Budget Tips for Foreign Students in the U.S.

For students from foreign countries, spending a semester or more in the United States is a life-changing experience. For some students, it’s their first time being away from home and family, and it’s a chance to experience a completely new culture.

This may be the reason why the 2012-2013 school year was a record breaking year for the number of foreign college students studying in the United States. This was an increase of 7 percent from the year before, bringing the number of foreign students to about 820,000. Nearly half of the foreign students in the US come from India, China, and South Korea.


Studying abroad is a wonderful way to experience a new culture, or learn a new language, but it can also be difficult and confusing in some ways. Managing money in a new country is one of those difficulties, but budget tips for foreign students can help.

Plan In Advance

It’s very important to decide your monthly budget ahead of time. Foreign students will find that some things are more expensive in the US, while other things are cheaper. Here are some budget tips for foreign students that can be used before you arrive in the States:

  • Prescription medicines are much more expensive in the United States, so if you take medication, bring enough with you to last until your next visit home. If you need to refill your prescription here, you will be shocked at the price!
  • Check with your cell phone provider and find out if you can use your phone in the United States, how much it will cost to use it, and whether it is a better deal to purchase a pre-paid phone when you arrive. Use a service like Skype to talk to friends and family at home.
  • Bring voltage adapters for your small appliances, rather than buying new ones.
  • Ask your bank about fees or restrictions when using your account while in the US. It may be less expensive to use a credit card from your home country that offers little or no foreign transaction fees.
  • Decide in advance what kind of transportation you are going to use, and take advantage of the cheaper rates for monthly public transportation passes. If you are planning on driving, make sure to get your International Driving Permit before you leave home.

Resist the Urge to Spend

An essential budget tip for foreign students is to learn to resist the desire to buy an overabundance of items you can’t get at home, or are too expensive at home. Even if your currency exchange rate is favorable, don’t go overboard. Remember that on top of what you pay for all your new things, you will have to pay to ship it all back home.

In the United States, it is especially common for college students to be targeted with offers for high-interest credit cards. It is wise to avoid them. You want to go back home with great memories of your time in the US, not debt that it will take years to escape.

Use your bank’s website to keep track of your spending and to make sure you are staying within your budget. If possible, talk to someone in the States before you arrive, and ask about the cost of living in the area, to help you create a reasonable budget.

Natural Attractions Are Nearly Free

Put your time in the US to good use, and see as many new sights as you possibly can. One thing the United States is known for is its many national parks, preserves, beaches, and natural attractions, with all their associated outdoor activities, and visiting most of these places won’t cost you anything.

Experiencing the Culture Doesn’t Need To Be Expensive

The United States offers a wide array of art museums, natural history museums, aquariums, and historic landmarks. Most museums offer discounted admission to all students, so taking in a new culture won’t break the bank. Many US cities have historic libraries which are free to visit, as well. When it comes time to experience American food, ask local students for suggestions, and you are sure to find new foods to experience that are still within your budget.

Keep Your Eyes on the Goal

It is very easy to get caught up in the excitement and freedom of your time away from home, so don’t forget that your main focus is your education. If your family is funding your studies in the States, you owe it to them to follow budget tips for foreign students, and not waste your time and their money. You should not only budget your money, but your time as well, and spend most of your time on your studies. You can always return to the United States just for fun after you graduate!

Whether you’re here one year, or for your entire college education, time spent as a foreign student in the United States is an unforgettable experience, as long as you stay focused. Plan ahead, using budget tips for foreign students, so that you go home with only great memories, not financial mistakes.