Research and Passports and Visas, oh my!

Sarah Craig
January 16, 2018

When preparing for college, I was fortunate enough to have my parents do a lot of the administrative stuff for me. I had no idea how daunting forms, applications, and appointments could be!

For the majority of planning to go abroad, I was on my own. I’m studying abroad this Spring ‘18, but I only decided to go abroad in September of 2017, and my parents couldn't help me with logistics from two hours away! I hope this post will help other students struggling with the incredibly overwhelming tasks of preparing to study abroad; research, passports, and visas!

General Research:

Although this topic is the most broad, it overwhelmed me the most. Where do you even begin to look for information on the hundreds of programs?

What I found was that individual school websites and the IES Abroad homepage are amazing places to start. You can often search by major or country to help limit your research. If you can narrow down the programs, start to look into the classes offered. This helped me to make my final decision! Also consider travel. Do you want to travel a lot each weekend? Or are you content soaking up the culture where you are? Trains, planes, and cabs are more accessible in some places than others, so look up rail prices and plane tickets!

It was an amazing surprise that IES Abroad programs are incredibly organized, which made research much easier. The Predeparture Information is incredibly helpful and can answer almost any question you have! If you do have other questions, your IES Abroad Advisor answers questions quickly via phone or email. In my experience every answer has been helpful, honest, and cheerful, so absolutely don't be afraid to reach out!

The Quest for a Passport:

As a first-time traveller outside of the U.S., I obviously needed to get a passport. This process scared me so much because I had to go through it at my home school, without a car, and without anyone to walk me through it.

The easiest place for me to get a passport was at the Post Office. Now let me tell you, that was not as easy as it sounds. I called the Charlottesville Post office upwards of 25 times over 5 days before I got an appointment. Every time I would get picked up, transferred to the passport office, and it would send me straight to voicemail. Some post offices are more organized than others, so it’s important to keep in mind to BE PERSISTENT.

    If you don’t have a car to drive there and they dont take appointments online, call as much as you can. If you get transferred and no one answers, call again and tell the main line no one picked up. There should always be someone in the office that can schedule you! I never liked talking to adults on the phone, as with many other students my age, but sometimes it helps to be a little forceful.

    Ask for as many passport photos as they can give you. Three or four would be great. Taking them with you should make it easier if your passport gets lost or stolen when out of the country. This process isn’t that bad once you get the appointment! Make sure to arrive on time with the required materials (including a birth certificate!), and they should have you done pretty quickly!

Obtaining a Visa:

Now this was an adventure. Getting a Visa is daunting, especially an Italian Visa. The main point is to start preparing for the consulate a few weeks before your actual appointment. I didn’t realize I needed a signed letter from my home school, and scrambling to get that was pretty stressful; it could have all been avoided with more preparation!

Make copies of everything, and bring it all in with you in an organized fashion. And be prepared for them to take your passport! (I wasn’t)

Once you have all your documents, the process is easy. The Italian consulate works like a well-oiled machine if you come prepared with the necessary materials. Minus the waiting, you can be in and out in ten minutes.


    The intention of this blog was not to overwhelm you. If a high-stress, procrastinating, super-busy person like me can get this all done, you can too! Always remember that a ton of information is online, and calling offices directly is a fantastic resource for fast and accurate information. All of this is easier if it can be done at home with a parent’s guiding hand and oversight, but what’s the point in that? They won’t be there when you're abroad, so learning to work out logistical things by yourself is a great experience. Now that all of this is behind me, it’s starting to feel real that I’ll be in Rome in just a few weeks. I look forward to more figuring-it-out-by-myself and independence!


Note: Every post office, consulate, and university is different so my experiences will absolutely differ from yours! I hope this advice makes it easier going in and knowing what to watch out for!



Sarah Craig

<p>I am a Cognitive Science Major (which encompasses Cognitive Psychology, Computer Science, Linguistics, Philosophy, and Neuroscience), with a concentration in Cognitive Psychology. I am also a huge history nerd, and am more than excited to study abroad in a place packed with so much historical significance. I am the Assistant Music Director and Vice President of a philanthropic A Capella group called The AcHOOstics, and I have a very decent background in music! We sing at nursing homes and for fundraising events, and a portion of our proceeds go to the UVa Children's Hospital. Additionally, I volunteer in a program called Holiday Sharing, where we have been working for months in partnership with the Salvation Army to provide tons of food and toys to families in the Charlottesville area. I love to play piano, and I'm a big reader.</p>

2018 Spring
Home University:
University of Virginia
Herndon, VA
Cognitive Science
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