Ready to Study Abroad? Here's an Essential Checklist to Get Started

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Studying abroad is life-changing. The increased maturity, self-confidence, tolerance and appreciation for diversity impact a student's life forever. And with so much riding on this experience - not to mention the excitement of immersing yourself in a completely new environment for an entire year - it's natural to be a little anxious about taking this significant step. Luckily, with the right preparation, study abroad students can avoid headaches and embarrassing mistakes. Here are our top five tips from the experts.

1. Financial Aid

Worried you'll lose your financial aid because you're studying abroad? Don't! In the U.S., federal law requires that colleges and universities continue to disburse funds for students participating in approved programs. Consult with your financial aid advisor the year before to make sure you know what additional paperwork you are responsible for, as well as any deadlines.

Also, check your eligibility for any additional scholarships and grants at Your study abroad year is more financially possible than you might think.

2. Travel Documentation

The first step is to get a valid passport and travel visa if it is required by your host country. Check the State Department's page on country specific requirements for U.S. citizens. Allow at least 6-8 weeks for processing time, and don't forget to leave a copy of your passport at home in case yours is lost or stolen.

You should also consider ordering an International Student Identity Card (ISIC). This card ($20) proves your student status globally and gives you access to thousands of student discounts on tours, restaurants, travel and accommodations. Order online and receive your card in 3-4 weeks.

3. Transferring Credits Back Home

The abroad experience is reward enough for you, but it's also helpful to transfer your credits back home so that advisors and future employers can see that experience reflected on your college transcript. Most study abroad programs approved and/or organized through your home college will transfer back home - the trick is to ensure your credits apply to your degree requirements.

To ensure a smooth transfer, visit with your academic advisor and your home college's registrar's office a few months before you go. Ask how your credits are recorded back home and what classes you should take abroad that will fulfill major, minor or general requirements at home. Get this agreement in writing and save a copy in your email so you can register for the right courses abroad and keep everyone on the same page.

4. Credit and Banking

Paying for stuff while traveling can be overwhelming, especially when dealing with exchange rates and hidden fees. Snag the best exchange rate by using a credit card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred or the Capital One Venture Rewards card. These cards don't charge foreign transaction fees and they also let you earn points to redeem toward more travel. Plus credit cards usually include basic theft, auto and rental insurance.

Cash is trickier, since you could be dealing with $5-7 ATM fees every time you withdraw. To avoid this drain on your account, try an account like the Charles Schwab Investor Checking Account, which reimburses all ATM fees worldwide.

5. Cell Phone

You will also need a secure and durable device like the iPhone X to take pictures, get directions and text friends and hosts while traveling abroad. Consider opting for T-Mobile's plan that includes unlimited texting and data in 140+ countries. Most people don't spend much time talking on the phone anyway, so having the option of unlimited texting can make life abroad much better.

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