How to Prepare for Your First Time Going or Studying Abroad

Sep 1, 2019 4:30:00 PM / by Minh Ta

We have your go-to prep guide for your very first overseas experience! This comprehensive post breaks down the IMPORTANT things you need and things that will make your life easier overall. As you start preparing for life abroad, don't forget to get some backup items that'll serve you well. Travel like a seasoned pro with these tips and leave the hassle behind!

Welcome everyone to my first post for the CAPA World Blog! In this post, I will share some advice drawn from my own experience studying in the States as an international student several years ago. For some of you this experience abroad will be your first trip out of the States. I am sure that you are excited, yet nervous about your trip. For others, you may have been abroad on vacation before but never on your own. Whatever your experience is, it is good to have a checklist of must-dos and I will provide you one right here. Feel free to email me after this post if you have any questions or concerns. Enough talking, let’s get to it!

Passport is one of the must-havesPassport is one of the must-haves.

Very Important Items (Don’t Forget These)

You heard me. This list consists of things you HAVE to bring with you. You don’t want to get denied to enter the country, do you?

Your Passport

You should have your passport and visa ready by now. You can travel to a lot of countries in the world without a visa if you are holding an American passport. For some other countries and passports, you have to submit an application and go through a screening process to receive a travel visa. Once you are all set with this process, your passport is a required international travel document that you will present at immigration entry points. Make sure to bring your passport with you at all times during your flight and store it somewhere secure during your trip. Losing your passport means you will have to make a new passport at your country's embassy which will take a lot of time and unnecessary hassle.

Prescribed Medication, Contact Lens or Prescribed Glasses, and Other Health-Related Items

It is very hard to obtain prescribed medication in some countries. Different countries play by different rules, and most of the time your documents and prescriptions in America mean nothing in other countries. You should bring all the medication you need and extra if possible to avoid hassle during your stay in another country. With the same mindset, you should bring some extra pairs of contact lens or prescribed glasses just in case.

Don’t forget the contact lens and cases!Don’t forget these!

There are times where I broke my glasses in the States and I had to thank my mom a billion times for throwing some extra pairs of glasses into my suitcase. You might not be as clumsy as I am, but being overprepared is always better than being underprepared. The same principle applies to any other health-related items you might need during your visit. Also, consider packing sanitary products, travel-sized shower gels, cotton buds, or anything you feel like you cannot live without. Personally, I always carry several bottles of eye drops and little stomach pills on me just in case.

Travel Adapters and Voltage Converter

If you do have a phone, laptop, or camera (I assume all of us do), then bringing some travel adapters is a must. Several parts of the world utilize a different type of AC power socket. You can try to do a quick Google search to see what socket the country you are going to visit is using and try to buy some off Amazon. For this section, I have 2 things to share that I wish I’d discovered earlier:

1. Bring a voltage converter if you are using electronic appliances that do not have an adapter.

Travel adapters are sufficient if you only wish to use your laptop or phone charger because of the giant shape of the charger. A few years back I didn’t know why the chargers have to be that big while some other appliances such as fans, lamps, etc… are not. It turns out that these big adapters are there to convert 100-240 volts current to ~0-12 volts current. Every country in the world has a different voltage. Since those charger adapters take a wide range of voltage as input, we do not need to have a voltage converter for them. As long as you can plug them into the power sockets, they work.

Travel combo: Adapter + Power StripTravel combo: adapter + power strip.

Unfortunately, it is not the case for other appliances I mentioned above. If the destination country has a 120V current, then congratulations! The appliances you bring from America will work flawlessly if you have a travel adapter to fit them in the socket. In many cases, however, the power current will be different than 120V and you will need a voltage converter to make them work. If you try to use the appliances without a voltage converter, it will malfunction sooner or later. Some travel adapters have this voltage converting feature already so keep an eye on whether yours have that functionality.

2. Don’t bring 1000 adapters; bring adapters and power strips instead.

This tip is self-explanatory. You might be considering whether you should bring a lot of adapters. The best answer to that is to bring 1-2 travel adapters and 1-2 power strips. You can use your travel adapter for the power strip and you have plenty of power sockets to use and yet you don’t have to bring too many XL-sized adapters.

Cash and Credit Cards

Make sure you have enough cash in their currency before your departure. By "enough" I mean enough to fund emergencies such as if you lose a credit card or similar situations. Also, it is best to bring credit/debit cards that you can spend and receive support from the United States. If for any reason you don’t have any money left, you can always use your credit card or call your relatives to make a deposit into your debit account. You can also use your credit/debit cards inside airports if you need to buy anything. All in all, make sure to pack enough cash and have credit cards handy.

