Study abroad is a popular way to broaden your education while gaining a first-hand perspective on the world. The experience also comes with a price that may be higher than the cost of your primary college or university.
Here are seven tips for creating a realistic study abroad budget that will help you cover the basics, as well as travel:
Start with Tuition, Books, and Supplies
Use your tuition as the primary building block for your budget. Read the fine print for your study abroad program, as you may be charged an additional fee for being an international student. It's also key to determine whether any of your financial aid or scholarships can be applied to study abroad or whether you are eligible for grants for your international experience.
Are you an international student preparing to study in the U.S.? Get a free copy of our "Passport to American Education: A Simple Guide to International Student Financial Aid" now!
Calculate Rent, Transit
Outside tuition, the biggest chunk of your budget will be consumed by housing. Is there on-campus housing available? How does it compare to market rents?
If you opt for off-campus housing, you will have to decide whether you want your own place without roommates — the priciest option — or to share an apartment or house with other students or friends, or to live with a family — likely the cheapest plan and also one that can immerse you further into local culture.
When deciding where to live, always think location, location, location. It may make sense to pay a slightly higher rent to be within walking distance of your school and to access campus programs and events more easily.
Depending on the cost of transit passes, a cheaper rent farther from school might also make sense. Another option is to purchase a used bike or join a municipal bike-share program, which usually offer unlimited rides for a monthly fee of $15 to $20 a month.
Studying in the U.S.? Check out this guide to navigating transportation!
How Will You Eat?
Food is another major expense. If you don't like to cook, a meal plan or partial meal plan could prove more cost-effective than relying on takeout or restaurant meals.
Even if you plan to mainly cook for yourself, you will want to allocate money for sampling local restaurants, a key part of any travel experience. You will also need to allot for toiletries and other personal items.
Dial in on Data Fees
Another key expense is technology — your mobile phone and possibly an internet connection. Check with your current carrier to determine whether its international plan will prove affordable over the long haul or if it makes more sense to find a local carrier. The last thing you want is to be hit with onerous (and expensive) data roaming charges.
Plan for Travel
You may stick close to campus at your regular school, but once you head abroad you will likely want to venture out to explore nearby cities — or, if your budget allows, take advantage of low airfares within Europe or Asia and country-hop.
You can minimize the cost of accommodations via hospitality exchanges, like CouchSurfing; short-term rentals, like Airbnb; hostels; and farm and monastery stays. Also, look for rail pass discounts and low-cost airfare directly through airlines, like Ryanair, or consolidators, like CheapoAir.
Factor in Health Costs
Most universities will require you to have some form of health insurance, acquired either through their own service or an insurance company that offers compliant international student health insurance policies.
Tokio Marine HCC—MIS Group's StudentSecure offers a range of plans with deductibles starting at $50 per injury or illness. These plans meet J-1 visa requirements and include emergency medical evacuation.
Use Budget, Money-Saving Tools
- Create a Budget: Sites like Mint offer general templates and calculators to set up a monthly budget, while the Institute for Study Abroad offers a customized calculator.
- Get a Job: If you're used to working a job at your regular college or university, find out whether there are work-study options, or if you will have the ability to get an off-campus job as a foreign student. Another option could be a paid internship, depending on your field of study.
- Use a Currency Converter: XE offers the latest currency rates and a calculator to figure out exchanges.
- Compute the Cost of Living: Numbeo offers calculators to compare the overall cost-of-living between countries, as well as specifics like food prices and taxi fares.
- Flash Your SID Card: Student identification and discount cards offer reductions on everything from museum tickets to transportation and dining.