Sydney Pre-Departure

Money Matters

Before You Leave
Receiving Money from the US
Credit Cards
Traveler’s Checks
Lost or Stolen Credit Cards and Traveler’s Checks

Before You Leave

Diversify, diversify, diversify. In today’s day and age, you’ll find that an ATM card with a credit option will get you just about anywhere you need to go. Remember, however, that in the event your wallet gets lost or stolen, you are high and dry until you can replace that card.

It’s important that you be able to contact your bank while abroad in case of emergency. Be sure to bring a backup credit or debit card with you to ensure that you have access to money even if problems occur. 

  • Let any and all financial institutions that you use – banks, credit card companies, etc. know of your intended travel dates and destinations.
    • Banks and credit card companies will put a freeze on your account if they see charges from an unauthorized country—you may want to do this each time you leave Australia, even for a Spring/Fall break trip
    • Contact your credit card company for international emergency phone numbers. If your card is lost or stolen, you can call to put a stop to its use
    • Check that your PIN number will work in Australia
    • Be sure to have the phone number of your local bank for any emergencies
    • Ask your bank for a list of correspondent banks in case you need to have funds transferred to you
  • Bring $100-$200 Australian dollars with you to handle any costs you incur upon arrival in Australia

Tipping Overseas

Proper tipping protocols are often hard to remember and understand, even in the United States. In some countries or industries, tipping is not common. In others, people count on tips for survival. This is why it is important to brush up on tipping in your Global City before departure. There are various websites and apps that can help you. One of our favorites is the Global Tipping App – Tipping protocol will be reviewed during orientation, but here are some basic tipping rules to remember:

  • Tips are not usually required. However, tipping is becoming more and more common.
  • Cab – 10%
  • Restaurant – 10%

Receiving Money from the US

The fastest and easiest way to get money from home is to have cash deposited into your checking account for you to withdraw it abroad via ATM.

  • Checks deposited into your bank account may be held for up to 14 days before the funds can be withdrawn
    • Be sure to leave deposit slips and your bank information at home
  • Although potentially more expensive, you can also have the money wired to a correspondent bank in Australia
    • Make a list of your USA bank’s correspondent banks and be sure to give a copy to your family
    • You will need to bring a passport to claim the funds
  • Western Union and American Express have an international fund transfer department. You can wire money through WU and pick it up at any Western Union in the city


Always check the exchange rate for currencies– you may not realize how much you are spending!

  • The currency in Australia is the dollar.
  • Bills come in denominations of $100, $50, $20, $10, and $5. Coins come in denominations of $2, $1, .50, .20, .10, and .5.


You probably won’t be able to open an Australian bank account while you’re in Australia, as they are only open only to long-term residents. However, you will be able to withdraw money from ATM’s at most banks.

Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs/Cash Points)

ATM machines are very common.

  • In major cities, ATMs are readily available in banks, airports and throughout the city
  • ATMs usually get the same exchange rate as your credit cards
  • To use an ATM, card must be on the International ATM Network, and the PIN for your card must have four-digits
    • Some newer cards in the US have six digits — these won’t work in Australia. You should discuss this with your home bank and change your PIN
    • Be sure to remember that your PIN is a number, not a series of letters. Cash dispensers in Australia do not list the letters, so know your PIN numerically before you get caught in a jam

IMPORTANT: There is often a limit on how much you can withdraw from your account daily. Ask your bank about charges they impose for withdrawing money overseas

Credit Cards

Most major credit cards are accepted overseas. Always keep a record of how much you’re putting on your cards and try to stay under your limit.

  • Be sure to check that you activate your credit card for overseas use. Some banks and credit card companies may deny use of the card thinking there has been fraudulent activity
  • Credit card currency conversions are generally quite favorable, and your bill will serve as a reference if something is lost or stolen
  • American Express is not accepted at a lot of places in Australia or has a much higher surcharge than Visa or Mastercard

Traveler’s Checks (Traveller’s Cheques)

Traveler’s checks are still a safe way to carry money when traveling, but are being accepted less and less as cash abroad. It is not recommended to bring large amounts of money in traveler’s checks, but you may want to bring $100 – $200 in case of an emergency.

  • Thomas Cook, American Express and Marks and Spencer are the most widely recognized exchange offices
  • “Bureau de Change” and “Chequepoint” offices often charge outrageous commission fees and give very poor exchange rates
  • Be sure to leave a copy of traveler’s check numbers at home and keep check receipts in a separate place overseas
    • Record the number when you cash a traveler’s check, as they can be replaced if you have the check numbers
    • Ask the US issuing institution for a list of their foreign offices, and remember to set a few checks aside for emergencies

Lost or Stolen Credit Cards and Traveler’s Checks

After making sure that the item is missing, report it to the nearest police station and make sure you note down your case/reference number. This is needed for any further steps you need to take to replace the missing items.


Click on the photo above to learn about the best ways to budget for your trip overseas!

Most students on study abroad programs are traveling on a limited budget. Because spending habits differ widely from student to student, it is impossible to provide a set amount for all students.  Think of your expenses in two categories (1) expenses that are necessary for survival on the program (fixed costs) and (2) costs for things that will enhance your program but are not crucial to your survival (variable costs).

Divide your expenses into fixed and variable costs.  After you complete the fixed costs, you will have an idea how much to budget for your weekly necessities. You must at least have this amount of money available to you on your program.  The total variable costs will help you determine the additional money you should take for optional activities during your time abroad such as travel on weekends and your break, going out with your friends etc.  The general rule of thumb is to take twice as much as you think you will need, just in case something unexpected arises.  Also keep in mind that most students end up spending all the money they take with them. It also might be help to check out Numbeo to find the average prices of basic goods in country.

