How to afford going on exchange even if you're shit-broke

August 15, 2016
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When you check your bank balance, it may feel like your study abroad dreams can be nothing more than a mere fantasy. However, you may be surprised to know that’s a huge range of options that can give you the financial boost you need to do a semester (or two) at that faraway destination you’ve been drooling over.

OS Help

OS Help allows you to take out a loan from the government that’ll be added to your HECS debt. Like your course fees, you won’t have to pay a cent until you start earning above the required salary. You can borrow up to $6,470 per semester for a maximum of two semesters over your lifetime.

Centrelink payments

You may not be aware that if you receive student Centrelink payments in Australia, you will continue to do so while studying full-time overseas. You just need to fill out a few forms and you’re set to go.

Mobility Grants from uni (free money!)

Many universities offer grants (usually around $1000) to students just for going on exchange. Generally, you don’t even need to write an application. By virtue of being an awesome globetrotting exchange kid, you’ll automatically be on the list for free money that you can use to fund your travels. This grant often applies to international students as well, so it’s great if you’re ineligible for OS Help and/or Centrelink.


There are so many scholarships designed to help you afford to study abroad. Unlike mobility grants, you’ll usually have to write a sweet talkin’ application to show how damn impressive you are. Some scholarships are especially for students from a financially disadvantaged background, so be sure to check this out. Perhaps the most extensive scholarship program is the New Colombo Plan, which is a government scholarship for students going to Asia. If you’re lucky enough to score one of the 100 places on offer each year, you could get $2500 a month for living costs plus more for travel costs and settling in.

Go to a cheap country

Following on from the above point, there are some clear advantages of going to Asia. Not only will you be eligible for many more grants and scholarships, but also the cost of living will be much cheaper. In fact, it might even be cheaper than living in Australia. For example, when I was studying in Istanbul, I had a lovely little room in the heart of the city for only $330 a month. You can’t even compare this to the outrageous prices in Melbourne and Sydney.

Working while studying abroad

Try to avoid this if you can, because you’re much better off having fun times being culturally immersed, rather than waiting tables. Not to mention that the wages will probably be be lower than in Australia, and your visa might not give you working rights. However, working abroad could also be a great way to make new friends, build your resume and make a quick buck, so consider your unique situation.

Saving before you go

Unless you get a super amazing scholarship or go to a dirt-cheap country, you’ll probably need a little more to top up the above options. Of course, it’s also nice to have a bit extra for travelling and weekend trips. So find yourself a job, quit that expensive coffee habit and get saving.

With all of these funding options available, it would be a crime not to take advantage of them and chase your international dreams. Time to back those bags for your study abroad adventure!

Ellen Hays

Ellen is an Arts/Law student at Monash, and travel blogs at Worldly Journeys on the side. She enjoys discussing the meaning of life over a pot of Earl Grey.

Image: James Stewart, Flickr Creative Commons license