If there is any impediment when it comes to studying abroad, it is the cost. Many students, and their parents, tend to think that studying abroad is too expensive to pursue. But, there are in fact a growing number of providers and organizations that offer reasonable, affordable study abroad program packages.
How much do study abroad programs cost?
As told in our in-depth article on general study abroad costs,
According to research by the International Institute of Education, the all-encompassing average cost of studying abroad in a foreign country hovers around $18,000 per semester, or $36,000 per full academic year. Other indicators use range as a more useful indicator; for example, studying abroad in the U.K. usually winds up costing between $8,000 and $21,000.
Keep in mind that this does little justice to the variety of costs between countries AND program types. As you sift through your program options, take note of not only different price tags, but also different inclusions. The goal should ultimately be to cut the costs of your study abroad program, but to also find one that intersects at a good value and cost.
How to reduce your study abroad costs
Here are eight of our favorite go-to strategies, not to mention low cost study abroad alternatives and even MORE ways you can cut the cost of your study abroad program.
1. Choose your location from the cheapest countries to study abroad
Location plays a big role in program expenses, not all countries are created equal when it comes to cost of living. Asian countries, particularly those in the southeast region, are among the cheapest to study in because of their overall affordable cost of living. These include India, the Philippines, and China. Japan and South Korea, meanwhile, tend to be more expensive than the aforementioned due to their location on the opposite end of the cost of living spectrum. If you want to study in South America, then perhaps you should look at countries like Peru, Ecuador, and Brazil, which fall in the middle range of program costs.
Sorry homies, but it isn't relatively cheap to study abroad in Europe. Even if you find more affordable European study abroad destinations, your overall cost of living will still be fairly on par with your life back home. Keep in mind though that some more far-flung destinations might cost you more in airfare, though your every day living expenses will be low. It's all a balance and important to consider as you create your study abroad cost estimate.
2. Understand the potential hidden costs
Another important thing to do is, search for the hidden study abroad costs before committing. While some programs appear to be cheap at first glance, there may be program fees which must be paid upon arrival. Thus, before applying, make sure that the price is inclusive of all costs: tuition, books, room and board, meals, excursions, orientation, and visa processing. Or, alternatively, if you're seeking a more independent-style (and thus, CHEAP) study abroad program, make sure that they're not going to ding you for unexpected services once you're abroad.
At the very least, make sure that the costs you think you have covered, are truly covered, and you are prepared to pay the rest along the way. Don’t be afraid to ask the provider or university to which you are applying.
3. Pass on luxury accommodations
Your study abroad program provider will likely have a menu of housing options for you to consider. Understand that a higher level of comfort typically translates to higher study abroad costs. Generally speaking, it is cheaper to stay in university-arranged housing (like an international student dorm). If you want a middle-of-the-road cost solution, consider staying in a program-provided student apartment—with roommates. These can give you a bit more space, but not run your bank account dry like a single apartment or a long term hotel stay.
Another option to consider is a homestay, whereby you stay with a family for the duration of your study abroad program. You might be thinking "Helllooooo, the cost of a homestay is WAY more than other options—not great for my study abroad cost estimate"—but hear us out. Homestays typically include 1-2 meals daily, so you'll be saving on your overall costs AND getting delicious homecooked food AND making relationships that will likely last a lifetime. Not bad for the price, huh?
A third option to consider is finding your own apartment, but this can be price and time consuming, not to mention navigating a foreign real estate market is no easy feat. There could be more up front costs or worse—broken pipes or secret cockroach infestations. Blech. Even if you DO happen upon a more affordable independent option, sometimes the peace of mind about the quality of housing and accessibility to help (vis-à-vis your program provider) more than makes up for the cost difference.
The last thing you want to do in a foreign country is be hungry or without a bed!
4. Study abroad in a smaller city
Big cities = big price tags. This is another example of a geographic decision YOU can make that will ultimately affect the bottom line. We know you love Paris or are dying to live amongst the Tokyo lights, but maybe you can save those longterm experiences for when you're older (and have more of a disposable income). You can still visit the major metropolises for weekend adventures—and, as aforementioned, you can always return someday (maybe as an expat or while teaching English abroad after college!).
Just as Iowa's cost of living is lesser than Chicago's, so too are smaller, more rural cities affordability. Trade in Manchester for London, Milan for Rome, Xi'an for Beijing. You get the idea!
5. Opt out of weekend excursions
If weekend excursions are an optional additional expense, opt out and boot strap the same experience instead. It'll be a fun exercise in your own travel planning skills, not to mention leave you with a few extra dollars to splurge on (much deserved) treats once you do a similar excursion successfully without their help. Heck yea!
