Study Abroad Guide - Planning Your Expenses Overseas


Genia Jones
Content Specialist
Genia is a writer for FXcompared. She has over 15 years of experience working in the financial industry as a writer, analyst, marketer, and content strategist. She enjoys writing about emerging trends… Read more


In today’s globally-connected world, study abroad programs are increasingly seen as a vital experience for students. While the number of students at international universities is still small compared to those who choose to study domestically, international study abroad programs are gaining in popularity, and there are several reasons for the growing interest in these programs. Today’s emphasis on international experience is only part of the reason why many students look to study overseas. Other reasons include lower foreign university tuition costs in many countries, stepped-up recruiting efforts on the part of international universities, and a chance to travel and enjoy unique experiences. All of these factors contribute to the growing numbers of students worldwide who choose to pursue an international education.

Calculating the Costs of Studying Abroad

For students interested in studying overseas, figuring out the cost of studying abroad can be a daunting task. There are several resources available to help students research the cost of living overseas and funding a study program. Taking the time to research your best options for financing a study-abroad program, and to find the most cost-effective methods for sending money overseas, can save you both time and money in the long run.

Finding a currency specialist familiar with the country where you’ll be studying is a good place to start. Currency specialists can help you find the best exchange rate and put together a plan to maximize favorable exchange rates, while also helping to protect you from market volatility. These specialists (often known as FX brokers) can help you secure better exchange rates than what you’d get at a bank, and usually charge lower transfer fees. FX brokers may also offer free money transfer services, saving you money when you need to send funds to the country in which you’ll be studying. With many brokers, the more money you send, the lower your fee will be. Your fee may be waived entirely if the amount you’re sending is large enough. FX brokers typically do not have sending limits, either, unlike banks, which typically have strict sending amounts.

Currency specialists can also help you target the best exchange rate, depending on your financial situation. For example, if exchange rates are favorable, a currency specialist might suggest purchasing a larger amount of foreign currency and then saving it for future use, essentially allowing you to hedge against future downward movements by locking in the current favorable rate. This can be especially advantageous if you’re planning a full course of study and plan to be abroad for a year or longer. Having the ability to protect against future exchange rate volatility can potentially save you a substantial amount of money over the long term. It’s just as important to research any financial regulations of the country where you’ll be sending the money. This is where a currency specialist can again be helpful. A specialist will have local contacts that can provide guidance for navigating red tape or bureaucracy, which may prevent sending delays. When a delayed money transfer can result in a late tuition payment and being prohibited from attending class, it’s important to work with knowledgeable specialists to help you avoid these situations. Review your university’s international tuition instructions. There may be specific requirements for making international tuition payments, or the university may require that you send your payments through a specific provider.

study abroad costs after acceptance

Tuition Assistance for International Students

Don’t forget to research international scholarship and financial aid opportunities, which are well worth the time it takes to research them. There are a variety of financial aid options for students wishing to pursue a full course of study overseas. The Institute of International Education’s website is a good place to start searching for international scholarships, grants, and study abroad programs. The US Department of Education also provides a comprehensive listing of international schools that participate in the Federal Student Loan Program, which provides American students studying at an international university with US federal loan money.

There are plenty of other resources online to help you find study abroad scholarships, as well as crowdsourcing platforms like Fund and Seek that can help you figure out financing options.

If you already know where you’ll be studying, or at least have a list of potential international universities where you plan to apply, contact the universities’ admissions offices to get more information on their financial aid programs. Because financial aid policies for foreign students can vary widely from university to university, speaking directly with each school is the best way to get useful information on what you can expect to cover, versus what the program’s financial aid package will cover.

