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Date of publishing: 2016.09.20     Published by Attila M.

Cost of studying abroad

Estimate your costs abroad

Estimate your costs abroad

Studying abroad is an amazing experience, but only if you choose your study abroad program with your pocket in mind. It is recommended to choose a host country and host city where you can maintain a decent lifestyle without worrying about financial problems the whole time. You should be able to focus on your academics, make new friends, immerse in the host culture and develop on the personal level, instead of experiencing a nervous breakdown due to money issues.

After reading this article you will understand the cost structure and the scale of expenditure that most international students face abroad. Our comprehensive guide helps you to estimate the full cost of your education in a foreign country, including the often hidden costs that no one talks about, but you have to pay them when they incur (and they always do).

At the end of the article you can check the price levels in various countries, so you can prepare financially!

Set a budget - and stick to it

Set a budget - and stick to it

You already thought about it, but you really have to set up a budget for your study abroad program, BEFORE landing in your host country. Ideally, even months before that, because you also have to think about how to pay for studying abroad. You have to break down your budget into different time frames:

1. Total budget abroad

The amount of money you can spend on your study abroad program (this could be one semester, an academic year or more). You should add 20% 'emergency funds' to your calculations, because we, humans, tend to underestimate our costs. Better be safe than facing an unexpected expense and not being able to pay.

2. Semester budget abroad

If you are studying abroad for one semester, then your semester budget is the total budget, but if you are there for a year or more, you use this to check and adjsut your financials in each semester. You will rely more on the semester budget, because it is easier to focus on the next 3-5 months than the whole year. Usually you include extraordinaory costs here, like the initial deposit to rent an apartment, traveling abroad and the amount of return tickets home.

3. Monthly budget abroad

The monthly budget is by far the most convenient and transparent to use. Here you include the biggest part of your regular costs: your rent, utility bills, groceries and transportation. If you overspent or underspent in a certain month, you have a chance to correct it in the next month.

4. Weekly and daily budgets abroad

International students often try to economize and that is absolutely normal, because they rarely have their own income while studying abroad. You may include groceries here, but the most important goal here is to get the feel of your daily spending limit.

Adjustments and exceptions

There are some exceptions to the spending rules and it is difficult to determine sometimes whether you need to spend money on something. Always ask yourself: are you spending money to get something or you spend for the sake of spending?

  1. The first week abroad is often an exception in your financial plan. Be ready to spend more on the first week (e.g. costs of the introduction week, apartment changing, buying kitchen and bathroom stuff for the semester).
  2. You do not have to be obsessed with your budget, but take a look at it every week, so you can correct it by the end of the month. After the first month you won't even think about it much, because you will get the feel of how much you can spend to sustain a certain lifestyle.
  3. Also after a week and a month you may need to adjust your plan if you see that it is not working. Be ready to cut back your costs or look for alternative funds.
  4. Respect your parents' savings account, if you ask money from them. Agree on a budget with them and after the initial adjustment try to stick to it.
  5. Do spend money on trying new things, especially if said new things are only accessible in your host country. Know your limits and allocate money for things that are worth trying.

Hidden costs of studying abroad

Hidden costs of studying abroad

There are the costs that are all part of our daily lives at home, but we rarely mention them in the context of international education, even though they will make up more than 10% of your expenses abroad. We collected a list of items that may or will cost money but often bagatellized or totally left out when international students do their financial preparation to study abroad.

  1. Application process: we talk about this in details at the application process to study abroad. Your application has many costs (entry exams, required documents) that might be as high as 300 - 1000 USD. And you are not even admitted yet. Take these costs into account!
  2. Banking fee: withdrawal from an international ATM may cost 5 USD plus commission per transaction. If you foolishly withdraw money every week (without asking about banking fees from your bank), it may cost you 20 USD per month and that is 100 USD per semester. For what? Just to access the money you want to spend. Rationalize the amount you withdraw and use your card instead of cash whenever you can.
  3. Visa fee: this is obvious for frequent flyers, but those who never traveled before may be surprised that they need a piece of paper from the immigration authorities to cross the border. Visas often cost around 50-100 USD, but last moment issuances may cost as much as 200-300 USD (urgency fee).
  4. Medical treatment: you have your insurance, but does it mean that you don't have to pay for medical treatments? In most cases you have to pay in cash up front and then your insurance provider reimburses the cost of treatment (rarely the cost of medicine too). But you need to have the cash with you abroad.
  5. Welcome party: first meetings abroad, pub crawl, international dinners are usually part of the study abroad programs, but not all institutions have the budget to pay for all students. This is a one time small fee in this example, but in general, be ready to pay if it turns out that your check is your check.
  6. Tricks and traps: you have to get the feel of how people think about money in your host country. Remember, for most local people you are a tourist and if you don't know the local language and customs, it may cost you dearly. You pay a suspicious advance when renting a flat, the taxi driver tricks you in a 'cheap ride', you get a surprising check in a restaurant and the list goes on. In some countries it is a national sport to milk foreigners, and you surely understand that you pay the price of this 'beautiful' sport. Get in touch with local people in advance and learn about their customs. In your first weeks abroad go out with fellow local students, they will guide you in the local maze of tricks and traps.
  7. Know the law: not knowing the law is not an excuse. In some countries you may be fined for chewing a gum, littering, drinking in public or being loud late at night - it could cost 100-200 USD or more. Ask locals about the customs and check the country specific consular information about major differences in laws that have an effect on your every day life.

