Budgeting on an International Internship

Interning abroad can be a fantastic experience that helps you define your career path, learn new skills, and gain professional contacts in your field. Unfortunately, it can also be expensive. Here are IIP’s top tips to help you stick to a budget during an international internship!

Plan ahead!

Make a budget

  • Unsurprisingly, the first step in budgeting for your international internship is to create a budget. You can use a free template or make your own, whatever works for you! Use bills and receipts from your life in Madison (rent, utilities, and groceries, but also things like coffee and entertainment) to get a good idea of what you’ll likely spend abroad. Having a budget, even if it’s estimated, will help you be more conscious of your spending.

Know the exchange rate and plan accordingly

  • It’s extremely easy to lose track of how much you’re spending on a daily basis unless you’re aware of the exchange rate and plan for its influence on your budget. Create your budget in the currency of your internship location so that you don’t have to go back and forth to figure out how much you have left to spend.

Talk with your IIP Advisor

  • Your IIP Advisor can connect you to scholarships, help you find affordable housing options, and give you budgeting tips that are specific to your internship location. The estimated expenses listed for each internship and the budgeting pages of the Planning your International Internship Workbook are also a great starting point to create your internship budget!

Pack carefully

  • Make sure to ask about the dress code for your internship in advance so that you aren’t tempted to bring your entire wardrobe with you abroad. Stick with versatile, basic pieces you know that you’ll wear and avoid the temptation of filling up an extra suitcase with clothes that wouldn’t fit in with your normal lifestyle.

Do your research and book early for the best prices

  • Websites like StudentUniverse and Expedia can help you find affordable flights to get abroad for your internship. Book your ticket as early as possible, and be mindful of cancellation or change fees. If you hope to travel during your internship, plan these trips early to get the best prices for your transportation and accommodations. Sites like Hostelworld and apps like Skyscanner can help you find great deals!

Live like a local

Find a local telephone plan

  • Though many American carriers offer international phone plans, they can be more expensive than to those you’ll find in other countries. Most smart phones can be unlocked here in the United States so that you can insert a local SIM card while abroad to get a new phone number and phone plan. Alternatively, many students will buy a cheap “dumb” phone while abroad so that they have a local number, and use their American phone with wifi.

Use public transportation whenever possible

  • Many cities have great public transportation systems that are a convenient way to get around, but they may be more expensive or require a longer commute than you’re used to. Research the prices of different tickets or monthly passes to figure out which one will be the most cost-effective for your needs, and include it as part of your budget. If your internship location doesn’t have a safe or reliable public transportation, research the options that are available and figure out what works for your lifestyle.

Cook at home

  • Trying out the cool restaurants in your host city is a great way to get to know the local food culture, but can quickly become an expensive habit. If you have access to a kitchen, find a grocery store or market near your home and leave eating out for an occasional treat! Even if you have a limited kitchen or no kitchen at all, stocking up on filling snacks or foods that don’t require much preparation will minimize how much you need to spend.

Think outside the box

Find free activities

  • There are many ways to enjoy a city that don’t require a lot of money. Look for free walking tours or museums with a free entrance day. Take a walk through a local park, go hiking for a day, or take a bike ride through your city! Travel sites like Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor often have articles or sections dedicated to free activities.

Take advantage of student discounts

  • Make sure to bring your Wiscard with you and ask for a student discount whenever possible. Most museums, theaters, and other sites offer some type of student discount. It’s always worthwhile to ask!

Pay with cash

  • Using cash whenever possible is a great way to limit your spending while abroad. Withdrawing your weekly or monthly allowance from an ATM allows you to see exactly how much you’re spending and also what you have left to spend. You also avoid foreign transaction fees from using your credit card!

Spend money on memories, not things

  • The unique and exciting experiences you have while you’re interning abroad will be something you treasure for the rest of your life. Most of the souvenirs that fill your suitcase will just gather dust. Invest in creating memories over buying trinkets, whether that means splurging on one fantastic meal with your friends, hunting down a ticket to that local play you wanted to see, or taking a day trip to that city you’ve always dreamed of visiting.


Budgeting is a great way to prevent over-spending during your international internship without sacrificing the best parts of the experience. And, if you need more information about how to budget for your specific internship location, remember that IIP advisors are here to help!