Travel Abroad Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need a passport and/or a visa to travel abroad?

You will always need a passport to travel abroad and you will often need a visa. A passport is an internationally-recognized ID issued by the national government of your home country. It is required both for purposes of entry into a foreign country and for readmission back into the U.S.A visa (issued by the embassy of the destination country before you leave the U.S.) is required for admission into many countries. Entry requirements will vary for those who are studying or working abroad, travelling as tourists, or those who are not U.S. citizens. See the U.S.Department of State's Country Specific Travel Information. For more information, see our article on Passports and Visas.

How do I find information on safety and health conditions abroad?

See UM’s Travel Policy which lists countries with warnings. The U.S. Department of State's Country Specific Travel Information assesses safety and health conditions for every country in the world, and issues a travel advisory. Every advisory gives detailed information about potential hazards such as crime, road safety, political instability, and terrorism.

How can I let people know how to get in touch with me in case of an emergency?

U-M students, staff and faculty are required to register university-related travel with the U-M Travel Registry. U.S. citizens should also register online with the U.S. Department of State. You should leave copies of your travel abroad itinerary with family members and others who are close to you, and with your program administrators if you're studying or working abroad.

Do I need special shots, medications, or other health precautions in order to travel abroad?

Depending on where you are traveling (especially for less-developed regions), you might need vaccines against hepatitis A and B, chickenpox, pneumonia, typhoid fever, yellow fever, meningitis, Japanese encephalitis, or rabies. Special medication against malaria is available. You may also need to take precautions about eating and drinking. Consult with the UHS Travel Health Clinic. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control provides official travel health information for worldwide destinations.

Will my health insurance cover me while abroad? If not, how do I get health insurance?

Don't assume that your insurance will cover you while abroad. The U-M Travel Abroad Health Insurance is a required purchase for students traveling for university-related purposes and is strongly recommended for personal/leisure travel. See our article on Health Insurance Abroad.

Where can I find the cheapest airfares? Where can I buy a railpass?

The best source is STA Travel, which has special student-rate airfares. STA also sells railpasses, can make reservations in youth hostels, and offers student tours.

I've heard about an International Student ID Card. What's that for?

The ISIC card is the only student ID card that is recognized for special student discounts worldwide. It also entitles you to special student-rate airfares though STA Travel. It can be used to make phone calls. It provides minimal health insurance (best viewed as a supplement to a comprehensive policy). Similar cards are available for non-students under 26, and for teachers and faculty. Cards may be purchased from myISIC

Do I need a rail pass to travel in Europe?

No, although if you decide you want one, you'll need to purchase it in the U.S. Tickets can be purchased for each individual train trip, but there are certain advantages to having a rail pass. First, there is the peace-of-mind of not worrying about buying tickets every time you want to travel. This is especially important in major European train stations, where buying a ticket can be a time consuming and confusing process. Second, depending on how much you travel, rail passes can save you money. Try to tailor your pass to the type of trip you are planning. If you stay in each destination for several days, you can find passes that allow a certain number of days of rail travel within a given time period (usually 1-2 months). If you think you might travel on a train every single day, you can find rail passes for unlimited travel for several weeks or months. Rail passes can save you money, but only if you use them wisely and buy the pass that best suits your trip. For more on railpasses and how to use the trains, see RailEurope.

I am interested in backpacking around to different places for several weeks. How much should I pack?

Not much! You aren't going to need all of the outfits and other amenities that you are used to. Wearing the same one or two outfits while you travel is not only simpler, but no one is going to care. Try to bring multi-purpose outfits that work in different weather conditions. Also, be prepared to sacrifice some of the hygienic comforts of home, like taking a shower every single day or washing your clothes before wearing them a second time. Clothes are definitely something to cut down on, but don't forget travel essentials like sunscreen, toiletries, tour books, and maybe a sleeping bag and tent.

I'd rather not plan my entire trip. Can I just show up in a new city and expect to find a place to sleep?

It is usually possible to find accommodations right when you show up at your destination. However, you might have difficulties in large tourist areas like Rome, Venice, Paris, or Barcelona and should book a few days in advance. Also be aware that when shared between a few people, inexpensive hotel rooms (1 and 2 star) can be much cheaper than youth hostels and have comparable or better facilities. This is especially true in major cities, where one bed in a youth hostel can be up to $50. See our information on youth hostels in Accommodations.

I just arrived in a city and I am completely lost. Where do I go to find maps and other information?

This question emphasizes the need for a good guide book to accompany any trip. A budget-oriented guide book (such as Let's Go, Lonely Planet, etc.) can guide you to tourist information bureaus, alert you to must-see sites, and help you find low-cost accommodations.

What can I expect to pay each day while traveling on my own? What are the best ways to cut costs?

While traveling you might be shocked by how much you spend every day. Food and accommodations usually take the heaviest toll on your wallet. The cost of food can be reduced by shopping at grocery stores and not dining in restaurants, which tend to be very expensive in tourist areas. See our resources on youth hostels and budget accommodations for the cheapest places to stay; for other cost estimates, see Travel Finances. Also, there are things like museums, tourist attractions, pubs, and nightclubs, which are all extras that seem small but add up quickly. Plan your trip wisely, but don't end up regretting not having done or seen something just because it cost money that you were afraid to spend. Look for student or youth discounts (obtained with an International Student Identity Card card), which are available at most tourist attractions.

Should I get a cell phone?

This is completely up to you. Many students find cell phones very convenient, others find them unnecessary. Your American cell phone contract will not work overseas without an international plan. Most cell phones abroad use pre-paid SIM-chips that can be inserted into any phone. If your American cell phone also uses a SIM-chip and has dual- or tri-band settings, you can bring it along and will only have to purchase a new SIM-chip and the pre-paid minutes for it. Some cellular companies offer discounted contracts to students (O2-Europe for example), which feature very reasonable local and international rates. Generally, cell phones are a convenience while abroad, but they usually require some research to find the best companies. For additional information see our article on Communications Abroad.

I'm ready to travel abroad – what do I need to do now?

See our Departure Checklist for Travel Abroad.