Preparing For A Semester Abroad? Here Are 3 Essential Money-Saving Tips


When you’re a student living abroad, every dollar counts. So why not maximize your savings and stretch your travel funds before you go?

These three simple and savvy saving tips will make your semester abroad more comfortable, allowing you to focus on what really matters during your international experience: learning in a different cultural environment, indulging in global delicacies, making new friends, and exploring a new side of the world.

1. Choose the right travel cards

You already have travel and living expenses to take care of, so why spend that hard-earned cash on banking fees? Cut out the fees, and know where your money is going.

Avoid international ATM fees

When you withdraw cash from an ATM outside of Canada, you are charged a flat rate from your bank (typically $2 – $5), and in some cases, from the owner of the foreign bank machine as well. To avoid redundant fees during your semester abroad, choose a bank that is part of the Global ATM alliance, a network of large banks all over the world that have allied to waive fees and allow free withdrawals for customers. Before you go abroad, check to see where the closest Alliance partner banks are near your host University – then you never have to worry about sneaky flat-rate surcharges trickling out of your account. If you are unsure about your bank’s international fees, discuss it with your branch.

If you are studying abroad for longer than six months, another option is to open up a basic bank account at a large bank in your host country. This way, you won’t get charged on foreign purchases or international ATM fees when using your new debit card. If you choose this option, make sure you have all your valid paperwork that your new bank requires and a traveller’s check to deposit your funds. Also, check out your options for online cross-country money transfers, whether it’s with your Canadian bank or with a money transfer company.

Tip: Make sure to let your home bank know where, when, and for how long you are travelling so you have access to your account abroad. Otherwise, your purchases may be declined and your account could get shut down.

Eliminate foreign conversion fees

Although credit cards have better conversion rates than your bank, most major Canadian credit card companies charge 2.5-3% above the going exchange rate when you use them overseas. Fortunately, there are certain types of credit cards that can waive these fees on foreign transactions.

While there is no escaping the Canadian-US exchange rate fees, the conversion is based on the most accurate exchange rate for that day set by MasterCard or Visa, which is based on the market rates as seen in Bloomberg, Reuters, and the Central Banks (noted on Be sure to do your research to find the best option for you – then you can swipe it like you do in Canada, without needing copious amounts of cash on hand!

Always get charged in local currency

When you use your credit card abroad, you will sometimes have the option to be charged in your home currency (e.g. Canadian dollars). Always choose the local currency, as the conversion rate they offer is much worse than what MasterCard or Visa sets. So the next time the cashier in Madrid asks you if you would like to be charged in Canadian dollars, tell them Euros are just fine, gracias.

Tip: Don’t exchange money at hotels, and for the love of the loonie, definitely not in the airport… unless you want to find out what unnecessary admin fees look like first-hand.

2. Apply for grants/scholarships

Apply to as many grants and scholarships as you can. It’s free money from sponsors who want to provide young individuals with the privilege of travelling and studying abroad – so tell them why you deserve the grant!

Check out your university’s financial aid page or international student organization for resources and grants. Your host institution might provide scholarships for incoming students as well, so make sure to take a peek at their website. Some other websites to find out about Canadian bursaries, grants, and scholarships are ScholarshipsCanada and Yconic. If you are getting financial aid from the government, on top of being able to use that loan for your semester abroad, you are even more likely to receive bursaries up to $1500 to travel. That’s a free plane ticket!

3. Be a flexible flyer

Book your flight when the price is right

Airlines want to fill their planes and maximize profits, so the fluctuation of a plane ticket’s cost is due to supply and demand, high-season and low-season, and anticipated buying trends from the past. Generally, airlines check their plane’s load three months before departure to see if they will drop prices or keep them high.

If you want to save money and find the best fares, you need to be flexible on your travel dates, and fly when demand is low. Consider flying mid-week on morning or late night flights – these times are generally cheaper. Skyscanner and Momondo are great resources that compare flight prices from airline companies and find the best deals depending on your budget, duration of journey (layovers/how many stops), and if you want to book multi-destination.

Tip: Rome2Rio is a website that shows you all your transportation methods from point A to B, so you can find the cheapest or more convenient route to your destination, anywhere in the world. GoEuro has the same concept, but only for European destinations.

By Elizabeth is Canada’s leading job board and online career resource for college and university students and recent graduates.

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