Travel Documents
Unless you are a citizen of the country you are travelling to, you will need appropriate documentation to pursue a study or work abroad program in that foreign country. Appropriate documentation includes, a valid passport, the appropriate visas or permits, a letter of acceptance from your host university/institute/employer and a guarantee of adequate finances for the period abroad. The following section will detail these documents and assist you in obtaining them.

Your passport is your official identification as a citizen of your country. Applications for Canadian passports may be obtained at travel agencies, passport offices and Canadian embassies, consulates and high commissions. Allow at least six weeks for delivery. If you apply for a passport in person at a Passport Office, you can usually expect it within five working days.
If your passport will expire within six months of your departure, check with your destination's embassy or consulate in Canada for their rules regarding passport validity and expiration. Most countries will not let you in if your passport is close to its expiry date. Therefore, ensure that your passport will not expire during the time you're away and will be valid for at least one month after your return. If you need to obtain a new passport, allow time to apply for a new passport.

Make a photocopy of your passport's identification page and keep it separate from the original when you travel. For added security, leave a photocopy with a friend or relative at home. This will speed the replacement process should you lose your passport. If your passport is lost or stolen, immediately contact the nearest mission representing your country, for a replacement. Also, report the theft to the police. Get a copy of the police report or the report number. To get a replacement you will need to complete an application form, produce written evidence of your citizenship (for example, a birth or citizenship certificate), produce a copy of the police report or number, present new photographs and pay the required fee.

Remember, your passport is your most important legal document while travelling overseas. In some countries it is required that foreigners carry their passports at all times. Guard your passport carefully and do not travel away from your study abroad site without it.
Application forms for Canadian passports can be downloaded at and are also available at most Canadian post offices.

A visa gives official permission from foreign governments for you to enter their countries and to stay for a specified period of time. Visa formats vary, from a simple stamp in your passport at the time you enter the country to an official document with your photograph attached. Once a visa has been attached in a passport do not remove it.

You will require a visa to travel to certain countries. Check with your travel agent or with the country's embassy or consulate in Canada to find out. Don't forget to ask about the visa requirements for any countries that you may be travelling through on your way to or from your host country. If you are an EU citizen, you should check to find out if you need a visa to study or work in the countries to which you may be travelling or if each requires a separate visa. Work visas are available through SWAP/Travel Cuts or Visa sections of the various embassies.

Visas can take a few hours to eight weeks or more to obtain. If you are applying for your visa by mail, use registered mail or a courier, as you will have to send your passport in the package. Make sure you include all pertinent items. Forgetting to do so could delay your visa by weeks.

Be aware of the in-country rules and restrictions governing visas and your length of stay. It can be exceedingly difficult if you stay after your visa expires. You could be fined, arrested, deported, or forced into a lengthy bureaucratic process. Being deported for visa infractions or for working illegally makes it difficult to return to that country in the future.

Take a few extra visa photos with you. They can be invaluable if you try to extend your visa, get a visa for a third country, or do other official business. You can obtain these inexpensively at photography stores or mall photo-booths.

In order to secure a visa or permit you will need a valid passport, supplemental passport photos, and a letter of financial support. There may also be a fee involved. If you're applying to study abroad you will need to provide the original letter of acceptance from your host university.

Bank letters such as a Certificate of Balance or guarantor letters are needed in order to obtain your visa/permit and to clear customs in the country of your exchange university. Check with the consulate of your host country in Canada for complete Visa regulations.

For useful websites go to the Resources Section on Travel Documents

Activity: Record of Travel Documents
Click on the Link above to print the Record of Travel Documents. Fill it out and leave it in a secure place such as a safety deposit box or a locked safe. Remember this is sensitive information. Do not carry this form with you when you travel, leave it with a trusted person at home. If you need any of the information on it ask the person to send you only what you need and to transmitted it in a secure fashion i.e. not by e-mail or to a public fax machine.

Dual Citizenship
Dual citizenship means that you are considered a citizen of both Canada and another country. Find out whether you or any family members are citizens of another country before you leave. Some countries may claim you as a citizen if you were born there, if one of your parents is a citizen, or if you are considered a citizen under that country's laws. There are privileges to having dual citizenship, such as being able to work in some countries without having to get a visa. However, there may be unpleasant surprises. If you are considered a national, you may be compelled to do military service or pay special taxes. If you do run into problems because of your dual citizenship, contact the nearest Canadian mission immediately.

