Studying Abroad Wisely: A Beginner’s Guide

Choosing a university is never easy, especially if you’re looking to go abroad. There are so many things to consider – from location to tuition fees, student visa requirements to accommodation options – it can be hard to know where to start.

To set yourself up for success, it’s important to create a detailed checklist – one that can also help you plan your expenses over the next four years of living and studying abroad. This is more important than you think, as data from global technology company Wise found that Malaysian students overpay as much as RM69.9 million in total transfer fees every year.

Budgeting and managing finances wisely can seem daunting at first – but having a better grip on your money will make student life so much easier. Let’s get started:

United Kingdom

Studying Abroad Wisely: A Beginner’s Guide

With some of the world’s best universities, the United Kingdom is a popular choice for Malaysian students.

As an international student, your main expenses are tuition fees and accommodation. In the UK, the cost of an undergraduate program ranges between £10,000 to £60,000 a year, depending on the university and program. Student housing options are wide-ranging, too. Living in major cities like London means spending more on rent, utilities and everyday living expenses, so smaller towns may throw up more affordable options. Expect to spend roughly £800 to £1,000 per month for your study materials, travel and living expenses!

While this may seem punchy, one advantage is that most programs in the UK are only for three years, compared to other countries. There are other ways to trim expenses, including staying on campus (if that’s available), and working part-time jobs. Take a look at IDP Malaysia’s resources to see if you’re eligible to work.

United States

Studying Abroad Wisely: A Beginner’s Guide

Living the American dream is a huge draw for students – and why not, with some of the finest colleges, the United States offers great outcomes for students.

Average tuition fees vary greatly in the US, depending on your chosen school. Private institutions will cost significantly more, while public colleges – also known as ‘state schools’ – are more affordable but equally reputable.

As an international student in the US, you might have to pay ‘out of state’ fees on top of your tuition and everyday expenses. Undergraduate programs in the US last four years, which means that the costs can add up. In fact, Wise’s report found that the US is the most expensive country to study abroad globally, with Malaysian students spending an average of RM130,470.38 per year on education costs alone.

However, scholarships are a great advantage to those in need of financial aid. So do your research and look for universities that offer scholarships to international students. To cut back costs, many students start off at community colleges for a year or two and then transfer to their preferred school.


Studying Abroad Wisely: A Beginner’s Guide

Studying in China can be a unique and valuable experience. With over 30 top ranking institutes for science, medicine and engineering, China can be a great choice for students pursuing degrees in these fields.

Tuition fees in China can range anywhere from RM 12,000 to RM40,000, and rent hovers between RM 1,200 to RM 4,000. China operates on a two-semester system so expect to pay at least RM 200 to RM 400 per year on your course materials, and an additional RM 550 per month for everyday living expenses. Overall, it’s far more affordable compared to the US or UK.

Most of the major Chinese universities offer their programs in English, but if you’re living in China, speaking the language will help to fully immerse yourself in the local culture. If you’re considering this, be sure to budget time and fees for language courses so you can get a head start.


Studying Abroad Wisely: A Beginner’s Guide

Although you may have to be proficient in German to qualify for an education, students who choose Germany can benefit from an incredibly affordable, world-class education – not to mention the chance to easily travel all around Europe!

Germany’s education system is highly affordable – in fact, most public universities in Germany offer free tuition! Semester fees are approximately RM 7,500, making it the perfect place for budget conscious students. Additionally, the cost of living is manageable, with rent ranging between RM 1,900 to RM 3,000 a month, while living costs tend to hover around RM 3,500 to RM 4,000 monthly.

Germany also requires valid health insurance as part of the visa application process, so if you’re looking to study there, factor an insurance premium into your budget.

Managing money wisely when studying abroad

Here are a few simple ways students can get a head start on saving more and managing their finances wisely:

  • Watch out for hidden fees: The first thing to check when moving money internationally is the total cost, which includes both upfront fees and the exchange rate. The upfront fee may be advertised as low or even “free”, but be aware that it may not represent the actual total cost. Typically, there are hidden fees and undisclosed mark ups in the exchange rate, leading many people to unknowingly pay more than they should. With international students losing millions in transfer fees every year, it’s important to look closely at the exchange rate and fees to know exactly how much they are actually paying to send, spend or receive money internationally.
  • Always save for a rainy day: Saving is an important part of managing your finances wisely, especially when you’re living abroad and on your own for the first time. There might be unexpected emergencies that you didn’t account for in your monthly budgeting so it’s always good to have a rainy day fund. Once saving becomes a routine, it’s important to organise them for specific reasons such as emergencies, travel, new electronics, etc. You could look into apps that help with this, for example, the Wise app has a function, “Jars”, to help with organising and budgeting your money to reach specific goals. The Jars can even be saved in different currencies which will make it easier once you start living abroad.
  • Think local: Don’t rely solely on your traditional credit or debit card from home while living overseas, as conversion rates and foreign transaction fees will rack up quickly over time. Students are often advised to set up local bank accounts for this reason, though this can only happen after they’re settled in, as traditional banks require a local address and other documentation. Alternatively, consider an option like the Wise account which allows people to get account details in multiple currencies without needing a local address so they can manage their money easily no matter their location. It also comes with a debit card to spend worldwide with no hidden fees.
  • Spend carefully: Starting a new journey in a foreign country is always exciting but there will definitely be a few things you’ll need to get settled. Carrying only physical cash isn’t the best idea. Consider using the Wise app and card for your purchases which allows you to hold and spend in over 40 currencies at the mid-market exchange rate and no foreign transaction fees. In addition to the physical card, customers also get up to three digital cards which come with different details for an extra layer of protection — which can be added to Apple or Google Pay for seamless contactless payments.
  • Make use of student discounts: Never underestimate the benefits of student-only offers and loyalty programs. From the coffee shop on campus to grocery stores and cinemas to transit passes, making a habit of checking for any available student deals can net significant savings in the long run.
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