Passports and Visas
A valid passport is required to enter or leave most countries. If you do not have a passport, we strongly advise you apply for one as soon as possible; sometimes it can take a few months to acquire one. If you already have a passport, make sure that it is valid for at least six months beyond your return date.
U.S. citizens can apply for a passport online.
Most countries require a visa for both paid and unpaid positions. Check with the embassy/consulate of the country you are planning to go to for up-to-date entry requirements. Each country differs on the type of visa and the length of time to acquire one. For non-U.S. citizens there may be different visa requirements so it is important to check the requirements before accepting a position abroad. If you need assistance with this process or have any questions, you may contact a member of the International Team.
If you lose your passport while abroad, notify the nearest consulate or embassy immediately.
Health and Safety
One of the most important things you can do to ensure your safety is to research your destination. Start by asking your employer for tips and suggestions for staying safe. Conducting research will help you better understand the health and safety issues you may encounter. Illness, crime, civil unrest, natural disasters and terrorism are issues that might affect your stay. Pay particular attention to the crime issues. While street violence may be rare, mugging and theft can be quite common in larger cities, learn what measures the locals take and do everything you can to make sure you are not a victim of crime.
The U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs offers useful profiles of various countries which describe health and safety concerns as well as offer safety tips.
It is recommended that all students register with the embassy or consulate in their host country. This can be done online or in person upon arrival. The registration process allows the embassy or consulate to contact you in case of an emergency.
If you are a U.S. Citizen register here.
Health and Immunizations
You may not be allowed to enter a country if you don’t have the proper immunization(s) or vaccination(s). Drexel University College of Medicine’s Travel Health Center provides travel health planning for students. A travel health physician conducts a comprehensive review of each individual’s travel itinerary and medical history and provides personalized recommendations for effective healthcare precautions to optimize disease prevention.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), provides extensive information for travelers, including health information for specific destinations and information on outbreaks, vaccinations, and safe food and water.
If you are taking any prescription medications with you, we advise you to take enough for the duration of your stay. Be sure to take them in their original containers so that if you are asked about them as you go through customs, you will be able to show what the drugs are and that they were prescribed by a physician.
When you arrive in your host city, you should ask your employer what emergency procedures and resources will be available to you. If you are in an emergency situation, you should notify your co-op coordinator as soon as possible.
While abroad, you’ll want to be able to communicate with your parents and others directly about your safety and well-being. People need to know how to get in touch with you, especially if you are away from your program city or traveling on your own. If there is a serious illness or death in your family, your family will want to be able to reach you. Or, if there is a crisis in the U.S. or elsewhere in the world, loved ones will often want to at least hear your voice and make sure you are okay.
We advise you to make the following arrangements:
- Develop a plan for regular telephone calls and/or email contact with your family and others with whom you wish to stay in contact. Develop your plan before your departure.
- Make sure you know how to use the telephone and have a calling card or other means of using the telephone in the country(ies) that you visit.
- Make sure that someone always knows where you are, knows your schedule, and your itinerary when you are traveling.
- Email your home address, work address and the contact information of close friends or coworkers to your family.
Travelers abroad are subject solely to the laws of the countries they are visiting. You are responsible for obeying all of the laws of the country you are in, regardless of whether you are traveling or a resident. Penalties in some countries are often more severe than in the U.S. Drexel University cannot intervene if you are arrested or prosecuted for violation of local laws, including laws on drug use and disturbances of the peace. What may seem to you like a harmless prank may have serious consequences. Do not assume that you will be treated leniently; the opposite is often the case. Do not count on the consulate or embassy to assist you except in a superficial advisory capacity. If you do become involved in any legal problems, notify your co-op coordinator immediately.
Drugs and Alcohol
Be aware of the drug and alcohol laws of your host country. Several countries have drug laws that are far more strict than those in the U.S. Penalties can range from years in prison to death. Be aware that U.S. customs officers are extremely thorough in their inspections for smuggled drugs coming into the U.S. If any of your prescription drugs have even small amounts of illegal substances as part of their composition, have your doctor write a note indicating why that drug is in your prescription. Even that small amount could have you arrested in another country.
According to the Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT), 1.3 million people die annually on the roads of the world. It has also been reported that 90 percent of road fatalities occur in developing countries.
Be aware that road crashes are the single highest death rate for Americans traveling abroad (twice as high as homicide).
We recommend before traveling abroad that you contact ASIRT for specific road safety information. The organization produces road safety reports on 160 countries as well as safety word phrases in various languages for students to communicate to drivers.
Road Safety Tips:
- Choose the safest form of transportation in each country.
- Avoid night road travel in countries with poor safety records and/or mountainous terrain.
- Keep a mobile phone with you for emergencies.
- Avoid overcrowded, overweight, and top-heavy buses, minivans and taxis.
