Check your MyStudyAbroad (MySA) account) for information on entry requirements, program dates, and travel arrangements specific to your program.
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What Is a Passport?
A passport is a document issued by your national government proving your identity and nationality. International travel requires that you have and carry a passport. For citizens of the United States, passports are issued by the U.S. Department of State and provides many uses:
- When presented abroad, it is a request to foreign governments to permit you to travel or temporarily reside in their territories and access all lawful local aid and protection.
- It allows you access to consular services and assistance while abroad. A consular service is a government unit that offers limited services for its citizens in certain areas, including lost passport support, information on local events that may impact you, and more.
- It allows you to re-enter your home country upon your return home.
For most international travel, a passport must be valid for at least 6 months after re-entry back home. For example, if your return flight is scheduled for April 9, your passport expiration date should be October 9 or later.
How Do I Apply for a Passport?
For U.S. citizens, the U.S. Department of State is the organization you work with to apply for a US passport.
If you do not already have a passport or you need to renew an expiring passport, apply immediately. Once an application is submitted, normal processing time takes anywhere from 4-6 weeks, but can sometimes take several months depending on how many applications the Department of State is working through. Non-US citizens should consult their home country’s embassy to determine steps on securing a passport.
Visa or Residence Permit
A visa or residence permit is an official government document (usually a stamp or sticker placed in a passport) that authorizes you to enter, leave, or stay for a specified period in a country. To review entry requirements for U.S. citizens, visit the State Department’s website. Non-U.S. passport holders should refer to information provided by the host country embassy to determine if a visa is necessary.
The requirements to obtain a visa depend on country, type, duration and nationality of the applicant. A country’s consular office should be able to provide you with a list of requirements based on these factors.
Obtaining the appropriate entry document (visa or residence permit) is your responsibility. It is important to know what is required of you before attempting to enter a country. Failing to obtain a visa (or the correct visa) could result in denial of entry into a country, and even criminal charges. If you are denied a visa and then re-apply, you will be responsible for any additional fees for obtaining a visa (expedited or regular processing) as well as for any airline change fees in the event that you have to modify your travel reservation due to a delayed visa.
If you plan to travel to other countries while you are abroad, you should verify entry and exit requirements for each country.
If you are an international student, you should:
- Contact International Student Services (ISS) at UW-Madison (or that office equivalent at your home institution) regarding your program and how it may impact your U.S. visa. Begin working with ISS soon after acceptance to make sure you stay in status and complete any necessary forms.
- Email SHIP and let them know you will be studying away. Make sure you include your full name and program dates in the email.
- Consult the appropriate Consulate or Embassy on entry requirements for your host country.
Booking your Flight & Airport Logistics
For most programs, you are responsible for making your own travel arrangements. This provides flexibility and allows you to find the lowest cost while planning your own travel itinerary. A few programs arrange group flights. If this is the case for your program, it is communicated to you in your program materials and MySA.
Before purchasing your flight, make sure to consult your program dates and arrival information. We recommend you explore fully refundable tickets and travel insurance options to protect against potential travel disruptions.
Booking your Flight
The prospect of booking your own flight can be intimidating. For the majority of students this is the first time you’ll make your own travel arrangements and travel independently. Below you’ll find some helpful resources with more information about booking your flight and travel logistics:
- First Time Flying: Tips on Booking, the Airport, and the Flight
- 7 Must-Know Tips for First-Time Flyers
- Here’s what you should know about booking a flight for the first time
Many airports experience an increase in flight delays and cancellations during busy time of year (holidays, summer vacation, etc). Be sure to plan accordingly by packing important phone numbers, travel documents, toiletries, medication, etc. in your carry-on bag.
Flight Security Screening and Regulations
Flight security is stringent and regulations about what can and cannot be carried on to an aircraft continually change. It is recommended that you arrive at the airport well in advance of your flight departure time to allow for the smoothest experience and for unanticipated delays.
