The University of Iowa

Finances and Money

How much money will I need while abroad?

Study abroad programs often provide students with an estimated budget or expense sheet that will give you a good idea of how much money you will need while abroad. If not, find out what expenses you will have that are not included in the program fee, such as airfare, meals, textbooks, local transportation, and laundry.

Consider how your lifestyle will change while you’re abroad.

  • Will your entertainment costs increase or decrease?
  • How about extra communication costs (phone, e-mail or postage)?
  • Will personal items be more expensive in the country where you will be studying?
  • Don’t forget to budget for travel and any gifts you might buy.

Exchange Rates

Investigate the value of the US dollar against the foreign currency. You can find exchange rate information on the Internet at. Exchange rates change constantly so check them often. For updated information, check out or

How do I get money abroad?

While exchange rates are always better abroad, it’s a good idea to change a small amount of US dollars into the foreign currency at the airport before you leave the US to cover immediate expenses upon your arrival, e.g., taxi, phone calls, food.

There are several ways to access money while abroad: ATM cards, credit cards, traveler’s checks, and exchanging cash. Don’t rely on just one of these methods to access money; plan to use a variety of methods in case one does not work. You might also try opening a bank account if you’ll be living in a city or are on a long-term program.

ATM/Credit Cards

In most countries it is possible to use ATM machines to obtain local currency. ATM networks such as Cirrus and Plus seem to be the most widely available. Check with your bank to make sure that your card can be used internationally. Bank card withdrawals are debited (in dollars using the market exchange rate) from your US bank account directly, while credit card withdrawals are charged against your card. Service charges are usually minimal with bank cards, but considerably higher with credit cards. Credit cards may also assess interest charges.

Where automatic tellers are not yet available, you may charge advances of local currency against a credit card at banks displaying a Visa or MasterCard symbol. Holders of an American Express card may write personal checks of up to $1,000 drawn on their own account in the US for local currency and traveler’s checks at any American Express office or agent. Visa, MasterCard, and American Express offer good exchange rates on purchases in many countries and are widely accepted in Europe, Asia, and Latin America. You can generally expect to be able to use credit cards in department stores, nice restaurants, and hotels. It is suggested that you carry at least two different cards, reserving one for emergencies only.

Traveler’s Checks

Traveler's Checks are a safe and dependable way to carry money. If they’re lost or stolen, you can usually obtain a full refund. Keep the check receipts in a safe place, separate from the checks themselves. Also, record the check numbers as you cash them and leave a list of check numbers with someone at home. Take a variety of denominations if possible, at least several $20 checks. You may find yourself staying in one country for only a day or two, therefore needing only $20 to $40 worth of currency. Remember, every time you change money you lose a percentage to the bank. On the other hand, some banks charge a flat fee per check. If you need currency, exchange the $50s and $100s there.

Tips for Exchanging Traveler’s Checks and Cash

Try not to exchange money in hotels, restaurants, night clubs, or shops. They will charge high commissions and are not required to give the daily exchange rate. Banks and foreign exchange shops will give you a better rate. Most locations will charge a slightly higher commission for Traveler’s Checks than cash. Likewise, cash is usually easier to exchange on the street than checks if you find that you have run out of local currency. For this reason, it’s always a good idea to take some US cash in addition to your credit card, ATM card, and some Traveler’s Checks. Don’t forget to save some cash for food and departure taxes for the return trip.

How do I get more money…fast?

If you are in dire need of money, a friend or relative can send you cash through wire transfer services offered by MoneyGram. There are 26,000 MoneyGram agents throughout the world, usually located in grocery stores, hotels, and convenience stores. Your friend in the US goes to a sending location, pays a fee, and gives the agent cash in the amount you need. The sender is allowed a free 10 word message and, to some locations, a free phone call to tell you the money has been sent. The money will be available for you to pick up in the foreign country at a receiving location within a short period of time. You may have to pay a fee as well. Make sure to bring ID to pick up the money. Western Union functions in the same way as MoneyGram.