August is already here! If you’re planning to study abroad this Fall your excitement levels are probably through the roof. Having studied for my Master’s degree abroad, I am all too familiar with the anticipation of starting fresh in a new country, which is why I’ve been bringing my best packing and travel tips to Twenties Hacker.
Now it’s time to get into the financial stuff.
One of the most stressful parts of my overseas experience was international banking. Once I had all my money together to apply for my travel Visa, I had no idea what I was supposed to do with it. So I took the advice of an international student pamphlet and set up a basic bank account in my country of study, Scotland. Unfortunately, I ended up getting into a rather sticky situation detailed in my personal blog. I vowed to use my bad experience with international banking to help inform other students and young travelers.
Here are some tips and hints for banking abroad:
[note: this is by no means an all inclusive International banking article - for more advice I suggest talking to a financial advisor at your home bank or speaking to an advisor at your international student office]
Prior to Your Departure.
Before heading overseas, you’ll need to determine how your tuition is to be paid. At my University the entire year’s tuition had to be paid upfront in the form of a certified cheque, while residence fees could be paid in monthly payments from a credit card. However, exchange students may need to pay their fees to their home institution before departing. Be sure that you have the funds available and ready to go.
Certified cheques are easy to obtain, although they will cost you (about 30$ from a Canadian bank). You’ll need to know whom the cheque should be addressed to and have the exact amount of money in the correct currency. Once you have the cheque, I suggest keeping it inside your carry-on in a zippered pocket. Try not to obsess over the money and never let your carry-on out of your sight.
Your remaining funds can be brought over in traveler’s cheques or cash – although if you’ll be overseas for a full school year it will be best to set up a bank account and have someone transfer the funds electronically to you. It’s important to have some emergency funds set aside for any unanticipated needs that may arise.
Setting up an international student bank account is easy. You’ll have to make an appointment with your bank and bring all of your information, including passport, visa, residence information, student ID, and other forms necessary for travel in the country. Also, bring your questions – including whether your account will give you access to cheques, how much money transfers from home will cost, and whether your debit card will be associated with a credit card (eg. Visa debit). [Note: some banks may allow you to set up a bank account before arriving via fax - look into this before departing to save yourself hassle when you arrive].
Setting up a bank account may be difficult if you are finding an apartment on arrival. International travel clubs, like BUNAC in the UK, will be able to help you set up your finances by providing you with a mailbox address and the support necessary to set up you account. In these scenarios you may need to bring enough money for a first month’s rent, deposit, and other fees.
Once you have your bank account set up, banking should go smoothly. Be prepared to keep track of your funds and don’t hesitate to ask if you see any bank fees or transactions that don’t make sense to you. You may have to be more upfront with your bank than you would back home, as customer service will vary from country to country. Keep track of all your interactions with your bank for future reference, especially if you are making a customer complaint via telephone or through an internet browser forum.
Before You Return Home.
When closing your international bank account there are a number of things to keep in mind. Firstly, you’ll want to withdraw all of your funds – either in cash or by transferring them back to your home institution. I suggest transferring your funds to a parent or family member to make sure that they are received while you are still abroad because dealing with a bank overseas is nearly impossible.
To close your account, you’ll need to go into your bank branch and fill out some paper work. Be sure to have the banker give you a letter declaring your account closed. Next, you’ll want to ask about any credit cards attached to your account closed account. Make sure that you have closed out any associated Visa services (ideally have this in writing), otherwise you may find yourself with an active overseas Visa account.
International banking can be a complicated process once you’ve return to your home country. Ensure that you’ve closed everything correctly upon departure to avoid future problems. As always, keep a careful watch on your money when you’re traveling to prevent any difficult situations.
If you have any more questions about banking for international students or young travelers, please feel free to ask. I’ll do my best to answer them.