Top-up funding – plus everyday money saving – means a year abroad can be an affordable way to see the world and study while you’re at it.
There’s a bit of extra funding on offer for UK students who study part of a degree abroad. If you’re eligible for the Maintenance Loan, you could get a larger loan plus a travel grant while you’re away. Both are means tested – so how much you get depends on household earnings – but the grant doesn’t have to be repaid.
If your course is eligible, the extra funding options should pop up in your Student Finance account. It’s also worth checking with your uni and the exchange programme for any other support, scholarships and grants going.
2. Get foreign cash for free
When you use a bank card to withdraw money or pay for stuff in the UK, you don’t expect to be charged for the privilege – yet use your card abroad and ATM fees and foreign currency charges can kick in, making every transaction more expensive.
Prepaid currency cards work just like regular bank cards, but have to be kept topped up with cash (a bit like a PAYG sim): that means less chance of overspending or piling up debt. Where they really shine is in getting you the best exchange rates, without added commission charges or fees – that could save you a few quid every day, and make your currency stretch a little further. Some cards come with apps that make it a doddle to check your balance, track your spending and top up your limit, making them pretty handy home and away.
3. Don’t ditch UK banking
Packing your regular bank debit and credit cards is good back-up – just know they’re not always cheapest for everyday spending overseas. You may even find a local bank account more useful for getting accommodation or employment (so take your paperwork with you).
That said, once you get a decent UK student bank account, keep hold of it! Having a 0% overdraft if you need emergency cash while you’re away beats other borrowing hands down (because it’s free!). Make sure you can access your account online or on your phone, and keep cash in it to cover ongoing bills back home (remember to cancel or freeze any you won’t use while you’re away).
4. Live like a local
Making an effort to integrate always pays. Not only will you feel more at home (and less homesick) sooner, it can save you money, too:
· Learn the language. Even a few phrases can help you get around, get help, and ask for discounts or better prices.
· Embrace local delicacies and home-grown brands: they’re often far cheaper than tracking down imported faves.
· Live with a local family rather than renting private accommodation – ask if your exchange programme can hook you up.
· Don’t stick with the guidebook: find your own faves and join local groups. And get an ISIC card an international version of the NUS student discount.
· If students at your host uni get perks like free travel, check if you can too!
· You can now use your mobile in Europe at the same rates as you pay in the UK. Still see what’s on offer locally (especially if you’re going further afield): it could be cheaper to get a sim when you get there. If you’re on limited data or funds, look for free wifi and use messaging apps to call locally/back home for nothing.
Planning – and saving – ahead is the best way to slash your costs on any kind of enterprise, but it especially makes sense for a year abroad. Tickets are cheaper the further in advance you snap them up, plus you’ll have more time to check out all the options, and get the relevant discounts in place. Don’t just think one way, though: budget for trips back to the UK, as well as things to do once you’re back – it’s a solid way to stave off homesickness, and gives you something to look forward to.
If your usual budget style is to close your eyes and hope for the best, a year out is a great time to level up your money skills, as you’ll be more motivated to track your spending and stick to limits. Sketch out a plan, then use the tips on this page to get more value. Give it a go!
Guest blog written by Ruth Bushi, an editor at Save the Student - the UK's largest student money advice site.