General Education

How Much Does it Cost to Study Abroad?

How Much Does it Cost to Study Abroad?
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Anne Holub profile
Anne Holub August 26, 2019

From scholarships and financial aid to cost-effective destinations, and how to not buy all the souvenirs.

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If you're looking to expand your horizons, studying in a foreign country can offer fantastic opportunities—but can you afford it? What does studying abroad cost, anyway?

It's hard enough to calculate a monthly budget when you're on home turf. When you factor in a foreign country, things get a lot more unfamiliar. If you want to study in another country for a month, a semester, or even an academic year, it's essential to make smart financial choices before packing your bags.

To choose the right study abroad program, you'll need to factor cost into the equation. Here's everything you need to consider.

How Much Does It Cost to Study Abroad?

As you begin estimating the cost of your trip, look at what you're spending to attend your school at home. If you're unclear about the cost of school per semester, make an appointment to talk to your school's bursar or the registrar's office. Calculate the cost of tuition, fees, and class materials. Then, compare this cost to the price of your international program. Is it more or less?

How to Calculate the Cost of Studying Abroad

In addition to paying for your classes and books when studying overseas, you also should factor in other expenses, like:

  • Airfare and ground transportation: How much will it cost to get to the airport nearest to your destination? What will you pay to get from the airport to your accommodations? Will your second leg of travel require a cab ride across town or a more complicated journey to another city or region?
  • Housing: Some programs include accommodation in their costs, either in the form of student dorms or staying with a host family. Find out if your potential program includes it, or if you'll have to find housing.
  • Meals: Are any meals included in your program? This could mean with your host or through a cafeteria meal program. Keep in mind that provided meals will likely include only one or two per day and that you'll need to buy food and snacks elsewhere.
  • Trips to other destinations: Where would you like to travel while you're abroad? How much will it cost to visit other cities and countries?
  • Passport: If you don't have a passport or need to renew, check out costs for that as well as any necessary visas for your travels.
  • Vaccinations: Some countries require travelers to get vaccinated before they travel. Make sure you know which ones you'll need and if your current health insurance covers them.
  • Health and travel insurance: Yep, more insurance! Getting protected by travel insurance can help you stay ahead of emergencies like getting sick, injured, or losing luggage abroad, as well as travel delays. 
  • Personal expenses, and more: From entertainment like concerts and plays to buying the odd donut or souvenir, think about how much you should budget for miscellaneous and sometimes spontaneous expenses.

Which Study Abroad Locations Are the Least Expensive?

Depending on your reasons for studying abroad, you might look at programs just about anywhere around the globe. If you're interested in honing your foreign language skills, a country with that primary language is a no-brainer pick. If your goal is to experience new cultures, then a country further from your home might serve your needs. 

The least expensive study abroad destinations

Of the 48 countries that are most popular among U.S. study abroad students, a ValuePenguin study ranked the least expensive destinations by those that require an average of $2,500-$5,000 in living expenses per semester.

  • Mexico
  • India
  • Guatemala
  • Peru
  • Vietnam

The most expensive countries to study abroad

The following countries, on average, cost a minimum of $5,000 in living expenses per semester, making them the most expensive study abroad destinations.

  • Singapore
  • Switzerland
  • Norway
  • Australia
  • Ireland

Financial Aid for Study Abroad

Depending on your program and your home and foreign schools, you may be able to strike a deal on your tuition, scholarships, or financial aid. It all depends on the factors you bring to the table. 

According to Lauren Salisbury at GoOversees, universities can offer opportunities to save on tuition through direct enrollment programs. These opportunities include exchange programs, billing through your home college, or letting you apply existing scholarships to your international tuition costs. 

"When you enroll with a foreign university through direct enrollment, you will most likely end up paying the local university directly, and many international universities charge less for tuition, even if you are out of the country," writes Salisbury.

