A Guide to Preparing Financially for an Overseas Student Exchange Programme

For many university students in Singapore, being on an overseas student exchange programme is a highlight of their tertiary education experience. Being immersed in a new and foreign culture and gaining many life experiences is undoubtedly something to be excited about.

But what many often neglect to note is that there is often a lot more to an exchange programme than just sightseeing, fun and taking in another culture.

Amidst the excitement that comes with travelling to a foreign place, you might be feeling confused at the list of things to note before you can jet off. At the very top of this list: the financial considerations you must be aware of.

Financial planning is critical to ensuring a smooth and enjoyable exchange experience. From budgeting for living expenses to understanding currency exchange rates, navigating the financial aspects of studying abroad requires careful attention and preparation.

In this article, you will find a comprehensive guide to help you make informed financial decisions and maximise your exchange experience. Ready to make the most of your exchange experience? Let’s dive in!

Financial considerations to take note of

Choosing the host country

Selecting the host country, or the partner university, is often the first port of call for anyone considering a study abroad programme. Usually, you will be asked to rank your choice of partner universities. While it is tempting to simply choose a country or city on your bucket list, bear in mind that a study abroad programme usually lasts for several months at least. Thus, beyond academic considerations, you should also be assessing the financial implications of your choice.

Factors such as currency exchange rates play a significant role in determining the cost of living abroad. A good start to your exchange journey is understanding just how powerful the Singapore Dollar (SGD) is against the local currency. This rate can then inform your budgeting decisions.  If the exchange rate is unfavourable, and your home currency is weaker against the host country’s currency, you will find a need to allocate more funds to cover expenses. Conversely, a favourable exchange rate can allow you to stretch your budget further.

Take, for example, a study abroad opportunity in the United States. At the current SGD to USD currency exchange rate, S$1,000 will only give you about US$740. This means that the things you consume in the US will appear more expensive when converted back to SGD. Keeping this in mind will help you anticipate and plan for bigger ticket items like accommodation, transport, and food.

Accommodation is a critical aspect to evaluate. When on a study abroad programme, there is usually the option to stay on campus at the partner university, or rent accommodation off campus. Staying on campus is typically accompanied by a meal plan, or points that you can use to get food across the university campus. It is good to compare the benefits and disadvantages of staying on campus versus renting accommodation.

For example, while living on campus may come with a meal plan, you might have to forgo privacy as you will typically be rooming with another student. On the flip side, renting an apartment may bring you more privacy and comfort, but it can be costly to pay rent as well as for groceries and other costs.

Another essential thing to consider is the weather in your host country. If you happen to be on exchange during the winter, that could mean investing a sizable amount in suitable winter clothing. It is also important to assess if these purchases will be useful to you beyond your exchange term.

Read more: Travelling Solo For The First Time? This Step-by-Step Guide Is For You

Financial preparation before departure

Next: getting everything in order before you depart. This comes with various expenses as well. Firstly, most universities will require you to obtain a student visa. Securing a student visa often comes with several costs such as the application fee, issuance fee and other miscellaneous costs. The exact amount needed will differ depending on the country the visa is being issued for, so it is a good idea to check the embassy website for your host country.

In addition to your visa, you will need to meet a list of healthcare requirements. For instance, countries like the US mandate multiple medical clearances, including tests for illnesses such as tuberculosis. The cost of these clearances can stack up, and is important to take note of.

Other costs include obtaining comprehensive insurance coverage and budgeting for airfare. Miscellaneous fees related to enrolment at the exchange university should also be factored into your budgeting process. While your universities may offer some insurance coverage, this is often not enough especially if you are going to be engaging in more high-risk activities. Ensure that you are adequately covered by making sure your insurance coverage aligns with the goals of your trip.

Check out Planner Bee’s Best Travel Insurance!

Financial management during exchange

Finally, once you have landed in your host country, you must start to manage your finances diligently to sustain yourself through the exchange period. Beyond academic expenses such as your textbooks and academic materials, you should be setting aside some budget for your everyday necessities like household items and food. Bear in mind that this cost will differ depending on your accommodation type and what is included for you. For instance, in a rented apartment, you might have a fridge and will likely be able to pack a lunch or purchase perishable food. This may not be possible in a dormitory.

Other things that are important to consider are the affordability and accessibility of public transport, and conditions are such that private transport could be necessary.  Entertainment and shopping expenses are part of the exchange experience, and budgeting for these activities is crucial to avoid overspending. Living with the ‘carpe diem’ or ‘YOLO’ mentality may make you happy temporarily, but it can cause a huge dent in your wallet. If you are on a tight budget, it is important to differentiate your needs and wants.

Finally, understanding cultural norms such as tipping practices and service charges will be vital. In the US, a 20% tip on top of your bill is customary and expected. Keeping this in mind helps you keep your expenses in mind and can prevent unexpected financial burdens.

Read more: The Ultimate List of Travel Hacks for the Budget-Conscious Traveller

Financing your study abroad programme

At this point, you might be wondering if there is any way to enjoy a worry-free semester without breaking the bank. Not to fret! Here are some ways you can finance your exchange programme, without relying solely on your family.

Financial aid and support

In most overseas exchange programmes, your tuition cost for your partner university will be covered. This means that you will only need to pay the tuition cost of your home university. Many universities offer additional financial aid to students participating in overseas exchange programmes, ensuring that their financial burdens are minimised.

It is a good idea to talk to your university or faculty’s exchange programme advisor and clarify any questions. Additionally, part-time work or internships can provide students with extra income to support their living expenses abroad. Apart from support from family members, you can tap into your personal savings as well to contribute to financing your exchange programme.

Creating a comprehensive budget

Developing a detailed budget is a good idea to manage finances effectively during an overseas exchange. By identifying essential expenses such as accommodation, food, and transportation, you will be able to allocate your funds accordingly. Distinguishing between your essential and non-essential expenses can also help you prioritise your spending and avoid unnecessary financial strain.

Read more: Create a Personal Budget You Can Actually Stick To

Saving money abroad

One more thing: Did you know that in your host country, there are many ways to save money as a student? Flash your student card to capitalise on student discounts offered by the local businesses and establishments.

For example, watching a weekday afternoon movie might be cheaper for a student. Or, public transport around the university might be free for students. Befriending the local students is a great way to know the perks you might be eligible for!

By exercising financial discipline and making informed spending decisions, you can ensure that your exchange experience remains financially sustainable.You can also use Planner Bee as a budgeting app to help you!


Participating in an overseas exchange programme is a transformative experience that can enrich you both academically and personally. However, navigating the financial aspects requires careful planning and consideration. By creating a comprehensive budget and taking advantage of cost-saving strategies, you can make the most of your study abroad trip without compromising your financial well-being!

Contact us at ask@plannerbee.co for a free and comprehensive quote for your student exchange abroad.

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