You will go through a security checkpoint at your departure airport and could be subject to additional security screening along your journey. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) website provides up to date information regarding air travel and approved items to carry on a flight, including things like liquids and electronics. Knowledge of travel regulations will prepare you for the security checks at the airport. Be sure to review travel regulations for anywhere you travel.
Checking In for Your Flight
The check-in process at airports or online enables passengers to confirm they will be on their flight, obtain a boarding pass, possibly select a seat (if hasn’t happened already or allowed by airline), and check in luggage onto a plane, if desired. Most airlines will list their specific check-in policies and timelines, so visit your airline’s website for details.
Many airlines have a deadline for passengers to check-in before each flight. Check-in deadlines are usually between 30-60 minutes before boarding. You may not be able to check in after those times (meaning you cannot go on your flight).
Check-in deadlines allows airlines to load luggage onto the plane, offer potential unclaimed seats to stand-by passengers, and to finalize documentation for take-off.
Boarding your Flight
A boarding pass is a document provided by an airline during check-in, giving a passenger permission to board the airplane for a particular flight. At a minimum, it identifies the passenger, the flight number, and the date and scheduled time for departure. Boarding passes are always required to board a flight. Airlines typically accept paper or electronic boarding passes (on phone or tablet).
- Boarding times are usually between 30 minutes to an hour before scheduled take-off.
- Your boarding pass will list the time the flight will start boarding.
- Flights tend to board in shifts—they might call by rows or by groups. Your boarding pass will indicate your row or group.
- Be sure to consider the time it may take to get check-in, pass through security, walk or ride (tram, bus) from the check-in area to your boarding area (your terminal and gate—listed on your boarding pass). Getting through the airport steps can take several hours at some airports or during busy travel times of the year.
When you enter a different country from which your flight departed you will have go through an immigration process. Each country will have its own agency that administers this inspection process. Often the immigration process only takes a few minutes, though lines to take your turn can get long if many international flights arrive around the same time.
Where to Go upon Arrival to the Immigration Area of the Airport:
- Upon arrival and entrance into the immigration area passengers are split into multiple lines. There is generally a line for host country nationals (people with a passport from that country), sometimes a line for citizens of the region (EU, ECOWAS, etc), and non-immigrant visitors. Be sure to enter the correct line to avoid confusion and wasting your time and the time of the officials.
- When going through immigration in a country in which you are not a host-country national, you will likely go through the non-immigrant visitor line.
- Do NOT use your cell phone or cameras in the immigration area. Cell phone calls are not allowed in this area and could be subject to confiscation. It is a good practice to avoid using any electronics in the immigration and inspection area.
- Stay relaxed. As long as you are honest and pay attention to instructions, there is no need to worry.
Steps of the Immigration Process
- Review Travel Documents
Officials will review your required passenger travel documents (passport, visa, green card, disembarkation card (provided by flight attendant during flight), immunization documentation, letters of confirmation or support, etc.).
Officials will likely ask you questions (as deemed necessary by the process or official). Typical questions:
- What is the nature of your visit?
- How long are you staying?
- Where will you be staying?
Some countries require fingerprints and/or photos of every individual entering the country. Officials will take fingerprints or photos if required.
- Approval for Entry
Official will stamp your passport once you are approved and granted admission. They can specify your period of authorized stay in case of non-immigrant visitors (this will depend on visa rules/tourist stay policies).
Some passengers might be selected for second level of inspection. 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.
Reasons for 2nd level inspection:
- random checks
- questions or issues with documentation
Going through Customs —What Does It Mean?
After clearing immigration and collecting your baggage, you will need to proceed through the customs area before being allowed to exit the airport. Customs is the authority in the respective country you enter that is responsible for controlling the flow of goods, including animals, transports, foods, personal effects, and hazardous items, in and out of a country.
- Just as each country has an agency that facilitates the Immigration Process, the country you enter will have its own laws and regulations regarding the import and export of goods into and out of a country. It is the responsibility of the respective customs agency to enforce these policies.
