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How Much Does it Cost to Study Abroad?

How times have changed! Studying abroad is no longer the luxury afforded only by an exclusive upper tier of privileged college students. Now, going away for a semester is considered commonplace (if not required) by colleges, universities, and even future employers.
Still, study abroad isn't cheap, and affording study abroad is a common reason why students don't go overseas. But how much does it cost, really, to study abroad?
Based on IIE's list of the Top Ten Destinations of U.S. Study Abroad Students, I thought I'd help you out with a list of what you should expect a semester abroad to cost (after airfare) and saving tips for each of these leading countries:

Note: These estimates and figures are based on direct enrollment and exclude any application, program, and course-related fees, and extra spending money for travel during or after your study abroad program.

1. England

Surprise, surprise! Some of the leading countries to study abroad in are also the most expensive. A semester abroad in England, and especially London, are both at the top of many students' study abroad wish lists -- and the top of pricey places to live. In 2012, London was ranked the 25th most expensive city to live in.
According to the website Study in England, depending on where you live (and how comfortably), a single student’s weekly budget (including rent) can be estimated at $370 USD. But rent won't be your only expense -- let's look at how much a semester in England might cost you.

Particular things to note about the cost of studying abroad in England:
  • Most residents in the UK have to pay a council tax, usually around $40 per week. However, full time students are exempt.
  • Even as an exchange student, you can opt for student housing or look for student accommodation. UniPlaces is one place to look. It's a better deal.
  • Monthly transit passes are usually a better deal. They are also convenient, save you time getting around town, and students almost always get special discounts.

Expense
Estimated Cost
Meals

  • $8 - inexpensive meal (fast food)
  • $15.50 - pub/ restaurant meal
  • $67 - average weekly grocery bill

Monthly rent
$850 - $1,000

Utilities
About $80 per month
Cell phone
About $30 per month
Local transportation
Monthly pass: $60
Personal expenses

  • Pair of jeans: $80
  • 0.5L of beer: $5
  • Cappuccino: $4
  • Movie ticket: $12

Total
Expect to spend about $6,200 - 7,000 for one semester in England after airfare and program fees.
Sources: Cost of Living in England and Accommodation in England.

2. Italy

There’s something magical about studying abroad in Italy, and it must be why it remains high on the list of many study abroaders.
But how much are they spending? How much will you spend? For one, your student visa will be free, which is a plus! Expect to pay anywhere from $600 up to $1,500 for a flight into the country, depending on when you travel and where you’re coming from. Also, if you’re looking for a roommate in country, be sure to check out sites like EasyStanza or Bakeca to save money on housing.

Particular things to note about the cost of studying abroad in Italy:
  • Getting a prepaid local phone is easy. You can add minutes to the phone easily -- even through the ATM! Phones are around $40 and SIM cards $12.
  • Look for student discounts on everything from museums, to bars, and haircuts. You can often score 10 - 20% off.
  • If you plan on traveling, look for special student discounts on trains. You may have to have a special ID from your host country to qualify.

Expense
Estimated Cost
Meals

  • $10 - inexpensive meal (pizza)
  • $56 - date at a mid-range restaurant
  • $50 - average weekly grocery bill

Monthly rent
$450 - $1,200 for a room in an apartment.
Utilities
$140 - $170 per month
Cell phone
About $17 / month
Local transportation
Monthly Pass: $43
Personal expenses

  • Pair of jeans: $92
  • Beer at a pub: $4.50 (hint: wine is cheaper)
  • Cappuccino: $1.50
  • Movie ticket: $10
  • Play: $35

Total
Depending on how much you spend on travel and personal expenses, budget around $4,500 on the low end to up to $7,000 on the high end for a semester in Italy.
Source: Study Abroad Budget for Italy.

3. Spain

Thinking about spending a semester studying Spanish in Barcelona? Or business in Madrid? Generally speaking, studying abroad in Spain is more affordable than most European countries, especially if you do your research and find creative ways to save.

Particular things to note about the cost of studying abroad in Spain:
  • Like other countries in Europe, you can expect to purchase a phone locally for about $30 with a prepaid SIM card. A helpful tip: buy your SIM card together with friends for added discounts.
  • Many university instructors use online or downloadable materials, meaning actual textbooks (and paying for them!) aren't always required for classes.
  • Students often receive discounts on tickets to the opera and other art events. Also, many film theaters have half-price weekly specials worth researching in your area.

