Money tips for studying abroad

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Money tips for studying abroad
The beautiful San José, Costa Rica. All photos were taken by me.

I studied abroad in San José, Costa Rica for two weeks on my Winter break during my freshman year at UW-Madison. I wrote this post to show you how I did it, supply you with some money tips while studying abroad, and to show you some awesome pictures from my trip :).

How I did it

I was lucky enough to receive two scholarships for my study abroad trip. These covered all the expenses of the program and my plane ticket. However, I had to buy my plane ticket before I received my refund check from my scholarships. I used money that I had saved up from working over the summer to buy my plane ticket.

Make a budget

I also had to keep in mind that I would have other expenses in addition to just my program fee and plane ticket. For this I made a budget. My program provided lunch and dinner so in my budget I had three categories: lunch everyday, food in the airport, and souvenirs/extra. I planned all of this out before I went and made sure to stick within my budget while I was in Costa Rica. It’s good to know before you go about how much you will be spending. You can also use the program cost sheet that your school’s study abroad program should provide you with to help make your budget.

How I paid for things

Costa Rican Lunch
One of the many lunches I had while in Costa Rica.

To pay for things in Costa Rica, I brought a debit card and a credit card. Most places in foreign countries accept credit cards so this is helpful. It’s important to make sure your credit card doesn’t have any foreign transaction fees before you start spending away, luckily mine didn’t. But all it takes is a simple phone call to find out. I also made sure to call both my bank and my credit card company to inform them that I would be in a foreign country so that I would know my cards would work. If you don’t do this, they may think your card has been stolen and freeze your account.

There are many places that accept credit cards, but keeping this in mind there are also places that only take cash. This was why I brought my debit card. My bank charged me to take money out of an ATM in a foreign country so I only did this twice. I was there for two weeks so what I did was I took out $40 in cash the first week and carried about $10 with me everyday in case the place I ate lunch at didn’t accept credit cards. I carried the $10 cash with me and my credit card. I left my debit card at my host family’s house at all other times. I used my credit card wherever they accepted it so I could save my cash for the local markets to buy souvenirs. This system worked extremely well for me while I was abroad.

Tips for applying for scholarships:

  • Look and apply early: The earlier you look, the more time you will have to work on your essay or gather other materials you need for your scholarship. You want to make your application and essay the best you can which is why it’s good to start early.
  • Talk with a study abroad advisor: I highly recommend talking with a study abroad advisor or a regular advisor who specializes in study abroad. They can help you to look for scholarships and also help with the application process. They can give you tips for what to write your essay on too.
  • Make yourself/ your essay unique: Everyone writes about how they want to improve their Spanish while studying abroad. Make yourself unique and think about the other types of things you want to learn while you’re studying abroad. I wrote about how I wanted to show the people in Costa Rica that all Americans weren’t like the typical stereotype they may think of.

Tips for funding your trip:

  • Make a budget and stay within it: Making a budget helps you to know how much cash you will need to carry with you and how much money you will be expecting to spend while you’re abroad. Also, STAY WITHIN YOUR BUDGET. It’s easy to make one, but when you see a really expensive gift you want to buy for your mom it may be tempting to spend a little more. My suggestion is don’t buy it. Your mom will be happier if you buy her something small with meaning behind it. Not to mention you want to buy small things because you are going to need to fit these gifts in your suitcase on the way home. You will regret it if you spend a lot of money on gifts and go over your budget.
  • Call your bank/credit card: Make sure you call your bank and your credit card so you can include any fees you may encounter in your budget. Also, you don’t want to arrive in your foreign country and have your cards be declined.
  • Buy your plane ticket early: The earlier you buy your plane ticket, the cheaper it’s going to be. Also, if you buy it early there will be more options of times. Another little tip is the cheapest day to buy a plane ticket is Tuesday afternoon.
  • Get a credit card with no foreign transaction fees: If you have enough time before you leave, try and apply for a credit card with no foreign transaction fees. Many debit cards charge you if you use it for purchases while abroad. I had a credit card that didn’t have any foreign transaction fees and it was nice to know I could use my credit card or cash. I liked this better because then I didn’t have to carry a lot of cash around with me.
  • Don’t carry a lot of cash: Like I said above, I didn’t like carrying a lot of cash. Even if you don’t use a credit card for purchases abroad (which I wouldn’t recommend) only carry the cash with you that you will need for that day. That way if something does happen to your belongings (which hopefully it doesn’t) you don’t have to worry about having no more money for the rest of your trip.
  • Don’t carry all of your forms of money: Along with this, do NOT carry all your forms of money around with you. You don’t want to have all of your cards and cash stolen and be broke in another country. Always keep a backup at your family’s house.

Summing it all up

Studying abroad is a great experience (Check out my photos throughout this post and in the gallery below if you don’t believe me!) and I recommend it for everyone. I wrote this post to help you become more prepared for your study abroad experience and so you don’t have to worry about money while you’re abroad!

Don’t forget to check out all my beautiful pictures from San José below!

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Hi, I'm Nora Gehin! I'm a student at UW-Madison currently studying Journalism & Mass Communication. I also write for a top tech company. I enjoy enlightening the world with my writing.