Major study abroad expenses

Major study abroad expenses

1. One time travel costs

  • visa application (if needed)
  • registration fees upon arrival (if any)
  • first aid kit (basic medication for cold, temperature, bandage, prescribed medication (pack what you used in the past year)
  • travel and health insurance depending on the requirements of your host country (you may be covered by a family insurance or your credit/debit card may provide free insurance)
  • souvenirs you bring to your new mates (how nice it is to share your culture from the first moment, don't you think?)
  • souvenirs from the host country (take home at least a postcard)

2. Traveling to your host country

In case you live close to the host country, you may take the bus, train or even go by car. Overseas study abroad destinations are usually best approachable by plane, but probably you wouldn't be the first to arrive on a ship crossing the Atlantic or Pacific ocean. You would arrive in style - could be a good story to tell your first new friends abroad.

Anyhow, fuel costs money, so you can expect to spend anywhere between 100 USD (bus, train, short haul flights) and 2000 USD (long haul flights or ship shape entrance like we mentioned above).

3. Rent expenses abroad

During your study abroad program you can expect to pay around 100-200 USD rent per month for a room in less developed countries while in developed countries the cost of rent may go above 1000 USD per month for a single room in a flat.

Depending on your host institution, you may be offered a free or cheap dormitory placement or you can look for youth hostels or rent a shared room in a flat. Online services, such as AirBnB or Couchsurfing might provide you with a place to stay for some days until you can arrange something more permanent for the rest of your study abroad program.

You often have to share and pay on a monthly basis for the internet and other utilities, so be sure to discuss these in advance (and check your rent contract). In any case, it is better to ask twice than never, especially if you are not familiar with the system.

4. Groceries & other costs abroad

One of the most substantial costs abroad is what you put in your tummy. Depending on your appetite, kitchen skills, culinary delicacy and the frequency you eat out in restaurants, you may spend 100-200 USD per month in less developed nations and 600-700 USD per month if you choose to study in a highly developed country.

Besides doing groceries and keeping your belly full, there are several additional costs you have to keep in mind when you study abroad:

  • deposit for the apartment (usually 2 months fee plus the first month's rent in advance)
  • pre-paid phone (including 1-2 gigabyte mobile internet)
  • transportation (metro, bus, tram)
  • laundry (2-3 times a month or less frequently if you take your wardrobe with you)
  • entertainment (museums, theaters, cinemas, sports, concerts, clubs, bars)
  • alcohol (surprise, some students drink alcohol, but you may be the exception)
  • personal care also known as bathroom products
  • cleaning products (yes, it is unlikely that someone will wash your dishes abroad)
  • gym membership (stay fit abroad)
  • traveling abroad

5. Tuition fee while studying abroad

Full-degree international students often face sky high prices to earn an academic degree the USA, the UK, Australia and Canada, but you can study abroad for free in Germany, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Slovenia, Brazil, Sweden or Austria. If you go on an exchange semester at a partner university of your home university, then most likely you don't pay any tuition fee at the host institution (but continue paying at home, if you did before). On the other hand if you individually arrange your exchange program, then you are usually obliged to pay a minimum fee for your home university and pay the full price of the courses at the host institution.

In any case you have to sit down and think through your budget and choose the host country and host institution in line with your financial opportunities.

6. University application costs money

  • Enrolment fee or registration fee
  • Entry exams (for instance GMAT, TOEFL, IELTS)
  • Translation fee
  • Notarization fee
  • Fees of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  • Transcript fee
  • Recruitment agency fees
  • Study abroad program fees
  • Medical records

For specific details always check the website of the institution where you apply.

Funding

Depending on your study abroad program you might get enough funds from the government or your home university to cover all or most of the expenses during your international student life. Another option is to apply for funds at the government, host university, local cultural or international student organizations. Learn more about funding your study abroad program.

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