- Many countries are strict about the transfer of soil/sand/dirt from one country to another—it is important to avoid introducing non-native organisms. Certain countries will have strict rules around this transfer and may ask questions or require you to clean shoes, close, personal effects before clearing customs.
- For the vast majority of passengers clearing the customs process only takes a few minutes.
- Some countries have goods that are restricted or forbidden to be exported and/or imported. Learn more about Customs, exports and imports.
Customs and Action Steps for Travelers
While on your flight, your flight attendant may distribute a Customs Declaration Form. Sometimes this process is done electronically so a physical form isn’t necessary.
Most forms ask the point of exit and entry of your flight, your flight number, what goods you may be bringing into the country (forms might list prohibited items for respective country).
- Complete the Customs Declaration form while on the flight.
- Ask questions to your flight attendant or traveling companions as needed.
- Declare any goods you have with you that might have restrictions, and/or goods you purchased in country when returning to your home country
- Present your declaration form to custom officials.
- Custom officials may or may not inspect your luggage. If they do check your bags and find restricted items, you may be asked to pay duty and/or fines. This is why it is critical to declare items as asked and required.
Each country and airport will have varying processes and requirements for customs and rules around declaration of items. Review the specific country and airport of entry for specific customs guidelines.
Depending on your program, you may have opportunities to travel around the area where you will be studying. Make yourself the most informed traveler possible by researching the location before you go. Search the internet, talk to past participants, consult travel books, and talk to on-site staff about their travel experiences. A Badger alum created an app called Jimo that you might find helpful to connect students with fellow travelers in cities to provide recommendations.
Consider the importance of conscientious/responsible travel as you make personal travel plans. We affect the locations we travel to environmentally, economically, and have impacts on local people through our interactions with them. Think of yourself as a guest in all of the locations you visit and behave accordingly. Learn more in the Sustainability section of this handbook.
Whether traveling on a program or independently, you need to take personal responsibility for your academics and your own health and safety. Participants are to maintain the following travel expectations:
- Travel plans should not interfere with the timely completion of coursework, assignments, and exams for your academic program.
- You are expected to remain at the program site for the duration of the academic term and to attend the classes in which you are registered.
- Your on-site staff should be informed of your travel plans away from your local city, including how to contact you in the case of an emergency.
- If you are unavoidably delayed in returning to the program site, contact the on-site staff.
- Keep your family and/or emergency contact back home updated on your travel plans
UW-Madison prohibits official student travel to locations that the U.S. State Department has designated as hazardous or has advised against travel (categorized as Advisory Level 3 or 4). Thus, you are also strongly discouraged from doing personal travel to or through any country that the U.S. State Department has designated as Advisory Level 3 or 4. Check the U.S. State Department website for Travel Advisories and Country Information for any country or region you are considering traveling to or through before you make any travel plans.
As you prepare for your time abroad, stay up to date on current COVID-19 guidance and recommendations from us here.
Enjoying the Place Where You Are
There are many benefits to investing your time and energy in exploring your host city and country. At its core, participating in a program offers the opportunity to explore a particular place and culture, and the more time you immerse yourself in a place, the more deeply you will come to understand and appreciate it. We encourage you to resist the pressure to travel excessively and make the most of your time in the place that you are living.
We know some students have the ability and choose to travel frequently over the duration of their program. They may also share or post about their travels in a way that makes it seem like their experience is the norm, or that frequent travel is what everyone should do if they have the means. Remember to focus on the quality of your experiences and what you are learning, rather than the quantity of destinations during your time. Craft your own experience, and carefully consider what you want to gain and contribute to your local community in the process.
Benefits of Staying Local
Here are just a few of the many significant benefits of rooting your abroad experience in your local surroundings:
- Immersion – Spending more weekends in your program’s city and the surrounding area enriches your understanding and appreciation of the place, culture, and language through a wider array of experiences there. Attending a variety of local events, becoming a regular at your local cafe, and learning to cook local dishes will deepen your connection to the place and people around you.
