Barriers to studying abroad and how to fight them

Studying abroad is an enriching experience educationally, professionally and personally. So many people cite studying abroad as a major desire yet, in the US for example, only 1% of students actually manage to make the journey.

This is because there are many barriers to studying abroad that lots of students find hard to overcome. Most studies highlight financial concerns (both the cost of studying and the cost of not working), lack of support from family & friends, administrative and academic barriers, and a fear that schools aren’t welcoming to international students.

Some of these things don’t have easy solutions, but follow this guide to make sure that you give yourself the best shot possible of a great academic opportunity!


We’ll start with the biggest barrier first. Studying abroad can be expensive. The courses costs money, relocating costs money, living costs money and taking a career break means you’re not compensating for these hits. But it doesn’t have to be an insurmountable problem.

Choose an affordable university
Resources like QS World University Rankings show a nice breakdown in prices for international students. NOVA SBE for example retains very competitive rates to keep your dip out of the employment pool brief and worthwhile.

Choose affordable locations
If you’re moving to Lisbon, you could live in Cascais. Beautiful beaches and seas views, large stunning properties with swimming pools, easy access to mountainous national parks… but you’ll have to pays a king’s ransom for it. Portugal is easily one of the cheapest places to study and live, and Lisbon is one of the most affordable capital cities in Europe. So take advantage of it and find reasonable accommodation in an area like Anjos or Arroios. Your day to day expenses will be significantly lower than in Paris for example!

Work while you study
If you’ve choose Portugal then you are in luck. Take you residence permit, passport, proof of address and home country tax number to the tax office and register for a NIF. With this you can easily look for work to supplement your living expenses on sites like Indeed or LinkedIn. Lisbon is fast becoming a hub for international tech and customer service companies, so any IT or language skills will see you get a good job instantly.

Scholarships/student aid
Check with the school you’re going to and the country you’re leaving from to see what kind of social and academic aid you are entitled to apply to. It never hurts to ask and can make a huge difference.

Lack of family and friends

The second most pressing concern after money is to with social networks. The fear of not fitting in and being lonely is a large one, but it is also the easiest barrier to dispel. In a country like Portugal, people are overwhelmingly friendly and nice. The actively want you to be happy and involved, and most of them speak multiple languages!

Stay in touch
The first few months are the hardest. Create groups in WhatsApp or Facebook for your family and friends and keep in contact. Set weekly and monthly reminders to phone people through Skype too

Take Portuguese classes
Most schools offer language classes for their international students which means you get to learn a new skill and make new friends with your fellow students and the Portuguese people you test it out on.

Make a new support network
Take advantage of Portugal’s multiculturalism. Whatever language you speak, whatever country you come from and whatever hobby you’re passionate about, there will be similar people in Portugal. Check out Facebook groups, university noticeboards and of course research the bairros where certain nationalities congregate.

Academic and administrative challenges

The third biggest concern perhaps involves the biggest amount of research, but sometimes you just can’t avoid hard work. You’re going to want to be at a top-tier university pursuing an internationally recognized and transferable course. This means getting on Google and researching, researching, drinking a coffee and then a bit more researching.

Research top-tier institutions
As you can see in our blog “Top 5 Universities in Portugal”, there are many top-rated universities in Portugal. They all have substantial international student populations so you can be confident that they have the admin support and academic recognition to help you research this further.

Prepare for excessive bureaucracy
Make triplicates of all the possible documents you might need well in advance to smooth over any bureaucratic hurdles when you arrive

Plan ahead
Think hard about where you want to be in 5 years’ time, both geographically and professionally, and make sure the course you pick will be sufficient in that field in your home (or another) country.

There is a reason that only a minority of students study abroad despite studying abroad being one of the most affirming things a student can experience. For the most part the myriad of challenges boil down to costs, fear of adapting and administrative hurdles.

By choosing a country like Portugal and a school like NOVA SBE, you can substantially remove most of the money, admin and adaptation problems. This way, you only need to follow some of our hints to guarantee a smooth transition to this new phase in your life. Good luck!!!