Financially Planning for Study Abroad – Tips from USAC

One of the first steps in planning your study abroad is figuring out how you’re going to pay for it. Fortunately, USAC focuses on offering affordable study abroad programs, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t need a little financial planning to help you get abroad.

We sat down with our financial guru, Sonia, who has helped thousands of students with their finances and asked for her tips on financially planning for study abroad on the Students Beyond Borders Podcast. You can access the full episode below, or read the highlights.

What is the first step students can take in starting to prepare financially for this experience?

Start preparing earlier than you think. Most students wait until a semester before their departure but the earlier you can start the more opportunities you can take advantage of.

The first step in starting your financial journey early is to determine your cost of attendance at your home university and how it will compare to what you’ll be paying to study abroad. To figure out your cost of attendance take your tuition, books, transportation, room and board, rent, meals, and any other costs associated with attending college and add them all together. This is your cost of attendance. You can then go to your study abroad office and start to determine what programs you’re interested in. Knowing the price of your program you’ll know if you have a financial gap or not.

*A great way to skip doing your own calculations is to go to the financial aid page for your university. It usually has a whole section on what your cost of attendance looks like.

How can students get help setting a budget?

We offer budget tip sheets to help students budget for their study abroad. These tip sheets can be found on the USAC website on the program pages under Fees and Deadlines and break down what your total program costs including field trips, meals, etc.

If you’re not sure which program you’re interested in, you can go onto the USAC website and see a full list of starting program fees so you can compare costs. Don’t forget when looking at that program fee to consider the cost of living in that country/city.

For example, some of the more affordable USAC programs are places like India, Costa Rica, Chile and Korea. But if you’ve always wanted to go to the UK, Australia, or New Zealand you’ll want to prepare for more costly program fees because it cost more to live in those countries.

What are your tips for starting to save for a budget?

Now that you have your budget, you need to start saving for study abroad. How do you get your ducks in a row to make that happen? First, figure out what your financial gap is. This is the difference between your cost of attendance at your university versus when you go abroad. The next step is to talk to your financial aid office and see how much of the financial aid you already receive can be applied towards your program and how much can be applied.

What are the most common expenses that students forget to plan for?

One of the biggest ones is a passport. Passports, especially right now during COVID-19, tend to take a lot longer than you think they will. Your program advisor will walk you through this, but it’s something to keep in mind. You can start applying for study abroad without a passport, but never leave that to the last minute.

The average cost of a passport is going to be $145. But if you wait until the last minute and need to get it expedited, that’s an additional $60. Even to renew your passport is about $110.

The other costs that I recommend that that students prepare for, which will differ by program and term you’re going abroad, but many programs might require a visa process. That means you need a passport AND a visa to get into a country. There are costs associated with processing the visa and may be additional costs.

Another thing that comes to mind, again, based program by program, is whether your program is going to require any vaccines. The interactive budget often shares this information, but vaccines cost money and sometimes can take a long time to get.

Definitely look at the interactive budget sheet and ask your program advisor about any tips or any recommendations on how to hunt down any vaccines you might need.

Another thing to be prepared for is the $500 deposit required by USAC. The $500 is not in addition to your program fee, it is part of your program fee. It is going to be out of pocket because it’s before your financial aid can assist you.

You have to be prepared to pay it because it saves your spot on your program. It’s also non-refundable past a certain deadline so you’ll want to pay attention to that.

One of the reasons it is nonrefundable is because we want to make sure that students are aware that studying abroad is a financial commitment.

What options are there for students who are bargain shopping the flight of their program?

The first option is to take the group flight, which you’ll learn more about from your program advisor. If you’re arranging your own flight we have a few budget sites we recommend:

  • Skyscanner
  • Google Flights
  • Scott’s Cheap Flights

Check out our infographic on how to book your airfare on a budget:

Once you have access to your gateway account, which is your student portal for our study abroad programs, you’ll get access to your flight guide. And on there, it’ll explain a little bit about how to reach out to Frosch, which is the company we work with for group flights so you can get a price on that and then you can do your own research and compare.

What kind of costs during study abroad do students either overestimate or underestimate or just flat out don’t think about?

This is another way that the interactive budget sheet is really useful. The interactive budget sheet has two different columns.

If it’s only in U.S. dollars, it means it’s something that you’ll pay for. If it’s shown in also the currency of that location, it means that you will most likely make the payments on site.  Some of the things that students are really surprised about is that depending on your location, you will either pay your housing before you leave on your program, or you’ll pay it on site. And so that means you have to be prepared for any deposit or first month’s rent, within your first couple of days in that country.

Something that students OVER estimate is the actual cost of travel once you’re abroad. We never recommend booking travel before you’re oversees because you’ll find better deals waiting and taking local budget airlines and booking hostels.

Besides scholarships, what are some other ways students can get money to pay for study abroad?

If your university offers it, we recommend talking to a financial coach.  They’ll help you review your budget and make more realistic cuts to your current budget outside of cutting back your Starbucks intake. Some things to consider:

  • Do you live in the dorms? Would it be more cost effective to live in an apartment or move home for a semester?
  • Can you give up your car for a year and save on transportation?
  • Are you taking classes with high class fees that you can do over the summer or winter for lower class fees?
  • Do you have a job and one where you’re maximizing your earnings for the time you’re spending at work? Be strategic about your job.

One of the more creative ways to save up for your program is the way you go about fundraising, not just fundraising, but the way that you do it. There are GoFundMe’s but also study abroad specific sites like Fund My Travel.

You can also reach out to your community. We’ve worked with students where they held a community barbecue with their church. Another student put her hobbies to work. She had baking skills so for every donation she got, she said thank you in baked goods to those donors. Think about any side hustles that you can use to make some money.