Studying overseas can be incredibly exciting and rewarding, with new cultures, languages and travel opportunities to explore. Whether you're doing a quick school trip or an extended university exchange, it is important to be properly prepared.
This page should be read in conjunction with ouradvice for all travellers.
You should also refer to the Consular services charter to understand what consular officers can and cannot do for you.
This information is for Australian students undertaking study overseas. If you are an international student wanting to study in Australia, see the Study in Australia website.
Research your destination and institution
Read the country specific travel advice for your host country to understand the specific travel risks, local laws, health issues, visa requirements and local customs. Certain regions within countries have a higher travel advice level: if your host institution is within one of these areas you might want to think about choosing a safer location, or taking extra security precautions. In some countries, you should be aware of greater risks for women and the LGBTI community. Remember that studying overseas is your choice - if you are uncomfortable with the level of risk, you should choose another destination.
You are subject to the laws and customs of the country you're in at all times. Take the time to learn about local laws and customs before you travel. If you're arrested or jailed by local authorities for any reason, the Australian Government will do what it can to help you. But we can't get you out of jail or circumvent local law enforcement processes. Getting in trouble with the law while you're studying abroad might not only get you sent home early, it could limit your ability to travel overseas in the future.
Speak to other students who have studied at the same institution. Learn about the living and studying conditions and health facilities and what to pack.
Know as much as possible about your accommodation. Ask lots of questions. If you're going into a student house, will you have your own room or share - and if so, are dorms mixed? If you are doing a homestay, make sure that this is organised before you go, and be aware that the standards of selection and screening of host families can vary. If you need to find your own accommodation, you'll want to speak to your host institution, a returned student or a trusted local about staying in a safe location, having appropriate building security and local rights for landlords and tenants, such as practices for rent and repairs.
You should also ensure that your host school, college or university is properly accredited by the local authorities. Will the courses you take overseas be credited towards your degree back home? If so, check with your home institution if there are any restrictions or conditions. If you need your qualification for a particular purpose in Australia, check that state and territory regulators will recognise your overseas course of study or qualification.
If you are going on a secondary school student exchange program (or you are sending your child on one), ensure that proper safety and security practices are in place. The National Coordinating Committee for International Secondary Student Exchange's national guidelines outline the areas of responsibility for exchange organisations, governments and exchange students.
Check your travel insurance
Don't even consider studying overseas without travel insurance - it is as essential as your passport.
In many cases, your home institution will either arrange your travel insurance for you, or recommend a provider. If so, you need to consider the following:
- Does the policy cover your pre-existing medical conditions?
- Does it cover you for any additional activities that you might want to undertake while you're not busy studying, like skiing or adventure sports?
- Does the policy cover you for medical evacuation if you can't be treated in-country?
- What are the excesses like? Would it be even worth your while claiming something if the excess is too high? You might want to pay a higher premium for a lower excess.
- Will the policy cover you if you travel to another country on a holiday? Or does your policy only cover you for a limited number of days of personal travel during your exchange? It can be extremely difficult to get additional Australian travel insurance once you've left Australia. So if you want to see the rest of the world while you're on exchange and these limits apply, get additional cover before you go.
- When does your policy expire? If you plan to keep travelling once your exchange has finished, you might need to extend your travel insurance.
Whether you have to organise your own insurance or you want to check exactly what you're covered for, see the CHOICE travel insurance buying guide to help you decipher the fine print.
You should also find out if you're eligible for local health insurance, or if Australia has a reciprocal health care arrangement with your host country. Either option does not replace the need for full travel insurance.
Be aware that your host institution may also have specific requirements for your insurance cover. Check this well in advance - you might need to get a special exemption from your Australian university.
Know your visa
Check whether your university will arrange your student visa for you. Otherwise, you can find visa information on the website of the foreign Embassy or Consulate of the country you'll be studying in. Make sure you're aware of what your student visa allows you to do. If you plan to work to supplement your savings or even volunteer your time with a community organisation, make sure this is allowed under your student visa. Your visa requirements might also change if you're on a practical or clinical placement overseas. If you plan to leave the country to have a holiday back home or elsewhere, you might need to apply for a re-entry visa to be allowed back.
Choose safe transport
Even if your home or host institution organises your flights, it is your responsibility to check prohibited items, liquid restrictions and luggage allowances before you go. Remember that excess baggage rates can be expensive, so check out what you can purchase once you're in country, rather than bringing it all from home.
Find out before you go how you'll get from the airport to your host institution. Host institutions will often arrange transfers for you. If not, know what your transport options are in advance. If you're not familiar with the language yet, at least learn enough to get you out of the airport and safely to your host institution.
If you're getting picked up by your host institution, be 100% certain that your driver is actually from your institution before you go with them. Make sure they know your name and have some ID from the host institution.
It's a good idea to take at least enough local currency with you to cover any immediate costs when you first arrive in country. Being overloaded with luggage and trying to find an ATM is not only inconvenient, but can also make you a target for thieves.
If you need to drive overseas, you might need a local licence or an international driving permit. If you're still on a provisional licence, you'll need to check both the legal restrictions in the country you're going to, and whether your travel insurance will cover you if you're in an accident. The 'local travel' section of our travel advisories has information on local driving conditions and licence requirements.
Look after your health
Don't assume that prescription or over the counter medication that is legal in Australia will be legal in other countries. If you need to take medication with you, check with the Embassy, High Commission or Consulate of your host country to find out the requirements. Remember also that your regular medication may not be available overseas, or may come in different strengths. If you do need to carry medication from Australia, carry a letter from your doctor describing what it is, how much you'll be taking with you and that it's for your own personal use. Always keep medication in its original packaging.
For information about vaccinations and travel health, see our health pages.
Even with the excitement that comes from being in a new country, it can still be a shock to realise that you've uprooted your life and moved away from family and friends. Culture shock is common, and can take many different forms.
If you're having trouble adjusting, speak to your host institution to check what services may be available to help you settle in.
Manage your money
Your home institution should be able to give you a rough idea of the cost of living in your new country - and visa authorities might even require proof that you have a certain amount in your bank account before they let you go!
Check with your home and host institutions if you might be eligible for a scholarship, and if you are, check the conditions, like if you'll be paid in instalments or as a lump sum, and what the restrictions are on spending.
In the first few weeks your setting up costs may be particularly high, as you might need to pay a bond on your accommodation, sign a mobile phone contract, set up utilities and bank accounts and buy textbooks and study supplies.
There are rules about how Centrelink payments or concession cards may be affected if you leave Australia. You should check the Department of Human Services website to find out how any absence from Australia could affect your payment.
Sort out your documents
It's a good idea to let people at home know who your next of kin and emergency contacts are. You should also consider giving Power of Attorney to a trusted family member or friend, so that someone has the capacity to make important decisions on your behalf while you're away from Australia.
Make sure you have an electronic or physical copy of the following documents:
- student visa
- travel insurance policy
- credit card numbers and travellers cheques
- driver's licence or international driving permit.
Stay in touch
Remember that your friends and family back home will worry if they don't hear from you. Call, email or post on social media regularly.
Register your contact details and location with Smartraveller, so that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade can contact you if that's necessary, for example if a serious emergency occurs in your location.
Keep up to date
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