Other documents you may wish to acquire

International Driver's Licence
This license in conjunction with a valid driver's license from the same country allows a person to drive legally in the host country for up to one year. International Drivers Licenses may be obtained from a Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) office. You must provide your valid Canadian drivers license, passport-sized photos and a minimal fee with your application. For more info go to -

International Student Identity Card (ISIC)
ISIC makes you eligible for a broad range of discounts overseas. It offers a number of special privileges and discounts to students throughout the world. In addition to reduced or free admission to museums, theatres, concerts and historical sites, the ISIC can also get you reduced prices on airfares and discounts on travel. The ISIC is the most widely recognized form of proof of your student status. To get an ISIC, take your student card, along with a small picture of yourself, to any Travel Cuts office. TravelCuts -

International Youth Hostel Membership Card
This allows you to stay in hostels all over the world for a discounted rate. There may be an age limit. Memberships are available through any affiliated Youth Hostel for a small fee. For more info go to -

Language Skills

If you do not speak the language of your host country, a small, easy-to-use language phrasebook can be almost as important as a good guidebook. Make sure the phrase book you use is geared towards people like you, and covers the things you are likely to say "Where is the bathroom?" and does not focus on situations you are unlikely to find yourself in. i.e. "Tell the chauffeur to bring the limo". It should also help you with the script a country uses, if necessary. The quality of the dictionary is essential.  Although a dictionary may seem new the language may be out of date.  The money invested now in a quality dictionary will save you some hassle in the future.

Language Skills Training may be free or subsidized through the country consulate or a cultural community group. As well, self-teaching programs are available at local libraries and bookstores. Reading country-specific newspapers and listening to country-specific radio will also help you increase your language skills.

For useful websites go to the Resources Section on Language Skills

Travel Passes

Passes are definite money savers for extensive travel before or after your period of study, internship or employment. Train passes include the Eurail Pass, Aerail Flexipass and Japan Rail Pass.  There are also air passes. Some passes must be purchased outside of their respective countries/regions.  Your travel agent should have details.

For more info on in-country travel go to the Resources Section on Travel While Abroad

Background Reading

Visit your local library to gain an understanding of the history, politics and social customs of your host country. This knowledge will benefit you during your stay abroad.  You may wish to acquire a local map before your departure.  It  will allow you to familiarize yourself with your host city before your departure and is a great tool once you arrive.  It can also help if you don’t speak the host language and are asking directions.  People can point you in the right direction using your map!

Purchase a Guidebook

Find a good guidebook about the country or region where you will be studying and/or travelling. Most will cover the history, environment, culture, language, economy, government, food, and art of that specific region. They also provide concrete advice on visas, getting there, health and safety, packing, local transportation, currency, and shopping. Purchase the guidebook a few months before your departure. The world changes at lightning speed so take all that your guidebook says with a good dose of caution.

Don't pick the first one that you see.  Take time and look at all the guidebooks and consider buying one(s) geared to your own style and itinerary (Lets Go, Off the Beaten Track, Lonely Planet )

Some things to consider when buying a guidebook and phrasebook:

  • Was this book written with people like me in mind? Is it primarily for resort tourists, business travellers, or independent travellers?
  • How accurate is it?
  • How “street-smart” does it assume the reader is?
  • How well does this book cover my personal interests?
  • How current is it? When was it published?

For more info on in-country travel go to the Resources Section on Background Reading

Voting In Home Country Elections

It is possible for Canadians overseas to vote in federal elections. Before going abroad, phone Elections Canada at 1-800-463-6868 and give them your name and overseas address. If an election is called while a Canadian is away, those registered will be notified by mail. They may be given a ballot in the mail, or required to travel to the nearest Canadian embassy, high commission or consulate.

