How to Afford Studying Abroad

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Study abroad programs provide unforgettable educational experiences for students. During the 2018-2019 school year, 347,099 students (1.8%) chose to expand their cultural knowledge through study abroad opportunities.

Where do adventurous learners study abroad? Data shows 55.7% of them choose Europe, but Latin America and Asia trail close behind as popular choices. If you desire to see the world on a budget while earning college credit, keep reading to discover affordable study abroad programs and study abroad scholarships.

Questions about Studying Abroad

  • What is the cheapest country to study abroad in?

    According to, China offers one of the most affordable study abroad programs at $6,614 per semester. We offer more data on affordable study abroad programs in the chart below.

  • Is study abroad worth the money?

    Traveling broadens an individual’s worldview and teaches certain lessons not taught in traditional classroom settings. For these reasons, many learners find it worth the cost.

  • What country is the best to study abroad in?

    This depends on personal preference and career goals. However, many students choose European cities, such as Paris and London.

  • Can I study abroad for free?

    Some students study abroad for free with grants and scholarship funds. Other learners finance their experience through loans.

What Types of Programs Are There?

Learners should choose a study abroad program aligned with their career goals and budget. Study abroad programs vary in length and subject matter. In the following section, we highlight five common formats and three focuses.

Semester programs usually last three months and take place during the fall or spring. Students return to the U.S. before the following semester. Some learners choose to study abroad for two consecutive semesters, requiring a larger budget.

Summer programs are one of the most common study abroad formats. Since most semester programs offer fewer credits than a traditional college semester, choosing a summer program allows students to stay on track for graduation. Students completing a summer program can even book a later return flight home to allow for extra leisure time.

Many high schools offer study abroad summer trips, but not all count for credit. These experiences typically only last a few weeks. Generally, extracurricular programs sponsor these trips, such as the school’s art, choir, or foreign language department.

Learners can maximize their winter break with an intersession program. Intersession programs typically last about three weeks and offer a subversive, educational cultural experience at a rapid pace. These programs allow for less leisure time, but participants can still see many sights.

Program Focuses

To gain the most from a study abroad experience, students should select a program aligning with their interests and career goals. Depending on the major, some college programs host trips that can significantly enhance a resume. For example, a student studying design may get the chance to complete a fashion program in London, impressing future employers.

Programs following this format teach language courses exclusively. Learners converse with native speakers to improve their fluency. Students completing a language immersion program learn how to speak and write in the host language and identify different dialects. Students must pass written and oral exams.

Individuals wanting an extended stay abroad can earn a portion of a degree, an entire degree, or a certificate as an exchange student. Schools in the U.S. partner with specific international schools, known as sister schools, to offer transferable credits. Exchange students must possess fluency in the program’s language.

Some schools and organizations host service-oriented trips. Participants volunteer or teach students in high-need areas. Religious organizations partner with Christian schools to offer mission trips awarding college credit. These trips take place domestically and internationally.

Featured Online Programs

Find a program that meets your affordability, flexibility, and education needs through an accredited, online school.

How Much Does Study Abroad Cost?

Exact study abroad costs vary, but many students find programs meeting their financial needs. Many study abroad destinations feature affordable and enjoyable activities and cheap public transportation. Learners also save money by walking and limiting unnecessary purchases. Below, we highlight a study abroad budget’s different parts.

  • Program Cost

    The program’s actual cost marks one of the largest line items on the budget. Aside from tuition, students must purchase books and necessary supplies. Often, study abroad programs provide informational packets on the cost and may even bundle airline tickets and housing in the total cost. Before signing up, students should ask the program facilitator about additional hidden fees.

  • Location

    The destination greatly impacts the cost. Areas with a lower cost of living typically offer cheaper housing options and groceries. Currency exchange rates vary by location and impact the total cost.

  • Housing

    Just like it would in a typical college budget, housing constitutes a large portion of a study abroad budget. A homestay with locals may cost less than renting a private apartment or even a university dorm. Participants should keep in mind that they still need to pay rent on their domestic home unless they sublease it or move items to a storage unit.

  • Transportation

    Some programs include transportation, such as airfare and bus passes, in the program cost. Transportation to leisure activities, though, often costs extra. Additionally, airlines notoriously charge baggage fees. Students should also consider the cost of a visa or passport if applicable.

  • Food

    A food budget varies greatly depending on location and personal preferences. As mentioned earlier, groceries and restaurant meals cost significantly more in certain areas. Some students prefer to spend less on eating out and more on other experiences, such as a sightseeing tour.

  • Field Trips

    Certain programs include additional field trips, including day trips to neighboring cities or weekend trips to nearby countries. Students should save extra money for tickets to required museums and shows.

  • Miscellaneous

    Do not forget to budget for souvenirs, special treats, and once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Creating an unrealistic budget without a generous line item for miscellaneous expenses can cause unwanted stress. Some miscellaneous items serve a practical purpose, including international cell phones, data plans, and health and travel insurance.

As mentioned earlier, the program’s location greatly impacts the price. Data from ValuePenguin shows us that Mexico, India, and Guatemala provide the cheapest study abroad experience overall. Singapore, Switzerland, and Norway earn the title of most expensive. Check the chart below for common destinations’ average program semester costs.

2018 Program Costs
Country Average Program Semester Cost
Average Semester $14,294
Argentina $12,212
Australia $18,109
Canada $12,431
China $6,614
Costa Rica $8,080
England $18,041
France $18,452
Germany $12,758
Ireland $13,952
Italy $17,238
Japan $10,360
Mexico $10,724
Morocco $21,177
New Zealand $8,805
South Africa $17,407
South Korea $9,684
Spain $14,338


How Can I Save Money?

