Before You Leave
Before you Leave
Welcome to our pre-departure preparation page!
This page is intended for students that are already Accepted or Confirmed to study abroad; meaning they have submitted an application to study abroad to the Study Abroad Office. This will serve as a helpful resource in navigating pre-departure requirements. Here you will find reminders for various cultural, administrative, and logistical considerations to take into account before you go abroad. If you haven’t completed the application process yet, please visit our Get Started page or Meet with an Advisor to learn how.
1. Pre-Departure Orientation
All students going abroad must attend the UIC Study Abroad Office’s mandatory pre-departure orientation. Pre-departure orientation will allow students to connect with other outbound UIC students studying in the same or nearby locations in addition to receiving travel tips, resources, and perspectives from UIC study abroad alumni. Information about the scheduled pre-departure orientation sessions per term will be available here and in your online study abroad application.
This session will cover the following topics:
- Health & safety precautions
- Emergency procedures
- Immunizations and vaccinations
- Paperwork and documentation needed to be completed prior to departure
- Registration, course approval process, and transcript information
- Visa resources
- Financial aid and scholarship updates
- Cultural adjustment and adaptation
- Resources for navigating identity abroad
- International communication options
2. Complete all Required Paperwork
There are several required forms for UIC study abroad which are needed to be completed prior to your departure. Please plan to review your online student application portal to complete and submit those documents. All documents required by the Study Abroad at UIC (listed below) are due by pre-departure orientation. Course Approval forms and passport photocopies are due by April 1st for summer/fall programs and November 1st for Spring and embedded programs.
You will be required to sign and submit the following documents (some programs may have additional requirements):
- Course Approval Form (review process here)
- Copy of a Valid Passport (must be valid for at least 6 months from the date you return home)
- GDPR Agreement
- Media Permission Form
- MAP Registration Agreement
- Student Code of Conduct and Orientation Agreement
- Financial Aid and Scholarships Agreement For
3. Passport and Visa Considerations
Any individual traveling to a country where they are not a national will need a passport. U.S. citizens may apply for their passport via a U.S. Department of State sanctioned passport acceptance facility (which usually can be found at select post offices). The Department of State’s website is the best place to go for information about applying for or renewing a passport. Keep in mind that it can take several weeks to obtain a passport, so you are encouraged to apply for one as soon as possible.
Students are advised in their program advising appointment that they will need to apply for a passport if they do not already have one. We ask that all students submit a copy of their passport to the study abroad office before pre-departure orientation. This allows us to support you should your passport be lost or stolen abroad or you need assistance in returning home as a result of an emergency situation. If you already have a passport, double check that it is valid for at least 6 months after your return date from your study abroad program. Please be sure to check the date and renew your passport if necessary.
A visa is an official document, usually contained within your passport, that a foreign government issues to you, allowing you to legally travel to, from, and within that particular country or region. Visa requirements and application processes vary by your destination and nationality. Though general visa information may be provided by the Study Abroad Office and/or the program provider, it is ultimately each student’s responsibility to determine if they require a visa to study in their host location(s), and if a visa is needed, it is also the student’s responsibility to obtain the visa. It is also each student’s responsibility to notify the UIC Study Abroad Office or your host institution in a timely manner if documentation from the UIC Study Abroad Office or your host institution is necessary to complete a visa application. Generally-speaking, students should expect to receive all visa instructions from their program partner and to defer to them for visa application support.
The U.S. Department of State provides general information about visa requirements by country (type your destination country into the search bar below ‘Learn about your destination’ to read about Entry, Exit and Visa Requirements). Students should consult the appropriate embassy or consulate for detailed visa information for their destination. International students registered with the Office of International Services should contact their OIS adviser to determine whether there are any US visa restrictions related to studying abroad and should check on entry/exit requirements specific to their nationality since these differ from the requirements of U.S. citizens sometimes.
General Tips on Visa Processes
- A visa is typically a stamp or seal that is affixed inside your passport so it is imperative that you have a passport that will be valid for the entire duration of your time abroad. Many consulates require the passport to be valid for at least 6 months after your return from the host country.
- Students may be required to make a personal appearance at the appropriate consulate to obtain a visa.
