Student Abroad: Know Before You Go

Everything about moving abroad that I learned the hard way

Gwen Pemberton (she/her) // Arts & Culture Editor

As I’m writing this, there are less than two weeks left before my flight to Amsterdam and the beginning of my semester abroad. A mix of excitement, fear, nerves and anticipation have been building up for so long that it’s hard to believe that my trip is finally happening. One emotion I’m not feeling—or at least not as much as I expected—is anxiety. 

This is not because I am a relaxed person. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am just about as far from ‘chill’ as possible, but I planned ahead. Now all I have to do is try not to miss my flight. Before I go, I’d like to pass whatever wisdom I’ve gained on to you, because let’s be honest, planning ahead kind of sucks. If you are thinking of going abroad to continue your studies, here is my step-by-step guide.


What do to ASAP

These are the things that you should check off your list right away, because putting them off can really throw a wrench in your plans and cause a lot of unnecessary stress down the road.

  1. Apply to your host institution

After all of the forms and waivers are signed, it’s time to apply to your host university. Having your official transcript, a copy of your passport and a resume ready to submit is a good idea. Some schools may ask for other things, like a letter of intent. Take care of these and submit them early if you can, in order to ensure your place.

  1. Start your Visa process 

Depending on the country you are visiting, and your nationality, you may or may not need a visa for an extended stay abroad. In my case, I need a residence permit to study in the Netherlands. To check entry requirements and travel advisories for the country you are visiting, you can go to the Government of Canada’s travel site. It is also important to check your host institution’s website, as they will have more specific information about the Visa and permit application process and requirements. Don’t wait. Visas and permits can take a while to be processed

  1. Check your email

I know, I know. Seriously though, there are lots of little things that need to happen before you leave the country, and they can pile up if you neglect them. It’s much less stressful to handle things as they come up than to do them all in a mad panic. Plus, you’re less likely to make mistakes, and if you do, there’s time to fix them. 

  1. Get accommodation

You will most likely be living in student housing while abroad. Once the school contacts you with information about housing, make sure you are ready to apply as soon as you can. It can take longer than you expect to hear about housing, so don’t be afraid to ask.

In some cities housing is competitive and you are not guaranteed a spot. Even if you have to get up early, log into that housing portal and choose your room. This might seem a little much for some, but I found that the peace of mind was worth it.


Closer to departure

Figure out your apartment situation: Whether you are ending a lease or subletting your place, you have to figure out what to do with your stuff while you are away. Start calling your parents and placing Craigslist ads now.

Insurance: Whether you are covered by the CSU Studentcare plan or elsewhere, you need travel health insurance. I would suggest doing this after booking your flights so that you know the length of your stay. If you are privately covered, you will have to purchase health insurance separately for extended trips abroad. Make sure that it covers your whole trip, and that you submit proof of coverage to Study Abroad. Print out a hard copy of your policy to keep in your wallet as well.

Get your meds: If (like me) you take any medications, make sure you have enough for the length of your stay. It can be hard to get the medications you need once abroad.

Phone plan: Decide whether you are going to deactivate your current plan while you are away. This can help save some money, but might be inconvenient once you land. You can also buy an eSIM or local SIM card once you arrive. Outside of Canada, phone plans are a lot more reasonably priced, so it shouldn’t break the bank. Personally, I’m keeping my current plan and bringing an old phone with me. That way, I can have my current SIM card and a local one for texting, calling and data. Plus, if my phone gets stolen, I’ll have a spare.

Print out your documents: In order to receive my residence permit once I land I need printed copies of my tenant’s agreement, passport photo and my permit approval. Check all of the requirements. It’s much easier to print from the CapU library than in a new country.

Register with the government: If you are a Canadian citizen, you have to inform the government that you will be abroad for an extended period. It only takes a minute though. Once you know your departure date, all you have to do is fill out the form on the Registration of Canadians Abroad website.

Make a list of emergency contacts: I almost forgot this one. It’s super helpful to have a list of emergency contacts that you can access from multiple places if you need to. On top of insurance contacts I also added the phone numbers and addresses of some people closest to me, Study Abroad contacts in Canada and the Netherlands, and a Canadian embassy locator.

Starting early and ticking things off one by one has been so helpful in my process. It gave me room to breathe, correct mistakes, ask questions and ask for help. If you’re like me, that is easier said than done, but I think you’ll be grateful you did in the long run. I certainly am.

See you in Amsterdam!

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