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The Bottom Line: True Costs of Studying Abroad

In an ideal world, your study abroad program expenses would be the same as your expenses at your home campus. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. You’ll need to research the programs you are interested in and compare the costs. You'll also need to create a personal budget so you know how much money you will require.

Program Costs

Some home universities charge full home-campus tuition for participation in the study abroad program. Other home institutions charge an administrative fee, but have you pay the non-U.S. institution directly for its tuition and fees. Program expenses vary depending on services: Some programs offer more features, more support services, increased on-site supervision, and/or more field trips.

Factors that affect your total program costs include the following: 

  • Home university tuition policies: This will likely be the biggest factor in your total study abroad program cost. Does your home university charge full tuition whether or not your foreign sponsor's program is lower in price? Are there administrative fees? Are there additional fees to transfer credits? Ask questions until you fully understand what's included and what's not.
  • Cost of program: Some programs package all costs (tuition, housing, airfare, meals, insurance, etc.) into one. Others don't. Study abroad programs offered by private colleges or organizations generally cost more than programs sponsored by public institutions. You'll need to understand all the costs for each program to effectively compare total costs.
  • Miscellaneous fees: These fees could include program application fees, and fees for field trips, laboratories, or seminars that are not included in the tuition.
  • Currency exchange rate: When the U.S. dollar is weak in comparison to a local currency, the cost of living is going to be higher for U.S. students. (In other words, you’ll have to spend more U.S. dollars to match the purchasing power of the local currency.) When the U.S. dollar is strong in comparison to a local currency, the cost of living is going to be lower. (Fewer dollars are needed to match the purchasing power of the local currency.)
  • Location/cost of living: A study abroad program in a large metropolitan area will likely cost more than one in a countryside location. Also, the part of the world you choose will affect your costs. For example, Western Europe tends to be more expensive than most other parts of the world. And don't forget to consider transportation costs, which may include your round-trip airfare, as well as transportation in and around your study abroad location.
  • Additional expenses: Above and beyond your study abroad program fee, you will likely have to pay for additional expenses that may not be immediately obvious—room and board during vacation periods, housing deposits, student ID fees, insurance, and passport fees, to name a few.

Budget Checklist

Use the following list, or our Study Abroad Budget Worksheet, to create your estimated total budget for your study abroad program. Once you have an estimate of your total budget, you’ll be able to determine which programs you can and can’t afford.

  • Personal travel: This includes daily transportation between your housing and the university, travel around your host city, any other travel you plan to do while enrolled in the study abroad program, and airfare to and from where you are studying abroad (if it’s not included as a program cost).
  • Housing: The cost of housing may be included in your program costs, but it's a good idea to check ahead of time.
  • Student identification fees: You may be required to have a Student ID from your host university. In addition, the International Student Identity Card can be valuable for students studying abroad. For more information, visit the International Student Travel Confederation at www.isic.org.
  • Insurance: Many study abroad programs include student health insurance in the program costs, but be sure to ask about your coverage. In addition to health insurance, you may want to consider travel insurance, which reimburses you for the costs of the trip should you have to cancel. You also may want to consider property insurance, which covers loss of or damage to your personal items while you're abroad.
  • Passport: You must have a passport when you travel outside of the country. This section of the U.S. Department of State website provides an explanation of the process and costs of applying for a passport.
  • Visa fees, entry and exit taxes: Depending on your destination, you may need a visa, an official document that authorizes you to enter a country. Entry and exit requirements for your study abroad country can be found in this section of the U.S. Department of State website.
  • Meals: Your program costs may include a meal package. Even so, you will need to budget for snacks and the occasional meal at a restaurant.
  • Calling home: If you are going to have your own laptop and Internet access, you can use a free service like Skype. Otherwise, you'll likely need to include “phone home” costs in your budget. Investigate your options by:
    • Checking with your current provider for details on available services and their costs
    • Looking into calling cards and Internet services
    • Asking your study abroad program office and returning study abroad students
  • Computer: If you decide to take your laptop (or tablet), make sure it has a built-in voltage converter that lets you switch between the standard 110-volt power supply and a 220-volt power supply (standard in most other countries in the world). If your laptop doesn't have that feature, or if you need another voltage, add the cost of a good voltage converter to your budget.
  • Immunizations: Your host country may require you to show proof of certain immunizations or other health tests in order to receive a visa or to enter the country. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has an interactive map that shows each country’s immunization requirements and recommendations for travelers, including advice on traveling with and obtaining prescription medications.
  • Entertainment: Include money to cover costs for restaurants, tours, museum entrance fees, concerts, and other entertainment you plan to take advantage of while abroad.
  • Personal expenses: Don't forget to budget for personal items such as toiletries, medicine, haircuts, and other miscellaneous expenses. 
  • Emergency funds: If at all possible, budget a little extra money for an emergency fund. When traveling, you never know when an unexpected expense might arise. Having some extra traveler's checks or money in the bank will go a long way toward relieving anxiety about the unknown.

[Any reference to a specific company, commercial product, process, or service does not constitute or imply an endorsement or recommendation by CashCourse or the National Endowment for Financial Education. These courses and related resources may be used only for nonprofit, noncommercial educational purposes. CashCourse makes every effort to keep the information in these courses current, but, over time, new developments as well as legislative and regulatory changes may date this material. If you discover inaccurate information, please contact us.]

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