How To Pay for Study Abroad

You can use financial aid, scholarships, student loans, 529 accounts and savings to pay for study abroad.
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Written by Eliza Haverstock
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Studying abroad in college is a unique opportunity to expand your horizons, build valuable skills and prepare for the global workforce — and it might be more affordable than you think.

An exchange program offered by your U.S. university could be the easiest and most affordable route, since your school will already know how to process your financial aid for these programs. For many U.S. students, study abroad costs can be comparable to those of your home university, thanks to scholarships, student loans and other types of financial aid.

Though there are many ways to pay for study abroad, it’s best to minimize the amount of money you borrow. Here are the top ways to pay.

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Apply for study abroad scholarships

Consider applying for scholarships and grants, which are a type of “gift aid” you won’t need to pay back. The State Department’s USA StudyAbroad website lists dozens of study abroad scholarships offered by both the U.S. and foreign governments. Your home institution’s study abroad office may also have a list of suggested scholarships.

You can typically use the need-based Pell Grant to pay for study abroad, as long as your program takes place during a standard academic term. Undergraduate students who receive Pell Grants can also apply to the State Department’s Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship. It awards students up to $5,000 to pay for study abroad, or up to $8,000 if they study a “critical need” language while abroad.

Explore institutional aid

Your U.S. college might offer special loans and grants to help students study abroad.

For example, Syracuse University distributes short-term loans to students with financial need to cover the cost of a plane ticket to their program, which students repay without added interest once financial aid funds hit their bank accounts. The University of Wisconsin-Madison awards scholarships of up to $5,000 to its students who participate in semester-long study abroad programs.

Check with your study abroad office for more information.

Check 529 account rules for study abroad

If your parents contributed to a 529 college savings account, you may be able to use those funds for study abroad. Generally, you can use 529 money to cover standard expenses like tuition, program fees, housing and textbooks when studying abroad. Additional costs like transportation, international health insurance, weekend travel and basic daily living expenses aren’t eligible for 529 funds.

529 withdrawal rules vary by state. If you use 529 funds for non-qualified study abroad expenses, you'll have to pay taxes and a 10% penalty on the earnings.

Pull from your savings

If you have remaining costs after scholarships and other gift aid, consider tapping your savings before turning to student loans, which you’ll have to pay back with interest.

You can get creative to build out your savings account before you study abroad. Ask relatives to contribute to a study abroad fund instead of giving you holiday gifts, and thank them for their support. Hold a carwash or yard sale. Get a part-time job over the summer. Request your sibling pay you for use of your car while you’re gone.

Use federal student loans

If you’re eligible to receive federal financial aid at your U.S. university, you may be able to use it for study abroad. That includes all types of federal student loans. If your study abroad program is more expensive than your home university, you may also be able to request a larger financial aid package through your financial aid office.

Your college will process your study abroad financial aid, so federal student loans are typically available only for exchange programs or other study abroad programs sponsored by your university. Check with your study abroad or financial aid office if you have any questions.

You must submit the Free Application for Federal Financial Aid (FAFSA) in order to qualify for loans and grants from the government.

Consider private student loans

If you have exhausted all other funding options, private student loans can help you fill in gaps. Lenders like College Ave and Sallie Mae offer student loans that can be used for study abroad.

Private loans should be a last resort. They don’t typically offer the same protections and perks as federal student loans, like loan forgiveness programs or monthly payments capped at a certain percentage of your income.

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