While perhaps not the most exciting part of study abroad, careful financial planning is an essential piece of a successful experience.

For many students, studying abroad is the first time they’ve had to keep a close, consistent eye on their spending.  Even for those who are used to keeping a budget, studying abroad often brings new financial considerations, including planning for new or different activities, keeping an exchange rate in mind, and “hidden costs” such as international transaction and ATM withdrawal fees.  It’s therefore worth taking the time during the application and pre-departure phases of your study abroad experience to research and plan your budget accordingly.  Students who receive financial aid are strongly encouraged to contact their Student Financial Services office well in advance of going abroad so that they know what to expect and can make any necessary preparations.  

Things to Consider Before Going Abroad

  • Am I flexible on my study abroad destination or program based on the cost of the program or cost of living in the different places I am considering?* 
  • What is the cost of living like in my host country/host city (staff or alums of your study abroad program will be able to help answer this question)?
  • What is the exchange rate between the U.S. dollar and my host country’s currency?
  • What are the international transaction and/or withdrawal fees on my credit/debit cards? How can I avoid paying these unnecessarily while abroad? 
  • What does my study abroad program include in their list of program fees? Are there any “essential” expenses that I will incur while abroad that I do not typically have while on campus (e.g., laundry services, bus or subway passes, copy center fees, etc.)? 
  • What “non-essential” expenses do I anticipate having while abroad (e.g., independent travel, extracurricular activities, fitness center or recreational course fees, etc.)?
  • How are in-country expenses (e.g., housing, meals, local transportation, etc.) paid for? Do I pay ahead of time, or do I pay as needed throughout the semester?
  • If I am thinking about traveling while I am abroad, what are my options for transportation and lodging? What are my priorities for traveling and how will I budget for those?
  • What types of study abroad-specific scholarships am I eligible for? What are the application requirements and deadlines?
  • For students who receive financial aid:

    • What, if any, parts of my financial aid can be used for study abroad?

    • If part or all of my aid cannot be used for my study abroad program, can I access funding from other sources?*

    • What information does my Student Financial Services office use to calculate my aid package for the semester?

    • When will my aid for my semester abroad be distributed? Does that align with my study abroad program’s start date? If not, and if my program begins before my aid is distributed, how will I access funding until my aid is distributed?

    • Am I eligible for an advance of funding to help me cover some of my pre-departure expenses, such as visa fees or airfare, or to cover the first few weeks of the semester if my program begins before my aid is fully distributed?

    • How will I receive my financial aid while I am abroad? Do I need to set up a direct deposit or other authorization to ensure I receive my aid as quickly as possible?

*Adapted from Diversity Abroad’s webinar “How to Budget and Save for Study Abroad”

Things to Consider While Abroad

  • What is the best way for me to access money in my host city without incurring a lot of transaction fees? Is there a partner or branch of my U.S. bank where I can withdraw money? Can I open a local bank account? Is there a money transfer office (e.g., Western Union or TransferWise) that I can easily get to?
  • Is bargaining a typical practice in my host city/country? What strategies can I use to respectfully bargain while ensuring I am paying a reasonable amount?*
  • Are there student discounts at certain restaurants or venues that I can take advantage of? Or, are there free or discounted admission days for the general public at popular locations in my host city?*
  • What do I need to do to receive a student discount? Do I need an ID card from my host university, an International Student Identity Card (ISIC), or can I use my U.S. student ID
  • Do my local friends or in-country program staff have suggestions for places to go that are less expensive than the popular tourist destinations?*
  • What are my priorities for spending now that I am abroad? Have they changed since I first created my budget? How will I update my budget to reflect these changes?

*Adapted from Diversity Abroad’s webinar “How to Budget and Save for Study Abroad”

Suggested Resources

A great place to start is this helpful, comprehensive webinar from Diversity Abroad on how to budget, save, and spend for study abroad.

Middlebury’s “Financing Your Study Abroad” webpage offers information about financial aid for Middlebury students, external scholarships, and other helpful resources.

Using budgeting apps can be an effective way to stay on track financially both before and during study abroad. For some ideas on which app to use, you can check out lists of recommended apps like Nerd Wallet’s “The 7 Best Budget Apps for 2020”  or The Balance’s “The 8 Best Budgeting Apps of 2020.”

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