Study Abroad

Travel Preparations


It is very important you create a budget for your study abroad experience and stick to it.  If you have never set a budget for yourself, now is the time to start.  The first step in setting-up your budget for your time abroad will be to determine how much money you will have available, including personal savings, support from your family, and scholarships, loans, and grants.  Then you will need to determine the estimated cost for the program.  Budget sheets for each Elon study abroad program are available on the program brochure pages.  These budget sheets include costs that will be billed by Elon and estimates of other costs you will pay in the US or abroad for airfare, meals, books, travel documents, entertainment, personal travel, and other activities.  You should keep in mind both the cost of living in your host country and the exchange rate (whether favorable or unfavorable).  Visit or to see current exchange rates worldwide.

In addition to the information on the budget sheets, many programs abroad will provide you with additional cost information in their pre-departure orientation materials.  Former program participants, including Global Ambassadors, can also provide you very good information about how much to budget, unexpected expenses, and how to save.

If the total cost for your program and additional expenses is greater than your available funds, you need to look at ways to cut costs.  Determine which items are essential and which are discretionary.

Essential Budget Items Include

  • Tuition, room, and board/meals
  • Insurance
  • Transportation from the U.S.
  • Local transportation
  • Books and other required materials

These are required expenses that you cannot eliminate.  You may be able to reduce the cost of some these by preparing your own meals instead of eating out, using lower-cost modes of transportation such as bikes and buses instead of taxis where it is safe to do so, opting for a shared room or less expensive level of housing where possible, and buying used books.

Discretionary Budget Items Include

  • Personal travel
  • Entertainment
  • Souvenirs and gifts

These expenses are optional and are the first place you should look to reduce your budget.  It is very important to budget for emergencies or other unintended expenses. 

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Booking Flights

If you are not traveling on a group flight, it is your responsibility to book your own flight(s), assuring that you arrive by the date required by the program.  It is up to you whether you would like to contact other students who are going on the same program and make arrangements to travel together. 

You must arrive on the first day of the program and leave on the last day. The Isabella Cannon Global Education Center (GEC) strongly recommends that you DO NOT book your flight until you have been officially accepted by the program AND have received the official program dates. Your in-country program contacts may provide specific travel or airport information, so please be sure to follow their guidelines regarding date, time, and airport of arrival.

Some important things to keep in mind as you book your flight(s):

  • Time and Date Changes
    Book a flight to arrive on the correct date in your host country.  This often means that you must depart from the U.S. 1-2 days beforehand.  Always verify the date of arrival on your itinerary.
  • Round-trip Ticket
    You should buy a round-trip ticket.  You will usually need this to enter your host country and may need it to apply for a visa (where required).
  • Airport Pick-up
    Many major cities have more than one airport.  If your study abroad program includes airport pick-up, be sure to arrive at the correct airport and on the correct date and time.
  • Connection Times
    If you need to take a domestic flight to the departure airport for your international flight, you should book a flight that will arrive four to six hours ahead of the scheduled departure for your international flight.

Be aware of any restrictions on date changes for your tickets.  Costs to change return dates, especially on tickets purchased from discount websites, can be very high.  If you are unsure of your plans and think you may want to travel at the end of your term abroad, you may want to consider buying a flexible ticket which allows you to make changes to your return date for a low cost.  Students have recommended agencies such as STA Travel (or call 877-777-8717 for special non-web deals) and for youth and students discounts as well as flexible tickets. 

You may travel before the program begins or after it ends, as long as you are within the allowable dates of your visa (if applicable), but remember that you will be responsible for your housing and expenses before and after the dates of your program. 

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International Identification Cards

International identification cards such as ISIC (International Student Identity Card) and iNext are accepted internationally and provide discounts for travel, cell phones, hotels, shopping, restaurants, etc., and also provide supplemental international insurance.  ISIC is the largest provider of international identifications cards and is most widely accepted. Speak with returned students and review information in guidebooks and program information to see if an international identification card is recommended for your host country. Some programs provide students with an ISIC or iNext; review program materials before purchasing a card.

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Visas and Entry Requirements

Many countries require that you obtain a visa or other form of authorization in order to enter and study in there. This is typically a stamp or sticker inserted into your passport that allows you to enter the country. The process for obtaining a visa can be time-consuming and costly if you do not follow instructions exactly.  Some countries also require that you appear in person at their embassy or consulate in the United States before your visa can be approved.  Although your advisor in the GEC will advise you on what kind of visa, if any, is necessary for your program and will provide information about the application process, it is ultimately YOUR responsibility to obtain the necessary visa and/or other documentation.  You are responsible for all costs associated with the necessary visa.  Information will be provided to you in post-decision materials from Elon and/or your program abroad.

Along with your passport and visa, you may need other documents on hand when going through immigration upon arrival in your host country. These documents may include flight itinerary or proof of return ticket, bank statements and/or other proof of access to funds, letter of acceptance from your host institution and/or home university, or other documents. 

