A semester abroad: Everything you need to know for a successful stay abroad

Written by: Kerstin Lakits, Jan 26, 2023

A semester abroad is the ideal opportunity to dive into your studies, gain experience, discover a different culture and meet new people. Did you know that you can study for one or two semesters at a foreign university and attend classes there? No? In this article, we will show you how to find the right university, how to apply for a semester abroad, how to finance your stay abroad and what to keep in mind. If you are ready for an adventure, this informative article is a great starting point.

Semester abroad or studying abroad?

Firstly, we want to draw your attention to an important distinction between studying abroad and a semester abroad. If you study full-time abroad, you are a regular student at a foreign university. You are inscribed at a university of your choice and study there the whole time.

If you go on a semester abroad, you are a regular student at a university at home and only spend one or two semesters at a foreign university. At the receiving institution, you are not a regular student, but an exchange student.

How can I find the right university?

There are two deciding factors for your search for the right university:

  1. Your field of study: Depending on your field of study, there are several faculties and institutions available.
  2. Your language(s): In order to study successfully at a foreign university, you need sufficient skills in foreign languages. Ideally, you speak the official language and English to manage your everyday life and attend classes.

This narrows down your options, which you can then finalise with the help of the points below:

International Office at your university

The international office at your university should be your main source of information since the team at the international office can competently give you advice. You will find:

  • A list of partner universities
  • An overview of all exchange programmes
  • Contact information of other counselling centres
  • Information sheets and brochures regarding the process, planning and organisation of semesters abroad
  • Information events
  • A list of scholarships and financing options

You will find a lot of material on their website. You can also make an appointment for one-on-one counselling.

Organisations & agencies

You also have the option of organising your semester abroad as a freemover, meaning that you plan your semester on your own and not via an exchange programme. This allows you to study at universities and in countries that don’t participate in exchange programmes. However, the organisation of this type of semester abroad is much more complex. Therefore, we have put together a list of help centres for your semester abroad:

Erasmus+ programme

Erasmus+ is the exchange programme of the European Union. With this programme, you can plan a stay abroad between three and twelve months at a partner university in the EU member states. From the academic year 2022/23 on, only semester spots (3 to 5 months) are available; however, you can extend your stay up to 12 months if you choose the winter semester. The main application phase is at the beginning of the summer term for the following academic year. You can also apply for remaining spots at the beginning of the winter term for the summer term.

You must meet the following requirements to participate in Erasmus+:

  • You are a regular student at an European university.
  • You are at least in the third semester of your degree (for BA students).
  • You have a language certificate for the official language at the indicated level.

Furthermore, you have to accomplish at least three ECTS per month during your stay abroad. Ideally, you should receive 30 ECTS since the Erasmus semester is considered a full-time term.

You receive monthly financial support from the EU, which depends on your target country. Furthermore, there are different „top-ups“, which are one-time payments that you can get for climate-friendly travels or in case of dire social situations. You can find further information on types of financing your Erasmus+ stay in this article!

How can I finance my stay abroad?

The costs strongly depend on your target country. Therefore, it’s hard to set a general cost range. Here is an overview of the main costs to give you a rough idea:

  • Arrival and departure
  • Rent
  • Living costs (food, costs for commutes,…)
  • Learning materials, scriptures, etc.
  • Mobile contract
  • Insurances, administrative costs (e.g. operational fees at authorities), etc.
  • Free time, trips, etc.

If your parents cannot finance your stay abroad, there are different opportunities to improve your budget:

  • Mini job
  • Scholarships for studying abroad and mobility programmes
  • Financial support and allowances

You can find detailed information on financing your study stay abroad in this article! Furthermore, you can find general types of financing your studies here!

Applying for a semester abroad

The first step towards this adventure is applying for a semester abroad. Depending on the organisation of your semester abroad, whether it’s via Erasmus+, as a freemover or with an agency, there are different steps in the application process. Most of the time you have to send your application to the organising party and the receiving university.

Application documents

CV: Your CV should include the most important information about your formation, work experience and language skills.

Grade sheets: To back up the claims in your CV, you need to add important grade sheets. Your academic achievements so far are also important for your semester abroad. So, don’t forget your current study sheet!

