Thinking about studying abroad? Don’t just daydream about it. Make it happen! Studying abroad is one investment you’ll never regret. It’s something that will make your future employer do a double take as it shows that you’re not just some punk who’s afraid to leap out of your comfort zone.
However, studying abroad costs a few Benjamins; it’s more than just scrounging up enough money for a plane ticket, tuition, and program fees. What you need is a study abroad budget: something to get you in-country and help you stay afloat while you’re there. If you don’t have a clue about where to start, here are some tips to help you create a stellar study abroad budget:
1. I’m not panicking, but how am I going to pay for this?
If you’re not a trust fund baby, then you really need to figure out how you’re going to afford studying abroad. First off, do you have a part-time job on or off campus right now? It’s never too late to start saving for that semester in Prague. Can you work more hours or get another part-time gig? Even if you’re not saving that much, every little bit helps and there are other ways you can pay for your time abroad. Head to your university’s financial aid office and see whether you qualify for any study abroad scholarships, loans, or grants. Still in the red? Try crowdfunding options like FundMyTravel.
Even before you get there, remember you still need dinero for important stuff like airfare, travel insurance, and visa costs. To save a bundle, check out sites that compare flights across airlines like Skyscanner.
Insider tip: always clear your browser’s cache cookies so you get the best price every time you use these travel sites.
2. Cash or card: how does money work over there?
Where you plan to study will determine what kind of money you can use there. For example, in Japan, cash is king so it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be swiping your credit or debit card every day. In other countries, you may be able to wing it with just plastic. If you’re planning to study abroad for one year or less, take your home debit/credit cards with you instead of going through the hassle of opening a foreign bank account. Many banks in your home country may have agreements with banks in foreign countries and that may mean you pay little or no fees to access that cold, hard cash in foreign ATMs.
That being said, don’t swipe too often as those fees do add up! Only take out how much you need for the month and budget the hell out of it. Also, remember to tell your local bank that you’ll be away for a while and get phone numbers you can call if you run into money trouble or lose your card while abroad.
Credit cards are also super handy. Bonus points if you have a travel rewards credit card. Many of these cards don’t have foreign transaction fees and when you use them during your time abroad, you get extra points you can redeem later. Score!
Just to be on the safe side, check whether your cards will be accepted in the country you’re planning to study in and find out what foreign transaction and foreign ATM fees really cost.
3. How much does it actually cost to live there?
Before you leave home, do some digging around. Find out the exchange rate. Get a rough idea about the cost of living in the country and area you’ll be living in. Contact the university or people you know who have already studied there. If you don’t know anyone, explore websites like Numbeo's cost of living calculator, where you can compare the cost of living across countries and cities. Even better, join expat or student forums and chat online with people who actually live there.
Suss out essential info like the average rent of a dorm room or single apartment, and the prices of cell phone plans, groceries, and transportation. Remember to ask about the fun stuff too, like how much cinema tickets cost or how much a night on the town will set you back. Lastly, don’t forget start-up costs, like paying a semester’s rent in full, purchasing warm clothes if you’re from a warmer climate, or buying furniture for your room or apartment (if it’s not already included in program costs).
It really pays to do your research here. Not only will you be more realistic about how far your money will go, you’ll also be able to set your savings targets more precisely and not wind up falling short when you get there.
Nothing’s sadder than getting to study in the country of your dreams and not having enough money to survive or have a little extra fun(ds)!
4. Become a budget king/queen pronto.
Even before you land overseas, you should be using a budget. Get your nerd on and start cranking out those spreadsheets. If you die a little inside every time you open up Excel, why not try financial planning apps like Mint that will do all the hard work for you?
Insider tip: make your study abroad budget is in your desired foreign currency right now. Budget for the essentials you use now, which you will also need abroad: rent, food, travel, books, and tuition. You should also ration some cash for emergencies.
When you’re planning your budget, don’t be vague. Ask yourself specific questions. How much do you spend on food now? Will you change your habits when you go abroad? Grilling yourself about your current spending habits will help you prepare a more realistic budget and let you know what your priorities will be when you get to uni overseas.
Especially if you’re planning on studying in more expensive countries, like England, you may not be able to maintain the same sort of lifestyle you have at your local university. Start cutting costs now, like skipping those expensive haircuts and spa trips so you’ll be able to adjust to the foreign exchange rate later on.
5. Stick to your budget while you're there.
Once you get there, don’t fall into the trap of splurging on touristy stuff and trips too early. Write down everything you buy, every day, even if it’s just a measly cup of coffee. Compare your daily, weekly, and monthly expenses to your budget predictions to see whether you’re going over or running under.
Remember, nothing’s set in stone so once you get there and find out the actual cost of things, feel free to go back to the drawing board and adjust your budget until it’s just right.
6. Extra tip to stay on board: live like the locals do.
One of the best ways you can save money while studying abroad is doing like the locals do. If you are studying in Vietnam, instead of hankering for Mexican food and buying expensive, imported taco shells, why not chow down on the cheapest and tastiest pho money can buy? Ask locals how they save money buying groceries, getting around, or going out. Scan the local newspaper or websites for deals. Also, don’t forget that as an international student, you can benefit from student discounts by using your university card or an international student identity card.
Stop dreaming about going away and start your study abroad budget now!
Spreadsheets are your new best friend! (#TeamSpreadsheet). Once you’ve set them up, you’re guaranteed to spend less time stressing about how you’re going to afford your time overseas and more time counting down the days to your experience of a lifetime. Keep sticking to that budget while you’re overseas and you won’t have to worry about how you’re going to afford that plane ticket back home. Although, that is a great excuse to extend your time abroad…hmmmmm…kidding! Be smart. Budget smart. Travel smart!