Studying abroad is great! What am I saying? Studying abroad is amazing, it is the best adventure I could ever decide to go on. But there is something we don’t always talk about, which is hidden and unexpected costs of studying abroad.
Sure, there are plenty of resources telling you how to create your budget, how to find inexpensive flights, accommodations, and so on. When establishing your budget for studying abroad, I’m sure there are things you won’t forget to include, like groceries, travel, tuition fees, rent, souvenirs. But there are other things that probably won’t cross your mind when you’re just starting to plan your adventure abroad. After all, who wants to think about boring paperwork and money when about to take the trip of a lifetime?
Before we start: I’m going to talk specifically about Europe (Italy in particular) and North America (Canada). I am well aware Europe and North America aren’t the only study abroad destinations. I am just more familiar with these two places and I am not really sure about how things work in the rest of the world.
Passport + visa
If you want to travel outside of your country, you need a valid passport. To get a passport, you’ll to do a bit of paperwork and then you’ll have to pay a fee (116€ for an Italian passport, 160$ for a Canadian one).
In addition, if you want to study abroad, chances are you’ll need a visa. Usually, once you’ve got an acceptance letter from the school you’ll attend abroad, it is not hard to get a student visa. Of course, you’ll have to pay for that visa. While applying for that visa, you’ll have to provide proof that you are able to pay for tuition and that you have your living expenses covered as well.
To get a student visa to study in Canada, you need to fill out an application online, provide all the required documents, and then pay 150$. That means, if you’re an Italian student coming to attend college in Canada, 270$ will be just for your passport and visa. In addition, one of the very hidden and unexpected costs of studying abroad is that you’ll have to prove that you have a certain amount of money on your (or your parents) bank account.
Medical exams + vaccinations
Depending on your country of origin and where you want to go, when applying for a student visa, you might be asked to send proof of vaccination or to undergo a medical examination. To apply to study in Canada, if you need a medical exam, you’ll have to find panel physicians that got approved to work with immigration. I was lucky and didn’t need to do that, as the only European approved doctor was in London, UK.
Before deciding where to study abroad, research what exams and vaccinations you are required to take and see if they fit your budget.
That being said, I still had to go to a panel physician after I arrived in Canada and I also had to update my immunization record. I had to take the medical exam to apply for my co-op permit, as I was going to do my placement in a place “where it is important to protect public health” (schools, hospitals, group homes, community centres). That visit to the doctor was not covered by insurance and I had to pay the full 300$.
Still, you should get insurance. If you are enrolled in a Canadian school, you’ll automatically get insurance and you’ll pay for that in your tuition fee. I got a pretty decent insurance through the school. I don’t have to pay when I go to walk-in clinics and I didn’t have to pay to get the TB test (which was required by my program at college), flu shot, and tetanus booster shot (both required by my workplace).
You always have the option to get a different insurance with better coverage. You could also purchase extra travel insurance. I definitely suggest getting an annual multi-trip travel insurance, especially if you are studying abroad in Europe, where you’ll have the chance to catch a flight and visit a different region or country every weekend.
If you’re going to study in Europe, you’ll be lucky in the phone department. Phone plans in Europe are way cheaper than North America. You probably won’t spend more than 20€ a month. Companies you should consider if you are in Italy are Vodafone or Tim, they are the most popular and will work well even all around Europe. If you’re European and studying abroad in North America, be prepared to spend at least double what you were used to. A cheap option in Canada is Freedom mobile (still around 40$ for a very basic plan). There are very conflicting reviews about this company. In my experience, I never had any problem using my phone and internet in Toronto and it also worked well in all the big cities that I’ve visited in the United States. I had no signal in Northern Ontario or when I went back home in Italy.
It is also possible that your phone won’t support the system they use at your destination. For example, when I moved to Canada, I had to purchase a new phone. I decided to get one of the latest smartphones as I was planning to stay in Canada for at least a couple of years. If you’re staying abroad just for a semester, purchasing a new expensive phone might not be ideal. You can opt for one of those old phones that you can use just for texting and calling or you might consider getting a used smartphone.
International credit card fee
In this day and age, you don’t really need to bring a lot of cash with you anywhere. This is more true for Canada, where everyone just assumes you’re paying with your card even just for a coffee. You’ll probably need to bring some cash with you in Italy, as a lot of places won’t accept a credit card if you’re spending less than 10 or 15 euros. Anyways, you won’t have to take out cash from ATM machines often, which means you’ll avoid international ATM fees. But, if you use your credit card abroad, there will still be a fee (lower than the withdrawal fee) attached to every transaction.
If you’re spending more than just a couple of weeks abroad, you might want to consider opening a bank account there. A lot of banks, both in Europe and in North America, offer student chequing accounts for free. You don’t need to apply for a credit card there as well, but you might want to get at least a debit card or a pre-paid card.
Coming from a place where we have cold winters and warm summers, I thought I was going to be okay in the clothes department. Canadian winter is not just a little bit colder than winter in North Italy, it is also more wet and windier. I already had thermal shirts and long johns, warm sweaters, and gloves and beanies for every kind of weather (I literally have four different pairs of gloves and three beanies). Still, I had to buy a new winter jacket, wool socks, rain boots, snow boots, ankle boots for when it is sunny but a bit chilly… Yes, I bought a lot of boots! Since I moved here, I got obsessed with boots. This summer I was so looking forward to colder weather so I could wear them again.
If you’re going to study in a country with different weather, you might want to have a budget for a shopping spree. I suggest you buy things at your destination instead of before leaving. This way you can see what the trends are there and you’ll buy things that will allow you to feel like a local, if that’s your thing. Also, you’ll have more options and better quality for that specific weather.
Let’s be honest, homesickness is real. And what’s the best way to beat it, besides video-chatting with your family? Comfort food!
The thing is, different countries have different comfort food and your favourite snacks or products might be now overpriced (since they are imported). Sure, if you want an authentic experience while studying abroad, you should try the local cuisine as much as possible, but every once in a while it is okay to splurge on food that reminds you of home.
Tipping and taxes
For tipping and taxes, if you’re from North America and you are going to study abroad in Europe, you’ll have it easier. In fact, in Europe, the price you see on a tag is the final price, taxes have already been included. Also, tipping is not expected. Sure, you can still do it if the service was amazing or if you’re in some high-end hotel/restaurant, but it is definitely not an everyday thing.
On the contrary, if you’re coming to North America from Europe, be prepared to become good at math! When you see a price on a tag or on a menu, you will have to add a certain percentage of taxes (13% in Ontario) and tips (from 10% to 20%). If your phone plan is advertised for 50$, it will actually be 56.5$. If you book 100$ day-trip, you’ll end up paying 113$.
After you’ve spent months abroad, you’re likely to have bought a few things for you and a lot of souvenirs for family and friends. You might want to leave for your study abroad adventure with a half-empty suitcase, so then you’ll be able to fit everything you purchased abroad. But most of the times that is not possible, unless you want to do laundry every five days and end up paying even more than adding an extra baggage.
Where you able to stay within your budget when you were abroad for a while? Did you find a lot of hidden and unexpected costs or were you able to plan for every expense?