Attending orientation on campus after you reach is mandatory, but at Galvanize we treat pre-departure formalities as advance preparation for your new life in your host country. At Galvanize, we ensure that our students are well informed about the do’s and don’ts while preparing to live and study in a foreign country. The major components include program registration, course orientation, visa status and details, money matters, health considerations, and necessary documentation required for getting ID’s in the foreign land. Students must also keep in mind the lifestyle adjustment that is awaiting them. While students are engulfed in the technical aspects of travelling abroad, such as booking the flight, packing essential stuff, inspecting coursework materials, etc, through this blog Galvanize aims to equip students with quintessential instructions that will enable them to have a stress free pre-departure period.
Pre-Departure: Health Considerations
There is often a perception that France is too expensive a country to live in, and while this is true to some extent, it is far less expensive that the UK and USA. On an average, France is a viable option. France attracts a lot of international students because of excellent work opportunities, recognized education system and popular tourism destinations.
It hosts beautiful cities, home to some of the world’s top universities, specializing in management, engineering, tourism, design, pure sciences, and arts. It has an excellent academic reputation, not to mention its wondrous culture, music, food, and art.
Meet with Your Physician:
Students must visit a doctor and get their health checked before their journey. This is a basic prerequirement. Especially for individuals with existing chronic illnesses. Your doctor will suggest a plan on how to manage your condition while you pursue your education abroad.
Many universities and visas will ask for a Medical Certificate/ Fitness Certificate/ Travel Health Certificate, clearing your disposition for international travel and study. The requirements might vary slightly between the various countries. So carefully check with the concerned university and country visa stipulations before visiting your doctor and getting the certificate. Commonly it is advised to do a general blood test, while some visas might mandate an X-ray and Urine test, too.
Incase of prescription medications be sure to crosscheck what medication you need and what you will need to carry and what you are allowed to carry in the flight.
Most universities/visas will mandate entrants to be vaccinated for common illnesses. Individuals must ensure they double check the immunization stipulations and get vaccinated accordingly. Vaccines generally mandated are for Polio, Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR), Hepatitis A&B, Meningococcal, Influenza, Varicella (Chicken Pox), Yellow Fever, etc.
Recently, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, student’s needing international travel must get vaccinated with a WHO approved vaccine/country approved vaccine. The center for disease control and prevention (CDC) of the United States mandates everyone above the age of 16 to be vaccinated with the full course of any WHO approved COVID-19 vaccine. If your destination is in the UK, Canada, or the EU, do crosscheck with your university program coordinator on any additional Covid 19 vaccine specifications.
Many universities might suggest their incoming students to opt for a medical insurance cover for the period of enrollment. In most cases, students can opt for the health insurance offered by their university. Health Insurance would cost approximately US$1000 every year. Depending on your pre-existing health conditions and other qualifications, you may also seek other health insurance providers. Choosing a good medical insurance to cover your expenses in a foreign country should consider all the health conditions covered by the policy that is best suitable to your circumstances. The insurance should cover the duration of your study abroad tenure, else healthcare costs can be very expensive abroad, especially the USA. Many insurance providers have specially designed packages/insurance plans catering to different program specifications. Ensure you select an insurance policy that has the right number of benefits, coverage of sufficient medical expenses, and emergency medical situations that may arise.
When thinking of living in a foreign country the most common aspects that pop up immediately are housing/accomodations, food, transportation, and communication.
International students tend to take one of the following 3 routes.
University Accommodations/ On-Campus Housing:
Information is likely to be provided early on in the admission process regarding student housing. On-campus dormitories tend to get filled pretty soon. University accommodation generally provides shared rooms with 2 or more individuals. Though some select universities do offer single rooms at higher costs. The major advantage of choosing university housing is non-dependency on public/private transportation. You will be saving time, effort, and money, by not having to commute to and from campus everyday.
Local Rentals/ Off-Campus Apartments:
Most universities will offer suggestions on off-campus housing resources and rentals. So make sure to contact your university for additional information. This is a very good option for mature students who need more independence and don’t prefer to live in the hustle bustle of a dormitory environment. Renting an apartment gives you the freedom to choose your flatmates, and household amenities, choice of locality, etc. You will need to be proactive and plan your utility bills, splitting of rental costs, and other allied maintenance costs that might arise. Make sure to chalk out the details with your landlord before agreeing to rent an apartment.
