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Flying abroad for studies? 6 tips for great campus experience – Moneycontrol.com


Mumbai-born, Abu Dabhi-based student Farhan Parekh has just landed in East Lansing, Michigan, US for his undergraduate college course of software engineering. One of the first things he had to do after landing there, was to take a third vaccine shot. Since he had already taken two vaccine shots of Sinovac, the Chinese vaccine, in Abu Dabhi, he was told to take further two shots, by education counsellors, of Pfizer upon landing in the US. That was just fine for Parekh as he looks forward to attending campus, a year later than normal after having spent the last 12 months in his home in Abu Dabhi attending his university’s first year.

But aside from booster shots, there could be several other surprises waiting for students who are finally ready to board the place to join their campuses abroad, as universities start opening up. Some nasty surprises here or there can also lead to unnecessary expenses.

Here’s a handy checklist for students going abroad:

Carry vaccination certificate and know quarantine norms

This is the most important thing in a Covid-19 world. Carry your vaccine certificate while traveling abroad for studies. You should link the vaccine certificate with your passport as identity verification from Co-Win website.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and 15 countries in the European Union accept Covishield. But, in case you are travelling to a country where Covishield vaccination is not yet approved and mandatory quarantine applies, Adar Poonawalla, the Chief Executive Officer of Serum Institute of India (SII), manufacturer of Covishied vaccination, has set-up financial support for students to pay off quarantine bills. Students in such situation would have to apply for it on SII’s website for financial aid.

As more people get vaccinated, some countries are going easy on quarantine rules. For instance, in the US and Canada, there are no quarantine requirements if a student travels from India and has had both the vaccinations. If you have not taken a vaccine, then you will have to undergo mandatory quarantine as per the foreign country’s regulations. That has now been reduced from 14 days to a week. Some universities are reimbursing the entire cost, or 50 percent of the quarantine cost in foreign countries. For instance, in the UK and Australia, top universities will bear the quarantine cost for international students.

“Quarantine norms vary from country to country and university to university. It’s recommended to inquire about recent norms with your university representative before traveling,” says Arindam Sengupta, Co-founder and CIO at EduFund.

Purchase forex in India

While traveling abroad for studies, carry 30-40 percent of your currency in cash for immediate smaller expenses such as food and cab services. The rest of the money should be loaded on the prepaid forex card. Many students traveling for studies plan the expenses for the short term.

“Because of pandemic year, plan your entire year cash flow before traveling and keep excess amount in cash and on prepaid forex card for uncertainty,” says Sengupta. He adds, while purchasing forex look at the markup. Many people end up paying 3-4% as markup charges, which is an enormous cost.

Sudarshan Motwani, CEO and co-founder of BookMyForex.com says, “Before flying abroad, buy foreign currency in India instead of exchanging currency abroad from banks or airports, since the conversion charges are high.”

Avoid using debit or credit cards; they’re costly

Credit and debit cards are convenient when you swipe them within India. When you take them abroad, they turn costly. For every swipe done abroad, banks charge you a foreign currency conversion fee (up to 3-3.5 per cent for each transaction) and a foreign transaction charge (of around 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent, again for each transaction).

Further, every time you withdraw money from ATMs abroad using your debit/credit card, you pay a withdrawal fee (1 percent to 4 percent of the amount withdrawn) to the bank.

Buy a forex card, instead

Prepaid forex cards, on the other hand, have no forex conversion charges. This is because your currency is already converted before you leave India and loaded in to your card. So, every time you spend abroad, you are spending foreign currency, not Indian rupees converted to foreign currency. The forex cards can be topped up easily by your parents when you are abroad. These cards are secured with a pin.

You can reload the balance on your old forex card with Mastercard as merchant network. “But, check before buying a new forex card from vendors whether they are issuing a card with Visa network and not Mastercard as there is a restriction imposed by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) since July 22,” says Motwani. Buy the forex card from standard place such as banks instead of brick and mortar forex dealer offering the forex prepaid card.

Open a student bank account

Once you settle down, opening a bank account should be your top priority. A student bank account abroad is the safest and most effective way of managing your money, especially when the duration of the course is a year or more. These bank accounts are useful to pay fees to the university every semester and make a deposit from part-time job on the campus.

Because of neo banks, fintech firms in India now allow you to open a US bank account before travelling and you can use it once you get there. Not every country provides such services.

“Before opening an account with the neo bank, know the network of the ATMs in the foreign city you are traveling, check background of the bank and management, etc.,” says Sengupta. There are instances a small local US bank partners with fintech firms in India to get new bank customers.

Most universities have relationships with banks so that international students could open accounts. Research whether the local foreign bank on campus is more beneficial or Indian bank in the foreign city where you would be studying. Compare the charges, services offered, etc. before opening a bank account. Once you have chosen an appropriate bank and opened an account, you can manage your finances with ease.

Take adequate student insurance plan after research

Universities abroad have made it mandatory for international students to have an insurance policy during this pandemic. You can buy it from an Indian insurance company or from a partnered insurance company with the foreign university.

“There are some universities that ask students to buy insurance from them. In such cases, you will have no other option but to accept whatever you are being offered,” says Sumeet Jain, Co-founder and Higher Education Expert at Yocket. It’s essential to know premiums of insurance covers facilitated by foreign universities have risen over the last one year because of the pandemic.

The premium charged by Indian insurance companies is significantly lower compared to the rates offered by foreign insurers. But, if your policy does not meet the requirements laid down by the university, you could face the consequences when in need or emergency. So, before purchasing a policy in India, you must go through the university policy’s features first then, search for an equivalent policy from an Indian insurer at a reasonable cost of premium.

“You must not overlook the minute but vital details in the policy, such as the sub-limits and deductibles while buying the policy,” says Jain.

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