4 Budgeting Tips For Your Time Abroad

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story by austin joseph

Financial stresses can really detract from your experience abroad. In particular, I struggled because I studied abroad via the multi-country program, Semester at Sea. Because we were in a new country every week, I had to constantly adjust my budget to new currencies and exchange rates. As challenging as this was, it is absolutely worthwhile because by budgeting properly, I was able to minimize nagging worries about my expenses, and was able to fully embrace my experiences abroad. With that, here are some tips for how you can budget for your study abroad program.

Have an Emergency Fund

Picture this: It is midnight and I am alone in a foreign country. I had foolishly decided to split from my travel buddies while in Marrakesh, Morocco to explore the winding alleyways and twisting corridors of the city on my own. The soothing sun has descended and now a chilling moonlight descends, covering me in cold. I needed to get back to the hotel - fast. I checked my wallet. All out of Dirham (the local currency)! Thankfully, I had put aside money for an emergency such as this, and only needed wifi to transfer the funds into my account. As a result, I made it back safely.  Preparing for inevitable unexpected crises by having a financial backup plan is essential for study abroad success. I recommend saving up or storing a few hundred dollars in case of emergencies that arise. You'll be thankful you did! 

Establish a Monthly Budget

By creating a monthly spending budget, you will start to notice if you are on track to spend every dollar you have before your trip ends. For instance, while in Hong Kong, I went to a world famous tailor suit shop called Apsley Bespoke Tailors. I entered ready to confidently bargain for a perfect price...and ended up spending $600! Not only had I bargained terribly, but I had also blown my budget. Buying this suit was definitely a splurge, but because I had established monthly spending budget and tracked my expenses, I simply updated my budget sheet and knew exactly how much I had swayed off track. I was forced to adjust my spending for the future, and as a result cut future expenses so that I could stay on track in the long run. For me, having a custom suit was worth it, but that's a decision only you can make!

Split large expenses with friends whenever you can

While in Vietnam, my friends and I rented out a small luxury villa and shared it among 20 students total. It was the most fun I had in years! The total bill for a week of accommodations per person: $8!! Simply by splitting expenses you can make awesome experiences more financially feasible for everyone.

Research Hostels, Transportation, and Tourist Traps prior to arrival

One of my friends got stranded in India. She was trying to make it to the Taj Mahal, but the bus transportation she was relying on dropped her off at an abandoned station with thirty strangers. She was understandably worried and because the buses failed to help, and she ended up paying over $500 in rupees to take a taxi for six hours just to get to the Taj Mahal. Although she couldn't have known the bus would leave her stranded, that extra expense and dangerous situation could have been avoided had she researched the bus company ahead of time, and instead chose a mode of transport that was safe, reliable and affordable. Spending the time to do your research will save you more money in the long run above all else. Plus, it's a life skill that you can continue to use anytime you decide to explore someplace new. Be an informed global citizen and check out resources like the Diversity Abroad Community Forums or wikitravel to find out as much information as you can ahead of time.

BONUS TIP: Have A Recurring Source of Passive Income

If possible, try to secure recurring passive income before you go abroad. This will help you worry less about money and truly enjoy your experiences abroad. For instance, by renting your on-campus housing to someone while you are gone, earning royalties for something you created and published, or investing in high-return stocks with dividends you can create consistent passive income. However, the process can be risky. I invested in stocks prior to traveling in the hopes of using the return on investment to fund my travels. Instead I lost several hundred dollars. So choose wisely!

In conclusion, budgeting can be a tricky process. Do not overcomplicate it. By simply,having an emergency fund, tracking your monthly spending, doing your research and splitting expenses with friends, you will alleviate the majority of your financial stresses, allowing you to delve into your life-changing experience abroad without any distractions!


austin joseph


Austin Joseph is a study at Morehouse College, and a Diversity Abroad Campus Fellow during the 2016-17 academic year. He set sail with Semester at Sea, and volunteered during the 2016 summer olympics in Brazil!

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