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How To Pay Tuition Fees For International Students

Byron Mühlberg, writer at

Byron Mühlberg


Mar 1, 2024
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So you've just been accepted into a foreign students' program abroad and have excitedly started planning your new life as an international student? If so, congratulations! Whether you're a fresh-faced undergrad heading into your first year as a student or a veteran pursuing your post-doc, studying abroad is always an exhilarating experience that will probably come to define one of the most memorable periods of your life.

Sadly, however, it's not all sunshine and roses. One of the things that can make the process tedious for most people is all of the administration that's required. One of the chief questions here is how to pay for your international tuition abroad, seeing that you probably don't yet have a bank account in the country you'll be studying in, nor are you probably set up with any of the local payment methods. And, with tuition for international students usually exceeding $15,000 per year in most English-speaking countries, this question is as important as ever.

In this guide, we provide a broad, multi-country overview that introduces how it works to pay tuition fees as a foreign student. Read on to learn about the common pitfalls and nuances, and even find out how you can save money along the way by signing up for a money transfer provider to handle your transfer! If you already know you'd like to pay for your tuition by international SWIFT transfer, get started saving money on exchange rates immediately by comparing money transfer providers in real time with our free comparison engine below:

Sending abroad directly with your bank is expensive. Compare better deals instead:

1. Figure Out How You'll Pay

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As we mentioned above, international student tuition tends to be expensive. Fees in the USA and Canada range from $10,000 to $35,000 annually¹ ². In the United Kingdom, they're seldom any lower than £12,000 per year³. In the European Union, although they're often a bit lower, they're still a hefty €5,000 to €15,000 per year⁴, while in Australia, they stand between $13,000 and $30,000⁵.

First up therefore, you'll want to know exactly how you plan to pay those hefty tuition fees. There are two separate areas to consider: your funding options and payment methods.

Funding Options

The first thing to think about here is whether you plan to pay for your tuition yourself out of pocket or whether you're planning to get funding.

If you're planning to get funding, many options are available. These range from internal university funding programs (e.g. awards, scholarships, and loans, etc.) to external sources (e.g., government grants, study loans from companies, full or partial scholarships from sponsors, etc.). There are even combined funding methods whereby you pay a part of your tuition out of pocket, and the remainder gets funded either externally or internally. All that's important to note here is that since you won't actually be paying any funded tuition yourself, the payment process will happen behind the scenes. (However, there'll probably be a bit of paperwork for you to take care of between your sponsor and the university.)

On the other hand, if you plan to self-fund your tuition, you must ensure you either have the full amount or the first installment ready in your bank account before your payment deadline (more on this in the next section).

Whichever funding method you choose, by now, you should already be familiar with how you're going to pay your tuition.

The next step will be to announce your choice of funding to the university. Most universities require this of all new incoming students, and the process usually involves logging into your university's student portal or contacting the financial aid office. Some universities may have specific online platforms for new students to indicate their funding choice.

Payment Methods

Most universities accept multiple payment methods, including credit cards, debit cards, checks, or local electronic transfers. However, one method every university will accept is the international SWIFT wire transfer, which you can make directly from your bank account (although we'll see later why this is a bad idea). Each method comes with its own fees: credit or debit card payments might charge a fixed $10 processing fee, whereas checks or local transfers might be free of additional charges. International transfers come with exchange rate fees (more on this later).

To help you understand the available options, we've listed a few of the most common payment methods that universities accept in various countries below. As always, you should double-check on your university's website or contact their admin office directly to confirm which payment methods are accepted there.

2. Understand What's Due, When

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Once you've got a clear idea of how you're going to pay your tuition, you'll want to familiarise yourself with the exact amount owed and the overall tuition fee structure. Doing this will help you gain a clear understanding of the costs involved and how to pay them. Fortunately for you, universities typically provide detailed breakdowns on their official websites or through student services, so the answer is usually a quick search online, an email, or a phone call away.

First, you'll have to choose whether you'd like to pay your tuition in one single payment or multiple installments. Most universities allow for both. Paying all at once will result in a large deduction from your bank balance at once (which isn't always affordable for everyone) and then the fees are over for the year, while quarterly or biannual installments (which are the most typical installment plans in most countries) mean the payments are stretched out, but aren't as severe each time.

When it comes to requesting payment, many universities will send you a physical bill by post or email, while others will alert you to their bank details online and expect a payment with a reference. In any event, you'll need to pay close attention to payment due dates (whether for a once-off payment or installments), as failing to pay will cause problems. If you miss a deadline, you'll normally be hit with a late fee or penalty in addition to the amount owed. If you still don't pay after an extended period, the university might threaten to cancel your program or withhold your graduation.

