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Budgeting & Accessing Money Abroad

Plan your budget

Studying abroad is a wonderful experience full of lots of opportunities; however, while you are exploring your study abroad destination it is important to create a budget and pay attention to your spending. The amount you will spend abroad varies from student to student, and depends on the host country’s economy, the currency exchange rate, the amount you wish to travel while abroad, and your personal spending habits.

Tips for planning your budget:

  • Talk with returnees from your program
  • Consult country guidebooks
  • Review estimated costs for food, airfare, and other living expenses in your host country (check on your program page, or contact your program directly for information)
  • Be sure to include travel, entertainment, and other incidentals, such as laundry, postage, toiletries, phone and internet time, etc.
  • Expect some items, especially toiletries and goods imported from the U.S., to be more expensive than they are at home
  • Location: The part of the world you choose will affect your costs.  Western Europe, Australia, and Japan tend to be more expensive than other parts of the world.  Urban areas are generally more expensive than rural areas.
  • Be on the look out for student discounts and low-cost or free events offered by your program or study abroad city.

Helpful Tools:

  • We recommend you use our online budget tool, budget worksheet, or budget checklist or to help plan your budget prior to departure.
  • Compare the cost of living in different countries you are considering at expatistan.com.
  • Use a currency converter app on your phone to stay aware of how much you are spending in US dollars.

If you are a financial aid recipient, you may also find it helpful to meet with Krista Bethel to review your aid package and plan your study abroad budget, especially if you might receive a financial aid refund to help with your expenses overseas.

Accessing money abroad

Whichever method you decide is best for you, it’s important to have a backup in case one way fails. We suggest bringing a small amount ($100 or so) of foreign currency in cash when you leave the U.S. to cover expenses like bus/taxi fares, snacks, and phone calls for the first couple days.

ATM & Credit Cards

ATMs are the best way to access money abroad and are increasingly available overseas. Your bank or credit card company can charge fees for withdrawals overseas and may also have a limit on the amount you can withdraw daily, so be sure to consult with your bank about this.

ATM tips:

  • Some U.S. banks have "sister banks" abroad that don’t charge fees for use – ask your bank about this!
  • If your card does charge fees, try to limit the amount of ATM withdrawals because the ATM and conversion fees add up quickly!
  • Verify your card and PIN number’s compatibility with machines overseas – some machines don’t accept PINs over 4-digits.
Credit Cards

Credit cards are less widely accepted for purchases abroad than they are in the U.S., and some banks and credit card companies charge very high fees for international transactions. Contact your bank in advance to find out about any applicable fees. You may want to limit the use of your credit card for purchases and/or plan to use cash more often, if necessary.

Cash

Many stores, restaurants, and hotels in other countries (especially in smaller towns and cities) do not accept credit cards, especially for small purchases like coffee. For that reason, you should try to have a small amount of cash in local currency with you at all times.

Be Prepared

Whichever method you decide is best for you, it’s important to have a backup in case one way fails. We suggest bringing a small amount ($100 or so) of local currency in cash when you leave the U.S. to cover initial transportation, food, and phone calls for the first couple days. Notify your bank and credit card company that you will be abroad for an extended period of time and will be using your cards.

When traveling with large amounts of cash, it is advisable to divide it up and store it in a few different locations. In the unfortunate case of theft, make sure you store photocopies of all your important documents and credit/debit cards in your place of residence and with a friend or family member back home. Be sure to write down all your card numbers, as well as the phone numbers in a safe place (800-numbers do not work from overseas, so make sure you have a number with a U.S. area code). It may take some time for your bank to reissue and send a card, so be sure to keep a back-up credit/debit card or stash of cash at your place of residence so you have funds while you wait for a new bank card.

In case you find yourself short on money (or your wallet was stolen and you have no means of getting cash), the best way to obtain money from the U.S. is usually to have a parent or guardian deposit money into your bank account directly. Make sure to give your parents your bank account information in advance if you plan to use this option. You can also have someone wire you money via Western Union or another currency exchange.

Power of Attorney

It is recommended you give a family member or trusted friend power of attorney while you’re abroad. Giving someone power of attorney allows them to endorse your financial aid checks and deposit them into your account.

Not Recommended
  • Opening a foreign bank account: It is not usually necessary (nor always possible) to open a bank account in your country of residence, especially if you will be abroad for less than a year. Most students find it easier to access their U.S.-based bank account via ATMs abroad.
  • Traveler’s checks: They are becoming more difficult and more expensive to cash abroad. While they are safer than carrying cash and are valid indefinitely, this won't do you any good if you find yourself in a financial pinch and can't find anywhere abroad to cash them.
  • Personal checks: It is virtually impossible to cash personal checks abroad -- and extremely expensive when possible -- so you should not depend on them as a means of acquiring money.