When building your budget, remember to consult your program information to determine what is and is not included.  It is also a good idea to speak with recently returned students about their spending habits and to consult guide books for estimated costs.

Here is a Budget Worksheet that could be useful as you map out costs: CAPA Budget Worksheet

Health and Wellness Abroad

The most important of your responsibilities while abroad is to take preventative measures to maintain your health and wellness.  It will take some time for your body to adjust to changes in food, water, daily routine, altitude, and weather conditions.  You may be susceptible to colds as your body adjusts to the new environment.  Regularly wash your hands with warm soapy water.  Be sure to get enough sleep, rest, and eat balanced meals.

Health and Wellness

Sydney Considerations
International Student Insurance

STDs and Drugs

Health and Wellness

If I am sick, can I go to the doctor or is there an easier and quicker place to get treatment?

  • You can ask advice from a pharmacist – they are very well trained in Australia and are able to provide useful information on your illness as well as medicines you may need.
  • You can see a doctor – Information on local doctors will be given to you in your orientation pack in Sydney, and this information is also kept at reception for ease of access. And of course, CAPA or your host family can advise you of the doctor nearest you. Read more about the International Health Insurance and insurance policies below.

How can I plan to make sure I can pay out of pocket in the case of an emergency?

Try to keep some money aside for an emergency and also you can keep a credit card with a higher balance that you can use for an emergency as well. Although basic costs for treatment range far lower than in the US, it’s better to prepare for the unexpected.

Should I bring any medication?

Immersing yourself in a new environment may be stressful at times, so it is recommended that you continue taking any regular prescriptions.  Speak with your doctor regarding your personal health and prescriptions before going abroad.  Bring a sufficient supply of any prescription or over the counter medication you use on a regular basis, including birth control pills.  They must be in their original containers and labeled accordingly.  Pack all prescriptions in your carry-on bag.  Be prepared to answer questions about them.

If you have a medical condition that is not visible (diabetes, epilepsy, drug allergies, etc) it is advisable to wear a medic alert bracelet while abroad.  You should also inform study abroad program staff and your travel companions, so that they will be prepared in case of an emergency.  If you have a medical condition that could be aggravated by conditions abroad (asthma on dusty roads), carefully consider how you will address this problem and discuss it with your doctor.

Students traveling to Australia should be aware of the regulations surrounding medications and controlled substances in Australia. Please visit the Australian Government’s Office of Drug Control website to learn more about the appropriate steps for bringing medication into the country. Some common US prescriptions, like Adderall, are in fact controlled substances in Australia and extra steps need to be taken to import these into the country. Students are individually responsible for securing the necessary permission to bring medication into Australia.

Students should be advised that medications needing to be obtained locally through the prescription of a psychiatrist first require a doctor’s appointment and referral. Referrals could take over a month, obstructing the process of getting a local prescription for a regularly taken medication. If you have questions, please reach out to your CAPA Program Advisor.


  • Some prescribed drugs in the US may be controlled in other countries. Please check with your personal doctor and the Embassy of Australia to see if and what drugs are controlled.  If you wish to take drugs that are controlled, you will require special authorization to bring them into Australia. You can obtain this from the Australian Embassy in the United States.
  • If caught with controlled drugs in your possession, you may be subject to severe penalties.

Do I have access to counseling/psychiatric services in country?

Yes! CAPA can provide a list of local counselors and psychologists, or your own psychologist may have local connections. If you are currently in counseling, you could also see if they can set up weekly phone/skype calls with you.

10 Ways to Stay Healthy Abroad
Read about ways to stay healthy abroad by clicking on the image above!

Sydney Considerations

Sun and Heat

The sun can be intense in Sydney during the summer months (December through February). Remember ultra violet rays can cause severe burns even on an overcast day. Australians in fact have the highest rate of skin cancer in the world, so take care to use sunscreen and avoid excess exposure to the sun especially between 11am and 3pm. The heat can be equally intense. If coming from cooler climes, take time to acclimate yourself to the hotter weather. Drink lots of liquid and avoid alcohol and strenuous activity


Sydney’s beaches are one of the city’s great attractions, however the current can be extremely strong and caution must be exercised. Stick to the beaches that have lifeguards on duty. Many of Sydney’s beaches have netting off shore to prevent sharks from wandering too close to the shore. While shark attacks are rare, the risk is real. If you hear a siren sound while swimming, quickly, but calmly, return to the beach. At the beach take care to swim between the red and yellow flags. These flags indicate the safest areas for swimming and will help you avoid rips which can be very dangerous.

International Student Insurance

Axis International Student Insurance Policy: CAPA The Global Education Network Axis Brochure (2016-03-02)

Above you will find an insurance brochure outlining your coverage for International Student Insurance. The medical claim form is within the insurance brochure, should you need it.

Healthcare abroad and health insurance coverage during your time abroad can be one of the most confusing aspects of preparing for your travels. Healthcare and insurance do function differently while you’re overseas. We’ve tried to answer some of the questions you might have so that you can manage your own health appropriately abroad!

CAPA’s International Student Insurance Policy insures you. Be sure to bring a copy of the policy and claim form with you. If you plan to travel independently prior to or after official program dates, you should obtain additional insurance coverage for that period as International Student Insurance will only cover you for the program dates.

When reading through the coverage provided under this policy, be sure to note whether or not it covers your own independent needs – specifically regarding pre-existing medical conditions that may require more frequent care. You may require additional insurance coverage in this instance. Your total coverage is up to $100,000 per medical claim during the length of the program.

