Revealed: poor money transfer rates cost international students in the US $437 million each year

Marta Brodzka

Studying abroad is a big financial investment for students. Research carried out by Wise, the global technology company building the best way to move money around the world, has shown just how costly it can be. This revealed that international students studying in the US overpay 437 million dollars annually in money transfer fees — averaging $572 per student.

With the number of international students showing no signs of slowing down, Wise has put together a ranking of the most expensive destinations to study abroad, both in terms of tuition costs and money stand to lose to money transfer fees. Shockingly, international students across these 10 countries overpay approximately $1,1 million annually in fees.

We’ve taken into account the cost of tuition, average spending on other educational costs and the average amount of savings on cross-currency payments if students used alternative money transfer providers instead of more old school (read: more expensive, less transparent) options like banks.


The most expensive places to study in:

1. United States

💰 Total Education Cost: $35,096.54 per school year
🛑 Loss on transfer fees: $572.07 per student; overall $437,186,003

The USA is a top destination for studying abroad, hosting thousands of students from overseas each year. The country is home to some of the world's most prestigious universities, including Ivy League schools such as Harvard, Yale, and Princeton.

However, studying here does come with a much higher price tag — the second country in the ranking, New Zealand, trails behind the US in terms of costs by a whopping 35%. On average, students paid $572.07 each in money transfer fees. With around 948k international students in the United States, students here stand to lose $437 million to inflated transfer fees.

2. New Zealand

💰 Total Education Cost: $24,644.53 per school year
🛑 Loss on transfer fees: $510.14 per student; overall $13,781,081

New Zealand is a popular destination for international students, with over 30,000 students from all over the world choosing to study there each year. The country's eight universities, including those in Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch, are all highly ranked in the QS World University Rankings 2023.

Despite its appeal, studying in New Zealand can be expensive for international students due to the cost of tuition and additional educational expenses. Wise’s data shows that the total educational cost (excluding accommodation) in New Zealand is $24,644.53. This cost can be a significant barrier for some students, considering the unnecessary $510.14 paid in money transfer fees.

3. Australia

💰 Total Education Cost: $21,588.70 per school year
🛑 Loss on transfer fees: $423.14 per student; overall $189,307,690

Australia is a popular destination for international students, with over 500,000 from all over the world choosing to study there each year. The country boasts 37 universities, and many of them are highly ranked in the QS World University Rankings, making it a top choice for higher education.

Studying in Australia can be expensive for international students, with the cost of tuition and additional educational expenses adding up quickly. According to recent figures, the average annual educational costs are around $21,588.70, depending on the course and institution.

4. Canada

💰 Total Education Cost: $19,116.53 per school year
🛑 Loss on transfer fees: $409.09 per student; overall $269,091,282

Canada is becoming an increasingly popular destination for international students. With over 800,000 international students in 2022, it is ranked as the third most popular study destination in the world.

However, the cost of studying in Canada can be a significant barrier for many international students. The average tuition fees for undergraduate programs in Canada are on average around $16,553 per year, and this does not include additional expenses such as accommodation, textbooks, and transportation. The cost of living in major cities like Toronto and Vancouver is also high, which can further add to the financial burden. This makes it even more important to save money where possible — and the $409.09 paid (on average) in unnecessary transfer fees is a good place to start.

5. Hong Kong

💰 Total Education Cost: $17,166.07 per school year
🛑 Loss on transfer fees: $381.09 per student; overall $13,684,906

Hong Kong is an attractive destination for international students, with its world-renowned universities and unique cultural experiences. However, the cost of studying in Hong Kong can be a challenge for many international students. Recent data shows that the educational costs for international students are an average of $17,166 per academic year, depending on the program and university. This high cost can deter some students from pursuing their studies in Hong Kong, but for those who can afford it, the investment can be worthwhile.

Hong Kong's high cost of living can pose challenges for international students facing financial constraints, with accommodation, food, and transportation costs adding up quickly.

Where do American students spend the most on education?

According to internal Wise’s data, American students studying abroad spend the most money on education in New Zealand, with an average of $19,690.84 spent per year. However, looking at the top 10 countries, each American studying abroad pays an average of $217.31 annually on money transfer fees and inflated exchange rates. Australia, the United Kingdom and Switzerland are also popular (if expensive) destinations for American students, with average annual education costs ranging from $5,346.375 to $17,632.10.

The number of Americans studying abroad during the 2020/2021 academic year went down by 91% from 162,633 students to 14,549 students (opendoorsdata) which adds up to $3,161,643.19 that have been paid in fees by American students abroad.


💰 Save those fees

Nilan Peiris, Chief Product Officer at Wise, said:

“As we get closer to summer, many students are making decisions about where they want to study abroad next year. There are a number of factors to take into account, from the quality of the programmes on offer, as well as the cost of living and tuition. Researching financial providers that will help you transfer tuition money overseas cheaply, easily and flexibly, can make a big difference to your finances over the course of your degree. Providers like Wise allow students to transfer money at the real exchange rate - the one you see on Google - with all fees clearly stated before the transfer is made. Over the course of a degree, this can account for hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds in savings.”

The ranking was created using internal data from Wise and data from external providers. All data was compiled in April 2023. The final ranking of the most expensive countries is based on the Total Costs, which contains Tuition fees and other educational costs.

  • Other educational cost: This is based on historical Wise internal data on spending behaviour of international students in each country within a 12 month period between 1st of March 2022 and 31st of March 2023 .
  • Total cost: Total of the tuition ( and other educational costs
  • Money lost (%): This is a percentage representing how much international students could be saving if they used Wise for paying for their tuition and other related educational costs, compared to other, traditional providers. This is calculated by comparing daily rates from active providers and determining the highest achievable savings. Our savings estimates use cross-currency information for both cards and transfers in order to allow us to estimate savings more accurately.
  • Money lost ($): This is the absolute number which has been calculated based on the percentage above on their other educational costs and has been applied to the overall costs.
  • Total money lost on fees: This is calculate by multiplying the average fees saved with Wise per student by the amount of international students within the top 10 countries of the ranking
  • Total money lost on fees by country: this is calculated by multiplying the average fees saved by Wise per student by the amount of international students within a country
  • All the figures were based on GBP and were converted to USD on the 10th of May.


  • Data based on tuition collected from in March 2023
  • Number of international students for each country in the top 10 of the ranking were collected in May 2023 from the following sources:
  • United States:
  • New Zealand:
  • Australia:
  • Canada:
  • Hong Kong:
  • United Kingdom:
  • Singapore:
  • Israel:
  • Japan:
  • Chile:

This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from Wise Payments Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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