It's no secret that studying abroad in Spain is awesome. Preparing for study abroad? Still pretty awesome, though it does take a bit of legwork. Before you set off to this new and wonderful land of jamon, bull fights, and flamenco, you get to day dream about all the things you want to do, places you want to go, and foods you want to try. For Spain, the ideas of “maybe that weekend, I’ll go to Madrid and see Picasso’s paintings!” or “I think I’m in the mood to eat paella on the Valencian coast today” is enough to get your blood pumping.
While researching Spain before my departure, I could not believe the amount of monuments and incredible places there were just within the borders. Unfortunately, all of this day dreaming can result in a pretty hefty price tag if you’re not careful. Something as simple as choosing between Barcelona or Madrid will affect the financial commitments of your study abroad semester (though you may find a smaller city fits your taste).
With the amount of awesomeness in one country, it can get overwhelming for you and your bank account. Here are 9 tips for budgeting that will help you experience everything you’ve been day dreaming while studying abroad in Spain about without going broke.
1. Check your banks’ international fees
Some banks will reimburse you for up to 6 international ATM transactions a month. Others? They’ll leave you hanging. This is an easy way to lose money if you’re not aware of it. Check if your US bank has an alliance with a bank in Spain since this could eliminate some ATM fees too. Also, opening up a Spanish bank account could save money by giving you a local debit card. By only exchanging a large sum of money once, you avoid those pesky, constantly-changing exchange rates and bank fees. I recommend Barclays, but other popular banks include Banco Santander and La Caixa.
2. Research your absolutely, hands down, cannot-miss experiences
After determining your ‘musts’, make sure you set aside money in the beginning so that regardless of when you take the trip, you’ll have the funds to do it. It’s an awful feeling when you realize in the last two weeks of study abroad that you can’t do one of your ‘musts’ because you're out of money. “What do you mean I can’t see the Palacio Nazaríes at La Alhambra because a ticket costs the amount that I spent in ATM fees?!” No one wants to be stuck in that situation, so plan ahead.
3. Make friends with the locals early on
Since they live in the city you’re studying abroad in, they already have their favorite spots - which are almost always cheaper. You’ll find new places, make new friends, and improve your Spanish. Great ways to meet locals are through activities sponsored by your university such as language exchanges and sports competitions.
4. Embrace the tapa
The Spanish tapa is one of my favorite things in life. No exaggeration. Tapas are little plates of food you get whenever you buy a drink other than coffee, tea, or water. In southern Spain, especially in Granada, tapas are free! Yes, free food with a beverage of your choice. Some places give you a plate of assorted cheese and olives or even a whole sandwich. Madrid and Barcelona have tapas too, but they're not always free so make sure to check. Going out for tapas with friends is a great way to grab dinner for less than 6 euro!
5. Take advantage of the Menu del Día
At lunchtime in Spain, menus of the day are a great option. They are normally 8-11 Euros and include an appetizer, main platter, either dessert or bread, and sometimes a drink. They have specials each day so it’s more manageable to choose from than a huge list of items. Just be aware of the outside terrace and bread on the table! Some restaurants will charge you for what we consider courtesy bread as well as sitting outside since it´s in higher demand.
6. Learn to shop at the local markets for meals
Picture this: you’re sitting in Plaza Mayor in Madrid at dusk and enjoying a great meal. You ask for the check and see that this picturesque scene has cost 40 Euros. Talk about a buzz kill! Instead, find a seat underneath one of the lamp posts and enjoy some fresh baked bread, Serrano ham, and cheese from the market down the street. This is a much cheaper option, and you'll still be able to enjoy the city. Check out Madrid’s Mercado de San Miguel or Barcelona´s famous La Boqueria market located right off of the main La Rambla strip for a great assortment of food.
7. Choose a low-cost provider and prep financially
There are many ways to study abroad on a budget even before you've left for Spain. For one, you should actively be applying for any study abroad grants and scholarships applicable to your program (psst, Go Overseas offers a $500 scholarship twice annually!). You can also opt to do a bit of fundraising or get a part-time job and start saving for your trip.
One option many students overlook is selecting a study abroad provider that's offerings are cheaper than the others. Keep in mind the price tags as you're choosing a program, but don't let that be the end all be all - be sure to read reviews of programs to determine which is the most bang for your buck. Here's a good place to start your program research:
8. Research the free activities in your Spanish city
Going into major debt just because of study abroad is a no-no. If you know you’re budget is pretty tight, look up free things to do in your city!
In Barcelona, their buildings are works of art in themselves and they’re free to look at. Take a Gaudi walking tour of the city one day. If you’re in Valencia during March, the Las Fallas celebration that takes place all throughout the city is free! The Albaycín neighborhood of Granada could provide a full day of wandering through the Moorish neighborhoods’ cobblestone streets and markets. Reach the top and you're rewarded with an incredible view of La Alhambra and the city.
Spain also has a lot of museums - many of them have student discounts or free entry on certain days of the week. It’s important to realize that having fun in your host city doesn’t have to break the bank.
9. Bus it!
A great, cheaper way to get around Spain is traveling by bus. Buses don’t require as much money or pre-planning as other international trips. You could take a day trip to the beach or to the mountains for hiking. If you´re interested in going further, you can grab a bus from Madrid to Barcelona for around 30 Euro. Buses aren´t just great for day and longer trips but also for daily life. Most major cities have a re-loadable bus card you can get for 2-5 Euros; afterwards, you pay a discounted price for every ride. Some places, like Granada, even allow you to turn in your card when you’re done and get the deposit back!
While researching Spain before my departure, I could not believe the amount of monuments and incredible places there were just within the borders. Unfortunately, all of this day dreaming can result in a pretty hefty price tag if you're not careful.
Studying abroad in Spain doesn't mean that you need to spend your life savings in four months. Planning ahead and researching a little before your trip will go a long way in saving you money. It’s good to think outside of the box, too. A good study abroad experience isn’t defined by the amount of 5 star hotels or restaurants that you go to. It’s about the people you meet and the memories you make. Those friendships and experiences are worth much more than money could ever buy you.