As I’ve just completed my time abroad, I wanted to share a few personal finance tips that I have acquired through my experience, and what I have discussed with fellow students traveling abroad. Rather than remind you that traveling and living abroad can be costly, I am going to share with you tips to save money, and have a more pleasant experience spending in foreign countries.
The first thing you must consider is that it may be difficult or impossible to open a bank account abroad. Yes, there are some instituions that have partner banks around the world (I’m talking about you, Barclays), but for the most part, you should be able to get by without opening a bank account. My recommendation is, prior to leaving the USA, open a free checking account with Charles Schwab (specifically Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Checking, found at http://bit.ly/1fYJ3OO). This account is completely and totally free (no minimum balance, no minimum required to open), will charge NOTHING to spend abroad (no foreign transaction fees), and will reimburse ATM fees WORLDWIDE. This was my favorite perk. I could use any ATM in London, and I was reimbursed if they charged a fee. I saved A LOT more money than my friends by having this perk. Also, the account will give you a lifetime of free checks (even though I don’t think you’ll use them ever). Seriously, it’s a great deal. Full disclosure, they do a credit-check prior to open (hard-pull), so having credit history may be helpful. Also, their customer service can be accessed worldwide, and I had zero issues at all during my time abroad.
If you’re a bit worried on spending, and you want to try to keep emergency funding in your bank account, I recommend opening a credit card that charges no interest for a promotional period. I did this and put most of my purchases on it, and with the additional perks, was able to get a free plane ticket home (thank you, Delta Skymiles Gold American Express). Make sure it offers zero foreign transaction fees – otherwise, you could end up paying a lot more, like 3% per transaction more. It would be best to consider MasterCard or Visa, as American Express is not accepted at all places you’ll be spending. I used the CapitalOne VentureOne Rewards Card. No foreign transaction fees, no annual fee, and I was able to secure more cash-back on my travel to save me more money. When I opened the card, it offered no interest for 12 months, so if I did have a balance, I wasn’t charged interest. This gives you a little more freedom in financing your time abroad – but, please be careful, and keep your parents notified of your spending if they are assisting you financially abroad. If you have no credit history, you might need a co-signer, and please remember that your credit will be affected after opening/applying!
Prior to doing additional traveling, you need to consider additional spending that migh arise due to your traveling. For example, if you purchase a cheap Ryanair ticket, do you know how you are getting to the airport? Ryanair usually occupies airports outside of city limits, requiring a $10-15 shuttle ride per direction. This can add up quickly, so please do your research ahead of time.
Consider my trip to Milan, Italy from London.
· RyanAir round-trip ticket: $32
· Shuttle to London Stansted Airport from Central London, and return: $22
· Shuttle from Milan Bergamo Airport to Milan Central, and return, $30.
So, you might have figured you got a REALLY cheap flight… but when you add in the extras it will take to get to/from airports, it can add up quick. Just please consider this before making your arrangements!
So, just be conscious of how you’re going to be paying for additional fun while you’re studying abroad. And always over-budget when you’re preparing. Contact me if you’d like more advice on credit cards, and banking services… I have a lot of experience in both, and I’d be happy to share my advice!