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If you're considering spending a semester, a full year or even longer studying abroad, you may be wondering how to afford it. Depending on the program, you may be able to use student loans to cover some of your expenses. Here's what to know and how to take advantage of student loans to expand your horizons.
Can You Use a Student Loan for Studying Abroad?
If your study abroad program is offered by a U.S.-based college or university that participates in the federal financial aid program, you'll be eligible to take out federal student loans to help pay for your semester or year at an international school.
If you decide to enroll directly with a foreign school, however, your options are more limited. Fortunately, there are some international colleges and universities that participate in the U.S. Department of Education's federal student loan program, so check out the list provided by the Education Department to see if your school of choice is on it.
Private student loans are also typically available if your program is with an eligible U.S. educational institution, but options may be more limited if you're planning to enroll directly with a foreign school. You'll need to reach out to individual lenders to determine your eligibility.
How Student Loans Work When Studying Abroad
The cost of studying abroad can vary depending on the cost of living in the country you're planning to visit, your college's tuition costs, your living arrangement, travel expenses and other factors.
If your program is eligible for federal student loans, you can typically use student loans for the same expenses as you can at your college in the U.S., including tuition, textbooks, supplies, room and board, transportation and more. The same is true whether you already have student loans or you're applying for the first time to pay for the program.
If you have expenses beyond the basics of what you can use student loans for, though, you may need to take on a part-time job, seek scholarships or ask a parent for help.
How to Apply for a Loan to Study Abroad
The process of applying for a student loan for a study abroad program depends on the type of loan you're trying to get.
Federal Student Loans
To apply for federal student loans, simply fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This is the same application you submit every year for access to federal financial aid. Select the correct school based on where you'll be enrolled to make sure you don't run into any issues, and that's about it.
After you submit the FAFSA, you'll receive an award letter from your college detailing the different types of aid you qualify for, including federal student loans, and how much.
Private Student Loans
If your program doesn't participate in the federal student loan program, you may still be able to get private student loans to help you pay for your international education. Here are some steps you can take:
- Get prequalified with multiple lenders to get an idea of which ones offer the best deals in terms of interest rates, repayment terms and other features.
- Reach out to individual lenders to ask about your eligibility to get approved based on your program.
- Submit an application directly with the lender that's the best fit for you. Note that you may need a cosigner to help you get approved.
- Provide required documentation, such as a copy of your government-issued ID, proof of income and more.
- If approved, accept the loan offer, or if the final offer is significantly worse than the prequalification offer, repeat the process with another lender.
Protect Your Credit While You're Abroad
Even when you're not living in the U.S., it's important to continue to monitor your credit regularly and watch out for identity theft and other negative items that may show up. Additionally, it's crucial that you set up automatic payments on your existing debt and other obligations to avoid missing one.
If you don't already have a credit card, now could be a good time to get a student credit card, particularly one that doesn't charge foreign transaction fees, so you can spend money abroad without needing to exchange cash at poor conversion rates or getting hit with out-of-network ATM fees.
Along with these benefits, a student credit card can also help you build your credit history over time, giving you a financial head start when you graduate.