Studying abroad is a life-goal for many middle and high school-aged children around the world. It’s a worthwhile investment for reasons ranging from cultural exposure to academic excellence. For many families, it’s just a dream due to prohibitive costs while other families can manage through great sacrifice and extreme budgeting and planning. Some of the costs to a student’s family are obvious: tuition, fees, travel, school supplies, homestay, etc. Yet, other expenditures are hidden or unexpected. Depending on which country, those hidden costs can be significant or a minor annoyance. Either way, families who are preparing their budgets and bank accounts should be aware of expenses that might or will suddenly appear while their child is studying abroad.
The very first thing to be aware of is the exchange rate. This can vary from year to year and even day to day. For the most part, it’s pretty stable, but value for your money isn’t always consistent from country to country. For example; food and transportation are expensive in the US compared to China and some European countries. Most places in the US rely upon personal vehicles for transportation and don’t have robust or affordable public transportation (and, rents are usually high). This impacts the pay scale for local workers and business overhead and thus, the cost to the consumer. These basic necessities are more affordable elsewhere in the world largely due to government subsidies and a lower standard of living for those working in these industries. As you consider these costs, it’s most important to get some idea of what daily, weekly, and monthly student activities are normal for the area in which you’ll live so you can plan a budget.
The embedded chart is an estimate of what a student might expect to spend based on a particular 3rd year female Chinese high school student. I personally have known quite a few students in this category over my 6 years in the industry. I would say she’s about average. The chart indicates roughly what she spends monthly based upon some daily, seasonal, or yearly expenditures (she may not be actually be spending that amount every month). Her monthly total is $1055.00.
Many of the categories on this chart can be eliminated or drastically reduced depending on the student’s priorities and what school they attend. The cost of uniforms and books will be affected by whether a school requires either. For schools that don’t use paper books and are on a tablet initiative, the book cost will be a one-time purchase of a device. Most schools absorb the cost of apps, software, and copyright through tuition and fees so this won’t cost extra.
The most reliable expenses will be food (lunch and snacks), toiletries, phone, seasonal clothing, and transportation. A student can avoid shopping, holiday travel, gifts, and dining out with friends with some discipline.
- Daily Lunch will be about $5/day x 20 days/month = $100/month
- A student may wish to purchase some ethnic food for snacks during the week too. This would fall under the category of “discretionary spending” and could be another $100/month.
- Toiletries such as hair-care, skin-care, oral-care, and over the counter medicines are used/budget items whose costs can vary widely. Expect to spend $80-100/month.
- The phone is an absolute necessity and most students will be required to have in-country phone service. Those plans run as cheaply as $25/month and can be as high as $80/month if a student wants or needs unlimited data. This chart budgets $40/month as most students connect to wifi everywhere they go.
- Seasonal clothing consists of winter gear and transitional clothing. Of course, if a student attends school in San Diego or Florida, they’ll be blowing this budget item on sunscreen and not waterproof boots, a parka, and a hat and mittens (like here in New England). In general, expect to dole out $300-500/per year for clothing purchases; this includes socks and underwear and whatever might wear out.
- The most unpredictable of the essential expenditures will be transportation. Some students will have host families that are willing and able to drive them places for no extra fee. But this has its limits. Host families are keen to avoid being treated like a taxi driver and will very carefully pick their spots to drive so they don’t grow resentful of their student’s demands. Regular trips to the store or the mall and an occasional drive to, or pick up from the train station is normal. Should a student wish to go out with friends on the weekends or make trips to the city, this will incur some Uber costs (which can be shared), busing, or train fare. Of course, staying at home will render this budget item down to $0. Realistically, a student can expect to budget $100/month for transportation costs.
On an extreme budget of “pinching pennies” and hyper-vigilant spending, the low end of yearly “hidden” expenditures should be between $4500 and $6000 (depending on the school/uniform supplies). A more realistic average would be double that amount. Whatever your budget is, expect that a teenager will be challenged to observe it and respect it. They didn’t earn the money they’re spending and won’t fully appreciate the value of money until they make some of their own. Give them a credit card with a monthly cap and monitor their purchases closely. You may even want to demand they seek your approval before purchasing. This will help slow down the impulse to buy and teach them the great virtue of delayed gratification.