Ask the driver to be responsible or disembark at the first safe opportunity.
- Avoid riding with drivers who seem to be under the influence of alcohol or medication, or appear over-tired, irrational, or distracted.
- Ride in vehicles with functioning seat belts.
- Understand local “road culture.”
- Learn about seasonal hazards and local holidays when road accident rates rise.
- Report reckless driving to the bus or taxi company, embassy, and ASIRT.
- In many countries, it is generally safer to hire a highly responsible, well-trained, professional driver than to drive a rental car.
While you are abroad, you will have to be particularly street savvy. Gender roles, traffic laws and drinking laws may be different in each country you visit. As a traveler, it is your responsibility to be observant and cautious.
Use caution on busy city streets and do not assume that any car, truck, bus, or scooter will stop for you. Know where you are going when you leave. Just like in any big city, a foreigner holding a huge map could invite trouble. Take time to study a map before you go out and get to know the city’s layout and culture. Keep a map with you though in case you do get lost. Locals won’t always give directions to foreigners.
Remember that safety in numbers is a smart idea wherever you are.
Adjust to Social Norms and Appropriate Dress
It is recommended that you observe local behaviors and cultural cues. Body language, social mannerisms, and tones of voice are not universal. Your actions may be interpreted very differently than you intended and vice versa. For example, often body language can conflict with what you say, such as smiling while saying no. Be aware of your own mixed signals. It is good to be mindful of how one is perceived, as well as how you can adjust to a new culture and lifestyle.
Visit Culture Crossing, to understand cross-cultural etiquette and understanding.
Avoid Being a Victim of Crime
- Try to blend in with your surroundings; use discretion and common sense in your behavior and dress.
- Learn the cultural norms of where you will be living.
- Be alert, avoid crowds, demonstrations, or other situations that could put you in danger.
- Be aware of the unconscious messages you may give through your posture, gestures, tone of voice, clothing, and eye contact.
- Don’t walk alone or in isolated areas. Always walk home with friends, especially at night. And never let friends go home alone late at night. Safety in numbers is a smart idea wherever you are.
- Be aware that fights can break out late at night or during sporting events. We advise you to avoid restaurants and bars near sports stadiums due to the potential violence that may result.
- Learn basic help phrases in the native language.
Culture shock is a term used to describe the anxiety and feelings (of surprise, disorientation, confusion, etc.) felt when people have to operate within an entirely different cultural or social environment. It is a normal, healthy psychological reaction to the stress of living in a culture different from one’s own. It grows out of the difficulties in assimilating to the new culture, causing difficulty in knowing what is appropriate and what is not.
Due to the abrupt loss of the familiar, culture shock can cause people to feel isolated and very often a diminished sense of self-importance. At times, people develop a strong disgust (moral or aesthetical) about certain aspects of the new culture.
Culture shock will probably affect you one way or another, but it doesn’t last forever. While it may be somewhat painful, it can be a mind-stretching process that will increase your understanding of your host culture and of yourself.
Possible symptoms of culture shock:
- Withdrawal (spending too much time in your room, avoiding host nationals)
- Negative feelings and stereotyping of nationals
- Inability to concentrate
- Excessive sleep or insomnia
- Compulsive eating or drinking
- Lack of appetite
- Irritability and frustration
- Crying uncontrollably or outbursts of anger
- Physical ailments, such as frequent headaches or stomachaches
Coping and adjusting
There are a few things to consider before you go abroad that can make the shock a little less shocking:
Find out your host country’s traditions on:
- Appropriate dress
- Gift giving
- Topics to avoid discussing
Careful observation, not clouded or skewed by your own cultural presumptions and expectations, will help you develop an understanding of the new culture and will facilitate your inclusion in that culture.
Keep an open mind and a sense of humor. This is one of the key indications of success in a foreign environment. Your adjustment will be much easier and quicker if you remember to be flexible.
Be patient. In some countries bank lines, ticket lines, etc., may take a lot longer than you are accustomed to. Don’t get angry or resentful, just get used to it.
Expect to make some mistakes. Don’t be a perfectionist. Cultures are different and there is no way you can learn everything about the host culture from a book ahead of time.
Be prepared that “efficient” and “quick” may be very different concepts from what you are used to. While everyone likes an idea that works, some cultures value aesthetics over practicality or emphasize the process over the end result. Family ties and social obligations are often given priority over individual needs and wants.
Ways to overcome these feelings:
- Write in a daily journal
- Force yourself to go out and do new things and join new activities
- Develop new friendships
- Share feelings with other foreign students or advisors
- Plan excursions to different parts of the city/country
Reverse Culture Shock
Reverse culture shock is usually more difficult than culture shock, simply because you do not expect to have any issues returning home. After maintaining a different lifestyle abroad, you must readjust to your previous life. You’ll be different, your friends will be different, and lots of things will have happened in people’s lives, in the city, and in the country that you will not know about. Returnees are often disappointed about the lack of interest in hearing about their experiences abroad or looking at their photos.