In order to vote in a Canadian provincial election, Canadians must vote by proxy, i.e., a person of voters-choice votes for that person on election day. Each person’s circumstances are considered individually. To vote by proxy, make sure your name is on the enumeration list in your electoral district, then obtain a proxy application form from your local returning office. For more information go to

What to Take (And What Not To)

In today's globalized economy, there are few places in the world where you cannot get what you want unless you are in a very remote location. It’s probably not necessary to take enough toilet paper to last until you come home. If you forget something, you can either buy it there or do without it. However, some things may be difficult to find. Ask someone who has visited the place before if there is anything special you should take.

Take as little as possible!
  • All airlines have restrictions regarding the size, number and weight of luggage. To avoid expensive excess baggage charges remain within these restrictions. Also, check your airline for the proper transportation of bicycles, skis... etc.
  • Make sure you can carry whatever you take for long distances by yourself.
  • An internal frame backpack is easiest to carry and handle on trains and buses.  If you take a suitcase be sure it has wheels!
  • Pack at least three days before you leave as this gives you the time to decide what you really need and to buy last minute items
  • When packing, make a pile of everything you think you might need. Then get rid of half of it. Then get rid of another half. You'll probably still have too much, but it is a good place to start.
  • Certain things, like cameras, liquor and fragile items, are best carried on the plane as hand luggage
  • You may wish to ship some of your items by sea. If you do this, leave enough time, as their journey can take several weeks, or even months.
  • Keep in mind that you will acquire items during your time abroad. The same baggage restrictions apply on the way home! Short-term travellers often take one suitcase or backpack to the host country. If necessary they purchase a second hand suitcase to transport home what they have acquired during their stay.
  • You may request visitors you have during your stay abroad to bring items from home or take items back with them. It is a good idea to request visitors to bring one empty suitcase for just this purpose.

For more info on in-country travel go to the Resources Section on What to Take

Flight Booking

Most often you will be flying to your destination. Shop around when buying your plane ticket. Get price quotes from at least five travel agents. You'll be surprised how much they vary! Book ahead as discounts are often available early. If necessary, make special requests for vegetarian meals or a window seat when you buy your ticket. If you buy an open return ticket, make sure you will be able to book your flight home when you want to.

For useful websites go to the Resources Section on Flight Booking

Activity: Record of Travel Details
Click on the link above to print the Record of Travel Details. Use this form to record your travel itinerary and leave it with a trusted person at home. Be sure to check in from time to time and let people know that you are safe and either on, or off, schedule.

In transit: Airports, Customs

Having that plane ticket finally in your hands and reading the place names over and over again is one of the most exciting pre-departure moments you'll have. The dream is now a reality.

Dress respectably when you travel. Treat immigration officials with the utmost respect. You may have to show your passport, visas and proof of immunizations to them. The fact that you have a visa in your passport does not guarantee your entry into a country. The immigration officials at the border hold the final decision. They have about twenty seconds to decide if you are being truthful about the purpose for visiting their country. They have the authority to make your life very difficult and you have little or no recourse. Don't be afraid to tell immigration officials that you are a university student. Remember students are usually respected worldwide. Study abroad students should have their passport, visas, letter of acceptance to the host institute, proof of financial status, return ticket and proof of immunizations ready to show in that order.  Remember for easy border crossings, be friendly (no matter how tired you are) and be ready to show everything but so as not to complicate things - produce only what is asked for.

Never joke about carrying bombs or drugs, not even to a friend. You will be arrested immediately, even if it was obviously meant in jest.  Never carry a package or envelope through customs for someone else.  It may contain drugs, guns or other prohibited material.  You will be held responsible and could be charge with smuggling.

Drug use and trafficking is prohibited almost everywhere around the world, even in places where drugs seem more socially acceptable than in Canada.  In some countries, the automatic penalty for possession of even small quantities of drugs is execution.

After your passport has been stamped and you have collected your luggage, you must pass through a customs inspection. You will probably have received a customs declaration form on the plane. Customs officials will examine this when they look at your luggage. Your bags may be examined very carefully, or you may be waved through with no special attention. Some countries may demand proof that you have enough money to support yourself during your stay. Others will only allow you entry if you can prove that you will be leaving. Be prepared to show your return ticket, or any visas that show you plan to visit another country.

