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How to Prepare for Study Abroad

The Office of International Affairs provides group advising sessions, individual appointments, predeparture orientation, and informational materials to help you prepare for your time abroad.

Please keep in mind that although MICA and the International Affairs office provide information, advising, and guidance to help you prepare, it is up to YOU to prepare for study abroad at the site you have selected!

We cannot stress enough how important it is to learn as much as you can about your host country before you go. Life abroad will be much more interesting if you have context for what you are experiencing. 

Before you go, read books, articles, news and online information about your host country and city. This will help you recognize and use opportunities for cross-cultural learning and create a rich experience.

In addition, read through this page and our Study Abroad Handbook for more helpful suggestions about how to prepare.

Language Preparation

We highly recommend studying the language that will be spoken in your host country. You can use the Mango language program through MICA's library for free.  In addition, MICA partners with other area institutions to allow its students access to courses at Towson, UMBC and Johns Hopkins through cross-registration (as part of your regular MICA tuition!). This means you can take language classes in the area!  See MICA's Enrollment Services office in Bunting Center for more information about cross-institutional enrollment.

Passports

Do you have a passport? If not, apply for a passport right away. If you already have a passport, make sure that the expiration date is at least six months after your intended return to the U.S. If your passport expires before that date, be sure to renew it.  You can apply for a passport at most U.S. post offices and you can apply for passport renewal by mail. More information about obtaining or renewing a U.S. passport may be found on the Department of State's website.

Visas

Some countries will require a visa for students who study abroad. To learn if your host country requires that you obtain a student visa, consult the website of your host country’s embassy in the U.S. Although some of our host programs and institutions provide information on how to obtain visas, it is important that to note that you are soley respsonsible for knowing the entry requirements to your country and obtaining your visa. No one else can do this for you.

Most visas are not issued by embassies in Washington, DC, but rather by consulates that are located elsewhere in the U.S. and that serve specific regions. For example, the Italian Consulate that serves the Baltimore area is located in Philadelphia.

Some countries do not require that U.S. citizens obtain visas to enter for stays of 90 days or less. However, many countries require a visa for extended stay to study and almost all countries require a visa for an extended stay to work. Note that visas carry certain restrictions; if you have a visa for full-time study, you will not be eligible for employment. Be careful not to work abroad illegally, as this could result in serious violations of your status abroad.

Residency Permits

What is the difference between a visa and a permit? Think of it this way: your visa is only "the key that unlocks the door;" it is only a document that allows you to enter the country. If you stay in a country for more than 90 days, you will need permission to stay there continuously, and a residency permit grants this permission. In most countries, a residency permit can be obtained by the Foreign/Alien Police after you arrive. Typically you must apply for the permit right away, often within one to three days after your arrival. To obtain the permit, you may need to present documentation such as a letter of acceptance from your host institution, your bank statements, your rental contract if you have already obtained housing, etc. More information regarding residency permit procedures can be obtained from your host country's consulate or the international office at your host institution.

Know your Consulate

While abroad, it is good practice to know the location of the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate (or, if you are not a U.S. citizen, the embassy of your home country). U.S. citizens can visit the US State Department website to find the U.S. embassy or consulate nearest their host institution.

Housing - Here and Abroad

Housing arrangements vary from program to program. Some programs arrange housing for students, while others offer varying levels of assistance in finding roommates or apartments. Students should carefully consider their program's housing options or arrangements, as final responsibility for securing accommodations, either through the host program or independently, rests with the student.

Health Insurance

In order to obtain a student visa, you often must prove you have health insurance that will cover you COMPLETELY during the duration of your stay overseas, typically both in your host country and while traveling. Check with your current health insurance provider to learn if your policy will cover you while abroad. If so, obtain from the company a letter stating that your current policy will cover any and all medical expenses while abroad.

If your health insurance policy does not cover you while abroad, or if you cannot prove that it does, you will need to purchase supplemental health insurance. Often, a good and cost effective option is to purchase international student health insurance from the government of your host country or from a reputable company in your host country. Your host institution should be able to provide you with information on insurance companies that offer coverage to international students.

You should also be certain that your insurance includes Medical Evacuation and Repatriation while abroad. If you have MICA student insurance, this coverage is automatically included. If you have insurance through a different provider, you should consult with your provider to learn if it is included in your coverage. If it is not included, we strongly recommend that you purchase a supplemental policy for the period you will be abroad that includes Medical Evacuation and Repatriation coverage.

Following are examples of U.S. companies that provide special policies for U.S. students studying overseas; many other such companies exist. (The Office of International Affairs does not actively endorse any particular insurance company.)