The Things Will Make Your Life Easier

In this section, I will list less important but handy items to carry in your carry-on suitcase.

Flying Comfortably

This section will be the items that will make your flight more pleasant than ever. I easily get tired with my long flights from Vietnam to the United States, so I figured this list out the hard way. I hope you enjoy these as I do.

Let’s learn how to turn your flight into an enjoyable experienceLet’s learn how to turn your flight into an enjoyable experience!

1. Neck pillow.

Let me get this straight: I am not a fan of these neck pillows because they hurt my neck and they are extra things you have to carry around with you. However, some people find this useful and comfortable so it is through trial and error to see if they fit you or not.

2. Sleep mask and earplugs (or noise-canceling headphones).

Having a sleep mask is self-explanatory if your eyes are sensitive to light and you can’t sleep with the light on. About earplugs: I have been on numerous flights where there are crying children, loud people, and people who make weird noises. In this case, earplugs or noise-canceling headphones are your saviors. Unless you are fine sleeping with crying babies around you, you should definitely cover your ears.

3. Your favorite snack.

While you can’t bring unprocessed and raw food through immigration (yes, please don’t if you don’t want any trouble), bringing chips and packaged food such as instant noodle and goldfish is completely fine. Not all inflight food is bad but sometimes they are and you might want to bring some snacks to fill your stomach just in case.

4. A pair of flip flops.

Some airlines will give you their travel slippers, and it will get really uncomfortable wearing a pair of sneakers for a long time. I usually put a pair of flip flops in my backpack so that I can make room for my feet to breath during the flight.

5. Power bank.

If you use your phone a lot, then a power bank is important. This will keep your phone stay charged throughout the flight. It will be handy during your study abroad too because your phone is an important safety tool. About safety, please remember to install the CAPA Health and Safety app on your phone. It will be a lifesaver when the time comes.

6. DON’T wear your makeup.

I understand that all of us want ourselves to look good in front of others. This is not the case for long flights because makeup can be torturing for your face. Also, the water you find in airplane restrooms is SUPER dirty. You don’t want to use that to clean your face.

7. Anything that makes you feel comfy (including a face mask).

Face masks help your face stay moisturized during your countless hours of flying. It will help you relax during the flight and you would not be as tired when you land. Your face will thank you for bringing this.

*Honorable Mention*

8. Contact lens case

This is pretty obvious but I still want to list it here. For the sake of your eyes, please don’t forget to put this in your backpack if you decide to wear your contact lens during the flight. There was one time I wore my contact lens before the flight and forgot to bring the case. The contact were on my eyes for more than a day, and my eyes were red and sore.

During Your Stay

Translation Apps

If you are not confident with your understanding of the language, a translation app will be your best friend. Even if you think you know the language perfectly, sometimes it can come in handy.

The city is beautiful, but have you ever wondered what the signs say?The city is beautiful, but have you ever wondered what the signs say?

You can snap pictures of any text to translate and you can communicate back and forth with the typing translation capability of the app. You can look up online for popular translation apps and install one on your phone right now.

Price of Living and Converting Between Currencies

I was having a lot of problems with controlling my spending in my first few weeks in the US. Money seemed like Monopoly money for me and spending dollar bills seemed so unnatural. I had to convert everything into my native currency to justify my spending.

Finance management in a different currency is hard. Be prepared!Financial management in a different currency is hard. Be prepared!

It is best to do some research about the cost of living standard of a country to make sense of your spending. For example, in Vietnam, the price of everything is low in comparison to other developed countries, so merchants tend to charge visitors from these countries up to 10 times the normal price. Even though paying a lot higher, the visitors are still happy with their purchases because they expect that price in their countries. Don’t let yourself spend more than you need because of this. Do some pricing research on Google to prepare yourself for your visit.


I know this has been a lot to cover for a single blog post. If you are reading this line now, thank you for reading the whole post! I hope you consider following at least some of the tips above so that you don’t have to learn it the hard way—like I did. Have fun traveling!

Thanks, Minh!

Minh Ta


Minh Ta is an official CAPA blogger for fall 2019, sharing his story in frequent posts on CAPA World. A Computer Science and Applied Math major at Augustana College, he is studying abroad in Sydney this semester.

Minh's journey continues all semester so stay tuned.

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Topics: Sydney, Australia, Predeparture & Study Abroad Preparations