Students with Financial Need

If you want to study abroad but have high financial need, it can be challenging to figure out if it's even possible for you. As you begin the process of researching and selecting a program, be sure to keep budget in mind. Some study abroad programs are very expensive. Some are cheaper than a semester at KU. You can find a program that will fit your financial situation, but it might mean you will need to be flexible about where you go.

Questions to Consider When Choosing a Program

  • How much do I currently pay to attend KU?
  • What funding sources do I rely on that I might not have access to abroad (like a job)?
  • What options are available for me to avoid paying for my personal expenses in Lawrence while abroad, like rent, car insurance, etc.?
  • What programs are within my financial means? (Ask Study Abroad & Global Engagement to help you! We can help you with budgets and with your search.)
  • What can I do now to prepare to go abroad (save money, plan my financial aid package, etc.)?


  • Semester programs and internships in East Asia are usually the most affordable for the amount of time you go vs. the cost. (Biggest bang for your buck.)
  • Programs through ISEP, USAC, and KU exchanges are often very affordable. Start your search there for semester programs.
  • If you receive Pell Grants, apply for a Gilman Scholarship. 
  • It is often illegal for international students to work abroad, so if you typically have a job, you’ll need to plan for your expenses without additional income. Otherwise, ask your coordinator which countries will allow you to work abroad.

Preparing to Depart & While You are Abroad

Studying abroad brings a number of new types of expenses and financial concerns for students, and no matter your financial situation, it can be challenging. If you have high financial need, it can cause anxiety over every expense, and unexpected expenses may cause panic. You might start becoming extreme and obsessive in your budgeting. If your peers spend more freely, you might feel left out, lonely, or like you don’t belong. Planning ahead will make it easier for you to be financially empowered.

Outline Expenses and Resources

Start by outlining your expenses and your resources. Assume that you won’t be working abroad, so your total resources will be all you have for the duration of your experience. 

  • Understand what your expenses will be and how you can save money. Make a budget using our Google Sheets template.
  • Pace your spending. Look at your total resources and know how much you can spend each week. If you have leftover funds at the end of the week, they can become your discretionary funds.
  • Pay attention to the exchange rate and understand your purchasing power with USD. 1 USD may equal 1 Swiss Franc, but if a simple lunch is 12 Swiss Francs your purchasing power is not the same as it would be in Lawrence. 
  • If withdrawing cash, consider taking your money out in chunks and dividing it into envelopes to help you budget. Be conscious of international transaction fees. (Designate an envelope for food, transportation, etc.) 

Consider Packing Everything You Need That You Know is Cheaper in the U.S.

  • We usually advocate for packing light, but if you know you will need cooking utensils, bedding, school supplies, and personal hygiene items, it might be more affordable to pack them, especially if you already own them. Find out what the weight and luggage restrictions are for your flights. If you can check a bag (or two) for free, it may be worth the weight and inconvenience to bring items you’ll need. 
  • Talk to students who have studied in your host country and ask them what they found to be cheap and what was expensive. As an example, in Costa Rica food is very affordable, but shampoo and sunscreen are very expensive. Knowing what items are cheaper in the U.S. will help you make good packing choices. 

Set Aside an Emergency Fund

  • Have a backup plan only for emergencies. Maybe it’s a KU Endowment Loan that you set aside, maybe it’s a credit card that you won’t use otherwise, maybe it’s a family member who agrees to help if you have an emergency. Have a plan for what you will do if you have true unavoidable and unexpected expenses.

Live Like a Local Student

  • Eat like a local student. Cook your own meals with local food and groceries.
  • Choose free cultural activities and look for discounts for museums and other cultural experiences.
  • Find the value (and fun!) in what you can afford, and don’t dwell on the opportunities you skip. 
  • Find friends (local or other international students) that are also living on a budget. You’ll have similar spending limits and won’t be tempted to overspend so you can belong.
  • Use public transportation or walk/bike to get around.

Plan Travel Opportunities Wisely

  • Explore your host country instead of planning multi-city destinations.
  • Small towns and college towns are usually less crowded and more affordable than big cities.
  • If you make local friends and they offer to show you their hometowns or favorite spots, take them up on it—as long as you feel safe.

Prioritize Safety over Finances

  • Even if it costs a bit more, eating healthy, well-balanced meals will help you stay healthy and keep you from getting sick, which will cost you in time and resources.
  • Staying closer to a city center and good public transportation may cost more, but you’ll spend less on transportation expenses.
  • Staying in safe places and making safe travel choices will lower your risk of being robbed, getting in an accident, or having other expensive emergencies.