Studying abroad offers a tremendous opportunity to see the world, immerse yourself in a new culture and gain a new understanding of yourself and your field of study. Yet only 1-2% percent of college students take advantage of this opportunity, which may be due to the costs of overseas travel. While it does require careful financial planning, it might be easier than you think to afford studying abroad.
This guide will introduce you to the costs of studying abroad, factors to consider in your planning and the different financing options that may be available to students hoping to study abroad, whether it's for a summer, a semester or an entire degree program.
Finding Scholarships to Study Abroad
|Scholarship Name||Eligibility||Where to Apply|
|Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Grants||U.S. citizens who have received bachelor's degrees or equivalent before start of grants. Must be in good physical health and have written and spoken proficiency in the language of the host country.||View|
|Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program||Must be a U.S. citizen and undergraduate student receiving Federal Pell Grant funding at a two- or four-year college or university to participate in study abroad programs worldwide.||View|
|EESA (Eastern European Study Abroad) Scholarships||Open to enrolled undergraduate students with minimum GPA who show financial need.||View|
|AMIDEAST Education Abroad||U.S. citizens participating in AMIDEAST Education Abroad Programs in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Oman, and Tunisia. Students with financial need are given preference.||View|
|CIEE Need-Based Scholarships||Students must demonstrate financial need status via FAFSA report and submit proof of eligibility.||View|
|School for International Training (SIT) Study Abroad Scholarships||A variety of need-based awards given for students studying in diverse regions around the world. SIT's school code must be on the FAFSA to apply.||View|
|Institute for Shipboard Education Need-Based Grants||All students that are in financial need. Award amounts based on estimated family contributions from FAFSA.||View|
|John S. Linakis Scholarship||Students in financial need who demonstrate an interest in and commitment to social justice.||View|
|Russel and Deborah Taylor Foundation Scholarship||3.5 GPA and demonstrate financial need. Pell Grant-eligible students are given priority.||View|
|AIFS Gilman Scholarship Match||Students who receive the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship must use it toward an AIFS semester or academic year catalog program (or toward a summer catalog program).||View|
Applying for Scholarships
Surprisingly, studying abroad can sometimes be more affordable than a traditional on-campus education. In addition to any study abroad scholarships they may earn, students may be able to apply their current financial aid packages toward study abroad programs.
Study abroad scholarships are financial awards that help students cover such expenses as lodging, travel, tuition or books. Students must apply for scholarships, and while most are highly sought after by students, some lesser-known scholarships are underutilized and therefore involve less competition. It literally pays to conduct a thorough search.
There are three popular and prestigious scholarships for undergraduates who want to complete their education abroad: the Fulbright Scholar Program, Marshall Scholarship, and Gates Cambridge Scholarship. Each is offered to students who have shown outstanding academic achievement.
Fulbright provides grants the cover travel expenses to and from more than 150 countries. In addition, they cover living costs and limited health benefits. Recipients can design their own programs, which may include a combination of research, field or university course work, teaching and/or community service.
Available to high-performing American students who attend any universities in the United Kingdom. Up to 40 students are selected annually to receive the scholarship, which covers university fees, living expenses, books, travel and, in some cases, a contribution toward the support of a dependent spouse.
Established with a donation from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, these scholarships are awarded to graduate students from countries outside of the UK to pursue full-time postgraduate degrees at the University of Cambridge. Awards cover all tuition costs, living allowances, travel and annual retreats.
Additionally, various public and private scholarships are available, each with its own requirements for eligibility. These awards may be based on merit, achievement or demographics, such as gender, race, religion, family, medical history or other student-specific factors. Also, depending on where you want to study, there may be destination-specific scholarships available. Check with government-sponsored travel websites for the country in which you are interested in studying for information about scholarship opportunities. In addition, your particular program, school, or a professional association dedicated to your field of study may offer scholarships.
Loans for Foreign Study
The cost of an international education can deter some students from considering study abroad. However, financial aid, grants, scholarships, and loans can make it possible, so take the time to investigate all of your financing options.
U.S. Federal loans
Federal loans available to students or their parents can help pay for study abroad as well as at home, whether it's for a semester or your entire degree program. They are often less expensive than private loans, with fixed interest rates and more flexible repayment schedules. These include Stafford Loans, PLUS Loans, and the Montgomery GI Bill.
Stafford Loans offer financial help to eligible students enrolled in accredited American higher education institutions. According to Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965, these loans are guaranteed to be repaid by the government should the student default.
PLUS loans are made by the U.S. Department of Education to the parents of dependent undergraduate students or, as of 2005, to students. Recipients can borrow up to the student's total cost of attendance minus any other financial aid received. Repayment may be deferred until after the student graduates.
Montgomery GI Bill
Those who enlist in the U.S. Armed Forces may apply for the Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB). There are two programs under the bill. The Active Duty program (MGIB-AD) requires active-duty members to enroll and pay $100 per month for 12 months; they are then entitled to receive monthly education benefits once completing a minimum service obligation and receiving a fully honorable discharge. Reservists (MGIB-SR) must commit to a six-year obligation in the Selected Reserve and be actively drilling.
