Below are general tips for a successful study abroad experience. State Department sponsored programs hold pre-departure orientations for students that families are sometimes invited to attend. Consult with the organization that administers your exchange program for specific details.
What important documentation does my child need to visit the U.S.?
The Exchange Visitor (J) non-immigrant visa category is for individuals approved to participate in work-and study-based exchange visitor programs.
Issuance of the J-1 visa, like all non-immigrant visas, is at the discretion of Consular Officers viewing visa applications at U.S. embassies and consulates. This means that even if you are accepted to an exchange visitor program and have received your DS-2019, the Consular Officers decide if you receive the J-1 visa.
What is Form DS-2019 (Certificate of Eligibility)?
A SEVIS-generated Form DS-2019 is required when applying for the J-1 Visa. The DS-2019 is a controlled form provided to you by your program sponsor. It documents your acceptance to an exchange program sponsored by a State Department designated Exchange Visitor Program sponsor.
Designated sponsors are authorized to issue Form DS-2019 to prospective or current exchange visitors they select for their program.
How long does it take to obtain a J-1 Visa?
The wait time for an interview and processing for a J-1 Visa varies from country to country and is based on your individual circumstances. Learn more about interview wait and processing times by visiting www.travel.state.gov and select Visa Wait Times. We encourage you to apply as soon as possible. Please note that exchange visitors beginning new programs may not enter the United States more than 30 days before their program start date.
What should my child pack for his/ her trip?
Don't bring anything you would hate to lose. Leave at home:
- Valuable or expensive-looking jewelry
- Irreplaceable family objects
- All unnecessary credit cards
Bring medical necessities and items that you will need if your trip is unexpectedly extended. These items may include extra money or medications.
How can my child stay safe abroad?
The U.S. Department of State is serious about the safety of our exchange participants and have set policies in place to secure a safe learning environment for your student. However, it is still important that your child take precautions when adjusting to new surroundings. Exchange participants need to:
- Get to know your surroundings by walking around during the day
- Ask students or staff members about neighborhoods and areas you should avoid at night
- Always walk in groups of two or more at night
- Keep the address and telephone of your country’s nearest consulate or embassy on hand
- Locate hospitals and police stations nearest to your home and know what to do in case of an accident
- Lock your door room or apartment whenever you are away and when you turn in for the night
If you need help in an emergency remember 911 is an emergency number you can call at any time from any telephone in the United States
If you are in doubt about a certain person, activity, or area talk to your fellow students or adviser
How will my child access money while he or she is in the U.S.?
First, be sure to contact your local bank to inform them that your child plans to travel abroad. In some cases, banks have put accounts on hold if they believed there was suspicious activity on that account. Plan for your child to bring local currency as he or she may not have the opportunity to cash traveler's checks right away.
It is risky to carry large amounts of cash. Advise your child to only carry enough cash for short-term needs. Your child can manage finances for the exchange program with ATM cards, traveler's checks and credit cards.
Your child may pay an exchange fee or commission each time he or she exchanges currencies. Advise your child to estimate weekly expenses and pay the commission on one transaction rather than paying on a number of smaller exchanges.
ATM & Credit Cards: In many countries, the simplest way to access cash is through an Automated Teller Machine (ATM). An ATM card, either for your child’s account in the United States or a joint account with you, provides access to funds from any bank that is linked to an international ATM system such as PLUS or CIRRUS. Be sure your child knows the PIN number for ATM cards.
If your ATM card is also linked to a credit line, such as VISA, MasterCard or American Express, your child may be able to access cash through an ATM. A credit card such as VISA, MasterCard or American Express can be very convenient for large purchases, cash advances, or emergencies. Credit cards usually give you the best rate of exchange.
In general, VISA and MasterCard are more useful for shopping and entertainment. With an international PIN, you can access cash advances at automated teller machines, but cash advances against credit cards incur interest charges. Your child must be an American Express member or indicated as a user on your card to use American Express services. With an AmEx card, one can purchase and cash traveler's checks with no commission charge, cash personal checks and use the AmEx wire service to receive funds. Services that are available for each type of card vary from country to country. You should ask the bank that issues your child’s card for details and procedures overseas.
Traveler's Checks: Traveler's checks are still one the safest ways to handle money overseas because, with a few simple precautions, they can be replaced in case of loss or theft. Your child should bring traveler's checks in U.S. dollars, in denominations ranging from $20 to $100 (to take advantage of fluctuating exchange rates.) Buy a well-know brand of traveler's check, such as American Express or Thomas Cook. These are easily cashed worldwide.
Transferring Funds: If your child does not have a credit card or access to an international ATM network, there are other options:
- Cashier's Checks:
- You may purchase a cashier's check in the currency of your child’s host country and send it by Express Mail or Federal Express. The check should be made payable to your son or daughter.
- Western Union:
- Western Union will transfer cash to the States but this can be very expensive.
- Wiring Money:
- If your child sets up a local bank account, you can wire money to the account. There can be substantial fees for both the sender and receiver of funds, and the transfer can take anywhere from two days to several weeks. Your child will have to inquire at the bank about the arrival of funds.
- Cashier's Checks:
How can I communicate with my child while he or she is in the U.S.?
Fortunately, plenty of options exist to keep you and your child to stay connected. International cell phone: Depending on the length of time your child will be abroad, you might want him or her to purchase or rent a phone from the destination country. He or she will certainly want to communicate with friends met while abroad, and a mobile phone for cost-effective local communication in addition to calls home might be a worthwhile option.
International Phone Card: Getting your student an international phone card is beneficial because you do not have to be concerned with the bad reception or lack of signal inherent in many cell phones. The cards can be recharged and can be purchased in the United States or abroad.
Internet Usage: The most cost-effective way to communicate with your student overseas is to use the Internet. Instant messengers, email, blogs and all your other usual online communication tools are great options for overseas communications.
Skype is another option. You can download a program that turns your computer into a phone.
Here are some additional communication tips:
- Discuss what time of day your child can be reached
- Establish a communication plan in advance
- Contact your phone service provider to discuss best plan for international calling
- To save on telephone communication, it may be better to set up a regular schedule for e-mailing, instant messaging or talking via Skype
What is culture shock and how can I help my child overcome it?
Once abroad, your child may face an adjustment period referred to as "culture shock." The degree of "shock" depends on such factors as length of study abroad, your child’s flexibility, and tolerance for ambiguity, degree of difference between home and host culture, prior experience abroad and his or her expectations. Culture shock is a normal part of study abroad, and it shows that your daughter or son is experiencing the differences between your home country culture and that of the United States.
Symptoms of culture shock can include: homesickness; depression; feeling lost and out of place; frustration; irritability; and fatigue. If your child talks to you about experiencing culture shock, remind your child that he or she is not alone and will get through it.
Here are some suggestions you can offer your child to help deal with culture shock:
- "Plunge" into your host culture and wrestle with the differences
- Keep an open mind; it is natural to have preconceived ideas and beliefs that come into question while abroad
- Get to know others at your host school
- Do not isolate yourself
- Find a local person with whom you can discuss your frustrations and encounters
- Learn as much as you can about your host culture
- Maintain a support structure with others, particularly those going through the same experience. However, do not retreat into a "clique" to avoid the discomfort of culture shock. Force yourself to get to know people outside of your group
- Keep a journal. Record your impressions of new experiences and the transformations that are occurring within you
- As you overcome culture shock, you will be able to approach life in your host country with understanding and enthusiasm