Pre-departure and Travel Resources
Travel Info & Resources
After all your work to research and select a program, the application process, figuring out how you’ll cover expenses, etc . . . It’s finally time to travel to your study abroad destination! This page provides helpful information about the travel process and about traveling to other destinations from your home base abroad.
You must obtain and carry with you appropriate documentation when traveling outside your home country. Adult passengers 18 and over must show valid identification at the airport checkpoint in order to travel.
All students must hold a valid passport in order to study abroad.
What is a passport?
A passport is an official document issued by a government, certifying the holder's identity and citizenship and entitling them to travel under its protection to and from foreign countries.
United States citizens
If you need to apply for a new passport or renew an expired one, visit the travel.state.gov website for instructions. You must use the passport book while studying abroad.
Most new applicants submit a passport application at a local full-service post office for basic processing. However, the San Diego Passport Agency in downtown San Diego offers expedited service if needed. Passports will be issued within 5 business days of applying at the agency. You can also visit the SDSU Passport Office at the International Student Center to process your application.
All SDSU international degree-seeking students must use their home country passport when studying abroad. You should meet with an International Student Advisor in the International Student Center to discuss immigration matters. U.S. permanent residents will also use their current passports.
To check current processing times, please visit the Department of State website at travel.state.gov
Request expedited service for faster processing and overnight delivery service for faster delivery after processing. The fees for these services are payable to the U.S. Department of State in addition to application fees. Learn more about optional services
Already Applied for a Passport?
It may take less time if you paid for Expedite Service and sent your application via overnight delivery.
Please remember when calculating processing times, passport cards cannot be shipped using overnight delivery. All passport cards are returned using First Class Mail.
SDSU Passport Office Now Open!
The new Passport Acceptance Facility is now open at the International Student Center near the corner of 55th Street and Aztec Circle Drive in spring 2016. The facility handles the passport needs of SDSU students, faculty and staff, as well as residents of the greater San Diego community, the College Area in particular. Find out more about the Passport Office.
What is a visa?
A visa is an official document that allows each traveler to legally enter and stay in a foreign country for given period of time. Visas are issued by the host country and therefore each student upon acceptance into a study abroad program must apply for one. Most commonly, the visa is a stamp endorsed in the applicant's passport.
Applying for a visa
Visit the NAFSA Association of International Educators Visas for Education Abroad webpage for more directions. It is each student’s responsibility to review the necessary consulate or embassy website for directions on applying for a visa. Apply as early as allowed because processing can take anywhere from a few days to months.
- The U.S. Department of State has an alphabetical list of countries with specific entry requirements and background information.
- Each consulate requires different materials from applicants, but generally these include a completed application form, photos, fee, program acceptance letter, proof of funds and housing.
- In some cases, a criminal background check is also required. Some countries only require a local or state police report, while others specifically require an FBI background check.
If allowed by the consulate, you may be able to use a visa or travel document service which can submit your visa application on your behalf. The SDSU Study Abroad office does not endorse or affiliate with any visa agents.
Visa requirements will vary widely by country and the type of activity engaged in while living there. In order to ensure you apply for the most appropriate visa, access the country’s consulate or embassy website for visa instructions. In most cases, you will need a legitimate sponsor to receive a visa.
When should I buy my airline ticket?
Please wait to arrange travel after you have officially been accepted by your host university or program and you have completed all prerequisite requirements for both SDSU and your host university.
Although it’s generally cheapest to book an international flight 2-3 months prior to departure, it’s a good idea to start looking at airfares right away to become familiar with cost averages for your flight.
Travel deposit program
STA Travel offers a special Airfare Deposit Program for U.S. students. You can reserve your ticket price as early as you need with a non-refundable deposit of $300. You have up until 1 week (7 days) before your departure date to pay the remaining balance.
Finding a fair fare
- We recommend contacting at least 3 agencies or websites to assure yourself of a good fare.
- Travel agents are sometimes able to match an online fare, so be sure to include both agents and online booking sites in your search.
- Use a search engine to find the cheapest date/time to fly, and then go to the airline's own website to book the actual tickets. Many airlines will match or beat other prices listed online.
- You can sign up for price drop notifications on some travel booking websites. These will alert you when a fare for your chosen destination drops below a specific threshold.
- Flights are usually cheaper during mid-week travel. If possible, check alternative itineraries by altering the leave and return dates (Monday–Wednesday are usually the best departure days).
Your return flight
- Consider booking a flight that has a flexible return date, or ask about the airline's fees for changing the return date. This lets you keep your options open for travel after your program concludes.
- If you will be abroad for an entire academic or calendar year, you may need to purchase two one-way tickets instead of one round-trip ticket. (Your airline may not allow you to purchase your return flight that far in advance.)