Should you have any questions about the coverage or how to fill in your claim form, please contact the insurance company directly:

Axis International Student Insurance:
001-609-375-9190 (from outside of the US)
1-888-870-2947 (from within the US and Canada)
Policy Number: SRPO-50626-682
Name of Group: CAPA International Education LP (CAPA)

How does my health insurance work while I am abroad?

CAPA International Student Insurance will reimburse you for medical care up to $100,000 in cost, but it is important to note that you will have to pay out of pocket up front for these costs. Be sure to hold onto ANY receipts in order to more easily reclaim the money spent once you have returned to the United States. Keep ALL receipts! You are responsible for filing your own claim directly with the insurance provider within 30 days of the end of your program.

Why don’t I have a health insurance card?

Your health insurance works to reimburse you for your costs, it does not cover them up front. Therefore, hospitals in Australia do not need a record of your health insurance as they will be billing you directly.

Is there anything for which I am not covered?

It is important that you read the International Student Insurance brochure for the exact coverage and exclusions before departing for Australia, particularly with regards to mental health and pre-existing conditions. It is also advised to keep an electronic copy in your email for reference. (The insurance does not cover you while in a motor vehicle). Also the maximum amount to be covered for medical/sickness is $100,000.

STDs and Drugs


There is no such thing as a high-risk group; there is only high-risk behavior.  Either abstain from sexual activity or practice safer sex.  Both men and women should carry protection.

Avoid injections, but if any are necessary for medical reasons, make sure that the syringe used comes directly from a sealed package.  Diabetics are encouraged to bring a sufficient supply of needles and syringes with a prescription and doctor’s authorization.  Avoid ear and body piercing and tattooing abroad.


Please be aware that when you are abroad, you are subject to the jurisdiction of all local laws of the country you are visiting.  Depending where you go, this may include pre-trial confinement in substandard prison conditions for weeks or months.  Buying, carrying, or even accompanying friends who have even a small amount of drugs may result in arrest.  In fact, Americans abroad have been jailed for possessing as little as three grams (a tenth of an ounce) of marijuana.  Be aware that drug pushers, after making profit on the sale of drugs, may turn their customers in to the local authorities for a reward. Also keep in mind that trials are conducted in the host country language, lengthy delays are common, and punishment for possession or trafficking can be several years.

The US Consular Officers Abroad can ensure detainee’s rights under local law are fully observed.  They may visit the detainee and provide a list of local attorneys, but they cannot in any way intervene in a foreign country’s court system.

It is also important to note that CAPA has a zero tolerance policy towards the use of illegal drugs. Should you be caught using, selling or possessing illegal drugs while on a CAPA program you will be dismissed from the program and required to vacate your housing.


Each student’s health and safety is our top priority. CAPA is prepared to deal with emergencies as they arise. If you would like to review what we do for preparedness, professional support, risk assessment, and training, you can take a look at our Health and Safety site. However, below are some considerations for how to best stay safe overseas.

Be Aware and Assertive
Build a Support System
Key Safety Tips
Safety Tips When Commuting
Dating While Abroad
Drugs and Alcohol
Street Harassment
Contact the Police
Security and Risk Management
What To Do If You Lose Your Passport

Be Aware and Assertive

The key to personal safety is being aware of your environment at all times and developing “street smarts.”  Begin developing street smarts before you depart by reading about your host country and speaking with others who have traveled or lived there.  Inquire about the challenges they faced and how they overcame them.  At your in-country orientation, pay attention to information regarding safety precautions.

Build a Support System

One of your first priorities upon arrival should be to build a support system.

  • Make a short list of important emergency numbers, including CAPA’s 24 hour emergency numbers, your roommates, and emergency services to be carried with you.
  • The list should include people who you can trust to be supportive in an emergency.
  • Also learn to use public phones immediately upon arrival, even if you plan to have a cell phone.

Key Safety Tips

The following are some safety tips for international travel. Our most important safety tip is to always use common sense.

  • Do not go out alone at night; always travel with a companion. Do know that large groups of students may attract unfavorable attention and may even seem a little threatening to local people.
  • Do not take short cuts through dark side streets, stay in well-lit and populated areas.
  • Attackers or pickpockets are likely to prey on people who look confused or occupied (or intoxicated!) so send an assertive message by using strong, confident body posture. Many potential problem situations can be stopped in their initial stages by demonstrating awareness and an assertive response.
    • Glance to your left and right so you know who and what is nearby.
    • When walking, hold your head high, keep your back straight, and walk with a determined stride (even if you are not sure where you are going).
  • Set physical limits and if someone oversteps your boundaries, let them know in a strong, assertive tone of voice.
  • When you feel uncomfortable with your surroundings, trust your instincts and move on.
  • Under no circumstances should you ever give your passport to anyone.

Safety Tips When Commuting

  • Take care crossing streets; pedestrians do not have the right of way.  Beware of fast, aggressive drivers in narrow streets.
  • Always ask the taxi driver to use the meter or agree on a price before getting in.


Pickpocketing is the most common type of criminal encounter overseas. There are several ways to keep your belongings safe.

  • Keep your bags with you at all times, no matter how safe a situation may seem.  Always wrap a strap from your bag around your shoulder or leg if sitting down at a table or on a park bench.
  • Do not put your cell phone down on a table in a restaurant or café. It is easy for a pickpocketer to walk by and take it.
  • Make sure to keep your wallet in your front pocket or a zipped purse. You should also make sure any expensive belongings are not kept in the outside pocket of a backpack.
  • Keep your camera hidden unless taking a photo.  Never put it down and be careful when asking a stranger to take a photo of you.