Expense
Estimated Cost
Meals

  • $11 - inexpensive meal
  • $50 - for a "splurge" meal
  • $33 - average weekly grocery bill

Monthly rent
$360 to $880 for a room in a shared apartment.
Utilities
About $132 per month
Cell phone
About $22 per month
Local transportation
90-day unlimited pass: about $130
Personal expenses

  • Pair of jeans: $40
  • Glass of wine: $3 - $4.50
  • Cafe con leche: $2
  • Movie ticket: $8

Total

Expect to spend about $4,700 - 6,000 for one semester in Spain after airfare and program fees.

Source: Study Abroad Budget in Spain

4. France

Aside from boasting the most romantic city in the world (oui, Paris!), France also offers a variety of other study abroad options throughout the country. The French are serious about educating the world on their culture (technically French culture is one of the country's major exports...), and as such have some pretty great deals for students -- even discounts on meals out!
One thing to note, however, is that any foreign student wishing to study abroad in France must be able to prove that they have sufficient financial support/resources (typically, you won't be asked to prove this if you go through a provider).
To give you an idea, it is estimated that students will need around $785 - $1,240 per month to live on, depending on where the university is (Paris is on the higher end).

Particular things to note about the cost of studying abroad in France:
  • Every international student needs medical insurance. Insurance in France will cost you anywhere from $145 to $785 per year, depending on your age. You could already be covered overseas by your normal insurance, though, so take a look at that before paying double for insurance.
  • You should have a functional level of French if you’re studying there. If you’re not already taking French classes at your university, you should probably budget for additional French language classes. You might also consider seeking out a peer for a free language exchange (ie: English lessons for French lessons).
  • Looking to travel across the country while you’re in France? The ridesharing website Covoiturage allows you to travel cheaper than the bus or train. Looking up student discounts on fares in your area is also worth the effort.

Expense
Estimated Cost
Meals

  • $13 - inexpensive meal
  • $56 - date at a mid-range restaurant
  • $36 - average weekly grocery bill

Monthly rent
$375 - $600 for a dorm room or a room in a shared apartment.
Utilities
About $159 per month
Cell phone
About $22 per month
Local transportation
Monthly pass about $53
Personal expenses

  • Pair of jeans: $95
  • 0.5L of domestic beer: $1.50
  • Cappuccino: $3
  • Movie ticket: $11

Total

Expect to spend about $3,500 - 4,500 for one semester in France after airfare and program fees.
Source: France Numbeo

5. China

Besides the leg up learning Chinese abroad will give you, one of the biggest draws to studying in China is that the tuition fees of Chinese universities are far lower than in the states (anywhere from $3,300 to $9,900 per year), which is particularly helpful for a direct enrollment student.
Living expenses are also significantly lower in China; you can expect to spend about $740 to $830 per month, even while living in a metropolitan city like Beijing or Shanghai!

Particular things to note about the cost of studying abroad in China:
  • Medical insurance is required of international students. Expect to pay about $97 for one year.
  • Cash is king. Generally, it’s a good practice to carry cash on hand as some vendors don’t accept plastic forms of payment; foreign ATM cards do work at most big banks, like the Bank of China.
  • If you’re a big shopper, be prepared to haggle your prices in China (this is cultural practice!). One rule is to offer 25-50% of the asking price, though this depends on the item being purchased.

Expense
Estimated Cost
Meals

  • $3 - inexpensive meal
  • $19 - date at a mid-range restaurant
  • $44 - average weekly grocery bill

Monthly rent
$306 - $540 for a one-bedroom apartment

Utilities

About $53 per month

Cell phone

About $20 per month

Local transportation

Monthly pass: about $16

Personal expenses

  • Pair of jeans: $91
  • 0.5L of domestic beer: $.75 (about $2 for imported)
  • Cappuccino: $4
  • Movie ticket: $11

Total

Expect to spend about $2,200 - 3,200 for one semester in China after airfare and program fees.

Source: China Numbeo

6. Germany

Did you know: every major German city has at least one university that is ranked globally? No wonder a majority of U.S. students choose to study abroad in Germany (not to mention the bratwurst and beer, of course).
In addition, last year, the German government passed a law that made all public institutions free for students, international ones included! Considering the relatively low cost of living in the country, studying in Germany can be a cost-saving choice for study abroad students.

