All You Need to Know About Student Loans for International Students

By Kayla McCormack · October 04, 2022 · 5 minute read

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All You Need to Know About Student Loans for International Students

Pursuing a degree in another country can be an incredible learning opportunity — you can explore another culture and maybe even learn another language. International students may have to navigate different requirements when it comes to funding their education.

International students studying in the U.S. may not be eligible for federal student loans or other forms of federal aid. However, there are private loans for international students available.

American students pursuing a degree at an international university may be able to apply federal financial aid to their school costs. Keep reading for important details about student loans for international students.

What Are International Student Loans?

International student loans are available to students who are studying in a foreign country. For international students in the U.S., This generally means borrowing private student loans because for the most part, federal student loans are not an option for international students.

American students interested in studying abroad may be able to use federal student loans to pay for college costs. The Department of Education maintains a list of international colleges that participate in the Direct Loan Program. If you are interested in pursuing a degree abroad, consider confirming with the school as this list is updated quarterly.

To apply for federal student loans, interested students must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) annually.

How International Student Loans Work

Student loans for international students in the U.S. are generally private student loans. These function similarly to other types of loans. After evaluating loan terms and interest rates at a few lenders, a student can apply for a loan with the lender of their choosing.

Each lender will likely have their own student loan application requirements. As a part of their decision making process, lenders will review factors including the applicant’s credit score and financial history.

Are Cosigners Required for International Student Loans?

Student loans for international students often require a cosigner. A cosigner is someone who legally agrees to repay the loan if the primary borrower fails to do so. Because college students may have little or no credit history, adding a cosigner who has a strong credit history can potentially help improve their chances of being approved. Additionally, lenders may require the borrower’s cosigner to be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident who has resided in the U.S. for at least two years.

International Student Loan Terms

When evaluating international student loans, borrowers will want to look at factors including interest rate, APR, and the repayment plans available. It’s also important to think critically about how much you plan to borrow in student loans.

Interest and APR

It’s important to understand the difference between interest rate vs. APR. Briefly, interest rate is just the cost charged for borrowing money. It’s generally charged as a percentage of the loan amount.

APR is a reflection of the interest rate and any other fees associated with the loan. When comparing loan quotes from different lenders, it’s more effective to compare the APR because it provides a more comprehensive picture of the total cost of borrowing.

Recommended: The Ultimate Student Loan Terminology Cheat Sheet

Student loans for international students may have fixed or variable interest rates. A variable interest rate may fluctuate over the life of the loan. Generally, a variable interest rate is tied to a prevailing interest rate. Starting in June 2023, the benchmark rate for student loans in the U.S. will be the Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR).

Repayment Plans

The repayment plan will also vary based on the lender. The repayment period on student loans for international students may vary from 10-25 years. Generally speaking, there are a few types of repayment plans available, though it’s important to emphasize that each lender will set its own terms and conditions.

Some student lenders allow student borrowers to defer payments while they are in school on a full-time basis. This can be helpful for students who don’t have much room to make payments, but for the most part, interest will continue to accrue while the loan is deferred.

Other repayment plans may require just interest only payments while the student is enrolled in school. Other loans may require immediate repayment of both interest and principal, or initial loan amount.

Be sure to understand the loan’s repayment plan before borrowing.

How Much to Borrow

While borrowing student loans could help make international study a reality — it’s important to think critically about how much to borrow. Overborrowing can be a costly mistake. To determine how much you need, evaluate costs associated with the education including tuition, fees, room and board. Don’t forget to factor in additional costs that may occur as a result of living and studying in a foreign country.

Counting All Your Costs

You may need to apply for a student visa, as well as transportation costs. Round-trip tickets to a foreign country can also be very expensive, so if you go to school there, you’ll need to consider that you may miss out on family events like holidays or birthdays.

Regular Student Loans vs International Student Loans

Student loans for international students and traditional student loans function similarly. In both situations, an individual borrows a sum of money to pay for their education and then repays that money at a set interest rate.

Student loans for international students in the U.S., as mentioned, are generally private student loans. Most international students aren’t eligible for federal student loans or other types of financial aid.

Student Loans From SoFi

International students paying for college have a few options available to them. While they most likely won’t qualify for federal student loans, they can use a combination of savings, scholarships, and private student loans to pay for their education.

With SoFi, there are zero fees for private student loans. And flexible repayment options can help find a loan that works for your budget.

Looking for a private student loan? Find your rate in just a few clicks.


Can foreign nationals get US student loans?

Yes, it’s possible for international students to get student loans in the U.S. If the student is a qualifying non-citizen they may qualify for federal student loans. Otherwise, private lenders offer student loans to international students.

How can international students get access to student loans?

International students can apply for student loans with a private lender. They may be required to have a cosigner on their application. Some lenders may require the cosigner be someone who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.

How do most international students pay for university?

International students may pay for their education with a combination of funding. Savings, independent or school-specific scholarships, or private student loans.

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