Every U.S. citizen must have a valid U.S. Passport before leaving the country to travel abroad. If you do not yet have a passport, you should start the process immediately. Processing time can take up to eight weeks. The easiest way to apply for a passport is through your local post office. You will need a passport that is valid for at least six months after your program officially ends. If your passport is lost or stolen while you are abroad, you will need to contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate for assistance. Prior to leaving the U.S., make sure that you have signed the face page of your passport and be sure to make a few copies of your passport before you depart. Leave one copy at home, carry one copy in a safe location separate from your actual passport, and keep a digital/scanned copy of your passport too.
U.S. citizens will find all they need to know about obtaining passports at the U.S. State Department web site. If you already have a passport that needs to be renewed, make sure to do this as soon as possible. Passports should have six months of validity past the date when you will return to the U.S.
Visa and Immigration Documents
Some programs require that students apply for a visa (or residence permit). A visa is a stamp or seal placed in a passport by a foreign government, allowing someone to stay in the host country for a specific period of time. The granting of a visa is completely at the discretion of the consulate or embassy, as a branch of the government they are representing. Therefore, be sure that you are always pleasant, polite, and patient when dealing with consular officers, whether via email, on the phone, or in person.
Please be sure to align your travel plans with the immigration laws of every country you plan to enter. U.S. citizens can easily verify these rules on the U.S. State Department website: travel.state.gov.
Please note that visa regulations and policies change frequently. Your program advisor will provide you with detailed visa information for your program, if applicable. Please consult your program advisor if you have questions or concerns about attaining a visa for your program. It is very important to check in with your GEO advisor about any travel plans that exceed 90 days and/or if you are not a US citizen.
Non-U.S. Citizens: Visa requirements for non-US citizens may be very different than those for U.S. citizens. Please speak with your GEO advisor and contact the consulate for visa requirements for your program’s host country. International students should also meet with an international student advisor in order to complete any needed paperwork or process to maintain their U.S. visa status. Non-U.S. citizens who are US permanent residents or have another immigrant visa status may also need to consult with an immigration attorney. You will also need to make sure that your passport is valid for at least 6 months past the end date of your program.
It is strongly recommended that you carry an I.D. (and photocopies of their I.D.), along with your home address and telephone number in the host country at all times. Local police authorities do have the authority to ask for identification, and without it, you run the risk of being detained. It is also wise to carry the address and phone number of the on-site program staff. It is not necessary to carry your passport with you. In fact, you are strongly advised to leave it in a safe place in your room. However, you should try to have a copy of your passport with you.
Immigration and Customs
When entering any country, you will need to go through an immigration and customs check before you can exit the airport. You will need to provide your passport, any required visas, and arrival immigration/customs forms. Certain countries may ask for additional documentation. This process usually occurs just after you deplane, but before you recover your luggage, so be sure to have the necessary documents with you in your carry-on luggage. Remember that admission to the country is entirely at the discretion of the immigration officer. The immigration officer is the person who reviews your documents and authorizes entry by stamping your passport. You will likely be asked you about the purpose of your visit, how long you plan to remain in the country, and where you will be staying. After your passport has been stamped and you have collected your luggage, you must pass through a customs inspection. You will probably receive a customs declaration form to be filled out on your plane (or train), and customs officials will examine it when they look at your luggage. Your bags may be very carefully examined, and you may be detained or asked to pay duties if there are any irregularities or violations of customs regulations. You may also be waved through with no special attention. We suggest that you review customs information for your host country prior to departure in order to learn more about what is allowed and what is prohibited at points of entry.
You will also have to pass through Immigration and Customs when you return to the United States.