While abroad, you will spend as much money as you take with you. Only you can decide how much money you need to take with you. The amount needed for incidental expenses will depend on your lifestyle as well as the local costs. You will need enough money to cover all expenses not included in your program fee. Know exactly what your program fee covers and what it does not.
You will want to prepare a budget and attempt to adhere to it as much as possible. Use the Budget Planning Worksheet (PDF) to help you forecast your additional expenses.
You will also want to investigate the expenses of past participants on your study abroad program. Ask how much they spent and what they spent their money on while they were abroad.
Consider these ways to save money in your countries:
Finally, remember that spending a few extra dollars today will be worth the experiences you can have. Most importantly, never sacrifice safety or health to save money.
It is helpful to get $50-$100 in small denominations of foreign currency before you leave the United States. Depending on the country you are going to, you may need to order the currency from your bank six weeks in advance. You may have unexpected expenses immediately upon arrival, and it is better to be safe and have currency on hand. You may not be able to use your credit card, debit card, or travelers checks for you first taxi to the hotel or other immediate expenses. You might want to contact your host institution's coordinator and ask what they think is a reasonable amount. If you do carry cash, particularly in a large city, do not put it all in one place. Remember the packing advice - carry your money, cards, passport, and traveler's checks under your clothing in either a money belt or a thin purse. If you wear belts, some travel shops offer belts with a small pocket that a couple of bills will fit into. This will guarantee you will always have some cash on your for any emergency. The last thing you want when you first arrive is to lose these items.
A debit card is excellent for international travel because it allows you to withdraw money from your bank account in the United States in the currency of the host country. We strongly suggest that you use a debit card as your main way to get cash. If you decide to use a debit card overseas, be sure to ask your bank for a card that has Visa or MasterCard logo on it. You can use it in any cash machine abroad that has a Visa or MasterCard logo on it. Remember when using your debit card, you will be asked how much money you want in the foreign currency, not U.S. dollars. The transaction will debit the money from your checking account in the United States at the current exchange rate of the day. Be sure to check with your bank for transaction fees. Transaction fees vary but can be $5-$20; therefore you may want to withdraw large amounts instead of many small transactions.
Before departing, be sure to call your bank to let them know you will be using your debit/ATM card overseas. Banks monitor fraudulent activities and often use overseas triggers the fraud department. Many students have had their accounts suspended by the bank for fear of fraudulent activity. By letting the bank know you will be using your card overseas, you will prevent your account from being frozen.
You may want to ask your bank to increase your daily withdrawal limit. You may need to withdraw large amounts of money to pay rent or to avoid transaction fees.
Note that some ATMs abroad may not work with the system (i.e. Honor, Cirrus, etc.) of your ATM card. Often, foreign ATM machines accept only four-digit PINs. Check the back of your debit card to know which system your card uses.
Be sure that you and someone back home knows your PIN for the ATM or credit cards. It may be wise to carry travelers' checks as back up cash in case something happens to your card.
Be aware of cultural differences while using your debit and credit card. It is more common in the U.S. to use cards to pay for a small meal or even just a soda. However, you may encounter different attitudes abroad where it is much more difficult to use your credit/debit card for small purchases. You may need to be prepared to carry more small amounts of cash than you are used to.
All major credit cards (Visa, MasterCard, American Express, etc.) are widely used in most countries. However, if you are planning to travel to a developing nation, check with your bank or credit card company to verify that your card will work in your host country as well as in the countries to which you may travel.
Before departing, be sure to call the bank that issued your credit card to let them know you will be using your credit card overseas. Banks monitor fraudulent activities and often use overseas triggers the fraud department. Many students have had their accounts suspended by the bank for fear of fraudulent activity. By letting the bank know you will be using your card overseas, you will prevent your account from being frozen.
Any bank that honors your type of credit card will help you draw funds in the local currency as a cash advance (you may need proper ID). This type of cash advance is considered a loan and you will be charged interest immediately upon receiving the cash. This is often a very high interest rate so you need to be cautious when obtaining money this way.
Your credit card bill will reflect the exchange rate on the day your credit card transaction is processed, which may be more or less than what you thought you were paying at the time of purchase. Generally the exchange rate on credit card transactions is favorable compared to other currency conversion locations. If you will be using your credit card while abroad, you need to make arrangement to pay your bill every month while you are abroad. This is often easily done if you have set up online banking.
Traveler's checks are a convenient and safe way to carry money. However, they often have a higher exchange rate than debit or credit cards. Also depending on your location abroad, they may be easy or difficult to cash. When cashing traveler's checks, you will need proper identification, often your passport.
Traveler's checks can be purchased at almost any bank in the United States, usually at the rate of one percent over the value of the checks you are buying. Some credit unions and AAA provide travelers checks without cost. If you do order them, be aware that it may take weeks or a month to order and receive them, so do this well before you are planning to leave. When you get your traveler's checks from the bank, you will also receive a log sheet. Immediately fill in the check numbers on that sheet and keep it separate from the checks themselves. As you go along, fill in the rest of the sheet with the pertinent information such as where you wrote the check and when. Keep the log sheet with your important documents. If your traveler's checks are lost or stolen, the company that issued them will replace them at their full value, as long as you have a record of their serial numbers.
If you think you might need to use bank transfers or have your initial funds sent to you in the form of a bank draft, visit your bank before you leave and ask them for a list of the correspondent banks in your host city. Let them know who is authorized to initiate cable transfers for you. Once abroad, you can contact your home bank by telegram or phone and receive the money, usually within 48 hours. Be advised that you will probably have to pay the cabling charges both ways, in addition to a commission charged by the host bank. Money can also be cabled from home through American Express or Western Union; this type of transfer will take two to five days and the charge varies according to how much money is sent. Alternatively, you can notify your home bank and request that a bank draft in your name be mailed to you.
Not everyone will need a domestic account once they arrive in their new city. If you do, check with on-site staff which bank(s) is more convenient for international students. Overseas banks generally offer services that are similar to those in the United States. You may wish to compare the services and costs of several banks before choosing one at which to open an account. One bank may be more conveniently located than others; another may have more automated teller machines around town.
Shop around before converting money as the exchange rate fluctuates drastically from place to place. Also, be advised that the quoted rates will be different for buying than for selling. When traveling, before you leave a country, convert any loose change into bills. Most places will not convert loose change into another currency. In many international airports, there are containers that collect loose change for charity. This is convenient and helpful way to get rid of any money that you cannot or do not want to convert back to U.S. dollars.
Some options for checking currency exchange rates are: