International flights. Most programs allow you to book your own flight, but some have a group flight, which can be mandatory or optional. If you are booking your own flight, you can use Hewins/Carlson Wagonlit Travel in Brunswick (729 6261), or one of the many online services, which include Kayak.com, STA Travel, Travel Cuts, Orbitz, Travelocity, and Cheapflights.com. In booking the return leg, allow plenty of time for final exams, which Bowdoin requires you to take if they are open to you; note that exam dates may not be finally set. If you might decide to stay on for any reason, look into the cost of changing a return date; fees vary considerably.
Passports & visas. Have a valid passport well in advance, especially if you will need a visa as well. For US passport application information, go to the State Department website. Applications are accepted at the Post Office in Brunswick, and State Department offices in large cities. You must have proof of citizenship (expired passport, certified copy of a birth certificate -- not a hospital birth certificate or photocopy -- with the embossed seal of the city or town in which you were born, or naturalization certificate); identification (a valid driver's license, expired passport, or naturalization certificate); and two passport-type photographs. Passports usually take four to six weeks to arrive, possibly longer in the run-up to the high travel season. U.S. passports for adults are valid for ten years; note that some countries require that a passport be valid for six months beyond the intended return date to the U.S. (Most of what follows is valid for non-US citizens too, but if you do not hold US citizenship it is essential that you check the regulations with the consulate of the country in which you will be traveling, with your own consulate, and with your program.)
You will probably need a visa, usually a seal or stamp in your passport (Australia issues an electronic entry permit first) permitting entry into the country on or after a certain date for a defined period and purpose, such as study or tourism. There will be a fee. In the UK, a student visa is needed for visits over six months. Some countries (e.g., Ireland) do not require a visa, but immigration officers need to see a confirmation of enrollment letter from your university.
Your program will tell you your country's entry requirements, and in some cases can batch-process visas. Read the instructions very carefully. But it is also worth visiting the appropriate embassy or consulate website; if you don't know the address, use Embassy World, or the State Department's list of foreign consular offices in the US. Allow plenty of time: you may need to send your passport to the consulate over two months before the start of your program. Some program providers offer batch processing of student visas (particularly for Spain). In addition, some students may opt to apply for a visa through a surrogate visa agency such as travisa. However, the most common scenario is that students apply directly to the consulate in their jurisdiction to obtain a visa. Please note that consulates require students to apply for and inquire about visas themselves and do not accept communication from others on their behalf. For countries with several consulates in various large U.S. cities, you can generally apply at the consulate that has jurisdiction over either your home state or Maine. There is much variation among countries (and even among the same country's consulates), and regulations often change. Some countries require an appointment at the consulate; some take biometric data like a fingerprint scan; some have a preliminary online application. To enter a country, with or without a visa, or to obtain a visa, you may be required to present the following documentation:
It is also common to have to provide confirmation of full-time enrollment and good standing at Bowdoin; ask the Registrar's Office for this letter several days in advance if you need it, with exact details of what the letter needs to state. You will probably also have to provide some identical passport photos. If you are applying in person at a consulate, bring the phone number for your provider so that you can contact them if necessary. If you are not applying in person, send your passport by certified mail or other delivery service that you can track and which requires a signature. Please note that the visa application process may make it impossible to travel abroad before your program begins, and that US citizens may usually not apply for a visa at foreign consulates outside the US.
When applying for a visa, note that in many countries holders of a student visa may not take paid employment, or only under special conditions. Also consider the possible consequences of any personal travel which would make it necessary to obtain a new visa to reenter the country, or extend your stay.
Passport-type photos are obtainable at a number of Brunswick businesses. Rite Aid on Maine Street is conveniently close. If you do not need the official passport size, see if you can get a sheet of smaller photos, as you will be surprised at how many you will need for various forms and cards.
If you need a notary public for this or another part of the OCS application process, go to the list of Bowdoin administrators who are qualified as notaries. Please note that a Maine notary cannot notarize a copy of a passport, but can notarize a certificate which you swear is a true and exact copy of the passport, the original of which remains in your possession.
For entry into any country, have the following handy to show to immigration authorities: a copy of your program or university admission letter; your round-trip plane ticket; and proof of sufficient funding (bank account information, financial aid documentation, etc.) to support you while in the country.
International Student Identity Card. You may find it helpful to get an ISIC, an internationally recognized card that entitles holders to various discounts (e.g., museum and theater tickets, air fares). This depends partly on your destination country; ask students who studied there. Some foreign universities issue their own student IDs. The ISIC also provides basic health and accident insurance for travel outside the U.S. and access to a 24-hour toll-free help line, offering help in a medical, financial, or legal emergency. The card is valid for 12 months from the date of issue. Go to the ISIC website for further details of benefits and to apply on line. You will need to show proof of current full-time student status and of your birthdate. The cost is approximately $22.00, exclusive of postage. Before you purchase, make sure that you will not receive a card at no charge through your program. A lost card cannot be replaced, but the insurance coverage remains valid.