Dating While Abroad

In a world where dating apps are common and students often go out, it is important to make sure you keep conscious of your safety while dating abroad.

  • Always tell someone where you are going, with whom, and when you will come home.
  • Make sure you always have your cellphone available and charged, so you can call someone in case of emergency.
  • If you are meeting someone (a blind date or someone you’ve known for a little while), meet them in a public, well lit area like a café as opposed to your residence or their home. It is preferable if you go out as a group or on a double date.
  • Be vigilant about your drink, and never leave it unattended.
  • There is no such thing as a high-risk group; there is only high-risk behavior. Either abstain from sexual activity or practice safe sex.  Both men and women should carry protection.
  • If you or someone you know experiences sexual harassment/violence we strongly encourage you to reach out to on-site staff for support.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Avoid illegal drugs.  You are subject to the laws of the country in which you are traveling.
  • Be mindful when drinking alcohol. Certain types of alcohol may be stronger than what you are used to at home.
  • Many accidents during study abroad occur when under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Be careful and mindful of your surroundings at all times.

Street Harassment

Unfortunately, street harassment is common in many cities and towns. Here is a helpful article called How to Deal with Street Harassment that addresses encounters you might have:

Contact the Police

If anything should occur, immediately notify the police of all losses or other incidents and get a copy of the official police report. You can find out more information about important numbers to call in an emergency on our Keeping in Touch page.

Security and Risk Management

You can play an active role in managing your safety. Please take note of the following important tips which have been recommended by professionals in crisis preparedness. These should go hand in hand along with the tips provided in the other Safety sections.  All tips apply when you are in your CAPA Global City or on your personal travels.

  • Please ensure CAPA has your most up to date local cell phone number.  If this has changed since you arrived in country, it is important you notify a CAPA staff immediately.
  • Make sure your cell phone is switched on, charged and topped up at all times and respond immediately if you receive any calls or messages from CAPA.
  • Identify places like police stations, hospitals, official buildings along your route to class and your internship should you need them.
  • It is also important that you reach out to your family regularly to let them know that you are safe and doing well.
  • Monitor the local and national news and US State Department Website.

In addition, CAPA staff have been trained in Crisis Management Response protocols. CAPA also has the support of Docleaf, a professional crisis response organization which has experience with responding to major global crises around the world.

It should also be noted that your local police services carry out daily activities to help maintain the protection and security of all citizens, public institutions, critical national infrastructure, and businesses and places, including those who are potential terrorist targets.

If you would like more information about CAPA’s safety protocols, you can check out our Health and Safety site.

What To Do If You Lose Your Passport (U.S. Passport Holders Only. Non-U.S. Passport Holders should refer to their consulates website.)

Don’t panic. There are ways of getting a replacement passport. A lost passport is more of a hassle and an expense than anything else.

Step 1: Go to the nearest Police Station. They will give you a form to claim your loss. You will need to take this to the Consulate.

Step 2: Take your claim form to the American Consulate Passport Office. When you go to the Consulate, you need to know your social security number, and you should bring with you anything that could help identify you. This could include other forms of identification, plane tickets, a photocopy of your passport, or a friend or teacher.

A replacement passport will cost you at least $60 (or the current equivalent in local currency). You must pay in cash or by Visa, or MasterCard. Personal checks are not accepted. You will also need to purchase passport photos. The consulate will instruct you on local photo shops that can produce your photos while you’re accomplishing the necessary paperwork. You will most likely be provided with a temporary document that you can use until you get back to the United States. Once in the US, you’ll have access to all the documentation needed for another permanent passport.

You may have to get a temporary document that you can use until you get back to the United States. Once back in the US, you will have access to all the documentation needed for another permanent passport and can process it then.

Keeping in Touch

Remember to regularly check in with friends and family back home, but be conscientious of the hours you spend on Skype. It’s just as important to invest in your global city as it is to touch base at home!

How can I contact home during the program?
What are important numbers I should know while abroad?
How can I send and receive mail while abroad?
How can I decide on a cell phone?

How can I contact home during the program?

Cell Phones

  • All students are required to have a cell phone that can  make and receive local calls while abroad. It must be switched on and charged at all times.
    • It’s important for CAPA to be able to contact you in the event of an emergency, and it also allows you to easily keep in contact with friends and family at home and abroad
    • Be sure to give your cell phone and/or homestay number to your internship, family and friends
  • All students are required to have a data plan on their phones and to download the CAPA Guardian app
  • Read more about the purchasing a cell phone in our Mobile Phones section below
  • Calling Abroad
    • Calling from Australia to the USA:
      • 0011 (to get an international line in Australia) + 1 (USA country code) + (area code) + number
      • E.g. 0011 1 (201) 283 2227
    • Calling from the USA to Australia differs depending on whether you are calling an Australian landline or an Australian cell phone:
      • Landlines: 011 (to get an international line in the US) + 61 (Australian country code) + (minus the 0 of the area code) + number
        • E.g. If the landline number is (02) 9217 5977, then you would dial 011 61 2 9217 5977
      • Cell Phone: 011 (to get an international line in the US) + 61 (Australian country code) + number without the first 0
        • E.g. If the cell phone number is 0405 506 882, then you would dial 011 61 405 506 882


  • While some student residences do have landlines, it is not standard
  • If you are with a host family, it may not be appropriate for you to use their telephone, as calls are not free
    • Be sure to review the household telephone rules with your host family upon arrival
      • You are allowed to receive international calls at your house, however make sure your family does not call a homestay any later than 9p.m. local time

Video Chat and Messaging Apps

  • Be sure to install free messaging apps like Gchat, Viber and WhatsApp on your international phone, and have friends and family at home do the same
    • These apps work like texting, but allow you to connect with anyone in the world for free as long as you have a WiFi connection
  • Set up accounts on Skype and Google Hang—you can video chat for free or make international calls for a small fee

Social Media

  • Consider connecting with family and friends from home on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media sites you actively use
    • Even if you can’t call home as often as your parents would like, they’ll be able to see that you are doing well abroad via social media

What are important numbers I should know while abroad?

