How to study abroad on a budget
You have the opportunity to study abroad for a semester or two — congratulations! With a new home base to explore, new cultures to experience, and new friends to make, studying abroad is exciting, but it can get expensive quickly if you fail to budget for it.
To ensure the experience doesn’t become a financial burden, it’s important to prepare in advance and ensure you’re aware of the opportunities for financial support specific to studying abroad.
In this article, we will cover the basics of studying abroad, how to budget for it, and programs that can help make studying abroad more affordable.
How does studying abroad work?
Study abroad programs are opportunities provided by universities and colleges to complete a semester, year, or sometimes even more of your degree program on a different campus — usually in a foreign country.
These programs are excellent opportunities to see a new part of the world and experience a different culture. Temporarily relocating to Europe, Asia, or anywhere else means having an excellent opportunity for travel options that you might not otherwise have access to.
How much is it to study abroad?
The cost of studying abroad will vary dramatically depending on what country you choose, the tuition and fees charged by the college or university you select, the cost of living in the place you choose, and travel costs related to studying abroad.
To give you a sense of how much it can vary, studying abroad at the University of Delhi will cost international students a few thousand dollars in tuition and fees a semester, while studying abroad at the American University of Paris will cost €17,838 in tuition and fees for the fall 2023 semester.
Many colleges and universities provide helpful breakdowns on their websites to help students who want to study abroad assess all the costs and fees for attending their school, which are worth looking at as you explore your options.
One final thing to remember is that in addition to paying tuition and fees for the school at which you’ll be studying, your home college or university might also charge fees if you decide to study abroad.
How to study abroad on a budget
Planning your expenses
As you start adding up the costs of studying abroad, the first expense you’ll want to tally up is the tuition and program fees and any fees your home college or university charges. Some colleges and universities charge standard undergraduate tuition plus a relatively small study abroad fee. Others have separate tuition plans for study abroad students, which may cost much more than continuing to attend your home college or university. Don’t forget to include a college or university’s miscellaneous fees, too. From facility fees to the cost of textbooks, you need to anticipate the total cost of attending school in another country.
Of course, tuition isn’t the only significant expense you’ll have to pay while studying abroad. To make a thorough budget, you’ll need to account for the cost of living, miscellaneous school expenses, transportation, and providing for an emergency fund. You might need to purchase plane tickets to get there and back, and you may need to pay to ship extra clothes, books, electronics, and other belongings.
After accounting for tuition and fees for studying abroad, check with your study abroad program to learn about your living options. You may try to take advantage of affordable on-campus housing options if they exist, or you may be able to room with a local family during your time abroad. Be sure you understand your meal plan options, too. Do you have to pay for a plan, or will you be responsible for your meals? These expenses add up.
Unless your new town is small and easy to navigate by foot, you’ll need to know your transit options, too. Find out if a school shuttle is available or calculate how much you’ll have to spend to take the subway or bus to class.
In many ways, planning your expenses for studying abroad is similar to planning your expenses for studying at a college in the U.S., you might just need to do a bit more research to find out what things could cost.
Decide how much to spend on extras
Just like when you’re studying at your home college or university, you’ll need funds for entertainment and socializing while you’re abroad. Before starting your program, you might want to understand the typical costs for dinner, a night out on the town, and local attractions so you can budget for these extras. If you want to explore the area with your new friends, consider assessing the expense of enjoying a weekend away in a neighboring city or country, too.
Calculate how much money you’ll have
Calculating the money you’ll have during your time abroad can be tricky. To cover additional living expenses, you may need to start saving well before your study abroad program. For instance, if you have a part-time job, consider taking on additional evening or weekend hours to save up for your time abroad. Depending on where you’re planning to study abroad, you might be able to secure a job while you’re studying abroad, and the current remote work environment might provide more opportunities to earn money while you’re studying abroad, too, which are other factors to consider.
How to spend wisely while studying abroad
You’ll undoubtedly want to experience as much as possible while overseas, which may mean you’ll need to stretch your budget. Fortunately, there’re a few ways to save money while experiencing your new home to the fullest.
Find ways to save while studying abroad
As a student, you’ll most likely be eligible for discounts while studying abroad in the same way that students can often access discounts while studying in the U.S. From reduced fees for public transit to discounts on attraction tickets to deals at restaurants, seek out all the savings you can. Often you can present your university-issued ID to take advantage of the discounts.
Track your expenses and adjust your budget as necessary
Once you land in your new home to study abroad, you might be tempted to throw your budget by the wayside and embrace every unique experience that comes your way. It’s important to remember that just because you’ve spent hours crunching numbers and developing a workable budget doesn’t mean your spending will automatically be kept in line. Track your expenses carefully and assess whether you’re staying within your budget every month to keep your spending in check while studying abroad.
After a month or two of tracking your expenses, revisit your budget and assess how well it’s working. If spending in some categories is much more or less than anticipated, don’t hesitate to adjust your budget for accuracy.
Common FAQs about paying for study abroad
Can the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) help cover study abroad programs?
Aid from filing the FAFSA® may help cover the cost of study abroad programs depending on the college or university you choose to study at abroad, if you’re participating in the program through an American college that participates in federal student aid programs, and if you meet specific eligibility requirements. The financial aid office at your home college will be able to answer specific questions about whether your financial aid can be used to cover the costs of studying abroad.
Once you’ve completed your FAFSA® for the academic year in which you’ll be studying abroad, you’ll need to consult your specific school on how to proceed to make sure you fill out all the necessary paperwork.
Of note, there’re different rules for federal financial aid depending on whether you’re just looking to complete a few semesters abroad versus if you want to complete your full advanced degree abroad.
Are there study abroad scholarships?
Scholarships could be available for students studying abroad with eligibility based on several factors such as academics, location, and whether they plan to learn a foreign language. Contact your school’s study abroad or financial aid office to see if you might be eligible for any study abroad scholarships.
Consider the costs carefully before you head overseas, and do your best to stick to your budget once you arrive. Take advantage of financial aid opportunities and scholarships to help pay for your study abroad experience to help lower your costs during your semester abroad and beyond.