Studying Abroad: Paperwork, Passports and Photos

Air, Italy, Passports & Visas, Planning, Studying Abroad, Websites and Blogs — By on May 18, 2009 at 11:45 am

French Passport Stamp Earlier this year, Lost Girls intern Patty Hodapp was accepted to the Syracuse study abroad program in Florence, Italy. While she figured that she might need to do some planning for her trip, she hardly anticipated just how long-and pricey-her travel to-do list would get.

By Patty Hodapp

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SU Abroad accepted me to their summer Florence program during the first week in March. This was great news, and with it also came a plethora of emails about travel preparations. I thought I would have more time to collect my thoughts, focus on schoolwork, and travel to Arizona for spring break.

Um-nope! In fact, the acceptance email came, followed by a long list of documents, passport pictures, notary requests and a visa application-all due within a week or so. The list of things I needed to get and do was incredibly specific and some turned out to be expensive.
Getting my paperwork (and pictures) in order

First, I needed an official passport photo with my name printed on the back for my visa application, so I ran to CVS and had an employee snap a photo in front of a pull-down, white projector screen. Nine dollars later, I had six prints of my photo. I only need one for the visa application, so now I have five extra mug shots to decorate my dorm room walls (yay!).
Next, I needed one USPS Express Mail Urgent Delivery self-addressed envelope with $17.50 worth of postage so my approved visa could be sent to my home address in May. Then, another $40 processing fee went to SU Abroad along with a copy of my Minnesota driver’s license. The whole form also had to be stamped by a public notary.
Finally, I started on the acceptance paperwork for SU, and nearly an hour and nine forms later, my fingers (and debit card) had their workout for the day. Then I started on the visa application that will go through the Chicago consulate-and will be, fingers crossed, approved.
Flights abroad

Working with a travel agent, I nailed down my flight dates. My program starts May 29 so I’ll leave May 27. Syracuse’s study abroad period ends July 11 but since I plan to travel for two weeks afterward, I’ll be flying back July 25. Typically on a study visa, students have 2- 3 week grace period before they are expected to leave Europe.
Fortunately, my SU Abroad counselor was ultra-attentive to her phone and email, and was a complete and utter savior-she translated all of the official-sounding language that I couldn’t understand. Another thing that also saved me some serious time: I already had a passport from previous travels.
Now all of my information is sent off to the consulate, my flights are booked and I’m just waiting to get my visa in the mail. Once I do, I will be golden! Phew!
No one said this was supposed to be easy, but everyone says it’s definitely worth it.
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Patty’s Tips for Collecting Travel Documents
1. Start Early! Seriously. The earlier, the better because you will have to account for nitpicky things like getting documents notarized, which just takes time.

2. Make Lists I am such a list-oriented person. A solid To-Do list keeps everything organized. Plus it feels really good to cross stuff off once you’ve finished a task!

3. Budget Yourself This is tough to do because going abroad costs a lot of money and there are typically hidden expenses. When you are planning your overall budget, keep in mind little costs like passport photos that are small at the time but that can add up to a lot of jing.

4. Don’t be afraid to ask questions If you don’t know or understand something, just ask. Better safe than visa-less or held up in customs because something didn’t go through with your passport. I didn’t even know what notarized meant and had to ask (for those of you who don’t know, it’s basically a place where you can get documents and photocopies of documents authenticated by a government official).

I didn’t need to get a passport, but here’s one site that can tell you how: http://www.cheapflights.com/travel-tips/getting-a-passport/.

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