- Finances – Exploring your own city and doing day trips to neighboring towns and hikes in the countryside can cut down on the cost of additional flights, housing, and eating out, and allow you to save money for one or two more meaningful trips further afield.
- Sustainability – Reducing your use of planes and cars and sticking to areas reachable via public transportation (buses, trains, etc.), cycling, or on foot can significantly reduce your carbon footprint and reduce your usage of food packaging and other resources.
- Health – By avoiding excess travel, you avoid potential health risks associated with travel, such as exposure to illness. You also avoid health related travel requirements that can change swiftly and be challenging, such as exit/entry requirements; negative COVID-19 tests; quarantine periods; or in more extreme cases, closed borders.
- Relationships – Spending more time with your local friends, classmates, and host family will allow you to form stronger relationships through more conversations and shared experiences.
- Local Investment – Spending money within your local community, particularly at small businesses, as well as neighboring towns and cities helps support the local economy and make sure it will thrive for years to come.
- Future Opportunities – Employers and graduate schools will be more interested to learn from your in-depth experiences in your host city or country as opposed to a list of places you have only visited briefly.
- Your Own Goals – Think of the reasons you chose to participate in your program. Committing your time, attention, and energy to the program experience may be the best way to achieve your goals.
Making the Most of Weekends Closer to Home
Need ideas for how to make the most of your weekends closer to home? Try some of these:
- Learn to use local public transportation and/or get a bike – this will help you get around and access more neighborhoods and neighboring towns/cities than on foot
- Plant yourself on a bench in a town square, at a local cafe, or in a park – watch the world go by, observe the people and places around you, and soak it all in
- Get a city map or country guide book (used bookstores often have copies for discounted prices) and explore a different neighborhood or nearby town each week
- Ask locals for recommendations of events, places, activities, and restaurants to explore nearby – you’ll be surprised by the great ideas that you wouldn’t find online or in a guide book!
- Find a calendar of local events and festivals and attend one a week, or one a month
- Make a list of local museums and cultural sites, many of which offer reduced admission rates for students, and visit them throughout your time
- Take advantage of free walking tours in your city – these are a great way to learn about your city’s history and to get to know it on foot
- Identify green spaces and plan a picnic with friends in a park or a long walk along a river
- Find a map of hiking trails in your area and do day hikes through the countryside (after checking with locals about safety) – this is a great way to see your host country from a new perspective and visit small villages and towns that are off the beaten path
- Find the recipe for a local dish, visit a local market (rather than a large chain supermarket) to buy fresh ingredients, and learn to cook it – if you are living with a host family or have local friends, ask them if they are willing to help you! On the flip side, offer to cook a dish that reminds you of home for your local friends, classmates, or host family
- Take time to journal and reflect on your experience, document all that you’ve accomplished so far on your program, re-evaluate your initial goals, and check your progress
Want to think beyond the weekend? Explore more ideas for How to Engage with Your Local Community.
Tips from your fellow Badgers
“Try to stay in your host country (and try to talk your friends into it) at least half the weekends of your program. You’ll see people completely miss out on the amazing city they are living in.” – Italy participant [part of a quote published on the First Gen identity webpage]
“Do not be afraid to share your life experiences. The locals and other students will be excited to hear them.” – Mexico participant [part of a quote published on the Veteran webpage]
“Contact anyone you have a relationship with in the country. It makes your experience so much more unique and powerful when you can connect with locals on a different level. You get to learn more about the culture and yourself too.” – Argentina participant [part of a quote published on the Heritage Seekers webpage]
“Make efforts to meet and befriend not just the international and exchange students, but also the local students. Don’t be discouraged if it becomes difficult because there are still a lot of lessons that can be learned from those efforts.” – South Korea participant [part of a quote published on the Heritage Seekers webpage]
Want to Learn More?
If you want to discuss your travel plans or other ideas for how to plug into your local community, get in touch with your Study Abroad Advisor or your local on-site program staff.