By Laura McMullen
If you’re preparing to study in the U.S., there are probably dozens of questions buzzing around in your head: What will my classmates be like? Which courses should I take? What’s the conversion rate between the dollar and the euro again?
Speculating about which American bank account you’ll open or how much your degree will cost isn’t as much fun. But doing so before you leave home can help ensure you spend your time in the U.S. studying and making friends, not troubleshooting at the bursar’s office.
If you’re an international student traveling to the U.S., ask yourself these four money questions before your trip.
1. How much will my degree really cost? Many international students misunderstand the full cost of their abroad experience, says Jackie Anderson, director of student accounting at Illinois Institute of Technology. She suggests you scrutinize the financial affidavit you must file to receive a visa and ask your school’s international office or bursar about expenses that aren’t addressed. These might include health insurance fees charged by the school and tuition and fee increases expected over the next few years.
2. Have I budgeted for a social life and emergencies? Even if you’re squared away on university-related costs, Anderson sees many students who don’t budget for everyday activities, such as going out to dinner with friends or participating in events. “I don’t think many students think about how there might be a dance or career fair on campus and they might want to buy a dress or suit,” she says. Or an emergency might require you to quickly access funds for medical bills or a plane ticket.
Anderson urges students to prepare for these costs by asking alumni who’ve participated in similar international programs what kinds of expenses to expect. “Lots of times, an international student gets admitted and really excited, and then they think, ‘I’ll figure it out once I’m there,’” she says. “That’s not sustainable.”
3. Where will I store my money in the U.S.? You can quickly access money and receive deposits by opening a bank account in the U.S. Ask your university’s office for international students or the financial institution you’re interested in which documents you’ll need to open a checking account.
Research your options before choosing a bank account. Look for one that reimburses out-of-network ATM transactions and doesn’t charge a monthly maintenance fee or require a minimum balance. Find out how the bank handles overdrafts, too, and ask if you can subscribe to low-balance alerts via phone or email.
4. How will I get extra money if I need it? If you need extra cash for an unexpected event or sudden emergency, your family could transfer you money through a bank or another provider, such as TransferWise, MoneyGram or Xoom by PayPal. Shop around for an international wire transfer service that charges low fees for sending and receiving cash and has fair exchange rates and quick delivery speeds. The savings can go toward a new outfit for that dance.