If the figures above seem overwhelming, consider options to improve affordability. An intercession program usually costs less than a semester-long experience. Exploring the city by foot on a free self-guided tour offers a cheaper alternative to an expensive bus tour. Below, we discuss how scholarships, loans, and fundraisers bring the cost down.

  • Scholarships and Grants

    Spending time in a new culture often leads to an open-minded world view, and many donors see this value. Organizations and schools provide funds from these donors reserved exclusively for study abroad opportunities. For a list of international learning scholarships, see the section below.

  • Federal Loans

    Students can use federally subsidized loans to finance study abroad programs facilitated through a U.S. school. To apply for federal loans, individuals must complete the FAFSA. This application takes about 45 minutes to complete, and the government distributes subsidized loans based on financial need.

  • Private Loans

    Students may also apply for private loans to fund their trip. Review any stipulations before accepting a private loan, as some loans can not fund travel expenses. Private loans may require a co-signer and often begin accruing interest immediately.

  • Fundraising

    Students engaging in service-learning or mission trips fundraise to collect money. Restaurants often partner with clubs or academic departments to host fundraisers. Some learners choose to write donation request letters or create GoFundMe campaigns.

  • 529 College Savings Plan

    Learners with a 529 college savings plan may use their funds on study abroad tuition, but not on day-to-day or travel expenses. Students access these savings funds for educational expenses without a penalty or tax fee.

  • Employment

    Taking a temporary job abroad helps fund program costs and looks good on a resume. However, U.S. citizens typically need a work visa to earn money in a foreign country. Some programs offer on-campus jobs or paid internships.


Scholarships make study abroad opportunities attainable for learners on a budget. Schools, corporations, and foundations offer funds to students based on factors like financial need and academic merit. In most cases, scholarships and grants require recommendation letters and personal essays. Take a look at ten scholarships for study abroad experiences.

American Institute For Foreign Study Grants and Aid

Who Can Apply: U.S. students enrolling in an overseas school may qualify. Students participating in a faculty-led program through their home institution do not qualify.
Amount: Varies

Ashley Soulé Conroy Foundation Scholarships

Who Can Apply: This award aids study abroad students. While the coronavirus pandemic has led to a temporary suspension of this program, the foundation plans on resuming it in fall 2021. Only 1-2% of applicants earn this competitive scholarship.
Amount: $4,000

Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program

Who Can Apply: Students who qualify for a Federal Pell Grant may also qualify for this scholarship. The Institute of International Education works with the U.S. Department of State to offer this study abroad award.
Amount: $5,000

Boren Awards

Who Can Apply: Students wanting to study in a country of U.S. interest can apply for this scholarship. The amount received depends on the length of the trip, and STEM majors qualify for the highest awards.
Amount: $8,000-$25,000

Critical Language Scholarships

Who Can Apply: The U.S. government annually publishes a list of languages they want citizens to learn. The U.S. Department of State offers scholarships to students learning these languages while studying abroad.
Amount: Varies

Cultural Experiences Abroad Scholarships

Who Can Apply: For the 2021 award term, this organization lists two available undergraduate scholarships. One scholarship goes to a student demonstrating academic merit, and the diversity scholarship goes to a student with a diverse background or disability.
Amount: $2,000-$3,000

Global Education Network Study Abroad Scholarships

Who Can Apply: This organization offers multiple study abroad awards with varying criteria. They offer funds for students demonstrating financial need, an award for bloggers and vloggers, and a diversity scholarship.
Amount: Varies

Good Colleges Study Abroad Award

Who Can Apply: Students hoping to travel can apply for this scholarship by writing a 150- to 250-word essay on how a study abroad opportunity could impact their future. Individuals apply by filling out a simple online form.
Amount: $2,000

The Intern Group Scholarships

Who Can Apply: This organization offers need-based and merit-based scholarships to students interning in specific foreign countries. Recent graduates and current students qualify for this scholarship.
Amount: $2,000

IES Abroad Awards

Who Can Apply: Undergraduate students enrolled in an IES Abroad-facilitated program can apply for these funds. This organization offers need-based grants and scholarships for students from diverse backgrounds.
Amount: $500-$5,000

Tips to Keep Costs Down

Limit eating out at restaurants.
When searching for housing, look for a place with kitchen access. Exploring a foreign grocery store provides a unique cultural experience and saves money.
Book flights separately.
Some study abroad programs allow students to choose between booking their own flights or purchasing their flights through the institution. Learners can search for cheaper flights on their own or apply airline points to lower the cost.
Spend a few nights at a hostel.
When booking extra leisure weekend trips, consider staying at a hostel instead of a hotel. Make sure to bring sheets or towels if the hostel charges extra for them and a lock for valuable belongings.
Walk or use public transport for sightseeing.
Many cities feature safe and affordable bus and subway systems. Save money by walking rather than taking a taxi, Lyft, or Uber.
Limit cell phone data usage.
Most cell phone providers charge for international data on a day-by-day basis. On days when you do not need your phone to navigate, turn your data off temporarily. You can also purchase a prepaid sim card and use it only for emergencies.
Study abroad with a friend and split the costs.
Traveling with a buddy offers safety in numbers and lowers the cost. Students can split the price for car rentals, groceries, overnight accommodations, and extra baggage fees. They can also take turns using cell phone data.

Portrait of Tessa Cooper

Tessa Cooper

Tessa Cooper is a freelance writer and editor who regularly contributes to international and regional publications focused on education and lifestyle topics. She earned a bachelor’s in public relations from Missouri State University and is passionate about helping learners avoid high student loan debt while pursuing their dream major. Tessa loves writing about travel and food topics and is always planning her next meal or vacation.

See articles by Tessa

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