Finally, there are even some companies, such as Flywire, that focus exclusively on tuition payments.  Such companies can provide students with better rates when transferring money, and often have other options for users, such as payment due date reminders.

study abroad costs books

Books, Laptops, and School Supplies

Most books and supplies aren’t covered by the cost of tuition, so you’ll want to be sure to budget for your specific needs. If new books aren’t important to you, most universities offer used textbooks for a discount, and many will buy back the books at the end of the semester. Also, a growing number of university instructors are starting to offer class materials online, meaning actual textbooks (and their high cost!) aren't always a requirement for class. While many universities provide computer facilities free of charge to students in good standing, most students today prefer their own computer. Many computer companies offer discounts to full- or even part-time students of accredited universities, and many universities also offer discounts to enrolled students shopping for a computer or laptop. Check with your university to see if they offer discounts on computers and related supplies.

study abroad housing expenses


Once you’ve figured out costs and how you’ll pay for tuition, books, and other supplies you’ll need for your studies, you’ll want to focus next on general study abroad living expenses, the most expensive being where you’ll live. Choosing whether to live in a dorm, an apartment, with a roommate(s), or on your own, are all important considerations determined not only by how much you’re willing and able to spend, but also by personal preference. Keep in mind that the price of your study abroad program is influenced by the country’s cost of living. If you’ll be attending a university in a large, cosmopolitan city like London, expect to pay more for an apartment or a dorm than if you were living in a much smaller city in the German countryside. Choosing to live outside the city can mean lower rent, but keep in mind that your transportation costs will go up. Universities can usually help with cost of living estimates and options. Or, look for online resources that compile cost of living statistics and country comparisons.

study abroad living expenses food

Food & Entertainment

As an international student, keep an eye out for all the ways your student status gives you access to discounts on food, travel, and entertainment options. In many European and Asian countries, it’s typical to find student discounts at museums, bars, local shops, even salons. Discounts range from 10-20% off standard prices, and these savings can add up quickly. If you plan to travel while studying abroad, many countries offer special student discounts for trains and other forms of public transportation. You may need to provide an international student ID to qualify, so be sure to research your country’s requirements for qualifying for student travel discounts. Wherever you live, you’ll need to plan accordingly for your meals. Many international university programs offer cafeteria plans, which can help you save significantly. Also, consider cooking at home, if you’ll be living in an apartment or home where you have access to a kitchen. Not only can you save money, but it’s a great opportunity to learn local dishes.

Hidden Costs

After accounting for tuition, books and supplies, housing, food, and entertainment, you’ll still need to factor in additional costs like health insurance (if it’s not covered as part of your tuition), cell phone charges, and financial costs, such as ATM fees or international money transfer fees. Medical insurance is a necessity, and most international university programs will either provide you with health insurance, or require you to purchase a qualifying insurance policy before you arrive. Check your existing health insurance policy, as it may cover you for international stays. If it doesn’t, expect to pay anywhere from $200 - $800 for a one-year policy. In most European countries, you can purchase a phone locally for between USD $30-$50. This includes a prepaid SIM card. Some wireless companies give you a discount if you purchase multiple SIM cards at once, so if you have friends who also need a local phone, go together to see what discount you can get. Remember, wherever you end up studying, you’ll be dealing with the international currency markets. You can help yourself out and potentially save money on sending money overseas by keeping track of currency movements. Working with a currency specialist to ensure you find the best exchange rates for transferring funds can help you save money over time.

study abroad exploration

Planning for an Emergency - Engage a Currency Specialist

No matter how diligently you plan and budget for your overseas study program, emergencies can happen, and you may find yourself needing cash fast. To help finance your overseas degree program, and to ensure you’re in good hands if you suddenly need funds, work with a foreign exchange money transfer provider that has experience in the country where you plan to study. An FX broker can help you avoid the high fees typically associated with international transfers, while potentially helping you to reduce your foreign exchange-related costs.

FXcompared provides a variety of tools to its users as they explore the world of international currency.  Use our volatility tool to observe the relationship between different currency pairs, or you can use our audit tool to see how you could have saved on past international payments.  If you are looking for a currency specialist, our comparison tool wil help point you in the right direction of money transfer. 

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