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Travel Documents

Your travel documents are your permits to travel the world. They're the most important pieces of ID you'll carry while abroad. Having the right documentation, a passport and, depending on where you are headed, a visa is critical for getting in and out of the country you visit.

Make sure you do your homework on what you need well before you go.  Planning ahead will save you a lot of headache, and possibly heartache, later on.


A passport is an internationally recognized travel document that verifies the identity and nationality of the bearer. A valid U.S. passport is required to enter and leave most foreign countries. Only the U.S. Department of State has the authority to grant, issue or verify U.S. passports.

Give yourself several months before your planned trip to apply for a passport; during peak application times it can take up to 10-12 weeks to receive in the mail. Take into account the fact that demand for passports goes up during spring and summer. See the U.S. Department of State passport site for further information.


A visa is an endorsement stamped on your passport by foreign customs officials that allows you to visit that country. It can be obtained from foreign consulates in the U.S. or in other countries and is issued for a specific purpose, such as work, travel, tourism or study. Even if you are only planning to travel for a short time, some countries require a visa, especially if you're traveling in Asia or Latin America. Many types of visas exist based on country and type and length of visit.

Tips on Securing a Student Visa
  • Start gathering required documents for a student visa application the moment you are accepted to a program.
  • Each consulate sets its own timeline for accepting and processing applications. Know the earliest and latest dates an application can be submitted. Typically, you may not be allowed to apply more than 60-90 days before the program begins.
  • Student visa requirements, processes and even deadlines can change suddenly, so submit the application at the earliest date the consulate will accept.
  • Follow all requirements given by the consulate. Arrange application and accompanying paperwork in the exact order instructed.
  • Make copies of all documents.
  • Students often need to apply for a visa in person at the Consulate or Embassy. Please make the International Programs Office aware if you are having a difficult time getting an appointment with a consulate.

Schengen Visa

If you are traveling to the Schengen Area (most of Western Europe), we advise you to familiarize yourself with the restrictions on periods of stay and the ability to do back-to-back programs or extended travel before or after your program. The guideline to know regarding travel within the Schengen region for US citizens is that you can visit Schengen countries for a total of 90 days over the course of a 180-day period without a visa. The countries in the Schengen area are the following: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal,Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. Once you have arrived in a Schengen country, the 90-day period begins. If you do stay more than 90 days, you are subject to a fine and deportation. After your 90-day visit (cumulative over the 180-day period), you must wait another three months before you can apply to enter the Schengen area again without a visa. In other words, by staying out of the Schengen area for an uninterrupted period of 90 days, you will be allowed to begin a new period of stay for up to 90 days within the 180-day period.

Scenarios (adapted from
  1. My U.S. student will study in a Schengen country in a program lasting 85 days and, therefore, does not need to apply for a visa. He would like to travel in Europe in the Schengen area for an additional 14 days. May he do so?
No. The rules are very clear and strict. He may remain in the Schengen area for up to 90 days in a 180-day period. Hefty fines have been imposed on individuals who overstayed and some have been barred from returning to the Schengen area for a year and up to 10 years. 
May the student apply for a national visa to be able to stay the extra time?
No. National study visas are for study terms of more than 90 days so the student will not qualify for the visa.
  1. My U.S. student will participate in two study programs in two different Schengen countries. The first program is in December and is three weeks long, and the second program begins in April and is 10 weeks long. Can my student enter the Schengen area on a tourist visa for the first program and apply for a national visa for the second to be able to remain in the Schengen area for more than 90 days?
No. Each program is less than 90 days so it is not possible to apply for a national visa. Together, the two program lengths are more than 90 days, which is in violation of the Schengen short-stay time limit. The student may only participate in one of the programs.
The European Union has a calculator to help you figure this out and can be found at
Disclaimer:  The staff of the International Programs office are not immigration experts. We are providing this information based on what we have learned on multiple occasions working with students or others who are traveling in the Schengen area and/or are trying to figure out a way to get around the requirement. By ignoring these rules and illegally overstaying, you are risking penalties, either financial or a ban on return travel for a period of time, depending on the mood of the immigration official you might face when you do depart the country.

GeoBlue Insurance Card

At Union, we place a high priority on the health and well-being of students. In order to insure that students have appropriate coverage, International Programs partners with GeoBlue to provide health and emergency evacuation services to Union College students who study abroad outside of the U.S. After being accepted into a study abroad program, visit the GeoBlue website to:

  • Register to use the Member Site Tools
  • Print your insurance card
  • Get a claim form
  • Search for a doctor
  • Check the status of a claim
  • Learn about health information at destination and view a CityHealth Profile
  • Understand the security risks at destination and view a GeoBlue Security Profile
  • Translate medical terms, phrases and drugs from one language to another
  • Prepare for and learn about travel and health issues
  • Read up-to-date health, security and education news
  • Read host country culture resources