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Cell Phones

Cell phones are available almost everywhere now.  They are a very convenient way to stay in touch.  In addition to cell phones, you can also explore other ways of communicating while abroad. You may be able to adjust your calling plan for your own cell phone so that you can use it abroad, although this can be costly for a semester-long program if you plan to use your phone regularly.  You may also be able to purchase a new SIM card for your phone once abroad.  Many students choose to purchase inexpensive cell phones upon arrival in their host country and subscribe to pay-as-you go plans. You will be able to get information about these options when you arrive in your host country, and your study abroad program may provide you with some information in pre-departure materials.  Some companies allow you to purchase a phone ahead of time and have it shipped to your address in the U.S. prior to departure. Some study abroad programs provide students with a cell phone or have partnerships with specific wireless providers.  Review program materials to find out what your program may offer.   

Elon does not recommend any particular provider, but some companies that Elon students have used in the past include The Carphone Warehouse, Piccell Wireless, Cellhire, and Vodafone.

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Money and Credit Cards

It is wise to take money in more than one form such as ATM cards, credit cards, and debit cards.  Most students do not recommend bringing traveler's checks.  Although credit and debit cards may be used quite regularly in some countries, some countries may still be very cash-based.  Many countries, particularly those in Europe, operate on a "chip-and-pin" system for debit and credit cards, meaning that instead of swiping the card, the card is inserted into a machine that reads a microchip, and the user enters a pin number.  American debit/credit cards use swipe technology which may not be readily available in restaurants and stores, so you should always have cash on hand.  American debit/credit cards will still work in ATMs in other countries regardless of chip-and-pin technology.  Review the pre-departure materials from Elon and your study abroad program, speak with former program participants and SASAs, and review travel guide books or websites to determine the best recommendations for your host country.  Review further information about handling money safely.

Foreign Currency

If possible, you should purchase in advance some of the local currency of your host country so you have it available as soon as you arrive.  Currency can be purchased at most major banks, upon advanced request, as well as through currency exchange services, either in person or online.  You can purchase currency at most major airports in the U.S. and abroad, although the exchange rates and fees tend to be more costly.  As a general guide, you should plan to arrive with about $150-$200 worth of the local currency, unless your program indicates otherwise.  This will enable you to pay for a variety of expenses in the first couple of days including food and bottled water, transportation from the airport (if not provided by program), phone cards, toiletries, and other items you may need for your room.  While you may be able to purchase these items with a credit or debit card, it is advisable to have cash with you in case you have any problems with your card(s) upon arrival.

Credit and Debit Cards

Be sure to inform your credit card companies and banks that you will need to activate your card for international use.  You should tell them all the countries in which you may use your card(s) so that your access is not suspended.  Some financial institutions may require you to appear in person.  If you plan to use your credit card to withdraw cash as a cash advance, be sure that you know the PIN for the card. 

Be aware that using your debit/credit card in an ATM abroad will often incur international service fees.  When contacting your bank, ask what the fees are and ask if they have any relationships with banks abroad where you may incur lower fees.  Confirm the phone number that you would need to call if you have any problems with your card(s).  You cannot call a toll-free number from abroad, so be sure that you have a regular, toll number.  You may also want to research different banks or credit card companies for the one that best suits your needs.

Make a copy of all your debit and credit cards or create a list of the accounts.  Note the phone numbers for each card.  Bring a copy with you and keep it separate from your card(s).  You may want to consider saving this as a Google Doc.  You may also want to leave a copy with your family.  This information will be very useful if your wallet is lost or stolen while abroad.

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Power of Attorney

If you have checks, scholarships, or tax forms that must be signed while you are abroad, you may want to obtain a North Carolina limited power of attorney so that someone else can sign certain documents for you.  If these documents will be signed in another state, refer to information from that state.

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Voting Abroad

If you will be studying abroad during an election time, you may want to familiarize yourself with the voting process from abroad.  Refer to information provided by the Federal Voting Assistance Program and Overseas Vote Foundation.

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Mail Forwarding

The GEC notifies Elon Campus Mail of the names of all students studying abroad for a semester.  Campus Mail blocks the mailboxes of these students and forwards first-class mail to the home address on record with the Registrar’s Office.  Bulk mail or campus mailings will not be forwarded.  If you have any subscriptions, please contact the company to stop/suspend delivery or change the address.  If you do not want your mail to be forwarded to your home address, you must speak with someone in Campus Mail.  If you live off-campus and receive mail at your apartment or a post-office box, contact the United States Postal Service regarding forwarding.

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When it comes to packing for an extended stay abroad, a useful saying is, “pack your bag, take half out, and pack half of that.”  It is essential that you pack as light as possible because you will be managing your luggage by yourself in unfamiliar airports, train stations, etc. when you are tired and jetlagged from your journey abroad.  Check with your airline for information regarding weight and size restrictions and additional fees.  Review guidelines from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to determine restrictions and limitations on certain items in carry-on and checked luggage. 

In your carry-on, you should be sure to bring the following items: your passport and other necessary travel documents, copies of your passport and other travel documents, your medications and prescriptions, a change of clothes in case your checked luggage does not arrive with you, and copies of your credit cards and debit cards. 