- Students traveling to multiple countries, on consecutive programs, or for an extended period of time, may have complex visa requirements and should develop a plan to address these well in advance.
- Some countries require that you enter your country of study directly from your home country or do not allow you to enter certain other countries before arriving to your country of study. Please contact the appropriate consulate before making travel plans.
- The student assumes all fees associated with obtaining a visa unless otherwise noted.
- Students are strongly encouraged to purchase refundable airfare and travel insurance. Some policies may include coverage for failure to obtain a visa.
- Students should allow plenty of time to apply and receive a student visa.
A visa is a privilege, not a right. A consular office may deny your visa application, so it is best to adhere to their requirements as closely as possible. Obtaining a visa is your responsibility. It is important that you know what is required of you before attempting to enter a country. Failing to obtain a visa (or the correct visa) could result in a denial of entry into a country and/or criminal charges, and additionally does not release students from financial liability for a program.
4. Financial Aid For Your Term Abroad
If you plan on receiving financial aid (grants and/or loans), it is your responsibility to make the
necessary arrangements prior to your departure.
- Once you have selected a specific study abroad program, your SAO advisor will create a budget that will be sent to the Financial Aid Office. You should make an appointment with the Study Abroad Office contact in Financial Aid, Hua Kao, to discuss the financial aid package possible for your term abroad.
- Aid will be disbursed directly into your UIC student account and you are responsible for paying your program provider directly unless you are going on an exchange program. If you are going on an exchange program, you will be charged UIC tuition and fees, and your aid will be applied towards any outstanding charges on your UIC account. Disbursal timing is based on the timely completion of all the necessary financial aid paperwork. If everything is submitted on time, your aid will be deposited into your UIC student account 10 days before the start of the UIC semester the earliest.
- If your program balance is due before you receive financial aid, you should obtain Financial Aid disbursement letter from Hua Kao. This letter will indicate what types and amounts of financial aid you are eligible to receive. It’s student’s responsibility to submit the letter to their program. Upon receipt, due date may be adjusted. Please contact your program provider to discuss your program payment schedule.
- You must fill out and return the Study Abroad Agreement form to Hua Kao. Without this form, your Financial Aid application will be considered incomplete!
Visit our Financial Aid section for more information.
5. Select Your Courses and Housing
Selecting Your Courses
During your program advising appointment, you will be given a course approval form (CAF). You will write down the courses you plan to take abroad and be required to have your home college sign it and indicate the type of credit you will be receiving. Please be sure to review the course approval and credit policies. You will also be required to register for courses at the local university (direct-enroll and exchange programs only) or select courses via the program partner pre-departure portal or registration system. All instructions to select your courses will be given to you by your program provider. Make sure you carefully review all information they provide. Be mindful that you will need to complete both these steps before completing your study abroad pre-departure requirements.
Depending upon your program, you may have a variety of housing options including homestays, research centers, shared or private apartments, or shared or private residence halls. Short-term programs may house students in hostels, pensions, or hotels. Students participating on exchange programs may need to make their own independent housing arrangements and will have to complete the UIC Study Abroad Housing Waiver. If you do need to set up independent housing, your exchange program and the study abroad office will assist you by providing resources in locating housing.
Students participating on a partnership program will need to select one of the official housing options offered. Residing in the official housing from these programs reduces health and safety risks and is usually more cost effective. In extenuating circumstances on select programs, some exceptions may be made for students to make independent housing arrangements. In these cases, an independent housing waiver will also need to be completed. When reviewing program options, consider the housing arrangements offered and the role it may play in your cultural immersion and meeting your personal and academic goals!
6. Health, Safety, and Security Considerations
7. Set Up A Communication Plan
To read more about staying connected and communication abroad, visit our While Abroad page for more information. The below information includes how to prepare before you leave.
It is the expectation that you will have a local phone or phone from your home country with international coverage while studying abroad. Having access to a working phone provides important safety benefits and is helpful when navigating new environments. Usually students either opt to purchase a local SIM card that can be inserted into an unlocked phone or utilize an international plan from your home country. If you choose to purchase a local SIM card, your program partner may assist you in making these arrangements when when you arrive on-site. Make sure your phone is unlocked before traveling abroad. For students who will be studying abroad for a longer period of time, we recommend you choose the local SIM card option as it is far more reliable and cost effective.
