Managing money is important to all students who study abroad and their families. Here are some general suggestions about handling your financial affairs before and while you are overseas.
You should prepare a budget and know what you can spend. Keep a daily expense account the first couple of weeks to be able to plan a budget for your entire stay.
Be prepared to spend more money on arrival than at any other point. You don't know where to find the best bargains yet, and the currency exchange rate will take some getting used to.
A credit card in your name will be extremely useful. You should know the credit limit on the card before you leave. Americans have been arrested in some countries for innocently exceeding their limit. Leave a photocopy of your credit card with someone at home in case of loss or theft.
Another way to send and receive money abroad is with the debit card. Parents or someone at home can make deposits locally into your account, and you can withdraw cash at ATMs around the world on a similar system (for example, Cirrus or Plus). You also may use these cards as credit cards, as debit cards are linked to Visa or Mastercard (this is marked on the card). In this manner, you can use it anywhere these credit cards are accepted and the money is taken from the account. It is vital for you to check with your financial institution prior to departure for rules and restrictions on the use of your debit card overseas. As with your credit card, leave a copy of your card with someone you trust in case of loss or theft.
Have some local currency on arrival to see you though the first few days as you get settled. Foreign currency may need to be ordered in advance. Check with your bank for details. Remember that only commercial banks deal in foreign monetary transactions.
The expense estimate figures, which should be supplied by your overseas program or exchange university, are for your use in structuring a budget and working out details regarding financial aid, where applicable. The estimates indicate only what the average taste and appetite might demand. Great latitude exists between individuals with respect to personal spending levels. Your expenses also will vary depending on where you live — on campus, off campus or with a family. Just remember that as a student abroad you may be more socially active and may wish to travel more than you would at home, so you are likely to incur additional expenses.
Keep abreast of changes in the value of the U.S. dollar. It is worth the time to follow and take advantage of the exchange rate. You can find exchange rates in the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe and the New York Times daily. You can find information about currency exchange rates on the Internet as well.
Do not rely on employment while abroad for your normal living expenses. You will be making adjustments to both a new academic system and a new social environment. Attempting to work while you do this will only place an added burden on your experience. Additionally, in most foreign countries, it is not legal for you to work without prior permission from your host country’s immigration officials.
Taking your money abroad can be confusing. There is no simple answer. Choosing the best way depends upon your access to a bank that deals with foreign currency, whether you have a major credit card, whether you can get traveler’s checks for no fee (e.g., if you or your parents are members of the American Automobile Association), as well as other considerations that may not be addressed here.
Once you are abroad, however, you will want to establish some system for housing the money you have and any you might receive from home. The best arrangement may be a mixture of traveler’s checks, credit/debit cards, and a bank account. Check with your program coordinator for specifics. Here are a few suggestions for sending and receiving money abroad:
Wire transfer – U.S. banks wire money to foreign banks.
Bank draft – A check from your home bank is made out to your bank abroad.
American Express – Money is sent via the AMEX offices, where it is available for pick up. You don’t have to be a cardholder to use the service.
International postal money order – You can purchase it at local banks and send it to your bank abroad.
(All of the above suggestions involve fees of some kind.)