Plan Your Budget
Study abroad is an exciting opportunity, but for many students, it may also be a new experience or challenge to plan and manage a budget – in a different country, in a different currency, on a different calendar, and maybe even in a different language! It is important to plan and stick to a budget and pay attention to your spending. The amount you spend abroad will depend on lots of variables, including the host country’s economy, the currency exchange rate, what costs are covered by your program, your personal spending habits, and the amount you wish to travel.
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.
- If your program housing includes meals, plan to eat as many meals as possible that are already provided, to cut down on additional spending on food.
- Be on the look out for student discounts and low-cost or free events offered by your program or study abroad city.
- We recommend you use a 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 U.S. dollars.
- Articles & Tips:
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
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.
Whichever method you decide is best for you to access money from abroad, make sure you have a backup plan in case one way fails.
ATM & Credit Cards
ATMs are the best way to access money abroad and are increasingly available overseas. Your bank or credit card company may charge fees for withdrawals overseas and may have a limit on the amount you can withdraw daily, so be sure to consult with your bank about this.
- Some U.S. banks have "sister banks" abroad that don’t charge fees for use – ask your bank about this!
- Verify your card and PIN number’s compatibility with machines overseas – some machines don’t accept PINs over 4-digits. Occasionally, PIN numbers that start with a “0” do not work internationally, so if this applies to you, we recommend that you change your PIN before you go.
- Thefts at ATMs can happen, so be vigilant when taking out money at ATMs. Extracting large sums of money from the ATM and keeping large sums of cash on you (or in your personal space) increases the risk of theft. Carry with you only what you need.
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.
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.
It is, however, recommended that you bring at least one (and maybe a second backup) credit card. In most locations, big shops and restaurants will accept major credit cards (MasterCard and Visa are more widely accepted than American Express), and you can also withdraw cash with a credit card at most ATMs. Notify your credit card company that you will be abroad and to verify any foreign transaction fees.
For students studying abroad in Europe, be aware that in most European countries, credit cards use “chip-and-PIN” technology (cards have a small computer chip in them and require users to enter a PIN code to make purchases), rather than a magnetic strip and signature, which has been common in the U.S. This means that in many locations, particularly when paying at a self-service kiosk or ticket machine, U.S. credit cards may be rejected. If you do not already have a credit card with chip technology, it is recommended that you contact your credit card company before you depart to ask whether this is available.
Security & Backup Plans
Avoid traveling with large amounts of cash. If you must, divide it up and store it in a few different locations.
Store photocopies of all your important documents and credit/debit cards in your place of residence and with a family member or trusted friend back home. Write down all of your card numbers and each company's phone number and store them in a safe place. Toll-free numbers often do not work from overseas, so make sure you have a number with a U.S. area code.
If your credit card is stolen, it may take some time for your bank to reissue and send a card. Be sure to keep a back-up credit/debit card and/or have some cash accessible, but secured properly, at your place of residence, so you have funds while you wait for a new bank card.
If you find yourself short on funds, the best way to obtain additional 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 think you might need to use this option. If you wallet was stolen and you have no way to access your bank account, you can also have someone wire you money via Western Union or another currency exchange.
- 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.