Private Study Abroad Loans
Although there are more options than ever for private-lender student loans, federal loans still usually charge lower fees and interest rates. In addition, the federal government does not back private lender loans as they do with Stafford or PLUS loans. However, maximum federal loan limits are not always enough to cover the rising costs of education, and a private loan may be necessary to fill the gap.
Finding the Cost of Studying Abroad
Planning is essential to fit study abroad into your educational picture. It's important to understand the cost-of-living differences between where you live now and your preferred study destination, and what those differences will mean for your lifestyle. For example, if you live in New York City, you will find the cost of living in Hong Kong is 11 percent cheaper on average. Let's look at how other countries' expenses compare with those of the United States.
Just as the Cost of Living Varies in the US, It Varies Abroad Too
|Item||New York||Hong Kong||London||Rome||Beijing|
|Fast food meal||$10||$5.09||$8||$8||$4.58|
|2 lbs. apples||$4.04||$2.70||$2.61||$2.12||$2.01|
|Toilet paper (4-pack)||$3.86||$1.39||$2.33||$2.35||$1.19|
|Movie tickets (2)||$32||$26||$32||$19||$16|
|Utilities (1 mo.)||$124||$94||$150||$159||$38|
Source: Expatistan 2019
Planning For Study Abroad
Look at all expenses you will incur when selecting your study abroad program, the program length, language and culture you'll be immersing yourself in. Planning will eliminate unwelcome surprises, such as running out of money halfway through your studies.
Select a program that fits your budget
Take a look at what expenses you will incur when selecting your study abroad program. Tuition varies depending on what type of program you choose. Often the tuition is the same for an exchange program or for domestic students who live on campus. Study abroad programs through third parties usually cost a fixed amount upwards of $10,000 or more, depending on what they include.
Summer programs may appeal to students looking for less of a financial commitment. Even just several weeks to three months abroad is an easier and less costly commitment for students who don't want to miss a semester at their home universities.
Language and Culture
Think about what language and culture you want to immerse yourself in. This could make a difference in your program costs. Look into which option that fits into your plan will offer the most in terms of financial aid. And, of course, pay attention to your academic goals. How far do you want your education to go?
Today's students can apply for hundreds of scholarships and grants to study abroad. Depending on the programs they choose, the scholarship awards, grants and financial aid available may be sufficient to cover all the major expenses. International study is encouraged in today's business world and many financial opportunities to make this option accessible open up every day. In addition, students who qualify for assistance through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) may be eligible for additional funding.
Live alone or with others
Consider your preferred style of living. Would you prefer to live alone, with a host family or with a group of your peers? Students need an environment that's conducive to their studies. Find out what housing options are available in your chosen program.
A dormitory environment encourages students to meet new people as they participate in group activities with other residents. This helps immerse students in the culture and helps them learn the language more quickly. Plus, travel expenses are minimized when students can walk to classes, the cafeteria, and social events.
Students might find comfort in living in a family environment. The structured environment of living in a traditional family home might provide you with the discipline you need in order to pursue your education without getting too caught up in socializing. In such an environment, you will have chores and rules to follow. Also, host families are a great resource for help and advice.
Of all housing options, getting an apartment is the most expensive, but it also offers the most independence. Students are responsible for rent, utilities, food, cleaning, and so on. Finding a roommate is often a great way to save money on expenses while still getting the privacy you desire. It is also advisable to carry renters insurance as a way to protect and insure your belongings from theft, fire, and vandalism.
Students traveling overseas will need, at minimum, a passport. A visa might be required; this allows visitors to enter and leave a country's borders within a specified range of dates. For information on obtaining or renewing passports, visit the U.S. Department of State's Travel.State.gov. Costs of visas vary, but passports run about $145.
Health insurance covers some required vaccinations. Check with your health department to see what is needed whether your health insurance policy covers it. Usually, developing countries will require vaccinations for typhoid fever, hepatitis A and B, cholera and yellow fever.
Plane Tickets & Transportation
Some study abroad programs include air and land transportation as part of their costs, but not always. Scholarships often include travel expenses to the destination and back when the program is over. Check into purchasing student or group discount fares if airfare is not included. Always make flight arrangements well in advance to save money.
Some health insurance plans cover illnesses or injuries incurred when traveling outside the U.S., but many do not. To cover office visits, prescriptions or urgent medical care, purchasing travel insurance can be a great financial move. Check whether travel insurance is available for you.
Analyze your expenses
Make a list of expenses, both one-time and recurring, on paper. Decide what you can and cannot live without. Expenses that fluctuate can be reduced by not dining out as often or cutting back on entertainment. Is the privacy of an apartment worth cutting back on entertainment expenses? List all your potential recurring expenses, including:
- Mobile phone plan
- Health insurance
- Transportation costs (trains, buses, taxis, etc.)
Budget your money
Figure out how much money you will have monthly for expenses. Give yourself an allowance after all the hard expenses (e.g. rent, utilities, insurance dues, etc.) are paid. Stay on track by only taking money out of savings that is needed for the month. Anything left over at the end of the month is a bonus. Additionally, if you have credit cards, car insurance and auto loans, look at some cost-saving measures such as budgeting your credit card spending with a prepaid or student credit card, refinance your current auto loan, and discuss student and good driver discounts with your current car insurance company. Make sure you also talk to your insurance provider and look into your state requirements for what to do about your car insurance policy while you’re abroad.