Studying abroad offers college students a great opportunity to expand their horizons and experience a place different from home. Unfortunately, such an opportunity isn’t cheap. Still, there are dozens of ways to save money while studying abroad, and students shouldn’t let a strict budget keep them from taking advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Whether you aim to study in Paris or Cape Town, Cairo or Buenos Aires, keep scrolling for 30 proven tips for students studying abroad on a budget.
Study in a City With a Lower Cost of Living
If you are fortunate enough to have a selection of potential study abroad destinations, consider one in which your dollar will stretch further. England, France, and other Western European countries tend to have a higher cost of living, while places in Eastern Europe, southern Africa, South America, and Asia will likely be less expensive.
Get a Debit or Credit Card That Doesn’t Charge for International Transactions
Wherever you choose to travel, take the time before you leave to get a debit or credit card that will not charge for international transactions. Experienced travelers recommend having the Charles Schwab debit card because it does not charge foreign fees, and will reimburse any ATM fees you may incur.
Don’t Wait to “Buy it There”
Depending on how long you plan to study abroad, you may be tempted to bring anything and everything you might need. While we suggest packing as light as possible, we also suggest resisting the urge to “just buy it there.” For example, if you plan on bringing a hair dryer, make sure there’s room for it in your suitcase before you leave. Buying it “over there” will only cost you money, and you likely won’t be able to return with it. Exceptions to this would be items like text books and school supplies you will need for class.
Resist Buying Everything New for the Trip
The expectation of a new place and new people to impress may have you itching to go out and buy a whole new wardrobe. But resist! If you must, budget a little bit to spend on clothing in your new city. In the meantime, pack good-quality staple pieces that will get you through your time abroad. If you’re studying abroad for a year, replace seasonal clothing on a trip home or have family send it over in due time.
Before Leaving, Come Up With a Budget
It’s important to set and stick to a budget before you leave home. Work with your parents if you need to. Have a clear understanding of how much money you’ll have to spend over the course of your time abroad. Deduct any monthly expenses (such as rent), then divide what is left by the number of months you’ll be there. This should give you a clear idea of what you have for food, transportation, and entertainment each month. Don’t forget to budget in an emergency fund!
Eat In, Not Out
Eating at restaurants in a foreign country can be an absolute blast, but it’s also very expensive. To save money, limit yourself to eating out once or twice a week, and commit to making whatever meals you can in your dorm room or apartment. Familiarize yourself with local grocery stores and farmers markets nearby, then utilize them.
Take Advantage of Student Discounts
Many museums, entertainment venues, and other tourist attractions offer discounts to students. This is especially common in large European cities, though you may experience it elsewhere, too. Always be sure to have your student ID on you, then search price boards for student prices. Even if nothing is listed, it’s always worth asking if the place you’re visiting offers a lower price for students.
Always Use Public Transportation
Though ride share services like Uber and Lyft are almost always cheaper than taxis, they are never cheaper than the local public transportation. If you are studying in a large city with a metro system, learn to use it and take it as frequently as you can. Trams and busses are other excellent and inexpensive options for getting around town. If you’re heading out of the city for a weekend trip, book a ticket on a train or bus, which will almost certainly be less expensive than flying or renting a car.
Better Yet, Rent a Bike
Cheaper even than public transportation is a bicycle. When you arrive in your destination, search local buy-sell-trade sites or Facebook Marketplace for bicycles for sale. You can always sell it or pass it along when it’s time for you to go home.
Best Yet, Walk as Much as You Can
If the distance between home and class is a short one, then save public transportation for other occasions and walk. Not only is walking completely free, it’s good exercise and offers an excellent way to see your new city on a freer, more intimate level.
Spend Holidays with Local Friends
As tempting as it may be to return home for every holiday, save your money and spend days off from school with local friends. Is a new friend going home to her family in the mountains for Easter? See if you can tag along. Not only will this save a bit of cash, it’s also an excellent way to see more of a country, and to make new, perhaps even lifelong, friends.
Save Your Change
Coins add up, just as they do in the U.S. Get into the habit of saving your coins in a shoebox or jar, and gathering them up for something fun every once in awhile. Remembering to save your coins is especially beneficial in Europe, where coins can be worth as much as two Euro — the cost of a small coffee or postcard.
Take Free Tours
Of course, part of the fun of studying abroad is sightseeing all you can. As you visit cities, sign up for “free” tours, typically available through the T.I. These tours are usually given by knowledgeable locals who ask only for tips. For this reason, a city’s free tour could easily be cheaper — and way better quality — than an expensive city tour one might find through other avenues.
Sightsee on “Free” Days
Similarly, commit to visiting museums and other attractions on their “free days.” On their websites, most tourist attractions will promote a day, usually once a month, on which all visitors can get in free. While you are likely to experience larger crowds, that may be worth saving what is often a $10-$30 entrance fee.
