Mapping out a plan for studying abroad

Bill Cass, CFP®, CPWA®

Bill Cass, CFP®, CPWA®, 08/09/23

Amid a post-pandemic rebound in travel, the number of students looking to study outside of the United States is rising.

Spending a semester or longer in another country has been a popular program for college students to access a wider range of courses and get immersed in other cultures. The majority of U.S. study abroad takes place in Europe, with 44% of students attending colleges in Spain, Italy, the U.K., France, and Ireland.

The number of college students studying abroad more than doubled since 2000. The pandemic and its related restrictions, however, brought that trend to a halt in 2020, resulting in a 91% decline in students spending a semester abroad. With the end of the pandemic, colleges are signaling a large uptick in students heading outside of the United States to study.

Pandemic impacts students studying abroad

trends in students studying abroad

Source: Institute of International Education, 2022. Includes U.S. citizens and permanent residents receiving credit from their home institutions for study abroad.

Prepare before you go

It is important for students and families to understand the rules and expectations of the colleges or universities involved in the program, both in and outside of the United States. It is also important for individuals to consider additional areas they are responsible for, including health, insurance, and financial considerations.

Here are some tips for college students looking at studying abroad.

Insurance and health

  • Many health plans don’t cover students traveling internationally. As a result, careful research is critical. Health insurance providers may offer specific study-abroad insurance programs tailored to the needs of students
  • Other types of insurance coverage to consider may include trip cancellation insurance, baggage insurance, and travel delay insurance
  • It is important to review medications and access to prescriptions. Make sure immunizations are up to date
  • Certain toiletries and/or medicine that may not be easily accessible outside of the U.S.


  • Students may want to execute a power of attorney allowing parents to manage any financial matters when they are away (tax filing, signing a rental agreement, withdrawing funds from bank, etc.). There may be cost-efficient options available from online providers for executing powers of attorney (health care, financial, HIPAA release, etc.)
  • Obtain a credit card with no foreign transaction fees
  • Alert the bank or credit card company about travel abroad to avoid having a card declined due to a financial institution’s anti-fraud programs
  • Research the cost of adding international service to a cell plan for use while overseas. It may be more cost-effective to buy a SIM card with an international number at the foreign destination when you arrive and swap out your current SIM card. Use an application such as WhatsApp for free international calling and texting

Safety and local laws

  • Register with the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). This free service allows U.S. citizens and nationals traveling and living abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. There are many benefits, including receiving important information from the embassy about safety conditions in the destination country. The program also helps travelers make informed decisions about travel plans and helps the embassy contact you during an emergency, such as a natural disaster, civil unrest, or family emergency. The embassy can also help family and friends get in touch with you
  • Complete and carry emergency contact information
  • Understand local laws and customs as well as the current political environment
  • Remember to pack the proper equipment chargers and converters so you can keep your phone and electronics fully charged
  • A local language book may be helpful for safety
  • Tracking apps like Life360 can help parents find your exact location in case of emergency
  • Know where the American embassy is located
  • Carry some cash/local currency in case of emergency
  • Take photos and make copies of passport and ID to keep for backup

Studying abroad can be cost effective

Research costs in advance. Depending on the college and the length of the trip, tuition for a study-abroad program may be less than tuition at the current college, which could represent significant savings. In some cases, a semester on campus is more expensive than a semester abroad. Of course, additional travel expenses need to be considered.

In another trend, virtual study abroad opportunities surged during the pandemic. Many of these programs are still available for students who do not wish to travel at this time (for example,