**The numbers provided are all the correct phone numbers for calling within Sydney. If you are calling from another country or a parent calling from the US, you should double check the appropriate country code and number.

  • Emergencies
    • CAPA Main Office: 2 9217 5977
    • CAPA Emergency Mobile: 0405 506 882
    • CAPA US Emergency Mobile: 001 617 999 8126
    • Australian Police/Fire/Ambulance: 000
  • Hospitals
    • Royal Prince Alfred Hospital
      Missenden Road
      Camperdown NSW 2050
      02 9515 6111
    • St Vincent’s Hospital
      390 Victoria Street
      Darlinghurst NSW 2010
      02 8382 1111
  • American Embassy (Sydney): 2 9373 9200
  • Help Available in the United States
    • The Citizens Emergency Center in the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs provides emergency services relating to the welfare of Americans arrested or detained abroad, searches for Americans missing overseas. It transmits emergency messages for Americans to their next of kin and transfers private funds to US posts abroad for delivery to destitute Americans.
      • If calling from the US or Canada: 1-888-407-4747
      • If calling from overseas: 001 202 501-4444

How can I send and receive mail while abroad?

Receiving Mail from the US

  • If you’ll be receiving any form of mail while abroad—whether it be letters, postcards, or care packages from home, be sure to have the sender address your mail to:

c/o CAPA
Building I Ultimo Campus Sydney TAFE
1 Mary Ann Street
Ultimo NSW 2007

  • Do not send mail directly to the student’s apartment or homestay
  • Family and friends should inquire with their local post office as to the best method of shipping
    • Keep in mind that international shipping can often be expensive, and does take longer than domestic mail
    • Make sure to get clarification on all mailing restrictions and regulations mailing to and from the US
  • Fed Ex, Airborne Express, and other international delivery services offer fast and safe methods of sending packages
    • IMPORTANT: The sender must provide a credit card number and mark the box indicating that the SENDER will cover all associated fees in regards to the package, including customs fees
      • Failure to do so may mean that CAPA will not accept the package or you having to pay a large customs or duty fee
      • The sender should declare goods as “student effects” which will often reduce the duty charged
    • Customs officers check packages randomly and regularly, so the sender needs to ensure the exact contents are written on the customs form (not doing this is a serious offence)

Sending Mail from Australia

  • Post offices are located all throughout the city and offer services nearly identical to those offered in the United States, including selling stamps and providing shipping costs for packages
  • Post boxes are located on most main roads
  • Remember that sending even post cards internationally will cost more than domestic mail in the US

Mobile Phones in Sydney

CAPA requires that each student has access to a mobile phone with a local Australian number to use during his or her time abroad to assist in emergency situations. We created this guide to help you choose a phone. Please ask CAPA staff if you need any help in purchasing one.

Option 1. Bringing your own phone

Some students decide to bring their phones overseas from the United States. There are a few considerations when doing this.

Is your phone unlocked so that you can purchase a SIM card for an international plan once you arrive? Unlocking a cell phone typically needs to be done by the provider (Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, etc.). Some providers will be more resistant to this than others. Alternatively, your phone might already be set up in such a way that you can automatically use it abroad. (Hint: Web-search GSM vs. CDMA to better understand why this happens.) What you DON’T want to do is use an international plan offered by your US carrier. Typically these plans are much more expensive than those you would use by unlocking your phone and purchasing a SIM card when you arrive in Australia. These international plans are a good solution for business travelers on brief trips, but certainly not for a student spending a significant period of time abroad. If the only option offered to you by your cell phone provider is to use a global plan from them, it is recommended that you look into purchasing an inexpensive mobile phone from an Australian provider (see below).

Another consideration with bringing your own phone is that your iPhone, your Galaxy, your Blackberry – or any other cell phone – will NOT be covered under the CAPA International Student Insurance policy. Cell phones are one of the most commonly stolen items abroad. Consider the cost of your phone and the fact that you are also likely going to be using it as a camera to track your experience. If this is stolen, all of it will be lost. If you DO still choose to bring your phone, consider independently purchasing insurance. Also be ready to regularly backup your photos so that you don’t lose them if your phone is stolen.

Is it for me?

  1. I own an unlocked phone.
  2. I understand and am prepared for the fact that, if my phone is stolen, I will need to have purchased separate insurance.
  3. I use my current phone for EVERYTHING and leaving it at home would require purchasing other electronics (portable music player, camera, etc.) and I would prefer not to do this.
  4. I want to use a local SIM card so that I can control my spending on phone calls.

Option 2. Purchasing an inexpensive cell phone and a pay-as-you-go SIM card once abroad

The other option is a great way to “live as the locals do.” If you are not bringing your own phone, you can purchase a basic, inexpensive, pre-paid mobile device from a local provider such as Optus, Vodafone, Virgin Mobile, or Global Gossip. The benefit of this is that you will have an unlocked international phone that you can use again and again in your travels. You add minutes to your phone (or “top up”) throughout the program. This can be done just about everywhere, even grocery stores and newsstands.