This is the type of living situation where you can move-in with a family living near the university and stay in a room/accommodation that is a part of their residence. Many universities do offer information on homeowners who are open to this kind of an agreement. Since it is a private residence there will be restrictions on visiting hours by peers, noise levels, etc. Student Room Stay Network is a popular homestay directory that has tie ups with residences that offer this kind of service to international students.
Majority of the international students in the US tend to live off-campus, since those options offer more flexibility in terms of room sharing/ rent sharing/ dining options/ visitation rules, etc. Choosing which kind of housing system will work best for you, depends largely on your budget, ability to spend, and personal preference on room specifications. No matter your choice of accommodation, most universities and the localities around them tend to offer a plethora of living options for international students.
This is a major consideration and basic need for every student. Students tend to follow a mix of the belomentione choices:
On-Campus Food/ Campus Dining Halls: Many universities offer multiple eating options within their campus. You will find dining halls/ small cafes/ department eateries, located in different places within the campus. Additionally, some universities abroad do mindfully provide catering choices keeping in mind dietary restrictions, and allergies, if any. Online ordering options for campus eateries are also provided, so you can pick up your food hot and ready in a pre scheduled time.
Local Eateries/Off-Campus Eateries: Depending on the location of your university city/town, you will have an abundance of off-campus eating choices. Many restaurants, bars, cafes open up and thrive in and around university towns, due the constant influx of hungry students. Such eateries will also offer coupons and special discounts for students. Universities tend to provide information on off-campus eateries as well. Though as a prospective student you can research your university locale and scout good eateries beforehand.
Cooking for Oneself: This largely depends on your access to a kitchen and the time you can allocate to this activity. Many student dormitories do offer community kitchens, where students can cook small meals/snacks. Community kitchens generally are equipped with refrigerators, and stoves. As a student you might be beleaguered with assignments and submissions, so most students prefer ready made choices. But on the rare occasion when you do wish to cook you can do so. Most university towns do have good grocery/ supermarkets in and around campus. So willing students can take the time out and buy ingredients, fresh produce, and cook their meals.
The kind of transportation preferred by international students largely depends on your place of residence (in-campus or off-campus), and whether your university is located in a big city with good train/bus systems or semi-urban university towns.
- Trains/ Tubes/ Subway/ Metrorail systems: Major cities in the US, UK, Canada, Germany, Australia, etc., are home to well developed and vastly connected railway systems. Cities like New York, Chicago, Boston, are known for their subway systems. Hence students attending universities in such locations can readily rely on them for daily commute. Generally student discounts will be offered on the ticket fare. Students can pick and choose monthly, weekly ticket plans as per their convenience.
- Buses/Shuttles: Similar to the subway systems, well developed public bus networks are available in major cities around the world like New York, Chicago, London, Frankfurt, Sydney, Brisbane, etc. Students must produce their university ID cards and avail discounts on ticket fares, seasonal fares will be more economical than daily tickets. Generally, universities do provide information on public transport options available, but students are encouraged to check concerned city/town transportation websites for more accurate information.
Surprisingly many students who stay within large campuses or very close to the university prefer to use a bicycle, not only are they economical, eco-friendly and cost effective, they are very simple to use and do not mandate a license. The above being said bicycle users will need to wear appropriate safety helmets, and follow all road rules. Additionally, one must remember to lock the bike while parking it in any bicycle rack.
Students who have driven scooters/bikes in their home country might find this option comfortable. Though a license is required for driving one. For short distance travel within the city/town and for daily short distance commute between university and place of residence, a scooter/bike is an ideal option. Though as an international student you must keep track of fuel costs, and maintenance charges.
Mature students who have prior experience with cars, will readily prefer this option. Also, international students can undertake driving lessons and acquire a license. This method of transportation is very useful one needs to cover long distances. Costs will also be correspondingly higher while using a car. So if your student budget can accommodate a 4-wheeler, you can opt for this. You might also need to consider insurance costs that you will incur when you are going to lease/rent or buy a car.
This is an expensive method of transportation, and is not suggested for daily commute. Taxis are useful if you are traveling to a new place, and need guidance with directions. New ride sharing applications such as Uber can also be used for such travels.
A very economical option for international students. If you have the means to own a car and can find people/peers preferring the same travel arrangement, then car pooling can be a sensible option. Students must ensure they know the accompanying passengers well and ensure all road rules and safety guidelines are followed.
