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How to budget while on international placement


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So you’ve been accepted on to an internal placement scheme, hooray! Now comes the long and tedious task of planning exactly how you’re going to do it (no sugar coating here).

Budgeting can be a difficult task – throw in a foreign currency and it gets even harder. When I moved to South Africa for my placement, I had no idea how much things would cost and I ended up overspending. But, having been through it myself, here's my advice for making your budget work for you.

Image credit: Pixabay

Research the Cost of Living

Your best friend is research. A good place to start is on forums like Reddit. There is often a page dedicated to the country or even city you are moving to. You can ask questions about the cost of living and get responses from people who live there. Research room rental costs on Facebook and letting agents, but be aware that often letting agents will be more expensive. Travel costs are one of the most important. How are you getting to work on a daily basis? Is public transport safe and reliable? What are the basics you're going to need to make sure you can get to work and take care of yourself, while having a bit of fun too? These are the questions you should be asking yourself.


Save Up

How much you will need to save depends on whether the placement is paid or not. In my experience most international placements are, but it is important to make sure you clarify this. It is true that international placements are usually costlier than a local one, but the value of the experience that you gain is worth every penny. If you’re enrolled on a degree with a placement scheme, start saving as early as you can. You’ll thank yourself later.

Often, Student Unions offer flexible jobs to students allowing them to work while studying. These jobs can vary from bartending to being a store clerk or even providing social media management. I made sure I saved money for my placement by working as a bartender at my university nightclub. It definitely came in handy because it helps to know someone behind the bar when you’re on a night out.

Find the Right Bank

Most international placements are usually a year or less in length. Its more hassle to open a bank account for such a short period of time and you may encounter difficulty doing so as a foreigner in some countries. You may even be charged to keep it open! It’s a must to have at least two cards, if one gets lost or stolen, then you’re not stuck. Getting a travel card that doesn’t charge you for making purchases in a foreign currency is one of the easiest ways to take your money with you.

Another option is opening a new bank account with mobile-based challenger banks. These allow you to open a bank account on your phone. Cards like Revolut and Monzo charge no fees for any foreign currency and ATM withdrawals which is a definite benefit. Revolut doesn’t charge for bank transfers to foreign bank accounts, so that’s the most convenient way for me to pay my rent. But this is just my advice and each person’s financial situation is different, so find out what works best for you.

Image credit: Pixabay

Figure out a Base Conversion

Once you’ve got an idea of what your budget will be, you need to track how much you are spending in your native currency. Doing this in your head can be difficult to work out (depending on the exchange rate) but it is really important when making sure you to stick to your budget. A handy trick is to find a value of the foreign currency that corresponds to your local one. For example, in South Africa, 100 Rand is equal to roughly 5GBP. Using this, I can quickly guesstimate the cost of an item to ensure that I don’t overspend.

Speak to the Locals

Now you know how to find out how much something costs, you need to find out how much something should cost, to make sure you’re not being ripped off. Your most valuable asset will be the people around you; never be shy to ask questions. Where’s the best place to do grocery shopping? Best takeout spot? Gaining local insight is invaluable and will allow you to assimilate to the local norms quickly and make sure you learn the best places for bargains.

Keep Track of Your Spending

Most banks nowadays have an app which allows you to see your spending. Utilise these to ensure that your monthly targets aren’t broken.

In your first couple of months, you will most likely go over them, but those are often one-off costs that allow you to settle in. If you, like me, have money across a few bank accounts, you can track your spending across them using Yolt. This allows you to keep track of how much money you have overall and where it's being spent. It even allows you to set targets and notifies you when you are nearing them.

Sticking to your budget can be a bit tricky, especially when you want to make the most of your placement and the opportunities it provides. This is why it's important to keep in touch with your budgets and plan for the big experiences and opportunities that will come your way. With the right approach and some careful planning, you’ll be able to be comfortable and make the very most of your placement.


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