This can be a good option for students who need to have more control over how much they are spending. Every time you top up you will be aware of the amount that you have spent on your plan and you can curb your calls as needed. It can be a difficult transition to adjust to limiting the amount of time you spend on the phone when you’re used to unlimited minutes. This plan will allow you to quickly see just how much time you DO spend on the phone. The drawbacks are that when you run out of minutes, you are out of minutes. It is easy enough to add more minutes to your phone but you do want to make sure that you are keeping your phone topped-up, especially if you are going out at night (in case of an emergency).

Additionally, it is less likely that you will find great international rates with this plan, although different plans will vary a bit in their options. Remember though that it is advised that you use other internet-based options to call home, as these are only a fraction of the cost. When you arrive in country, the CAPA staff will talk to you about this option and locations in the area where you can set up this type of plan.

Is it for me?

  1. I am not planning to bring my own phone abroad.
  2. I am ok with waiting to get set-up with a phone until I arrive/the program orientation.
  3. I want to be able to more closely monitor my spending on calls.
  4. I plan to rely more on internet-based options for international calls.
  5. I’d like to leave my experience with a functional cell phone that I can use internationally during my future travels.

Your Cultural Identity

Who are you? Tough question, right? How do you begin to answer it?  There are numerous directions that you could go in physical characteristics, gender, morals, roles, and so many more.  Your identity is constantly evolving throughout time and being shaped with each experience you have.  In this section, we offer various perspectives on how to conceptualize your identity here in the USA and abroad.

Race and Ethnicity
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer Life
Students with Disabilities
Dietary Concerns
Living in an Urban Environment


CAPA strives to be an inclusive environment, where all students receive the support and guidance necessary to interact in a new environment and learn from people with diverse backgrounds, worldviews, and cultural traditions. CAPA fosters a number of on-going initiatives to support students, faculty, and staff as they explore diversity issues.

While abroad, students will encounter a wide range of perspectives regarding diversity issues. Understanding how these attitudes and beliefs may influence your study abroad experience will significantly help you to better understand your own beliefs as well as those of your host culture.

First, examine your own identity and cultural beliefs. Then research the culture of your host country and begin to reflect upon how your identity will impact your experiences and perhaps be affected by your experience in a different culture.

Students can provide support for each other abroad by getting together and talking about their experiences. In discussing your experiences focus on exploring how they provide insight into the cultural values of your host culture. Develop strategies for coping with culture shift, rather than getting stuck in culture shock. It is important to balance your own perceptions while maintaining respect for your host culture. Keep in mind your study abroad experience is not an opportunity to replicate your home life in another setting; instead it is a new learning experience.


Study abroad allows you the opportunity to explore cultural patterns for gender roles. No matter your gender identity, you may be challenged by gender roles and expectations that are different than those to which you are accustomed. Interactions between and amongst genders are often fascinating to learn about, while gender relationships can be equally challenging for students who do not adhere to the gender norms of their host culture. Prepare yourself by first reflecting on your own cultural understanding of gender roles and relations. Are their some behaviors that are more acceptable for one gender than another in your home country? In your city? In your community?

Once you are in-country you may find that your perceptions of appropriate interactions do not correspond to the acceptable interactions in your host country. Learn what is expected in terms of dress codes, appropriate conversation topics, proximity and physical contact. Be observant and learn the social norms and the consequences for violating those norms. If you have any unanswered questions about cultural norms the CAPA staff will be happy to help you.

Before you go, it can prove very useful to research the implications of gender in your host culture. Talk with students who have studied there before, befriend international students from your host culture, and search the internet for more helpful information. Some questions to research include:

  • What is the history of gender roles and relations in your host culture?
  • Are there different roles and expectations for US American women/men than there are for women/men of your host culture?
  • How might your gender influence people’s interactions with you?
  • What privileges and disadvantages are associated with gender in your host culture?
  • What are the consequences for stepping outside the gender norms?
  • How do you plan to cope with a cultural shift in gender roles and expectations?

Race and Ethnicity

Every student will have a unique experience abroad, even those in the same program and same country. This same diversity of experience is also true for students of color and those from US dominant groups. It is important to learn about the politics of race, ethnicity, religion, and nationality in your host country. This will help you develop realistic expectations for situations you might encounter abroad.

Students in the past have reported a variety of experiences and perceptions abroad, ranging from those who felt relieved to leave the context of race relations in the US, to those who felt similar and also new types of prejudice abroad. Regardless of the challenges some students faced in their host cultures, almost all report feeling very satisfied with their experience abroad and mark it as one of the most important aspects of their undergraduate studies.

A Reflection on Study Abroad, Race & Changing Perceptions of the US
Click this image to read about the experience of CAPA Blogger, Mathew Ramsay, in Sydney.

Before you depart, it is advisable to research the history of your host culture’s relationships to US non-dominant groups. It is also a good idea to talk with others who have studied there, befriend host country nationals, ask for their insight, and search the internet for additional information. Some students have found that members of their host culture did not considered them to be US Americans, but rather identified them according to their race or ethnic background. It is a good idea to think about how this will make you feel and how you plan to address this cross-cultural adversity.

  • How does your home culture define “race” and “ethnicity”?
  • How does your host culture define those same terms?
  • Are there different expectations for people within these categories? In your town? In your city? In the country?
  • How will expectations be different in your host culture? Why?
  • What influences people’s expectations? At home? In your host culture?
  • How do you plan to cope with the shift in cultural understanding of “race” and “ethnicity”?

