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4 Personal finance tips for international students

7 min read

Personal Finance Tips for International Students

Written By

Ryan Severance
Ryan Severance

Rounding it up

  • Just because you’re an international student doesn’t mean you can’t secure a loan or scholarship; make sure to look into all your options.

  • Consider getting a Canadian credit card to help pay for the costs of living and opening a savings account to build a rainy day fund.

  • You may need to get a side-gig to pay for your student expenses.

  • Of course, stay on top of your budgeting to forge a successful financial future during and beyond your student years.

International students striving to attend school in Canada — or any student for that matter — must carefully study the art of personal finance. Practical budgeting, diligent saving, and savvy spending practices will be just as important to your future as the degree you’re seeking. Unfortunately, many international students are at a disadvantage when it comes to finances in Canada due to differences between the Canadian economy and that of their home country.

What helpful tips and little-known secrets should international students familiarize themselves with to avoid financial trouble while studying in Canada? From managing your student loan to adhering to a reliable budget, here’s how international students can study abroad in Canada without breaking the bank.

1. Understanding student loans

Many international students who aspire to study in Canada ignore the ins and outs of student loans at their own peril. They know how unlikely it can be to secure a federal loan as an international student, making it tempting to believe they shouldn’t even bother with student loans. In reality, international students can still secure private student loans and qualify for scholarships that help pay for the costs of higher education. Even with this influx of money, students must be careful to pay back what they owe and carefully spend what they have to avoid financial trouble.

It’s also important to remember that paying back student loans is not the only financial priority a student will have. Many students forget about the importance of generating long-term savings because they’re so focused on paying back immediate debts as quickly as possible. While avoiding defaulting on your loans is of the utmost importance, remember to squirrel away some money for your long-term career and personal ambitions.

Map out every opportunity you have when it comes to paying off your student loans. For example, those juggling multiple student loans can seek a debt consolidation loan, thereby leaving only a single loan (the consolidation loan itself) to be paid at the end of the month. This single consolidation loan can be easier to keep track of and pay off than multiple different student loans which may have varying interest rates or different terms. 

When juggling your long-term savings and student loan repayments, it can be difficult to budget elsewhere in your life. It may feel like you have so little spending money left over that you have no right to buy something nice for yourself. Nevertheless, it’s important to stick to your budget closely until your loans are entirely paid off. This will ensure you have a healthier long-term financial outlook.

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2. Benefiting from scholarships

The major disadvantage of securing a loan is that interest rates can be steep. Students should thus consider seeking scholarships instead, as these allow you to finance your educational expenses without going into debt.

While scholarships are free compared to costly student loans, you’ll have to qualify for them. Unlike student loans, you don’t qualify for scholarships based on your credit history, though some scholarships are specifically aimed at lower-income students. Instead, scholarships usually require excellent grades, submitting an essay, or soliciting help from a sponsor who may be more familiar with the scholarship program you’re looking into. The vast majority of scholarships come with no interest rates or requirements to pay back what you’ve received.

International students should carefully review a list of international scholarship opportunities aimed at non-Canadians to see if they’re eligible to apply. Take your time when applying and run your application past a trusted friend, family member, or colleague to increase your chances of securing those funds. Consider looking into scholarships outside of Canada, too. Your home country or another country you’re familiar with may have scholarships and grants available for students who are studying abroad. Never be ashamed of taking advantage of every financial resource you can get your hands on.

If you are the lucky recipient of a scholarship, remember that it doesn’t wipe away all of your financial responsibilities. That money may run out sooner than you’d think. Spend carefully and use any extra money you derive from scholarships to alleviate yourself from the burden of any student loans you may have taken out as well.

3. Master the budgeting process

In order to juggle repaying your loans and saving money for the future, international students in Canada should come to master the art of financial budgeting. This requires self-control and the ability to adhere to a spending schedule if you’re in particularly dire financial straits. Luckily, there are resources to help you better budget while working with a limited salary or scholarship.

Begin by supplementing your income whenever possible; you may find that a part-time job is the best way to generate additional income. Or consider a side hustle—you can try selling the art you create during your spare time. Certain on-campus jobs may also feature perks like reduced tuition or discounts on textbooks and other school supplies. Any form of employment, temporary or part-time, can free up some room in the budgeting process.

You should also prioritize certain spending. High-interest debt should be paid off as soon as possible to save money in the long term, and you should be on a constant lookout for purchases that come with student discounts. Everyone has to spend money sooner or later, but spending it at the right time on the appropriate products or services is the difference between good budgeting and extravagant spending.

Ensure you're budgeting some money for your long-term savings too. Knowing when to open a bank account can be a difficult question to answer, but the sooner you start saving, the better. Consult your trusted friends and family members about bank accounts if you’re feeling confused, and don’t be afraid to consult on-campus financial resources for additional information.

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4. Choosing a credit card

International student or not, it could be a financially wise decision to apply for a credit card. But with so many different card options, you may suffer from choice paralysis. Choosing which credit card is right for your situation will require a careful review of your personal finances and an understanding of how the Canadian credit system works.

Understanding the timing of when to apply for your first Canadian credit card is also of critical importance. New international students who have limited sources of income and experience may want to wait until they have fostered an in-depth understanding of their personal finances. Older students who are nearing the end of their studies and need to start taking personal financial topics more seriously, on the other hand, need to start developing a credit score for their own good.

Those students who are confident that they can pay back what they owe on a credit card at the end of the month will find it to be an invaluable tool. Credit cards will help you cultivate a strong credit score which can be used to secure a loan if you decide to stay in Canada after the completion of your studies. This could make all the difference in the world for those seeking to become homeowners or the owner of a personal vehicle.

International students can also enjoy the benefits of credit card reward programs as if they were Canadian-born students. Many credit cards offer enticing cash back options and discounts when shopping at select vendors. Securing one of these credit cards could thus help you budget your spending by focusing on certain merchants that partner up with your credit card provider.

Making the most of your time in Canada

Carefully budgeting your spending and diligently paying back what you owe will help you make the most of your time studying abroad in Canada. This, in addition to achieving financial independence through loans or scholarships, will help you develop useful skills that will come in handy as you grow older.

Getting a credit card may help you finance your studies in Canada as an international student as well. However, you should understand that Canada’s credit system is unique and that any pre-existing credit you may possess in your home country won’t apply to your time in Canada. Opening a Canadian savings account is also highly recommended for those students with long-term plans to stay in the country.

Securing a job is also an essential part of staying on top of your finances. Nevertheless, remember that you came to Canada as a student and don’t allow your studies to fall by the wayside. Before long, you’ll be forging a successful financial future for yourself during and beyond your student years. 

Note: KOHO product information and/or features may have been updated since this blog post was published. Please refer to our KOHO Plans page for our most up to date account information!

Ryan Severance

Ryan Severance is a professional freelance author and the owner of American Scribe LLC. With degrees in political science and socio-legal studies, he writes about business, politics, and law for clients around the world.



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