Money. Money. Money. The first thing that comes to our mind when we think of traveling and/or studying abroad. Often people decide AGAINST studying abroad and seeing the world for this reason alone. There is this huge myth surrounding study abroad and travel that leads us to believe it is outrageously expensive to experience the world. I am here to kill those myths for students who are on the fence about taking advantage of the opportunity and for you parents, who are wondering how you are going to manage sending your child halfway across the world.
I had the opportunity to go over 5,000 miles away from my home in small town Alliance, Ohio to the wonderful city of Montevideo located in Uruguay. Uruguay has historically been one of the most financially stable countries in the continent making it around the same for cost of living as it is here in the states. Do not let this scare you away. The program itself is the least expensive USAC Spanish speaking program and happens to be hosted in the safest country in South America. In my case, and many students at my university, it is exponentially cheaper to spend a semester abroad than a semester in the US living on campus. So not only will you be paying less than your average university tuition but you won’t be paying any more for travel, transportation, food, etc. than as you would back home.
Finances were hands down the first thing that came to mind when deciding whether or not I was going to study abroad. How was I going to be able to budget my money correctly to last me a little over four months? I was so worried about not working for the next four months. Would I be able to make the most of my experience in South America and take care of things back home like paying sorority dues and other bills? Long story short, I made it without going completely broke and you can too. How did I do it you ask? Keep reading for 5 tips to make your trip as easy and budget friendly as possible.
Importance of Budgeting & Planning
First is the importance of budgeting and planning. This is a big one that can make all of the difference when planning out how you are going to afford your time abroad. Before you leave, try to think about all of the things you would like to do and try to set a realistic budget for yourself. USAC has some great Interactive Budget Sheets that can help you determine how much you’ll need while you’re abroad. Below is a an example of the one for Montevideo, but you can find one for each program on the website under the fees and deadlines section.
Really sit and think on this. Some weeks you will spend more than others. If you don’t spend as much one week this is the perfect opportunity to save it for an upcoming trip you take or a spontaneous adventure. Once you find your budget I suggest going to an ATM and withdrawing that exact amount, so you can avoid using debit or credit cards. This way you can avoid ATM and international transaction fees.
I found myself going over my budget more when I just used my debit card. For me personally and maybe for you, withdrawing cash allows you to physically see the money leaving and makes you more aware of how much you are spending.
Other ways you can keep track of spending are budgeting apps or an excel sheet to track how much you are spending in miscellaneous areas. Mint is a good app to keep track of spending when using a debit/credit card and allows you to set budgets for individual areas like food, travel, transportation, etc.
If you plan to take any trips it is also important to sit down and budget around those as well. Try to find the cheapest (yet reliable and safest) mode of transportation, use AirBnb and booking.com to find the best accommodations. Don’t jump at the first thing you see and do your research. It’s important to not be impulsive when planning these things because you can lose a lot of money that way. Just be diligent and aware when spending to ensure you’re getting the most out of your experience without going overboard.
Debit/Credit Card Perks
Second, another big one, credit and debit card perks. As I stated above, it can be easy to rack up ATM and international transaction fees so researching these technicalities is a good way to prepare before you leave. Some companies offer cash back rewards and eliminate transaction fee while abroad. While I can’t give many specifics on that, I can tell you ways that everyone can benefit from these perks while in Montevideo.
ORT (the university) is conveniently located across the street from a bank called Banco Santander. These banks can be found all over the city and could be a good option for those looking to avoid international fees and open an account while abroad. There are even stores throughout MVD that offer discounts to Santander card holders.
If this is not an option you are looking to explore, Visa is your best bet. It doesn’t matter if it’s a debit or credit card almost everywhere accepts visa. On top of that you receive discounts because of it. Most, if not every store or restaurant offers a percentage off of an order/purchase to cover the cost of tax and then some. So, while you may get charged international fees it eliminates the guilt because you are still receiving that discount that is almost equivalent, if not less than the fee itself.
Public Transportation is Your Friend
Getting adjusted to public transportation was probably the only thing that really intimidated me while studying abroad. I was so used to having my car and being able to go where I wanted, whenever I wanted. Learning to incorporate public transportation into your lifestyle can be a little challenging at first but once you are adapted it is so worth it and so much cheaper.
The transportation system in Montevideo is called STM (El Sistema de Transporte Metropolitano). STM consists of multiple bus routes throughout the city and can even be used with some of the taxis. While I was there, the bus fare averaged around 31 pesos per hour which is about 88 cents. This means that getting to and from campus each day was less than 2 dollars, insanely cheap. Even outside of school it is the ideal way to travel.
Whether you’re going to the Montevideo Shopping or Parque Rodo taking the bus is going to be your cheapest solution. Uber and Taxis are much cheaper than the US but tend to add up quick, so I would try to save these for special occasions when you can split the fare with multiple people or late-night travel.
Another way to travel around the city if you have the opportunity is by bike. Montevideo has La Rambla which is a boardwalk that spreads across the coast and offers an amazing view to explore the city. This isn’t ideal for all situations but is another option for those who would like it. I had a few friends who chose this route and loved it.
Feria Food is Cheap (& good) Food
Now onto food. Montevideo and most Latin American countries are known for their incredible farmers markets, commonly called ferias. There is literally a feria EVERY DAY. This means lots of opportunity to buy local, cheap and delicious produce. If you plan to live in a residence hall or apartment this will be the best way to save on your fruits and veggies, so you aren’t spending an arm and a leg for food. An example of one that you could attend would be Tristan Narvaja on Sunday which is located in Centro.
Apart from the feria there are also a few extra tips that revolve around dining that can help you save a little cash here and there. Food can become very expensive especially if you are cooking for yourself or eat out a lot. Try meeting up with friends to cook a meal or split a meal while you are out. Most portions in Montevideo are easily shared which makes it a good way to save some cash and experience the delicious food, especially Uruguay’s signature sandwich, the chivito.
Lastly if you are living with a host family take advantage of the meals they prepare for you!! If they are cooking dinner and you won’t be home that night just see if they can save the meal to have for lunch or dinner the next day. As long as you communicate with them they will be more than willing to do that for you.
Download a Currency Exchange App
Lastly, download a currency exchange app. This tip can relate to budgeting and is something I never took advantage of and I wish I would have. There are often times when you are out buying gifts at the feria or visiting one of the many malls Montevideo has to offer you can begin to mindlessly spend money. Everything is in Uruguayan Pesos, so it can become easy to forget how much you are actually spending. A lot of my friends and fellow classmates had a currency exchange app on their phones that gave them the ability to check prices of items in US dollars whenever they needed it. By converting the cost of whatever you are buying to US dollars, you are making the decision more concrete and it allows you to fully decide whether or not it is worth buying or if you could find it cheaper somewhere else. A few examples of apps that you could download are XE Currency and My Currency both of which can be downloaded for iPhones and Androids.
Hopefully the tips listed above can help to make your transition easier. Whether you are studying in Montevideo or on a different program, these suggestions may help. Choosing to study abroad will be one of the best decisions you will make in your life. Enjoy it, savor it, and make the most of it because once it’s all over you will miss it more than anything!
Anyone interested in reading more about experiences in Montevideo and Rio de la Plata can read my blog at https://livewithlan.wixsite.com/livewithlan or follow my IG @livewithlan for a more visual experience of it all!
Written by: Leanne Novak