Your teenager has just been accepted to study abroad for a semester or a summer. It’s the chance of a lifetime, but it’s also anxiety-inducing for a concerned parent. Don’t panic; prepare with this list of practical tips for a hassle-free trip.
Prepare Your Paperwork
Begin by making sure your child has a valid passport. Don’t leave this until the last minute; while normal processing time runs about four to six weeks, if the local Passport Office gets busy, it can take even longer to process a passport or renewal. Expedited processing can whittle that time down to three weeks for an extra fee, but you’ll all be happier getting the application in early. The U.S. State Department’s website provides all the information you need to successfully apply for your child’s passport, including help finding the Passport Office nearest you. You should also determine whether your child needs a visa. You can check the State Department’s Country Information web page, or ask the school or organization sponsoring your child’s trip for visa information.
Be on the Alert
The U.S. State Department monitors conditions all over the world and provides updates for travelers planning on visiting specific countries. Travel alerts give notice of short-term conditions that might affect travel to a country, such as an outbreak of disease or a political situation that could cause disturbances. Travel warnings, much rarer, notify travelers of serious potential threats such as civil unrest or a high risk of crime. It doesn’t hurt to visit the State Department’s website and double-check your student’s destination to make sure you’re aware of current conditions. You can also sign up for the State Department’s Smart Travel Enrollment Program (STEP), a free service that provides information about a travel destination and makes it easier to stay in touch with a traveling U.S. citizen in case of an emergency.
If your student plans on driving a car while abroad, make sure you research all the necessary permits. In many countries, an International Driving Permit is required, in addition to a valid U.S. driver’s license, to operate a car legally. Check with the embassy of the country your student is visiting to find out about license and insurance requirements, as your regular auto insurance may not cover your child while driving overseas. Don’t forget to check into local driving practices, such as seat belt requirements, which side of the road vehicles use and other customs that may differ from U.S. driving.
Research the culture and customs of the place your student will be visiting. For example, it’s always a good idea to learn a few simple phrases in the language of the host country. “Please,” “thank you,” “hello” and “good-bye” go a long way toward showing your respect as a visitor. Think about clothing choices. Some cultures have much stricter traditions about what clothing is appropriate, particularly in specific contexts. For example, in some countries, local custom may prohibit skin-baring clothing like tank tops when visiting churches. Your teen may find it helpful to dress more conservatively than usual, at least until getting a better sense of the local culture. Certain hand gestures have different significance from country to country; protocol for tipping can vary greatly; even something as simple as a handshake may be perceived differently in other countries. Websites that specialize in cultural etiquette can help your student learn before leaving home.
In addition to keeping cultural sensitivities in mind, you’ll want to help your student pack useful items. Find out about the local climate, and pack clothes suitable for the expected weather. Leave any extremely valuable or sentimental items safely at home since luggage can get lost or stolen. If your student takes medication regularly, be sure to pack a sufficient supply, and leave the medication in the original container. Sturdy, comfortable shoes are a must. Find out whether particular toiletries are available in the host country before packing them all, as it may be more convenient to replace or shop for items after arrival. And make sure you bring the necessary electrical converters if you plan to pack small electronic items like a hair dryer or electric razor.
Make copies of key travel documents: your child’s passport, airline tickets, driver’s license and international driver’s license, insurance cards, credit/debit cards and traveler’s checks. Keep one copy of these documents at home with you in case they get lost or stolen. Your child should keep another copy of these documents, packed separately from the originals, to make getting replacements easier if need be.
No one plans on getting sick while traveling, but unfortunately, it occasionally happens. Take a look at your child’s health insurance policy, and find out whether it covers your child during overseas travel. Foreign hospitals or doctors may not accept your insurance, so consider adding short-term international health insurance. You should also consider purchasing travel insurance, which can help your teen traveler should the unexpected occur. Travel insurance policies can help with lost baggage, canceled or delayed flights, and losses due to natural disasters or illness.