How to pay for school in the US when you’re not a citizen or hold a green card.
How does borrowing for school work for international students?
It depends on which option you choose. In most cases, you’ll already need to have a US visa to qualify for any loan, even if you’re applying with a cosigner. If you’re applying for a student loan, you’ll likely need to be accepted to your school before you start the application, though your school won’t receive the funds until after you enroll.
Other than that, borrowing for school works a lot like it would for a US citizen or permanent resident. You can typically apply online either with or without a US citizen as a cosigner. Some lenders consider your and your cosigner’s credit history, while others might look at your academic standing, personal finances and earning potential.
Student loan providers send the funds directly to your school, while personal loan providers transfer the money to your US bank account. The whole process can take between a few days and a few months — it’s best to get started early. With student loans, you typically have a six-month grace period after you graduate before you need to start paying back your loan.
What student loans are available for international students?
International students have four main options when it comes to paying for school:
- Private student loans with a cosigner
- Private student loans for international students
- Personal loans
- Scholarships or grants
Option 1: Private student loans with a cosigner
- Best for: International students with a relative or close family friend that’s a citizen or permanent resident.
While not as inexpensive as federal loans, private student loans are generally your next best option. While most have income and credit score requirements, many allow you to apply with a cosigner to meet those requirements. However, not all accept nonresidents, even with a cosigner. Reach out to your lender to make sure you’re eligible before you apply.
Our top picks for lenders that accept international students with a cosigner
Option 2: International student loans without a cosigner
- Best for: International students without US relatives and a strong academic record.
If you don’t know anyone willing to cosign a private student loan, consider student loans specifically for international students. While your options are even more limited in this category, you typically don’t need a US credit score or even a Social Security number to get approved. Instead, lenders look at factors like your academic record, major and earning potential when reviewing your application. You might not be eligible if you’re a first- or second-year undergraduate, however.
Rates and terms for international student loans are typically higher than what you’d find with private student loans — but not much. They also might come with an origination fee between 1% and 5% of the loan amount, which you pay after you accept the terms and conditions. Most private student loans don’t come with fees unless you’re late on a repayment.
Option 3: Personal loans for international students
- Best for: International students with expenses that a student loan doesn’t cover.
If you need funds to cover costs outside of school — like buying a car or relocating — a private student loan isn’t going to cover you. Instead, you might want to consider a personal loan. Here you have two options: You can go with a provider that accepts international students with or without a cosigner, or you can apply for a personal loan specifically made for international students.
You usually can’t use your personal loan to pay for educational expenses if you borrow from a standard personal loan provider like SoFi. But you often can if you apply for a loan specifically for international students. Like with private student loans, it’s not always clear if personal loan providers accept international students, even with a cosigner, so you might need to reach out to make sure you’re eligible.
Unlike with student loans, repayments on personal loans start right away. A personal loan from your standard provider can also have shorter terms, giving you monthly repayments that may be difficult to afford while you’re in school.
Compare personal loans for students
Option 4: Scholarships and grants for international students
- Best for: Students with a strong academic, athletic or arts background.
While not technically a student loan, a scholarship or grant can make a serious dent in your school expenses. Aside from asking your school’s financial aid office, you might also want to search for funding from nonprofits, corporations and private and government organizations that support international students. One of these databases could be a good place to start:
- International Education Financial Aid (IEFA). This free online database has a comprehensive collection of scholarships and other financial aid options available to international students.
- FastWeb. While not specifically for international students, FastWeb offers a free way to easily compare different scholarship options that might be available to you
- International Scholarships. This database lets you search for and get alerts for scholarships that you might be eligible for.
How to apply for a student loan as an international student
After you’ve been accepted to a program, these are the steps you can expect when applying for a student loan as an international student in the US.
Are international students eligible for FAFSA?
You can’t get federal student aid if you’re on an F-1 student visa. There are several types of noncitizens that are eligible for federal student aid, however, including:
- Permanent residents
- US nationals
- Asylum grantees
- Cuban-Haitian entrants
- Conditional entrants (if you entered before April 1, 1980)
- Parolees (if you’ve been paroled for at least one year and can prove you intend to become a US citizen or permanent resident)
- Anyone with a T visa
- Children of T-1 visa holders
- Battered immigrant-qualified aliens
- Children of battered immigrant-qualified aliens
- Citizens of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands or Palau (some restrictions apply)
Don’t meet any of these criteria? You’ll have to look at other options.
What happens after I graduate?
Nothing changes if you have a personal loan or opted to start making repayments right away on a private student loan. If you deferred your repayments or signed up for reduced repayments, you’ll typically have six months before you’ll need to start making full repayments. How this works depends on where you end up after you graduate.
Paying it off in the US
If you got a job in the US and have decided to stay for a while, paying off your student loans is simple. Consider setting up autopay with your checking account so you don’t have to worry about making a payment each month.
If you become a permanent resident after a few years, consider refinancing your student loan. As long as you’ve made your repayments on time, you should have a stronger credit history and could qualify for more favorable rates and terms with refinancing.
Or, if you applied with a cosigner and want to keep your original rates and terms, you might want to apply for cosigner release if it’s an option. This way the loan will be in your name alone.
Paying it off from abroad
Paying off your student loan from abroad is trickier. If you decide to pay off your loan from a foreign bank account, it can take more than 30 days for the repayment to transfer and it usually comes with a hefty fee. It’s not ideal, but there are a few ways around it.
If you still have a bank account in the US, consider transferring funds in bulk to that account to pay off your student loan. Or have a relative in the US pay off the loan for you and reimburse them by money transfer — sometimes you can even send money overseas for free. But an easier way to do this is to take out a new loan in your country’s currency to pay off your US student debt — in other words, refinance it from home.
Refinancing an international student loan in the US.
Paying off a student loan from back home while you’re living in the US is just as complicated. If you just became a permanent resident or plan on being stateside for the foreseeable future, you might want to consider refinancing your student loan so you won’t have to worry about paying off debt abroad.
Unfortunately, not all student loan refinancing options work with foreign debt — many pay off the lender directly. However, some lenders like Stilt offer personal loans that you can use to pay off debt. It’s not the most common way to use a personal loan — or even student loan refinancing — so make sure to reach out to the lender to make sure you’re eligible.
It’s not easy to find financing as an international student, but it’s not impossible. While more options are open to you if you have a cosigner, it’s not absolutely necessary. To learn more about your student loan options, check out our guide. Or if you’re curious about your loan options after you graduate, you might want to read our article on personal loans for nonresidents.