The cost of going abroad
Financial planning for international experiences
Before applying to a global learning program, you should make sure that you:
- Understand the full cost of going abroad
- Figure out what scholarships or funding opportunities you can apply to
- Decide if the benefits of going abroad are worth the cost
We can help you do all three.
Creating a budget should be your first step if you haven't done so yet. Understanding your current living expenses, income, and savings will help you:
- Figure out what you can currently afford
- Identify how much money you may need to save or receive in awards/loans to participate
- Budget how much you could spend on day-to-day expenses abroad
Concordia’s step-by-step guide on budgeting is a great place to start if you’re new to budgeting or need a refresher.
Estimating the cost of going abroad should be your next step. Programs often don’t list additional expenses you may be responsible for, making it hard to determine the full cost. We’ve provided some tools and information to help you get started.
1. Download the Global Learning Budget Sheet
The budget sheet will help you:
- Track common costs associated with travel
- Record your savings and potential sources of income (scholarships, funding, work, etc.)
- Compare the costs, savings, and income sources
With this information, you can make an informed decision on the affordability of going abroad.
2. Research Fixed Expenses
A fixed expense (in this context) is an expense that you only pay once. Common fixed travel expenses include:
- Travel to your destination (flights, trains, etc.)
- Fees for checked baggage and meals on transport
- Travel insurance (health insurance, lost baggage, trip cancellation, etc.)
- Visas and immigration documents (study permits, work permits, etc.)
- Passport fees (to get a new passport, or renew)
- Medical fees (vaccinations, health checks, medication to take with you, etc.)
- Luggage and travel accessories (if you need to purchase new ones)
- Hotels/Housing if you’re on a short trip (a month or less)
- School & Study Supplies (you may still need to buy textbooks, electronics, etc.)
- Program fees (some programs, like summer schools, charge fees or tuition. Understand what is included in program fees as some may cover things like breakfast or housing)
Research the price of these fixed costs and add them to the Global Learning Budget sheet to start calculating the total cost of your participation.
Tip 1 - Flight Costs: The price of flights changes regularly. A price you see today for a flight may increase or decrease when you’re ready to book. When estimating costs, choose a higher price point so that you are not short of funds if prices increase when you book.
Tip 2 – Hidden Fees: Airlines, trains, and hotels often have hidden fees. The first price you see on websites is usually the price before fees. To see the full cost, complete the booking process until you get the final price (but don’t pay of course!). It is worth the time as extra fees can be significant ($100 or more).
3. Research Recurring Expenses
Recurring expenses are costs that reoccur at regular intervals. Common recurring travel expenses include:
- Meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, etc.)
- Housing (if you’re staying for a month or more and renting)
- Local transport (taxis, public transit, etc.)
- Roaming charges/data/internet fees
- Personal Care (if abroad for a month + expenses could include laundry, toiletries, gyms, etc.)
You may also have recurring expenses at home, even while abroad. Don’t forget to include these in your cost estimate. Common recurring expenses at home include:
- Monthly Subscriptions or Fees (e.g., Phone/Internet/Gym/Netflix/Home insurance, etc.)
- Debt payment (Credit card, loans, car payments, etc.)
- Family support
Research the price of recurring costs and add them to the Global Learning Budget sheet to understand the total cost of your participation.
Tip 3 – Living Expenses: Not sure how much you can afford for meals, entertainment, etc.? A good rule is to spend the same amount on food and entertainment as you would at home (or at least try). Information from your budget will be useful here!
Tip 4 – Cost of Living Abroad: The cost of housing, food, etc., will be different in each city. Local universities often provide information on the cost of living for students, so start your research there (e.g., search cost of living, city name, local university name). You can also use websites like Numbeo. However, Numebo’s information is based on working professionals, so costs may be higher than what students would pay.
Tip 5 – Reduce Expenses at Home Before Leaving: Subletting your apartment may allow you to cover the cost of rent while away. You should also see if you can cancel or temporarily suspend monthly subscriptions while you’re gone.
4. Calculate the Total Cost
The last step is to add the prices for all the different costs to get an estimate of what the total cost will be. The estimated total cost is the amount of money you will likely need to participate in the program.
Once you have estimated how much money you need to participate, you should identify scholarships and set savings goals.
Scholarships & Funding: Scholarships and funding can help reduce the cost of going abroad, so see what’s available first. Concordia International’s Funding Your International Project webpage lists of travel-related scholarships and bursaries (scroll down the page to find the list).
We recommend starting with the Quebec Mobility Bursary, as it is one of the easier scholarships to apply to, though there are several other scholarships and programs available.
Other potential sources of funding include:
- Community (e.g., community organizations, student groups, etc.)
- Short-term loans and lines of credit from banks
Set Savings Goals: Depending on how far in advance you are planning, you may also be able to set savings goals and work to put aside money towards your time abroad. The earlier you start planning, the longer you have to achieve your savings goals.
Your final step is to decide if going abroad is worth the cost. While the financial cost is a key factor to consider, you should look at the big picture when making this decision.
A cost-benefit analysis will help you decide if the benefits of going abroad are worth the cost of going, financially and in terms of other opportunities you could do instead.
1. Understand the Opportunity Cost
When deciding if something is worth the cost, you need to understand what you are giving up by making your choice. This is called the opportunity cost.
Example: You spend $7.00 on a bubble tea. The opportunity cost, or what you’re giving up in the present by buying the bubble tea could be a strawberry smoothie, a movie ticket, or more. In the future, it could be the lost income from saving the $7 instead of spending it.
2. Understand the Benefits
To understand if the costs (both in terms of opportunity and finance) are worth it, you need to compare them to the benefits.
Research has shown that participating in international education has many benefits for students, including, but not limited to:
- Broadening your worldview
- Experiencing new perspectives
- Improving your career outcomes
- Engaging with different styles of education
- Creating a global network of friends and acquaintances
- Building your problem-solving, confidence, and resiliency
You can read about other students’ experiences on the student exchange ambassadors page to understand why they went abroad and the impact their participation had.
To understand why going abroad is valuable for you, ask yourself:
1. What are the benefits of my participation?
2. Why do I value this experience?
3. How will this help me further my personal, academic, or career goals?
4. How will this impact my current academic, career, or personal situation?
You can also include any other positive aspects of going abroad that you find exciting, such as travelling internationally for the first time or learning a new language.
3. Compare and Decide
Now that you’ve had the chance to identify the costs and benefits, download the Cost-Benefit Analysis worksheet. The worksheet will help you compare the cost of going with the benefits.
If the benefits outweigh the cost, then going abroad is worth it!
If the benefits are not worth the cost, then don’t hesitate to consider other opportunities to achieve your goals.
While it sounds simple, we recognize that going abroad for a learning experience is a big decision. It can involve a lot of time, money, planning, and other resources. Make sure to:
- Take a few days to reflect on what you’ve found out and how you feel
- Talk with your friends, families, mentors and, if possible, other students who’ve gone abroad to get their perspective and advice
Remember, there is no right or wrong decision. The most important thing is that you make a decision that aligns with your goals and current situation.