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Going on an overseas exchange programme is a worthwhile life experience. But students can’t rely on their family when they study abroad and the cost of living is usually higher, especially in Europe and the United States. So, how should students prepare moneywise for an overseas exchange programme?

How much money do you need?

The cost of living depends on the country. Then, each student’s situation is different. For example, living off-campus means extra housing and transport costs. And if you plan to explore the country while there, you will need to pay for it. More money will be needed for a longer exchange programme. Also, don’t forget money for an emergency.

In the video, Matthew's budget is as follows:

ItemEstimated monthly expenses(£)
Transport 100
Housing 500
Food 250
Tuition 50
Other expenses (phone, travel, entertainment, medical etc.) 200
Total expenses per month 1,100

Matthew’s exchange programme is for three months and costs £3,300 (around HK$40,000). There are also one-off costs, such as a return airline ticket, insurance and emergency fund. Although his family will pay for it, he wants to contribute. He has 10 months to save HK$20,000, or $2,000 a month.

Matthew always budgets and keeps an eye on his monthly income, expenses and balance. He also uses the Cut-Back Calculator to prioritise spending. This helps him decide what he needs and can do without, so he can achieve his monthly goal.

Note: The above is an example and should not be treated as an actual case.

Tips to manage money

Start planning soon:

Come up with a budget about a year ahead so there is time to reach your savings goal. Get as much information as you can about costs such as from the university’s exchange programme office, seminars, websites and online forums. Speak to former exchange students too.

Keep a close eye on exchange rates:

If the exchange rate goes up a lot you will need more money. If needed, you could change Hong Kong dollars into the foreign currency by batches. This will average out the exchange rate risk.

Check on exchange student subsidies:

Many universities provide exchange programme subsidies and scholarships. You should check if you are eligible. Ask about quotas, the subsidy amount, how to apply and the deadline. This can be done at the exchange programme office, or similar organisations.

Review your spending:

If you spend too much when abroad, you are on your own. Therefore, it’s important to manage your money carefully. Set a weekly budget and review it. This will help prevent money problems. And don’t forget your emergency fund.

Enable overseas withdrawals:

The main international ATM networks are Plus, Cirrus and UnionPay (though UnionPay is less popular in Europe and the US). Check with your bank about procedures and charges for overseas ATM withdrawals. Also, activate your overseas withdrawal function before you leave Hong Kong.

Note credit card charges:

You may be charged extra for credit card payments abroad, so check with your bank.

Earn extra income:

Some countries allow international students to work part-time. There are usually limits such as hours worked per week, only part-time jobs on campus and so on … You could also apply for an internship. The university’s exchange programme office can provide details.

Take out insurance:

Some universities supply group travel insurance to exchange students. There is also insurance specially for students studying overseas. This costs from just over HK$1,000 to several thousand HK dollars per year. It covers your belongings, accidents and medical expenses.

Pay your fees:

If your exchange programme is for longer than a year, pay your university tuition, housing and student union fees before leaving Hong Kong.