Helpful Applications to Stay Connected
- Facebook & Instagram – Share your experience abroad by posting, direct messaging, and going live!
- WiiChat, Whatsapp, & GroupMe – Allows you to text, call, and video chat internationally for free when connected to WiFi. Most international locations use Whatsapp instead of SMS to communicate because it is cheaper. WiiChat is most commonly used in Asia, specifically China, because of governmental restrictions. You will find you will be connecting with both locals and your home friends and family on these applications.
- Google Voice – If you set up your Google Voice account before you leave it will give you a U.S. phone number. You can call landlines and companies like your credit card company or health care professional in the U.S. for free from your computer. You can also share the number with relatives and friends who may want to call and leave a message for you. It is also helpful if you have relatives who do not have a cell phone or do not know how to use some of the phone applications for texting/video chatting internationally listed above.
Set Up A Communication Plan
Although you are going to want to stay connected with family and friends back home, you are going to want to try your best to be present in the moment, form new connections with locals, and focus on your own development abroad. Therefore, it is best to set up a clear plan with your loved ones to make sure you strike a balance between home and abroad.
Mode. Talk through what the best way to communicate with each of your family members and friends will be. Is it text? phone calls? video chats? or a combination?
Frequency. How often do you plan to talk to them? Will it be daily? weekly? monthly? Make sure you are aligned on expectations so your loved ones don’t worry if they haven’t heard from you.
Safety. Who is your emergency contact? Make sure that this person is aware that they have been designated as your emergency contact and it is clear the best way to get in touch with them in the event of an emergency.
Whatever the plan is, it is helpful to have a general idea of how often you will be talking with your parents, guardians, friends, and other acquaintances back home.
8. Learn About Your Destination
You will receive a variety of pre-departure resources from the UIC Study Abroad Office and your study abroad program partner before you leave. Be sure to read all these resources thoroughly to learn more about your study abroad destination.
On some of our programs, such as direct enroll or exchange programs, you will have the opportunity to take classes with local professors and students. It is important to note that the academic experience can vary greatly from what you are accustomed to on a U.S. campus. Many times, students report that they must study for more hours than they typically might back home. In addition, some courses may only issue you a grade based on one or two final papers or exams, rather than several smaller assignments throughout the term. Teaching styles are likely to differ in the classroom. This is all part of the experience and can help make you a more well-rounded student. You are encouraged to research the classroom culture of your host country and to reach out to your program support staff if you encounter any issues while abroad.
On other programs, you may find an academic approach that is more similar to our own in the U.S. UIC’s faculty-directed programs are UIC courses taught by UIC faculty members, so the experience is likely to be more familiar to what you are used to. Still, many of these courses spend the majority of their time outside the traditional classroom setting, opting for a more experiential learning model. This is a great way to help bring the concepts which you are learning and reading about to life and students often remark that it helps them better understand complex issues being discussed in class.
Alcohol and Drugs
Alcohol and Drugs
Host country laws and regulation surrounding the consumption and use of alcohol and drugs can be drastically different than the U.S. It is important to know your actions are subject to the host country’s laws and regulations. Breaking laws in other countries regarding drug use and/or alcohol consumption often has more severe punishment than the U.S. Should you find yourself in a predicament involving drugs or alcohol, the study abroad office, UIC, and your host program are limited in how they can support you. You will find it is customary in some cultures to consume alcohol at festive or cultural gatherings. We understand there may be moments when you will take part in these social engagements; however, please remember to drink in moderation and follow the local laws and cultural norms surrounding the consumption of alcohol.
In addition to abiding by local laws and norms, you will be responsible for adhering to the UIC’s Study Abroad Office policies surrounding drugs and alcohol while abroad:
Local laws apply when students have free time. No alcohol is to be consumed during program time or in program housing that has been arranged, contracted, or otherwise organized by UIC or its designated providers, with the exception of homestays. Program time means any officially scheduled program activity, including but not limited to, formal lectures, guided tours, group meals, site or company visits, and hosted receptions.
