Before you leave to your host country, other types of logistical planning has to take place. This includes things like creating better access to your phone, banking, and bills. By taking this important step, you are ensuring that these life lines will function smoothly during your trip and are ready at your disposal.
PHONE: You have a few options when it comes to cellular service providers. Many students speak to their current service provider and get on a plan that ensures the strongest WiFi connection in their countries of choice, usually known as an International Service Plan. Depending on your host country, it is also very easy to purchase a local SIM card - just make sure that you get your smartphone unlocked before leaving the states so they can install the SIM card when you are ready.
PHONE APPS: It is also strongly suggested that apps like WhatsApp, Facetime, or Zoom be used to communicate with loved ones back in the U.S. so you do not have to pay per international text message or minute on the phone. You can also use features like “Share My Location” on your smartphone that allows parents or other loved ones to track your locations in real time for security purposes.
Outside of communication, there are tons of other useful apps you can download before you leave. This includes a currency converter. Select the country you are in and it will instantly recalibrate to the form of payment used there and what that amount of money converts to in U.S. dollars. Students have found this handy during backpacking trips over the weekend to outside countries, out at street markets, or making bigger ticket purchases.
For travel, Google Maps is great because you can download full city maps, pin locations, and use it offline if saved in advance (useful in case your connection is spotty). City Mapper adjusts to your location and offers real time reports on public transportation schedules. So whether you are taking the Tube in London or hopping on a water taxi in Venice, this app can help save you time and steps. Uber is also the most popular international ride service app.
Here are some final recommendations: DuoLingo and Google Translate for fluency, using the “Wallet” function on your phone to store plane tickets digitally, clearing your phone space for all the pictures and videos you will be taking, and activating “Find My Iphone” should you misplace your phone.
BILLS: Have all of your bills from back home set to "recurring payment" to ensure you do not miss any important deadlines. Have notifications enabled on either your email or phone and make sure the proper card is linked to your account.
BANKING: While abroad, students should have easy access to their money to pay for food, travel, and any unexpected expenses that pop up. Following these steps will ensure optimum financial planning:
- Credit Cards: Do you currently have a credit card? If not, it is highly suggested you get one. Look up what the Foreign Transaction Fee (FTF) is and compare that to others on the market. This is critical because with every swipe of your card, that fee accumulates and can add up quickly. You want the lowest FTF possible. Many shops and small businesses prefer credit cards over debit cards (Mastercard and VISA being the most accepted abroad). Special note: Using a credit card is also advised because of the security it allows for concerning identity theft. In that rare occurrence, any charges acquired won’t affect your actual savings account/debit card.
- Banking Institution: Research whether your current banking institution has sister branches internationally. See if they are located near your campus for easy access when you need to withdraw money. Look up how much withdrawals are charged internationally. Again, feel free to open up a new account if you feel you need better access. When you are settled on your banking institution, notify them either online or in person of your departure. They will want to know any countries you plan on traveling to and the dates of that travel to protect you from identity theft or any suspicious charges.
- Savings Account: As you plan for your study abroad semester, it is strongly suggested that you open up a separate savings account to track your financial progress. Any money that is allotted for your trip (scholarship awards, financial aid, fundraising, work income, etc.) can be deposited here so it does not get confused with your spending money or bills. By having a separate account, you can track at all times where you are in regards to hitting your financial goals needed to study abroad.
- Petty Cash: The week or two before you leave be sure to pull out petty cash for your flight overseas. A small amount of $200-400 is enough to cover anything you buy on your flight, transportation to your housing site, and food and supplies to get you started the first few days abroad. Because the petty cash is going to be in the foreign currency of the country you are moving to, please allow time for your bank to order that specialty currency in case they are low on stock.