The homework starts well before you land in the country you've picked for your course.
Having a budget is critical.
Ricardo Gutierrez, Director of Bedssi
Tens of thousands of Australian students travel overseas to study each year. Universities Australia says that most make these arrangements under an exchange program through an Australian university, but some have individual enrolments at a foreign institution.
All international study generally involves setting up in another country where you will pay accommodation and other living expenses, bills and sometimes tuition fees – and that can occur over a few months, a year or even several years.
Ricardo Gutierrez is a student accommodation expert and the director of Bedssi, a web-based agency that links international students with rental accommodation and host families. He came to Australia from Colombia as an international student to complete a Masters in Digital Media degree 20 years ago, and since then has been advising Australian and international university students on best practices to set themselves up to study abroad.
Construct a budget
Having a budget is critical, Gutierrez says. You need to get some idea of the cost of accommodation, know how much and how often your tuition payments will be, then estimate the bills and expenses you will face – food, transport, utilities, phone and internet, clothing and entertainment.
“When I first came to Australia, I paid for accommodation and food for the first semester in advance, so I could study in peace,” he says. “But other students prefer to go to the city where they will study, and get to know the different areas before they decide on a place to stay. Every student is different.”
A 2012 Universities Australia report showed the UK and Europe to be the most popular destinations for Australian students, attracting 35% of students, while 33% went to Asia and a further 23% went to the US and other American countries. “In Europe and the USA, accommodation can be very expensive,” he says, “so it’s important to find out the usual rents or student housing costs before you leave.”
Gutierrez says that your destination institution is always a good place to start when looking for student housing, but sometimes you’ll need to strike out on your own. “Many universities don’t have the resources to manage accommodation so they usually service only about 20% to 25% of the students’ housing.”
Research your destination
Before going to another country to set yourself up to study overseas, he says, check the Federal Government’s Smart Traveller website, which has information about visas, any current warnings, links to Department of Foreign Affairs’ Travel Information pages, and more. You should be aware of any visa restrictions – are you permitted to work? If not, will your savings cover your costs?
Common pitfalls include not bringing clothing to suit the local climate, carrying electrical goods that aren’t compatible with foreign powerpoints, and not having sufficient language skills to function comfortably in your destination country.
Do the paperwork
You’ll need to make sure you have the correct visa completed, Gutierrez says. He advises taking out insurance and opening a bank account in your destination country.
Find out if you’re able to work legally as a student. If so, discover which forms you will need to complete to be eligible, what typical pay rates might be and how to arrange taxes and insurance payments. “Can you be sponsored by an international company to work?” he asks. “You need to find these things out well in advance.”
Students going abroad for a year or more often pay their accommodation out of a scholarship or savings fund, or even from a loan, but foreign exchange fluctuations can make it very hard to budget.
“Student payments generally involve a high degree of frequency,” says Scott Redmond, Head of Asia Pacific at online money transfer service OFX. “They often add up to quite a large amount of money when all of those payments are combined, so if your tuition costs several thousand dollars in the first month, fluctuating exchange rates can mean your tuition could cost significantly more towards the end.”
Student payments can often follow a certain routine (perhaps you have to pay your accommodation monthly, your tuition fees quarterly and you have a weekly allowance for food and transport). “You can organise a regular payments product that lets you stipulate monthly, weekly, even daily amounts to be taken from an Australian bank account and deposited in a beneficiary bank account,” Redmond says.
Such an arrangement can make budgeting easier and, with a pre-determined exchange rate, there’s protection from foreign exchange fluctuations, Redmond says. “It's a set-and-forget feature that’s convenient, can save money and gives you the chance to get on with your studies.”
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