How to Budget for a Semester Abroad

July 10, 2018

With millennials leading the charge toward the experience economy, it’s not surprising that more college students than ever are choosing to study abroad. According to a report by the Institute of International Education and the US Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, 325,339 American students received academic credit for studying abroad in 2015/2016, an increase of 4% over the previous year. In fact, the number of American students studying abroad has more than tripled in the past two decades.

Whether it’s a summer, semester, or year-long program, studying abroad is no longer a privilege for a select few. Depending on where you go, though, you could still end up paying a pretty penny; that’s why we tapped our summer intern here at The Dime (who’ll be studying abroad in Greece this fall – opa!) to share her tips for making concrete financial goals that’ll set you up for the experience of a lifetime, without breaking the bank.  

Think about the country you’d like to go to, and the program costs associated with it.

The cost of foreign academic programs—and their locales--can vary widely. In addition, currency changes can be drastic, so knowing where your money will go the furthest before you travel is always a good idea.

Be realistic about how much you’re going to spend.

While you might try to convince yourself that you won’t be eating out very often, traveling, or buying souvenirs, let’s be honest…chances are you will (and should!) spend more than your initial estimates. So think about how much money you might spend in an average month, and then double it just to make sure you have enough to cover trips, items, and experiences you don’t even know you want yet.

Start planning early.

There are some who know from a young age that they want to study abroad, and they save up for years in advance. If you’re not one of those ultra-determined souls, however,  starting to plan for your trip as early as you’re able to will help minimize untimely costs (like an unanticipated healthcare premium  or textbook expense) that could derail your saving efforts. Some programs also offer assistance like part-time job opportunities for students, so communicating regularly with your program before you arrive could help clarify your bottom line.

Apply for scholarships or take advantage of financial aid.

Today, many colleges and universities include the costs for studying abroad as part of their normal tuition fees. This usually means that any financial aid you receive can be used to fund your program. Depending on your particular setup of  (for example, if you’re doing an exchange with a foreign school), housing and food might not be included, so be sure you understand the scope of costs you’ll be responsible for as you’re planning your budget. Tip: Many schools offer partial academic scholarships that can help cover the cost of airfare and/or housing, so see if that’s an additional option.

Don’t forget about the costs of health care.

Although some schools provide emergency medical insurance while abroad, other programs require you to provide your own health insurance. While the latter can be expensive, it’s worth accounting for in your budget to minimize the risk of falling ill in your foreign country and racking up a slew of uninsured medical expenses. If you're on your parents' insurance, this may be a moot point (yay!), but do make sure their plan will cover you while abroad.

Consider transportation.

This not only includes airfare to and from your destination, but also getting to campus and around the city you’ll be living in. While your dorm or apartment could end up being on or near the campus, others might require you to take public transportation. Allot a certain amount of your budget to getting to and from classes every day. If you’ll be in a place with minimal congestion, budgeting for a bike could be a good investment. And don’t forget to account for train or plane tickets and hostel expenses if you plan to explore more faraway places on weekends or once your program concludes.

Think of budgeting as a positive thing rather than a hindrance.

While the thought of budgeting can seem like a big fat negative that’s preventing you from buying the experiences or items you want, in reality, it’s actually helping you save for those memories. Instead of feeling like you’re not going to be able to do or see as much as you’d like because you’re on a budget, remember that you’re not alone; your classmates are quite likely in the same boat. But by making good financial decisions ahead of your trip, and once you’re there, you’ll be able to afford the opportunity todo more of the things on your list.

Budgeting for your time abroad should be filled with excitement and anticipation at the prospects ahead. By planning early and being wise with your spending, you’ll ensure that your study abroad experience is nothing short of priceless.