Make a checklist
Pack using a checklist to ensure you bring everything you need.
Review the U.S. Department of State Traveler’s Checklist for helpful packing tips. Here is a basic checklist to get you started!
- ATM/Credit card/Cash
- Travel Itinerary
- Addresses (hard copy)
- Emergency phone numbers
- Health insurance information
- Eyegasses l contact prescription and extra contacts and supplies
- Camera + batteries, memory cards
- Clothes (layer clothing)
- Medications with prescriptions (keep medications in original bottles)
- Money belt/neck pouch
- Travel combination lock
- Rain gear
- Electrical converter and/or adapter
- First aid kit
- Alarm clock (battery operated)
- Headset with microphone
- Roll-up toilet kit
- Pack light to reduce the weight!
- Label all bags and luggage, and tie a piece of string or a recognizable ribbon or tag on your suitcase for easy identification at the baggage carousel.
- Bring a comfortable backpack.
- Use a TSA-approved lock. (Other locks are discouraged because officials in other countries may take them off to inspect your luggage.)
- Be familiar with TSA requirements and airline bag limits.
- Keep essentials in your carry-on bag: documents, change of clothes, prescription medications, toiletries, etc. Pack at least one outfit with underwear and socks in the carry-on in case your checked suitcase arrives after you do.
- Toiletries: review TSA rules for liquids. (You will have to take out your clear plastic bag full of liquids when you go through security.) Bring just a small amount and buy more locally as needed.
- Make sure your laptop/purse/briefcase will completely fit under the airplane seat in front of you or in the overhead compartment. (You will probably have to take out your tablet or laptop when you go through security.)
Clothing for travel overseas
- Wear relaxed yet “nicer” or more presentable clothes, interchangeable items.
- Limit your wear of printed or labeled clothing from home that marks you as foreigner.
- Be respectful of local culture and demonstrate modesty (no short shorts or flip-flops).
- Comfortable walking shoes and sandals are vital.
- Consider the climate at your host location.
- Remove inessential items from your wallet or money belt.
- Pack light: remember you can buy supplemental clothing abroad, if necessary
Progressing through all the steps (check-in, baggage check, and security) can take several hours. Be sure to arrive at the airport with plenty of time to complete all of the steps required to board your flight.
For international travel, it is wise to arrive at the airport 3 hours prior to departure (2 hours for domestic travel). International flights often start boarding 45 minutes to 1 hour prior to the departure time to account for Immigration and Customs.
Before you leave - Daily countdown
1-2 weeks before departure:
Think about the items you want to take with you, and create a packing checklist.
2-3 days before departure:
Pack your luggage carefully so as not to forget anything.
The day before departure:
Check your Flight Status. On the day before your flight and also a few hours before you leave your house on the day of your flight, check the status of your flight on your airline's website. On their homepage, look for a "flight status" link.
- If your flight will be delayed, then adjust your timing accordingly.
- If your flight is canceled, then contact your airline to make other arrangements.
The day of departure:
- Check again for all essentials. Before leaving the house, double-check that you have your passport, your wallet, phone, and either your plane tickets or your reservation/confirmation number. Your luggage should be packed a day or two before all this using your packing checklist.
- Leave with enough time to arrive at the airport about 3 hours before your flight's departure time. Make sure you locate the right terminal for your airline.
By checking in, you announce your arrival to the airline. The check-in process also lets you confirm you will be on the correct flight, obtain a boarding pass, and check luggage. A boarding pass is a document provided by your airline during check-in that gives you permission to board the airplane for your flight. Boarding Passes are always required to board a flight. Airlines may accept paper or electronic boarding passes (on your phone or tablet).
- Find and follow signs for "Departures" (not "Arrivals") as you enter your terminal.
- Go to the ticketing counter (you will see large airline logos and signs will say Ticketing/Bag Check). Find the counter in front of your airline and get in line.
- Read more detailed information on airport check-in.
Check-in deadlines give airlines time to load luggage onto the plane, offer potential unclaimed seats to stand-by passengers, and finalize take-off documentation.
Check-in deadlines are usually between 60 to 30 minutes before boarding. If you are late, and do not check in by your airline's deadline, you may be unable to check in (meaning you cannot get a boarding pass and get on your flight).
There are 3 ways to check in, from home or when you arrive at the airport. Choose the one that's best for you.
Check-in at staffed airport counter
Checking in at the airport, at a staffed check-in counter, lets you check in your baggage at the same time you check in for your flight. The agent will print a boarding pass for you and tell you your gate number (this should also be printed on your boarding pass). Adult passengers 18 and over must show valid identification at the airport checkpoint in order to travel internationally.