Language certificate: Find out early which type of language certificate you need. Sometimes your high school graduation certificate is sufficient. However, sometimes you need a language certificate from a recognised language school.

Letter of recommendation: Many universities have started to require a letter of recommendation from an objective person, for example your teacher, professor or employer. This letter should include your skills, competencies and personality traits and not exceed one A4 page.

Letter of motivation: In your letter of motivation, you can present yourself to the university of your choice. For example, you can present why you have chosen this university or why you want to spend a semester abroad.

Proof of financial means: This can be a confirmation from the scholarship agency or an income certificate from your parents. American universities usually ask for an income certificate to make sure that you can cover the high costs of studying abroad. Many universities ask you to fill in pre-fabricated forms that an authority, e.g. a notary or a bank institute, has to verify.

Admission tests: If you choose the US for your semester abroad, you usually have to take the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT). This test measures your aptitude to study at university.


If you are shortlisted, you are invited to an interview, where you can present yourself. Nowadays, these interviews are held online to avoid unnecessary travels. Here are more tips for successful (job) interviews if you need help!

Planning your semester abroad

Many students shy away from a semester abroad because it requires a lot of planning and organising. We have put together a clear overview of all the important steps in planning your stay abroad to make it easier for you!

When?What?To Dos
12-15 months in advanceThink about where you want to spend your semester abroad. Which country and which university suit you? Maybe take a language course with a certificate.• Look for a foreign university
• Maybe book a language course.
Approx. 1 year in advanceChoose a mobility programme (e.g. Erasmus+), an agency (e.g. AIFS) or plan your semester abroad as a freemover. Apply for a semester abroad!• CV
• Letter of motivation
• Language certificate
• Letter of recommendation
• Proof of financial means

Approx. 9 months in advanceAfter successful application look for an accommodation (student dormitory, shared flat, etc.) and inform yourself about additional insurance, visa, etc.• Maybe a confirmation from your bank about a standing order
• Maybe a deposit
• Maybe proof of a personal liability insurance
• Rental contract

Approx. 6 months in advancePlan your arrival (plane, train, car, etc.) and book a ticket!• Plane or train ticket
Approx. 3-1 months in advanceMake a timetable and choose the classes you want to attend and create a Learning Agreement or something similar! (Calculate time for getting all of the signatures!)• Learning Agreement or other document for recognised classes!
Approx. 2-4 weeks in advanceMake an appointment for getting your keys, pack your bags and settle everything at home!

Advantages and disadvantages of a semester abroad

You’re not entirely sure whether a semester abroad is the right choice for you? Here is a list of pros and cons to give you all of the advantages and disadvantages of a semester abroad at one glance:

  • language skills

  • advantage for future job applications

  • international networking

  • valuable experiences

  • autonomy and self-confidence

  • social and intercultural competencies (soft skills)

  • career opportunities

  • intercultural friendships

  • international team work

  • access to elite universities

  • double burden because of studies and foreign language

  • expensive

  • a lot of organisation

  • strain on social environment (friends, family…)

  • planning in advance

  • cultural differences

  • homesickness

  • potentially longer study duration because some classes might not be recognised


Does a semester abroad make sense?

A semester abroad is beneficial to your personal, academic and professional life! You meet new people, discover new cultures, develop soft skills, deepen your knowledge and gain experiences. It’s also good for your CV and future jobs!

Can everybody go on a semester abroad?

Every regular student who applies in due time and meets all of the criteria can go on a semester abroad. There are also mobility programmes that offer semesters abroad for high school students.

Where should I spend my semester abroad?

That is completely up to you! Which languages do you speak? Which country would you like to explore? Look for a university in a country where you speak the language.

How long does a semester abroad last?

The exact duration of your semester abroad depends on the organisation of the academic year at the receiving institution. Usually a semester abroad lasts between 3 and 5 months. Sometimes you can extend your stay if you want to.

A semester abroad has many advantages, but also requires a lot of planning. This article delivers all the information you need for organising your stay. You can find more articles on studying abroad, internships abroad and Erasmus+ in our category „Study Abroad“! We wish you a lot of fun and success in your international adventure!


We are happy to help!