In light of last week’s reflection, I’ve been thinking more about the things that were and would have been useful to know to prepare for in advance prior to departing. Depending on the program and your school’s own communication, you will be given orientation tips on what to prepare. Here are just a few that I believe are important to emphasize no matter where you’re going abroad.
— MONEY —
Of course, of utmost importance is knowing how you will get by, monetarily speaking. The last thing you want to do is find yourself in a situation where your balance declines while out and about only two months into your four month stay – would not be fun. My biggest piece of advice here is to BUDGET, and I can’t emphasize that enough; Be very aware of how much you have versus how much you’re willing to spend while abroad. For some, that means sticking to a strict weekly general allowance for food, needs, and fun. If you know you’ll be going out on excursions the first few weekends, or are aware of big event dates down the line, plan ahead to save up more of your overall budget for that time.
Other things to keep in mind are:
Avoid carrying big sums of cash – it’s easier to lose.
Know whether dollars are an accepted form of currency where you are going. If not, keep in mind exchange rates and where to exchange.
Try to exchange some money beforehand for emergencies. If doing so, it’s advisable to exchange through your bank as they will give you a better exchange rate than say if you were to exchange at an airport (that can be VERY pricey). Make sure to request an exchange at least two weeks in advance as more often than not, the currency has to be shipped and that can take a while.
Check whether you are eligible for credit cards that don’t charge foreign transaction fees for every use. If you have Chase, the Chase Sapphire credit card is optimal for this.
Budgeting doesn’t mean you have to be stingy with yourself either – go have fun. Buy and try new things and let yourself indulge, just be mindful of how much and how often your indulging.
— PHONE PLANS —
Be aware of whether your phone plan will cover you while abroad. If you find that you will not have service, make sure to ask whether your phone is or can be unlocked to purchase a new SIM card wherever you’re going. Most phone companies require that you have your phone for a certain time (~6 months) before it can be unlocked. If yours cannot be unlocked, try to buy a prepaid phone before leaving as they can be much pricier abroad.
— FLIGHT REQUIREMENTS —
Know exactly what the requirements are for entering and leaving your country, this is especially crucial due to the current times we find ourselves in with the COVID-19 surge. In my case, for entering Costa Rica, there were a few things I had to keep in mind both as required for entering which included a CR healthpass (https://salud.go.cr/) and vaccination record card, as well as other recommended documents.
Of the recommended items, both my program and school requested that I bring: a letter from my home and study abroad institution stating the purpose and duration of my stay, my insurance plan card (CSCI as provided through AIFS, my program provider), and photocopies of my passport and birth certificate. I highly recommend bringing these items as well as they are very helpful once landing and arriving and before leaving the SJO airport in Costa Rica. The letters were especially important as they helped clear me for my stamp approval at SJO where the immigration officer asked many questions regarding my visit and my plans for renewing my 90-day tourist visa. As a side, if you are heading to Costa Rica and staying for longer than 90 days, make sure you have a departure plan to renew your tourist-visa (you have to leave for at least 72 hours; for example, many head off to Panama for a 3-day weekend).
In summary: plan and budget AHEAD of time. Doing so will save you a lot of time, money, and stress.
Image 1: Volcano river view
Image 2: La Fortuna Waterfall