3. Gather The Correct Bank Information

By this point, you're ready to pay your tuition. As we saw above, your university will probably allow you multiple payment options. Still, we generally recommend paying with an international bank wire, which affords the highest level of traceability and control over the transfer process from start to finish. (In the next section, we'll look at how to avoid the high fees accompanying this payment method.)

Start by collecting all the necessary banking information required for your wire transfer. This will include your university's bank details, which are usually the following:

  • account name (normally the university's name)
  • account number
  • SWIFT/BIC code
  • any additional routing information (country dependent)

Don't forget to double-check that your details are valid and correct (preferably on a bill from the university or a direct link to their website). After all, accurate and complete details are crucial for a smooth transfer process. Once you know where you'll send your money, you can proceed to the money-saving step!

4. Compare Money Transfer Providers

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There's no escaping it: sending an international wire transfer from your bank account is unexpectedly expensive. That's because banks worldwide rely on a network called SWIFT to communicate with one another. It's a complicated and multi-stepped process that takes long (usually up to five business days), is expensive (since each third-party bank will take a slice of your transfer), and is not transparent (since you won't find out how much your transfer will cost until the last moment before you click 'Send' on your internet banking).

Just how expensive exactly? According to our extensive research here at Monito, foreign currency bank transfers typically cost between 5% and 10% of the total amount paid. This amount isn't charged as a single fee (although these can be applied too), but rather as an exchange rate margin where the bank gives you a worse exchange rate than the one they actually use themselves to convert your money. That means if you were to send £7,500 to a UK university's bank account as an American, you wouldn't pay $9,476 (the exact equivalent at the time of writing), but more like $10,422 due to the exchange rate difference that a typical US bank will charge. That's nearly $1,000 more than you would've paid at the fair exchange rate for a typical installment payment!

That's where money transfer providers come into the picture. They don't replace your bank account, but instead of sending your money directly to the university overseas from your bank account, you send money to a trusted third-party money transfer provider's local bank account instead. Then, in turn, they convert your money at significantly lower and more transparent rates than the bank and send it over to the university on your behalf – and normally, it is much quicker to boot!

Great examples of low-cost international money transfer providers that you've probably already heard of include Wise and Revolut, which are well-known platforms with millions of customers each. For larger payments, however (such as university tuition), providers specialising in high-value transactions will often offer you even better rates. These include OFX, Halo Financial, Currencies Direct, and others. The best option for you will vary depending on your home country and the country you plan to study in. That's why we recommend running a quick and free search on our real time comparison engine to find the best deal for your transfer. 👇

Save over 90% in fees and exchange rates compared to the bank:

5. Instruct Your Transfer

Once you've chosen a money transfer provider offering good rates, sign up on their website if you don't have an account already.

You'll then need to follow the instructions to initiate the wire transfer. This process will include entering all the necessary details, including the university's bank information and the amount to be transferred, and confirming your transfer in your dashboard on the provider's website or mobile app.

Next, you'll need to go to your internet banking and wire the transfer, not to your university directly, but to the money transfer provider's bank account (the details they'll provide you). Big providers like Wise and OFX have bank accounts in all major countries worldwide, so your money should arrive with them quickly and then be converted and transferred automatically to your university without any hassle – and with some decent savings!

6. Confirm Your Transfer

After initiating the wire transfer, double-check your bank account to confirm that the funds have successfully left to the money transfer provider's account. You should get notifications and updates by email or on your smartphone in any event telling you when your money has arrived and when it gets sent onwards to your university.

Once your money transfer provider notifies you that the money has reached your university, we also recommend confirming directly with your university whether they've received the funds successfully. Some universities may provide a confirmation or receipt through their payment portal, while others may send an email confirmation.

The entire process should be reasonably quick. If you're lucky (depending on your country and the country you're sending to), it could take less than 24 hours from start to finish. More realistically, though, it will take one to three business days.

7. Repeat The Process (For Any Installments)

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If your tuition is payable in multiple installments, repeat the wire transfer process with your money transfer provider for each payment deadline. Although it might be unfamiliar at first, you'll quickly get used to the process and feel more and more confident every time you pay your tuition abroad! Just make sure you follow the same steps and ensure timely and accurate payments throughout the academic term, and you'll be fine. Good luck!

FAQ About Paying International Tuition Fees

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