Passports, Visas and Immigration
All students must have a valid passport in order to study abroad. Your passport should remain valid for at least 6 months after you will return from abroad at the end of your program. U.S. passport application forms are available from any U.S. Post Office that serves as a passport agent. For students at Skidmore, the West Avenue Post Office offers this service (tel: 518-584-1545). Students at other schools should check with their local post office to see where the nearest passport office is located.) The application process can take up to takes 6-8 weeks, and some applicants must appear in person. For an extra fee, your application can be expedited. Passport applications and instructions are available online.
How to Obtain a Passport (PDF, 13kb)
It is a good idea to make several (black and white) photocopies of your passport and keep them in separate locations. This way you will have a full record of your passport number and other information that will help to expedite its replacement if you ever lose your passport. When traveling abroad, it is best to leave one copy of your passport with someone in the U.S. and keep another copy with you, but apart from your actual passport. You should register your passport at the local American embassy or consulate upon arrival if your program does not provide this service for you.
In addition to a passport, some students will need a visa to enter the program's host country.
What is a visa?
A visa is an official authorization appended to a passport, permitting entry into and travel within a particular country or region for a specified period of time to do a specific thing (i.e. study, work, be a tourist).
Your program provider should inform you about visa requirements for your destination country, if any, and all application procedures. Without a visa, you would most likely be turned away at the border. The application process for a visa varies from country to country and may be long. The process can also be unpredictable, so it is a good idea plan ahead and to start the application process as early as possible—most often applicants are permitted to apply only 90 days/3 months prior to departure.
Remember that you must present a valid passport along with your visa application that the consulate will likely keep until your visa is ready. This could be 3 hours, three days, or the full three months.(NOTE: Applying for a visa does not guarantee that you will be granted a visa. Consult closely with your program provider throughout the visa application process and immediately notify your provider, and Skidmore's OCSE, if you are denied a visa. Visa denial will result in canceled study abroad plans.)
If you will travel to other foreign countries while you are abroad, you should find
out about entry requirements for those countries before you leave the U.S. Many Western European countries do not require visas for U.S. citizens entering as
tourists and staying less than 3 months. However, many other countries in Europe and
elsewhere in the world will require a tourist visa, in addition to a passport, for
any length of stay. Many countries now have their visa requirements online. Check
out Project Visa for a list of foreign consulates and embassies worldwide.
Some students may choose to use a private passport/visa agency to assist in the processing and/or expediting of a visa or passport application. Below is a list of these agencies:
- CIBT:This agency offers discounted rates to Skidmore students and will answer general application questions at no cost by calling (887) 535-0688
- A Briggs Passport & Visa Expeditors
- Perry International
- Passport Express
Skidmore does not and cannot endorse any of these agencies; Please do careful research before you choose one of these agencies. NOTE: Not all countries permit applicants to use a visa agency. If your destination country requires visa applicants to appear in-person to apply for a visa, you will not be able to utilize the services of a visa agency. Be sure to clarify this point when you contact the agency.
Entering the Host Country / Immigration
When you depart the U.S. and when you arrive at your host country, you will pass through Customs and Immigration.
Customs is a country's method of regulating the goods and currency brought into or
taken out of that country. Immigration, on the other hand, establishes that you are
legally entitled to enter/reside in that country for a specified period of time. At
many airports, Customs and Immigration are handled simultaneously, but occasionally
you may be asked to go through both procedures/checkpoints separately. Remember, honesty
is still the best policy in the customs business – do not try to bring items into
a country that are forbidden, like fresh fruits and vegetables or an animal.
When you leave a country, you will again go through Customs and Immigration checks. Your visa will be canceled and you will declare what goods you have purchased while abroad. When you reenter the U.S., you will go through U.S. Customs at your port of entry (i.e. the first U.S. airport at which you land). Each person is usually entitled to transport up to $800 worth of goods into the United States duty free, although there are some exceptions to this rule. Purchases exceeding that amount are subject to duty taxes. If you plan to buy a lot of items while abroad, you should retain all of your receipts as proof of what you paid. For more information on Customs, visit the U.S. Customs and Border Protection travel Web site.