Prior to departure, students and their families should take the time to make proper health and safety arrangements to ensure a smooth transition abroad.
The information within this section includes recommendations for travel preparation from GW’s Office for Study Abroad and other reputable sources. This information is meant to act as a starting point and is by no means an exhaustive list. Students should take into consideration their own personal needs and background, as well as program requirements, when making their pre-travel preparations.
In general, the Office for Study Abroad recommends consulting with reputable online sources such as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. State Department, and your official program literature to determine what preparations are necessary for your specific host destination. Additional steps should be taken as necessary for your individual needs.
- Familiarize yourself with the country’s history and culture. Review news articles, media, and popular culture from your host destination. Understanding the history and beliefs, as well as what is current and newsworthy, in the location where you are about to be living can help you have more informed, respectful interactions with your host community.
- Create a packing list that takes into account the local climate and fashion expectations. In some destinations, people may dress with more modesty or refinement. Restaurants, museums, religious sites, and other venues may not allow you to enter if you do not meet the expected dress code. Though it may not always be possible or desirable to “blend in” with locals, dressing indistinctly, and in such a way that meets local standards, can help reduce your risk of becoming a target for pickpockets and other scammers looking for foreigners.
- Read the most recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Destination-Specific Traveler Health page and the U.S. Department of State’s Country Specific information page and be aware of the risks inherent in travel to and within your destination.
- Review visa and passport requirements and prepare to apply for a visa or update your passport, as necessary.
If you currently take prescription medication or other regular medications, you will want to plan ahead for your semester abroad.
- Contact Geoblue and the consulate of your host country to determine if your prescription medication is legal and in what quantity. If you are planning to visit other countries while abroad, confirm that your medication will also be legal in these destinations.
- Alert your pharmacy and your healthcare provider of your travel plans.
- Meet with your healthcare provider to discuss your medication and related needs. If your medication is not legal abroad, you may need to discuss alternative options with your healthcare provider. If you plan to travel outside of your host country, be sure to discuss how your additional travel could impact your health and medication needs.
- Bring an adequate supply of medication(s) to last the entire duration of your program.
- Understand the generic name of your medication(s). Medical practitioners in other countries may not be familiar with brand names used in the U.S.
- Research comparable alternative or over-the-counter versions of your prescription/medication. Students enrolled in GW’s GeoBlue health insurance plan will be able to access GeoBlue’s Medicine Equivalence tool to assist with this research.
- Obtain and bring the original copy of your prescription label for all medications.
All study abroad participants should consult with a healthcare provider, who specializes in travel medicine, for pre-travel advice and to receive any immunizations needed for travel.
- Check the immunization requirements for your host destination on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Destination-Specific Traveler Health page.
- Make sure your most recent immunizations are up to date and sufficient.
- If you do require additional immunizations, plan your immunizations in advance. Some immunizations are given in stages and may require a series of shots over several months to achieve full immunization coverage.
- Check with your healthcare provider in advance to ensure that they offer and have enough supply of the immunizations you need.
- If your healthcare provider is unable to assist, contact the Colonial Health Center to determine if they can assist with your immunization needs.
- Some countries may require you to provide proof of your immunization as part of the visa process. For certain vaccinations, such as for Yellow Fever, you may receive an immunization certificate. Ask your physician to provide you with a list of your immunization shots. Carry this list and any relevant certificates of immunization with you while traveling.
If you are currently receiving counseling or struggle with mental health concerns, it is imperative that you take certain steps ahead of time to prepare yourself for your abroad experience.
- It is strongly recommended that you disclose this information to your GW study abroad advisor and/or program provider.
- Work with your program to understand the availability of support on-site in your host destination.
- Discuss a plan with your current counselor to understand whether they offer virtual services while you are abroad or if they can put you in touch with a preferred counselor abroad.
- Understand that it is common to experience culture shock, homesickness and overall struggle with mental health while abroad. In coordination with a licensed professional, develop a self-care plan for how you will cope with these feelings. Self-Care plans should take into consideration the stress that may occur along with the realities of international travel, such as lost luggage, separation from local support networks, adapting to new environments with different rules and expectations, miscommunication due to language differences, and more.
- Review your international health insurance plan(s) and online resources to understand what tools and treatment coverage are available to you. Students enrolled in GW’s GeoBlue health insurance plan will be able to access telehealth counseling services, local doctor searches, appointment scheduling, and more. Please visit the Office for Study Abroad’s Insurance page for more information on GW’s GeoBlue insurance plan, including an overview of coverage benefits and exclusions.
- Consider completing a HIPAA release form so that your international mental health specialist can share information with any individuals that you designate, such as a parent or domestic therapist.
If you have a restricted diet or allergies, understand what kind of preparations you might need to take ahead of time to mitigate potential issues.
- Inform your program prior to departure of any food restrictions or allergies. Sharing this information is especially important if you will be on a meal plan or living with a host family who will be cooking for you.
- Pack any essential prescriptions or related products you may need, such as an EpiPen or Benadryl. Be sure to confirm the legality of these medications abroad prior to departure. Many medications that are over-the-counter in the US may not be available or may require a prescription abroad.
