Here’s how to do a little budgeting so you can do some major site-seeing.
You won’t have to worry about paying for a lot on your ILP semester (your program fee includes things like housing, meals, culture classes, your airfare, and more!) but there are still things you’ll want to buy in country; things like souvenirs, snacks, treats (we love things like gelato and ice-cream filled churros) that you’ll need spending money for … including vacations!
Wondering how to pay for a semester abroad?
We have tips for affording your international adventure.
To help you navigate your finances on your semester, we've pulled together answers to some of the questions we get the most.
- How Much Spending Money Should I Bring On My Semester?
- What If I Don't Have That Much?
- How Can I Still Go On Vacation?
How Much Spending Money Should I Bring For My ILP Semester?
We have a breakdown of how much spending money you should bring, but in a nutshell, around $1,500 - $2,500 is a good average. If you're headed to Europe where travel and everyday expenses are more expensive, you might want to budget a bit more (like $2,500-3,000).
However, this amount depends heavily on your own spending habits. Some volunteers spend more than $4,000+ on their ILP semester, but that doesn’t mean you have to. Those volunteers are typically taking more expensive vacations, doing lots of shopping, visiting other cities and countries on the weekends, and spending money eating out regularly.
What If I Don’t Have That Much?
We've had volunteers go on their semester with less, and love it. Remember, how much you spend on your semester is really up to you. You don’t need to buy lots of souvenirs, go shopping at the local mall, or eat out (remember, your at-home meals are covered by your ILP program fee when you’re not on vacation). There are always free things to do in your city, so you can save your cash for vacation time, and tour free parks, museums, and beaches to help you save.
The trickiest part will be vacations, because you'll need to travel with 2 other people in your ILP group, so it would be helpful to find people in your group with a similar budget, or who want to visit less expensive countries (and take a bus to get there, rather than a pricey flight).
How Can I Still Go On Vacation?
If you’re careful, you can probably make it happen! These tips can help make it possible:
Pick Your Country/Vacation Spot Wisely
For example, living in Nicaragua or the Dominican Republic for a semester is going to be cheaper than if you spend a semester volunteering in Europe —many countries around the world are just less expensive than Europe in general.
If you’re not officially assigned (or want to switch countries), places like China, Thailand, Nicaragua and Mexico are going to be better options just because life, food, transportation, hostels, etc. in these countries is less expensive than in other countries. Just talk to your ILP representative if you're worried about keeping your vacation costs as low as possible and they can talk to you about what options might be best for you at that time.
If you’ll be living in Europe with ILP, you can still save. Countries in Eastern Europe are a lot more affordable than countries in Western Europe, so opt to take a vacation soaking in hotsprings in Budapest rather than spending money in countries like Switzerland and Sweden.
Opt Out Of Certain Things
It may be hard to opt out of the yummy desserts (like a freak shake while volunteering in Lithuania) but it's important to prioritize where you'd rather your money goes. Would you prefer a long weekend in Riga, Latvia or the chance to try out all the bakeries in your city?
Take pictures of your city instead of buying local artwork as a souvenir, opt to bring home free souvenirs (like city maps and business cards) instead of buying postcards, plan on packing snacks from home for when you get a craving to eat out at American restaurants abroad (which tend to be far more expensive than the local equivalent), etc are just some ideas on how you can cut corners that'll save you money.
Choose One Vacation
We have had some volunteers in the past who have had enough spending money for one vacation. rather than all of them on your semester. If that’s you, you can talk to your ILP group and see what everyone else’s vacation plans are and the projected costs, and see which vacation you’d love to join.
There are some countries that require that you travel outside of the country at least once during your ILP semester in order to follow visa regulations. For example, if you're a volunteer in Thailand you can't opt out of every vacation because you do need to travel to another country at one point. Of course traveling to another country has its costs, so again, if you're worried about that talk to your ILP representative.
Seriously, the experience of actually living in a foreign country is going to be worth more than the little things you could be buying. It’s worth it to save where you can if that means seeing more of a certain city or another country. There were members of my ILP group who couldn’t afford to see the Terracotta Warriors because they spend their money on Starbucks and the local H&M. Don’t let that be you!
If you're worried about how much you can afford
for your semester, let's talk about it!
We've had volunteers have tons of success with our tips on how to how to fundraise for your trip. You can also talk to your ILP representative about discounts you might be eligible for!