Student finance on a year abroad
Worried about the costs of doing a year abroad? There's plenty of money up for grabs, and here's how you find it...
Doing a year abroad as part of your degree is an amazing experience, but many students worry that it'll be too expensive. The reality, however, couldn't be more different – a recent study by HSBC found that doing a year abroad can save you as much as £13,404 (keep reading to find out how)!
There's loads of extra financial support out there in the form of grants and loans, and you can even make some significant savings on your tuition fees.
If you fancy exploring a new country, immersing yourself in another culture and gaining some invaluable skills that will impress employers after you graduate, here's all the finance stuff you need to know to turn your year abroad dreams into a reality.
What’s in this guide?
Do you get Student Finance for a year abroad?
In a nutshell: if you decide to do a year abroad as part of your degree, you'll still get your Student Finance as normal (and often even more!).
In the majority of cases you won't pay any tuition fees at your host university abroad. What's more, you'll pay a reduced amount of tuition fees to your UK university, which will be covered by a Tuition Fee Loan just as normal.
If you're a UK/EU student on a year abroad you should expect to pay around £1,385 in tuition fees for the year, whereas international students should expect to pay around £2,500–£3,500. This can vary across universities though, so make sure to check with your individual institution for exact costs.
You may get a higher Maintenance Loan than you would while studying in the UK.
For 2019/20, the maximum Maintenance Loan you can receive while living abroad is £10,242 a year, and just like normal, exactly how much you get is dependent on your household income.
Maintenance Loan on a year abroad
|Household income||Year Abroad Maintenance Loan|
Check out how this compares to normal Maintenance Loan amounts here.
For both your Tuition Fee Loan and your Maintenance Loan, you'll be able to apply through Student Finance just as normal – just make sure you give them all the relevant information about where you're going and how long for.
Even though you'll have your usual Student Finance funding, there are some extra costs that come with doing a year abroad that can be hard to cover – which is where student travel grants come in!
Who can apply for a travel grant?
If you're studying abroad, or you're on the Erasmus+ scheme (either working or studying), you can apply for a student travel grant.
However, if you're doing a work placement outside of the Erasmus+ scheme, you won't be eligible to apply (unless you're a medical or dental student doing a clinical placement in the UK, in which case you can apply for a travel grant to cover your daily commute).
To be eligible, your permanent home address must be in England (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have different schemes).
What do travel grants cover?
Student travel grants can only be used to cover certain necessary costs. These are:
- Up to three return flights between the UK and your overseas destination over the course of the academic year
- Daily travel costs for students completing a clinical placement at a hospital or other premises
- The cost of return travel for any dependent children if it is necessary for them to accompany you abroad
- Mandatory medical insurance, visas and medical expenses needed for studying abroad.
Note that the grant only covers reasonable travel expenses – which means the most cost-effective tickets on the most economical form of transport. So if you fancied using this to bag yourself some free first-class flights, think again!
How much is a travel grant?
Much like the Maintenance Loan, how much money you can get as a travel grant is largely dependent on your household income. It's also important to remember that the travel grants work on an expenses system – so you are reimbursed for expenses you have already paid for by sending in receipts as evidence.
Regardless of your household income, you must pay the first £303 of your travel costs yourself. After this, the amount you will receive is reduced by £1 for each £8.73 your household income is over £39,796.
We know this is a bit of a headache to understand, so we've broken down an example for you in the table below (remember, you must pay the first £303 yourself).
Year abroad travel grants
|Travel expenses||Household income||Travel grant allowance|
How to apply for a student travel grant
You apply for a student travel grant through Student Finance England. They'll send you a Course Abroad form, to be completed by your study abroad university, which confirms the dates you'll be studying there for.
Once you've submitted this and have been approved as eligible, you'll be able to fill in a Travel Grant claim form. This is where you detail all of your expenses, and must attach copies of your receipts as evidence of payments (make sure these are actual receipts, not just a booking confirmation, itinerary or quote).
Once Student Finance have processed this, the money will be deposited directly into your bank account.
Erasmus+ is an EU scheme which enables students to study abroad for up to a year at a European university, or carry out work experience in a European organisation.
Not only do you save money on tuition fees, and receive your usual Maintenance Loan support, you'll also receive funding from Erasmus+ itself to help cover some of the extra costs of a year abroad.
As long as your university is registered with the Erasmus + programme, and you're wanting to study/work at a participating Erasmus + country (basically all EU countries, some non-EU ones like Norway, Iceland and Turkey, and a few other partner countries) then you'll be eligible to apply.
Brexit disclaimer: If the UK leaves the European Union without a deal, then Erasmus+ funding will likely cease. We'll update this page when we have more information.
Erasmus+ funding 2019/20
How much Erasmus+ funding you can receive depends on whether you're studying abroad or working abroad, and whether you'll be living in a higher cost of living country or a medium/lower cost of living country.
Some extra funds are also available for disadvantaged students. To clarify, Erasmus+ broadly defines 'disadvantaged students' as those with a household income of £25,000 or less, but it's best to double-check your eligibility for this with your uni.
Erasmus+ funding if you're studying abroad
Up to €420 a month for higher cost of living countries and up to €370 a month for medium/lower cost of living countries. Disadvantaged students will receive an extra €120 a month on top of this.
Erasmus+ funding if you're working abroad
Up to €520 a month for higher cost of living countries, and up to €470 a month for medium/lower cost of living countries. Disadvantaged students will then receive an extra €20 a month on top of this.
