Study abroad expenses: Budget and finances for the college student

If you’re considering spending a semester studying abroad, you’ll want to be sure you’ve budgeted all necessary expenses for the most enjoyable trip possible. Costs such as tuition, room and board, meal plans, insurance, travel expenses and entertainment should all be considered when budgeting your semester abroad.

You certainly don’t want to find yourself sitting alone in your flat while everyone else is having a beach vacation weekend because you didn’t consider the costs of traveling into your budget. Being prepared is the first step!

Where to begin

A good thing to do before you’ve chosen a program to study abroad is to make a list of your current monthly expenses. You’ll want to include rent, food, health insurance, cell phone bill, credit card bill, gas money (or bus fares), car insurance, prescription costs and any other recurring monthly bills. This will give you a good idea of how much money you spend in an average month. From here you can make note of what bills you’ll still need to pay while abroad. Make sure you have enough funds to cover these while you’re gone.

Unless you have unlimited funds within reach, you’ll want to first fill out a FAFSA for your next school year. The free application for the federal student aid form is available at and will be a good starting point so you know what additional forms of aid you’ll need to apply for (if any). On a side note, you’ll want to pay attention to state and federal application deadlines.

Many programs offer scholarships for students who are studying abroad. Don’t forget to check into your college/university’s study abroad website and apply for any scholarships that you’re eligible for. offers a free scholarship search and can help you apply for scholarships offered outside your college or university.

“You can’t afford NOT to go!”

Michigan State University, home of one of the country’s largest study abroad programs, lists advice on how to finance your semester abroad in their post “You Can’t Afford Not to Go! How to Finance Your Study Abroad Experience.” MSU’s Office of Study Abroad suggests checking the particular program’s expenses once a decision has been made. Costs can include but are not limited to the following:

  • Application fee
  • Deposit fee
  • Tuition, books and materials
  • Program fee
  • Airfare
  • Meals
  • Passport and/or visa
  • Immunizations
  • Personal spending money
  • International student ID
  • Travel insurance

Since each study abroad program is slightly different, you should check with your college or university for specific information regarding health insurance while traveling out of the country. Most programs automatically offer coverage with a zero dollar deductible. Some countries, England for example, have universal health care and many expenses are covered, though travel insurance is still required.

Additional expenses to keep in mind

It seems that airlines are constantly changing their luggage policies. If you’re worried about meeting the weight/baggage limit as you’re packing for your three-week excursion to Vietnam, consider leaving some items at home. This can mean having extra money on hand for the following items:

  • Renting a laptop or visiting Internet cafes if necessary
  • Cell phone/calling cards
  • Bedding and toiletries
  • Medications (if you’re planning on being an adventurous food taster)

If you’re planning on using the two-week spring break to hop a train and explore Europe, like I did, consider purchasing a Eurail pass, which can save you a considerable amount of time and money when traveling. Let’s Go Travel posts video guides filled with tips for travelers. Check out “#TravelTuesday tip Budgeting for your next big trip” for advice when saving.

When you look at what seems like a never-ending list of fees associated with studying abroad, it can seem very overwhelming. If you’re planning on studying abroad during your junior year of college, for example, you should begin planning at least a year or two in advance to give yourself enough time to save and plan.

While I took out twice as much as I normally would for a semester of school to study abroad in England for five months, it was worth so much more than I could have expected. The experiences that I gained (things you don’t pay for like compassion, patience, understanding of different cultures, etc.) are things you cannot put a price tag on. I think MSU is dead-on when they say “You can’t afford NOT to go” for this reason. In a world where every person needs an extra experience to set themselves apart from the next candidate, a semester spent studying abroad can be that special factor.

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