Studying Aboard in Europe on a Budget

Studying abroad was one of my favorite college experiences. When else is there an opportunity to skip your Friday class to spend a weekend in Paris, or learn about Mount Vesuvius while on Mount Vesuvius? Studying aboard is the the perfect excuse to have a four-month stint where you spend your afternoons drinking wine on sailboats in Capri and yet can still pull off a 3.8 GPA, because your professors want you to experience the "culture".

I apologize for anyone who took their study abroad program really seriously, but I took a single travel philosophy class that, although was the most emotionally fulfilling classes I've ever taken, was kind of bullshit academically. But let's face it, I didn't move to the Amalfi Coast for a summer to become Plato, I did it so I could travel the world, while passing it off as still being in college. However, like most University students, I was on a budget; trying to see all of Europe while spending the minimum amount of money. Here's how I did it:

Studying abroad for cheap

Pick the right program

When studying abroad, picking the right program can be the hardest part. Luckily, there are many options that can help you save money and turn your study abroad dreams into a reality. 

  • Pick a program in a cheaper city with easy accessibility to other areas - Europe is a great place to study abroad for their mass transit systems and trains. Some cities that are cheaper to study in include: Budapest, Lisbin, Prague, and Warsaw. 

  • Study abroad by directly enrolling in a foreign university - By enrolling directly through the school, certain countries allow free tuition for students attending public universities, no matter what your nationality is. Some of these countries include: Germany, Norway and France. Just make sure the university offers classes in a language you speak.  To find some free or nearly free universities in Europe, check out

  • Study abroad through a third party program - As some colleges have astronomical study abroad fees, you can choose to study abroad through a third party program to cut costs, all while receiving extra support. Some of these programs include: ISEP, API, and CIS Abroad. Although I went directly through a SUNY program to study abroad, many of my classmates had used CIS Abroad and really loved the experience.

  • Attend a winter or summer session - Many schools and programs offer study abroad sessions during school breaks, including summer and winter. This allows you to study abroad for a shorter amount of time, minimizing the amount of money you would spend compared to a full semester, while still giving you the “abroad experience.” I studied abroad for a six week period in Sorrento, Italy during the summer going into my Senior year and found it to be the perfect amount of time to feel like I was apart of an international community, while still maintaining my savings.  

  • Some universities and colleges can be very picky about what credits they accept, so MAKE SURE to talk to the study abroad representative at your school before planning anything with an external study abroad company or university. You do not want to spend a whole semester abroad only to find out none of your credits are going to transfer back to your home college.

Interested in trying out my study abroad program in Sorrento, Italy? Check out Sant'Anna Institute!

Fly budget airlines 

Budget airlines are your best friend when adventuring off to not-so-distant places for weekend trips while studying abroad. I used Skyscaner and Hopper while in Europe and was able to get great deals on flights. Some common budget airlines in Europe include: Ryanair, Easy Jet, and Transavia

Travel on overnight trains 

Although overnight trains tend to be more expensive than some budget flights, these are a great way to travel long distances in Europe and save on overnight accommodations. Not to mention, they can actually be a lot of fun with the right bottle of wine and Netflix set up.  

If you’re studying abroad for a full semester or longer, consider getting a Eurail Pass. This can help you save money on trains within Europe. 

Make friends - and travel with them

Okay, I know that since I’ve never stayed in a hostel before I don’t have the right to discourage anyone from using them. I’m sure there are some really get ones out there, but after seeing the bed bug bites on defeated looking tourists walking out of a Budapest budget hostel, I'm scarred for life.  

That being said, if you travel in large groups of people it’s really easy to get Airbnb per person costs lower than the price of local hostels. While traveling in Budapest, we stayed in a gorgeous six person apartment right in the Jewish Quarter and paid around $16 a night per person (check out my Budapest blog to learn more). Also, by making friends with your fellow classmates, you never know who’s going to have an aunt with an apartment in Paris or a Dad with extra Hilton points. 

House Sit

When I first found out about house sitting, I couldn’t believe this existed. Through sites like Nomador and TrustedHouseSitters, you can stay in someone’s house for completely free. Although this may include watering plants, feeding animals, and taking care of home amenities such as pools, it beats the Hell out of paying hotel and Airbnb costs. 

Go to local markets 

I know, I know, checking out every restaurant in a three-mile radius to your dorm or apartment is on your study abroad bucket list, but don’t miss out on cooking at home. Checking out local markets is the best way to live like a local, and also a great way to find really fresh, cheap food that may not be accessible back at home. 

Ship things home

Even if you’re not a big shopper, plan on shipping things back home opposed to checking on another suitcase, which depending on your airline tends to be much more expensive. You will without a doubt pick up extra things along your travels, and why shouldn’t you?! You may never be back in some of these cities, so don’t let the fear of an overweight bag stop you from bringing a beer stein back from Oktoberfest or from buying a leather jacket in Florence.

I used Mailboxes to ship things home while in Sorrento, a medium sized box coming to about 55 euros. 

Get a job 

Jobs such as bartending and waitressing often have temporary or seasonal positions open, so if you feel like you’ll be short on cash, check with your school to see what the country and universities laws are for working while abroad. Administrative work or English tutoring may be offered through your university, as well. 

Use your student discount cards

Most universities will give you an ID or discount card that can be used for things such as restaurants, museums, transportation, and more. Some places in Europe will still accept your student ID’s even if they’re expired, so keep track of them after you've left the school or program. 

Sign up for credit cards with travel rewards

Before studying abroad, you should definitely get a credit card to bring along with you. A lot of countries are particular with what credit card and debit cards they accept, so it's always smart to bring a couple options in case of complications. I recommend choosing a credit card with travel points so that you can use your rewards to get free flights, hotels, and other travel related perks.

For more information on what student credit cards with travel rewards are available, check out Johnny Jet's article.

What are your study abroad money saving tips? Let us know in the comments below!


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