Studying abroad is a unique opportunity to step into a new culture—but that doesn’t mean you can take that step for free. If you are nervous about financial matters while studying abroad, here are some tips based on my personal experience.
1. Apply to as many scholarships as possible and do your research
Depending on your program, there may be scholarship opportunities available directly from your study abroad program provider (if it’s different from your college), host institution, or home university. Start researching as early as possible, because deadlines may occur way before your study abroad application is even due.
2. Plan ahead and budget realistically
Before you leave, think about what your everyday expenses will be. How much money will you need for food, transportation, and basic needs, like toiletries? Once you figure that out, you can see how much you’ll have leftover for side trips and souvenirs.
3. Know the currency exchange rate and how expensive everyday things are
Like food and clothes and toothbrushes! This is related to the above point, but planning out your everyday expenses is different when the country you are going to uses a completely different currency. Familiarize yourself with exchange rates to minimize sticker shock once you arrive.
4. Watch out for ATM and exchange fees
Many American banks charge fees every time you use an ATM overseas. While a dollar or two may seem minor, these fees can add up if you only take out small amounts of cash at a time. One way around this is to use the ATM as infrequently as possible, but that means carrying larger amounts of money with you, which isn’t always a good idea. Try finding a bank that doesn’t have overseas ATM fees or that reimburses you for them, which is what I did.
5. Don’t have all of your money in one account tied to one card
Accidents happen, and if your debit card gets lost or taken, you don’t want to be left without a way to access your money. I created a secondary, international-friendly bank account before I left and kept some of my funds in the other account in case my main card was compromised.
6. Decide what’s worth a splurge and what’s not
For me, this meant spending a little more on travel experiences than on material souvenirs. Memories stay with you forever, while souvenirs may break or get lost during travel. At the same time, having a few meaningful keepsakes from the places you visit is also a nice way to remember your travels, but these don’t have to be expensive.
At the end of the day, the most important thing is that you have a great time. Planning ahead will allow you to focus on where you are rather than constantly worrying about finances.