How to Study Abroad on a Budget

Studying abroad can be an exciting part of any college student’s career – perhaps even the highlight. It offers a one-of-a-kind experience that a semester at home simply can’t provide.

It’s hard to really put a price tag on such a memorable and valuable opportunity, but unfortunately, studying abroad does come with one – and often a hefty one to boot. According to the average cost of a semester abroad is roughly $2,500 to $7,500 for living expenses, plus your specific tuition and fees.

What impacts the cost of studying abroad?

  • Destination
  • Time of year
  • Overlooked expenses

Understanding how the costs are broken down is an important first step because it gives you a clear picture as to what you’re paying for exactly, which costs are fixed, and what you can cut down on (or even eliminate completely).

The cost of your semester abroad will include only some of your expenses, and others will need to be taken care of separately. This will vary by specific college and program. Some study abroad programs will include your airfare, housing, tuition, and meals; whereas, others might not include airfare and food.

It’s important to keep these various cost considerations in mind when comparing different programs, and it’s a good idea to reach out to your school directly if you have any questions.

Here’s how to manage the cost of studying abroad and potentially make a semester abroad affordable.


The destination you choose can have a huge influence over the total cost of your semester abroad. Some destinations simply cost more than others to visit, and for an extended period, this can make a significant difference in your budget. The costs can vary widely during your time abroad – from daily meals to transportation and entertainment, and everything in between.

Even the round-trip airfare you purchase is something to consider. Not all study abroad programs will include the cost of air travel, and it may be up to you to handle this separately. Flying to South American destinations from the United States, for example, can frequently cost substantially less than flying to Europe or Asia.

Your school will likely provide several options for study abroad programs that will align with your major. If you have your heart set on a particular destination – one that tends to be costlier to visit than other available options – sacrificing destination may not be an option for you. But if you’re open to just about any destination around the globe, that can certainly provide cost-saving options. Learn more about the top 5 destinations to study abroad.

Time of year

When taking cost into consideration, you’ll also want to consider which semester you choose and the season. Summer semesters abroad are popular. With the longer term, they offer students a true cultural immersion. However, not only are you paying extra for that additional time abroad but also keep in mind that summer tends to be the busy season for many destinations throughout the world. As such, various costs of your semester abroad – such as the airfare – might be significantly higher.

Opting for a shorter semester abroad – such as during winter or spring – allows for the opportunity to save money in a few different ways. Traveling to a particular destination during its off-season can mean lower costs all around; a shorter travel period will also help you to cut down on expenses overall.

Overlooked expenses

When budgeting for a semester overseas, it’s also critical to account for overlooked or underestimated expenses so you’re not caught off-guard. For example, let’s say you sign up for a program that requires airfare to be purchased separately. Aside from taking the season and destination into consideration, another way to cut down on airfare costs (or even eliminate them completely) is by redeeming airline miles. If you or a parent has a credit card that accrues points for purchases, you may want to find out if they can be traded in for airfare and explore what your options are.

Aside from the initial cost for the program that the school imposes for a study abroad program, you’ll want to carefully consider your daily budget for miscellaneous expenses. It can be easy to underestimate just how much you’ll spend on a daily basis, especially when you’re traveling and you’re in a place that you’re not familiar with. Being practical is crucial, but you’ll want to ensure you leave enough wiggle room so that you don’t turn to expensive solutions if you do go over your budget, such as high-interest credit cards.

Prepaid cards are a great way to maintain a practical daily budget, as they only let you spend the available amount, and parents can easily reload them as needed from anywhere in the world. Ideally, select a prepaid card that doesn’t have a foreign transaction fee; many credit card and prepaid programs will charge a fee for all overseas transactions, whether it’s a flat fee or a percentage. By choosing a card that does not have this fee, it’s another added expense you won’t have to worry about. Another advantage of prepaid cards is that they’re much safer to carry and easier to manage, which is especially important for anyone traveling to a new country for the first time.

Finally, remember to take advantage of student discounts wherever they’re offered. From souvenir shopping to meals and attraction passes, most college towns throughout the world offer an abundance of student discounts for both locals and visitors.

Explore your financial options for studying abroad

Scholarships and financial aid are a great way to pay for college, and eligible students may receive all the money they need to pay for a semester abroad. If scholarships and financial aid don’t cover all of the costs, a private student loan like the ones we offer at College Ave Student Loans could be a good choice for you. Check out our options and how we can help you create the best loan for you.


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