Managing your personal finances while traveling involves four main components:

  1. Income — How much money will you have from allowances, financial aid payouts, savings, or family support?
  2. Access — Do you have at least two reliable ways to access your money, such as debit cards, credit cards, or cash?
  3. Spending — How much money will you need for food, lodging, personal care, transportation, entertainment, travel, and miscellaneous expenses?
  4. Tracking — Do you have a way to keep track of your expenses and match your actual expenses to budget categories as you go along?

Putting these four components together into one document, a budget, and consulting and updating it regularly will help you make the most of your experience without overspending.


You should have a solid understanding of your income before leaving. If you do not, please schedule an appointment with an adviser on campus. Advisors from OCS, the Business Office, and Student Financial Aid are all available to meet with you individually.


At a minimum, you need a debit and/or a credit card with a Visa or MasterCard logo on it and to know your four digit pin number. The resources on the Logistics page of the OCS website outline how to access money abroad.


While traveling, needs and wants can be met at a range of price points. The table below illustrates a frugal and a spendy approach to purchases by category allowances for Carleton programs. Remember that receipts for Cultural Activity Fund and Gym Allowance expenditures need to be submitted to OCS. For non-Carleton programs or independent travel, allowance categories won’t be the same, but the principles still apply.


Cooking with friends/roommates, packing a lunch (possible in apartments AND homestays), eating out occasionally 2-4 times a week. Eating out every day = A LOT of $!Varies by program and depends on lodging arrangements – access to kitchen, homestay vs. apartment, etc.* It is a good idea to track your food expenses for a week to check if you are underspending or overspending. Money saved is yours to use as you choose! If you are overspending — you will need to supplement out of your own pocket…
* Don’t forget to incorporate snacks into your budget! A cup of coffee in Seville = $1.70 and in Paris = $3.94. If you are not a coffee drinker, you may become one in a culture that celebrates drinking coffee.
Local transportation
Use the public transportation method covered by your pass and stay within the covered zones; if taking taxis or Ubers, share with others as much as possible; plan your activities to avoid unnecessary trips; walk!Use public transportation sometimes, but take cabs and Ubers liberally; take frequent trips outside the zones covered by your transportation pass/allowance.Varies by program and depends on options available--subways, buses, taxis, motor-coaches.
The allowance is calculated based on taking public transportation which does not typically include taxis and Ubers
PhonePurchase a local SIM card and a pay-as-you go plan; use minutes and data sparingly and rely mostly on WiFi when available.Get an unlimited international phone plan and also a local SIM card and data plan.This is a subsidy; it’s not intended to cover all costs.Be mindful of data usage. Use your phone as a tool to help you explore and experience new places and not as a distraction.

Walking as much as possible and/or joining a local team to get your physical activity needs met with minimal gym-time; if you are an occasional user, purchasing classes as you go instead of a membership.Purchasing an unlimited monthly membership at a spendy gym AND purchasing lots of pricey classes.Allowance of $100/program. Interested in learning a new cultural dance or practicing yoga? Take a class while abroad, they are eligible for reimbursement.
Cultural Activities

Budgeting carefully, asking faculty director, homestay family, or local friends for recommendations.Attending several expensive concerts, performances, and sporting events AND taking an expensive class. Only for some programs, amount varies.You are encouraged to spend your WHOLE allowance on activities, entry fees, events, and classes that align with your personal interests and the program’s goals. If you overspend your allowance, though, you will be responsible for the additional cost.


You should save your receipts and/or write down your expenditures as you go. You can also consult your bank’s website or app to track spending. If you have multiple accounts, is a useful service that allows you to connect your accounts to a single platform.

Creating a Budget

OCS has developed an OCS-specific budgeting template using Google Sheets. Under File, choose, Make a Copy, so that you can modify the template with your own information. You can learn more about budgeting with Google Sheets.