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, is that tuition fees abroad are often considerably cheaper than the UK and there's loads of extra financial support out there in the form of grants and loans.
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 maybe 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 considerably more. This can vary across universities though (especially for countries located outside of Europe), so make sure to check with your individual institution for exact costs.
While studying abroad, you'll get a Maintenance Loan as you would if you were doing a normal year of study in the UK. You may even be entitled to more than you would be at home.
For example, English students may get a higher Maintenance Loan than they would while studying in the UK.
In 2020/21, the maximum Maintenance Loan they can receive while living abroad is £10,539 a year, and just like normal, exactly how much they get is dependent on their household income.
Students from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are entitled to differing amounts of Maintenance Loan while studying abroad. Click here to skip down to our section on students from different parts of the UK if that's you.
Maintenance Loan for English students 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?
Students who meet the following criteria may be eligible for a travel grant:
- Studying or working abroad through the Erasmus+ scheme
- Have a permanent home address in England (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have different schemes)
- Are not eligible for means-tested bursaries or awards from the Department of Health.
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.
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 you're a single parent
- 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
|Cost of travel||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 has 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 2020/21
Update: Erasmus+ has not yet confirmed how much funding will be available for students. The following figures are based on how funding was allocated to students in 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, United Kingdom
|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 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 is 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 Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales
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 Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales:
Students from Northern Ireland
How much funding Northern Irish students are entitled to will depend on whereabouts in the UK their home institution is located.
Tuition fees for Northern Irish students at universities in Northern Ireland
- Full-year Erasmus+: Tuition fee waiver (course or placement must be at least 24 weeks long)
- Full-year on programme other than Erasmus+: Students pay up to 50% of their tuition fees up to £2,185
- Part of the year on Erasmus+ and less than 10 weeks at home university: Students pay up to 50% of their fees up to £2,185
- Part of the year on Erasmus+ and more than 10 weeks at home university: Students pay full amount of tuition fees.
Students may apply to Student Finance Northern Ireland for a Tuition Fees Loan to cover fees that are left up to them to pay.
Tuition fees for Northern Irish students at universities elsewhere in the UK
Here's how much Northern Irish students can expect to pay in tuition fees if they're going abroad in 2020/2021. Students can apply to Student Finance Northern Ireland for Tuition Fee Loans to cover the costs they are expected to pay:
- Full-year Erasmus+: Students pay 15% of their tuition fees up to £1385
- Full-year on programme other than Erasmus+: Students pay 50% of their tuition fees up to £4,625
- Part of the year on Erasmus+ and less than 10 weeks at home university: Students pay 50% of their fees up to £4,395
- Part of the year on Erasmus+ and more than 10 weeks at home university: Students pay up to £9,250 in tuition fees.
Maintenance Loans loans for Northern Irish students on a year abroad
In terms of living expenses, students from Northern Ireland can receive £5,770 (or £5,015 if you're in your final year) in Maintenance Loan for the 2020/21 academic year.
If the course is longer than normal, you can get a loan of up to £117 for each extra week that you spend abroad attending your course.
Student Finance Northern Ireland also 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.
If you've applied for other non-means tested support, you may not be eligible for a travel grant.
Students from Scotland
There are a few different scenarios for Scottish students depending on where their home university is located and whether or not the year abroad is a student exchange.
As the name suggests, the difference between an exchange programme and a non-exchange programme is that in an exchange programme, a student from a UK university swaps places with one from outside the UK. Erasmus+ is an example of a student exchange.
Tuition fees for Scottish students at universities in Scotland
Here is what Scottish students can expect to pay depending on their situation:
- Full-year exchange programme: SAAS covers full cost of tuition fees
- Part of the year on exchange programme and attend home uni for 10 weeks or more: SAAS covers full cost of tuition fees
- Part of the year on exchange programme and attend home uni for less than 10 weeks: SAAS pays half your tuition fees
- Full-year non-exchange programme: SAAS pays half your tuition fees
- Part-year non-exchange programme and attend home uni for 10 weeks or more: SAAS covers full cost of tuition fees
- Part-year non-exchange programme and attend home uni for less than 10 weeks: SAAS pays half your tuition fees.
Tuition fees for Scottish students at universities elsewhere in the UK
Here is what Scottish students can expect to pay depending on their situation:
- Full-year Erasmus+: Local Student Finance body pays 85% of your fees to your home university and you pay 15% (you can apply to the SAAS for a loan to cover this)
- Full-year non-Erasmus+ exchange programme: You should apply for a loan from SAAS to cover your tuition fees in full
- Part of the year on exchange programme and attend home uni for 10 weeks or more: You should apply for a loan from SAAS to cover your tuition fees in full
- Part of the year on exchange programme and attend home uni for less than 10 weeks: SAAS will pay half of your normal fees and you can apply for a loan to cover the other half
- Full-year non-exchange programme: SAAS will give you half the normal Tuition Fee Loan, which will cover the cost in full
- Part of the year on non-exchange programme and attend home uni for 10 weeks or more: You should apply for a loan from SAAS to cover your tuition fees in full
- Part of the year on non-exchange programme and attend home uni for less than 10 weeks: SAAS will give you half the normal Tuition Fee Loan, which will cover the cost in full.
Loans and bursaries to cover living expenses for studying abroad
With regards to help outside of what is available for tuition fees, the Student Loan and bursary you can apply for to cover living costs 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 also 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
Students from Wales who choose to study abroad or complete a work placement abroad as part of a sandwich course (with less than 10 weeks at the student’s Welsh or English university) could receive financial aid to cover their tuition fees.
Funding available for tuition fees for Welsh students studying abroad in 2020/21
|Maximum tuition fee at foreign university||Tuition Fee Loan (course started before 1st August 2018)||Tuition Fee Loan (course started on/after 1st August 2018)|
|Studying abroad||£1,385||Up to £710 (difference will be paid as a Fee Grant)||Up to £1,385|
|On a work placement||£1,850||Up to £950 (difference will be paid as a Fee Grant)||Up to £1,850|
Welsh students studying abroad or on a work placement abroad can also apply for a Maintenance Loan to help cover their living costs. How much students get is contingent on their household income.
Maintenance Loans for Welsh students studying abroad in 2020/2021
|Non-final year of course||Final year of course||Extra weeks|
|Courses starting before 1st August 2018||Up to £9,008||Up to £7,835||£182 per week|
|Courses starting on or after 1st August 2018||Up to £8,810||Up to £8,810||£131 per week|
Student Finance Wales has a travel grant scheme that operates on the same terms as the one outlined above.
However, students starting their course on or after 1st August 2018 will have to pay the first £1,000 of their travel costs if their situation is one of the following:
- They’re applying for Student Finance that doesn’t depend on their household income
- Their household income is more than £59,200.
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 have repaid three years' of debt before it's wiped after 30 years, let alone four! 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 enrolment 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 and South America).
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!