The best approach is to be proactive in dealing with the situation. Take advantage of re-entry meetings or sessions offered by the university, become a mentor for foreign students on campus or volunteer at co-op abroad events. You want to remember and reflect on your experience and stay in touch with friends you made abroad. Submitting an entry to Steinbright’s annual photo-essay contest is a great way to share and reflect on the value of your overseas experience.
Ways to reduce the effects of reverse culture shock:
- Keep in contact with friends and family while you are away.
- Keep updated on your hometown news and current events.
- Share experience and photos as you go along via email or social media
Living abroad will likely present some increased costs compared with living and working in the U.S. You will be exposed to many new and different activities, foods and cultural events. The costs depend largely on the activities you choose, the country you are visiting and your personal spending habits. Please find below some suggestions for successful financial management while abroad.
Handling Money While Abroad
Upon arrival at your international destination, you may not have a chance to exchange money at the airport. You will need cash to pay for a taxi, food, porters, etc. You should take about $100 worth of foreign currency with you when you leave the U.S. You can exchange most foreign currency at major airports, American Automobile Association (AAA) offices, and many banks in the U.S. Some banks, however, do not keep a supply of foreign currency on hand and must order it, so plan ahead. You should check currency exchange rates before you leave.
Options that may be available to you for accessing money abroad are briefly explained below. We strongly recommend that you have several alternatives and that you open a bank account as soon as possible.
Please note: Before you go abroad, you need to notify your bank and credit card companies of your overseas trip, the length of time you will be abroad and the countries you will be visiting, so service is not cut off or denied as a fraud prevention measure.
Traveler’s checks are the safest way to carry cash overseas. They are known and accepted worldwide (with a few exceptions). Traveler’s checks are also insured and will be replaced if lost or stolen. In order to make a claim for lost or stolen traveler’s checks it is essential to know the numbers of the missing checks. You should keep a good record of your check numbers and keep this record separate from your checks. Traveler’s checks may be purchased at any bank, American Express office, or AAA office. It is possible to buy traveler’s checks either in dollars or in the units of a foreign currency.
Please note: Most banks and other businesses charge a small fee for cashing traveler’s checks. The downside of traveler’s checks is that it can be difficult to find a bank that will cash them in some countries. Find out in advance which banks in your destination country accept traveler’s checks
Automated Teller Machines (ATMs)
In most cities, the simplest way to obtain cash is through an ATM. Withdrawing money through an ATM will give you the best exchange rate for the day. You should check with your bank before leaving the U.S. to find out where its ATM cards are accepted. In order to use an ATM, you must know your Personal Identification Number (PIN). Some banks assign a different PIN for overseas transactions. Check with your bank to find out which PIN you should use in your destination country. Also, please note that a foreign withdrawal surcharge may apply to your transactions.
Most banks now offer a check debit card rather than a regular ATM card. A check debit card can be used almost anywhere a Visa or MasterCard is accepted. This is a very convenient method to pay for things while abroad. As with any ATM transaction, the best exchange rate for the day is given. Again, you should confirm whether additional fees will apply to transactions overseas.
American Express provides a service called Express Cash for its cardholders. This service allows you to withdraw money from your checking account in the U.S. via any American Express ATM. American Express has many travel offices and ATMs worldwide. Visit the American Express website for a list of locations.
If you have a large sum of money that you would like to take with you when you leave the U.S., you can take it in the form of a check issued by your bank. When you open a bank account in your host country, you can deposit the bank check. This takes less time to clear (about a week, depending on which country you are in) than a personal check from the U.S., which can take several weeks.
Wiring money involves transferring money directly from one bank account to another. Before leaving the U.S., it is a good idea to ask your bank if it has a relationship with a particular bank in your host country. If it does, you should open a bank account there. This will make money wiring simpler, and possibly less expensive.
The fee for wiring money is fairly expensive. The person in the U.S. who is sending you money could pay approximately $30-50 and you will be charged a similar fee upon receiving the money. The benefits of wiring money are that it is safe and quick, especially if you are in an area where there are no ATMs.
Based on the experiences of other students who have worked abroad, some other things that can add up are:
- Supplies for living (bedding, pillows, linens, cooking utensils and appliances, personal hygiene) Cultural activities (movies, concerts, plays, operas, museums, etc.)
- Eating out and groceries
- Laundry and dry cleaning (generally more expensive than in the U.S.)
- Sightseeing trips
- Gifts and souvenirs
- Postage and freight
- Utilities (including internet) at home or at cafe