***Note:  We posted this yesterday, before WHO announced the pandemic status and Trump announced the European travel ban (which does not apply to citizens though). Though these are difficult times, we still need to plan for the future-including college.  I was hesitant to write about the virus, as I’m sure your inboxes-like mine-are being flooded. I will be sending something in the next week, though, about how our students in Europe are faring through this.***

Life as an international student in Europe isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. There are definitely extra challenges they face living in a new country. I’m experiencing some of this myself as we are in our first few months in Europe. I’m really kicking myself for not memorizing the metric system. Even as I’m learning the formulas, calculating is an extra step.  I know how far a mile is, but have to think about what it means if something is presented in kilometers or meters. There is also a new language to learn, new public transportation system to navigate, and the challenge of figuring out where and how to take care of day to day needs-from organic milk to contact lenses!

These challenges make me really respect what our students are going through. They are navigating all of these issues (maybe not the quest for organic milk….) with less life experience to draw from AND while going to school full time.  The challenges that they are successfully navigating actually end up being beneficial, as they lead to tremendous growth and self confidence-not to mention soft skills that employers are looking for.

I’m also experiencing some of the same perks that international students benefit from, the first of which is affordability. I talk a lot about the dramatic difference between tuition in the US and Europe. The average tuition for international students in Europe is right around $7000 per year. The savings are even greater when you consider that most bachelor’s degrees take just 3 years to complete. As a frame of reference, my son Sam attends a university with tuition that is higher than average in Europe (about $12,500 per year). Yet we will save more than $200,000 compared to US private universities and even about $39,000 less than attending our flagship state university.

Since we are moving from North Carolina, where cost of living is more affordable than in much of the US, we didn’t expect to be blown away by the savings.  We were wrong! While our housing costs are comparable, there are other savings that are astounding!  Though we will be covered by the public health system, we need to get private health insurance-at least temporarily-in order to get our residence card.  Many people use both the public and private health system.  Want to know why? It’s incredibly affordable!  We’re paying about $200 per month (2400 per year) for private insurance for all three of us. Of course we will have co-pays, but they are under $15 for most services. Our coverage includes the option for in-home doctors visits, specialists, prescriptions, physical therapy, MRIs, and just about anything else you can think of-with no deductible!

Until recently, we always had health insurance through Tom’s employers. Since our portion of health insurance costs was always deducted from his check, it was easy to not fully wrap our brain around how much we were paying. In fact, most families with employer based insurance pay $6000 per year for their portion of the plan and have an average deductible of $8232!  If you aren’t lucky enough to have employer-based insurance, you’re looking at an average of $14,016 per year plus deductibles, co-pays, and uncovered costs.  My friend just told me that  they just got a $150 bill for her daughter’s  throat culture and treatment for pink eye-despite the fact that they have insurance.

Transportation is another area we are saving huge amounts of money. As is the case in most of North Carolina, we lived in a place that did not have adequate public transportation. This meant two car payments along with insurance, gas, and maintenance on the vehicles. We plan to stay carless and rely primarily on walking and public transportation in Portugal. Adults in Portugal pay 40 euros for a monthly unlimited public transportation pass, but families pay no more than 80 euros total. Imagine the savings for a large family!  Even with occasional local uber rides or car rentals for nearby weekend trips, we will pay dramatically less each month for transportation. Our internet and cell phone is also a small fraction of what we paid before.

Now, affordability is great, but I’m equally appreciating some of the secondary benefits I often talk about. The connections international students make with other students from around the world are truly incredible.  These students have something significant in common-be it around goals, interests and/or values-that led them to pursue higher education outside of their home country. Further, they are all having similar experiences unique to living out of their home country. These lead to incredible friendships that develop quickly and last for years to come.

After announcing our plans to move to Lisbon, I heard from other BTS families who were in the process of doing the same.  One family is moving just a few months after us, has a daughter Ellie’s age who will be attending the same school, and happened to be in Lisbon scoping things out at the same time we were there last month! Now, I am somewhat of an introvert in my personal life. While I love having connections and true friendships with people, I find the small talk that is initially required to determine if there is a connection exhausting. When we met this family for lunch last month we skipped right past the small talk stage!  Just like international students in Europe, we have some core values in common which are leading to our moves abroad and are also share in significant life experiences associated with moving as a family. This led to a quick connection and made me feel like I’ve known them for much longer than I have.

International students in Europe learn so much about the world through their interactions with other students.  They learn about the local culture, but also learn about the first hand experiences of students from all around the world. This  occurs through classroom discussions and friendships.  Hearing the perspectives of someone who has experienced things that students have only read about in the news or classes makes world events more tangible and relevant. The curiosity and knowledge that results from these interactions leads to an even greater cultivation of the values associated with global citizenship.

I’m finding myself more curious about world events too. Our realtor was born in Angola and  left when she was very young, due to the war.  I experienced one of the best meals of my life at a Goan restaurant in Lisbon. I knew little to nothing about these countries and other former Portuguese colonies, but having these interactions made me want to learn more. Not only did it increase my interest about the events in these countries but also about how those events affected their citizens.

Experiencing these benefits far outweighs any headaches caused by the obstacles!  That said, we have also had assistance.  We hired someone who has helped us establish our tax residency, apply for a special tax status, open a bank account, and complete the process needed for our residence card.  We likely would have been able to figure all of that out ourselves, though it would have taken much more time trying to translate websites, determine what documents we need to bring, and even how to get a number to secure out space in line at the tax office! The tricks, tips, and expertise she has provided has made her services well worth the expense and have saved us incredible amounts of time and money.

The same can be applied to exploring the English-taught options Europe. Yes, you can do your own online research. I can tell you from first hand knowledge that there are a lot of inaccuracies in many portals-particularly as it pertains to admissions requirements for US students. There is also a lot of bias, as many sites only include information about schools that pay for the listing.  You may also come across advice from well meaning people with information that doesn’t apply. Maybe their kids went to universities in the UK (which are different than those in continental Europe) or perhaps the information they provide you with is outdated, or based on information about schools without English speaking programs. Weeding through the biases, lack of complete information, and inaccuracies can be incredibly frustrating!

This is exactly why I started Beyond the States five years ago! We realize that there is no one size fits all solution, so we have a range of services that include options for memberships that provide you with the information (and community) to research the options, stand-alone courses to navigate different aspects of the process, and done-for you services in which the research is done for you, providing you with a list of programs that fit your interests, qualifications, goals, and budget!  We also have a community of other families to connect you with, many of whom have gone through this process and have kids in Europe already.  Their information and support is invaluable! Check it out now and received 50% off your first month of membership. There is no long term commitment required and you can cancel your membership easily at any time within the membership portal.