How much personal money will you need in -- or, rather, how much money should you take to -- your study abroad location? Good question, and one you will need to answer yourself (though previous study abroad students can offer some guidance).
Before leaving, keep a daily account of your expenses and activities for one month, and calculate your basic living and entertainment expenses by multiplying that amount by the current exchange rate. Then, use this financial diary and any expected on-the-ground costs listed by your program to prepare a budget for yourself before you go. Start with the costs you know about: extra meal money, books and materials, sightseeing and entertainment, souvenirs, phone calls, newspapers, beverages, medical expenses, and emergency money. You’ll want to give yourself a financial cushion to cover increases in the rate of exchange and any independent travel you hope to do.
Cash: Do not carry large sums of money with you in cash. Instead, consider a mix of cash, credit/debit cards, and traveler’s checks. If you do take cash with you, you can exchange U.S. dollars at most banks abroad for a fee. Check both the current exchange rate and any conversion fees before the transaction.
Credit and Debit Cards: If you do not already have one, you should obtain a credit card for use in emergencies. For day-to-day transactions, ATM/debit cards may be the easiest and least expensive means of obtaining money, as ATMs are widely available in most countries. For debit cards, make sure the card is on the Cirrus or Plus network, as these are two of the most widely accessible, and memorize your card’s PIN.
Check with your financial institutions about the international transaction fees that they charge, and be sure to call them before you depart to let them know you will be traveling abroad. Unless notified, the bank may freeze foreign transactions on your account for fear of fraud. Also, remember to make two photocopies of any cards you take with you: leave one copy at home, and take the other with you (but keep it separate from the cards themselves).
Traveler’s Checks: It is wise to take a few hundred dollars in traveler’s checks for emergency use. They are a much safer method of carrying money than cash, and they are valid indefinitely. Traveler’s checks can be purchased either in dollars or in foreign currency, and can be cashed at currency exchanges, banks, and some merchants abroad. Moreover, lost or stolen checks are easily replaced. Well-known providers of traveler’s checks include American Express and Thomas Cook.
Personal Checks: It is virtually impossible to cash personal checks abroad. Similarly, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to open a bank account in your host country.
Studying abroad doesn’t have to break the bank … so long as you have a budget and stick to it. Here are some tips to help you manage your money and stretch what funds you do have.
In rare instances, your family may need to get funds to you quickly. This can be accomplished using foreign bank drafts, money orders, or wire transfer.
Foreign Bank Drafts: A foreign draft in dollars or foreign currency can be purchased from your bank, made payable to the student, and mailed directly to the student via an express mail service. Drafts must be at a bank with which the American bank maintains a relationship (the name of that foreign bank will usually appear on the draft).
Money Orders: Money orders may be purchased at many banks, convenience stores, and post offices. They should be made out to the student using the exact name as it appears in the passport and mailed directly to the student. Money orders are inexpensive, but getting the funds to the host country can be slow.
Wire Transfers: Western Union and American Express will wire funds internationally to most major cities, and the student would collect the funds at the nearest Western Union or American Express office. Wire transfers can be a very quick way to send funds, but can also be expensive.