How Much Money Do You Actually Need to Save to Study Abroad?

Nearly every time I went on a college tour, we got asked the question, “Who wants to study abroad?” Almost everyone raised their hands, myself included. Studying abroad has become a huge part of the college experience for so many people, but it’s an expensive semester that you truly have to prepare for. 

If you’re planning to go to Europe, everyone talks about how easy it is to travel to a different country every weekend. (A quick one-night stay in Paris, anyone?) No matter what country you’re in, you’ll want to eat the local food as often as possible. Gelato every night in Italy? Yes, please! 

But all those expenses start to add up. So how much do you actually need to save?

Every study abroad experience is different, and depending on your class schedule, the cities you travel to, and how often you go out, your expenses are going to vary. But to get an idea of what you really need to do to save money for studying abroad, I asked college women exactly how they planned for their study abroad trip, and what tips they have for saving that much-needed travel money.

How much you need to save depends on where you want to go.

The amount of money you need to save is a result of what part of the world you’re going to, and what countries and cities you’ll be spending most of your time in. Just like New York City is more expensive than most places in the U.S., there are cities in every country that are more expensive than others.

Ashley Meyers, Connecticut College ‘19, remembers how expensive her time in Denmark was. “Copenhagen is a charming but expensive city,” she explains. “I remember my professor being appalled at how pricey a latte from one of the many coffee shops was. She would wait to use the free coffee makers near the classrooms. If going to Copenhagen on your own budget, you’ll need to save a lot beforehand.” 

Before you go, research how much daily expenses are in your “home city,” or the place you’ll be spending most of your semester. Figure out how much groceries, toiletries, transportation, eating out and going out are going to cost, and then start saving based on that amount. Making a weekly spending budget is a tip Xandie Kuenning, Northeastern University ‘19, swears by. 

“In terms of budgeting, I usually spend the first month getting acquainted and getting a baseline of my spending (i.e. how much do groceries cost per week, how much public transportation am I using, do I need to pay rent). Once I have that then I have a clear way to section out my money for the rest of my time,” she says.

The bottom line: figure out as much as you can before you go. 

Related: 10 Ways to Save Money While Eating Out

It also depends on where else you want to go. 

No matter where you end up studying abroad, it’s unlikely that you’ll want to spend your entire semester only in that one place. Oftentimes, it’s easy to travel on the weekends and visit as many different destinations as possible. Of course, all those travelling expenses will add up, so make sure to plan for that, too. 

Madison Vettorino, Marist College ‘20, visited ten countries while she was studying abroad. “Traveling within Europe is much cheaper than it would be to travel to Europe from the U.S. (and I was studying abroad pretty centrally, in Florence, Italy), so I wanted to take advantage of that and see as many places as I could while I was already in Europe. I was extremely fortunate to be able to do this,” she says. But travelling that much definitely had its price tag.

Over the summer, Madison knew she was going to be travelling a lot, so she worked as many hours as she could over the summer. “I would say to anyone who is going abroad, save as much as you can and pick up those extra shifts at work because it will pay off! At the end of the day, how much you need to bring definitely depends on you, your spending habits, and if you’re planning on traveling a lot,” she says.

Just as you should plan your budget for weekly expenses, meals and necessities, try to plan out what trips you’re going to be taking while you’re abroad. If you know in advance how many cities you plan on going to, you can figure out tentative costs for transportation, Airbnbs or hotels, and food.

Tips for saving before you go

The biggest tip for studying abroad is to always, always save more than you think you need. If an emergency happens and you get stuck in a different city, or your travel costs end up being more expensive than you think they’ll be, it’s always good to have a safety net.

Here are some of great tips for saving your money before you leave to go abroad:

1. Use your trip as motivations all summer long

“I had a full-time internship last summer so every day that I went into work I always thought, “I’m working towards going abroad and all the trips I’ll take there!” It was very motivating,” Madison says. Using your upcoming trip as motivation to work hard all summer is a foolproof way to make sure you’re saving what you need. 

2. Credit card points

Oftentimes different credit card plans will give you incentives for using them. “I checked out different credit card benefits, the one I always use has a points system so by paying for things primarily by credit card, I was able to redeem those points for a cash deposit into my account,”  says Hannah Jane Langley, University of Utah ‘19.

It’s also really important to check the fine print on your credit card agreement. Some cards will charge you a fee for using them out of the country, so make sure you know that the benefits outweigh the costs (and what hidden charges you might rack up). 

3. Scholarships

Some schools and programs offer scholarships for students studying abroad. Hannah applied for every scholarship she was eligible for, and ended up getting two of them. You never know how much help they can be, so make sure to apply.

4. Figure out a tentative budget beforehand

I talked about it already, but budgeting is one of the most helpful things you can do. Knowing how much you can spend each week is critical if you don’t want to spend too much. You’ll also feel so great whenever you’re under budget.

Tips for saving while you’re there

1. Book trips through travel agencies

Travel agencies often have discounted rates for students or large groups, so make sure you check in with them to see what they offer. You can usually get bundled packages for transportation and hotels, which will save you a ton of money in the long-run. Some great ones to look into are Weekend Student Adventures, EF Ultimate Break, and Contiki Travel Tours.

2. Eat in on the weekdays and out on the weekends

One of the quickest ways to spend money is to eat out every night of the week. Yes, the local food is going to be delicious and tempting, but all that gourmet food probably costs more than you’ve budgeted for. Deciding to cook for yourself during the week and only eating out on weekends is a great way to get the best of both worlds.

3. Stick to your weekly budget

I know what you’re thinking: here’s the budget again. But once you make it, the next hardest part is sticking to it. Sure, you can definitely splurge once in a while on something fun, some good for, or a really cute souvenir, but try to stay as close to budget as possible.

With the stress of saving to study abroad, it’s almost easy to forget how much fun it’s going to be. Spending an entire semester abroad is a life-changing experience no matter where you go, so don’t let money get in the way of enjoying every second. If you plan in advance, you’ll set yourself up for a stress-free semester of good food, good sights, and a good time.

Images Courtesy of Madison Vettorino, Marist College 2020