These guidelines will give you a general idea of what to pack.  You should also review information provided to you by your specific program and by other students who have studied abroad on your program.

Leave at Home:

  • Anything you would kick yourself for losing or that has sentimental value, such as expensive/meaningful jewelry.
  • Your Social Security card and any extra credit cards, store cards, etc. that you do not plan to use while abroad.
  • Anything that would be considered a weapon.  Even a pocketknife can result in a serious weapons charge while abroad – even if the knife is found during a search or arrest for an unrelated offense.
  • Toiletries and amenities – you can buy these on-site in most locations.  Review the specific information from your program to see if there are any specific recommendations.
  • Handbags and fanny packs.  Wearing a big purse or a fanny pack is like wearing a neon sign that says, “Rob me!” Your passport, cash, and credit cards are most secure when locked safely in your room.  When you have to carry them on you, inside pockets and a sturdy shoulder bag with the strap worn across your chest are somewhat safer.  Another safe place to keep valuables is in a pouch or money belt worn under your clothing.
  • Hair dryers, curling irons, or straighteners.  These usually will not work well abroad and it is best to buy them on site if they are necessary.
  • Logo clothing and baseball caps.  You do not want to pretend you are not from the U.S., but there is no need to draw extraneous attention to yourself.  Shirts and other clothing with Elon or other school or team logos will tend to make you stand out.  Baseball caps are not commonly worn in many other countries and will also cause you to stand out. 

Take With You:

  • Versatile and Appropriate Clothes
    Review program information and other resources such as guide books.  Consider variations in weather through the duration of your program.  Pack clothes that are weather-appropriate and versatile.  Bring items that can be easily mixed and matched into many different outfits and that can be dressed up or dressed down as needed.  In addition to weather, consider the local customs and dress code of your host country and city.  Also consider whether you will be doing anything as part of your program that will require certain clothing, such as an internship, field work, hiking and other outdoor activities, etc.  A general recommendation is to pack enough clothing to last about two weeks without doing laundry. 
  • Shoes
    Pack comfortable, sturdy shoes.  Regardless of where you are studying abroad, you are likely to walk much more each day than you normally do at Elon.  Bring a pair of good walking or hiking shoes.  In many locations it is a good idea to have water-resistant shoes.  You may want to bring one or two other pairs of shoes for dressier occasions or for casual outings such as the beach.  If you plan to play a sport or use a gym or fitness center, bring sneakers.
  • Electric converter/transformer and adapter
    Many countries have outlets that are shaped differently than U.S. outlets, and most have a  standard electrical current of 220 volts.   A converter/transformer coverts the current so that your U.S. devices can run safely and are not damaged.   Failure to use a converter/transformer can result in serious damage to the device and injury to you.   Most laptops and some other devices are able to run on both the U.S. current (110 volts) and currents abroad up to 220 volts.  Review your owner’s manual before going abroad to determine whether you need to use a converter or transformer.

    An adapter allows you to fit the plug from your U.S. devices into outlets that are not the same shape.  It does not convert the current.  Depending on the device, you may need to use just the adapter, or the adapter in combination with the converter or transformer. 

    The International Trade Administration provides some useful information about the currents and plug configurations around the world.
  • First-aid Kit
    Pack a small first-aid kit, including some bandages, alchol wipes, sunscreen, and a mild pain reliever.
  • Gift for Your Hosts
    If you will be living in a homestay, it is usually suggested that you bring a small, token gift for your hosts.  Something that is a typical item from your home state or city usually serves as an appropriate gift.
  • Small Piece of Home
    Pack a small momento from home to have in your room.  A few pictures of your family and friends can be a nice way to make your living space feel like home, and your hosts and friends may be interested in seeing them. 
  • Journal
    Keeping a journal is a great way to document your daily activities, process your experiences, and deal with the emotions of culture shock. 
  • Books, Videos, and Music
    Depending on where you will study and your knowledge of the local language, it may be challenging or costly to find books and movies you can read and follow.  While you want to take advantage of the local culture and what it has to offer, many students recommend bringing some books, movies, and music with you.  E-readers and small mobile devices are great ways to bring these things along. 

Make sure your luggage is labeled inside and out with your name, address, and telephone number in both English and the language spoken in the location(s) of your program.  Use covered luggage tags to avoid becoming a target, and if possible, lock your luggage.  Check the TSA guidelines regarding locked luggage and other current airline travel regulations.

Carry-on Luggage

When preparing your carry-on bag(s), review the limits from your airline and the guidelines from the TSA.  Items that should be either in your carry-on baggage or on your person include:

  • Passport and all travel documents
  • Credit and bank cards and cash
  • Contact information for your program abroad and the details of where you are to go upon arrival
  • International health insurance card and Elon emergency card (applicable only to Winter Term programs)
  • All acceptance letters, handbooks, and other information provided to you by Elon and your program abroad
  • All prescription medications in original containers along with prescriptions and doctors' notes
  • Laptop computer
  • Change of clothes

Packing information adapted from the US Department of State's Students Abroad.

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