Transit and Immigration
- What's important to know about passports?
Passports are required for international travel. This is your most important legal document when you are out of your home country. Do not travel away from your program site, and most definitely do not attempt to cross international borders without your passport.
If you already have a passport, check the expiration date. Your passport must be valid at least six months after the date of return from your study abroad program. Check how many blank pages are remaining in your passport. If you have four or fewer pages, you should have additional pages added to your passport.
The U.S. State Department website includes details for: applying for first-time passport, renewing or replacing lost or stolen passports, adding pages to an existing passport, or correcting/changing passport information.
Processing of passports and renewals often take months. It’s best to apply for a new passport or renewal as soon as possible.
- Do I need a visa?
In certain countries, you will need a student visa to study abroad. Your program will provide guidance about deadlines, important documents and other visa requirements. Be sure to follow their instructions carefully, and don't put it off to the last minute! Some student visas are relatively easy to obtain, while others take months to prepare for. If you are an international student, check on the website of your host country's embassy whether students of your nationality require a visa to study in that country.
Please contact your program with any questions about the visa process. If your program does not provide visa instructions, please contact the Global Engagement Office.
- What is a "transit visa"?
You may need a Direct Airside Transit Visa (DATV) if you’ll be changing flights without going through immigration control. If you are planning to transit through certain countries, make sure to check if you are required to obtain any type of airport transit visa well in advance based on your country of citizenship. Before you depart the United States, it is crucial to check the relevant website of the embassy for each country that you are traveling through. This type of visa typically requires a processing fee and may take weeks to process. Travel agencies and Swarthmore College are not responsible for transit visas.
- Can I book/purchase my own travel for study abroad?
No. Students must book their airfare through Swarthmore's study abroad travel agency, Key Travel. If you purchase your own airfare, Swarthmore will not be able to reimburse you for this expense.
- When can I begin booking my flights?
After clearing their post-admission requirements with the Global Engagement Office, students will be prompted to book their travel through Key Travel. At this point, you should have received definite arrival and departure dates for your program.
Tip: travel arrangements should not be made before reviewing how the visa process may affect your travel plans (if applicable).
- How will the flight booking process work?
Please wait for instructions from Swarthmore to begin the process. As an overview, the process will involve the following steps:
- Email a form to Key Travel that specifies your flight preferences (e.g., dates/times and locations).
- Receive flight options from Key Travel, as well as a message from Swarthmore about which options are approved.
- Select a Swarthmore-approved flight. If the flight is above the “fare threshold,” pay the cost difference between the flight and the threshold (see next section).
- Receive your e-tickets from Key Travel.
- Will Swarthmore cover the cost of my flight?
Global Engagement covers the equivalent of the cost of a round trip flight from Philadelphia to the host city. You do not need to depart from Philadelphia, but will only be covered up to the cost of this route.
Using airfare averages for a changeable ticket on this route on the official arrival/departure dates, the Global Engagement Office will calculate a "fare threshold" for each student's flights. This provides students flexibility to depart from their preferred city and identify their preferred dates and carriers.
If a student's preferred flight is less than the "fare threshold," Swarthmore will cover their full ticket. If a student's preferred flight is more than the "fare threshold," the student will only be responsible for the difference between fares. When Key Travel contacts you regarding your booking arrangements, you will be informed of the “fare threshold” if any flight options you receive are above this threshold.
Once you have been authorized by GEO, do not delay in moving forward with your flight arrangements. If you delay purchasing your flights and the costs go up, you will not be given additional funds.
Outside of Swarthmore's purchase of airfare, each student's "study abroad budget" will also include funds to cover transportation to/from the airport as required.
- If I need to change my flight, who pays for change fees?
Sometimes travel plans change and you may want to adjust your dates after your flight has been ticketed. In such cases, the costs for changing flights will be covered by the student, not by Swarthmore. In contrast, when a change is instead due to a change in the program or the result of a health/safety issue, these change fees would be covered by Swarthmore.
- Who pays for luggage fees?
The Global Engagement Office will cover the cost of up to two checked bags, as necessary. If your second bag is not included as part of your initial ticket, submit your receipts for reimbursement through the study abroad portal.
However, GEO will not cover the cost of overweight bags. To avoid surprises in the terminal, it is always wise to weigh your bags prior to check in at the airport.
Note that budget airlines may have lower baggage allowances. Make sure you know the limits on the weight and amount of luggage. If luggage is overweight, you will have to pay very expensive fees. Budget airlines work better for shorter trips once you are abroad, when you may be less concerned about the amount of luggage you have with you. Your baggage allowance might change, and fees for checked bags may be greater on connecting flights after your first international flight.
Dates and Location
- Is there flexibility on my program start date and end date?
You are subject at all times to the policies of the host institution. Under no circumstance are you allowed to negotiate a different start or end date to your program. You are required to take final examinations according to the scheduled program timetable. Conflicting start dates of summer jobs and internships are NOT considered valid reasons to request an early dismissal from the program. You may be able to arrive in your host country earlier than the program start date and/or remain following the program end date.
- Is there flexibility on my flight dates?
Under no circumstance are you allowed to arrive in your host country after your program start date or depart before your program end date.
You may arrive in your host country earlier than the program start date or depart later than the end date, but it is YOUR responsibility to do the following:
- Check whether your visa is valid during your extended stay
- Secure your own housing outside program dates
- Purchase extended insurance abroad
- Pay all other fees associated with your extended stay (e.g., meals).
Swarthmore is not responsible for any safety, financial, or other aspect of students’ stay abroad outside program dates.
- Is there flexibility on my departure location?
You may depart from any location of your choosing, but keep in mind that you might need to pay part of the cost (see above: “Will Swarthmore cover the cost of my flight?”). Flights booked by Key Travel must always arrive in your program location before or on the program start date, and depart from the program location on or after the program end date.
Swarthmore’s “fare threshold” for Key Travel will be based on a round-trip flight to/from the program site. With that said, it is possible to book a ticket that includes an inbound flight to your host city from one gateway with a return flight terminating at a separate gateway (from your host city). Note that a more complicated itinerary may result in costs above/beyond those covered by the program.
- Is there flexibility on my arrival location?
It is Swarthmore's responsibility to provide international airfare to a student's program city or proximate airport. We are unable to approve any itinerary that arrives at an alternate location and/or includes an extended stopover in a site other than the program base.