Arriving in a new country for the first time during your year abroad can be an incredibly daunting experience. Alongside all the forms you have to fill in and plans you had to make even before leaving the UK you then have to deal with another country’s systems and regulations. All in all the progress can seem overly complex, but here’s some advice on how to make your arrival process as smooth and stress-free as it can possibly be.
1. Check and double check your entry requirements. Even in free travel areas, such as Europe, there are often additional processes you have to complete. For example, when arriving in Spain you will have to obtain an NIE number and register with the local authority upon arrival. Whereas in Chile you have to register your visa and address with the Policía de Investigaciones – the best thing to do is check online and clarify everything with the relevant embassy at least a month before you leave Britain.
2. Bring copies of literally everything! You never know when you might need another copy of your passport, boarding pass, confirmation of enrollment or any other documents. Its a good idea to buy a large folder and take at least five copies of everything with you. Especially since getting anything sent over that you leave behind can potentially be quite difficult.
3. Get some currency changed before you arrive at your destination – while you can get foreign money from the airport or at a bureau de change before you arrive, the best rates can be found online. Websites such as the International Currency Exchange will offer a much better exchange rate and will deliver to your door within 24 hours. This removes so much of the stress that can be accompany getting a different currency. Before leaving, check the charges imposed by your bank for withdrawing currency while abroad. Although you will always be charged for the conversion, this is sometimes a lot easier and in some cases cheaper than opening an account in a bank native to your own country. Plus the VISA exchange rates used when withdrawing from an ATM are often comparable to or better than those offered by currency exchanges. Lastly check any ATM you use carefully since some banks will charge all ATM users for the privilege of withdrawing cash – online travel forums are a good way to find out which foreign banks do and don’t apply additional charges.
4. Get a new SIM card – using a SIM native to the country in which you will be living in can greatly reduce the costs of calls and texts and avoids charges implemented by some networks for using your phone abroad. Pay particular attention to this if you are going outside of the European Union, as only a few of the deals which let you use your allowances outside of the UK will function further afield. As I found out the hard way, some Pay as You Go SIMs cannot actually function in certain countries. Using a foreign SIM is also pretty much the only way to get cheap 3G or 4G internet on your phone. Never fear though, WiFi hotspots are easily accessible in most large cities across Europe and America.
5. Be wary of scams – it sounds like a bit of a cliché, but you are far more susceptible to being defrauded when abroad in a new country for the first time. In Chile, for example, fake taxi services overcharging and people posing as students to ask for money as donations are commonplace, especially in the capital Santiago. Reading up on the risks of your chosen destination and speaking to people who have been there before is definitely a good way to be aware of the risks. Not that this should detract from the adventure of a new country, but it’s always best to be smart and prepared!