For the most part, students studying abroad secure cash by withdrawing money from an ATM using the debit or cash card they use in the United States, and paying for large purchases with a credit card in their name. ATMs are readily available all over the world and a student’s current debit or ATM card can be used abroad as long as the card is in the Cirrus or PLUS network (check the logos at the back of the card).
Students are advised to inform their bank of their travel itinerary to avoid deactivation of the cards for irregular use. Students should also check with the bank to determine the daily limit of funds received. Many U.S. banks charge a transaction fee every time the card is used on a non-bank ATM. While each transaction may only cost a couple of dollars, if your student withdraws money a couple of times a week, the charges could add up by end of the term. Students are advised to withdraw more, less frequently.
When using credit cards, charges are immediately assessed for every withdrawal. Be aware that most banks assess a one percent or higher fee every time a credit card is used for purchases. If the student uses his or her card for every purchase, including items costing less than the equivalent of $20, these fees could mount!
For some students, opening a bank account while studying abroad has proven to be quite convenient and a money saver. Some countries, such as Germany, require this. In this case, students do not have to pay any ATM transaction fees within the host country, thus saving themselves a few hundred dollars in fees. Having a local bank account also makes it easier to make housing and other local payments.
If you decide on this route, the onsite staff should be able to assist your student in selecting a bank and completing the required procedure. For the initial deposit, the student can use traveler’s checks or withdraw money from an ATM.
If you are financing the student’s semester abroad, you could add funds to the account either by doing an international wire transfer or mailing the student a cashier’s check or bank draft by certified or insured mail. Your student will then deposit this check in his or her bank account. If you choose to do a wire transfer, we suggest doing large transfers occasionally rather than transferring smaller amounts more frequently. The latter will cost more as your home bank will probably charge a fee, usually about $40 per transaction.
Tips we recommend to students (and parents) on a budget:
Be frugal during the first few months. It is better to have a bit left over than to run out of money before your program ends. Purchase only necessary items during the first few weeks. Try not to immediately start shopping for souvenirs.
Eat out only occasionally. We applaud students who are enthusiastic about the local cuisine. However, rather than eating meals at restaurants all the time, buy supplies at a local grocery and prepare meals in the apartment or residence hall.
Explore the host city and country. Some students are compelled to visit as many countries as possible that they hardly spend a free weekend “at home.” Yet, there is much to discover and learn about the host city and country. The student’s semester abroad will be more meaningful when he or she starts feeling like a native. This won’t happen however if the student is traveling to another country or city every weekend. Also consider exploring the roads less traveled. There are many lovely smaller cities that are worth visiting and affordable. Neighborhoods and suburbs also offer a glimpse of daily life abroad.
Investigate free entertainment. Visit local parks, the city center plaza or the city’s museums. Attend open-air concerts, street festivals, and local fairs.