Going overseas to study
Studying overseas can be 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's important to be prepared.
Read this page along with our advice for all travellers.
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. Read on to learn about:
- researching your destination and institution
- living and studying conditions in your destination
- organising the correct travel insurance
- knowing what visa you need
- getting to your destination
- health checks before you go and while you're there
- managing your finances while you're there
- organising documents that you'll need
Research your destination and institution
Read the travel advice for your destination to understand the security risks, local laws, health issues, visa requirements and local customs. In some countries, there may be greater risks for women and the LGBTI community.
Certain regions within destinations 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.
Remember that studying overseas is your choice. If you'are uncomfortable with the level of risk, choose another destination.
You're subject to the local laws and penalties of any country you visit. This includes laws and penalties that may appear harsh by Australian standards. This can include corporal punishment, life sentences and the death penalty. If you're arrested or jailed overseas, you have the right to contact the Australian Government. We can't get you out of trouble or out of jail, though we'll do what we can to help.
We must work within limits set by local authorities, laws and prison system. We're bound by the Consular Service Charter. It outlines how and when we can help Australians overseas.
Subscribe to travel advice
Subscribe to travel advice updates to stay across changes to safety and security, local laws and health issues. You can also like Smartraveller on Facebook and follow us on Twitter to see the latest updates and good travel tips.
Living and studying conditions
Speak to other students who have studied at the same institution. Learn about the living and studying conditions, health facilities and what to pack.
Know as much as possible about your accommodation before you go.
- 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.
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?
- Check with your home institution if there are any restrictions or conditions with the host's accreditation.
- 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
If you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel. Check our travel insurance advice page.
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, like skiing or adventure sports?
- Does the policy cover you for medical evacuation if you can't be treated in-country?
- 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 very difficult to get additional Australian travel insurance once you've left Australia. 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.
Be aware that your host institution may also have specific requirements for your insurance cover - check this well in advance.
If you're not insured, you may have to pay many 1000s of dollars up-front for medical care. Many people have been burdened financially paying these costs. If your employment agreement offers medical cover, make sure you clearly understand the terms of the policy.
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.
Know your visa
Check whether your university will arrange your student visa for you. 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. Contact the High Commission, Embassy or Consulate of the country you want to study in for up to date visa information.
Check visa requirements for each country you transit through as well as your final destination. If you plan to depart and re-enter the country, inquire about multiple-entry visas. Some countries have specific entry and exit requirements, including vaccinations.
Choose safe transport
Even if your home or host institution organises your flights, it is your responsibility to check with your airline or airport of the country that you are travelling to, what security checks and restrictions apply to items, including luggage allowances. See the TravelSECURE tips to help you prepare for your journey and clear security checks quickly and easily.
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
It is important to consider your physical and mental health before studying overseas. You should see your doctor 6 to 8 weeks before you go. If you have a pre-existing condition, ask if it's safe for you to travel. Travelling could put your health at risk as specialised care may be hard to find overseas.
Tell your doctor where you're going. Ask for preventative advice that suits your needs in that destination. Ask what vaccinations or boosters you need. Some require several courses over time.
Find out which infectious diseases are common in your destination. Learn what practical steps you can take to help reduce your risk of infection.
You may not be able to refill your script easily in your destination. If possible, pack enough medication to last your whole trip. If you're going for a long time, make sure the quantity you're taking is within the law. 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.
Ask for practical advice for while you're away. Your doctor can advise you how to reduce the risk of having health problems overseas.
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. If you need emergency or crisis counselling, contact Lifeline in Australia.
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 custom officials might even require proof that you have a certain amount in your bank account before they let you in.
Check with your home and host institutions if you might be eligible for a scholarship, and if you are, check the conditions.
- Will you be paid in instalments or as a lump sum?
- 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. Check with the Department of Human Services to find out how any absence from Australia could affect your payment.
Sort out your documents
You should get your affairs in order before you travel, this will help reduce the impact on your family and friends if something happens to you overseas.
Update your last will and testament. Leave a copy with your next of kin or lawyer. 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 and leave a copy with family or friends at home:
- student visa
- travel insurance policy
- 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. Providing regular and detailed information to your family and friends will assist them to provide accurate information to DFAT if there is a serious concern for your welfare while overseas and you need our help.
Where to get help overseas
When you're overseas, you won't have access to the support systems you're accustomed to in Australia. You'll need to seek support locally there, and from friends, family and your travel insurer.
- Contact local emergency services. We publish local contact numbers in the travel advisory for each destination.
- Contact your friends and family. They may not be able to help you on the ground, however they may be able to help change your travel plans and talk to your insurer.
- Contact your travel insurer. Most travel insurers have 24-hour emergency hotlines you can call from overseas. If you're covered, they may provide logistical support, as well as financial.
In some circumstances, the Australian Government can help. In most cases, you must exhaust all other avenues before seeking consular assistance.
It's important to understand our limits. Know how and when we can help, read the Consular Services Charter.
Final tips before you go
- Read the travel advice for the countries you plan to visit and subscribe for updates.
- Research guidebooks and online forums for travel issues you may come across. Talk to friends, family and colleagues who have travelled to the places you plan to visit.
- Leave a detailed itinerary with someone at home, and keep in regular contact.
- Choose a destination where you'll feel safe, comfortable, and prepared for any issues you may face.
- See our general advice for living and working overseas.
- Choose the right travel insurance that covers your health when things go wrong.
- Learn about vaccinations and preventative health measures you can take.
- Learn more about staying safe. Read our advice on reducing your risk of theft, muggings, robbery, assault and sexual assault.
- Don't get ripped off. Read our advice about common tourist scams.
- See our advice on what to do when things go wrong.
- Read our advice for partying safely.
- Be prepared and read about Smart Volunteering (DFAT).
- Read the travel insurance buyers guide and reviews (CHOICE).
- See the student information gateway for tips for studying overseas (Department of Education).
- Learn about the New Colombo Plan, which supports Australian undergraduates to study and undertake internships in the region (DFAT).
- If you travel or live outside Australia this may affect your health care, child support and Centrelink payments (Department of Human Services).
- See advice on preventing drink spiking (Victorian Government).
Information for Australians going overseas for surrogacy. Learn about types of arrangements, laws, citizenship and visas.