Two of the most important things I had to do in preparation for my upcoming spring break study abroad in Greece were to renew my passport and update my financial aid. These are both things you can begin working on before you have even applied to a program, and I highly recommend addressing them as early as possible!
My passport was due to expire in September 2017 and with my program occurring in March, I was right on the line of the six month mark that everyone talks about. The Department of State warns travelers that they may not be admitted into another country if their passport expires within six months. Furthermore, they recommend renewing your passport nine months before it expires. Once I knew for sure that I would be participating in the study abroad program, it was already January and I was concerned that if I sent in my passport for renewal, I might not get my renewed passport in time. Again, the Department of State website is a useful reference, their guide says that if your travel is more than 4-6 weeks away standard processing will return your passport in time. There are also expedited options that are more expensive.
I sent in my passport for standard processing and had my new passport back in about two weeks, faster than I expected! Of course, your experience may be different – but I recommend following the recommendations from the Department of State and renew your passport nine months before it expires, even if you’re unsure of when you will need it next.
Now, Financial Aid: When I applied to my study abroad program, I saw that a study abroad revision request needed to be filed with the program budget and assumed this would be a simple process. I was wrong! While filing the budget revision request is an important part of preparing to study abroad, I learned that I should have met with Financial Aid far earlier than I did. To begin with, not all study abroad programs are approved for funding from Financial Aid. Before applying, it might be a good idea to speak with the Financial Aid office, or at least send them an e-mail, and check to ensure the program you’re considering is approved. Also, just because you adjust your budget doesn’t mean additional funds will magically appear and be delivered when you need them. If you request a draft program budget from the Study Abroad office, you can take this to an appointment with Financial Aid and they can give you an idea of whether funds will be available and when you would receive them.
Typically, funds are delivered the first day of the quarter you are studying abroad. However, if your program starts later, funds aren’t delivered until the program start date. If your program starts early, you still will not receive funds until the first day of the quarter. This is usually fine as the program fee is not due until after the program starts, but some programs require paying earlier. Also, for the best deal on airfare its a good idea to make a booking about three months in advance, so plan ahead to know how you will finance things! Also, if you are a recipient of the UW Bothell Study Abroad Scholarship, note that the award is not delivered to you until the beginning of the quarter after your study abroad program.
I hope you learn from my mistakes and start thinking about your passport and financial aid as early as possible. Both the Study Abroad and Financial Aid offices are happy to meet with you before you’ve even decided if you want to study abroad and are excellent resources to work with throughout your search and application process.