Aerial view of a student's desk covered with sticky notes, a laptop, and a wallet filled with cash and credit cards
November 4, 2022
4 mins read

How to prepare financially for studying abroad

When I have a clear goal, like traveling, I’m a lot more motivated to save money.

In 2017, I did a 6-week Global Seminar during the summer that took me to various cities in China. Afterward, I traveled around Asia to make the most of my trip.

This was my first time living independently in a foreign country and managing my own finances while abroad. What I learned is that it’s easy to forget that the purpose of studying in another country 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 is to plan ahead and evaluate what you’re looking to get out of your study abroad. After all, 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?

Take into account the length of the program—would you go for a full-year exchange or a short 4-week Global Seminar?

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. 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.

For example, there’s the Global Pathfinder Award for students who face barriers to studying abroad. Funding is handed out in $2,000 and $5,000 chunks, and students find out if they qualify before they even apply for their study abroad experience. Just be sure to apply for the award by November 4.

There’s also the Go Global Award for Go Global participants who already meet basic program requirements—meaning almost everyone who goes on a program gets this award! Make sure to get your program application in by the corresponding deadline to be automatically considered for an award.

Other scholarships are more specific to universities or programs. Yes, it takes some time to research these funding opportunities and apply—but 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.

You can also consider credit cards, but make sure you understand the financial implications of using them. If you're not sure what credit actually is (or why it even matters), check out this helpful blog post as a starting point.

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 whom 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 spreadsheet is a great way to build your financial 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! 

Now that I’m back on track with my finances, what I’ve learned as a result of my trip has helped me plan for the future.

Sara posing in front of a circular door in Asia