The Disadvantages of Study Abroad

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Planning for your study abroad experience can be equal parts exciting and overwhelming, and every decision you make should involve an assessment of both the positives and the negatives.

While it’s only natural to imagine the glamorous aspects of your trip abroad, these expectations can cloud your judgment of the reality that awaits you. Studying abroad is a worthwhile and often life-changing experience, but be sure to check out these 5 disadvantages of study abroad- before you start planning.

Disadvantage 1: Cultural Barriers

Communication is essential to efficiency. Language barriers exist in every country, and it’s important to know the level of fluency that will be expected of you, both from your teachers and peers and the locals with whom you’ll be communicating abroad.

study abroad students overcoming cultural barriers

In addition, you may find yourself jolted by the sudden shift in culture; everything from food and religion to transportation systems and style of dress may differ from those in your home country. This culture shock can lead to feelings of frustration, anxiety, and homesickness. If you are not properly prepared to cope with these differences, they can lead to great stress-even in situations where you’re performing the most mundane of tasks.


  • Contact prospective programs and universities to see if classes are offered in your language

  • Utilize online language programs and translation and navigation apps before you go – save directions and common phrases and track important routes

  • Find areas most likely to be populated by people who speak your native language; reach out to study abroad participants and locals from your home country

  • Subscribe to a student travel blog and read about others’ study abroad experiences

  • Join a chat forum to ask any questions you have directly to former study abroad students

  • Research cultural and regional norms and expectations before you go

Disadvantage 2: You’re On Your Own

Navigating a foreign destination on your own can be an intimidating experience. Some of you may experience certain aspects of independence for the very first time; perhaps you’ve never lived on your own or have yet to travel outside of your home country.

college aged daughter going to study abroad

Because some of the worst symptoms of culture shock (sadness, anxiety, a sense of isolation or alienation) can result from the realization that you no longer have your friends and family alongside you, it’s important that you’re fully prepared for this transition.


  • Ask your guidance counselor for a student mentor’s email address and connect with him or her

  • Once enrolled in study abroad classes, utilize the class roster to reach out and form relationships with those in your classes, or ask the professor for advice or recommendations

  • Join a club or volunteer organization offered by your host program/institution or host city

  • If you’re traveling abroad through a study abroad organization, reach out to the program advisers and volunteers that will be available to assist you 24/7

  • Stay in touch with your family and friends through apps like Viber and Skype

Disadvantage 3: Studying Abroad is Expensive

Travel expenses, tuition, books, room and board, bills, transportation, and overall cost of living can add up quickly when living abroad (especially if you don’t take on a part-time job). Depending on where you choose to study abroad and the institution/organization you select, your expenses can vary greatly in cost.

study abroad student preparing finances

Consider that you’ll likely want to go out and explore your new home in addition to studying, so be sure to set aside plenty of cash for tourism, transportation, and entertainment, as well as for emergencies.


  • Start planning early and secure a scholarship; can aid you in searching hundreds of study abroad scholarships, fellowships, grants, and paid internships

  • Check with your program or institution to see if they provide scholarships or financial aid, or to see if your financial aid will transfer to a pre-approved program

  • Create a budget and save money in advance; fill out this cost worksheet provided by Michigan State University- it can help you calculate the total cost of your program!

  • Check not only the current exchange rate, but its history over the last year or two, and consider how currency fluctuations might impact your budget

  • Work an extra job for quick cash before traveling abroad; if you’re interested in working abroad, check out (but be aware of working regulations for international students)

For funding options and financial guidance, check out this free international student financial aid guide!

Disadvantage 4: Your Credits May Not Transfer

Worst case scenario: an international university or study abroad program extends an invitation for you to study abroad, you happily accept and acquire numerous credits throughout your studies, and you return home to learn that your international credits do not transfer to your home college or university. Not only will you have spent large sums of hard-earned money on international classes that don’t count toward your degree, but this potential setback could throw you off track to graduating on time. 

In most cases, your current university will offer the study abroad programs with the credits they will accept. If there is a specific program or university you would like to attend outside of the pre-approved programs, your university may arrange an exception—but not always.

study abroad student transferring credits

Luckily, you can assure that your credits will transfer to your home university by taking the following steps:


  • Make sure your study abroad college or program is accredited

  • Get your study abroad credits approved by your home university before accepting an invitation to study abroad – this will assure that you stay on track to graduate

  • Get at least twice as many courses pre-approved as you plan to actually enroll in abroad – this will assure that you have options should your first-choice courses be cancelled or become full

  • If you have to register for a class that you didn’t get pre-approved, contact your home university right away – staff may be able to approve your courses even after you’ve left

  • Be aware of whether your credits will transfer automatically or you’ll have to apply for transferring credits when you return to your home country

  • Keep records of your classes and work so you can answer any questions your home university may have about the work you completed while abroad

If you’re a U.S. student and need additional help, be sure to check out this guide to transferring credits to the U.S. from abroad.

Disadvantage 5: Your Current Health Insurance Plan May Not Cover You Abroad

There are many things to consider when planning for your semester or year abroad, and travel medical insurance can prove to be a vital aspect. After all, an international student health insurance plan can significantly reduce your personal expenses should an unexpected illness or injury occur during the course of your program.

Many people assume that their domestic health insurance provider will cover any emergency medical expenses they acquire abroad, but this is not often the case. In fact, many health insurance plans no longer cover you once you leave your home country. But don’t stress too much- there are many international student health insurance plans that provide affordable, comprehensive medical coverage to full-time students or scholars studying outside of their home country.

study abroad student with healthcare provider

To aid in your search, we’ve laid out the most important features to consider when selecting your travel medical plan:

Ideal Features:

  • Meets student visa student visa requirements for J-1 visa
  • Covers inpatient hospitalization for eligible travel-related illnesses and injuries
  • Provides Emergency Medical Evacuation benefit
  • Provides terrorism coverage for eligible medical expenses
  • Provides outpatient and inpatient mental health coverage
  • Provides coverage for prescription drugs
  • Offers coverage for eligible intercollegiate, interscholastic, intramural, and club sports
  • Offers coverage for pre-existing conditions after a set amount of time
  • Offers a monthly payment option
  • Offers savings for paying the full premium in advance
  • Offers international network of providers
  • Provides 24/7 travel assistance services

Get a StudentSecure Quote

You don’t have to reduce your coverage because you are on a budget—a solid international student health insurance plan will offer affordable coverage for eligible hospital visits and medical treatment, prescription drugs, and emergency medical evacuation. Learn more about student travel medical insurance here, or receive a FREE quote to estimate costs.


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Tokio Marine HCC - Medical Insurance Services Group (MIS Group) is a service company and a member of the Tokio Marine HCC group of companies. Tokio Marine HCC - MIS Group has authority to enter into contracts of insurance on behalf of the Lloyd's underwriting members of Lloyd's Syndicate 4141, which is managed by Tokio Marine HCC – International Group.