There's a first time for everything, right? Studying abroad was a bucket list item that I had always wanted to cross off — but I figured it would take me years to get there. As a college student on a budget, it can be tough to save up money while in school. And as a student who didn’t receive very much financial aid already, I thought that my dream might just be impossible.
But to my surprise, funding my expenses was a lot more accessible than I thought. By showing up and putting in the effort just to begin the process, I ended up learning that managing my finances for my study abroad experience was not only possible but a lot less stressful than I thought.
The art of balancing your budget and spending responsibly is a challenge. But saving ahead of time will become more manageable if you know the costs and ways to prepare for them.
Read on to learn about how much you may need to save for your adventure abroad, and explore our money-saving tips.
1. Decide where you want to study abroad
Some countries, like ones in Latin America, Eastern Europe, and Southeast Asia, have a much lower cost of living than others. The cost of living will immediately affect your budget, regardless of program price. Conversely, a study abroad program in London, for instance, will come with a hefty living cost and unfavorable exchange rate to the American dollar. The program will likely be excellent. Still, it should be considered with more conservative budgeting in mind if finances are a concern.
Whatever you do, accurately evaluate any program and cost of living fees and create a list of experiences you'd like to have while there to find a realistic cost analysis of studying abroad. Then, with those numbers in mind and these tips handy, you'll have a great semester abroad!
Average prices for a single-room city center apartment in popular budget-friendly destinations:
Expert Tip: Studying abroad during touristy off-seasons, like winter in Paris, for example, is less expensive than peak seasons like summer when everyone is visiting for vacation!
2. Consider a work-study or paid internship
While studying abroad as a full-time student, you may be eligible to work a certain amount of part-time hours a week. If you're qualified for this in your host country, it can be an excellent opportunity to help fund your weekend excursions! Be sure to check with your host country's visa guidelines and your study abroad, as you don't want to go against any of your student visa rules.
You can also look into getting an internship while you study abroad. In France, for example, it's common for students to take a whole semester to dedicate to an internship partnered through the school. A paid internship can be an excellent way to get resume-building experience while supplementing your budget while studying abroad!
Read more: Can You Work While Studying Abroad?
3. Apply to grants & scholarships early
Many prospective study abroad students don't realize they can apply for financial aid for their upcoming program overseas. While each experience varies, planning ahead can get you in on scholarships and grants that may help you live a little easier abroad.
Consult with your financial aid or guidance counselor at school to inquire about need and merit-based aid, or contact the study abroad program advisor to learn about active sponsored partnerships. Go Overseas partners with programs to offer gap year and study abroad scholarships to travelers, undergrads, and masters candidates worldwide.
Don’t forget to check out your university’s available stipends. While more minor, they can still help cover some of your program’s costs.
When I visited my university’s financial aid office in preparation for study abroad, the head of the department sat down with me to listen to my needs. To my surprise, he had studied abroad in Germany, and he helped me find as many stipends as he could to allow me to have my own international educational experience.
Remember, a closed mouth remains unfed: if you never ask about scholarships, you'll never have the chance to cushion your study abroad budget!
4. Set your budget before you leave
There are a number of costs for studying abroad, such as program prices and hidden fees. Understand what you'll pay when planning your school term or year overseas. However, don’t let costs deter you from enjoying the experience. There are many ways to study abroad on a budget without sacrificing fun.
Cost of Living
While it would be impossible for us to give a specified general cost of studying abroad, there are some common monthly and essential costs to factor into your budget.
To help estimate income and expenses during your time abroad, you can fill out our study abroad budget template using the research and comparison tool Numbeo to determine the costs of living in your host country.
Below is an example of common study abroad expenses you would need to budget for if you studied abroad in Paris, France.
5. Opt for a homestay
Homestays are a great way to immerse yourself even more into the culture of your host country. Not only are you finding accommodations that are less expensive than typical apartments, but you're also getting delicious home-cooked meals, a fast track to learning the language, and have a great second-home-base of support.