Particular things to note about the cost of studying abroad in Germany:
  • The most popular cities to study abroad in (Berlin and Munich) are also the more expensive ones to live. Keep this in mind when choosing a study abroad program.
  • Take advantage of the bike culture. Investing in a used bike (around $200) will save you both gym and public transportation expenses! Plus, it’s a great way to explore the city you are studying in.
  • Looking to research further? The German Academic Exchange Service website is a comprehensive site for information about studying in Germany.

Expense
Estimated Cost
Meals

  • $9 - inexpensive meal
  • $45 - date at a mid-range restaurant
  • $46 - average weekly grocery bill

Monthly rent

$260 (dorm) - $630 per month for a dorm or bedroom in a shared apartment.

Utilities

About $0 - $238 per month (dorms and many apartments have utilities included)

Cell phone

About $11 per month

Local transportation

Monthly pass: about $72

Personal expenses

  • Pair of jeans: $86
  • 0.5L of domestic beer: $1
  • Cappuccino: $3
  • Movie ticket: $11

Total

Expect to spend about $3,800 - 4,500 for one semester in Germany after airfare and program fees.

Source: Study Abroad Budget for Germany

7. Australia

According to Investopedia's article on budgeting for study abroad in Australia, the country is home to some of the best “student cities” (and “student cities” are a thing, apparently).
There are a wide variety of highly ranked universities and tons of scholarships for international students available. Another plus is there’s no foreign language requirement for U.S. students. It is, however, one of the pricier study abroad destinations.

Particular things to note about the cost of studying abroad in Australia:
  • Getting a part-time job while studying abroad is a great option for saving (making) extra cash. An Australian student visa (which costs $430, yikes!) allows you to work up to 40 hours every two weeks. Just enough money to pay off the visa, and then some.
  • If you consider yourself an independent traveler, direct enrollment into an Australian university will save you a ton of money. If not, be prepared to dish upwards of $25,500 per semester as part of a sponsored program (not including additional expenses).
  • The overall cost of living is significantly higher in Sydney. Consider studying outside the city to save on living expenses.

Expense
Estimated Cost
Meals

  • $14 - inexpensive meal
  • $63 - date at a mid-range restaurant
  • $63 - average weekly grocery bill

Monthly rent

$942 - $1,311

Utilities

About $165 per month

Cell phone

About $45 per month

Local transportation

Monthly pass about $100

Personal expenses

  • Pair of jeans: $100
  • 0.5L of domestic beer: $5
  • Cappuccino: $3
  • Movie ticket: $14

Total

Expect to spend about $6,000 - 7,500 for one semester in Australia after airfare and program fees.

Source: Australia Numbeo

8. Ireland

Depending on your lifestyle, studying in Ireland for a semester or year can be the best, budget-friendly option (unless you are a medical student, which is one of the most expensive programs in the country). Generally, the cost of tuition starts at around $10,635 per year; of course, the price depends on your particular program and school choice.

Particular things to note about the cost of studying abroad in Ireland:
  • Aer Lingus is currently running a Study in Ireland Program with special discounted airfares for students studying abroad in 2017 and 2018!
  • Private health insurance is required of all international students. Be sure to budget for this expense.
  • Bring your reusable, eco-friendly bags out shopping with you. Just like in California, Ireland’s government passed a plastic bag tax (making the cost of plastic bags 22 cents).
  • If you’re a heavy smoker, note that cigarettes are also expensive in the country. Expect to pay $11 or more for a pack of Marlboros.

Expense
Estimated Cost

Meals

  • $13.50 - inexpensive meal
  • $56 - date at a mid-range restaurant
  • $78 - average weekly grocery bill

Monthly rent

$820 - $988

Utilities

About $160 per month

Cell phone

About $43 per month

Local transportation

Monthly pass: about $101

Personal expenses

  • Pair of jeans: $77
  • 0.5L of domestic beer: $5
  • Cappuccino: $3
  • Movie ticket: $11

Total

Expect to spend about $6,000 - 7,500 for one semester in Ireland after airfare and program fees.

Source: Ireland Numbeo

9. Costa Rica

“Lush and full of life” -- this is how previous students have described their study abroad experiences in Costa Rica. The local people (“ticos”) are friendly and welcoming as well.
In terms of cost, it will definitely be cheaper than a semester in Europe (the airfare alone is half the price!), but compared to most other Central American countries, it's a little more expensive. Cost of living in Costa Rica can be likened to a mid-sized American city, like St. Louis, which isn't so bad. Plus, you're right next to two very affordable countries (Panama and Nicaragua) for budget travel on your breaks!