Students who receive tuition assistance can often take advantage of study abroad programs with their existing aid packages. However, they still need to meet their program requirements at home. Generally, this means that a foreign program must be "credit-bearing" for your institution and degree program. Typically, you'll also have to meet any minimum enrollment requirements set forth by your tuition assistance program. Funding often requires part-time enrollment, and most study abroad programs require you be a full-time student. 

Keep in mind, however, that many financial aid programs only disburse funds in a lump sum at the beginning of the semester. You could receive some student aid to offset some of your study abroad expenses. Plan to pay for airfare out-of-pocket, which you should do well in advance. 

Meet with your school's financial aid advisors to ensure you're getting the same assistance abroad that you receive at home for tuition, fees, and materials. Keep in mind that your school likely has policies on how work-study programs are applied to study abroad programs. 

While you're abroad, you may also need to complete financial aid paperwork for your next semester of college back home. FAFSA applications are regularly due in the spring. If you're studying abroad with deadlines approaching by back home, don't use "I was out of the country" as an excuse to flake on your aid package. Talk to your school's financial aid office before you depart and take any necessary paperwork with you.

What Scholarships are Available for Study Abroad?

Need a scholarship? Check with your school and any potential international school to see what opportunities might be available. They may be eligible through your school, your department, or through private scholarship opportunities.

Are you looking to get financial assistance from family and friends? Crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe are a safe and secure way to accept donations for your adventure. Ask for contributions for your trip instead of gifts during the holidays or on your birthday. 

Can't afford a semester abroad? Look into summer programs that only require a month or two overseas. You can also check if your college offers a study abroad program winter or spring break. Generally, these programs last one to two weeks. They tend to focus on just one class, instead of multiple courses,  led by a faculty member from your home college or university.

Should You Use Direct Enrollment or Third-Party Programs?

To help narrow your search, consider what type of program you'll use to study abroad. Programs that require students to work with an international university to arrange their education and stay are sometimes called "direct enrollment" programs.

Advantages for using to direct enrollment programs

  • Ease in finding a program. Instead of spending countless hours searching online, you may need to visit an on-campus office. There are likely programs that your college or university already have a relationship with, which will make your search a lot easier. 
  • Clarity on costs. Your on-campus study abroad office should have the latest details on the costs of tuition and room and board. 
  • They have guaranteed course credit. University partnerships mean that the credits you complete abroad will likely transfer to your home college. 
  • They can help you save. Your university sets up the program of study. You're responsible for logistics like flights, housing, food, or any outside arrangements. 

Third-party companies also offer students opportunities to study overseas, but, as private companies, they're often costly. However, they tend to provide services that can be useful to those who've never traveled abroad or need help making arrangements. 

For example, a third-party study abroad company might take care of:

  • Paperwork. They help you renew or obtain your passport and any necessary visas
  • Housing. They work to arrange your accommodations and other on-the-ground logistics like domestic travel
  • Language. They offer translation services, which are especially helpful if you're traveling to a country where you're not confident speaking the local language.

As always, make sure to vet any third-party provider to make sure that they're a legitimate business. Anything that seems "too good to be true" probably is. 

Tips for Managing Study Abroad Expenses

Studying abroad can be a cultural and educational experience of a lifetime, but it shouldn't put you in the poor house. Once you're overseas, try keeping your budget in line with apps like Mint or PocketGuard that help track personal expenses and keep overspending in check. 

Sticking to a budget can help avoid stressing out—or going broke—while you're away. Sites like NerdWallet offer budget worksheets that break down what you "need" to spend money on and uses that to calculate your budget for buying the things or experience you "want." 

If you want to get a job overseas, be sure to research any limitations your student visa might impose. Some countries prohibit international students from working abroad or impose certain restrictions. Some student visas allow students to work part-time, but they may need extra work permits to do so. 

You might be able to get jobs teaching English while abroad, especially in countries where English isn't the most commonly used language. Translation services, test prep, and even working as an English-language tour guide can be worth pursuing at your destination. 

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