Financial Mistakes I Made As An International Student

Since the academic year is just around the corner in the UK, I figured this would be a good time to share some of my financial mistakes as an international student at the University of Roehampton in London… And during that time, I did a LOT of financial mistakes. In this post, I want to cover a couple of things that are easy to avoid if you or someone you know are planning to study abroad in the UK.


First Things First

As a financial decision, studying in the UK has probably been the worst decision I’ve ever made. Not because the UK is expensive — which it is. It’s just not the main reason why it was a bad financial decision for me. Which may and may not come as a surprise to many. But Norway and the UK have quite similar costs for most things, and if anything, the UK is cheaper overall. Studying and living in London on the other hand, made the overall costs pretty much the same as if I had lived in a major city in Norway.

No, the reason why studying in the UK was a bad decision, purely on a financial basis, is because they have tuition fees. And, when compared to the tuition fees in Scandinavia (and many other places in Europe, such as Germany), which are extremely low (less than £250/$300 per semester). The international fee at the university I was enrolled at in London is currently at £13,520 (slightly over $17,000), which is slightly higher than it was when I was enrolled (£ 10,500/$13,500) per annum. The increase in price since I was enrolled (I finished my degree in June 2017) is ridiculous, but that is an entirely different discussion.


Enough about Scandinavia and our delicious (and at least somewhat efficient) socialism

Since the majority of you wonderful readers are from the US, I can imagine that even the outrageous amount of money British universities charge in tuition fees, isn’t much in comparison to what they are in the US. But tuition fees aside, there are more things to studying abroad than that. While some of the topics in this post are UK specific because that’s my experience, some of this information should be general enough that you might be able to draw something useful out of it.

The Obvious

I am, of course, talking about location. Where you study is going to affect pretty much everything else over the course of your degree. I chose to study in London. Money wise? Big mistake. A quick Google search of “expensive cities London” brings up a series of search results with newspaper articles, blog posts and surveys. Some of them claim it to be the most expensive city in the world. And because I don’t have the data these articles make their claims from, I’m not going to agree with them. But I will say that London is, to put it in British terms, bloody expensive.


Even so, there are ways to keep the costs down. Even in London. You can, for example, have flatmates and/or live off-campus. You could even choose to live a bit outside the city and commute to class, if you’re feeling really crazy. I did neither of those things. Technically, I did have flatmates during my first year. But I was living on-campus in an en-suite accommodation. Needless to say, it was one of the most expensive buildings on site… which kind of removes the point of having flatmates in the first place! While I justified it with my medical issues (which Kristine wrote a little about in this post), that didn’t make it cheaper.

Did I learn anything about housing?

If I had to do it again, I would probably look for accommodation close to the university rather than on-site. I’m not much of a party person… or rather, I enjoy the occasional party, but I want to have the option to party when I want to, and not have the party brought to me. So if I had to do it again, rather than look for flatmates, I would actually look for a single room accommodation with a landlord or landlady. Often, these rooms are of better quality than if you bunk up with mates.

Seriously, some of these buildings are in such a bad state that it’s a miracle they’re still standing. And these are let out to students who have to take the cheapest they can find! You British people will probably know what I’m talking about here. So look for accommodation with a resident landlady or landlord. After all, if the owner lives there themselves, they need to keep the property up to a certain standard.


Bank Accounts

Now, this is the next topic on my list because it’s been a pain in my A** ever since I signed up for a British International Student Account at a bank that I won’t name here. But let’s just say it’s a fairly big bank, at least in Europe. I was even younger and more naive at the time, so I didn’t realise how much more difficult it was going to be to close the bank account afterward than it was to open it.

The account did, of course, have fees. £5 per month. Which, when you think about it might not be a lot. But for a student, it’s quite a substantial sum. Especially when you’re paying for a service that a lot of others provide for free! So, first of all, consider whether or not you actually need to have a bank account in the country you’re studying in. Look into what plans your bank at home has. And if you’re used to using credit cards WISELY, that might be a better solution than opening a new account, since many credit cards won’t have additional fees for using them abroad. However, please do not start using credit cards unless you know what you’re doing. And remember, I’m by no means an expert!

If you’re still considering to open a bank account in the country where you’re studying, have a look at the different plans they’re offering. And remember, they’re a business. They want to sell you the most expensive thing they think they can get away with (at least in my experience). As such, there may be other plans available. For example, I didn’t actually need an international student bank account. And if I’d taken a little more time, I would’ve been able to get a different account without fees. So shop around, look for the best deal, and don’t do what I did, which was throwing money out the window.


Grants and Scholarships

This is probably one of the first things people look at when they are planning to study, whether it’s abroad or at “home”. I didn’t. Another mistake right there. The reason I didn’t apply for any grants or scholarships, is that the Norwegian student finances give a 40 % deduction if you pass all your classes. And if you receive additional financial support from other grants or scholarships, this may affect the amount you receive from the Norwegian student finances. What I didn’t realise until last year, is that the 40 % deduction only applies to the student loan you receive for living expenses, and NOT any costs associated with tuition fees.

I graduated amongst the top of my class. Hold on, wait, there’s actually a point to my self-promoting here. As I mentioned, I did not apply for any student grants or scholarships. But I do know that there were a number of scholarships available for high academic achievements. Some of these scholarships included deductions to the tuition fees. While I think it might be a little too late for me to apply for these scholarships now, at least I might be able to urge someone else to not make the same mistake. I mean, the worst thing that can happen is that you don’t get it. But how would you know unless you applied?


Financial mistakes I made as an international student - and how you can avoid them

I’m sure this list could be longer. I sure know I can rant about my experience as an international student for a lot longer than this post. But the tips above are things that I didn’t really find before I started studying. I mean, tips on how to live on a student budget already exist in thousands of different versions. So why would you need another extensive list about not eating out every day, not ordering home delivery, and the one tip to rule them all: buying things second-hand?

Thank you for taking the time to read all the way to the and. And if you or anyone you know have any questions about being an international student, feel free to reach out.


Yes. That is a Batman bowtie.

2 Comments on “Financial Mistakes I Made As An International Student

    • Yup! And it’s not really that long since Universities were free in the UK. University fees were actually not introduced until 1998, and then it was “only” at £1000 per year. A lot easier to overcome than what it’s currently at, though!

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