International travel and studying in a different culture are amazing privileges and increasingly an important part of education. Now that you have made the decision to study away from home, it's time to set some goals. Take a few minutes and think about why you are doing this? What do you want to get out of it? What do you want to learn? Or see? Or do? Can you imagine how you might be different upon your return?
It's a great time now to set up your travel journal - either online or buy a small paper journal (remember to buy something that is light. Jot down your goals in your journal as a way to open the door to this new adventure. Revisit your goals as you prepare for your study abroad and feel free to modify them as you learn more. That is the beginning of the changes coming.
Master To-Do List
Set up your own to-do list and maybe even several lists; packing, money, school, and travel planning. The following are some key items you will want to consider.
Approximately four months prior to departure
- Your passport must be valid for 6 months after your return date. Confirm this or apply for a new passport
- Book your flights only if the Office of Global Engagement is not making the arrangements. (Cancellation and medical insurance will be included in any arrangements made by OGE. If you are booking independently check with the requirements of your exchange program with regard to cancellation insurance as this is best done at the time of booking.)
- If you are participating in an exchange program, discuss with your faculty advisor your course load while away and upon your return. You might want to consider your graduation timeline as well as any unique learning opportunities available while you are away
- Begin your research into your host country
- Monitor any travel advisories for your host country on the Travel and Tourism page of the Government of Canada's website.
Approximately two months prior to departure
- Complete all documentation required by NIC.
- Purchase travel insurance if you do not already have it.
- Meet with your doctor and update any prescriptions and purchase the amount you will need for your full time away.
- Book an appointment
with the Travel Clinic in Courtenay (phone 250-331-8571) for health advice and vaccines required or recommended. All students travelling are expected to attend a travel clinic.
- Apply for any visas you will need to enter your host country and other countries you are planning to travel in. For students on exchange contact your host institution for assistance with documentation and process.
- Read travel guides for the countries in which you will be travelling.
- Arrange with NISU to get your International Student Identity Card. It will be useful in getting discounts while you are travelling.
Approximately one month prior to departure
- Attend appropriate pre-departure sessions, either as part of the field school or as provided by OGE.
- Arrange any in country travel that allows for discounts if purchased prior to arrival (e.g. Japan Rail passes can only be purchased outside Japan)
- Follow the checklist in Money Matters (Money Matters) – especially be sure you have at least one credit card, 4 digit PIN. Notify your bank and credit card company when and where you will be travelling. Arranged for someone to be a contact if you need assistance with financial matters. This might include access to your bank account as well as giving someone the ability to pay your bills.
- Make your own packing list and do a first run through (see Packing)
- Start buying your gear; back pack, shoes, clothes, travel wallet, first aid kit, water bottles, etc. Give yourself plenty of time to research and shop around.
One week prior to departure
- Check in with OGE to ensure everything is in order. For students travelling independently receive a copy of your Emergency Protocol sheet.
- Confirm your airline and arrival arrangements
- Check in with Travel and Tourism Canada – anything new?
Of course it does, and a little planning ahead will allow you to focus on the wonders of your study abroad and worry less about money.
Make a Budget
We recommend using the worksheet in the
Set up Your Banking
Consider the following:
Find out what the value of the Canadian dollar is compared to the country currency you will be visiting. This will be useful information when you are budgeting.
Pay attention to pricing – is it in USD or the currency of the country?
Take a small amount of money e.g. $100 CAD in the local currency with you into the country. That will allow you to pay for a taxi from the airport, buy a coffee or a snack prior to getting to your accommodation
Ensure you have a bank card with you to withdraw money from ATMs or at a bank as you need it. Find an ATM that is in a highly public area and if possible visit it with a friend rather than on your own.
DO NOT travel around with large amounts of cash.
Keep your cash in a couple of places on your person when travelling. It's a good idea to keep a small amount in a deep pocket so that if you need to pay for something you are not showing large amounts of money. The rest should be in a money belt hidden from view.
Find a place to keep larger amounts of money - a hotel safety deposit box for example.
Have at least one and ideally two different credit cards with you when you travel. If one card is compromised then you will not be left stranded.
Ensure you have a four digit PIN. Some countries have banking systems that cannot accommodate a six digit PIN.
Ensure your card limit is appropriate to your travel budget.
Notify your bank and your credit card companies of your dates and locations of travel. This will ensure they will not put a hold on your account because they see a purchase that was made in a different country from your regular address.
Ensure you can do banking online if you are going to be away for more than a month
Ask your bank for a temporary second bank card while traveling. This is useful if one becomes damaged or unusable.
Have someone at home – a parent, sibling, or partner – who is set up to access your accounts in
case you need help with your banking.
Consider providing a power of attorney if you will be gone for an extended period
If your stay will be longer than a month (such as for an exchange student) find out if there is a Canadian bank in the city where you will be living. If this is the case, consider contacting the local branch to explore what services they can provide you while you are away.
Have your bank and credit card numbers written down and/or stored on your phone – just in case.
Know your PIN - don't write it down.
Track your Spending
Keep a regular (weekly or daily) record of your expenditures.