  • HTH Worldwide
  • Compass Benefits Group
  • Wallach & Company
  • CMI Insurance
  • The Gateway Plans
  • Student Travel Guard

Medical Care and Disabilities

If you have any medical conditions or disabilities that require accommodations, including mental health concerns, please inform the Office of International Affairs as early in the study abroad process as possible so that accommodations can be investigated and, if available, arranged at your host institution. Countries outside of the U.S. vary greatly in terms of disabilities laws and accommodations, so it may not always be possible to receive the same type or extent of accommodations that you receive in the U.S. However, MICA and the host institution will attempt to provide accommodations for your medical or disabilities needs, where available, as much as possible.

If you take any medication on a daily basis, plan to bring enough with you to cover your whole stay, if possible. Be sure to travel with a note from your doctor that states the name of the medication (both brand name and generic name), how much you are required to take daily, and what the prescription is for.

Booking Your Flight

Student travel agencies can often provide the most flexible and inexpensive tickets for students traveling abroad. Examples of these agencies follow. (The Office of International Affairs does not actively endorse any particular travel agency.)

  • STA Travel
  • AESU (American European Student Union)
  • Student Universe

Although you may not know exactly when you will return to the U.S. and from where, we recommend that you DO NOT book a one-way ticket. One-way tickets are red flags for immigration officials and airport security. Most student-fare tickets allow flexibility in changing a return ticket for little or no charge. Check the company's policy for ticket changes before you finalize your ticket purchase.

We also recommend that you do not plan to arrive more than a few days in advance of the date that orientation or classes begin at your host institution, as arriving too early can sometimes result in difficulties with immigration regulations and airport security. Arrival up to four or five days in advance will allow you sufficient time to recover from jet lag and become familiar with your new environment. If you still wish to arrive early and you will be studying in a country that requires a visa, be sure to check with your host country's consulate to learn how many days in advance of the program start date you are permitted to arrive.

Money

If you do not already have online access to your bank account, you should arrange this with your bank now. Online banking is an excellent way to monitor your balance while abroad. Keep in mind that the money you have must support you during your ENTIRE stay abroad. In certain circumstances, invoices from your host institution may not arrive until well into the semester, so you will need to budget accordingly.

Most international travellers use their ATM/Debit or credit cards to make purchases while abroad. Make sure that your ATM/Debit card has the CIRRUS or PLUS logo on the back of the card for use in foreign ATM machines. Debit cards used overseas must have the VISA logo. If you have any concerns about whether or not you can use your ATM/Debit or credit card overseas, contact your bank. Travellers cheques are not routinely recommended, as they are difficult to cash in some locations and incur fees for each transaction, but this does vary by country; if you wish to use traveler's checks abroad, check in advance with your host country's largest banks to make sure that they would cash the type of traveler's checks that you plan to bring.

You will also need to notify your current bank and credit card company that you will be studying overseas. Tell the company when you will leave the US, where you will be living and/or travelling, and when you will return. That way, no questions will arise when foreign charges begin to appear on your account. Be sure to ask about your card's foreign ATM fees, currency exchange fees, etc., so that you will know what to expect on your bill. Remember that credit cards usually add a surcharge for each purchase that you make overseas.

While travelling to your study abroad site, we recommend that you carry no more than the equivalent of about $200 in the currency of your host country. You will be able to find ATMs and banks at most international airports to obtain more local currency upon arrival. (Note, however, that conversion rates at airport banks are typically slightly higher than those of banks located in town.)

Packing

Check with your airline to learn restrictions for carry-on and checked baggage. Remember not to pack too much, as you may need to carry your luggage for some distance, depending on how you will travel and where you will stay. A general recommendation is not to pack more than you can carry yourself. See the packing list on this website for suggestions.

When packing art supplies, be conservative and take only what is absolutely necessary. These supplies can be bulky in your suitcase and certain supplies may be subject to airline restrictions. Remember that you can purchase art supplies at your host site when you arrive.

Communication (telephone, email)

Your U.S. cell phone may not work overseas, so it is best to check with your cell phone provider to make certain. If your cell phone is a tri- or quad-band phone that does work overseas, ask what your international rates will be. In many cases, it is much cheaper to purchase a pre-pay or pay-as-you-go cell phone once you arrive in your host country to use for local calls. To call the U.S., purchasing a local calling card overseas or using a call center is generally a less expensive option than a cell phone.

All of your correspondence with the Office of International Affairs while you are away will be via MICA e-mail. Remember that your access to the Internet while abroad may not be as frequent as in the US, so plan accordingly.

Sending Artwork Home

At the end of your stay, you will probably wish to bring home the work you created abroad. Bringing your work as carry-on or check-in luggage may be possible if it is in accordance with your airline's guidelines. If you cannot take your work on the plane, your host coordinator may have suggestions for shipping work back to the U.S. If you cannot do either, remember to DOCUMENT your work IN DETAIL because the chair of your MICA department may want to review your work upon your return.