Updated: Sep 04, 2023

How to Study Abroad Without Breaking the Bank

Money and finance tips to save money and have a great experience traveling or studying abroad, Best advice for study abroad students.
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Studying abroad can be a life-altering and massively enriching experience. Getting out of one’s comfort zone and into a learning environment that includes cultural exchange, new surroundings, and gaining a broader world view can be a wonderful experience for students of any age. That experience can also cost a lot of money, and careful planning is crucial to avoid running short or making some bad financial moves after the journey has started, or worse, having to come home because of unexpected financial issues. Here are some tips for keeping costs down and planning well.

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Going preplanned or solo?

There are many ways for students to study abroad, whether in high school or college. Check with the school to learn about exchange programs, group trips, international summer school, and other programs. While it’s entirely possible to plan a trip separately from the school and transfer the credits earned, the student’s main school may not accept all of the credits, and it may be cheaper to arrange the trip through the school.

Schools may have reduced tuition agreements for their study abroad options, but it’s important to know if the student can book their own transportation and other details which might cost less through other means or be discounted with credit card reward points or other programs.

Compare places and plan

It may not come as a surprise that the cost of traveling abroad can vary widely by country, but just like in the U.S., the cost of staying in another country can vary greatly by region. The kind of experiences each place will provide will also vary wildly from place to place. If the would-be student traveler doesn't have a location picked out, making a checklist which prioritizes the goals behind the trip can be very useful.

How important is it that English is widely spoken? Access to public transportation? Entertainment? Historical locations? Putting the priorities into place on paper can be very helpful before sitting down to do some serious Googling to see what is out there. And be sure to check with school advisors about programs available, and what affiliated schools in the systems may also have offerings.

Is helping the poor or sharing education with others part of the goal? If this falls high on the priority list, some very low-cost options exist, such as the Peace Corps, and other programs may be available for students to travel abroad and teach English, help with building or planning communities, or other activities. If school credits aren't a big part of the trip goals, volunteering with a charitable organization or church mission program can provide the desired experience without the associated costs. Of course, balancing safety over price tag should be a priority.

If a student who wants to study abroad already has their heart set on a particular place, but the price tag seems out of reach, the same kind of checklist might help in identifying an alternative location.

What are the housing options?

There are many ways for a student to stay in a foreign country. Dormitories, hostels, and host family homes are typical options, but camping may be viable in some locations, or rooms may be available through churches, other school facilities, or by volunteering with a charitable organization with a housing network.

What will it take to get there?

Housing is typically the biggest expense when traveling abroad if a volunteer host family isn't available, but transportation to the host country is often a close second when it comes to cost. Flights can cost several hundred for nearby deals on common routes, or several thousand for flights to remote locations. It is important to budget for major travel expenses.

Food prices

Don’t make the mistake of expecting a food budget to be similar to what it costs to eat everyday meals in the U.S. Food prices can be significantly higher in many places, whether European cities like London or France, or remote locations with short growing seasons like Gothenburg, or densely populated cities like Tokyo.

Once the location is selected, do some research to find out what typical meals cost, add those costs up over the period of study, and ideally, plan on spending 10 to percent more than that to be safe.

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Add up the details

A lot of small expenses can add up over the course of a trip lasting several weeks to several months. Toiletries, grooming products, laundry, worn socks, and other consumables will need to be realistically budgeted, and some items common to home may not be available readily.

Other expenses, such as renting a bicycle, sightseeing tours, museum entrance fees, public transportation fares, occasional cabs, and other incidental expenses must be planned out to make the trip low on stress and high on cultural engagement and learning.

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