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Saving Money Abroad

It can be very easy to overspend while you are abroad, and money mismanagement can lead to unpleasant consequences like running out of money or having to forego certain planned expenses.

General Tips

  • Make a budget before you leave! Financial Aid Recipients should contact financial aid office to review your aid package and plan your budget. Be sure to consider unusual expenses, such as traveling costs or souvenirs, in your budget.
  • Location affects cost of living. For example, Western Europe and Oceania tend to be more expensive than other regions. Also, if you live in a large metropolitan area, it will likely cost more than in a countryside location.
  • Northwestern study abroad returnees are a a good resource for anticipating costs. Contact returnees for more tips! Also, read through Northwestern students' blog posts about budgeting abroad.
  • Once abroad, record what you are spending each week. How much you spend while abroad largely depends on your personal habits, which you can modify over time!
  • Make use of your student status. Ask for student discounts, and always bring your student ID with you when you visit museums and other cultural sites.
  • If bargaining is a norm in your host country, try it! In some countries, you can bargain down to 10-20% of the initial price. Bargaining tip: counter-offer low, don’t show too much interest, and don’t be afraid to walk away!

Tips by Spending Category


It may sound counter-intuitive, but avoid "basic economy" plane tickets, which typically don't include any checked bags and offer very limited or no options for making changes. You should also balance itinerary with cost - the more times you have to change planes, the greater likelihood for issues, such as missed or cancelled connections, lost bags, or other problems, which can bring additional costs. Review our Buying a Plane Ticket page for more information. 

Local Transportation

Use the public transportation options available in your program location, including the subway/metro, buses, bicycle rentals, and others. These options may not only save you money, but time and energy as well. Ridesharing services may be more affordable than taxis, but be sure research whether they are safe and legal in your host country.


  • If your program provides a meal plan or includes any meals, eat as many provided meals as possible to cut down on additional food costs.
  • Try to limit eating out at restaurants. When you do eat out, make smart choices that maximize your cultural and culinary experience while keeping costs low:
    • Look for lunch menus and daily specials
    • Don’t order food that doesn’t have a price listed on the menu
    • Order tapas style in a group
    • Understand tipping culture in your host country
  • Cook for yourself as much as you can.
    • When grocery shopping, find out which stores are low-cost (e.g., Whole Foods vs. Aldi) to maximize your food budget. Stick to generic or store brands. Plan out your meals ahead of time. Don't shop on an empty stomach!
    • Explore local vendors and markets. This can be a healthy option and give you insights into the people, ingredients, and cuisine of your host community.
    • Try cooking with fresh ingredients. Pre-packaged food might be convenient, but can be more expensive.


Review the Prepare & Go: Communication page for information about mobile phones. Your smartphone can give you access to cheap or free resources and services in your program location. Some helpful apps that may be available to you in your host country include:

  • Skype: Free calling and videochatting
  • WhatsApp: Free texting, voice calls, and video calls from your device
  • WiFi Finder: Find the closest free hotspot anywhere in the world
  • Where: Finds the best local spots to eat, drink, and sleep, and keeps you in the loop on deals from local businesses
  • Kayak: Search for the best price on flights, hotels, and car rentals


Some items, such as toiletries, may be more expensive abroad than in the U.S. or your home country. To save money, you may wish to pack your preferred products rather than purchasing them in your host country. Review our Packing Tips page for more information.

Entertainment & Travel

The best advice from past students to save money: stay local, and explore your host city!

  • Research student discounts and low-cost or free events offered by your program or in your host city.
  • Returnees have recommended visiting museums on free admission days and avoiding "tourist traps."