Students are strapped for cash - it's a fact of life. Yet spending a year abroad, an endeavour with the potential of burning some serious holes in your wallet, is as popular as ever. How does this add up? Contrary to popular belief, there are plenty of ways to reduce the costs of a year abroad. Many students are scared away from going on an exchange year abroad by the astronomical costs that seem inherent in the idea - which is rather sad, as this really isn't the case. Here are a few tips and things to consider if you're looking to go on a year abroad on the cheap.
- Location, location, location
- Cheaper housing alternatives
- Take what you can get
- Travel for less
- Did someone say free stuff?
Obviously, some destinations are going to be more expensive than others, especially when you're staying there long-term and have to deal with housing and transport costs. If you're going further afield, outside of Europe, you're also going to have to deal with visa costs and more expensive flights. Of course, you should follow your heart when picking your study abroad destination, but taking your wallet into consideration will have a large impact on how much you end up spending. Think about why you're set on a particular location - are there things you really only can get in that particular city that you're after, or are you open to alternatives in the same country? Don't just go for the obvious places. 'Second cities' or other smaller locations can be just as dynamic and vibrant as capitals. Swapping Paris for Lyon or Barcelona for Seville can seriously cut down on costs. Additionally, sometimes costs may turn out lower overall than expected. Flying to Hong Kong may be expensive, but student housing and food is cheaper than in many other locations, bringing overall costs down.
Finding affordable housing is always a tricky matter, and even more so when you're navigating the housing jungle of a foreign city. A lot of popular study abroad destinations are also plagued by rising rents and a limited supply of student flats - all the while universities may not offer any halls of residence or other type of housing support. This is the case in cities such as Paris, and it requires you to find a way to work around it by looking for alternative housing. Parisian chambres de bonnes (attic rooms) are one example. Another is to offer babysitting or tutoring services in exchange for free or reduced-price accommodation.
The worst part of being a student is being constantly broke. The best part of being a student is that there is a lot of money available in schemes aimed at making you less broke. This is certainly true specifically for students undertaking a year abroad - there are tons of scholarships out there! If you're on an Erasmus year, you will quickly become familiar with the Erasmus grant. Remember that Erasmus may take your family income into account and give you a larger grant if it falls under a certain threshold. Even outside Erasmus, there are many more grants, prizes, and scholarships specific to certain regions or universities, so it's always a good idea to look into it! There may also be some sources of money to be found in the country you're going to, such as the CAF housing assistance in France.
There's a lot of pressure to see as much as possible of the continent you're spending your year abroad in, going off to see a new city or country every weekend and holiday. This may quickly become your most substantial expense! However, there is no actual correlation between how far and extravagantly you travel and how memorable your experience will be. You can focus on travelling more in your local area or just exploring the city you're staying in to the fullest and still be spoiled for choice with regards unforgettable experiences. And if you do decide to travel further afield, make sure to make use of your new international social circle and check if you can stay for free at their place!
With a student card in hand, you are entitled to a wide range of discounts wherever you go. Make sure to get an ISIC international student card to ensure that your right to cheaper stuff is acknowledged everywhere. Bear in mind that there will be tons of free events to enjoy in your study abroad destination. Through university Facebook groups and notice boards, you will likely be able to find loads of exciting stuff to see and get involved with without spending a cent. Events arranged by local Erasmus societies will be another great source of entertainment. Speaking of notice boards, be sure to keep an eye out for casual jobs for students for sources of extra cash. One-off babysitting jobs don't require a working visa!
Certain expenses of moving abroad are unavoidable, such as comprehensive health and travel insurance. You don't want to compromise on your safety in the interest of pinching pennies: check out the FCO's Know Before You Go pages for tips on affordable ways to stay safe and insured. However, studying abroad certainly does not have to be as expensive as you might think. Stay attentive and resourceful and you can have a great year for cheaper than you could ever have imagined!