This will provide you with the confidence that you are on budget and if you begin
to deviate you will know before it's too late. As well, if you plan to do more travelling
in the future, the recorded expenditure will be a useful source of information for
You are encouraged to be sure you have discussed your study abroad with your education
advisor prior to finalizing your study plans. Questions to consider include
- What is the impact to my graduation timeline?
- Are the courses in my field school part of my graduation plan?
- Will studying abroad impact my receiving credit for the courses I am taking? Do I need approval from the department chair?
- For exchange students, are the courses I am taking transferable back to NIC?
- What forms/documentation do I need to fill out before I leave and after I return to ensure I receive proper transfer credit?
Read Issues to Consider Before Departure, a checklist of academic matters.
Essential Travel Documents
For students participating in group field schools and practica, travel arrangements to and from your host country will be made for you. All others must make their own travel arrangements. OGE is pleased to assist with advice related to travel abroad and, if asked, we will put you in contact with travel agencies who have served NIC well in the past.
Travel outside Canada requires a passport. Generally, your passport should be valid for at least 6 months beyond your return date. The closest passport office is in Victoria.
Alternately visit the Canadian passport website, complete the application form, print it out and mail it with the required documentation, including two passport photos and an official birth certificate. The fee for a passport application is available online.
It is important to note that this process is known for unexpected delays, expenses and complications. It is highly recommended that this be a top priority on your
to-do list. We recommend applying for a passport six months before your departure date.
Your education advisor will work with you to determine which classes to enroll in at the host institution and what the equivalencies are for NIC. In many instances, this is a preliminary process since you may need to register at your host institution to finalize your program of study. While abroad, you may need to make arrangements to register in classes for the semester after you return. The Issues to Consider Before Departure will walk you through an academic checklist.
This card lets you receive discounts for travel on many airlines and ground transportation, as well as cultural sites. Contact the North Island Student Union to get your card.
You must have medical insurance that will cover you while you study abroad. All eligible full-time students are required to enrol in Green Shield's extended medical coverage plan, and this plan includes travel coverage. If you have opted out of this plan or are not eligible for this plan, it is your responsibility to purchase adequate medical travel insurance and provide a copy of your policy to OGE. Your travel agent or local insurance agencies can provide you with adequate coverage. Take the time to review your policy and the processes you are required to follow should you need medical services while you are outside Canada. Remember to carry the wallet size ID card for verification of your insurance. You should be provided one of these when you purchase your insurance.
For those travelling in a group you are required to purchase cancellation insurance on your flights. Those of you travelling independently may wish to consider trip cancellation insurance. You may also wish to consider liability insurance on accompanying household and personal effects. Rates may vary depending on your length of time away. Find out if your personal items are covered by your (or your parents') homeowner's policy while you are away. Worst case scenarios can and do happen more often than you might think.
These certificates are for personal valuables accompanying you abroad. You may want to consider these and should be aware they must be completed and returned to Canada Customs before you leave, as proof of prior ownership when you return. You can register your camera, computer, jewellery and other valuables before you leave so that you will not be required to pay duty on these when you return to Canada. This is to protect you against being accused of buying your pre-trip belongings while in another country.
It is a good idea to make a few copies of valuable documents and to leave them in the safekeeping of friends or family. Documents that should be copied include your birth certificate, your passport, and credit card numbers. It is also a good idea to carry several extra passport-sized photos with you, for visas or for other identification purposes while you are away. Having a copy of these documents on portable external drive you carry with you is also wise.
Visas are special permissions to visit a country and are issued by the host country. Not all countries require a visa for Canadian citizens. Those that do have differing regulations for acquiring the visa (e.g. purchase upon arrival, attend a meeting at the local embassy, send your passport and application to the country embassy in Canada). In some countries, if you are planning to stay for more than a specified period in a country, you will be required to acquire the appropriate visa. Check Travel and Tourism Canada's Visa page to explore the visa requirements for each country you plan to visit.
There is a worksheet called Medical Matters. It's worth a quick review to ensure you have considered all relevant issues.
Top six health tips
- Visit our local travel clinic for travel health advice and to determine which vaccines are advised or required at least a month prior to departure. OGE on occasion, in consultation with the dean of your division, may require you to have a vaccine but generally this decision is yours in consultation with the travel nurse.
- Be aware of the health risks of travel and plan for them. Ignorance is not bliss when you are hanging out by the toilet when everyone else is out exploring. For information about health issues when travelling abroad visit the Canadian government
website on Travel Health.
- Take your prescriptions with you
Take your own travel health/first aid kit. See the Travel health kit section of the Canadian government website for advice on what to put in the kit.
If you are travelling in the developing world you may want to see your doctor to get a antibiotic prescription for traveller's diarrhea or other infections in case you do get sick while travelling.
Share any important medical information with one or two other people either where you are staying or in your travel group. If you get ill and are unable to speak for yourself, having someone with you that knows your medical history means they can inform a doctor about allergies or other critical medical information.
- Pack an extra supply of your medication in case you are away for longer than expected
- Carry a copy of the original prescription, and ensure that both the generic and trade names of the drug are included in case your medication is lost or stolen (a doctor's note describing why you are taking the medication is also recommended)
- If you are taking a less common medication, check to ensure that it is readily available in the country you intend to visit
- Your medications should be packed in the original, labeled container to avoid problems with customs officials. Do not try to save luggage space by combining medications into a single container.