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Pre-Departure Information

There are several things you must do prior to departing for your study abroad program. You must obtain all the necessary documents, make all the important financial and academic arrangements, and complete a mandatory pre-departure class.  Information on the pre-departure class, passports, and visas are outlined below.  Additional information can be found in the OIE Study Abroad Student Handbook.   

Pre-Departure Class

We want you to be as prepared as possible when you travel out into the world. For that reason, we recommend that everyone who is studying abroad participate in a pre-departure class prior to going abroad (note: this class is required for some majors). This class is listed as IST 300 and is offered in an online blended format so it can be completed from wherever you are.  Students will receive one credit hour for the completion of the course. The credit is awarded as pass/fail.  Once you are accepted by USA to participate in an abroad program, an OIE staff member will permit you to register for the course. This course will also fulfill the LG 394 course required of all foreign language majors. 

In addition to the course, many faculty and affiliate programs also conduct pre-departure sessions before and/or at the beginning of their program. Completion of this course does not excuse you from additional pre-departure requirements outlined by your program or faculty director.

Travel safety, USA policies and procedures, and advice for cultural adjustment will be covered during the course. We make sure to build in time for you to meet other USA students traveling to the same area of the world. Failure to satisfactorily complete the mandatory pre-departure course will result in being dropped from your program.

Note: Students participating in faculty-led programs and/or internships may be required to attend multiple pre-departure meetings and orientations.  All scheduled official meetings are mandatory for participation.

Passports and Visas

Passports and visas are two very important types of documents that you will need when you study abroad.


A passport provides official identification while traveling and proof of U.S. citizenship. It will be checked upon leaving and entering almost every country you visit.

You will need a passport to enter a country AND to return to the United States. Your passport must be current and valid for at least six months beyond the time your program ends. To obtain or renew your passport visit the US Department of State: Passports & International Travel website.

Special note: Apply for your passport as soon as you begin thinking about study abroad or international travel as processing time can be lengthy.

Once you have your passport, make copies or scan the page with your picture and passport number on it. Leave one at home with a friend or family member and submit one to the OIE study abroad online application system.  You should also carry a copy separately from your passport when you travel . It is also a good idea to send a scanned copy to yourself by email.  If you lose your passport, having a copy will make it easier to get a replacement from the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.


A visa is official permission to visit a country for a specific purpose and time.  To learn about the requirements for your host country and any countries you might visit while abroad go to the US Department of State: Americans Traveling Abroad website.

Applying for a Visa

The exact process for applying for a visa will vary depending upon the type of visa and the country. In general, to apply for a visa you will send your actual passport (not a copy), student visa application, and any other required documentation via certified mail, UPS, or FedEx (the consulate will usually indicate a preference) along with a return, self-addressed, pre-paid, trackable envelope to the consular office of the country you plan to visit. The consulate will stamp your passport with the visa and return it to you. You generally apply to the consulate that serves the state of your permanent residence.  For Alabama, this is usually in Houston or Atlanta.

Processing Time

Obtaining a visa could take up to three months so begin early. You will not be able to apply for the visa until you are fully accepted by your host institution or program, but it is a good idea to begin gathering the needed information for your visa as soon as you apply.  The embassy/consulate website/documentation that accompanies your visa application will usually indicate how long it will take to process the visa.