- Get to know the local culture and whether it is conducive to your dietary restrictions or allergies. For instance, if you are gluten-intolerant, are there gluten-free options? Do restaurants have vegetarian or vegan options? Searching through travel blogs and forums may help you discover prior travelers with similar allergies or dietary restrictions who have shared their tips and feedback on navigating related concerns in the host destination.
- Obtain translated documentation of your allergies or food restrictions that you can carry in order to inform relevant staff or support services at restaurants, hospitals, or other locations where this information could be necessary.
- Learn a few key phrases in the host language to be able to articulate your dietary needs or allergies to locals. Students enrolled in GW’s GeoBlue health insurance plan will be able to access GeoBlue’s Medical Translation tool to assist with this step.
- Be aware that some programs and cultures may not be able to meet all of your dietary requirements or may not have the same understanding of these requirements or restrictions. For instance, many vegetable soups are made with animal stock or fish sauce even though there may not be any additional meat in the soup itself.
If you have any pre-existing health conditions that could affect your time and experience abroad, you will want to inform your program provider and arrange preparations ahead of time.
- Consult with your healthcare provider regarding any concerns related to travel with your pre-existing condition(s).
- In coordination with a licensed professional, develop a care plan for managing and monitoring your condition(s) while abroad. Care plans should take into consideration the realities of international travel and their potential to exacerbate a pre-existing condition. For instance, changes in climate, diet, schedule, physical exertion level, pollution levels, and more, could all affect a pre-existing condition.
- Review your international health insurance plan(s) and online resources to understand what tools and treatment coverage are available to you. Students enrolled in GW’s GeoBlue health insurance plan will be able to access telehealth services, local doctor searches, appointment scheduling, and more. Please visit the Office for Study Abroad’s Insurance page for more information on GW’s GeoBlue insurance plan, including an overview of coverage benefits and exclusions.
- Consider completing a HIPAA release form so that your international health specialist can share information with any individuals that you designate, such as a parent or domestic primary physician.
- If you currently receive any disability accommodations, you should work with GW’s Disability Support Services and your program provider to determine whether you can receive comparable accommodations abroad.
- If you have mobility concerns, understand what mobility support and infrastructure is available in your host country. Not all countries have the same accommodations nor do they necessarily comply with ADA regulations. Most countries have their own rules and regulations.
While abroad, you will be subject to the local laws of the country and region you are in, including the country’s laws of arrest. You will not be exempt from local laws due to your status as a citizen of another country or GW student, and neither GW nor the US Government can extract you from jail should you be arrested. Furthermore, depending on the host country, you may have limited, or no, access to the rights you may expect in the US, such as a lawyer, phone call, trial, etc. In preparation of your time abroad, it is important to have a basic knowledge of some of the major laws, enforcement measures, and legal processes in your host country.
- Understand how the country’s laws may differ from the laws in the US, including drug and alcohol laws, violence and crime laws, censorship laws, photography laws, and identity-based laws.
- Know the local police numbers and where to report incidents.
- Be aware that reporting incidents to the local police may not always be advisable. The U.S. Department of State's Office of Overseas Citizens Services can provide additional information on how local laws may impact reporting a crime.
- Be aware of the information contained on your technology and social media. Law enforcement may track media posts or review downloaded content, which could be used as proof of violated censorship or identity laws.
- Consult the US State Department website and your program provider for more information. A good starting place is to review the US Department of State’s Country-Specific Travel Page, which includes a section on “Local Laws and Special Circumstances.”
Prior to travel, you should consider how to safeguard the safety and security of your computer and other electronic devices and the data on those devices. You may travel to or through countries with different laws and regulations regarding data privacy. Your electronic devices may be subject to cyberattack, physical theft or tampering. Your Internet usage may be monitored as well.
- Review the GW Information Technology’s Data Security Abroad (PDF) recommendations and IT Security 101 (PDF) guide.
- Research the available types of international phone plans for your host destination.
- Review your existing phone network’s policies and fees for international coverage
- Learn how to turn off data/roaming on your phone plan.
- Download GW’s Virtual Private Network (VPN).
- Learn how to use GW’s two-step authentication while abroad
- Notify your bank and credit card companies of your intended travel.
- Review your bank or card’s fee policies for exchange fees, non-affiliated transactions, chip activation, and other related activities.
- Understand local money customs, such as whether the society is cash-based or expects tips.
- Consider backup payment options if your primary card is lost, stolen, or shut off.
- Know when banks and ATMs are open and learn which ATMs are considered safe to use.
- Consider purchasing RFID blockers to safeguard cards against identity theft.
- Make extra hard copies of important documents and backup documents in a secure electronic location.
While abroad, it is important for students to monitor and be aware of changes to local conditions. Before going abroad, you can help prepare for this.
- Prior to going abroad, register your travel plans with the US State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). This registration allows you to receive alerts and travel advisories for your host country. You can also register your personal travel, if outside of your host destination, for further alerts and information.
- Students enrolled in the GeoBlue health insurance can also register for GeoBlue’s security alerts, located under the “News Alerts” section of the “Tools and Services” tab. If planning to travel to multiple destinations, students can select more than one location.
- Review your program provider or Host University’s emergency contact plans and other communication advisory options. Sign up for available alert services and understand how your program will send updates.
- Continue to monitor your GW student email address for updates from the GW Office for Study Abroad and other campus partners.
Office for Study Abroad
University Student Center
800 21st Street NW
Washington, DC 20052