Preparing your departure for Paris
Assembling a pre-departure checklist for study abroad can be a challenge. Often this will be the first time students will be visiting a foreign country which means so many unknowns! Depending on whether students will be studying for an entire semester or on one of our short term programs in January or in the Summer, students must keep in mind a different set of needs.
As North American (Americans, Canadians and Mexicans) students, you will need a passport to travel to France. If you do not already hold a passport, you will need to quickly take steps to get this process underway as it can take from several weeks to more than a month once you have turned in all necessary paperwork. Don’t delay on this one!
For those who already have a passport, verify that its expiration date is at least six months beyond the end of your program (if it is less you may not be allowed to fly to France).
For American, Canadian and Mexican nationals, any stay longer than 3 months in France will require a visa. For traveling to the 26 Schengen Treaty countries (the United Kingdon and Ireland are two non-Schengen Treaty countries in Europe and there is no need for a visa Americans, Canadians or Mexicans for a visit of less than 3 months). Obtaining long-stay visas to France can take two months or more to complete, so get started early collecting the required materials and setting up an appointment with the nearest French Consulate or Embassy!
Money Access in Europe
- Discuss with your home bank the possibility of using your ATM or Credit Card for cash withdrawals in France (be sure to ask about potential fees as well as currency exchange charges. Likewise, see if your bank has have a partner bank in France and Europe from which you can withdraw funds for free or lower fees).
- Make sure that you have health insurance that will cover you abroad and includes medical evacuation and repatriation. This will be included in student’s fees for the PICA program for those working with our partners Athena Abroad.
Students may wish to bring their own phones to Europe with them. One option is to sign up for an international service with your home provider. Look carefully at costs for international calls as “roaming fees” can be expensive. Some plans will allow you to select a small number of phone numbers in the U.S. to call at more reasonable prices.
Another option is to bring your phone from home but to buy a new French sim card while in France. There are two important considerations before making this choice.
- Your phone must be unlocked. That is, if your telephone service at home was with Verizon or ATT the phone may need to be unlocked to be able to use with another company.
- It must be a phone that uses the GSM network at home (not CDMA) as Europe only uses the GSM whereas in the U.S. there are two systems. Currently (2018), ATT and T-Mobile are the only major phone companies using GSM. Verizon and Sprint use CDMA. For smaller companies like Boost, Cricket and others, they usually run off one of the big four company systems.
GSMBand / Frequency
GSM cell phones and networks work on GSM bands (frequencies). Cell phones in the US work at GSM 1900 or 850. Cell phones in Europe work on GSM 900 or 1800. You need to make sure that your phone is also set up for the European frequencies for it to work. If you want to use your GSM cell phone in both the US and Europe, get a Quad Band phone (four bands). These cost a little more but offer this extra flexibility of being able to use the same phone in Europe and North America.
SIM (Subscriber Information Module) cards are a small chip that fits into your phone. This chip contains the cell phone number (so if you switch it to another phone, you still have the same number) and your account information. The SIM Card determines the network and phone number the cell phone uses. These can easily be switched in a phone, so you can put in one for Italy, then remove it and put in one for the US.
When you use a cell phone with a SIM card for one country, e.g. Italy, in another country, e.g. France, you are “roaming” and this can lead to expensive phone bills.
Many cell phone companies “lock” their cell phones, so they can only be used with their service. For example, if you buy a T-Mobile phone, you cannot replace the SIM chip with one from AT&T and have the phone work.
Most cell phone providers in the US and Canada lock their cell phones. This means that you cannot change the SIM card. They do this so that you will not get an inexpensive phone from them and then change your cell service. If you plan to use your GSM cell phone in Europe, with a European SIM card, be sure your phone is unlocked. Either buy an unlocked phone or ask your cell provider to unlock the phone or get the phone unlocked another way.
Each company has a different policy for unlocking a phone you bought through them. T-Mobile requires one to fill out a request form (they ask for the IMEI number for the phone, which is found in the battery compartment). This is then followed with an email with a code to be entered into the phone. This unlocks the phone allowing it to be used with a different carrier.
Another last resort method for unlocking your phone (if your provider refuses): search online for “unlock GSM phone” to find sites which give instructions for unlocking your phone for a fee. A standard price is about $30 which is followed by an email with a code and instructions for unlocking. If you choose this route it’s best to only pay via PayPal and not directly with a credit card so you don’t risk a bigger lose than just $30 by giving away your credit card number.
Plug Adapters and Charging Your Phone
Most cell phones, no matter where you buy them, charge on any current. All you need if charging in a different country from where you purchased it, is a plug adapter so you can plug it in to the different electrical outlets. The voltage information is printed on the phone plug. If it says 100 – 240V, then you can use this plug in any country.
You may also be interested in our Money Management Page to help plan your study abroad trip.