If housing is not included in your study abroad program, check with a program advisor on available student housing in your host city. Most programs will already have an affiliate student apartment they partner with, but there are often accommodations specifically price reduced for students. In Paris, for example, CAF-funded student housing is a major plus because this type of accommodation’s purpose is to be affordable for students, and housing in the city center is hard to find outside of being qualified as a student.
Read more: 12 Do’s & Don’ts of Homestay Programs
6. Keep track of expenses
Whether you like to write out every detail of your spending yourself or prefer to have automated tools keep track for you, seeing reports on your spending habits will allow you to know where you need to cut back or have some room to splurge. If taking weekend trips to visit nearby destinations is in your plans, it’s wise not to spend the extra money that can be put towards those fun excursions.
Mei-Ying's video gives a great example of a London University student's monthly cost breakdown.
7. Avoid bank fees
Talk to your bank
Tell your bank and credit-card company about your travels. It is important to do this because if you don’t, you can end up getting locked out of using your card while abroad, not being able to pull money from an ATM, a not-so-fun situation. Try to think of all the places you plan to visit during your time abroad, and if you miss one, just be sure to update your bank before you go. Also, be sure to ask your bank if they have any sister banks in your host country that won't charge ATM withdrawal fees or foreign transaction fees.
Exchange cash before leaving
Currency exchange rates are not in your favor at airports, so change the amount of cash you'd like to keep safely stored away. When I studied abroad, I only exchanged around 700 euros in cash. Most European countries accept payment via card. So a travel rewards card was the best way to spend my money without worrying about foreign transaction fees.
Consider travel reward cards
Let’s face it, during your studies abroad, you’re going to be spending money one way or another. So you might as well be earning points and rewards while you do it! Getting a travel rewards card can be a good idea if you know you’ll be spending the amount needed to qualify for their intro offer. Most travel rewards cards will offer a sign-up bonus if you spend a certain amount of money within the first few months of having the card. Remember to be smart about credit cards and only put what you are ready to pay off right away onto the card. Otherwise, you could end up building debt rather than credit.
Travel rewards cards are popular because they don’t have any foreign transaction fees like a bank debit card usually does. In addition, many different travel rewards cards offer great sign-up bonuses and perks. Building up the points can benefit you later and even get you free travel flights in the future!
Set up a student bank account in your host country
Setting up a student bank account is not only handy to avoid accumulating foreign transaction fees, but it makes getting other services in your host country more accessible. For example, a French bank account is often needed to put your name on a lease in France. Your address is necessary to have important documents mailed to you for billed services like a phone and wi-fi plan. But ironically, you’ll often need an address to open a bank account, making a closed-circle situation that can be difficult to navigate without the help of a French friend or your program advisor.
If this step is a little too complicated for you, setting up a TransferWise account is a great way to have a multi-currency account to pay the bills. Their exchange rates are great, and you’re always paying in the local currency without having to worry about hidden fees.
8. Take advantage of student discounts
Don’t forget to bring that student ID! If you have the opportunity, inquire about a local, temporary student ID from your study abroad program or get an international student ID (ISIC) card which will save you money in both transportation and entertainment.
Many countries and companies give major perks to students and travelers under 27. For example, most museums have no charge for admission. When I studied abroad, there was no shortage of entertainment. I would spend hours after my classes going to museums alone just to learn the history and stories Paris held.
You can also get discounted flights from StudentUniverse, a super cheap 3-day water taxi pass in Venice, 25% off Eurail prices, a discounted trolley tour on Toronto Island in Canada, free or affordable access to many museums around the world, and much more. Sometimes, just showing your standard ID to prove your age might get you a discount — but that can be hit or miss.
Either way, always keep different forms of identification on you. You never know when an event or attraction will decide to offer Free Student Fridays or Totally Cheap Tuesdays (I'm making these up, but you get the idea).
9. Make friends with locals
Making genuine connections and friendships with the people whose home country you’re visiting is one of the most valuable resources for your study abroad experience. They have the inside scoop on all the cool things to do. They can provide some of the best recommendations, and it’s usually reasonably priced, if not free. As a result, you’ll find your daily expenditures decrease dramatically, and you get to know the country on a more intimate level.