- Any student who abuses alcohol at any point while abroad will be subject to dismissal from the program.
- Any student who possesses, uses, or sells illegal drugs will be immediately expelled from the program.
- No alcohol consumption is permitted during any program-related activity
- Your program sponsor or affiliate program likely has their own policies surrounding alcohol use and illegal drug use. Should you violate one of their policies, the Study Abroad Office defers to your program sponsor regarding disciplinary action.
- If you are participating on a UIC Study Abroad sponsored program, alcohol consumption and illegal drug use is strictly prohibited. Only under special circumstances, approved and reviewed by the Study Abroad Office, will alcohol be permitted for cultural activities.
Culture can be defined as learned and shared patterns of beliefs, behaviors, and values of groups of interacting people.
We think about culture in two parts: visible culture and invisible culture. Visible cultures are things that you can observe, such as behaviors and actions of people, whereas invisible culture is more difficult to identify. Visible culture includes components such as language, food, dress, celebrations, music, art, and literature. Invisible culture encompass values and beliefs. Some of these things include relationships, notions of modesty, concepts of beauty, physical space, locus of control, concept of justice, managing emotions, education, time, gender roles, family relations, and many more.
While abroad you will encounter many cultural differences between your own culture, home country culture, and your host country’s culture. Understanding a different culture takes time, and everyone moves at their own pace. The important thing is that you remain open-minded and aware of how the past and present has influenced the host country’s culture. Before you leave, begin by understanding your own culture and doing some background research on some of the areas of culture such as food, dress, history, sociopolitical climate, gender roles, etc. Then, when you go abroad, you can focus on observing and reflecting on the cultural norms, customs, and beliefs in your new environment. Just like in the U.S., you will likely discover that your study abroad program location has multiple sub-cultures. Remember to be open to learning about multiple types of cultures and think about how those cultures interact with each other, and what that can teach you about the current sociocultural environment you are in.
A cultural bump/misunderstanding occurs when a person has expectations of a particular behavior and gets something different when interacting with individuals from another culture.
Throughout your time in your host country, you may experience cultural bumps. A cultural bump occurs when a person has expectations of a particular behavior and gets something different when interacting with individuals from another culture. When miscommunications occur due to differing cultural norms and language barriers, it can result in a potentially unpleasant difference. However, cultural bumps are also learning opportunities and can result in cultural and/or linguistic growth. We encourage you to ask questions and follow-up if anything is unclear. Being open-minded and researching before you study abroad will alleviate some of these concerns. You will learn more information about navigating cultural differences at your UIC pre-departure orientation and learn more country-specific information in your specific study abroad program pre-departure materials.
Research Your Destination
These questions were adapted from the University of California Irvine’s resources for Study Abroad Students.
- What type of government does your host country have? Who do the majority and minority parties represent and who are their leaders? What are the distinguishing differences among these parties?
- What is the geography of your host country like? How about the climate?
- Do you know a brief history of your host country? How long has it been independent? Was it a colonizer or a colony? Was it a major power in the region at some time? Did it win or lose any important wars? How long has the current governmental structure and/or system been in operation?
- What is the education system like? How much education is compulsory? Does the government heavily subsidize higher education?
- What languages are present? Are these official or unofficial? Do these languages represent any geographical, economic or other divisions?
- What religions are present? Are these official or unofficial? What do you know about these religions (e.g., beliefs, practices, and holidays)?
- Who are the service workers of your host country? Did they come from somewhere else and why? Who are the elite of your host country? Is there an indigenous population?
- What kind of relationship does your host country have with the USA?
- Are the roles of men and women in your host distinctly different? How are these difference manifested? How should you respond to this while in the culture?
- What is appropriate school dress for men? For women? How about social occasion dress for men? For women? How should you dress in order to be appropriate in your host country?
- Is your host country culture formal or informal when meeting new people?
Customs and Courtesies:
- What is the formal way of greeting someone in your host country? The informal way? Do they use gestures like handshakes, kisses, hugs, etc.?
- What is a “typical” home visit like?
