Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Traveling/Studying Abroad: Passports, Visas, and Tickets, oh my!

Bonjour!! Or bonsoir in my case since it's actually 10:30 at night. So you're going abroad? Have no fear, Shelby the ultra paranoid guru is here!

In this post, we'll be talking about...yup you guessed it! Passports, and visas, and tickets!

Step 1: Get a passport. It's actually pretty easy. Just head on over to the U.S. State Department's Travel site. Here's a clickity-clackity link: WaaBam! There you go. You're welcome.

  • Once you're on the site, clickity on the "First Time Adult Applicant" button.
  • Read any of the "Special Requirements" if they apply to you. Or if you really want to read them.
  • Print off and fill out the forms. 
  • Gather up your identification papers, i.e. social security card, birth certificate, etc. Driver's licenses don't work! College students: you're parents have them!
  • Get your picture taken (most large supermarkets that have one-hour photo will do passport pictures; it should take about ten minutes total).
  • Submit everything in person. Don't know where to go? Go back to the link I gave you. Click "Where to Apply in the U.S." Click "Passport Application Acceptance Facility". Enter your zipcode and other info and it will give you the nearest place to turn in your application! Mine was the local courthouse.
Now, you need to start this process early. I suggest at least 6 months in advance. They do have a rush that you can put on your application, but who wants to pay that fee? No one. I applied for my passport in August, got it in September, and left for Paris in June. However, I've heard from plenty of others that their passports took 4-6 months. Do yourself a favor now, and just get it done.

Got your application in? Good. Now you get to wait. And when that beautiful little book comes in, don't feel shame if you do this:

Don't forget to sign it!

Ok, so I can't be much help here, because I didn't need to get one. However, I will give you some more wonderful clicketies to get you going!
  • Ta-da! Here's the Department of State's Visa page to get you started. They've got everything your little heart desires. Unless you want free wifi and some chocolate, cause then your just shit outta luck.
  • Vroom! Don't know if you need a visa? Well, clicky here. Here's a handy little guide to find out if you need to start this process. (BTW: If you're going to France for less than 90 days, you do not need a visa!)
  • When on the official visa website, check out the side links. "Find a U.S. Embassy" is a must-check. As is "Forms" and "Visa Bulletin".
Get started as soon as you confirm your trip. From what I've learned, it can be a very long, drawn out process, and you don't want to risk missing your trip because you have to wait for a visa.

Not burnt out yet, are we darlings? Well too darn bad if you are. Its ticket time!

Step 1: Know your dates and deadlines. Especially in a study abroad program--you will most likely have to book your tickets yourself. Know what time and day you're expected to arrive for orientation and the day you leave.
  • Book a round-trip. Some American airlines won't let you leave the country and some country's won't let you in if you don't have a return ticket. Plus, they're generally cheaper.
  • Comparison shop. Kayak, Expedia, and Hotwire are the most advertised ticket sites. Students should also check out Student Universe. This site weeds out tickets that are specifically for students or those under a certain age from all available airlines. This is where I ended up getting my tickets!
  • Start early!! At least 2 months in advance, start looking. Prices are generally cheapest on Tuesdays (regardless of flight date--though tickets for Mon-Wed flights are usually cheaper). Don't leave this to the last minute!!
  • Give yourself a time bumper. When searching for arrival times, give yourself an hour or so in case of flight delays. For example, if you're supposed to meet your program at the airport between 10am and noon, try to get a flight that arrives at least by 9am. This will give you extra time in case your flight is delayed (like mine was!), customs takes a long time, or you lose your baggage.
  • Try to minimize layovers and connecting flights. The more you have, the longer your trip, and the more likely you'll lose your bags. They're also generally more expensive.
Step 2: Buy your tickets.
  • When using a credit card, ask your parents (or significant other, for adults) if they have frequent flyer miles you can use. Try to save money where you can!
  • Quadruple check your reservation. Make absolutely sure your arrival and departure times and locations are accurate. They're easy to change in case of a mistake, but the fees are usually between $50-$100. Not cool.
  • If you have any questions, call the number for the site or airline you're looking on. They will most likely have travel agents standing by to answer any questions.
  • Students: if you're having the tickets mailed to you, mail them to your college residence (unless of course, you'll be home).
Click the "Purchase" button. It's terrifying. And exciting. But mostly terrifying.

Go ahead. Victory screech if you got an awesome deal.

Congratulations. You are now a few steps closer to your final destination. (And I don't mean the movie Final Destination because that would be just bad taste though they really are entertaining in a terrible sort of way. Kind of like how planes tend to show disaster movies for the in-flight movie. Mine showed Guilt Trip, which actually isn't a disa--okay, nevermind.)

I'll see you in my next post.


  1. I want to thank you for this informative read. Loved the whole article! Thanks for sharing.

    Travel Guide

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.