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5 Essential Apps for Study Abroad Students

Studying abroad means having to function and navigate life in an unfamiliar environment. While encountering the unfamiliar can definitely be exhilarating, it can also be stressful if you do not have tools at your fingertips to help you find your way. Luckily today we have a plethora of convenient apps available to us on our smartphones that help make traveling in a foreign country easier. If you are about to head abroad for a semester or academic year, here are 5 essential apps for study abroad students you should consider downloading before you depart, all of which are free and available on both Android and Apple platforms!

1. WhatsAppwhatsapp iphone

Staying in communication with both friends and family back home, and with new friends made overseas is a significant aspect of studying abroad that once cost a fortune. Gone are the days of having to buy calling cards and keep conversations extremely short in order avoid going over the card’s limited minutes. Gone are the days of racking up enormous cell phone bills charges for international roaming data. WhatsApp is a simple, free, and convenient solution to texting, sharing photos, and calling friends and family around the world.

WhatsApp uses WiFi to make calls and message contacts also using WhatsApp. The app allows you to create group messages, which is a great way to share frequent photos of your adventures abroad with everyone in your family in just a few seconds!

In order to avoid international data roaming charges, be sure to turn off international data roaming on your phone and connect to an available WiFi network. Luckily, WiFi is very easy to find in other countries, especially at cafes, restaurants, and youth hostels.


2. Skyscanner

Discount airlines provide a cheap and easy way to travel in other countries, making weekend excursions to other regions or countries affordable while studying abroad. The most difficult part of travel planning can be figuring out the cheapest way to get from point A to point B. The Skyscanner app makes affordable travel planning easy as it searches many airlines and travel booking sites to find the best deals between cities.

Not sure where you want to travel, but want to check out multiple possibilities? With the Skyscanner app, you can put in your departure city, then select “Everywhere” for your destination. The app will then display possible destinations in order of price from least to most expensive. If you are sure you want to travel to a specific country, but aren’t sure which airport would be cheapest to fly into, you can simply input a country (e.g. Germany) for destination rather than a specific airport, and the app will pull up prices for all airports in that given country. Flying into an alternative airport, then taking a train or bus to your destination can save you hundreds of dollars in some cases!

For more advice on budget student traveling, be sure to read our article “4 Ways to Save Money on Student Travel.”

3. Google Translate

One of the most confusing aspects of being in a foreign country can be trying to figure your way through situations if you do not speak the local language. Google Translate is an excellent app that can help you understand foreign languages or communicate to non-English speakers.

Google Translate has three ways to translate between languages: text, voice, and camera. You can type or write words, and the app will translate to a target language. You can speak into your phone’s microphone, and the app will generate both an audio and text translation into a target language. Lastly, the app has the ability to use your phone’s camera to translate text. That’s right—you can hold your phone up to a sign in a foreign language and Google Translate will translate the words automatically on your screen! This has to be one of the coolest features in an app I have ever seen, and is a lot of fun to try out.

If you would like to learn the basics of the local language before you travel, there are many free resources available for language learning! Our article “How to Learn a Language for Free” outlines many of them.

4. Google Maps

While the adventure of trying to find your way through a foreign city can be fun and exciting, it can also be easy to get lost if you don’t have a good map resource to help with directions. The Google Maps app makes navigating streets and hunting down good places to eat, shop, and sight see very easy. The app can give you turn-by-turn directions to your destination, by foot, bike, car, or public transportation, and having multiple options is always good in an unfamiliar place.

If you are the type of person who likes to plan out your travel itineraries in advance, you will benefit from the Google Maps feature of being able to customize your own maps with pins and notes of places you plan to visit. This is a great way to get the most out of a short day-trip to another town or city while you are studying abroad.

5. XE Currency ConverterXE Currency app

Because you will have to make purchases and transactions in foreign currencies while studying abroad, it’s a good idea to have a convenient tool to calculate exchange rates since exchange rates can fluctuate. The XE Currency Converter is an easy straight-forward resource to find out exactly how much a foreign transaction will cost in US dollars, or vice versa. You simply select the currency, put in the amount, and the app will tell you the conversion rate.

For more general advice on keeping on top of finances abroad, be sure to check out our article “How to Manage Finances While Studying Abroad.”

Tell us about your favorite apps

Do you have a favorite app for traveling or studying abroad? Tell us about it in the comments below!

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The Author

Dave Harriman

Dave Harriman

Dave Harriman, SHRM-CP, has a background in human resources, anthropology, and international education. His experience teaching English abroad during a gap year as an undergraduate student in Spain ignited his passion and advocacy for student travel. As a human resources professional, Dave is interested in helping students prepare for future career growth, and for helping facilitate social & cultural inclusion in the workplace.