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Checklist for Working, Interning, And Volunteering Abroad

Before You Leave

  • Assess potential health, safety, crime, and political instability factors in the countries (and areas within a country) where you intend to travel. Regularly recheck the U.S. State Department Travel Alerts and Warnings.
  • Communicate with students who have participated in the program you are considering or have decided upon. Programs should be willing to furnish you with email and phone numbers of past participants.
  • If you are interested in academic credit for your work abroad, see your academic adviser.
  • Communicate with the program’s office in advance to ask questions about the internship placement (if known), whether a work permit is needed, assistance with finding housing, and other matters. If possible, communicate in advance with your supervisor abroad concerning expectations about the internship and other matters.
  • Immunizations/inoculations are needed for certain destinations in Africa, Asia, or Latin America. Start early, one to several months in advance, since some immunizations require several shots over time. Be sure to get a vaccination certificate listing your inoculations, since some countries (especially in tropical areas) require it at the border. Travel clinics can also recommend and prescribe medications appropriate for your destination, such as malaria pills.
  • Medications and personal care items. If you need prescription drugs on a regular basis, ask your physician to prescribe enough to last the entire duration of your stay abroad. Be sure to take copies of the prescription with you for checks at borders. Consider taking personal care items such as non-prescription drugs (as with prescription drugs, the same brands or formulas may be unavailable abroad), spare glasses or contact lenses, sunscreen, insect repellant, contraceptives, feminine hygiene products, etc.
  • Passport. This is your most important means of identification abroad—allow 2-4 weeks for arrival. You will need to build in another 2-6 weeks if you need a visa and/or work permit (below).
  • Visas. This is a stamp in your passport which gives you permission from a foreign government to enter the country. You must have your passport first. Many countries may require visas even for tourists, depending on the country and your citizenship. To get a visa, you may need to show that you have adequate means to support yourself for the duration of your stay. If you are working for pay in another country, you will need a Work Permit or Work Authorization (a special type of visa), without which you risk deportation. Be sure to ask your employer whether a work permit is needed, and check with the host country’s embassy at If you need a work permit, inquire whether the employer can help you obtain one. The organization IAESTE may be able to help you get a work permit for many countries, if you have a written internship offer: 410-997-3068;, Special student work permit programs are available for Britain, Ireland, France, Germany, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. See “Short Term Paid Work Abroad.”
  • Housing. Your best bet will be to work with your overseas employer or program to find housing. Cities with universities may have student dorms available in the summer. If you cannot pre-arrange housing, you will want to arrive a week or two early to look for housing onsite. Be cautious about making any commitments to a lease sight-unseen. Use to search for housing listings with terms such as “student.”
  • International Student ID Card (ISIC). This card makes you eligible for a broad range of discounts for airfare and overseas. Available at your international studies office.
  • Transportation. For airfares between the U.S. and your foreign destination (you must have a round-trip ticket), you will save money by buying weeks in advance from student-rate specialists such as STA Travel. Railpasses may save money in some destinations such as Europe and Japan, and cannot be bought once you get there—get railpasses from STA Travel or other travel agencies.
  • Guidebooks. Take one with you geared to your own travel style and itinerary. Some of the best guidebook series for student budgets are Lonely Planet, Let’s Go, and Rough Guides.
  • Foreign language/advance reading. If your language skills are weak, learn key phrases for conversation and emergencies, and consider enrolling in language classes onsite. Read current books and or see movies about your destination.
  • Means of Communication. Plan for multiple means of communication: Internet cafes; cell phones (you will have to buy a special phone abroad or from your cell phone company); phone cards for regular phones; ISIC card phone service; regular mail—people still like to get postcards and letters! Also, discuss with family members and your department/faculty contact how often you expect to communicate, and communicate with them as soon as possible after you reach your destination.
  • Photocopy important documents. Make two copies of your passport, plane ticket, traveler’s checks, rail pass, credit card numbers, and prescriptions. Be sure to take one set of copies with you and leave another set in the U.S. with family or a friend.
  • Money in multiple forms. Take cash in new $20 and $50 bills, traveler’s checks in dollars, credit cards (make sure you’ve made arrangements to pay these bills while you’re gone), ATM cards (only 4-digit PIN numbers work overseas.)
  • Money belt. The type that can be worn under your clothes is the most secure. Keep photocopies of your passport, visa, insurance and emergency contact information, travelers checks, extra ATM / credit cards in your money belt.
  • Luggage. Take as little as possible. An internal frame backpack is easiest to carry and to handle on trains; if you take a suitcase, be sure it has wheels! You should not take any more than you can carry, since shipping abroad is extremely expensive. Check your airline for special weight limits for overseas flights.
  • Computers. It’s best to leave your laptop in the U.S. to prevent theft and damage. If you must take it, mark down serial numbers, bring copies of receipts to avoid duty taxes, make sure insurance and warranties are up to date, check to see if your home or renters’ insurance covers computers abroad, and be aware of differences between American and foreign current—it can be easily damaged by the wrong current.
  • Avoid bringing unnecessary electrical devices (hair dryers, curlers, computers). If you do bring such items, buy your current converters in the U.S. as they can be difficult to find abroad.
  • Make reservations for your first night abroad and information on traveling to and from the airport (consult your guidebook for inexpensive options).
  • If possible, register yourself with the U.S. embassy or consulate abroad (non-US citizens should register themselves with their own country’s embassy; see Include your itinerary (dates, places, and addresses abroad) and emergency contact information. If this cannot be done online, then register yourself once you arrive in the host country by phone, fax, or in-person. Keep the embassy/consulate contact information with you in case of emergency.

Once You Are There

  • Communicate with family and friends ASAP after you arrive, and on a regular basis thereafter. Set up regular times (say, specific days each week) when your contacts can expect to hear from you. If possible, have multiple means for communications: regular phone, cell phone, email.
  • Be careful of water and food in less-developed countries. See guidebooks for detailed tips such as drinking only bottled water, avoiding ice cubes, etc.
  • Be careful when seeking medical care abroad in less-developed countries—needles may be unsterilized or re-used. Ask the U.S. embassy for recommended health-care providers.
  • Register with the closest U.S. embassy or consulate (or your own embassy if not a U.S. citizen) if you have not already done so before leaving.
  • Register with local authorities if this is required—it is in many countries.
  • Develop local contacts at your internship site and living quarters. They can be your best source of information and assistance in case of any crisis. If you travel, be sure to inform them about your itinerary, and leave your emergency contact information with them. Your local hosts will also be your best guides to the local culture, courtesies, and customs.
  • Monitor local news sources.

William Nolting worked for many years at the University of Michigan Overseas Opportunities Office and was the International Educational and former Work Abroad editor for Transitions Abroad Magazine.

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