How to Study Abroad on a Budget
By Jessica Kear
Exchanges are often the favorite year (or semester) of a student’s entire degree, but that enjoyment can be tainted by the stress of being able to afford your time abroad. Depending on where you go, a study abroad program can be quite expensive, but you shouldn’t have to worry about money. I mean if you’re going to worry about something, shouldn’t it be worrying about not seeing everything there is to see in your new home? Fortunately, if you plan ahead and follow this guide, you’ll find your exchange can be done on a budget.
Apply for all available sources of financial support
This is a big one. There is so much help out there, it’s just about doing your research and applying for everything you can. There’s always a small chance you’ll receive financial aid, so it’s worth a try.
It’s all about applying on time, and applying for everything possible. This includes any bursaries or reimbursements available. If you’re a British student going abroad, for example, you can get an increased student loan from Student Finance to help fund your trip. They will also pay for three (yes, you didn’t misread that – three) return flights home, depending on your financial background. So, although filling out forms for financial help can be tedious and annoying, they are 100 percent worth it.
Get a student discount card and use it
Student discount cards are wonderful things, but are a real God-send when you’re on exchange. While in New Zealand, I literally asked everywhere I went if they accepted student discount. Depending on where you’re studying, you might have to pay for your student card (mine at Victoria University was free – resultttttt!), but it’s still worthwhile. Do your research and get it ordered before you go so you can save money from the moment your plane lands.
Make friends with the locals
During my first week in New Zealand, I was a stressed little ball of mess when it came to buying things, still confused by the change of currency and the coinage (New Zealand doesn’t have one or two cent coins and that upsets me because we wait for all our bloody change in England). I would literally go into the nearest supermarket and just binge buy, because I didn’t know what anything would be like, and I wanted to try it all.
Luckily for me I was soon saved by my angel Kiwi friends, who took me to the supermarket in my second week, and educated me on what to buy and what to avoid. They also told me about the cheapest places to buy food.
Not only are locals more knowledgeable when it comes to where to buy cheap food, but they can help you to travel cheaply too. Which brings us onto…
Find the cheapest ways to travel around
Obviously, anyone in their right mind would pick a comfy train journey over an uncomfortable and long bus journey, but sometimes a bus is the cheapest way to get around. If you’re visiting the UK on exchange, for example, please look at Megabus next time you have to make a journey. You can get from one end of the country to another for just £1 if you book early enough. It may take you half a day but think of the money you’re saving.
Also, ask around to find the cheapest airlines for travelling between countries. Students in the UK will find Ryanair, Easyjet and Jet2 are great discount options. Be sure to check websites such as Skyscanner, Webjet and AirfareWatchdog for the latest deals. Travelling light and booking in advance also helps.
Take the time to sort out your bank account
This is one thing I wish I’d done properly before I went on exchange, as I wasted so much money from poor planning and budgeting.
Before you leave, sort out your bank card. Even if your exchange only lasts a semester, it’s definitely worth your time to open a bank account in the country you’re moving to. It will only take half an hour in most cases, and will reduce the amount of international fees you have to pay. Be sure to check your current bank’s international transfer policies too. All banks charge to pay internationally but these can vary extensively.
If you can’t open a new account while abroad, definitely make sure your bank allows international use. I’d recommend using a large, international bank account, because it usually reduces these charges.
Be sure to budget, and keep track of your spending while you’re abroad too. This will make life so much easier and less stressful.
Research your exchange options
If you have multiple potential study destinations available to you, don’t just pick the city or country you most want to visit. Also consider how affordable each place is. Exchanges are really dependent on how much you embrace the opportunity, rather than where you actually are.
Researching accommodation and the costs is an extremely important way to judge how much you’ll spend in each place, and also gives you an idea of where you’ll have a higher quality of life.
Also, if you can’t stay for an entire year, there are so many other lengths you can stay for. Don’t be disheartened, your financial background won’t hold you back from having an amazing time, no matter how long it is for.
My exchange was really the greatest year of my life. Everyone who knows me is continuously reminded of this every day, because it is legit all I ever go on about (sorry guys). As someone who comes from a very low-income family, I am so grateful I was able to budget my exchange, taking advantage of every help available. As a result, I had a life-changing experience, so take the time to plan properly, and I’m sure you’ll also have the best time abroad.
This article was originally published in November 2017 . It was last updated in January 2020