Study abroad programs can be an enriching experience for American students. Though international travel is restricted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, travel for school is often exempt, and many programs are offering creative virtual alternatives.
The average cost of studying abroad depends on the U.S. college you’re enrolled in and the foreign country and city you intend to visit. Though some programs have lofty price tags, there are ways to reduce the cost of studying abroad and make the experience more affordable.
The Cost of Studying Abroad
The average cost to study abroad was $14,295 per semester in 2019. Your costs, however, will depend on your college’s or university’s affiliated study abroad programs and the average living expenses of where you want to go. Start by checking with your school for specific program pricing.
Ask your school’s study abroad department about available resources to help pay for overseas study.
For example, Iowa State University offers a sample budget sheet for a semester abroad in Germany. The total—after host institution tuition and fees, room and board, insurance, airfare, books, supplies, and other costs—is estimated at $13,305.
Similarly, the University of Washington estimates the cost for a semester abroad in Madrid at $13,800.
While every program differs in price, there are some expenses every college student should expect to pay. Understanding what those are can help you finance your study abroad journey.
The Main Expenses for Studying Abroad
A study abroad program involves many familiar college expenses, such as housing, food, and transportation. But you’ll also have extra costs, including flights, visa and passport fees, and spending money. Recreational travel expenses can also increase a student’s costs overseas.
Here are some of the most common expenses, broken down by popular study abroad destinations.
A 529 plan can be used to pay for qualifying higher education expenses both domestically and internationally.
Housing prices differ, depending on the continent, country, and city you choose. Student housing might be the simplest and most cost-effective way to find lodging. But some programs allow students to find independent lodging.
Compare the cost of living in different cities to decide which locale best fits your budget. The monthly prices listed here are for a furnished studio apartment in a modest area and do not factor in potential roommates or currency fluctuations.
- Paris: About $1,450 to $2,600
- London: About $1,750 to $2,600
- Hong Kong: About $2,000 to $4,000
- Melbourne: About $1,100 to $1,500
- Rome: About $800 to $1,400
- Moscow: About $500 to $900
- Barcelona: About $900 to $1,300
- Cape Town: About $500 to $800
You can opt for more expensive transportation, like an Uber or taxi, but public transportation is usually the most affordable choice. Prices below are estimates for a monthly transportation pass and may vary due to currency fluctuations.
- Paris: About $92
- London: About $200
- Hong Kong: About $77
- Melbourne: About $124
- Rome: About $43
- Moscow: About $30
- Barcelona: About $50
- Cape Town: About $49
Food and drinks are an area in which you can save or splurge. Below are the average prices of a casual meal in the city. Increase your budget if you’ll be tempted to splurge in this category.
- Paris: $11 to $19
- London: $8 to $18
- Hong Kong: $5 to $10
- Melbourne: $9 to $14
- Rome: $10 to $18
- Moscow: $4 to $6
- Barcelona: $10 to $18
- Cape Town: $4 to $8
Flights to Your Destination
The cost of your flight to your study abroad program will depend on the city from which you’re departing. The following flight costs are calculated via Google Flights for one round-trip ticket from New York’s JFK Airport. Keep in mind that the closer you book to the date of your departure, the more expensive tickets may become.
- Paris: About $600 to $1,200
- London: About $500 to $1,200
- Hong Kong: About $800 to $1,300
- Melbourne: About $1,300 to $2,100
- Rome: About $500 to $1,200
- Moscow: About $500 to $1,200
- Barcelona: About $400 to $1,000
- Cape Town: About $1,000 to $2,000
Be aware of current travel restrictions and closed borders due to COVID-19. And be alert that future restrictions could affect travel to and from your destination. You don’t want to get stuck overseas at the end of your program, especially if you’ve already spent your entire travel budget.
Additional Costs and Fees
It’s important to account for additional costs and fees. These may include study abroad or travel insurance, the cost of a new passport, and required immunizations. For example, students in Iowa State University’s study abroad program can expect to pay a $275 study abroad center fee, $170 for international insurance, $175 for a passport, and another $135 for a visa. Ask your college or university for a cost breakdown to budget accordingly.
Lastly, consider adding extra spending money for souvenirs, meals or nights out, and bonus sightseeing.
Virtual Study Abroad Options
Virtual study abroad offers an international learning experience without the need to travel, thereby eliminating the cost of airfare and additional destination-related expenses. These programs use online instruction, virtual experiences, and videoconferencing to give students a unique educational and cultural experience.
Virtual study abroad programs offer students a safe way to experience international culture via an academic program during the uncertainties of the coronavirus pandemic.
Washington State University, for example, offers virtual programs to study abroad and complete international internships. UMass Lowell offers virtual study abroad that includes online coursework, cultural experiences, tours, and even cooking classes. This program costs $750 per three-credit course, plus a single $300 study abroad fee.
Virtual study abroad might not be the same as international travel, but these programs can still provide enriching multicultural experiences and valuable networking opportunities at a fraction of the cost of conventional study abroad.
Using Loans When Studying Abroad
Federal, state, and institutional aid is available to help pay for study abroad programs. Most schools recommend you fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, by March for summer programs. If you intend to study abroad during another part of the year, your current aid package may cover or reduce the cost.
Talk to your school about options, deadlines, and the specific process for applying for additional aid and/or applying existing aid to the program of your choice.
While federal student loans often come with lower interest rates, private student loans are also worth considering if the funding available to you is insufficient to cover costs.
Tips for Minimizing the Cost of Studying Abroad
Travel can be expensive or inexpensive—up to a point and depending on your destination. Try these hacks for cutting costs abroad:
- Use public transportation: Many overseas cities have well-designed and affordable public transportation systems. Research public transportation in your study abroad city, and save money by skipping expensive alternatives like taxis.
- Cook meals at home with your roommates: Food is an important part of experiencing a new culture, but eating out can add up. If your school abroad doesn’t offer a meal plan, a good way to reduce costs is to cook or eat simple meals in your flat.
- Minimize weekend trips: In a new and exciting location, it can be tempting to see as many places as possible. But if you’re on a tight budget, limit extensive excursions. Instead, use the weekend to explore undiscovered parts of the city you’re already in—you’ll have a more immersive experience and control costs at the same time.
- Wear a money belt: If your program is in a tourist-frequented destination, there’s a higher risk that you’ll be pickpocketed when out and about. Use a money belt to store anything you can’t risk losing. And when hauling a backpack, wear it around your front (or backwards) and use a luggage or other lock to lock zippers and keep pockets secure.