Take The Stress Out Of Pre-Study Abroad Paperwork

So, the end of my exchange semester has arrived and now I am just spending the remaining time left on my visa traveling through the country. I suppose this is a good moment to sit down and reflect on the past couple of months, but most importantly to share my experiences and tips concerning study abroad semesters. Now, I am from Germany and did my study abroad in the US. Doesn’t this just scream paperwork? It should, because it entails a lot of it!

Luckily, the university I attended in Florida is a partner university of my home university, which definitely makes a lot of the paperwork easier. However, coordinating communication and a steady flow of accurate information between two different universities and yourself can still get confusing and, at times, stressful.

I suppose we are a little bit spoiled with being able to just move from country to country here in Europe, thanks to the EU, without a minute’s hesitation. So the amount of paperwork (partner university or not) can become quite overwhelming when you are first confronted with it after applying to study abroad in a country outside the EU. Therefore, I have compiled a couple of tips, sorted into steps, that will hopefully help you when you have to deal with your own pile of paperwork.

Step 1 – The application process.

Even though I decided to go to a partner university, I still had to send an application for the university in Florida to approve. It is unlikely that they will refuse you, of course, but they do want to make that decision themselves – understandably. As soon as you receive your information for this process, start! I took my time, which delayed all my other proceedings and eventually had me rushing to the consulate for my visa.

One of the documents I had most trouble with for this process was my immunization form — for two reasons. Firstly, the US (and specifically Florida) require three Hepatitis shots, while some European countries only require two. Make sure you get all the necessary shots you still need as soon as possible and don’t forget to get some sort of confirmation.

In Germany we have the Immunization Pass in which all immunizations since birth are documented with the full dates and signatures from your doctors. If you have that, you should be good to go. If you don’t, because you lost it in Australia, like I did, get on that early! This was my second problem: my childhood doctor was unable to retrieve all the necessary information in time, because documents from the nineties have never been digitized and so I had to estimate dates. It can work out fine, but in general, having all the correct data is important and always useful.

Never hesitate to ask questions as well, because hesitation costs time and if you’re school is as organised as mine, you’re going to need all the time you can get.

Make sure you have a clearly visible to-do list somewhere in your room so that you are constantly reminded of what still needs to be done. Stay organised, because you’re going to collect a lot of loose pieces of paper and copies!

Why is this so important? Only when the partner university has received all required documents and has officially accepted your application do they send the DS-2019 form. You need this form for your visa application.

Step 2 – Getting your Visa.

I am from Germany, but I live in the Netherlands for my current studies. So, I spent an entire day traveling to the US consulate in Germany and back for a ten-minute visa interview. It was exhausting, annoying and very expensive!

Guess what I found out maybe a day later? It is possible to simply go to the German Embassy in Amsterdam to acquire a visa. Amsterdam is a twenty-minute train ride away from where I live.

So, make sure you know your options. Ask your parents, teachers or other students who have been in this situation before. Google is also your friend.

For the visa itself, make sure you take care of that as soon as you receive your DS-2019 form. Also, be aware that you are going to have to pay a SEVIS fee as well as a visa fee. These are both over €100 and you need to be prepared for that. Also make sure you know exactly what you need to bring to your visa interview, because that includes the SEVIS fee receipt and the confirmation of your interview, which confirms you paid the visa fee. The SEVIS fee also has to be paid at least, I believe, two weeks before the visa interview. So, make sure you have a fully loaded printer ready to go at any time.

I know I am repeating myself, but I cannot stress this enough: the most important thing is to stay organised and to immediately clear up any confusion or uncertainties the minute they arise. For a lot of these things the partner university has deadlines and correspondence with a country on the other side of the world is always difficult and time consuming.

Step 3 – The health insurance.

I wanted to acquire a German international health insurance with a company that I trust. The Florida partner university kept stressing that many international health insurers do not cover the specific requirements of Florida insurance laws. I didn’t take that seriously.

Eventually, one day before the deadline, I found out that my insurance was not sufficient and consequently had to get the insurance the university provided. This cost me over €300 more and excluded the months after my exchange semester, when I wished to travel, as it was after my study had ended in the US.

Make sure you take care of this as early as possible. For me it was difficult to find any information about the requirements of the Florida insurance law, but I also felt naively confident that my insurance would be sufficient. So here are two tips for how you can handle this:

  • Make sure you know your insurance. This way you can easily fill out the waiver (you can find more information about this on Rakbo’s page about insurance waivers) as soon as possible. Do that as soon as possible. If you find out your insurance isn’t eligible, you still have time to find a new one.
  • Send screenshots of the questions to your insurer and ask whether they cover all the They are familiar with such inquiries and my insurer even had a specific employee for such issues. So never hesitate to ask, especially when, like me, you have problems understanding English jargon.

If you’re curious, you can read more about health insurance.

Going to another country for a study abroad experience is exciting, but the preparation can be time consuming and the paperwork overwhelming. I tried to make it a little easier for you by dividing it into these three steps. However, I mostly covered the topics I personally struggled most with. So, it may not seem like a load of paperwork is involved, but there is! For a good few weeks my room was covered in loose papers and copies of copies. It was a nightmare and highly confusing as I also received mixed information from my home university and the partner university.

So, the most important thing is: stay on top of your tasks. It can get overwhelming especially when you have assignments and exams to think about as well, but if you stay organised, make thorough and visible to-do lists, keep track of deadlines, keep your bank account charged, and communicate well with both universities, you should be able to manage the chaos that is US paperwork.

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Nuria Hammen

Nuria is a 22-year-old international student from Germany, currently attending school in the Netherlands. She spent a semester studying in Laredo, Texas during high school, and in January 2017, she’ll return to America to study for a semester in Pensacola, Florida. She’s a passionate world traveler with a committed desire to learning about different cultures, languages, and all of the countries that make up our world.

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