I received an e-mail from a girl yesterday that inspired this post. She is about to start the same internship I did last semester. She asked me about several things that I was also worried about before I left for London on my six-week internship, so I thought I’d share them.
Before October, I had never travelled alone and never left Canada for longer than three weeks. I was really worried about security at the airport and customs on the other side. I had never shared a bedroom before and I was worried I would hate my roommate. (We did hate each other, but it didn’t matter in the end.) But mainly I worried about what to bring.
Packing for a semester or internship abroad is harder than other travel because you need to balance the right mix of professional clothes for the week, going-out clothes for the evenings and comfortable clothes for the weekend. If I did it again, I would definitely bring less. Here is my list of what to do before you go:
Visa and other documents
You will definitely need a passport that is good for at least 6 months from the day you enter the country, (some countries have even longer requirements). Depending on what country you’re going to and whether you’ll be paid or not, you may or may not need a visa. Most places will need one though so make sure you apply for it early. For many places (especially England) you need to prove that you have return plane tickets home. You should also consider getting an international student card if you qualify for one and making your sure your driver’s license is up to date. I use the International Student Identity Card (ISIC) for discounts all over London and used my Ontario driver’s license as my ID for the bars, instead of my passport. Make to also bring a photocopy of your passport and leave a copy of your passport number and credit card numbers and leave them with a trusted family member, in case you lose your belongings.
Ask the workplace or university to help. Ask where previous international students have stayed and see if they’ll give you can an e-mail of some former students you can contact to ask about their experience. Check Facebook to see if any former students have created a group. This was the case for my placement and it was a big help finding out how they liked the places they stayed. If you can’t find anything this way then using a website like EasyRoommate.com might be a good place to check. I would highly recommend not living alone in a new city. I did that last summer in Montreal and it was honestly the worst three months on my life. I don’t want to admit how much time I spend watching TV shows on my computer.
The best part of going abroad is getting to travel around the country on your weekends, or perhaps for a few weeks after your internship finishes. To travel, you’ll need extra money to pay for hostels, trains, buses, food, on top of what you’ll be paying to live in a city. Depending where you go, the amount of money you need to bring will vary greatly, but always over-estimate. I would also recommend using some sort of budgeting software, or something like Mint.com to track your spending while you’re in the country, even using a small notebook to keep track of each purchase will help you stay on track.
What to know
Make sure you know the address of where you’ll be staying, and carry a copy of that information in your carry-on. You’ll need to fill in that information for customs. Also figure out how you’re going to get to your hostel from the airport. Many places of public transportation or train systems what will get you close to where you need to go. I would recommend a train or metro from the airport to the closest station to your hostel and then taking a taxi from there.
What to bring
An adaptor plug with universal input – I think it’s important to bring one that will take inputs from a lot of different countries, especially if you’ll be living with a lot of other international students. I managed to borrow a hair dryer from an Australian student and a BlackBerry charger from a Norwegian student. Both plugs are different from the Canadian plugs and different again from the English ones.
An unlocked cell phone that works worldwide – Compared with Canada, phone plans in London cost about a quarter of the price. I managed to get my BlackBerry unlocked in China town the week before I left, and then just bought a pay-as-you-go sim card when I got to London. My phone worked perfectly. The hardest part was probably putting my Canadian contract on hold for two months. One last thing. In coming calls are free in most places in the world outside of North America. That mean if you’re parents call you, you don’t have to pay anything.
Several hundred of the local currency. One of the other interns brought a £2000 bank draft with him and then opened a bank account when he got to London. I would actually recommend going this route. I only brought £500 cash with me and then I was dinged with bank fees when I had to take out more money.
Dark clothes – This one is simple, dark clothes don’t show the dirt.
To make things fit better, don’t fold your clothes, roll the and put heavier stuff at the bottom including shoes. Make sure to use the space in your shoes by stuffing socks or other little items inside them. I’ll give a more comprehensive packing guide in another post.