7 Secrets to Saving Money While Studying Abroad

Studying abroad isn’t exactly funds-friendly. It’s more than just the unfortunate exchange rates; 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.


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, 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.” 

3. Visit Friends

Looking for the Euro trip 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 Cronin to Madrid, Amsterdam, Cork, London and Florence, all without paying a single hotel or hostel bill! 

Auger 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!”.

4. Travel Cheap

When you do finally choose the destination for a weekend trip, make sure you get there in the most cost-effective way possible. There are plenty of low-price options when it comes to travel, and while some might not be as efficient as pricier modes of transport, the pros generally outweigh the cons (Just make sure you travel safely when you go!).

“When I went to Amsterdam, my friends and I found a 10-euro overnight bus [Megabus] from Paris,” recounts Auger. “It certainly wasn’t the best night’s sleep I’ve ever had, but it’s definitely worth it when you have 60 more Euros in your pocket in Amsterdam.”

Rey, who knew she’d be visiting Scotland often to see her boyfriend, decided that a frequent traveler pass would be her best option. “I ended up getting a Youth Railcard for 20 pounds,” she explains. “It lasts a year and you always get cheaper train tickets. After one trip to Edinburgh, the Railcard had paid for itself. I always saved up to 60 pounds on my train tickets.” If you know you’ll be frequenting one city or area during your time abroad, investing in a student rate train pass will keep your bank account breathing. 

However, if you’re planning on going all over the map, discount airlines are often the best option. Companies like Ryanair and EasyJet offer prices as low as 20 percent of the cost of major airlines! The key is to write up all of the costs you’ll incur (the flight itself and transportation to and from the flight), factor in the extra time it will take and compare it to the price and convenience of taking a major airline. It’s hard to say no to a $30 international flight, so provided you can pack light, it’ll probably be worth it!

5. Flash Your ID

Meet your new best friend: your student ID. Sound lame? Think again. There’s no better study (abroad) buddy than your student ID, which can earn you a student discount or even free entry to museums and tourist attractions in your host country or across the continent.

Lesley Siu, a senior at American University, made the most of her student status during her time abroad. “While I was interning in Australia, I used my international student ID to join the public library (which is free for students),” she recounts. “This allowed me to borrow books, DVDs and magazines that helped me learn about the country. Instead of having to purchase expensive travel books such as Fodor's and Lonely Planet, I borrowed them when I traveled to New Zealand. I was able to get the information I needed while saving money!”

Auger also took advantage of her student ID, which listed her as an art history student and therefore made her eligible for free entry to all of Paris’s art museums. Student IDs are also helpful when it comes to student nights at bars or clubs, which offer reduced entry fees or drink discounts. Always keep your ID on you and always ask for the student rate – the savings will add up!

6. Cut the Cost of International Calls

We understand—you’re far from home, you’re dealing with a whole new culture and sometimes all you want to do is call your parents, your siblings, your best friends or your partner to chat. Unfortunately, international calling rates are high (anywhere from 25 to 60 cents per minute), and you die a little inside every time you add another $20 to your pay-as-you-go phone (far, far too often).

The solution? Internet phones! If Skype or iChat isn’t convenient for you and your calling buddy (or you just aren’t feeling cute enough for a face-to-face talk), try Skype’s phone service or Google Voice. Skype’s service offers international calls for as little as 2.6 cents per minute, and Google Voice offers the same for as little as a single cent per minute! Each requires you to buy credit for your account first using a credit card, and once you’ve got bought enough credit, all you have to do is sign in and make your calls! Best of all, the credit doesn’t expire as it does on most pay-as-you-go phones.

7. Hunt for Deals

Aside from academics, the study abroad experience is all about getting to know your host city, culture, and people. In order to do that, you have to actually go out and try new things! Unfortunately, “trying new things” often means “spending more money,” so it can be tempting to stick with your favorite cheap eatery or stay in to skip entry fees (and you’ll never meet your foreign fling that way!).

To avoid budget-friendly hermit mode, Rey suggests looking online for deals and steals in your area via sites like Groupon and LivingSocial, both of which have international components. “We used LivingSocial while we were in London and we were able to get food for half the price and drinks at clubs and pubs [for] a lot cheaper,” she says. “It made going out on the weekend seem so much more affordable.”

Don’t let the costs of living abroad keep you from actually living your life abroad. These secrets to saving money will save you hundreds that you can later spend on more travel, more food, more souvenirs, more anything you want. Make the most of the moment!