From shopping at local markets and grocery stores to enjoying an at-home dinner party with your classmates, making friends with locals will help you learn the language faster, connect you with cultures and traditions, and help you have more meaningful experiences with friends you've made along the way.
Cost-efficient and friendship-building activities
- Check out your new home's neighborhood calendar and community board. Find out what's happening in nearby churches, museums, schools, and community centers. Usually, these events are free, donation-based, or low-cost, and your study abroad program may be connected with it.
- Visit local parks and gardens. One of my favorite aspects of living abroad was the accessibility to nature while still living in a big city. Think Golden Gate Park in San Francisco or Central Park in New York. Parks are popular amongst locals who spend their free time strolling, picnicking, or reading in these beloved outdoor public spaces. Picking up lunch and maybe some wine at a convenience store and heading to the park with your friends is a great way to spend an afternoon.
10. Explore by foot or public transportation
What better way to become acquainted with a new locale than to explore with boots on the ground? Walking around, getting a little lost, and eventually finding your way back is a splendid way to learn a new route, experience a new neighborhood, get fit and save money.
Not only will you save on transportation fares, but you will also almost always discover unique shops and hole-in-the-wall places.
Exploring on foot is like going hiking: it is thrilling, tiring, sometimes a little scary, but the reward is fantastic! Places you might find while exploring by foot: a cute boutique or cafe, vibrant murals, food carts with delicious treats, charming squares, and parks, as well as street artisans and impromptu performances. Not only will you save on transportation fares, but you will also almost always discover unique shops and hole-in-the-wall places.
We know it may not always be reasonable to travel by foot. However, we also love a city with some good public transportation. If you’re a frequent user of le metro or the tube who ever-so-politely reminds you to ‘mind the gap’ – don’t forget to ask for student or youth discounted fares and transportation passes. There’s incredible support for youth mobility throughout Europe and many other countries abroad whose aim is to foster intercultural unity.
11. Become an expert researcher
Look for tours that provide the best bang for your buck, or go on a lowest-price hunt for hotels that offer the best price guarantees. Instead of flying, use Rome2Rio.com to find a bus that provides a scenic ride to your next destination or go on a self-guided street food tour in place of high-end restaurants.
Put your research skills to the test while overseas. If you're an investigative expert at home (like finding the best price for that jacket you wanted), you can be one abroad.
Ryanair and EasyJet are the most economical airlines throughout much of Europe and are perfect for weekend trips to visit neighboring countries on a budget and time crunch. Just be sure to check carry-on luggage restrictions so that you don’t end up paying extra for a checked bag. Extra charges can be a hefty fee, contradicting the purpose of taking a more inexpensive flight.
Thanks to the internet, researching prices, value, and alternative options are easier than ever. So grab some free wifi and let the web guide you to hidden gems nearby that won't leave your pockets empty.
12. Keep a “just-in-case” fund
At the end of my study abroad semester, I had a worst-case-money-scenario that almost prevented me from boarding my flight back home. That or I'd have to leave half of my luggage at Charles de Gaulle airport. I had maxed out all of my credit cards during my time abroad. I assumed that because I flew to Paris with the same amount of luggage, I wouldn't need to worry about paying extra for the flight back, right? Wrong.
After a teary-eyed Uber ride saying goodbye to the city I had gotten used to calling home, I arrived with appropriate spare time to check-in and get through TSA as every good traveler does. But, unfortunately, while weighing my luggage, the attendant told me that I'd need to pay an extra $200 to check my carry-on bag!
Having no more cash and not wanting to leave any of my luggage behind, I frantically called my parents, hoping they'd answer at 3 am back home. Thankfully, they lent me the money fast enough that I didn’t miss my flight. Long story short, I hadn't kept a "just-in-case" cushion of cash saved. Hopefully, my lesson learned can help prevent you from making the same mistake!
Studying abroad doesn’t mean you have to break the bank!
Planning your study abroad can come with some legitimate concerns about the cost. While you may not be able to travel for free, there are plenty of ways to save money and maximize your budget through clever planning and smart decisions. By choosing the right study abroad program, creatively managing your expenses, and taking advantage of special deals, you can enjoy your time abroad without breaking the bank!