Four financial planning tips for studying abroad

student on study abroad reading book

Studying abroad can be a valuable and eye-opening experience — but it’s important to figure out how to pay for it before you go.

Studying abroad can provide you with a wealth of experiences and memories that can have a positive impact on your future, career, and life after school.

But before you get swept away in the possibility of living life in a new place, remember that these programs cost money — and you’ll need to plan ahead to get the most out of your investment.

1. Know the costs

Ask about the costs of the program you want to attend. Many colleges offer financial planning worksheets, like this one from Western Kentucky University, to help students prepare for the costs of going abroad.

Request a budget for the specific program you want to attend — and make sure you understand what’s included in your tuition and fees and what you’ll need to pay for out of pocket. If your college offers abbreviated study abroad sessions — like over winter break or in the summer — you may want to consider this option. If the session is shorter in duration, the costs may be less.

Don’t forget to consider the costs you can control. If you need to book your own flights, for example, you can set price alerts and get notifications when airlines offer sales or low fares.

2. Look at your funding options

If the cost of studying abroad seems overwhelming, your trip isn’t necessarily out of reach because of that. There are several funding sources you can try and tap into.

Search for grants and scholarships first. This is like “free” money, since you can put your award money toward your costs without needing to pay money back. Your school may offer scholarships for study abroad programs, and you can also apply for funding from external scholarships, specific for studying abroad.

Next, consider student loans. You will need to repay these loans (plus interest), but the experience and education you gain on your study abroad session might pay off later in the job search — for instance, if you’re able to become fluent in a language by living abroad, you may become a more attractive job candidate.

In either case, you’ll want to reach out to the financial aid department at your university. They can help you fill out the FAFSA (which is required if you want to get a federal student loan) or help you identify scholarship opportunities.

3. Start saving money now

If you don’t want to take out loans and a scholarship doesn’t pan out, then you’ll need to find a way to fund your study abroad session yourself. You might want to try one of these strategies:

  • Partner with community or professional organizations to fundraise for your study abroad costs. You’ll likely need to offer these groups something in return for their efforts, so be prepared to volunteer your time or knowledge in exchange.
  • Reduce your spending now and tighten your budget to increase the amount of money you have left at the end of every month: Put the surplus cash into a savings account earmarked for your study abroad trip.
  • Pick up a part-time job, work extra hours at your current position, or even consider doing some freelance work on the side to start earning more (which will make it easier to save).

You can also think about any “idling assets” you might leave behind during your trip that you can use to help cover costs. For instance, if you’re currently renting an apartment, consider subletting it while you’re gone. At the very least, this will eliminate the need for you to pay the rent bill, but it could also help you earn a little extra income if your place is in demand. Check with your landlord, management company, or owner to see if renting out your apartment is an option. You might also explore the possibility of renting out your car to car-sharing services too.

4. Know how you’ll handle costs once you’re abroad

Paying for the initial expense is just the first step in financial planning for your study abroad session. You also need to think about how you’ll manage money (and how much you’ll need) once you start your experience abroad.

First, create a budget before you leave and make it as detailed as possible. Set a limit for how much you can spend per day, but try to keep your expenditures low, just in case you encounter a financial emergency.

Keep it realistic, too, and consider your destination’s average cost of living. Buying dinner in some countries and destinations can cost a lot more than buying a meal in others.

Then, figure out the logistics. Does the region you’ll study in accept your current debit or credit cards? Will you pay foreign transaction fees that will increase your total program cost? Do you know how to get cash in the local currency if you need it?

Answer these questions now, and then plan ahead accordingly. Consider applying for a credit card that works internationally and does not charge foreign transaction fees. Exchange money at your bank before you leave. And research the area you’re staying in to know where you can access more cash should you need it.

Make sure to notify your bank when you’re going abroad. For Wells Fargo customers, login, then update your travel plans online.

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