You will need:
- Paper ticket (less and less common)
- A confirmation number (usually sent via email if you bought your ticket online or through a travel agency)
- A printed itinerary with a confirmation number
Note: If your flight is in less than an hour and there is a long line for check-in, tell an employee of your airline that you must board soon. They may help you advance in the line.
Checking your bag(s)
The agent will check your luggage, if you have more than carry-on bags. Do not lose your boarding pass or the small stickers they give you. These are keyed to the stickers they put on your luggage. (They help the airline locate your luggage if it gets lost in transit.)
Check-in at airport kiosk
Most airlines offer self check-in at kiosks located near the ticketing counters. Self check-in is a convenient option, even if you have bags to check. At a self check-in kiosk, you can:
- Enter number of bags to be checked (if desired)
- After check-in, bring luggage to a staffed counter or luggage checking station
- Print your boarding pass
- Select a seat (if allowed by the airline and you haven't pre-selected)
You will need:
- Confirmation number (usually sent via email if you bought your ticket online or through a travel agency)
- The credit card used for ticket payment
- Your passport (A passport is always required for those over 18, when traveling internationally. Airline staff will check your passport either at time of check-in or at the gate.)
Airline check-in policies:
Most airlines will list their specific check-in policies and timelines, so visit your airline's website for details. Here are links to the check-in policies for 3 common carriers:
Going through security
- Pay attention to the security check point necessary to get to your specific gate number.
- Show your boarding pass and passport to the agent, and then get into line for the security check.
- Per TSA regulations, you can only have liquids or gels that are in 3oz containers in carry-on bags. Liquids should be in one clear plastic bag.
- Be prepared to remove your shoes, jacket or sweater; unpack electronics; remove all metal objects from your person. Place these items in the bins TSA provides and put bins on the rollers to move forward through the scanner. Place your carry-on bags on the same rollers.
- You will probably go through a body scan and you may be randomly selected for a pat-down.
- Be sure to collect all of your belongings from the bins.
Finding your gate
- After you are exit security, find a monitor to check again that your flight is on time and confirm your gate number.
- Go directly to your gate to ensure you are in the right area. Listen carefully to any announcements when you are near your gate.
Boarding the plane
- Most airlines will list their specific check-in policies and timelines, so visit your airline's website for details.
- Boarding time is usually 30 minutes to 1 hour before scheduled take-off.
- Your boarding pass will show the time the flight will start boarding as well as your row or group.
If you have a connecting flight, then find out the gate number for the connecting airport so that when you land you know where you need to go. After you de-plane, you may need to go to different terminal to find your gate. You may receive your boarding pass for the second flight ahead of time or need to acquire it when you arrive at the new airport.
If you miss your flight before you have gone through ticketing or security, ask your airline's ticketing desk for help. If you are through security but miss your flight for some reason, ask your gate agent for help.
Whenever you travel from one country to another, you must go through the immigration process. Each country has its immigration inspection process. For most passengers, this is a simple process that takes only a few minutes.
What to do when you arrive at the airport
After you deplane, you’ll enter the immigration area, where arriving passengers are split into separate lines. (These can be long if many international flights arrive simultaneously.) Be sure to enter the line for non-immigrant visitors.
- Do stay calm and relaxed as you wait your turn.
- Do not use any electronics in the immigration area. (No taking photos, use of cell phone to talk or text, etc.) Use of electronics in the immigration area can result in confiscation.
The immigration inspection
1. Document review
When it is your turn for inspection, an airport official will ask to see these documents:
- Green card
- Disembarkation card (provided to you during flight; you will complete before landing)
- Immunization documentation
- Letters of confirmation or support, etc.
2. Standard questions
The airport officials will ask you a set of standard questions, such as:
- What is the nature of your visit?
- How long do you plan to stay in the country?
- Where will you live during your stay?
3. Fingerprints and photos
Some countries require fingerprints and/or photos of every individual entering the the country. Officials will take fingerprints or photos if required.
Once you are approved, the official will stamp your passport and grant you admission into the country. The length of your authorized stay will depend on local visa rules/tourist stay policies.
5. Second-level inspection
Some passengers may be selected for a second level of inspection. Reasons for this may include random checks or questions about documentation. The inspection may take place in a separate room, and passengers undergoing such inspection may or may not be approved to enter the country, based on inspection results.
Second-level inspections could be conducted in the same queue (line) or in a separate room to aid in a conversation and to keep the queues moving for other passengers. The timeframe of these inspections can vary greatly. Passengers that are part of second-level inspections could be granted regular admission into the country once inspection is complete. However, if the incorrect or inadequate documentation is provided, passengers can be denied approval to enter country. Passengers are sent back to their original location on the next available flight.
Going through customs
Each country and airport will have different requirements and procedures for declaring items. For specific customs guidelines, research online restrictions for your host country and for the airport of entry.
