Travel documents

You need a passport to travel outside of the U.S. In addition to a passport, most countries require that students apply for a visa in order to study abroad. Each country has slightly different procedures and rules, and there may be additional requirements to fulfill or permits to obtain once you arrive in the host country.


All IESP programs require students to possess a valid passport. A passport is an internationally recognized travel document that verifies the identity and nationality of the bearer. A valid passport is required to enter and leave foreign countries.

Only the U.S. Department of State has the authority to grant, issue or verify United States passports. To obtain a passport for the first time, you need to go in person to a passport acceptance facility with the required application materials. These are located throughout the United States. You can find the nearest one through the State Department's look-up.

Passports can take anywhere from 3 to 12 weeks to process, so make sure you apply well in advance to your departure. Consult the Department of State’s passport website for more details, including costs and waiting periods.

International students who are pursuing their degree at UW-Madison are also eligible to participate on study abroad programs. They must have a valid passport from their home country, as well as a U.S. visa that allows them to exit and re-enter the United States.


In addition to the passport, which is required for anyone studying abroad, most countries require students on exchange or study abroad programs to have a student visa as well. This policy varies considerably from country to country. For some countires, you must complete an online application, while for others you must submit the application to the consulate in person. This process may be different for international students studying in the United States and going to a third country to study abroad.

You will receive information after acceptance regarding the student visa process, and you can also research the process online. Be aware that each country has different regulations about student visas. It is recommended that you look into this after submitting your application to study abroad so you have a good idea of the timeline, and what documents you will need to submit.

You should also verify which consulate or embassy has jurisdiction for the area in which you reside (typically Wisconsin) so that you can submit your application to the appropriate location. You can look up embassies and consulates by using the embassy electronic recourse system online or by doing a web search.

Here is a generic list of materials needed to obtain a visa, but please note that each country may have additional and slightly different requirements for the visa.

  • A valid passport
  • A completed visa application form, dated and signed by the applicant
  • At least one passport-size photograph
  • Letter of acceptance from the university or college where you plan to study
  • Banking and financial information to show you have enough money to pay for your stay
  • Money order (no personal checks accepted) to pay for visa processing fee
  • Pre-paid, trackable mail service in which to return passport and visa

Be certain to photocopy all of these materials and keep a copy on file.

Also, be aware that even after you have obtained your visa, you may have to take additional steps before your departure and/or after your arrival at your study abroad site. Be sure to ask for information regarding these requirements when you obtain your visa.