Life Abroad: How to Save and Budget as an International Student

As an international student, one important financial management skill to have is saving and budgeting. It is easy to get overwhelmed with settling into a new country, and starting a new program while connecting and making friends with new people. At this point, managing your finances isn’t so much of a priority because you just want to settle down.

Saving and budgeting become essential skills to ensure a smooth academic journey and a successful career afterward without accumulating debt. In this article, we’ll discuss the complexity of saving and budgeting as an international student, offering tips to help you navigate the financial aspects of studying abroad.

The Financial Challenge of International Students

  1. Currency exchange rates
  2. Tuition fees
  3. Living expenses
  4. Visa and immigration costs
  5. Limited employment opportunities

Currency Exchange Rates

One of the first financial hurdles you’ll encounter as an international student is dealing with currency exchange rates. Converting the naira to the currency of your host country can be a complex and fluctuating process. Exchange rates can impact your purchasing power and your ability to meet your financial needs. Imagine converting #500,000 to dollars right now, the value of your money is going to significantly reduce, giving you less than you planned for.

Tuition Fees

Tuition fees for international students can be significantly higher than those for domestic students. The cost of education varies from one country to another and even among institutions within the same country. Scholarships and financial aid can help alleviate some of these expenses, but not all international students qualify for such support. If you are not on a scholarship, you will have to take care of your tuition fees and these can cost a lot.

Living Expenses

The cost of living in a foreign country can vary widely. Rent, food, transportation, and entertainment expenses all contribute to the overall cost of studying abroad. You would need to have stayed a while before you understand how pricing for different commodities works. So you may be spending more than you should at first. Do a lot of research and ask questions about the cost of living in your host country so you can budget effectively. You mustn’t mismanage your money so it can sustain you for the intended timeframe you budgeted. It’s one of the reasons why you’re asked to submit proof of funds during your visa application.

Visa and Immigration Costs

Obtaining the necessary visas and permits to study in a foreign country often involves visa application fees, flight tickets, and other costs associated with immigration. These expenses accumulate into a substantial cost and you should factor them into your budget.

Limited Employment Opportunities

In many cases, as an international student, you will be subject to restrictions on your ability to work while studying. Even when employment is permitted, it may not be enough to cover all expenses, making savings and budgeting all the more important for you.

The Importance of Saving and Budgeting

  1. It helps you build an emergency fund which provides a cushion for unexpected expenses, such as medical bills, travel emergencies, or unforeseen academic costs. 
  2. Saving helps you cover tuition fees and other academic expenses without relying solely on loans or financial aid. 
  3. Constantly worrying about money can negatively impact your academic performance. Having savings can provide peace of mind, knowing that you have the financial resources to manage your daily expenses and handle unexpected setbacks.
  4. As an international student, you pursue your aspirations outside your academics such as traveling or pursuing a hobby when you have savings budgeted for it.

Effective Strategies for Saving

  1. Set clear financial goals: Begin by setting clear financial goals that align with your academic and personal aspirations. Determine how much you need to save and by when. If you say by the end of the month, I would have saved $20, you know you have to save it no matter what.
  2. Create a budget: A budget is a roadmap for your financial journey. It helps you track income, expenses, and savings. Start by listing your sources of income, including scholarships, financial aid, and any part-time work. Then, itemize your monthly expenses, including rent, groceries, transportation, and entertainment. Ensure that your income exceeds your expenses to allow for savings. If not, try reducing your expenses until you can increase your income.
  3. Reduce non-essential expenses: Identify non-essential expenses that you can cut or minimize. This may include dining out less frequently, limiting your entertainment spending, or finding cost-effective alternatives for daily necessities. You don’t have anything to prove to anyone.
  4. Automate savings: Consider setting up an automatic transfer of a portion of your income into a dedicated savings account. This “pay yourself first” approach ensures that you consistently save before allocating funds to other expenses. Set a date and time and the money is automatically deducted at that time.
  5. Take advantage of student discounts: Many businesses offer discounts to students, so take advantage of these opportunities whenever possible. From public transportation to entertainment venues, these discounts can help you save money on your daily expenses. This is not the time to be forming big if you need the discounts. You need to keep all the money you can save.
  6. Explore part-time work opportunities: If your visa allows it, explore part-time work opportunities on or off-campus. Part-time employment can provide an additional source of income to support your living expenses and savings goals. Extra cash is always good as long as it doesn’t affect your studies.
  7. Seek financial guidance: Don’t hesitate to seek financial guidance from your university’s financial aid office or a trusted financial advisor. They can provide valuable insights into managing your finances and optimizing your savings strategy. You can also ask questions from other Nigerians who have been there before you on tips to manage your finances.
  8. Avoid credit card debt: Credit card use may be common in your host country. While credit cards can be useful for building your credit score, they can also lead to debt if not used responsibly. Avoid carrying a balance on your credit card, as high-interest rates can quickly accumulate and create financial stress. Ask questions and avoid accumulating debts as much as possible.
  9. Take advantage of banking services: Explore the banking services available in your host country. Look for accounts with low or no fees, and consider using mobile banking apps to track your expenses and savings progress.
  10. Stay informed about financial regulations: International students often encounter specific financial regulations in their host countries. Stay informed about tax requirements, visa regulations, and any other financial obligations to avoid legal and financial complications.

Effective Strategies for Budgeting

  1. Track your expenses: Keep a detailed record of your expenses. Mobile apps and online tools can help you categorize and analyze your spending habits. This awareness is the first step toward responsible budgeting
  2. Differentiate between needs and wants: When creating your budget, prioritize your needs over your wants. Allocate funds to cover essentials like rent, food, utilities, and transportation before considering other spending on sightseeing or eating out.
  3. Create a realistic budget: Your budget should be realistic and flexible. It’s okay to make adjustments as things change. Life as an international student is dynamic, and your financial plan should adapt accordingly.
  4. Use cash envelopes: If you mainly spend cash, consider using the “cash envelope” method for managing your spending. Allocate a specific amount of cash for categories like entertainment or eating out each month. Once the cash is gone, you know you have to wait till the next month before you can spend money on any of them again.
  5. Plan for irregular expenses: Don’t forget to budget for irregular expenses, such as textbooks, visa renewals, and flights back home. These costs can sneak up on you if you don’t plan for them in advance.
  6. Set aside savings first: Before you start spending on anything, allocate a portion of your income to savings at the beginning of each budgeting period. This ensures that saving is a non-negotiable part of your financial plan.
  7. Monitor your budget regularly: Review your budget regularly to track your progress. Are you sticking to your spending limits? Are you meeting your savings goals? Adjust your budget as needed to stay on course.
  8. Use apps and tools: Numerous budgeting apps and tools are available to help you manage your finances effectively. These tools can automate expense tracking and provide insights into your spending habits. 


Saving and budgeting as an international student can be challenging, but it’s important for you. It is not easy to live in a new country without the finances to back it up. Any mismanagement of funds can put you in a very difficult position. In this case, “there’s rice at home” would not apply to you because home is far away. Responsible financial management not only secures your present but also lays the foundation for a bright and financially stable future as you pursue your education abroad.

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