Money Management Tips for Students Studying Abroad
For many students, budgeting is the least fun part of studying abroad. Nobody wants to think about costs, especially when it’s so easy to get lost in the promise of enriching adventures.
However, study abroad money management is not only crucial for having the best possible experience; it’s also an opportunity to learn valuable life skills. Here are a few money-related questions you should ask yourself before your trip.
How Much Should I Plan to Spend?
If you’ve already chosen a study abroad program and sorted out the fees, it’s likely that your next question is “How much spending money do I need to study abroad?” There’s no hard and fast answer to this, as it depends on what kinds of experiences and souvenirs you’re planning on purchasing while abroad. Making a budget is a great way to keep yourself on track and ensure you have enough funds to enjoy your entire trip.
How Do I Budget My Spending Money?
Start by thinking about essentials that are not included in your program fees, such as food. The cost of meals in restaurants can greatly from country to country, with regions like Southeast Asia generally being much cheaper than Europe. Do a little research to get an idea of how much you’ll spend to eat and make this a priority in your budget.
Next, consider if there’s anything special you want to be sure to experience or purchase while abroad. Maybe you’re stopping in a city with a museum you’ve always wanted to visit, or maybe you really want to get your dad an authentic German beer mug for Christmas. Be sure to set aside for money for the things you’d like to buy.
Of course, you’ll also want some wiggle room in your budget for impulse purchases of street food and souvenirs. How much room to leave is up to you. Consider your shopping habits and the prices of goods in your destination when deciding on a realistic amount.
Can I Use My Credit or Debit Card?
Using your credit or debit card abroad can make things much easier. You don’t have to go through the hassle of exchanging money or carrying around large sums of cash. However, there are some drawbacks to using a card abroad that you should carefully consider.
First of all, be aware that your card may not be equally useful in all countries. Cash is still the norm in many places and smaller shops and restaurants may not have card readers available. In addition, card technology can vary between regions of the world. Contactless technology is normal in much of Europe, where it may be difficult to find card readers that can still handle magnetic stripes.
Another thing to keep in mind is that you may be charged foreign transaction fees for purchases made abroad. Check with your bank ahead of time to see if any fees apply. Remember to notify the card company of your upcoming travel plans if you do decide to use your card abroad.
How Do I Carry Cash Safely?
If you’ve done your research and decided that cash is the way to go, you’ve got a new dilemma. You’ll have to either order foreign currency from your bank before departure or exchange money at the airport, which leaves you carrying large sums of cash for the duration of your trip. How do you stay safe?
Make sure not to put all your eggs in one basket. Carry only as much money as you need for the day on your person. Keep the rest in a safe place back at your accommodation. It’s also a good idea to tuck a bit of emergency cash in a secure pocket of your jacket or purse, just in case your wallet is lost or stolen.
What Else Should I Know?
Before you depart, take some time to research the customs surrounding buying and selling in the country you’ll be traveling to. They can be quite different from what you might expect.
At home, you would never argue prices at the checkout of a souvenir shop, but in many Southeast Asian countries, haggling is both normal and expected when purchasing many goods. Tipping is another custom that varies greatly from place to place. In some European countries, gratuity is usually included in the bill and leaving a big tip can actually be perceived as insulting. In other regions of Europe, tipping is as normal as it is in the United States, although the amount to tip can vary. Doing your homework will help you blend in with the local culture and avoid awkward misunderstandings.
Planning your expenses is never fun, but it’s a necessary part of the study abroad experience. By doing research and budgeting before you leave, you can ensure that money troubles won’t be weighing on your mind during your study abroad experience.