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Studying abroad can be a priceless experience, but it’s not free.
The average semester abroad costs between $7,000 and $15,000 in total, while a one-month summer program runs from $3,500 to $6,000, according to the University of Louisville. The cost of your study abroad program could be higher or lower than that, depending on factors like location, length and program type.
And like college itself, financial aid could significantly reduce the amount you pay out of pocket for study abroad. Here are some key costs — and a few overlooked ones — to keep in mind if you’re a U.S. college student thinking about studying abroad.
Roughly 73% of the nearly 189,000 U.S. students who studied abroad in 2021-22 opted for programs in Europe, according to a November 2023 report by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and the Institute of International Education.
Programs elsewhere also proved popular. About 10.3% of study abroad students went to Latin America or the Caribbean, 5.3% did a program in the Middle East or Africa and 4.7% studied in Asia, the report found.
Beyond tuition and fees, your study abroad location will also determine your cost of living — the amount you pay for food, housing, transportation and just about everything else.
Here’s the average cost of a full semester at some of the top study abroad destinations, according to study abroad search engine GoAbroad:
Program length and timing also factor into the total cost. You can study abroad briefly during school breaks, like a winter or summer term — or you can spend an entire semester or year abroad. Short-term programs have a smaller average price tag, so it may be easier to cover costs out of pocket.
However, financial aid could actually make a semester- or year-long program more affordable than a short-term program. You can typically transfer your financial aid package for a program that takes place during the standard academic year, but financial aid is significantly limited for programs that take place during school breaks.
Type of program
Your study abroad tuition could be more expensive if you go through a third-party provider, like Academic Programs International (API), Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) or DIS.
A semester-long study abroad program with CIEE costs an average of $18,861. Your federal financial aid won’t transfer to third-party study abroad programs, either.
There are more affordable options. If you direct-enroll, where you enroll directly with a school in your study abroad destination, you’ll pay your host institution’s tuition and fees. If you choose an exchange program through a U.S. university, you’ll pay the university’s normal tuition rate. With these routes, some or all of your financial aid may also transfer.
Overlooked costs of study abroad
“Hidden” costs and fees can increase your study abroad bill. A study abroad advisor at your home university can help you draw up a budget and gauge potential costs, including some you may have overlooked.
Here are some additional costs to keep in mind before you decide to study abroad.
Visa and passport fees
You’ll need a passport to study abroad, and in most cases, you’ll also need a student visa and residence permit. A new U.S. passport costs $165 and can take up to 10 weeks to process.
After you have a passport, apply for a student visa from the country in which you’ll study. Costs vary by country; it costs around $450 to apply for a student visa from Australia, and about $36 from South Africa. In Germany, international students are exempt from visa fees.
Depending on the visa procedures of your study abroad country, you might also have to pay for travel costs to your nearest embassy or consulate for a visa appointment.
You need an initial round-trip plane ticket to and from your study abroad program. But if you plan to embark on excursions to other cities or countries during your time abroad, consider the costs of extra airfare, trains, transit, food and lodging.
It’s also a good idea to set aside some money in case of an emergency. Research the cost of a last-minute flight home from your study abroad city, and put aside that money if possible.
Financial aid won’t cover voluntary travel expenses beyond the cost of your initial round-trip flight.
Foreign transaction fees
If you pay with a credit or debit card, you could face foreign transaction fees, which are usually around 3% of each purchase. That can add up: spend $5,000 on a card with a 3% foreign transaction fee, and you’ll face about $150 in fees.
Fluctuating exchange rates can make it difficult to gauge the final cost of your study abroad experience. Check the exchange rate between the U.S. Dollar and the currency of the country in which you plan to study before you leave for your program. These rates can change day-to-day, affecting food costs and any other regular purchases, so your budget may need to be flexible.
Many U.S. universities require students studying abroad to enroll in a health emergency insurance plan. At the University of Virginia, students must pay about $39 per month for emergency health insurance during their study abroad program.
Consider signing up for travel insurance before studying abroad. This can help you recover money if travel to or from your study abroad location is interrupted, delayed or canceled.
The study abroad program you choose may come with optional costs, like class trips or cooking classes with a local chef.
Other costs might be mandatory, like fees to access a country’s healthcare system. In the U.K., for example, students visiting for up to six months must pay a one-time healthcare fee of about $290. This grants you access to free emergency and hospital treatment, though you’ll still need to pay out of pocket for some other medical costs.
Your home institution may also charge you a study abroad administrative fee. At the University of Iowa, for example, this fee is up to $3,033 for a semester-long program. Check with your college’s education abroad office to see how much you might be on the hook for.