You should get a passport well in advance of studying abroad, in some cases at the same time that you are applying for the program — especially if you also must have a visa. A visa is a stamp in your passport from the consulate general or embassy of the country you will enter. Depending on the country, you may experience delays or complications in obtaining a visa. These may pertain to official notifications of your acceptance by your program or exchange university, required medical examinations or other necessary documentation. It is important to begin the process of fulfilling these requirements early. If you already have a passport, make sure the expiration date is six months past your return to the U.S. following your study abroad program.
Further information and details are available at the State Department’s Passports website, where you may also download a passport application.
Passport applications are available at any post office. Applications must be submitted in person to an appropriate passport agency.
Please note that applications accepted in Richmond are processed through the New Orleans issuing office. If you are concerned about timing, you may wish to take your application to Washington, D.C., where they are processed on site. Although not guaranteed, this can expedite the issuance of your passport.
The passport application process takes several weeks, so plan ahead. If your current passport will expire when you are abroad, make sure to get a new one before you leave.
Your passport is the most important document you have when outside the U.S. Know where it is at all times and keep it in a safe place. Make copies and keep one yourself and leave one with someone at home. Photocopy the front pages of your passport and keep them separate from your baggage. Once in your foreign country, keep these copies in a safe place. This will facilitate replacement if the passport is lost or stolen.
Many countries require a student visa for residence of more than three months. Contact the corresponding consulate or embassy for the visa requirements of the country in which you will be studying. Your exchange program may provide information on visas. You will need a passport, proof of acceptance by the overseas university and documentation of adequate funding for the length of your program.
If you plan to travel while abroad, investigate the visa requirements of each country you plan to visit. Some countries require a visa for even short-term stays and some require that the visa be obtained while you are in the U.S. In some cases it might take as long as three months to process the visa. You should check into the requirements early.
Embassy contact information is available online at the Electronic Embassy website.