Studying abroad! It can mean backpacking across Latin America, learning new languages in Europe or cruising on a ship around the world. Whether you go to experience new cultures or just the under-21 drinking ages, it can be life changing.
I am shipping out to Hannover, Germany in less than three weeks and I am beginning to realize that despite what an easy and affordable escape Study Abroad can be, the responsibilities of life still don’t stop. Fortunately, there are a lot of ways to legally protect you from trouble abroad and at home.
Every student who goes abroad should first establish Powers of Attorney (POA). These documents give trusted individuals the power to make decisions on your behalf if you are unable or incapacitated. There are two types of POAs, and for a traveling student the most important is the Financial POA. In this, you name selected individuals (students generally select their parents or guardians) as “agents” or “attorneys-in-fact” who are authorized to make financial decisions in your absence. This includes filing taxes, settling rent or housing issues, and other transactions. You have the option to make the POA effective immediately upon signing (General Durable POA), or delay it until you may become incapacitated (“Springing” POA). Study Abroad students should have a POA that is effective immediately.
You could limit the POA to specific transactions, but for most students a broader POA is best as it is impossible to anticipate every issue that may come up. Just because you weren’t thinking of tax season when flying out in September or January doesn’t mean the IRS will forgive its deadline.
This does not mean that you “sign away” any of your rights. The Colorado Bar Association compares the Financial Power of Attorney to having a second set of car keys: you don’t lose your ability to drive the car, but someone else has access to the car as well. You are free to take back the car keys at any time. It is important to remember, however, that the person you name as your agent has access to your personal finances while the POA is in place and that they should be someone you trust. You should take copies of your POA documents with you abroad, but leave the originals with your agent.
The second type of POA is the Medical Power of Attorney. The agents that you designate in this document have the power to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are unable. In drafting the Medical POA you can be as specific as you would like about certain medical procedures. The attorneys at Student Legal Services say, however, that young people who haven’t faced a lot of health issues may prefer a non-specific General Medical POA.
There are versions of these POAs available to purchase online (one provided by the Bradford Publishing Company), but it is always best to consult an attorney when creating and signing any kind of binding legal document. Student Legal Services in Room 182 of the Lory Student Center provides appointments to create POAs at no cost to full-time, fee-paying CSU Students.
Here are a few additional tips to keep yourself out of legal trouble once you are in your new home-away-from-home:
– Know the local laws and legal customs, and stay out of trouble! You are subject to their laws, not the United States’, and you don’t want to be the next American college student on the news for suffering through some bizarre form of local punishment.
– Keep track of all of your important documents and make copies of them. Many countries require everything from your birth certificate to health insurance papers to obtain visas and to travel, and you should always keep them in a safe place. Make copies of everything from your passport to credit cards, and give the copies to someone who can fax them to you from home.
– Beware of pickpockets! Especially in Spain, Italy and Latin American countries, these thieves are skilled. In one scam, they work in teams of two with one sleazy looking character making you feel uncomfortable, while the other watches you involuntarily check your passport and money. They see where you keep them, and later make the grab.
– Vote! Arrange (or have your attorney-in-fact arrange) with your county election board to vote absentee while gone.
Above all, stay safe, avoid exotic diseases and have fun! It is one of the few times in life you can up and move to a foreign country with few strings attached. Eating new food, speaking a new language, seeing world-renowned sights, and earning credit for it.
Maybe I will send you a postcard.
This column is provided by Student Legal Services. It appears every other Monday in the Collegian. To learn more about the services offered by SLS or to make an appointment, visit their office in Room 182, Lory Student Center, and visit their Web site at www.sls.colostate.edu.