Put simply, yes. However, international students have fewer financing options than most borrowers and may face some additional hurdles to securing a loan.
Going to college in the U.S. can help international students advance their education and professional goals. It’s also a big undertaking financially. For the 2022-23 academic year, tuition and fees averaged $39,400 at private colleges, $10,940 for in-state students at public colleges, and $28,240 for out-of-state students at public colleges.
Read on to learn what type of student loans you might qualify for as an international student, and how to evaluate and compare options.
What Is an International Student Loan?
International student loans are a type of private loan available to the nearly one million foreign students studying in the U.S.
The U.S. Department of Education does not issue international student loans, as federal student loans are only available to U.S. citizens and eligible non-residents.
There are many lenders to choose from for international student loans. Loan terms and eligibility requirements can vary by lender. It’s generally recommended to exhaust any opportunities for scholarships, grants, and school-based financial aid before applying for an international student loan.
U.S. citizens looking to get an education overseas have options for student loans for studying abroad, too.
Loan Options If You Are an Eligible Noncitizen
Are federal loans for international students possible? In some cases, yes. To be eligible, noncitizens must fall into one of several categories.
• You are a U.S. national or green card holder.
• You hold an Arrival-Departure Record (I-94) showing “Refugee”, “Asylum Granted”, “Cuban-Haitan Entrant”, “Conditional Entrant” (if issued before April 1, 1980) and “Parolee” (with one year paroled minimum and proof that you’re in the U.S. for a non-temporary purpose and intended to become a U.S. citizen or permanent resident).
• You or your parents hold a T-1 nonimmigrant status.
• You or a parent are a battered immigrant-qualified alien.
Other noncitizens may be eligible for other forms of federal aid. For example, citizens from Palau can apply for Pell Grants, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, and Federal Work-Study.
There are additional student loan requirements eligible noncitizens must satisfy to qualify for federal loans, such as completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) and attending school at least half-time.
Recommended: FAFSA 101: How to Complete the FAFSA
Loan Options If You Are Not Eligible for Federal Student Loans
When federal loans aren’t an option, private student loans may be needed to cover the cost of attending college in the U.S.
Private student loans are offered by banks and financial institutions and are credit-based — meaning the borrower’s ability to repay the loan will be evaluated by the lender based on factors such as the individual’s credit score and income, among others.
Some lenders may require an international student to apply with a cosigner who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, though there are lenders who offer specialized student loans for international students.
International students might also explore parent loans to pay for college. Instead of the student, a parent, relative, or trusted individual takes out a loan for their student’s education expenses.
It could be beneficial to ask your school’s financial aid office for a list of lenders to begin your search. Browsing online may also be helpful for understanding your options as a borrower and comparing loans and lenders.
Do International Students Need a Cosigner to Get a Student Loan?
A cosigner is someone who takes on a legal obligation to pay back a loan if the borrower is unable to. Having a cosigner for a student loan reduces the risk for the lender and can help the borrower obtain financing with better terms.
With private student loans, lenders may require a cosigner if a borrower’s income and credit aren’t enough — which is often the case. According to the Entreval Private Student Loan report, during the 2022-2023 school year, 90.78% of undergraduate student loans had a cosigner while 65.88% of student loans made for graduate students had a cosigner.
As briefly mentioned, for international students, applying for student loans often requires having a U.S. cosigner. Generally, cosigners are a relative or close friend since they are on the hook for paying the loan if a borrower fails to make loan payments or defaults.
But can international students apply for student loans without a cosigner in the U.S.? Applying for a student loan without a cosigner is possible, but a no cosigner loan will likely come with a higher interest rate.
After building up credit and making regular on-time payments post-graduation, borrowers may be able to get a cosigner release. This frees the cosigner from legal liability for the loan, which is especially important if another college-bound family member needs a cosigner.
Recommended: Do I Need a Student Loan Cosigner? – A Guide
Typical Requirements for International Student Loans
Many lenders require international students to have a cosigner and study at least half-time at an eligible college to obtain a loan. Here are some typical student loan requirements that could impact approval, as well as the loan amount and terms.
• Personal credit history and score in the U.S.
• Cosigner’s creditworthiness
• Live in the U.S. while attending school
• Qualify for a student or other temporary resident visa that does not expire within six months of graduation
• Personal financial information, such as bank statements and tax returns
• Estimated future earnings
• Employment and education history
Can international students get student loans without meeting all these requirements? Student loans have varying requirements, so it’s possible to qualify with one lender and not another.
International Student Loan Repayment Terms
A loan’s repayment term stipulates how long the borrower has to pay back the loan, the monthly payment amount, and conditions for when payment starts.
A longer repayment term translates to smaller monthly payments, and vice versa. Keep in mind that the longer the term, the more interest you’ll pay over the life of the loan.
Private student loans don’t offer the same repayment options as federal loans. Whereas the standard repayment plan for federal loans has a 10 year repayment term, international student loan terms may vary depending on the lender and could range from five to 20 years.
International student loans may come with a grace period of up to six months after graduation as long as you’re enrolled at least half-time in college. Alternatively, interest-only payments could be required while enrolled in college, or repayment may be required as soon as the loan is disbursed.
International Student Loan Interest Rates
Interest is the amount charged by the lender on top of the original loan amount. With international student loans, your creditworthiness is a major factor for determining the interest rate you’ll pay.
Lenders may offer either fixed or variable interest rates. The former remains constant over the life of the loan, while the latter can fluctuate over time based on market conditions.
The main benefit of fixed-rate loans is the predictable monthly payments. The loan terms outline how much interest you’ll pay each month and over the entire life of the loan.
Later on, refinancing international student loans could help secure a lower fixed interest rate.
On the other hand, variable-rate student loans can be advantageous if you qualify for a low-interest rate or expect to land a high-paying job after graduation. If you can make extra payments early on before variable rates rise, you could potentially reduce how much you pay in the long run.
Recommended: All About Interest Rates and How They Work
What Can You Use an International Student Loan For?
How much you can borrow is determined by the school’s cost of attendance minus any other financial aid you receive, such as scholarships and grants. If you have money left over after tuition, international student loans could be used for other education-related and living expenses, including:
• Room and board
• Health insurance
• Textbooks, laptop, and supplies
• Equipment (e.g. lab equipment)
• Off-campus housing
• Transportation and commuting costs
Generally, lenders are not monitoring how borrowers spend their student loan funds once disbursed. The rationale to avoid using loans for unnecessary expenses is that you have to pay it back with interest.
Recommended: Using Student Loans for Living Expenses and Housing
Learn More about Private Student Loans for International Students
As an international student, attending college in the U.S. can come with challenges. Besides adjusting to a new culture, foreign students can’t receive federal aid or loans unless they qualify as eligible noncitizens.
Still, international students have several options for paying for college in the U.S., including scholarships, grants, and private student loans.
When exploring private international student loans, it’s important to compare interest rates, repayment terms, and if there are origination or late fees.
With SoFi, there are zero fees for private student loans. And flexible repayment options can help find a loan that works for your budget.
Photo credit: iStock/Anchiy
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