This is an essential part of every student’s life, and students hardly need any introduction to new means to communicate. With the advent of the internet and applications such as WhatsApp, FaceTime, Telegram, Google Duo, etc, virtual calling has made communication easy and hassle free. However, it is better for international students to swap their mobile SIM cards for new ones that are relevant to their study destination. There is an abundance of choice here, with telecom service providers battling to offer the best connectivity at the lowest rates. Service providers such as Campus SIMS exclusively cater to international students, and even ensure they can get their new SIM cards at their home country, that can later be used in the study abroad destination. Moreover, having a local SIM in the new country will aid you in giving out your contact information for jobs, internships, etc.
Pre-Departure: Money Matters
This is an important aspect for all international students, one that many of them need to grasp carefully. While living and studying in a new country away from family can be exciting and overwhelming, financial considerations and basic knowledge on money management is a must.
This is the most basic knowledge that every student must have. The US (USD), UK (Pounds), German (Euro), Australian (AUD), Canadian (CAD), have different currencies with varying exchange rates. Be sure to equip yourself with the basics of the concerned country’s currency denominations in terms of coins and notes.
Bank Accounts & Debit/Credit Cards:
Only if you have a bank account with any bank can you have a debit/credit card from them. If your home bank has a branch in your host nation, then you can apply for an international debit/credit card in advance and use that.
All banks, in the host nations, will offer concessional rates for opening bank accounts and providing debit/credit cards to international students. Moreover, universities might not endorse any banks, but will provide information on the options available. Remember while using international debit/credit cards, currency conversion fees will apply. International students abroad will also need to provide valid IDs while applying for a bank account and allied debit cards.
Students will be encouraged to open a checking account with a bank. Checking accounts are one in which you are not going to be depositing huge sums of money, but will be using the said account for regular payment of utility bills, living costs, daily expenses, writing a check, online wire transfers, etc. A debit card can be issued against the checking account. Savings accounts are considered for situations wherein you need to store large sums of money that you are not going to be accessing frequently. Opening a savings account and maintaining a healthy deposit will make it easier to get credit cards from a bank. Though there are many banks that provide credit cards to international students with no credit history.
Showing regular money deposited in a savings account, while displaying utilities/expenses being paid via the checking account, shows a stable financial situation and builds your credit history.
Pre-Departure: ID Proofs
Keep multiple copies of your passport in more than one luggage and ensure your parents/guardian have a copy of your passport with them back home. Ensure the original is with you and is safely tucked away.
Admissions Letter/Admissions Card:
Once you are provided a place in the program of your choice, the university will provide a letter of acceptance/online admissions card/I-20/CAS etc that can be used as proof to apply for visa, enter the campus, show at immigration/airports, etc. Ensure you have multiple copies of the same.
Student visa details are most likely going to be affixed to your passport. Some allied visa paperwork might be present that you might need to carry separately. Double check that you carry all visa related details with you while you travel.
Country Specific ID:
In the US you might need to apply for the Social Security Number (SSN), which is commonly used to connect your details across a wide database. In Germany you need to get the ‘Residence Permit’ once you reach the country. Please cross check with your visa stipulations and university program coordinator on all possible steps after you arrive in your study abroad destination.
In the US the driving license ID is used as a valid photo ID in many places. Hence once you are ready, it is best to apply and get the required license. This applies to other countries as well, having a driver’s license is always recommended.
University Photo ID:
Once you reach the university and get in touch with the concerned personnel, you will be handed a university ID with relevant details regarding your program, course duration, contact information, and other details. This university ID is a valuable photo ID proof for international students that can be shown as ID proof in other situations.
Pre-Departure: Culture Shock & International Students
Culture Shock is something that most international students, even travelers experience when they move to an environment that is unfamiliar to them. This causes the students to feel anxious, and overwhelmed on seeing the different social practices/ new people/ varied environments/ different value systems they need to get accustomed to. In most cases this feeling tends to subside with time, though some students might find it harder to overcome this phase and might fall into loneliness and depression.
Most universities provide information on culture shock and have resources and campus counseling centers that can help students battle this issue.
Simple Tips To Overcome Culture Shock:
- Eating a healthy balanced diet, exercising regularly, going outside for walks, or using the campus gym, can make a huge difference to your mental make-up.
- Universities also encourage international students to join home country associations, where you can meet other students from your nations, who speak the same language and might have similar culinary tastes. Students can also meet other international peers from different nationalities and bond over the common experiences of arriving at a new country, intellectual interests, and social activities.
- Find a restaurant/store that supplies products from your home country. Eating a simple dish/comfort food from your culture will make you feel better and more at home.
- Regularly contact your folks/friends back home. If you have relatives in the new country, make sure to meet them. Setting aside a few minutes in a day to chat with a trusted family member/individual can make a world of difference to your mental frame of mind.
