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Money Tips for Your Upcoming Study Abroad Trip

Banking, Money Transfer
money tips study abroad

With spring break plans booked and paid for, many college students are now looking forward to their next adventure by prepping for study abroad in the summer or applying to do so in the fall.

More than 300,000 U.S. students headed to another country to study during the 2014-15 school year, according to the Institute of International Education. While a semester abroad is a great educational and cultural opportunity, students don’t want to learn money lessons the hard way.

With that in mind, NerdWallet wanted to help students prepare financially for their trip and find out where U.S. students were going. (Hint: for many, it’s just across the pond.)

Money tips to pack before studying abroad

Before students travel, families should hammer out how they can access extra funds if they face a costly emergency or simply run out of money. If you’re a student headed overseas, you have a few options:

Become an authorized user on a parent’s credit card

When you’re an authorized user, you get a credit card with your name on it, but the bill goes to your parent, who is responsible for paying it — so use it wisely. Families who go this route should choose a credit card with no foreign transaction fees and ensure that it works wherever the student is visiting. (Visa and MasterCard work just about everywhere, and this analysis shows which gives the better exchange rate in 44 currencies.)

Use a debit card to withdraw cash from ATMs

Be savvy and avoid ATM fees to save money for gelato. Look for financial institutions that reimburse ATM fees worldwide. Using a bank that partners with ATM networks or institutions in the country you’re visiting will help you dodge fees, too.

Have your parents transfer money to you

With this tool, you can compare foreign exchange rates and fees for money-transfer services, which provide another way to get cash in a pinch. Depending on the provider and destination, families in the U.S. could send money directly to a student’s bank account or a pickup location within the same day. Getting money transferred to you can be a little trickier than using a credit card or ATM, but it’s a viable option if you need more than what’s in your bank account and you don’t want to rack up more credit card charges. Look into sending and delivery options, expected delivery speeds and foreign exchange rates.

Where in the world American students go

Of course, financial planning and budgeting depend, in part, on where you’re visiting. Below are the 10 countries that received the most American students in the 2014-15 school year, according to the Institute of International Education.

Consider conversion rates when planning your trip, as well as the price differences between here and wherever you study. If you get a jones for a Big Mac in Paris, it’ll set you back the equivalent of $8.46, according to the XE.com currency converter. The same burger is a bit more affordable in Beijing, where it runs around $4.20. Take a date to the movies in San José, Costa Rica, and you’d spend about $10.26 for two tickets; they’d be nearly three times as much, $30.58, in Tokyo.

Whether you plan to hit the books in London or see the sights in Rome, tell your bank and credit card company where and when you’ll be traveling abroad. That way, those institutions won’t suspect fraud and suspend your accounts.

Once you’re locked in financially, you can brush up on your language skills, buy a selfie stick and work on other, more fun, aspects of planning for your semester abroad.

Caren Weiner Campbell and Laura McMullen are staff writers at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: ccampbell@nerdwallet.com or lmcmullen@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @ccampbell_nw or @lauraemcmullen.