Before you go, watch the video or read the booklet Bon Voyage, But... available from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT). You should receive the booklet with your passport. If not, you may obtain either of these free of charge online at: This booklet contains information for Canadians travelling abroad, such as customs, consular services and important contacts in the DFAIT.

Any expensive personal items that you take with you such as cameras, tape recorders, personal computers and radios should be registered with Canadian Customs prior to your departure, particularly if they are new or foreign made. Go to a Canada Customs office and utilize their free identification procedure. They will register all valuable items that have serial numbers or other unique markings. By registering these items before you leave, you will avoid being questioned about whether or not they are subject to duty when you return. You should also save all of your receipts for any major purchases you make overseas, as you will have to declare any new articles on your return. Contact the customs office for current import allowances.


Why do you need insurance? Well, if you have ever known someone who has visited the doctor, broken a bone, had to change their travel plans, had a bicycle stolen, been in a car accident or lost their wallet – then you know how easily the unexpected can happen.  Travellers, like anyone else, are prone to accidents and medical emergencies. To prevent unnecessary duress, you must purchase health, trip cancellation, property and credit card insurance to cover accidents or loss.

The type of insurance you purchase will depend upon your present coverage, type of travel and length of stay in the host country. When shopping for insurance, there are fundamental questions you should ask:

  •        What does the insurance cover or not cover?
  •          What is the deductible (what amount will I be responsible for)?
  •          Is there a maximum amount I can claim?

For more info on in-country travel go to the Resources Section on Insurance

Health Insurance

Before you start shopping for insurance, check to see if you are already covered by a parent’s or spouse’s plan. You may be able to pay a small supplemental fee and get coverage if your parents or spouse have existing private health insurance. However, ensure that you will be comfortable being part of someone else’s plan.  Some medical procedures you may require while abroad you may want to keep private. Some host countries or universities provide mandatory health insurance for all international students.

Provincial health plans cover only a set fee for emergency health services outside Canada. The rate is usually that of the same service in the home province. Many health services outside Canada cost much more than the provincial health plan pays and you are liable for any difference in cost. If you are away for more than six months, you must notify your provincial health plan that you will be out of the province; failing to do so may mean you will not be covered while you are away and/or for up to three months after you return. If you are currently covered by a provincial plan be sure to contact the closest office to find out what the limitations of your coverage may be while you’re away and after your return.  Provincial health plans also recommend that you purchase supplementary health coverage for travelling. In most cases you may need to pay for medical care up front and submit receipts to your insurance carrier.  Be familiar with the proper procedure before you leave.  Ontario residents see the Ontario Ministry of Health web page For other provincial health insurance plans visit

Activity: Health Insurance Worksheet
Print and complete this worksheet to compare different health insurance palns and ensure you are purchasing comprehensive coverage.

Universal Medical History and Information Inc. (UMED)
UMED is a service that transfers your medical records to anywhere in the world, 24 hours/day, 365 days a year. For details contact toll free: 1-800-675-6692 or visit

Travel and Cancellation Insurance
This allows travellers the flexibility they need when faced with an unforeseen change in plans. Ask about this when purchasing your ticket. You may also want to purchase extra traveller’s insurance available through some credit cards.

Property Insurance
Some homeowner’s insurance policies contain a clause about the property insurance coverage extending worldwide, so check your policy to see if you need any additional coverage. Normally a copy of the police report filed at the time of loss or theft will be needed before any claim will be considered. Taking preventive measures will decrease the likelihood of theft or property loss. Consider what items are not covered or get only limited coverage. Does your property or accident insurance allow compensation for lost or damaged luggage? Will it allow you some financial aid to help you buy a few things until your luggage is found?

Credit Card Insurance
Although many credit card premiums allow for some property or travel insurance it is most important that you understand the details of the coverage provided. Most of these companies allow coverage in very specific situations and for short periods. Consider what items are covered or get only limited coverage. How does one make a claim if there is a problem?

Activity: Record of Insurance and Valuables
Click on the link above to get the Record of Insurance and Valuables. You can print this form and use it to record the details of your health, travel, trip cancellation, and property insurance. Leave it at home with someone who can fax it to you if you need it. Remember that it contains personal and sensitive information so only fax it to a secure location.

If you can’t bear to lose something, leave it at home.

Minding Your Finances