If you’re thinking about study abroad in Australia, we have good news and bad. Australia is one of the 10 most sought-after destinations for U.S. students going abroad – for good reason: Seven of its universities rank in the top 100 in the world, and Australia has 5 of the 30 best “student cities” in the world (based on student mix, affordability, quality of life and employer activity). The Australian government invests $200 million a year in scholarships for international students. And, for U.S. students, another appealing aspect is that there’s no foreign language requirement.
The bad news is all about the price tag. According to an HSBC poll, the average cost of a year of independent study in Australia is the highest in the world – $38,000, which includes tuition and living expenses. For a graphic representation of what that looks like, check out the infographic on hotcoursesabroad.com, which breaks down tuition for undergraduate and graduate degree programs and some sample living costs in different countries.
Is the Hefty Investment Worth It?
Will a study-abroad experience be worth the price? According to Daniel Obst, deputy vice president of the Institute of International Education (IIE), the answer is a resounding yes: “We know that employers are now looking for candidates [who] can negotiate local and international challenges,” he says. “These are the skills that will be essential for all careers.”
Strategies for Defraying the Cost
For help paying for study in Australia, check out the excellent roundup of available grants for study abroad at IIEPassport. Keep in mind, too, that U.S. universities and colleges are required by federal law to continue dispensing federal funds to students enrolled in approved study abroad programs. (For more on funding your overseas study, see You CAN Afford To Study Abroad.)
Another way to defray costs: An Australian student visa will allow you to work up to 40 hours every two weeks – an uncommon perk for students studying abroad. (Sorry, more bad news: The visa costs about $430.)
How to Choose the Right Program
Whether your study-abroad experience proves enriching – on a personal and eventually a career level – depends on your choosing the right experience for you. IIE Passport lists 419 programs of study in Australia available to U.S. students. StudyAbroad101.com lists 426, with Yelp-style reviews. For useful independent study information, go to the Australian government’s website, and for a listing of 187 Australian colleges and universities and the courses they offer, check out hotcourses.com.au.
If you have a study-abroad adviser on your home campus, take advantage of her or his expertise. If not, the best introduction to the field is IIE’s “Student Guide to Study Abroad,” available as a paperback or a $6 e-book on iTunes.
Cost of a Sponsored Program
To give you an idea of a typical semester-long sponsored study-abroad opportunity in Australia, we’ve chosen as an example the program at the University of Melbourne offered by The College of Global Studies at Arcadia University. With a vast number of courses to choose from – 400 subjects in the arts faculty alone – participants in the 2015 spring semester paid $25,500 for tuition and shared accommodations. Additional expenses – including books, meals, local travel, excursions, etc. – are estimated at $6,650.
According to Caitlin Barnett, Arcadia’s enrollment counselor for Australia, enrolling in a university on your own will save money, “but you will not have nearly the same support system before you leave and once you arrive,” she says. That route is best ”for students who are very independent and willing to do a lot of work on their own.”
Now for the Budget Details
Here’s what you’ll need to budget for your stay in Australia – some extras that you’ll want and some of the necessities that you can’t avoid. Prices given are for Melbourne but will not vary substantially in other cities except in Sydney, where higher rents boost the overall cost of living 17% higher.
[Prices are in U.S. dollars and are current as of October 2018, when the U.S. dollar was worth about .71 Australian dollars.]
Round-trip airfare: $1,620. Depending on when you book and how flexible you are about stopovers and departure and arrival times, you may be able to get a better deal. Remember that many lower-cost fares come with strict cancellation and change policies, so figure travel insurance into your budget. (See The Basics of Travel Insurance for more information.)
Housing: Unlike in the United States, living on campus is not the norm for Australian students. “Most Australians stay local for university, and many continue to live at home during their studies,” according to Erin Baldwin, education manager at the Australian Trade Commission. The best solution for a foreign student is to rent a room in a private house – lots of homes near universities offer this option. You can also stay in a student apartment complex run by companies like Campus Living Villages and Urbanest. Both offer studios and shared accommodations to rent near campuses, but they’re not cheap. Hope to pay under $200 a week if you find an inexpensive sublet but expect to pay as much as $400 or $500 a week.
School books: They’re generally less expensive than in the United States, and borrowing from the university library will save money. Budget about $80 to $120 for this item.
Splurge dinner with friends: At about $40 per person, they’ll have to be very good friends if you’re treating.
Local transportation: In Melbourne, trams are best – easy to use and they go all over the city. In other cities, the bus, train and ferry systems are all good. Students pay about $3 for a full-day pass, half the full fare.
Learning to surf: You can’t possibly return to the States without a selfie in a wetsuit. A two-hour group lesson for beginners costs about $50 – or $120 for a private session. Renting a wetsuit will add another $8.
Trip to Sydney: It’s best to fly – it’s a 9½-hour drive over land. In mid-February, the fare will be about $226 round-trip; at other times of the year, it’s about $60 less.
Beer in a pub: About $6, or $12–$16 if you add food to the tab. A lot of bars have special student nights – no cover charge, plus cheap pitchers and mixed drinks with your student ID.
Bottle of wine: In Australia, for the impecunious, that won’t be a bottle – it will be a bag-in-a-box called a “goon” for about $8; a bottle will cost twice as much.
Coffee in a café with Wi-Fi: $3.25 for a small.
Mobile phone: Buy a basic phone for about $40; a plan will be about $24/month for 500MB of data, plus calls and texts. Or you can unlock your own smartphone and buy a SIM card – service will cost about $32/month for 2GB of data, plus calls and texts.
Slush fund: This is the money you hope you’ll never have to use. To be safe, put aside about $1,000 for emergencies, enough to buy a plane trip home, for example. If you’re on a sponsored program, the provider will usually be able to make an emergency loan.
The Bottom Line
Australia may be an expensive place to live and study compared to some other parts of the world, but many U.S. students are attracted by its high-quality universities, its wide open spaces and no requirement for a foreign language. And it’s not only U.S. students who gravitate to Australia. Almost one in four university students there are international students – opening up a global network of future contacts for you.
Accommodations in Australia are pricey – but still not as high as in New York City, say – and you can keep other living costs in check by taking advantage of student discounts and following the lead of local students.