How do they define higher, medium and lower cost of living countries? Check the table below:
|Higher cost of living countries||Medium/lower cost of living countries|
|Denmark, Finland, Iceland,|
Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden
|Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech
Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece,
Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Netherlands,
Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain,
Turkey, former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
The exact amount of money you'll receive depends on how much Erasmus+ funding has been allocated to your university, and how many other students from your university have also applied for the Erasmus+ scheme. It's best to contact your uni's study abroad office for more information about this.
Unlike the travel grants, this money can be spent on whatever you like. However, you should always make sure to budget in your own money to cover expenses when you first arrive abroad, as it can take a few weeks for your Erasmus+ funding to come through.
How to apply for Erasmus+ funding
You apply for the Erasmus+ scheme through your university – usually the study abroad office. You'll have to fill in and submit a contract and a learning agreement, which essentially establishes exactly what you'll be doing while abroad and how long you'll be away for.
The Erasmus+ money comes from your university, not from Erasmus+ itself, and is usually paid to you in two or three lump sums (not monthly, even though it calculated in this way).
Your university should receive the money from Erasmus+ between June–September, meaning you should receive your funding by early October. This means you might have to set some money aside to cover costs at the very start of term, such as accommodation deposits, flights and living costs.
Study abroad funding for students from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
As is always the case with the Student Finance system in the UK, things work slightly differently in each country. Here's a quick breakdown of the study abroad support you can receive in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Students from Scotland
- SAAS will cover (or give you a loan to cover) 50% of your tuition fee costs for the year. This applies to students studying in Scotland and the rest of the UK
- If your year abroad is part of a student exchange, and your home university is in Scotland, SAAS will cover the full cost of your tuition fees for the year. If your home university is somewhere else in the UK, you will have to pay 15% of your tuition fees yourself (you can apply for a loan from SAAS for this)
- The Student Loan and bursary you can apply for will be exactly the same as if you were at your home university
- If your study abroad is a compulsory part of your course, and not a paid placement, you can claim back the cost of your travel and medical insurance. SAAS will send you the form for this if you state that you'll be doing a compulsory year abroad on your student finance application.
Students from Wales
- You can receive a maximum Maintenance Loan of £8,255 for the year (and £127 a week for any extra weeks you're away). The actual amount you receive depends on your household income
- You'll be charged £1,385 in tuition fees for the year. In 2019/20, continuing students will receive a Tuition Fee Loan of £710 for this, and the rest will be paid as a Fee Grant. New students will receive a loan to cover the full cost
- Student Finance Wales has a travel grant scheme the same as the one outlined above. However, if you apply for Student Finance that isn't household income assessed, or your household income is £59,200 or more, you'll have to pay the first £1,000 of costs yourself.
Students from Northern Ireland
- You can apply for a Maintenance Loan as normal, and in 2019/20 the maximum amount you can receive is £5,770 (or £5,015 if you're in your final year)
- Student Finance Northern Ireland offers a travel grant similar to the one above, except you must pay the first £309 of costs yourself. The exact amount you receive is based on your household income.
Your Tuition Fee Loan and Maintenance Loan from your year abroad will simply be added to your total student debt for you to pay off after you graduate.
However, don't forget that grants (including Travel Grants and funding from Erasmus +) do NOT have to be repaid. This is essentially free money, and won't add to the overall cost of your degree!
Although adding another year onto your degree by doing a year abroad might make your total student debt larger, it's likely that you'll never pay this all off before the debt is wiped. Try out our Student Loan repayment calculator to see for yourself.
If you want more information on how you repay your Student Loan, we've got a whole guide to take you through it – and it's not as scary as you think, we promise!
Year abroad costs to consider
So we've covered all the money that's available to you on a year abroad, but what are you going to have to spend it on? These are the costs you'll need to budget for:
Although you most likely won't have to pay tuition fees at your university abroad, there might be some compulsory enrollment or admin fees that you'll need to factor in.
These are particularly common at universities in the USA, and cover things like orientation events, social activities and course administration. Check with your individual university for specific details.
If you're heading somewhere in the EU (and you have an EU passport) then you won't need a visa to work or study abroad. If you have a UK passport and are looking to study somewhere in the EU, this may change with Brexit.
However, if you've got your sights set on anywhere further afield, you'll most likely need a study visa, and these can cost you anything from £50 to £500 (or even more!).
Luckily you should be able to apply for a travel grant to cover this, but you might have to budget the cost in at the start of term. In some countries you also have to prove you'll be able to support yourself financially while you're there (by having a certain amount of cash in the bank), so check this out before you apply.
Also, make sure you don't book any flights until your visa is completely sorted! There can sometimes be hold-ups and delays, and you might not be able to enter the country without a visa in place.
First thing's first: check if your university offers any free travel insurance as part of their study abroad scheme. If they do, you might not need to worry about insurance at all – but bear in mind that some countries might have mandatory health insurance for international students, or you might want to opt for an extra level of cover.
Again, a travel grant should be able to help you cover this cost.
This probably won't be an issue in most places, but some might specify you need to have had certain vaccinations before you arrive in the country (again, this is quite common at universities in the USA).
You can get a lot of vaccinations free of charge on the NHS, but some you might have to get elsewhere and pay for them. As always, check individual university policies for details.
Plus, one of the best parts of studying abroad is getting the opportunity to explore a new country, so you'll probably want to budget some extra travel costs in order to do that.
Want to brush up on your language skills before you leave? There are loads of ways to learn a new language for free at university!