Before you de-plane
During your flight, an attendant will distribute a Customs Declaration Form (in addition the disembarkation card you completed for immigration). You should complete this form before landing.
The form will ask questions such as:
- Your flight number
- Your flight’s point of exit and entry
- What goods you are bringing into the country (the form may list prohibited items).
You must declare:
- Any goods you are bringing into the country that may be restricted.
- Return trip to U.S.: Any goods you purchased in the host country.
After clearing immigration
After clearing immigration and collecting your baggage, your next step will be clearing the customs area before you are allowed to leave the airport. As with the immigration process, most passengers find that clearing customs takes only takes a few minutes.
Each country has its own regulations regarding the import and export of goods into and out of the country.
Customs is the authority of each country that is responsible for controlling the flow of goods into and out of the country, including:
- Personal effects
- Hazardous items
- Soil/sand/dirt (generally prohibited because it can introduce non-native organisms; you may be asked to clean your shoes, etc.)
Your luggage may or may not be inspected. If you are found to possess restricted items, you may be required to pay duty and/or fines, or to relinquish the items. It is important to declare items as required on the Customs Declaration Form.
More about customs
Various goods are restricted or forbidden to be exported and/or imported, depending on the country. To learn more , see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/customs.
Everyone experiences some degree of emotional adjustment — even homesickness — when traveling for an extended period of time. It helps to stay in touch regularly with family and friends at home. Luckily, it's easier than ever to do that with mobile phones and apps like Skype. Apps can even help you find your way around in a strange city. Learn more:
While abroad, you'll use your mobile or smart phone to communicate locally and with those at home, and for the convenience of all your favorite apps. Learn how to stay connected, without getting hit with major roaming and overage charges. See below on how to get the most out of your US smart phone, and whether or not you’ll want to utilize a local SIM card in your host country.
USING YOUR U.S. SMART PHONE WHILE ABROAD
- Use all your favorite web-based apps utilizing WiFi when available while abroad (be sure to set your phone to “airplane mode” with the WiFi enabled to avoid data and roaming charges!)
- Your US contacts remain in your phone and easily accessible
- Check with your service provider before departure about the costs of international plans to see if they fit within your needs and budget. You could potentially use this international plan during your stay to avoid purchasing a local SIM card.
- Alternatively, check with your service provider before departure about suspending service while you are away to avoid excessive charges if you accidentally take your phone off airplane mode
PURCHASING A SIM CARD IN YOUR HOST COUNTRY
- Calls, texting, and data available even when there is no WiFi accessible – in some locations WiFi can be very hard to come by in public spaces. This option will prove to be very useful in emergencies, when you want to call or text local friends, call for a taxi, make a reservation, etc.
- Affordable “pay as you go” SIM cards, allow you to pay as little or as much as you need for your communication needs. You can purchase a SIM card in many locations for as little as $10, and this may include few dollars to use for texts or calls as soon as you install your SIM card.
- You can see if your US service provider can unlock your smart phone before departure so you can use a SIM card with your US phone while abroad. Alternatively, you can purchase an affordable “dumb” mobile phone while abroad to use with a SIM card purchased locally, and keep your smart phone handy for using your favorite apps when you have access to WiFi.
It's best to download all apps you will need before you leave the U.S. Don't rely on Wi-Fi abroad to download apps that you might need later. There are many apps that can help make traveling easier, including:
- Google Translate
- Google Maps
- Facebook Messenger
- Wi-Fi Finder
Staying in touch:
Save money on international calls and texts by using apps. Skype, Viber, Google Talk, FaceTime, WhatsApp, etc., are all free apps that let you to call and text inexpensively with everyone back home.
Finding your way:
Offline maps (like Google Maps and OsmAnd) help you get around without not using a lot of data. You can download offline apps like OsmAnd, or cache your own offline maps in Google Maps. (To cache a map, just zoom in on the area, type "OK Maps" into the search bar, then press the "search" icon to save.)
USe Wi-Fi as much as possible, but keep in mind that Wi-Fi access may not be as widely available as you are accustomed to at home. Apps like Free Wi-Fi Finder let you use your phone's GPS to find free Wi-Fi in your area.
Save data and battery usage
Save data and battery by turning data roaming off or putting your phone in airplane mode. Turning off your data will ensure that when you're not on Wi-Fi, apps don't eat up all your data or make you exceed the data limit you have.
You can still send and receive calls or texts while your data roaming is off.
Keeping your phone in airplane mode will save your battery in a pinch. Disabling "push notifications" and manually loading your email will help save data as well.
There are literally thousands of books and websites that provide information on international travel. We have collected links to resources around the Internet and suggested printed materials you might use in your preparations for studying abroad. Also find tips and resources for while you are abroad.