- What familiar “western” gestures are used in normal conversation? Which gestures might be considered inappropriate or insulting?
- What is the place of family life in your host culture? Is most entertaining at home or away?
- What are the dating and marriage customs of your host culture (e.g., typical age? Do couples live together before/instead of marriage? Are there church or civil ceremonies?)
- What do the people of your host country eat (i.e., what are the typical foods)? Which meals are eaten at home or outside the home? By whom?
- What are the popular sports and entertainment activities of your host culture?
- What are normal business hours? What are the major holidays and what determines these holidays (religion, state laws, politics, etc.)?
9. Travel Planning Resources and Helpful Tips
Packing to study abroad can seem like an overwhelming task, but using common sense, listening to alumni advice, and following the packing lists your study abroad program gives you in the pre-departure orientation can make it much less daunting. Every traveler is different and the cultural norms and climate of every destination is as well. Your packing list will vary by student and location.
It is best to try and pack light as airlines can charge hefty fees for multiple checked bags. Additionally, you likely will be on the move a lot and need to be able to carry whatever you pack up and down stairs and/or on public transportation. Make sure you pack only what you can carry yourself. If you choose to travel while studying abroad, you may want to bring a backpack or small duffle bag to take just a few items for a weekend trip.
Climate & Clothing
Do your research to find out what the climate will be like while you are abroad and pack accordingly. Packing basic pieces that can be interchanged and clothing you can layer is usually a good approach so you can mix and match pieces or remove layers as the weather changes. If you go abroad for a full semester, it is likely the weather will change significantly throughout your time studying abroad. You should also research cultural norms of dress for the country to where you are traveling. Many countries have different social and cultural norms surrounding modesty and culturally-appropriate dress than the U.S. For instance, is it culturally appropriate for you to wear clothing that exposes a lot of skin? Do the locals wear shorts and sandals or will you stick out like a tourist if you wear clothing like this? What is the appropriate attire to wear in a professional setting? How do local university students dress to attend class? The answers to questions such as these will help you decide what to pack and what to leave behind. You will receive country specific information during your pre-departure orientation and from your program hosts that will also help you know what to pack. Be sure to read the packing lists and pre-departure materials offered by your program partner.
Be mindful of the type of program you plan to participate in. Is it one where you are conducting field research? What type of clothing is appropriate for that? Will you be working in the community, visiting a lab, or participating in an internship? There may be certain dress-code requirements for these co-curricular engagement opportunities. We recommend bringing at least one more formal outfit in case there is a special occasion you are invited to attend or it is required for an internship placement or site visit.
In terms of electronics, countries around the world have different electrical currents and wall outlets, so you may need a converter, an adapter, or both to be able to use some of your devices abroad. A converter switches the electrical current of your device to be able to use it in a country with a different voltage. Most modern devices such as laptops or phones have a built-in converter so make sure to check whether or not this is the case for your devices. An adapter allows you to physically be able to plug a device in a wall outlet that has a different face than what we have in North America. Resources such as this one can help you determine what you might need to take.
If you have prescriptions then make sure that you pack these in your carry-on bag as opposed to your checked luggage in case your checked bag is lost or delayed in transit. For more information about traveling with prescriptions, visit our Before You Go Health & Safety page.
Be sure to pack any important documents in your carry-on baggage. Make copies of all important documents (such as your passport, visa (if applicable) and credit/bank cards and upload them to a web based platform and/or leave with family and friends in case you lose them while abroad. Don’t bring any sentimental or high-value items that you don’t need while abroad.
Host Family Gifts
Should you choose to stay in a host family, it is a wonderful gesture to give them a gift or a small token of your gratitude. Your program is compensating them for your stay, but they are welcoming you into their home as a member of their family and community. Choose something representative of UIC, Chicago, your hometown, or your culture, but keep it within a moderate price range. Here are some general recommendations:
- Boxes of chocolates or candies
- T-shirts or pennants from your college or favorite hometown sports teams
- Calendars with scenes of Chicago, the U.S., UIC, etc.
- Picture books about the U.S. or your home region
- College mugs
- Artwork from your hometown (small pottery, weaving, watercolors)
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