7 Secrets to Saving Money While Studying Abroad

Posted Dec 18 2013 - 12:00am
Tagged With: money, study abroad, travel

Studying abroad isn’t exactly funds-friendly. It’s more than just the unfortunate exchange rates (but thanks a bunch for all your help, U.S. dollar); the truth is that living in any major city or foreign country inspires us to spend a lot more than our little old college towns do (souvenirs, please!), and when you throw in the costs of travel and tourist attractions, you’re looking at one sad wallet. Fortunately, not every study abroad experience has to break the bank. Whether you’re dealing with yen, euros, or pounds, you can conserve some cash by taking advantage of these tricks of the trade.

1. Get ATM-savvy: Take out Lots of Cash at Once

Like ATMs in the U.S., international ATMs charge a transaction fee for customers who don’t belong to that particular bank. Unfortunately, the costs are even higher abroad. Some international ATMs will charge you up to $5.00 just to take out money! Carmen Rey, a senior at Binghamton University who studied abroad in London, advises: “Always take out large sums at once so you don't keep getting hit with the same fee over and over again.” If you’re going to get charged a flat rate no matter how much you take out, you might as well make sure you’re getting the best bang for your buck every time!

Before you go abroad, see if your bank has any international partner banks. Bank of America, for instance, has partnerships with Barclays in the U.K., BNP Paribas in France, Scotiabank in Canada and some Caribbean countries, and Westpac in Australia and New Zealand. If your bank has a partnership with one in your host country, you can use those ATMs without getting hit with an international transaction fee!

Keep in mind that credit card companies also charge you for using your card at a foreign cash register, so cash is always preferable (lest you lose money every time you buy a sandwich or indulge in a shopping spree). Stay updated on the exchange rate and keep the extra bills in a safe place so that you can dip back in whenever you like.

2. Master Public Transportation

As much as we all might dream about skipping the crowded subway and opting for taxi rides instead, it just isn’t financially feasible when you’re navigating your way through a city day-in and day-out. Many study abroad programs provide students with subway passes and a stipend—use them! The key is to buy in bulk; if you take the subway every day, you’ll be better off buying a month-long or week-long pass than you would be if you stuck with single tickets since the month- and week-long passes tend to be cheaper.

Unfortunately for us, subways usually aren’t open 24/7, which means that late nights out might leave us tempted to cab it home. While a cab ride every once in a while won’t hurt, you can avoid the cost by looking into other less common modes of transport. Elise Auger, a junior at Skidmore College, says that her program in Paris didn’t give her details about other public transportation options, but she figured them out by doing her own research. “The best thing I ever did for myself in Paris was getting a Velib pass [which allows users to borrow bikes throughout the city],” she explains. “I’ve definitely saved at least a hundred euros at this point by never taking cabs home at night.” Elise also mastered Paris’s bus system, which runs all night and was free with her subway pass. Look up the options in your area, study the route maps, and save!

3. Visit Friends

Looking for the Eurotrip of a lifetime but afraid of breaking the bank? Traveling doesn’t have to be all about hostel fees and restaurant bills! The trick is to visit cities where your friends—or your friends’ friends—are studying.

“I try to plan trips that coincide with where my school has programs,” reveals Courtney Cronin, a junior at the University of San Diego who spent the fall semester studying in Barcelona. “Sleeping on an apartment floor is uncomfortable, but in the long run I saved so much on hostels.” This tactic got Courtney to Madrid, Amsterdam, Cork, London, and Florence, all without paying a single hotel or hostel bill! 

Elise also took advantage of apartment floors. “When I was [visiting] Amsterdam, I stayed with a friend of a friend from school,” she says. “I saved a bunch of money by not staying in a hostel, and I also had a great experience because the friend was able to show us around, tell us where to go, and [explain] how to find good deals. And we saved on food because we used her kitchen!”

Even if you don’t feel buddy-buddy enough with someone to ask him or her to host you, you should still reach out to ask for advice. Chances are he or she will want to meet up and show you a good time or at least tell you about the city’s best, budget-friendly hot spots! And who knows—maybe they’ll want to visit the city you’re studying in, and you can return the favor.

If you don’t have any friends living in an area you’d really like to visit, consider Couchsurfing or Airbnb. Through Couchsurfing, you can connect with a local living in you destination area and stay with them for free! Airbnb, on the other hand, lists unique lodging at every price point, often giving you more of an authentic cultural experience than you’d get if you spent the night in a chain hotel. Just remember to stay safe; read feedback on your Couchsurfing host and the housing before booking, and always make sure that your friends and family know where you are, who you’re with, and when they should expect to hear from you.

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