- Make use of all the opportunities that your university has to offer. This can be orientation programs, social meet & greets, recreational activities, social service initiatives, etc.
Most importantly, do not hesitate to reach out to your university health counselor, peer support center, certified physician for more help, as you may see fit.
Pre-Departure: Checklist of Important Documents
- Original Passport and photocopies of your passport
- Visa documents, allied travel documents (like the I-20 form that students travelling to the US need to carry; residence permits).
- Air Tickets, travel insurance documents
- University acceptance letter, admissions card, proof of admission to the concerned program.
- Proof of scholarship document, financial documents, loan statement.
- Necessary medical documents, certificates, prescriptions, health insurance documents.
- Original Transcripts/ attested marksheets
- Prior degree certificate/ or supplemental degree certificate
- Resume, SoP, LoRs
- GRE/ GMAT/ TOEFL/ IELTS
- Previous work experience documents, proof of employment, recommendation from employers/ supervisors.
Pre-Departure: Program Related Instructions
Online Course Registration: Once your admission is confirmed, your university/program department will notify you on the need to register yourself in the online program portal, and also register/select your courses for the impending term. Sometimes certain courses will have a specified number of seats and will get filled sooner than certain other coursework modules. There are certain courses that have restrictions/ prerequisites, i.e. certain other modules/subjects that students must have already studied previously, if they wish to take said course. Hence international students must be proactive to ensure they are able to study the modules they wish to, and most importantly apply well within the time frame so they are assured a place. Students are encouraged to carefully check the program website, admissions package, academic calendar, and their student account on the university intranet/ university website.
Syllabus, Assignment Deadlines, Examinations: Universities will provide a course catalog/ program catalog containing all relevant data on topics/ lessons/ chapters/ coursework modules, to be taught as a part of a particular program. This information will be available online on the university website/program department page/ or via the student portal intranet. This information will give prospective applicants and admitted students a realistic idea of the actual theory/subjects/course titles they are going to be studying as a part of a particular degree. Assignment deadlines are enumerated in university web pages. Some universities have separate guiding documents that students can download and go through on the exact assignment submission policy, and allied stipulations.
Exam schedules/ term-end assessment: This information can be found in the webpages of the University Registrar/ Office of the University Registrar. This information will also be published in the university department webpages/ and on the student intranet portal or your course syllabus. Hence admitted students must check their student account for the updated examination schedules and other such intimation. Even after going through the above mentioned steps, If you are unclear on certain course schedules, program enrollment information, and exam dates, please contact your course coordinator/ faculty member for guidance and further information.
International Student Orientation:
Student orientation is a vital aspect that students must attend without fail. Universities will always have a post arrival international student orientation. This session will cover multiple factors of your study abroad and university education journey, such as visa regulations, part-time work conditions, course information, campus infrastructure, research options, etc. Some universities also conduct virtual student orientation sessions, which has become more commonplace due to the ongoing pandemic. Irrespective of whether it is virtual or in-person, the orientation sessions offer a wealth of information about your future life as a student in the university and in the new country. Moreover, universities also provide students with digital student guide videos/ e-learning orientation resources that you can use before your arrival and equip yourself with necessary knowledge about the program, student community, social landscape and the like, to prepare for a life abroad.
Pre-Departure: Maintaining Legal Visa Status
- It goes without saying you must apply for the concerned student visa well in advance. Minimum of 6 to 3 months prior to program start date is suggested. As the date of program commencement nears, it will be stressful for you to manage visa interviews, submit documents, and manage travel plans. Countries that have high traffic in terms of international students will have their own visa processing times that might result in unforeseen delays, hence getting the visa clearance out of the way is the basic and most important step of your pre-departure checklist. The US Department of State suggests students to apply at least 120 days prior to the start of the semester. Please check our blog on study and post-study work visas of different nations for a more detailed look.
- Universities will check your visa status and expect you to comply with the laid government norms. Moreover, you will not be allowed to register for classes until your student or other appropriate visa clearance comes through.
- Students must also check the validity of their passport for the duration of their stay in a foreign country. If the passport is to expire mid-way, ensure you make arrangements beforehand and get a renewed passport with extended validity. Additionally, students are advised to keep a copy of all their previous immigration/study abroad related documents with them, just in case.
- After entering your study abroad destination, ensure you follow all the necessary visa rules to stay within the law. This implies working while studying guidelines, sticking to the prescribed hours of work, not entering in any work that is not allowed or not mentioned in your student visa conditions. Please go through our web page containing country classified study visa regulations.