7 money tips for international students

Managing your money can be confusing—especially when you're in a different country—but these pointers will make it easier.

A green piggy bank branded with the Dalhousie logo, filled with coins. Savings here and there will add up! (Photo: Evan De Silva)

Are you an international student looking for some budgeting tips? If so, you’ve probably found that you can’t relate to a lot of the advice thrown around. I’ve been there, and I’ve compiled some of my best wisdom to help you figure it all out.

Winter is coming

Winter is cold. Winter coats are expensive. Therefore, our first step is to designate some money for winter shopping. You will need a warm coat, and some snow-friendly shoes. Throw away all your doubt! This is the one area you do not want to cheap out on—a good winter coat is an investment, and it's better to have a jacket that will last you for years than one you’ll need to replace every other winter.


Credit cards

Many of us aren’t used to concepts like a “credit score.” I know I wasn't. However, if you’re living in Canada, it's quite important to build up a credit score and keep it healthy. To get this started, a simple credit card will do. Just be sure to read the fine print. You’re required to repay credit card debts within very specific deadlines, and they carry a certain amount of interest as well. Pre-paid cards are another way to practice good finance before ‘investing’ in a credit card right away. Most banks have similar terms and conditions, but some banks offer seasonal discounts and offers to new students, like money upon signing up or other bonuses. 

Here's some more good information about using credit cards.


Cash, ATM fees, debit, and banks

If you use an ATM from a bank that you don’t have an account with, you will almost always be charged a flat fee. Usually, these fees are around $2, but rates vary. It's also important to note that most banking plans have a limit on the number of free transactions you can complete. This number is normally pretty reasonable, but these hidden costs can add up, so it's important to track them. Using debit is generally “cheaper” than cash because of those potential issues. It’s also safer with COVID-19 protocols in place.

Pay attention to what your bank can do for you. Some banks will offer you small amounts of interest on the money you keep with them. Others will have reward programs such as free meals or movie tickets. All of these options are things that you can—and should—take advantage of.


Plan ahead for surprise costs

This is something I’ve personally had to face this term when my laptop’s battery failed while I was writing a paper. Because classes are online, if our webcams, laptops, and phones fail on us, we’re at risk of sinking our grades. It's a good idea to set aside some money for unexpected situations if you can, so that you’re prepared when things go wrong.


Prepare for delays with the banks

As international students, we aren’t always connected to our homes, and it can often take a while for money to reach us. This is an issue if the majority of your education is funded by loans from your home country or your parents. Plan for delays in remission, plan for bank holidays, and plan for technical errors and glitches. Should there be problems receiving money to pay tuition when semester fees are due, keep in mind that Dalhousie offers temporary interest-free loans until you can receive the money.


Buy in bulk

target_ stock-up

I’m sure you’ve noticed by now that buying in bulk ends up being a fair bit cheaper than buying items on a day-to-day basis. Not only are you saving the effort of frequent grocery runs, you're also saving money in the process. If storage is not an issue, I always recommend buying non-perishable items in bulk. Some stores are also cheaper than others when it comes to certain kinds of goods. For example, groceries at Walmart often end up being cheaper than at most places, so that's also something to look for!


Mind your subscriptions

Everyone’s subscribed to something, aren’t they? Personally, I use Google Cloud Storage, Amazon Prime, Spotify, and Apple TV+. On the surface, these are just small monthly fees—$5 here, $10 there, $2.50 more… The problem with subscriptions is that they add up very quickly! Subscribing to the New York Times or the Guardian will only cost you a dollar or so a month, but add this to the Spotify plans, the YouTube plans, those in-game purchases you made last week, and the Netflix bills, and every month these invisible fees will eat into your bank account.

You should also check if you're subscribed to regional content in your home country which you can not access in Canada! In addition, purchasing content from accounts made in your home country may have different pricing compared to the content accessible by Canadian accounts. For example, I’ve purchased content on Steam with my Indian account for a fraction of the cost of its Canadian counterpart.


Hopefully this helps you out. If you have any of your own money tips, comment them down below!