Pro tip: Walking is always free, and a pretty fun activity if you're laidback. Make your new city feel more like home by traversing it on foot (and saving a quick buck as you go!).
If all else fails and you can’t find a program affordable enough for your budget, look for some place close so you can cut your flight costs down dramatically. If you live in Europe try northern Africa, if you live in the U.S. or Canada, try Mexico or the Caribbean. Flying to the other side of the world will be an incredible experience, but it also creates an incredible expense; so if you must, cut down your round trip mileage.
Important Secret! Your browser and the airline search engines can track what you have searched for in the past and raise the prices since they know you want it. How to search for flights on the low down? Do additional searches in an incognito window to see fresh search results.
7. Purchase used equipment
One major area for cutting your study abroad costs—that many do not consider—are the expenses incurred even before you leave to study abroad. Kitting up for the adventure can be more expensive than anticipated. You might need a new backpack (easily $200+), legit hiking shoes (another $100), the perfect fleece ($50), noise cancelling headphones ($$$$) and more.
Instead of going on a willy-nilly shopping spree at your local REI, consider hitting up Sierra Trading Post, your local secondhand shops, your uncle's garage closet, or online trading platforms—even Facebook marketplace might have just what you need. It will take more time, but the savings will add up, quickly (and effectively) cutting your study abroad costs.
8. Pick an affordable study abroad program
As you start finding and considering different program options, don't delay too much energy or interest in any program with $$$ price tags. Instead, when you find a program on the cheaper end, or one of the best cheapest study abroad programs available, bookmark it as an option to more seriously look into later.
What's that you say? You wish there was a way to make this easier? We're glad you asked. You'll love MyGoAbroad, the only tool you need to find the right (and most affordable) study abroad program for you.
Because we ❤️ you, here's a short list of the cheapest study abroad programs to get you started in your research:
- Center for Study Abroad specializes in suuuuper low cost study abroad programs
- The Foundation for International Education offers programs in traditionally expensive places, but has reasonably cost experiences
- Universities Study Abroad Consortium (USAC) offers affordable study abroad programs in conjunction with many American universities
- If you have your eye on Asia and want to directly enroll in a university, you'll love Asia Exchange's cheap study abroad programs China, Indonesia, South Korea, Malaysia and Thailand
- If Latin America is more your flavor, sign up for Sol Education Abroad programs—an excellent value without breaking the bank
There are plenty more affordable study abroad programs to be found; you've just gotta kickstart your research!
Other cost cutting alternatives
Sign up for a language school
Language schools tend to have lower costs than full-service study abroad programs, yet can still give you an immersive and impactful educational experience in a new and foreign place—bonus points because you tend to walk away with a seriously impressive skill set (and level of language fluency).
The potential downfall of this type of program is that it can be harder to gain university credits for your courses (even though we know you're working hard!). This might be a deal breaker for some students, but others who are studying abroad for the sake of exploring/not spending another boring summer at home might benefit from researching low cost language schools abroad.
Volunteer or intern abroad instead
One of the most popular ways to cut the costs of studying abroad, arrange a volunteer abroad program. There are certain volunteer programs that can be converted directly into course credits, as long as they are related to your academic major. Volunteering will allow you to gain hands-on experience in your field of choice, as well as apply the lessons you've learned throughout your education. Volunteering abroad is sometimes a third of the price of studying abroad, so speak with an advisor if you’d like to explore the cheaper option.
Interning abroad works quite similarly. Rather than simply study on location, you can complete an internship that is also convertible to academic credits. Internships can be very useful in professional development, especially when your major has an interning stint built in to the curriculum. The experience will be invaluable when applying for future employment too. Like volunteer programs, internships are typically less expensive than study abroad programs. Internships also often introduce you more fully to a foreign language, another added benefit.
Direct enrollment is always an option
Forego the bells and whistles (and price tags) of a third party provider—or your university provided program—and instead apply directly to a foreign institution for general short term admission. “Direct enrollment” is when you enroll directly in a university abroad as an exchange student. For example, if you want to study at Oxford University in England, you need to apply and pay fees directly to the school. It’s usually easier to enroll at universities abroad that follow a curriculum that’s similar to your home college and use the same language of instruction. Read more:
Lowered study abroad cost estimate? Check! ✅
Now that you're not stress-eating over the pending doom better known as your study abroad bill, you can start channeling your energy towards getting prepared (you'll love our checklist), organizing your budget, and throwing yourself a kickass going away party. Duh.