Can 529 Money Pay for College Abroad?


June 3, 2015


JRW_WW.jpgOne of my clients, let’s call her Janice, very conscientiously put money into a 529 college savings plan for years. She wanted to make sure there was enough money, when the time came, for her daughter to go to whatever school she wanted (and could gain admission to). But Janice was thrown a bit of a curveball when her daughter, now approaching college age, expressed a desire to go to school in a foreign country.


Janice was worried. Could those 529 funds be used at an overseas college and still retain their tax-advantaged treatment at home?


The short answer is it depends on the school in question. Go to to find a search tool for checking 529 eligibility. In the state lookup, choose FC for foreign country. Leaving the other search fields blank will pull up a large list of eligible foreign institutions, or you may search for an individual school.


As you can tell from perusing the list, the good news is that many colleges in many different places around the world are eligible for 529 funds. Janice was able to relax after seeing that. She relaxed even more when she learned that international schools often have lower tuition than many American schools. In the case of nations like Norway or Germany, tuition is free at public universities, even to students coming from elsewhere. Of course, living expenses must still be considered, and these might be very high depending on the location.


According to US News and World Report, the most popular foreign destination for American students is the United Kingdom. Wherever your college student may be interested in going, it’s important to research and be aware of the differences from home before committing. For instance, having a specific major right from the start may be much more important than at most American colleges. Given such differences, you should figure that whatever level of planning and research going to college normally takes, going to a foreign college will take more.


Earning a degree from an overseas college is an exciting prospect, to be sure. And in certain career fields it could also be very valuable on the resume.  But if it seems like too big of a step, and your college student (or you), get cold feet after looking into it, don’t feel bad. Colleges right here in the USA offer students many study abroad options for a summer, semester or full-year that can fulfill many of the same desires as direct enrollment abroad. And such programs can allow your student an extra year or two to mature, save money, and be ready to get the most from the experience.


It’s important, when facing decisions such as these, that you have a knowledgeable and trusted sounding board on all matters that relate to finance, someone with whom to discuss the issues involved. That’s the role we at PARTNERSINWEALTH fulfill for our clients such as Janice. It’s one we’d like to fulfill for you. To learn more about us, please contact Jim Waters, CFP®, at 713.964.4028 or