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Make Your Study Abroad Budget

Budget Worksheet

Download the fillable budget to help you identify participation costs depending on your program, and any gaps in your budget you should be prepared to address.

Download the Budget Worksheet


Step 1: Determine Your Costs

The first step in budgeting for study abroad is to determine exactly how much your program will cost you. You will need to consider the official program cost, which generally includes tuition and program fees that cover housing expenses abroad and international health insurance.

However, you also need to budget for personal expenses that are not included in the program fees such as:

  • Food (meal plans are not common abroad, which means you need to budget for breakfast, lunch, and dinner)
  • Phone Service
  • Passport and Visa/Residence Permit Fees
  • Phase 2 Application Fees
  • Academic supplies (e.g., notebooks, pens, etc.)
  • Public transportation costs
  • Independent travel
  • Shopping
  • Financial responsibilities at home like rent or car insurance payments

Research how prices in your host country compare to those at home (such as groceries, renting a bike, taking public transportation, etc). You'll want to estimate high when calculating any variable and estimated expenses. It is better to have money left over than to fall short before the end of your program. Finally, be sure to add expenses to the budget that are specific to you, and consider the difference between  a “want” and a “need.”

Step 2: Factor in Grants, Loans, and Scholarships

An important part of the budget worksheet is the final section where you can determine how you will pay for the program costs. Whether you’re using financial aid, scholarships, family contributions, or paying for the costs on your own, you need to know exactly how much money you will have available.

If you receive financial aid at Santa Clara (this includes grants, scholarships and any kind of state or federal loans) you can request a Financial Aid Estimate to estimate and project your financial gap. Keep in mind that Financial Aid typically only covers the official program cost (tuition + program fees). 

After you determine your financial gap, you can begin to plan ways to supplement that gap. You'll want to figure out how much money you should save before your program, how many extra hours of work you need to complete to reach your financial goals, etc.

And don't forget to apply to scholarships!

  1. Research scholarships: Check out our curated list of scholarships to determine which opportunity you're eligible for and fit your needs. Most scholarships are offered by organizations outside of Santa Clara. Scholarships can be local, regional, or national. 
  2. Write your application: Carefully follow the criteria for each scholarship. You may want to emphasize why you’ve selected your program, academics, professional development, etc. Consider using your essays from your SCU study abroad application as a starting place. We also highly encourage students to utilize How to Write a Stellar Scholarship Essay workbook and book an appointment with the HUB Writing Center.
  3. Submit your application by the scholarship's deadline - Scholarship deadlines are firm, and late applications will not be accepted.

Step 3: Manage Your Budget Abroad

Once you've selected a program and created a budget, stick to it! Below are a few ways you can manage your budget while abroad. You can also check out the Ultimate Student Guide To Financing Your Life Abroad by Go Overseas.

  • Ask your bank if they have partners abroad, and what the ATM and credit card fees will be.
  • Avoid unnecessary ATM fees. It is often a good idea to take out the maximum amount that you can at an ATM, which you can stash and use over a period of time (ATM fees can add up very quickly).
  • Stay updated on exchange rates. Exchange rates fluctuate often. Avoid falling victim to bad or unknown rates by getting the XE Currency App on your phone or visit to access current exchange rates.
  • Maintain a budget while abroad to ensure you are staying within the financial parameters of the budget you created before going abroad. Use weekly budgets to monitor the spending of your “needs” and “wants” to keep you on track.
  • Find free fun. Many international cities offer free walking tours. Facebook and other social media platforms are also great tools for finding ways to explore your host city and country on a budget.
  • Take advantage of student discounts. Keep your student ID card with you and consider buying the International Student Identity Card (ISIC). As a student, you can often get discounts at museums, when buying train tickets, and at hostels. However, research beforehand if the ISIC card is useful in the country you will be going to.
  • Buy your souvenirs and gifts at the end of your program. By that time, you will have a better idea of what the good souvenirs are and will know how much money you still have to spend.
  • Consider connecting with family and friends back home over zoom or social media apps when connected to wifi, rather than using the phone (phone plans abroad can sometimes be expensive!)
  • Shop and eat where the locals do.
  • Avoid purchases in areas that have high tourist traffic.
  • Bring a refillable water bottle with you everywhere. In most countries outside the US, water is not free at restaurants and those $1 bottles will add up.
  • Cook for yourself (if and when you can). It’s always more economical—and healthier!

Option 1: Unlock Your Current Phone 

Though this is starting to change, most phones sold in the US are still carrier-locked, meaning they can only be used on the network of their associated carrier – unless you get that carrier to unlock them. Unlocking a phone essentially liberates it from being trapped with one carrier – once a phone is unlocked, you can pop in any SIM card from almost any local carrier and the phone will work on that network.* This can be a lifesaver when traveling, saving you tons of money that would otherwise be charged at international roaming rates. Unlocking your phone is almost always a good idea if you plan on taking it with you abroad, even if it just means you have the option to use it in emergencies.

NOTE: Unlocking your phone just means it’s possible to use it on other networks with local carriers where you are. It doesn’t give you a data plan or even minutes, so taking care of that will be up to you. There’s some flexibility here, as you won’t necessarily be dragged back into a two-year contract like you might be at home. Many countries ofer ways to pay as you go for basic minutes and text messages – this may take the form of cards you buy from local corner stores, adding money to your account at shops or online, or other means. There are also sometimes options to get a data plan that is pay-as-you-go, as opposed to the normal fixed monthly rate.


Option 2: Purchase an International Plan 

As studying abroad has become increasingly popular, the occasionally slow-moving service conglomerates have finally responded to the need, creating special phone plans for students studying abroad and their families. This past summer, AT&T introduced a plan designed for students taking smartphones or tablets abroad. The two tiers cost either $60 or $90 a month, and include minutes, messages and data. While it’s hardly cheap, it is certainly less expensive than normal international rates and saves you the trouble of dealing with local carriers in your new country.

Other US service providers don’t appear to be following suit yet, at least not publicly, but if you’re severely emotionally attached to your phone, it may be worth talking to someone from your carrier to see if they ofer any similar deals.


Option 3: Use Your Current Phone + a Phone just for Local texts/calls

With Skype, Google Voice, Viber, Whatsapp and whatever other fancy communication apps you use, there’s hardly a need for actual phone plans – as long as you have Wi-Fi, that is. As you know, you can still use almost all of the features on your smartphone over a Wi-Fi connection, regardless of where you are in the world. Of course, this is dependent on you having consistent access to Wi-Fi, but if you’re studying in a mid-size or larger city, odds are there will be somewhere near you with Wi-Fi, if not your residence. This won’t help you if you need to make or answer phone calls while out and about, so you’ll still need a basic phone for that, but it means you won’t have to give up Snapchat for a whole semester, and you can keep all your social media followers updated on your international exploits.

Plus, you can save a good amount of money using texting apps instead of SMS messaging. For example, the free messaging app Whatsapp has become incredibly popular in many other countries, where each text message costs a certain amount to send (unlike in the US, where they’re just included in most plans). Many people, especially young adults, almost exclusively use Whatsapp to communicate. While you do need a phone number to use the app, it can send and receive messages over Wi-Fi, so if you have reliable access to Wi-Fi you’ll be able to keep up with the in-crowd (at least as far as messaging is concerned).

For calling home, there’s always Skype and Google Hangouts – if you’re a bit more old-school, international calling cards are still widely available in most countries, and they’ll help you avoid those frightening international calling fees