CISABROAD BLOG · March 11, 2021 · 6 Min Read
Budgeting for Your Study Abroad Experience

So, you’re going abroad!  Many with dreams of going abroad have been planning and saving for this life-changing experience for months or years – and now that you’ve been accepted, enrolled and have paid your program fees – you’re ready to go, right?  Almost!  But one thing to consider is planning financially for your needs during your international experience.  Anyone that may have overspent while traveling or studying abroad would tell you an essential pre-departure step is to set a budget – that you’ll stick to!  To avoid learning this lesson the hard way, what should you consider as you plan your finances for your trip?  

In its simplest form, setting an effective budget answers two core questions: how much money will I need, and how much money will I have?  While the answer to each question can have an impact on the other, it’s good to assess each question independently and then see how they blend together.  

Piggy Bank

How much will I need?

When answering this question, it is important to reflect on your current program, your destination, the length of your program and what may or may not be included in the fees you’ve already paid. 

Destination

What is the “cost of living” in your destination country? This is an important detail to understand, as the costs of goods and services can vary depending on the country. Spend some time investigating the costs of essentials or discretionary items in the region you are going. Explore travel blogs and local resources to know where to find cost-effective shopping if needed. We’ve provided some helpful general estimates for additional expenses for various programs and destinations on our website.

Feel free to reference the supporting material here for helpful information: “Program Fees and Budgets.”

Duration

Consider how long you’ll be abroad when setting your budget. There is a big difference between a short study winter program and a full semester abroad, so any budgeting you do must consider how long you’ll be traveling.

What’s included in your program?

While all programs include basic tuition and housing costs as part of your fees, you’ll want to look into what your responsibilities are while on your program. Are meals your responsibility or are they included by your destination institution? How about travel expenses – airfare, shuttles, cab fare, Uber/Lyft, etc.? These can add up quickly and should be factored into your budget. Are there visa fees, insurance requirements, departure taxes to consider? Again, these charges can add up and if not factored in to your budget, can create a challenging situation.

Factor in your essentials

Whether splurging or on a limited budget, estimate how much you’ll need for essentials such as:

  • Meals
  • Snacks
  • Laundry
  • Essential products – think toiletries

Don’t forget to also factor in monthly expenses that you’d incur even if you weren’t traveling abroad – like cell service plans or any monthly payments you have back home (think car payments or insurances).

What else do you want to do?

A huge component of studying abroad is experiencing the local culture. What additional experiences do you want to have while abroad?  Are there historical sites, museums, festivals, concerts, performances and anything else that you’d want to be part of your experience. Will everyone be able to do everything they want – probably not… But whether booked in advance, or with funds set aside, some of the most memorable experiences from your time abroad can come from being immersed in the culture of the country you’re visiting.  Don’t miss out on these opportunities because you didn’t factor them into your budget!

money jar with plant growing

How much will I have?

With so many things to consider, it’s now time to answer this question.  Most won’t have the opportunity to earn additional money while abroad, so it’s paramount that you understand what cash you have on hand as you plan your spending. Whether from personal savings, financial aid, scholarships, family support or personal debt, you must know how much you have available to spend. 

Considering the factors above, start to estimate how much you’ll have available to cover essentials. One helpful exercise is to categorize your spending.  For example, $30 USD per day for meals, $250 USD for travel while onsite, $150 for cultural excursions.  Categorizing your expenses can really help as you try to account for everything. There are a variety of online tools or apps (some that are free!) that can also help in this process.  

After spending time understanding what money you’ll need and what money you have, now comes the time to blend them together. At times, comparing what cash you have to your projected spend will highlight issues. Now is the time to find those issues, and adjust accordingly. Making decisions now on how much you’ll spend on various needs/wants should help you to make the most out of your experience, and prevent you from running out of money and/or taking on unnecessary debt .  

What’s Next?

As you apply to your program of choice, start your financial planning and saving now! Whether you are planning your departure soon, or for a future semester, the earlier you start to plan the better you’ll be at managing your finances – and getting the most out of your experience – while abroad. Need help answering some of the questions above? Our Program Coordinators are always willing and happy helping you.

On the CIS Abroad blog, we share student-written content and information for students, advisors, other study abroad professionals, and families of students studying abroad. Check out our Facebook and Instagram for more from us and our students!