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Helping Your International Student Budget for College

Studying at a university abroad is an extraordinary experience for any international student, but it also requires extraordinary budgeting skills.

"It's important to design a budget that includes every expense you can brainstorm," says Jeffrey R. Whitehead, director of the study abroad office at the University of Pittsburgh.

Before a student departs for international travel for a quarter, semester or year abroad, parents should consider building a budget for travel expenses with their child using these steps.

“It’s important to design a budget that includes every expense you can brainstorm.”

— Jeffrey R. Whitehead, director of the study abroad office at the University of Pittsburgh

Understand the Expenses of the Program

Depending on the destination and duration of the program, the cost of studying abroad can vary greatly. While some programs are all-inclusive, or include round-trip airfare and housing, others are a la carte.

This is why it's important for parents and students to discuss program rates with a study abroad director, and then add travel expenses together on their own for a total cost.

For example, Temple University in Philadelphia, Penn., offers a semester in Rome, Italy, with tuition starting at $6,503 for Pennsylvania residents and $11,416 for non-residents. Apartment housing costs $3,900, while a homestay (which includes meals) runs at $5,350.[1] The university estimates that books and supplies will cost $500, and various program fees total $894. While Temple University's tuition rates at its Tokyo, Japan, campus are the same, meals, housing and airfare are more expensive.

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Plan Ahead for Travel Expenses

If airfare is not included in the cost of the program, Whitehead recommends purchasing a round trip ticket two to four months in advance for the best price. 

Housing fees are sometimes built into the university program rates, along with tuition fees and books, but Whitehead encourages parents and students to inquire about other travel expenses to figure into the budget, such as charges for books, cell phone service, immunizations, and passport and visa fees.

Estimate Personal Expenses

Whitehead recommends that students allot $1,000 to $1,500 each month for personal expenses, which can cover everything from weekend excursions to theater tickets. While many personal purchases will be spontaneous, students can research restaurants, theatres, museums and shops in advance on various travel sites like Lonely Planet and Fodor's to get an understanding of overseas living costs, and to determine how much money to allot for personal expenses.

Check Exchange Rates

When creating and managing a budget for international travel, it's also very important to pay attention to exchange rates, Whitehead says.

Since currency values frequently fluctuate, Whitehead recommends that students check the rates at least once a week once they are abroad and take advantage of favorable exchange rates by withdrawing larger amounts of cash than usual.

To monitor the currency markets, international students and parents may consider using the services of a trusted online foreign exchange provider, which offers tools such as a free online currency converter and email market-rate alerts that notify subscribers to preferred exchange rates - thereby keeping them up to date while also saving them time.

Budgeting based on currency rates depends on the amount of time spent abroad and the school's payment policy, says Tiffany Burk, senior European market analyst at Western Union Business Solutions."But say the child wishes to spend a year abroad and the school wants bi-annual or even quarterly payments. A parent would be wise to inform themselves about currency markets. In the case of Japan, a payment in full back in November is now approximately 20 to 30 percent cheaper due to the decline in the yen. The same sort of development could be about to take place in Switzerland. Expensive Swiss boarding schools might be getting cheaper to foreigners as the Swiss franc moves away from levels that are seen as overvalued."

[1] Semester/Year Programs, Temple University Education Abroad and Overseas Campuses

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