As soon as you know you will be going abroad, you should apply for a passport or renew your current passport if it is not valid for at least six months beyond the end of your stay. Processing times for U.S. passports vary, but may be as much as two to three months. You will need a passport application form, two photos, proof of U.S. citizenship (such as a birth certificate), the required fee, and a valid photo I.D. If you are a first-time applicant, you must submit your application in person to a passport office or designated post office (the South Hadley Post Office is one). See the U.S. State Department website for details. If you are not a U.S. citizen, check with your country's Embassy for information.
Make two copies of your passport ID page and all your other important documents (one to leave at home, one to carry separately with you), which will help you replace anything if it is lost or stolen.
A visa is a stamped notarization in a passport authorizing entry to a foreign country for a stated purpose and a stated period of time. Visa fees, requirements, application procedures, and application timing can vary dramatically depending on your citizenship, the country to which you are going, what you will be doing, and where you will be at the time you apply. Most study abroad programs and host universities will provide basic information about visa requirements. If your program offers "batch processing," meaning that you would submit your documents to the program and the program would submit them to the consulate, we strongly recommend that you take advantage of that service. It is your responsibility to find out what is required and to apply for a visa in a timely way; Mount Holyoke cannot do this on your behalf. Contact the appropriate Embassy in Washington (or a Consulate in Boston or New York) for details. Many countries now require you to apply in-person and to submit biometrics (including fingerprints). Follow instructions carefully and allow plenty of time.
You must have a valid passport to apply for a visa, and if you are going abroad to study, you must have a firm acceptance from your program or host university. In most cases, you will need to submit your original passport along with your visa application, so you will not be able to travel while your application is pending. This may mean that you will not be able to participate in back-to-back programs in different countries, or even within the same country. If you must mail your passport with your visa application, use certified return receipt mail, along with the appropriate pre-paid forms for return certified mail.
International students may need to have a U.S. visa valid beyond the period of their study abroad program before they may apply for a study abroad visa. Because you cannot renew a U.S. visa here, you will need to return home to renew the U.S. visa before you can apply for your study abroad visa.
International Student ID Cards
Several organizations offer international ID cards certifying that you are a full-time student. ID cards may entitle you to student discounts on airfare and admission to museums and theatres, limited health and accident insurance, and other services. Benefits vary.
The International Student Identity Card (ISIC), which is a product of STA Travel, offers access to student discounts on travel, as well as limited accident and sickness insurance.
International Driver's License
If you are planning to drive a lot while you are abroad, you may need an International Driver's License, available via the web. Not all countries require an International Driver's License; check online or ask a travel agent for details. Check with your insurance company to see if your US liability insurance is valid abroad.