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Guide to Student Loans for Studying Abroad

By Kayla McCormack · September 28, 2022 · 6 minute read

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Guide to Student Loans for Studying Abroad

Studying abroad can be a life-changing opportunity that will enrich your college experience. But that enrichment can come with a strain on your bank account. If you’ve always wanted to head overseas, your college years are a great time to do it. But, can you afford it?

If you’re looking for how to get money to study abroad, there are a few different student loan options that may be worth exploring. Whether you’re about to head off to college, currently enrolled, or in graduate school, student loans may be available to help finance your trip. Read on to understand how student loans to study abroad work.

Student Loans for Studying Abroad

As mentioned, studying abroad can be an outstanding opportunity for a college student to expand their cultural horizon, meet new friends, and maybe learn a new language. While this can be an incredibly enriching experience, it’s important to factor in both the pros and cons of studying abroad — it can also be expensive.

Costs for studying abroad vary depending on where you go, what you study, and how long you stay, but average costs can hover around $10,000 per semester. Students can use a combination of savings, federal student loans, private student loans, or some scholarships or grants to pay for their study abroad experience.

Federal Student Loans for Studying Abroad

It’s possible to use federal student loans to pay for your study abroad experience. Federal student loans can be used to pay for any qualifying educational expense — you can even use student loans to pay for living expenses like rent or room and board.

To get federal financial aid — which includes grants and loans — you’ll need to complete the FAFSA® each year. The financial aid office at your domestic university should be able to tell you which forms of aid can be used to cover study abroad expenses. Be sure to file your FAFSA in plenty of time and check in with both your American school and the international school as additional paperwork may be required.

Private Student Loans for Studying Abroad

Federal financial aid may cover some expenses for certain study abroad programs, but there might not be enough cash to cover the whole experience. That’s where private student loans could come in handy.

Private student loans are available from private financial institutions and can be used to cover up to a school’s cost of attendance, less other forms of financial aid. Unlike most federal loans, private lenders will generally review information about the applicant including their credit score, among other factors, when making their lending decisions.

Recommended: What Is Cost of Attendance in College?

There are a few things to keep in mind before taking out a private student loan for study abroad, including:

•   Interest rate: A high interest rate can cause you to pay significantly more than you expected. Also, see if you’re signing up for variable or fixed interest rate loans, as variable rates fluctuate up or down depending on the markets.

•   Repayment: Review loan terms to see when you will start paying back your student loans. Federal loans usually start student loan repayment six months after graduation (or whenever you drop out or drop below part-time hours), but private loans can vary in their repayment schedule. Some may require you to start repayment even while you’re in school. At the very least, consider looking for loans that don’t require repayment until after you’ve graduated.

Recommended: Guide to Private Student Loans

Private student loans can be a tool to help students pay for college and study abroad costs, but because they don’t necessarily offer the same protections (like a grace period or income-driven repayment options) as federal student loans, they are generally borrowed after other options have been exhausted.

Grants and Scholarships

Many grants and scholarships can be used to help students pay for studying abroad costs. Some scholarships may require students to participate in specific study abroad programs, so be sure to review the details of each application closely. Looking for study abroad scholarships? Check out SoFi’s scholarship search tool.

Depending on your school’s policies and the program you choose you may be able to use the institutional or federal financial aid you receive to pay for study abroad costs. Some schools may require that you participate in a study abroad program affiliated with the school in order to apply institution-specific aid to the study abroad program. Check in with your school’s financial aid office to be sure.

Are Student Loans for Studying Abroad Different From Typical Student Loans?

Student loans for studying abroad are not different from the typical student loans used to pay for college. Federal student loans can be used to pay for study abroad costs so long as the program is offered through an eligible institution. As mentioned, you may be required to fill out additional paperwork for federal financial aid if you are studying abroad, so check in with your financial aid office to determine any requirements.

Determine How Much Your Study Abroad Will Cost

To determine how much you’ll need to borrow to pay for your study abroad experience, you’ll need to figure out how much the experience will cost in comparison to a typical semester. Continue reading for some of the study abroad costs to consider.

Tuition

Tuition costs may vary depending on the program type and location. Some schools may offer affiliate programs for study abroad, which may have similar tuition costs to attending the university in-person.

Other programs may offer direct enrollment at a local institution in the destination country. Enrolling directly in a local school may allow you to secure a more affordable tuition, but you may be responsible for additional costs like health insurance or rent.

Living Expenses

Consider the living accommodations available in the program you have selected. If you are working with your school or another third-party provider, they may have living accommodations set up for you. If you are enrolling directly with a local university, you may need to find an apartment to rent or live in on-campus housing (if available). Review the options at your destination closely. This guide has more information on college money management that could help you build out your study abroad living expenses budget.

Travel Expenses

Factor in not only the expense to travel to your initial destination, but also any additional travel costs you may incur during your semester abroad. For example, if you are living in Paris for a semester, will you be taking any weekend trips elsewhere in Europe? Map out your other travel plans and estimated prices for flights, trains, hostels, and food. You could consider setting up a dedicated travel fund to save for your semester abroad.

Graduate Study Abroad Loans

If you’re in search of how to get money to study abroad, when you go can be just as important as where you go. Undergraduate degrees are usually less expensive than graduate ones (though this may depend on the field of study), which means studying abroad during undergrad may also be less expensive. Graduate student loans are a bit different from undergrad ones in a few ways, including:

•   Higher interest rates, higher limits. Since graduate degrees are more expensive than undergraduate ones, you can borrow more money with graduate loans. Unfortunately, graduate loans also tend to have higher interest rates.

•   Unsubsidized loans. Undergraduate students may qualify for Direct Subsidized Loans, or loans where the federal government pays your interest rate while you’re in school. Direct Unsubsidized Loans for graduate studies start accruing interest while you’re in school. This could be costly once you graduate.

Do your research on the different student loan options, and if you have flexibility in your timing, you may wish to consider going abroad sooner, as an undergraduate, rather than as a graduate student. You could potentially save some money in the long run.

Private Student Loan From SoFi

Both federal and private student loans can be used to pay for costs associated with qualifying study abroad programs. The requirements for federal loans may vary depending on the program you are enrolling in, so check in with the financial aid office at your school.

If financial aid isn’t enough to make your dreams of studying internationally a reality, private student loans may help. SoFi offers both private student loans to help pay your way through school. SoFi loans have no fees and qualifying borrowers can secure a competitive interest rate.

Cover up to 100% of school-certified costs including tuition, books, supplies, room and board, and transportation with a private student loan from SoFi.

FAQ

Can you get a federal student loan to study abroad?

Yes, federal student loans can be used to pay for study abroad expenses. There may be some additional requirements so check in directly with your college’s financial aid office.

However, if your school does not participate in the federal aid program, you likely will not be able to secure financial aid to study abroad either.

Are there special loans for studying abroad?

Both the federal and private student loans can be used to pay for study abroad expenses. It’s possible to apply for a private student loan specifically to study abroad, but these loans are generally the same as student loans used to pay for classes at your American school.

What are other ways to finance studying abroad aside from loans?

Students may also be able to use savings, scholarships, or grants to pay for study abroad costs.


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