“Perfection is the enemy of progress.” As I have been preparing for Austria, this has gone through my head and guided me. This preparation for Austria will be my main focus, because — at the time of writing — I am not actually in Austria.
While it may seem odd to write an Austria adventure that did not happen in Austria, it shows a new side to Austria adventures: the preparation. Preparing for the big jump across the Atlantic, I have figured out all the details I can without going insane, while leaving enough to see in Austria itself.
Get a Passport
I do not know why it is not a requirement for every US citizen to have a passport. Not having a passport only holds you back, as seen by most students who could not join me on my many Canadian adventures. In contrast, there are only benefits to getting a passport today, even if you wait three years to go to Austria. Since acquiring a passport requires a lot of stamps from the US government, it is not a quick endeavor. It is painful to see students scramble to understand and fill out the paperwork and payment for the passport, praying it processes and ships in time. Procrastinating is for class; get the passport paperwork over with now.
Lines are awful. I refuse to endure more than I really need to suffer. While TSA security may seem both daunting and frustrating, the US government has provided an escape (sort of). There is a program for expedited entry through TSA security called TSA Precheck.
There is also an expedited process through customs called Global Entry, which includes TSA Precheck. And for expedited entry to and from Canada, there is NEXUS, which includes both Global Entry and TSA Precheck. As an Austrian-bound student, it may seem silly to join a Canadian program. However, it is simply cheaper than the other two options, NEXUS costing $50 for five years as opposed to $85 or $100. Having NEXUS has made going through TSA security a breeze, and I hope to experience similar ease when going through customs.
However, in order to acquire NEXUS, besides needing a passport (which you should have anyway), you will need to attend a short interview with government officials at a location along the Canadian border. Going from submitting the online form to scheduling an appointment can take months. This teaches an important lesson about government processes: starting early is crucial. While the trip to Ontario may seem daunting, Ontario has nice people, beautiful sights, a St. Therese shrine and a lower drinking age (hint hint). Also, you may want to get a Scotiabank account to deal with…
Get a Good Checking Account and Credit Card
Oh, international banking with its fees galore! It is hard enough to stay attentive to the currency exchange rate, never mind how I will spend my exchanged currency! Figuring out how to bring my money from my US bank to European shops, I asked many questions about withdrawals and charges (some of which have stumped my local tellers).
In Europe, using an ATM or charging a debit or credit card to pay for something can incur a fee, often $5 for ATMs and 3 percent for charges. However, these can be avoided or mitigated. First, to avoid ATM fees, join a large bank, particularly one that is part of some kind of ATM alliance or agreement with other banks. While not all nations or banks may be part of it, it could still be helpful while traveling in Europe. Personally, I use Bank of America, which is a member of such an alliance. With them, I have a student checking account to hold my money for Austria.
However, I wish I could have opened a student account with Scotiabank in Canada. Not only would it have made ATM usage and currency exchange easier in Canada, to where I often retreat during the school year, it is also part of the Global ATM Alliance and explains those policies better. Whichever bank you choose, realize that the alliances and agreements can help you avoid fees but may not completely evade them. While budgeting for my trips, I have prepared to spend just a bit on various fees. However, who wants to use cash with the ever-present thieves to steal it (at least in my mind)? When it is possible, I plan to use my Visa credit card, which has no foreign transaction fee.
I mention the Visa part because other brands may not be accepted. Nearly every shop takes Visa; not all shops accept Discover. For most Austria-bound students, I would recommend getting a Visa credit with no annual, no foreign transaction and useful rewards. A card like that is possible to obtain, even for a university student with zero credit. While “shopping” for banks and cards may become difficult or consuming, for some, it can be an odd source of joy.
The cell phone situation in Gaming is the one with the most concern yet least knowledge. Depending on your current carrier, you may or may not have or be able to add an international plan to your current plan and continue as normal. However, if an international plan would be prohibitively expensive (looking at you, Verizon), then getting a SIM card in Austria may be the best option.
To avoid confusion on what a SIM card is: a SIM card is a little card-looking device in your phone; it is how you get data, phone calls and texts to your phone (why you pay for a plan). No SIM card means no data, calls or texts — even if you have a plan with your carrier. Getting a different SIM card in Austria means, essentially, using a different carrier and plan than your current one. You will replace your current SIM card (keep it) with your European SIM card, unless your phone supports having both. Again, depending on the situation, there are a lot of ways to go about this. For me, I am keeping my Verizon plan — continuing to make payments — and also planning to buy a SIM card from either Drei or Vodafone when I am in Austria. I am not sure exactly where I will get mine. However, it will probably be at a convenience store or in Vienna. I will get a low-cost data-only plan, using WhatsApp to call and text. In your situation, do your research or live by the seat of your pants. Travel has always been what I make it; I hope Austria is the same.