How to Financially Navigate Your First Year as an International Student

This article is written by Anum Yoon. She is an international student currently working in the U.S. on her OPT. She spends all her free time running a personal finance blog for fellow millennials and international students over at Current on Currency.

Starting as a freshman at any college is always stressful, as there’s so many new experiences and responsibilities involved. If you’re an international student, it can be even more intimidating. As well as dealing with the pressures of college life, there’s the worries about living in a new country, using a second language and especially finance. The following tips will help you get to grips with your money, and make your first year as a student go smoothly.

1. Understand Your University’s Payment Requirements

Payment options for your education will vary, depending on which college you decide to attend. These options will affect your financial planning for the year, so it’s worth finding out what’s needed from you as soon as you can. There are a few questions it’s worth asking before you start in the fall: Is payment for the fall semester required upfront in the summer? Is upfront payment required for each semester? Are monthly payments available, and are there international student fees to pay? Find out and then you can begin budgeting your tuition costs straight away.

2. Open a U.S. Bank Account

If you have a bank account with a bank that only operates within your home country, it’s worth considering opening a bank account in the U.S. when you arrive. Otherwise, money withdrawals and transfers can become quite challenging. You’ll also notice that most citizens in the U.S. mostly use credit and debit cards to pay for things, even for small transactions. Having a U.S. bank account will make it easier for you to pay for necessities while you’re studying.

3. Book Flights Early

International flights can quickly get expensive, especially when booked at short notice. To save money, book your flights for events such as moving in, orientation and college holidays as far in advance as you can. Your college may offer travel grants to international students, so it’s worth checking with them before you start booking your travel. If you’re planning to stay during holidays, make sure to check your accommodation regulations. Some on-campus housing closes during the holidays, so if you check first you can avoid paying out to stay elsewhere.

4. Plan Your Getaways

There are multiple occasions during the school year that call for a getaway with friends. It’s not realistic for most international students to travel back home during every single break, so whether it’s a 3-day weekend or Thanksgiving break, it’s great to plan for these breaks ahead. Planning early will help you open up travel opportunities that are a lot cheaper and better organized. If you are on a tight budget, you can always see if any of your friends will be okay with inviting you over to their homes. Another fun idea that is good for low budgets are road trips. A road trip is a great excuse for you and your friends to explore your home-away-from home.

5. Plan Your Indirect Costs

Your indirect costs are things like rent, groceries, and transportation. If you’re living on a budget, then there are lots of ways to save money. Having roommates is a good way of saving on household costs, and if you live on campus, you may be able to opt into a meal plan which will save money on food. Your college may offer all kinds of services for free or for a low fee, such as shuttle bus services and entertainment. Be sure to take advantage of them.

6. Remember U.S.-Only Costs

There are a few financial customs that are particular to the U.S. you may not be familiar with. One example is tipping. In the U.S., gratuities aren’t added to bills in restaurants, so customers are expected to tip their wait staff 15 to 20 percent of the total to pay for their service. Not doing so can be considered rude, so it’s worth making sure what you should and shouldn’t be doing with your money while you’re studying in the U.S.

7. Find the Best Options for Communicating With Family Back Home

While you’re away studying, you’ll want to stay in touch with your loved ones back home. Doing so can become expensive if you follow traditional routes, such as international phone calls or sending packages. If you want to call, consider using prepaid phone cards. If you’re sending packages, recycle packaging materials you’ve previously received, and research your best mailing options before you send them.

The Internet is a fantastic, and cheap, way to stay in touch. Social media sites such as Facebook allow you to chat online, and face call software such as Skype lets you make phone calls via your computer for free. Take advantage of what’s available online.

Managing your finances while living abroad can be a daunting thing to do. By following these tips, you can keep on top of both your tuition and personal costs, lifting one more worry from your mind.

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