Before You Leave the Nest

Study abroad students can travel almost anywhere in the world, although your options may be determined by how comfortable you are with travel. You want to go abroad but you're not sure what you'd be comfortable with? Learn more about your comfort level

Do I need a passport?

A passport is necessary to leave and enter the United States. You can find more information about U.S. passport requirements, such as documents required for a passport application or renewal, on the Department of State website. Remember to email yourself a copy of your passport in case you lose it.

Student at Platform 9 3/4 in London

Do I need a visa?

If you are going to be on a short-term faculty-led program, you will most likely not need to obtain a visa. If you are going on a semester or year-long program (anything longer than 90 days), you will need to get a visa. Requirements vary from country to country, so always check with our office if you have a question about this. Remember to email yourself a copy of your visa in case you lose it.

What is jet lag?

Jet lag occurs when you travel across time zones. Essentially, it's how your body reacts to the change in time zones. Possible symptoms include excessive sleepiness or insomnia, difficulty concentrating, etc.

To combat jet lag, we recommend that you keep yourself hydrated while traveling, especially on the plane! Upon your arrival, you should change over the time setting on any devices you're bringing with you to the local time. Most devices will make the switch automatically, but double-check to make sure. Try not to fall asleep until nighttime in your location, even if you feel sleepy long before then. After a few days, your body will adjust to the new time zone.

What is culture shock?

Culture shock is a feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes. This happens when you arrive in a foreign country and realize just how different it is from the US. There are generally four phases of culture shock: honeymoon, frustration, adjustment, and acceptance. Everybody experiences culture shock in varying ways! Do remember that it is a real thing, and if you should start to feel overwhelmed, please ask for help!

Don't forget that you may experience the same feelings upon arriving back home in the US!


Inform your bank that you will be abroad (via writing, but in-person if possible). Give them the exact dates that you will be abroad, so that they don't mistake charges you make while abroad for suspicious activity.

Keep an eye on the current conversion rates for the currency used where you will be traveling. Google has a built-in tool for this (an example search might look like "us dollar to euro"), but you can also use a dedicated currency conversion website.

ATMs are convenient and can be accessed with ease in most metropolitan areas. Your bank may have agreements with certain foreign banks to use their ATMs with minimum fees. Be sure to check with your bank to see if this is the case.

We caution against changing cash at the airport because conversion fees are typically much higher than at other locations.

No traveler's checks or $100 bills.


You will most likely have insurance in place before you leave the country, either through Fitchburg State or your study-abroad program. Make sure to check with our office or the contact person for your program to see that everything is in order before you depart.


Weather can vary greatly depending on where you go. Research typical weather conditions for whatever country you're visiting before you begin packing. If you are spending a semester or a year abroad, be sure to take into consideration what different seasons may be occurring during your stay while packing.

Shoes that are already broken in are a must while abroad. You will most likely be doing a lot of walking, and comfortable shoes will make this a lot easier.

Cell phones

Check with your carrier to see what international plans are available. Wi-Fi is readily available in most areas, so for short-term programs you most likely won't need to purchase a cellphone while abroad. If you are going to mainly use Wi-Fi to communicate with family and friends back home, make sure you turn off data roaming. This can lead to some rather high charges on your cellphone bill upon your return home.

There are multiple ways to communicate over Wi-Fi. Skype is a popular method, but it may require a subscription to use for overseas calls. WhatsApp is a texting app that is extremely popular overseas. You can use it to text people on different mobile platforms (ex. iOS, Android) for free. Facebook is also a good tool for communication.


You will need adaptors to plug devices into electrical outlets abroad. Not all countries have the same type of outlet, and in some cases the voltage delivered through those outlets will be different. Be sure to check what outlet type is most commonly used in the country you will be staying in. These pages from REI are a good tool to help you determine which adaptors/voltage converts you will need and see what the differences are by country.

Be sure to charge devices overnight, as some apartments shut off power to rooms when not occupied.

Health and Safety

Use the buddy system! Health Services has graciously provided some information for you to review before you leave for your study abroad program. Read through this information and stop in to speak to Health Services if you have any questions or need any further information or supplies. 

Keep a card on you at all times with emergency contact information. If you have a smartphone, you can also keep this information in a note app.

Pay attention to your surroundings, as neighborhoods can change quickly. Keep a mental note of nearby subway locations or bus stops so that you can navigate more easily.

You are bound by the local laws and are a visitor to this country. If you break those laws, you will go to jail and will not be successful at Fitchburg State! Upon return, you will find also yourself in front of the Judicial Review Board. The State Dept. will not intervene in drug crimes. No smoking marijuana. Medical marijuana cards may not be valid in your destination country.

Protect yourself from STIs. They have the same viruses and bacteria abroad that we have in the USA!

Counseling Services is also available if you have any additional worries about studying abroad.


Talk to your health care provider about how the effects of jet lag may interfere with medications you are taking.

Before you depart, make sure to visit your health care provider and obtain enough of your prescription(s) to last through the duration of your study abroad experience.

Carry medications on your person, in Rx bottles with your name on them (especially if you require an EpiPen).

If you suffer from any significant medical condition or allergy, consider investing in a medical ID bracelet. In the case of an emergency, this will let medical personnel know about any serious conditions you may suffer from so that they can give you the appropriate treatment. There are multiple websites now that sell fashionable medical ID bracelets/necklaces, so it isn't hard to find something that suits you.

The United States Department of State has some information about Study Abroad that you might find helpful. We encourage students to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. The benefits from this program include: 

  • Receiving important information from the Embassy about safety conditions in your destination country, helping you make informed decisions about your travel plans.
  • Helping the U.S. Embassy to contact you in an emergency, whether natural disaster, civil unrest, or family emergency.
  • Helping family and friends get in touch with you in an emergency.
  • Being connected to the local consular offices, which can provide you with a wealth of information about events in your area. 

Finally... here's what to do once you're returned!