purpose, essay, recommendations, transcripts and the application itself. Applications for fall programs are typically due in the spring, and spring program applications are due in the fall.

Once your student has been accepted, they have a good bit of work to do! Their chosen program and the college study abroad office will share copious information about the steps they need to take, but here is a general overview so you can help your student stay organized and on track. When it comes to planning for study abroad, it’s nice to avoid surprises!

The Documents

There is a LONG list of documents your student will need. Be advised they can’t be obtained overnight.


The passport is your student’s official identification and will be needed to travel to their destination abroad and from country to country during their stay. Check out the U.S. Department of State’s Passport Page for instructions on how to apply for or renew a passport.

Student Visa

A visa allows your student to live abroad for a specified period of time. Each country has a different application. Your student look at the website for the embassy or consulate of the country they're traveling to. Their study abroad program should be able to provide guidance.

International Student Card

This universal card will help your student save money as they travel. With this card, they qualify for thousands of student discounts worldwide, along with other benefits like medical, emergency evacuation fees, and bankruptcy protection. Any full-time student may apply for a card by visiting the ISE Card website.

International Certificate of Vaccinations

For some destinations, students are required to obtain an international certificate of vaccinations before departing.

Don’t forget to make copies of all these travel documents before your student leaves. If they are lost or stolen, you can fax the copies to your student.

Health Information

  1. Schedule doctor visits before your student leaves.
  2. If your student has unique health concerns, obtain a copy of your student’s medical record, make a copy to keep with you, and send a copy with your student.
  3. Stock up on any prescriptions and bring along a doctor’s note authorizing their use and refills.
  4. Check with your family health insurance to assure coverage abroad and obtain identification or phone numbers your student will need if they need to visit a doctor or hospital.

Financial Information

Your student will need proof of the ability to be financially self-supporting while abroad. Check with the college and the study abroad program to find out what types of documents are required.

Be sure also to check well in advance with your bank regarding the use of credit cards and ATM machines abroad. Ask about fees at ATMs and currency exchange fees.


Contact your student’s cellular service provider about international calling. There are also many free apps your student can use if they will have access to a wi-fi network while abroad.

Before leaving, establish a regular schedule of communication. Confirm that your student has all important contact numbers and addresses saved on their smartphone, including the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Embassy. It’s a good idea to create a list that’s accessible online (for example, in Google docs) in case the phone is lost or stolen.

Safety Concerns

Many parents are fearful when they think about sending their student abroad. My daughter left for Paris a week after the 9/11 attacks. It was a terrifying time for my husband and me.

Today it may be even harder for parents to feel their students will be safe overseas. I encourage you to acknowledge your concerns while not letting them dampen your support of your student. Our role is to help prepare our students for anything that might happen while they are away and equip them with the tools they need to respond in an emergency.

Click here for a comprehensive list of study abroad safety strategies to share with your college student. In addition, be sure to carefully review the safety protocols for the individual study abroad program — this should be a highlighted part of information the program shares with students and their families.

Final Checklist Before Departure

Here’s a final checklist to follow a month before your student departs for their study abroad:

  • Make copies of all important documents
  • Research airline luggage restrictions and begin packing
  • Be sure your student has charging cords and adapters for all their electronics
  • Gather all contact information and make sure it’s easily accessible
  • Contact your bank, credit card carriers, and health insurance provider
  • Gather all health information, documents and fill all prescriptions
  • Confirm travel information (flights, arrival information, etc.)
  • Check with your study abroad advisor and program contact for any final instructions
Learn more about the value of study abroad and how it can help your student reach their academic and personal goals >
Suzanne Shaffer counsels students and families through her blog, Parenting for College. Her advice has been featured in print and online on Huffington Post, Yahoo Finance, U.S. News College, TeenLife, Smart College Visit, Road2College and more.
  • Fall Semester Guide iPad

    When your college student starts their first semester, it’s not just a big deal for them. It’s a big deal for you, too.

    Click Here to Download

  • Find Your University

    Don't Miss Out!

    Get engaging stories and helpful information all year long. Join our college parent newsletter!