Costs to be an exchange student
Being an exchange student can be expensive. Along with what you must pay to your organization to cover travel fees, you will typically require some spending money. You must also always be prepared for unexpected expenses, and should establish how you and your parents will be dealing with the expenses of your exchange before you leave your home country. Many organizations will charge between $9 000 and $10 000 for a year-long exchange, although organizations such as Rotary International (a worldwide service club) may facilitate exchanges for a much lower price 1. Your exchange organization should provide insurance, a flight, and a travel visa, also finding you a place to live and a school to attend. Some organizations help people pay for exchange by providing loans which will allow for payment of the whole fee (plus interest); these can last for up to 24 months. Many exchange students use scholarships to help with the cost of exchange, so be sure to check whether there are any opportunities of that sort present within your region. Depending upon the typical way of life within your home country, you might consider getting a part-time job before you go on exchange.
Being financially responsible
It is very important for an exchange student to be financially responsible. Many people go on exchange after having spent some time working, and thus have an idea of what they can afford to spend during their year abroad. Compared to what you might typically spend in a month in your home country, going on exchange requires a significantly larger sum of money because your natural parents are no longer present to buy some of the things you need. Try to establish a suitable monthly budget for yourself which covers the cost of necessary items (cell phone bill, school books, school lunch, toiletries, public transportation, et cetera), along money for to be used for shopping, hanging out with friends, or tourist-y trips within your host region. Keep in mind that if you only have one year in your country, you’re probably going to want to go out far more than you did while living at home, and factor that into your budget!
Expected costs of the host-family
Also remember that host parents, though usually very kind, generous, and welcoming, should not be expected to pay for most of things you will need, depending on the rules established by your exchange organization. However, host parents should always have food available for you and must (of course!) pay the bills to keep their house warm and well-lighted. If your host family takes you out to a restaurant, they will typically pay for your food unless other arrangements have already been made (it’s always a good idea to ask some “First Night Questions” 2 so that misunderstandings are avoided) because providing you with meals was something they agreed to do before you moved in to their house. However, if a family offers to take you on a trip to Disneyland or some other awesome place, you will likely be expected to pay for your plane ticket, bring your own spending money, and perhaps pay park entrance fees. This should be discussed long before any purchases are made. This will help to eliminate unnecessary confusion and often prevent resentment between you and your host family, making your exchange far more enjoyable.
Going on a exchange student trip
Many exchange students also have the option to participate in various trips with their exchange organization, either within their host countries or in some other nearby nations. These are fairly expensive – a 14 day excursion in the U.S. could cost between $1000 and $1500. For some students living in Europe, there is often an opportunity to tour several European countries for a period of time usually between two and three weeks; “EuroTour” may cost over $2000. In other European countries, you must choose from several small trips going to one country at a time, usually lasting between three and ten days. Prices for those will often be between $300 and $1200. Keep in mind that you don’t have to visit other countries to enjoy a year on exchange in Europe (or anywhere else, for that matter) – there is always much to see within your own country, with the help of cheap and widely available public transport.
Emergency fund in local currency
You should always go to your host country with an “emergency” fund in the local currency. This is required by many exchange organizations and must be given to an official with the organization for safekeeping. This is the money that will be used to cover medical fees (typically reimbursed by insurance) and other expenses in times of great urgency. In addition, it is always a good idea to bring some funds that you can use until you set up a local bank account (ask your host parents to help you with this) or otherwise have your finances organized. Bring a small notebook to write down your daily expenditures. Many exchange students receive the money they require via bank transfer; however, another option is to get a Visa or another credit card and use it to get money at the ATM as necessary in accordance with your budget. Tell your parents each time you do this, and have them put that money upon the card soon thereafter to keep things in good order. You will be charged a fee somewhere between five and seven dollars each time you make a withdrawal with a credit card from an ATM, so be sure to get enough money to last you a while!
Keep your budget
Being an exchange student is always incredibly fun, but you have to be careful to ensure that you don’t run out of funds before the end of the year! Budgeting may sometimes seem tedious, but keep in mind that you are practicing living independently: you are the sole person responsible for the decisions you make while on exchange. Always try to balance managing a reasonable budget and being financially smart with enjoying your exchange. At the end of the year, you will discover that you have become mature and autonomous in ways that you would have never even imagined.
1 Look into programs with Rotary International, as this worldwide service club will facilitate your exchange without demanding any sort of fee for their own payment – all of the money they ask for goes towards your plane ticket, insurance, and various other pre-exchange necessities!
2 ”First Night Questions”: suitable for all exchange students travelling to various countries to help establish ground rules upon arrival. Can be read in English as well as the host language. Find them at: http://www.rotary.org/EN/STUDENTSANDYOUTH/YOUTHPROGRAMS/ROTARYYOUTHEXCHANGE/Pages/FirstNightQuestions.aspx
Written by: Alana Megan Augart
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