Learning as much as you can about your host culture and country before you depart will help you prepare and make the most of your study abroad experience. Once in-country be sure to develop a support network and speak with CAPA staff who will be happy to answer any of your questions and address any of your concerns.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer Life

While studying abroad you will meet new friends and develop new relationships: friendships and perhaps romantic ones. Research what your host country’s norms are in terms of friendships and romantic relationships between people of any sexual orientation or gender identity.

Before you depart for your program abroad CAPA encourages you to learn everything you can about the country and culture in which you’ll be studying. Sexual identity and gender identity, as well as how each are defined, vary across cultures. Remember to consider the cultural, social, and legal issues involved. While some countries are more supportive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights than the U.S., others stipulate punishments for certain behavior.

It is important to consider the implications of being identified as LGBTQ person in your host culture and how being “out” may impact other people’s interactions with you. You may field questions about boyfriends or girlfriends regardless of how you self-identify. It is a good idea to start formulating personal strategies to address these situations and to develop a support network in-country. Additional questions to consider include:

  • What terms are used to discuss sexual orientation and gender identity in your home?
  • What terms are used in your host country? Do they have similar or different means?
  • What are the expectations for LGBTQ people? In your town? In your city? In the country?
  • How will expectations be different in your host culture? Why?
  • What influences people’s expectations? At home? In your host culture?
  • How might your (real or perceived) sexual orientation and gender identity influence people’s interactions with you? How will this make you feel? How will this impact your overall experience?
  • How do you plan to cope with the shift in cultural beliefs about sexual orientation and gender identity?

Seek out country-specific information by speaking with fellow students who have been there before and befriend people from your host country to learn common perceptions. Search the internet for additional sources. The NAFSA Association of International Educators Rainbow Special Interest Group is a good place to start.


Studying abroad can be powerful experience for all students. As you prepare for your study abroad experience consider how your religion or spiritual beliefs may influence your experiences abroad. You will likely have encounters that challenge your notions of spirituality. You can alleviate potential misunderstandings by learning as much as possible about the culture where you’ll be living. Your experience abroad can be an incredible opportunity to learn about world religions and to understand social and historical views of religious acceptance and tolerance in your host country. Take the time to learn how people in your host culture worship and engage in different religious practices.

  • What is the predominant religion of your host country?
  • How might your beliefs and practices be viewed in your host culture? How might this influence people’s interactions with you?
  • In what ways does religion influence social interactions in your host culture?
  • How will you practice your religion abroad?
  • Do you wish to connect with a group or attend religious service abroad?
  • What strategies will you use to adjust to a culture with different perceptions of your religious beliefs?

Prepare yourself by thinking about how you will answer questions about your religion and spiritual beliefs in your host country’s language. If you have dietary restrictions due to your religious beliefs, make sure to inform CAPA staff well in advance of your program start date. Seek out country-specific information about world religions by speaking with fellow students who have studied there before and befriend people from your host country to learn common perceptions. Learn how your host culture views diverse religious beliefs and how people of diverse faith are integrated into society. The more you know, the better prepared you will be for the your new environment.


While abroad you will have the opportunity to interact with a wide range of people with diverse backgrounds and life experiences. In your host culture you may experience class issues differently than you do at home. In certain contexts, all U.S. Americans may be considered rich, including working class Americans. Some cultures have more narrowly defined notions of “class” than those in the United States. It is a good idea to first reflect on your own ideas about “class,” and then research your host country’s ideas too. Here are some questions to get you started:

  • How do you define class? What class do you belong to?
  • What are the different expectations for people of different classes in the U.S.?
  • How is “class” defined in your host culture?
  • How do foreigners and U.S. Americans integrate into the class structure of your host culture?
  • Do you have friends from different classes at home? Why or why not?
  • Who would you like to meet in your host culture? What do you want to learn?
  • How might a cultural shift in perceptions about “class” impact you and your experience abroad?

Seek out country-specific information by speaking with fellow students who have studied there before and befriend people from your host country to learn common perceptions. Also be sure to spend some time researching class issues in your host country before you depart.

Students with Disabilities

The decision to study abroad is an important one for all students. Students with disabilities should make sure that they are informed about available accommodations before making their final decision. Keep in mind that the most important quality for any study abroad participant is openness. You are going abroad to experience a different way of life, which may include alternative methods of addressing your disability.

Remember that you may experience either more or less independence than you are accustomed to at home. Consider how this will impact you. It will be important to self-advocate and communicate your needs, but also important to remain open to alternative ways to meet your needs. Inform the CAPA staff about the accommodations you require, well in advance of your program start date. Keep the staff updated about any challenges you encounter while abroad.

Prepare yourself by thinking about how you will answer questions about your disability in your host country’s language. Look up key vocabulary words ahead of time. Seek out country-specific information by speaking with fellow students who have studied there before and befriend people from your host country to learn common perceptions. The more you know, the better prepared you will be for the your new environment. Search the internet for additional information. Here are some questions to consider.

  • How does your host culture define disability?
  • How is this different than the way that the U.S. defines disability?
  • What accommodations will be available to you abroad?
  • What accommodations will not be available to you? How will this impact you?
  • How are people with disabilities integrated into society?
  • How do plan to cope with cultural shift and alternative methods for addressing your disability?

Dietary Concerns

In the U.S. a wide range of food is available and ingredients are usually listed on the packaging. When traveling abroad, it is sometimes difficult to maintain a particular diet. Being a vegetarian (or vegan), for example, can mean different things to different people. It is important to be clear and specific when communicating your dietary concerns (I don’t eat meat. I don’t eat red meat. I eat fish. I don’t eat pork. I am lactose intolerant. Etc). Be sure to inform CAPA well in advance of your program start date about your dietary needs. If you plan to stay with a host family it may take some time to find a family that will accommodate your needs. Make certain to also have a conversation with your host family about your dietary concerns upon arrival.

