I get a lot of the same questions about studying abroad, so I thought it would be useful to post and answer the five most common questions I am asked by students as they prepare to study abroad.
1) How do I exchange and access money abroad?
The easiest way to access cash while in a foreign country is the ATM. Using the ATM ensures that you will receive the fairest and most up-to-date exchange rate. If you try to exchange cash on site or cash travelers checks you will deal with inconsistent exchange rates and fees. It is also less convenient than ATMs, which just like home, are everywhere. I do recommend exchanging $200 before leaving the country, that way you have cash for transportation and food when you arrive. Please note, YOU MUST LET YOUR BANK KNOW YOU ARE LEAVING THE COUNTRY prior to departure or your bank will deactivate your debt/credit card. While credit cards are useful, you will find many smaller businesses except only cash or charge a service fee for using a credit card. Cash is the best way to go!
2) How much money do I need?
This question is always difficult to provided one answer. It really depends on the individual and their lifestyle. But, generally you will need enough money to cover meals, snacks and beverages, optional trips, souvenirs/shopping, and entertainment (e.g. nightlife). Cooking in your apartment is a great way to save money. The best way to set a budget is to decide what you will need to spend on a daily basis and then multiply by the number days you will be abroad.
To give you a general idea of what things cost in Italy: a cappuccino 1-2, a panini 3-5, soda about 2, water 1-2, and a basic lunch or dinner entree in a restaurant 8-12. Remember these price estimates are in EUROS! To make your life easier, I recommend you decided how much money you have to spend in dollars, then convert that entire amount into euros (http://www.xe.com) prior to departure. While you are abroad, subtract your expenses from this amount, which is already in euros. Trying to keep track of the conversion on every transaction you make is exhausting and often leads to mistakes!
3) Do I have to carry my passport on me at all times?
No! If you are staying in a safe and secure place (if you are traveling with me, you will be!) it is better to leave your passport locked in your room. It is more likely that you will be pickpocketed in Italy before your apartment is robbed. However, I always recommend that you make several copies of your passport. If you aren’t carrying your actual passport, you should always have a copy on you. You will have to bring your passport when you travel to another city. Italian law requires hotels register the passports of every tourist. Again, once you are settled in your hotel, it is better to leave it behind than carry it with you to tourist attractions where pickpockets like to hang out.
4) What about my appliances and electronics?
Electricity in Europe is 220-240 volts, 50 hertz. Electricity in the U.S. is 110 volts. An adapter simply allows you to put American plugs into European sockets (think flat peg into a round hole). Voltage converters actually convert voltage—from 220 to 110 or vice versa. Any item that does not specify that it is dual voltage will require BOTH an adapter and voltage converter.
Every year students swap tragic stories of how their straighteners and blow dryers died, melted, or caught on fire! Even when students use both a plug adapter and a voltage converter, hair electronics never seem to function properly. Since many of these devices cost a small fortune, my advice – don’t bring them, or bring a less expensive version you don’t mind throwing away. If you have roommates, consider dividing the cost of a European blow dryer or straightener. A bonus to not bringing these devices is that your suitcase will be lighter!
Computers, iPhones, iPads and most cell phones are all pre-wired to work on both 110 volts (American) and 220 volts (European). These devices will function properly with just a plug adaptor.
5) How do I call home?
There are several ways to call home: First, you can speak with your domestic cell phone provider and upgrade to an international plan.These are often quite expensive and best saved for emergency calls and texts. Second, international cell phones can be rented or purchased through a variety of providers. Cellular Abroad and PicCell Wireless are two examples. Finally, you can go the old fashion way and purchase phone cards from local Tabbacchi shops. They typically cost 5 Euros and have approximately 20 minutes of calling time. But I still advise students to rely mostly on email!
If you have any other travel or study abroad related questions, don’t hesitate to ask or email me!