Particular things to note about the cost of studying abroad in Costa Rica:
  • Learn the language. Choosing to frequent the smaller local shops that are primarily Spanish speaking is typically a cheaper option than the tourist traps. Not to mention a great way to integrate into the culture! Living with a host family (popular for students in Costa Rica) is also a great way to practice your language and cut down on your housing expenses.
  • Studying in Costa Rica doesn’t have to be an isolating experience. Purchasing a cell phone is cheap (a basic cell phone is around $20- $70).
  • Note: all students must pay a departure tax upon leaving Costa Rica. The cost is about $29.

Expense
Estimated Cost

Meals

  • $7 - inexpensive meal
  • $38 - date at a mid-range restaurant
  • $30 - average weekly grocery bill

Monthly rent

$366 - 450 for a one-bedroom apartment

Utilities

About $72 per month

Cell phone

About $40 per month

Local transportation

Monthly pass: about $51

Personal expenses

  • Pair of jeans: $68 (pair of cheap jeans: $20)
  • 0.5L of domestic beer: $2
  • Cappuccino: $2
  • Movie ticket: $7

Total

Expect to spend about $2,600 - 3,000 for one semester in Costa Rica after airfare and program fees.

10. Japan

Known around the world for its respectable education system, and intriguing culture and traditions, Japan remains a top choice for students studying abroad. Tokyo (on the top 50 cities for students) as well as Osaka and Kyoto are popular study abroad destinations, though basically everywhere in the country is easily accessible for travel for international students.
At the same time, it isn't the budget destination that neighboring China is, so prepare to spend a little more for a semester in Japan.

Particular things to note about the cost of studying abroad in Japan:
  • It's considered best practice to carry cash as frequently as possible. Local post offices and ATMs, though they may have additional foreign fees, allow you to withdraw money as needed.
  • Japan has reputably one of the best (and cheapest!) transportation systems in the world. Getting a train pass will save you a ton of money, especially as a student (who get additional discounts).
  • International students must apply for Japan’s national health insurance upon arrival. Depending on your health insurance in the states, you may have to also pay for your university’s health insurance.

Expense
Estimated Cost

Meals

  • $7 - inexpensive meal
  • $33 - date at a mid-range restaurant
  • $114 - average weekly grocery bill

Monthly rent

$420 - $710 for a one-bedroom apartment

Utilities

About $173 per month

Cell phone

About $40 per month

Local transportation

Monthly pass: about $79

Personal expenses

  • Pair of jeans: $66
  • 0.5L of domestic beer: $2
  • Cappuccino: $3
  • Movie ticket: $15

Total

Expect to spend about $4,700 - 6,000 for one semester in Japan after airfare and program fees.

Source: Japan Numbeo

Where Can You Afford?

Don't write off study abroad as being prohibitively expensive until you've looked at the numbers. As you can see, destinations like China, Costa Rica, and Germany are down right affordable.
If you're a traditionalist and want to stick to Europe, Italy, England, and Ireland are some of the more expensive options. Surprisingly, Spain, which is generally a more affordable destination, isn't the most affordable if you're in an urban center, whereas France, a more expensive destination, has tons of discounts available to students that make it more affordable.
Australia remains one of the more expensive destinations overall, and Japan, though more expensive than nearby China, is still relatively doable compared to some of the more popular destinations on this list.
Also, don't forget about study abroad scholarships (not nearly as many people apply as you may think -- remember, only 1% of the American college population even studies abroad in the first place!), crowdsourcing platforms like Fund and Seek, and to start saving sooner.

Next: Look for programs or ask a question about study abroad.

Photo Credits:
Euro,
Monteverde,
Ellie Taylor,
Martha Landry,
Courtney Dorazio,
Katelyn Olsen,
Jessie Beck,
and Anna Morris.

Disclaimer: We have paid relationships with some of the companies linked to within this article.
Charity Yoro

Charity has been documenting her travels online, in print, and on the backs of used paper napkins since she left her home in Hawai'i to teach (and be taught) abroad. Returning to the states from her most recent tour in Madagascar, Charity found a home in the beautiful Bay area, where she currently helps to manage a coworking space in the heart of the city.

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