Studying Abroad: Expenses You Often Overlooked

Studying abroad is becoming hip, thanks to technology and government efforts to entice foreign students. Millennials, in comparison to their baby boomer parents, value experiences over goods. This is enhanced by travels, outdoor activities and other memorable experiences are easily documented and shared via social media.

Moving to a new country to study, whether for a summer internship or a four-year bachelor’s degree, is an aspiration for many young people. According to UNESCO, more than 4.1 million people went abroad for education purposes in 2013, up from 2 million a decade earlier. Students from Central Asia are found to be the most mobile, followed by sub-Saharan Africans.

If you plan to  join the mobile student population, it is important to know the associated costs of studying abroad. Some of the usual items in your budget include school fees, board and lodging, utilities and meal allowance. There are also hidden costs that you should prepare for such as insurance and transportation expenses.

To help you better plan your stay abroad, know these five commonly-overlooked expenses when studying abroad.


Get yourself insured!

Insurance is one of the essential student expenses most students, and their parents, overlook. Most countries in North America and Europe require foreigners, whether tourists or temporary residents, to secure insurance before traveling. If you are bound for Southeast Asia, getting an insurance may not be mandatory but is nonetheless highly recommended. Choose a plan that has comprehensive medical protection, hospitalization coverage and repatriation features.

You may inquire about any international student health insurance plan offered in your chosen university. There is also a wealth of information online about private companies that offer medical plans for foreign students at affordable rates.


Mind the cost of commuting

If you are not among the lucky ones entitled to in-campus board and lodging, then it is important for you to include parking and transportation costs in your budget. In some countries, you can buy train passes that can save you a few dollars. Hong Kong’s Octopus Card has an initial stored value of HK$100 and can be used in all MTR/Airport Express stations. You can use this train pass as a debit card in retail stores like McDonald’s, 7-Eleven and some supermarkets.

Some countries have safe bicycles lanes and walkways for pedestrians. Consider getting yourself a bicycle to save on gas or bus fares.


Calling mom everyday can cost a lot

Phone cards, postpaid mobile phone subscriptions and other communication-related expenses can eat up a large portion of your allowance if not carefully managed. This is one hidden cost of expat living that can ruin your study abroad. You may want to cut off or temporarily suspend your mobile phone subscription at home and purchase a SIM card specific to your host country. You can combine your prepaid usage with free VoIP options.

Thanks to technology, you can opt for free services to reach family and friends back home. Install Viber, Skype and other apps in your smartphone.


A night-out once in a while

Study abroad and widen your horizons — that is the typical tone of ads for foreign students. Most informational materials, however, fail to mention overlooked costs of studying abroad. Students are not always in school. Sometimes, they need to a break from the rigorous demands of education and spend time in the cinemas, bars or the countryside.

Part of your student budget should be allotted for your weekly or bi-monthly night-outs. Depending on your choice of entertainment, a movie or a dinner with friends should not be more than 10% of your monthly allowance. If you want to save, ask about budget tours or cultural activities you can join. This can be an effective way for you to assimilate with the locals.


Because you don’t know when emergency strikes

One of the cons of living away from home is the lack of a safety net when tragedy strikes. This can be a medical emergency, a natural disaster or simply a bad purchase that turned your budget upside down. Although your medical insurance covers emergency treatment, in most cases, this does not include drugs and medicines. There are countries, especially those in the Asia Pacific, that regularly battle typhoons, hurricanes and earthquakes. Be prepared for these events by setting aside a portion of your allowance,  preferably 10% to 15% of your monthly budget.

As the saying goes, better safe than sorry!

By Emily Harper
Emily Harper