Don’t Go to the ATM Daily
Unless you’re using a debit card like the one from Charles Schwab, which will reimburse any ATM fees you incur, you’re likely to be charged a hefty fee for withdrawing money from a foreign ATM. To cut down on these nasty fees, hit up an ATM only once a week and take out all that you’ll need until the next ATM trip. Not only will this help you budget, it will limit the number of foreign transaction fees with which your bank can bill you.
Open a Local Bank Account
If you are studying abroad for a longer amount of time, such as a year, it may be worth opening up a local bank account. Any time you visit an ATM or purchase something with your card, you’ll be charged as a local and no foreign transaction fees will be levied.
If Allowed, Take On a Part-Time Job
Depending on where you’re studying, you may find it helpful to take on a part-time job. Before you commit, find out if your student visa allows you to work while you’re in the country. If so, search for jobs on campus or in your neighborhood. If not, it’s still possible to make a little money on the side, as tutors are always in high demand, and tutors don’t need visas.
Use Groupon to Find Cool Experiences
Groupon isn’t just an American thing. Download the Groupon app to find deep discounts on local experiences. You can be saving money on everything from theater tickets, to meals out, to weekend getaways.
Invest in a City Tourism Card
Once you get settled in your study abroad destination, check out the local Tourist Information (T.I.) and see if it offers a City Tourism Card. While these cards can cost anywhere from $50 to $100, they provide the user with deeply discounted or free tickets to major attractions.
Skip Restaurants Close to Big Tourist Sites
Any experienced traveler will tell you not to eat at restaurants within sight of major tourist attractions. These restaurants are typically overcrowded, overpriced, and underwhelming when it comes to quality. Walking even one or two streets over from a big tourism site can save you money when eating out.
Don’t Impulse Shop
There’s nothing like throwing your money away on an impulse buy. If you see something you want that will cost more than a few dollars, try to remind yourself that you aren’t just visiting for a day. Sleep on it, and it it’s still on your mind in the morning, return to the store and get it. Chances are, you’ll realize it is something you can indeed live without.
Bring a Small French Press if You’re a Coffee Addict
Those daily cups of coffee add up quickly, and can be one of the biggest budget gougers of your study abroad experience. If you are the type whose day doesn’t start until that first sip of coffee, consider packing a small French press to make your own cup. It may not be Starbucks, but trying new things is part of the fun of traveling.
Even more of a budget gouger than coffee is alcohol. Instead of drinking the night away at a bar, pub, or tavern, socialize with a soda or water in hand instead of an expensive beer or cocktail. If you really want to drink, buy your drink of choice ahead of time and pre-game in your apartment before heading out.
Stay Up to Date on What’s Happening in Town
If you feel bored, you’re likely to spend money. Avoid boredom by staying up to date on concerts, lectures, parties, and other events going on in your city. You can find events by searching Facebook, watching community boards at school, and talking to locals. Not only are many events free or nearly free, attending them offers a great way to meet people and get to know the local culture.
Make Side Trips the Smart Way
While you’re stationed abroad, why not take advantage of your proximity and visit other cities and countries nearby? No matter what your budget, there are ways to save money on side trips. Look for flight deals, and/or book with a budget airline. Find a bed in a hostel, or ask a local friend to stay with them. As you sightsee, follow the same rules you do at “home,” like avoiding restaurants near major tourist attractions and seeking out free walking tours.
Use a Reusable Water Bottle with Filtration System
Even if your study abroad destination is in a place where it’s safe to drink the water, you can save a little cash (and do your part to cut down on plastic) by using a water bottle. In many cities, water bottle fill-up stations are common. For additional protection, invest in a water bottle with an included filtration system.
Learn to Like Local Brands
You may have to wait until you get home to enjoy a Hershey bar, as they’re astonishingly expensive abroad. In the meantime, learn to love a local (read: less expensive) brand such as Milka. Of course, this rule applies to more than just chocolate bars. Whatever you’re looking for, skip the expensive imported American brand and try the local stuff instead.
Buy Any Tickets Online
Whether you’re looking to visit the zoo or a major museum, look to buy your ticket in advance online. Oftentimes, buying your ticket ahead of time on the internet can mean receiving a discount on the ticket price.
Haggle! (if Appropriate)
Granted, haggling isn’t a part of every culture. But if it happens to be accepted — and expected — where you are studying, then take part! Haggling can save quite a bit of money when buying anything from vegetables at the farmers market to that perfect gift for mom from the crafts market.
Purchase Travel Insurance
Finally, don’t leave home without purchasing some sort of travel insurance. Chances are, you won’t need it. However, if you get sick, injured, or become a victim of theft, having it in your back pocket can save you thousands.