I’ve found that when I have a clear goal, like traveling, I’m a lot more motivated to save money.
Last summer, I did a 6-week Global Seminar that took me around various cities in China, and afterward, I traveled around Asia to make the most of my trip.
This was my first time living in a foreign country independently, and managing my own finances while abroad.
What I learned is that it’s easy to forget that the purpose of studying abroad is to become further immersed in your program. It’s not just a destination vacation...and if you spend like it is, you could get into trouble.
A good way to avoid financial missteps when planning for your trip is to plan ahead by evaluating what you’re looking to get out of your study abroad.
You’re spending a lot of money to go abroad, so make sure it’s meaningful and you’re choosing a place and program that's right for you.
Which program is right for you?
A term-based exchange will require a lot of planning and you’ll need to research the average cost of living as well as other travel expenses.
Take into account the length of the program—would you go for a full year exchange or a short 4-week Global Seminar? Shorter programs like Global Seminars are easier to budget for since the program fee covers most things, and Go Global will advise you of other items you’ll need to spend money on. It’s great if you’re a bit lazy about budgeting (like me).
I chose my program mainly because the course was specific to my major. Plus, I thought this would be a cool opportunity to travel in a country that I’ve learned about in my classes, and I knew the Canadian dollar would hold more value in China.
The local economy and relative costs of goods and services are important as well—Indonesia is a lot more affordable compared to Iceland—so definitely keep this in mind.
How to fund your study abroad?
When it comes to studying abroad, there are 3 sources of money you can think about.
1. Savings - What you’ll save through past or current jobs, or general savings.
Consider taking on a couple extra shifts at your part-time job or opting to eat out less. Simple things like making your own coffee or finding cheaper ways to hang out with friends will help you save in the long run. Apart from the basic costs of living, see where you can cut expenses and use the goal of studying abroad as a motivator.
2. Scholarships and Awards - There are a ton of scholarships, bursaries, and funding opportunities available for students.
There’s a Go Global Award for Go Global participants who already meet the basic requirements to go on the program. Other scholarships are more specific to universities or programs. Besides the time it takes to research these funding opportunities and apply—this money is basically free, so take full advantage!
3. Borrowed - Student loans are sometimes available but not something you should heavily rely on.
Taking out loans, whether it's from the bank, government, organizations, or family can be a sensitive topic. If you’re going to borrow money, make sure you understand the extra fees, or what the loan may imply on your part.
When I was abroad I forgot my credit card and ran out of the cash I brought halfway through my trip. Having access to credit provides peace-of-mind, especially in case of emergencies. I was also fortunate that I had close friends that I could borrow from at the time, but now I always bring my credit card when I travel, just in case.
What are your priorities for studying abroad?
This is the most important part. Assess your priorities and what you absolutely need to spend before and during the program. Think of more unique purchases that will add up like souvenirs, weekend excursions, spontaneous concerts, etc.
Getting advice from different people who have been abroad or making a budgeting excel doc is a great way to build your plan.
To be honest, most of the “planning” for my experience abroad was bookmarking places I wanted to go and food I wanted to eat. My lack of financial planning caught up with me, to the point where I was worrying about whether I could actually afford to do or eat certain things. Looking back, I should have attended the pre-departure program or seen an advisor for budgeting advice.
Don’t let my money story scare you—if you’re making a conscious effort to save up then you’re already on the right track!