Also take time to consider how your food choices might affect the friends who may invite you to dinner, your host family, or students with whom you will cook in the residence halls. Prepare for situations where ingredient lists are unavailable and for your new acquaintances to challenge your dietary restrictions. It is a good idea to be prepared to discuss your dietary concerns in your host country’s language and to strategize methods to cope with the stress of possibly having less access to the foods in your regular diet.

Living in an Urban Environment

For many students, the greatest shift in studying abroad is moving from the community in which they live – be it their hometown, their campus community, etc. into a major world city. Consider the environment in which you currently live relative to the size of the city in which you will be living. What is the significance of this change? While obviously there are logistic considerations, such as the length of an average daily commute, and the size of living spaces, there are other considerations as well. In many cities, it can mean that each neighborhood might have a distinct subset of cultural representation and social norms.

It means preparing yourself for the expectation that you will encounter people of all different backgrounds and beliefs. It might mean that the way in which you are accustomed to accessing resources in the United States will need to change to accommodate the fact that you live among a large population. If you have lived in a community that is fairly economically homogeneous for the majority of your life, you should consider that this will not be the case in a major global city. It is important to begin to consider and unpack any prejudices that you may even sub/unconsciously carry, and realize that the responsibility is upon you to change these perceptions, rather than for the city itself to change to accommodate you. Arm yourself with information. Research your Global City.

    •  Who lives in the city?
    • How do people live there?
    • Why do people live there?
    • What differences are there between this Global City and the place in which you live now?

Culture Shock & Shift


Everyone goes through different stages as they adjust to a new country and culture, regardless of where they previously lived.  Common stages are as follows:

  1. Initially, you are excited about being in a new culture, also known as the honeymoon phase.  You hold very high expectations and an extremely positive attitude toward the host country and people.  You focus mainly on similarities between the cultures.
  2. Then after the honeymoon ends, you may become irritated by particular customs or values.  You may feel hostility and focus on differences between how things are done in your host culture and your own cultural understanding of how things “should” be done.  Minor incidents are often blown out of proportion and you may react negatively.
  3. Gradually, you orient yourself and begin to open up to more of the complexities of living in another culture, both the positive and negative aspects.  Your outlook brightens and things become comfortable and familiar.
  4. Finally, your attitude changes and you are able to confidently function in both cultures.  You enjoy living and experiencing life in a multitude of ways and appreciate diverse worldviews.

Culture Shock

Studying abroad and interacting with diverse cultures can be an exciting experience, but it can simultaneously feel jarring to constantly interact with others who do not share your worldview, values, and customs.  When a person shifts to a new culture, they are uprooted from the comfortable and familiar surroundings of home and transplanted, voluntarily or otherwise, to a different cultural setting. The majority of travelers residing in another culture for an extended amount of time encounter some of the following physical and psychological reactions when shifting to a new culture.

Signals of Culture Shock and Shift

  • Homesickness (longing to be where everything is comfortable and familiar)
  • Compulsive eating and drinking to excess
  • Irritability and excessive need for sleep
  • Boredom (no discovery of new aspects of the culture)
  • Hostility and stereotyping of host country nationals
  • Avoiding contact with host country nationals and seeing only other Americans
  • Inability to perform work efficiently
  • Tension and conflict with those around you
  • Unexplained crying/depression or physical problems

Some common frustrations that occur when shifting to a new culture

  • Finding your goals to be unrealistic in a different culture
  • Realizing your approach is inappropriate, despite good intentions
  • Not being able to see any results after working hard
  • Feeling involved in a project for too short a time to make any qualitative impact

Some routine interactions that may cause discomfort in a new culture

  • Differences in customer service
  • Understanding new accents or the language (including British English)
  • Understanding people’s mannerisms and how to respond to them
  • Distinguishing a serious statement from one meant to amuse
  • Having to rely on public transportation
  • Sense of time/different value placed on punctuality/response time
  • Doing laundry and food shopping
  • Gender, class, race, (etc) relations
  • The attitudes of host country nationals towards Americans in their land
  • Different values or attitudes to things such as religion

Strategies for Addressing Culture Shock

Everyone experiences the above symptoms to varying degrees. You will be able to adjust to the local culture more easily if you anticipate and welcome cultural differences and prepare in advance for how you will deal with potential frustrations:

  • Learn about the culture.  Find out all you can by talking with people from that culture, read guidebooks, talk with other students who have visited there, seek out additional resources, and search the Internet.  Ask yourself in what ways the information you found may be biased and why.
  • Journal about your expectations based on your research.  Then try to look for areas where you may have made assumptions.  Why do you have those assumptions?  What other possibilities exist?
  • Make of list of things you can do to reduce stress (journaling, going for a walk, practicing yoga, listening to music, playing cards, knitting, collecting items for scrap-booking, talking with friends, writing letters, etc).
  • Pack some small (and not too valuable) items from home; plan to use them to relax when you are feeling stress.
  • Pack your sense of humor.  You will make lots of mistakes, but it’s okay and all part of the learning experience!
  • Be able to laugh at yourself and the circumstances you encounter!  If you are not able to laugh, try a half-smile which has been proven to trigger a positive mood change.
  • Set realistic goals for yourself.  Realize your expectations may not be met.  Prepare for an adventure every day and to learn from all the different situations you may encounter.
  • Practice going with the flow and living in the moment.  Be prepared to tolerate ambiguity.  And don’t forget to relax and have fun!

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