Tips on managing credit and finances as an international student

Updated on April 10, 2024

Coming to study in a foreign country is an exciting opportunity, but it also comes with financial challenges. Tuition, rent, food, health insurance, books, transportation – it all adds up quickly. Without proper planning, you may find yourself struggling to make ends meet. Follow these tips to take control of your finances and make the most of your time abroad.

Know Your Budget

First and foremost, know your budget and stick to it. Draw up a document outlining all of your fixed expenses (housing, insurance, etc) and variable expenses (food, entertainment, shopping). Then determine how much money you will have to spend from your loans, scholarships, family support, job income, and other sources. Having a clear idea of your income and expenses on a monthly and annual basis will give you direction on spending versus saving.

Tip: Include tuition, housing, food, transportation, health insurance, and miscellaneous expenses in your budget.

Find Affordable Housing

Housing costs will likely be your biggest expense. You don’t necessarily need the fanciest apartment in the best location. Find roommates, live in a dorm or residential college, rent a room in a shared flat, or consider homestay programs to cut costs. Commuting from a more affordable suburb can also be considered. Committing to a 12-month lease rather than paying month-to-month will typically save hundreds or thousands of dollars. A 30-minute drive or train ride to campus may not be ideal but it’s better than draining your budget.

Shop Smart

Groceries, restaurants, and shopping are areas where it is easy to overspend. Make a menu and a grocery list to eliminate impulsive buying. Stick to generic or store brands when possible. Buy in bulk with roommates and take advantage of sales. Set a weekly food budget for groceries, eating out, and coffee shops, and withdraw that amount in cash to curb overspending. Don’t overindulge in new clothes and gadgets. The best deals are from thrift stores, second-hand shops, and resale apps.

Travel Hack

If you plan to travel, be strategic about transportation and lodging. Look for discounted train and bus passes. Consider overnight buses or budget airlines to save both money and time. Use apps like Couchsurfing to find free accommodation with locals. Pack light to avoid checked bag fees. Choose destinations known for good value rather than high prices. Set a daily budget for any trips and withdraw that amount from an ATM when you arrive.

Find a Part-Time Job

Having a part-time job or work-study position on campus provides you with extra income to cover costs and lets you gain valuable skills. Jobs in offices, libraries, events, tourism, restaurants and more often hire students. Just be careful not to over-commit your schedule and maintain focus on your studies. Consider paid internships over the summer or during breaks that offer professional experience.

Open a Local Bank Account

Opening a bank account in your study abroad location makes it easier to pay bills, deposit paychecks or wire transfers, and withdraw cash without expensive fees. Choose an international bank that allows foreign students to open accounts easily. Be aware that you may pay monthly service charges if your balance is below a minimum level. Using ATMs affiliated with your bank will help you avoid transaction costs.

Tip: Choose a bank with student-friendly policies, low fees, and convenient branch locations.

Live Like a Local

Immerse yourself in your new culture by living like a local student. Buy groceries at markets, get a bike for transportation, visit parks and free museums for entertainment, take affordable weekend trips, and familiarize yourself with student discounts wherever possible. Avoid spending habits you used back home and live more simply. Renting abroad is often transient in nature, so avoid buying unnecessary “stuff” just to fill your space. Living minimally lets you put more savings towards once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

Consider Your Phone Plan

Chances are your current phone plan won’t give you good rates abroad. Research international providers and rates carefully before traveling overseas and get a temporary local SIM plan. Avoid racking up $1000 phone bills by inadvertently paying expensive roaming charges from your domestic provider. Video calling apps like FaceTime and WhatsApp are budget friendly ways to communicate with family and friends back home.

Tip: Look for phone plans with low monthly fees, no deposit, and student rewards.

Learn the Public Transport System

Master using the local buses, trains, ferries and subways rather than relying exclusively on expensive taxis or rideshares. Navigating public transport also helps you learn the city and interact with more locals. Occasionally needing a Lyft or Uber is fine, but don’t use it for all of your transportation needs. Many cities offer discounted student rates for rechargeable public transport cards.

Apply for Discounts

Always ask about student discounts when booking travel, purchasing expensive electronics, or signing up for service plans. Most museums, theaters, cinemas, sporting events, software, and more offer heavily discounted student rates – but you have to search and ask upfront. Flashing your student ID abroad is like having a VIP access pass in many ways! Sites like Student Universe offer discount travel bookings.

Tip: Explore financial aid options offered by your university and external organizations.

Take Advantage of Campus Facilities

Does your university offer free or discounted printing, computers, equipment rental, legal services or tech support? Don’t pay extra elsewhere for things already included in your student fees. Also take advantage of free tutorials, counseling services, health care, and campus events rather than paying for external providers. Universities invest resources into their facilities and services to support students, so use them.

There are always ways to enjoy student life abroad more affordably. With proper budgeting, resourceful habits, and financial discipline, studying internationally can broaden your horizons without breaking the bank. Embrace both the academic journey and the frugal adventures that come with life as a globetrotting student.

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Frank Gogol

I’m a firm believer that information is the key to financial freedom. On the Stilt Blog, I write about the complex topics — like finance, immigration, and technology — to help immigrants make the most of their lives in the U.S. Our content and brand have been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and more.

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