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Best International Student Loans

Unlike U.S. citizens or eligible noncitizen students, international students do not have access to federal student loans, and scholarship opportunities are scarce. If you’re an international student who needs to borrow money to fund your studies and living expenses, you may need to turn to private lenders that specialize in student loans for international students.

You must use international student loans for education-related expenses including the cost of attendance, room and board, books and insurance.

Unfortunately, there aren’t a vast array of options for these loans. Because international students must complete the College Board’s Certification of Finances form, they attest that they have the funding available to pay the tuition, fees and other living expenses associated with their program. “That process in and of itself makes it so that the demand for loans for international students isn’t as high as for domestic students,” says Kenneth Ferreira, associate vice president for student financial services at Franklin Pierce University.

That said, circumstances sometimes change, which may cause international students to be short on cash. Student loans for international students can help people in those situations complete their studies.

Find the Student Loan That’s Right for You

  • You are not a U.S. citizen or an eligible noncitizen, which includes permanent residents, U.S. nationals and those who have T-1 status or a Form I-94.
  • You are enrolled at least part time in an educational program at an eligible college or university. “Typically, the university or college will have a role in certifying the loan for the lender,” says Ferreira.
  • You have an established credit history or a creditworthy co-signer. Lenders mostly base private student loan approval on creditworthiness. The challenge then becomes that international students do not have a credit history in the U.S. or parents in this country who can borrow on their behalf. So, most lenders require a co-signer for the loan who is a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen.

“The co-signer would need to have acceptable credit scores and credit history,” says Kevin Towns, director of financial aid at North Central College. That way, if the student does not repay the loan, the co-signer pays the debt.

International students do not have the same number of lenders from which to choose as U.S.-based students do, but it still pays to check the few available options. Because students may not be familiar with lender terminology and the loan process, Ferreira recommends that they work with their college’s financial aid office for help deciphering the terms and conditions.

  • Interest rate: It’s important to check the rate and whether it’s variable or fixed. Variable rates may sometimes start out lower, but they will change from year to year and not necessarily in your favor.
  • Repayment requirements: Some lenders may require repayment of interest or a complete payment each month beginning right away while the student is still in school. Others allow borrowers to defer all payments until after graduation.
  • Term: Lenders may allow borrowers to choose among term lengths. You should compare the monthly costs of each option to see which one is affordable, as well as consider the total cost over the life of the loan.
  • Hardship options: Find out if the lender offers any programs such as forbearance, which allows you to pause payments if you have a temporary financial setback or become unemployed.
  • Discounts: Some lenders may offer an interest rate discount for borrowers who enroll in automatic payments or who make a certain number of consecutive payments on time.
  • Co-signer release: Though this is unusual for international student loans, certain lenders may offer an opportunity to release the co-signer from his or her obligation once certain conditions are met.

Besides private student loans, international students studying abroad in U.S. colleges may be eligible for scholarships, grants and fellowships. Here are a few alternative ways:

  • Foreign student aid from the college itself. Many prominent universities have grant funds set aside to help international students cover the cost of tuition.
  • Study abroad scholarships from your home country. If you can’t get financial aid from an American college, some foreign countries offer grants and scholarships to help their citizens pay for college abroad
  • International financial aid from third-party organizations. Several international organizations, such as the Fulbright Foreign Student Program and the Open Society Foundations, offer student aid for noncitizens studying abroad in the United States.

U.S. News selects the Best Loan Companies by evaluating affordability, borrower eligibility criteria and customer service. Those with the highest overall scores are considered the best lenders.

To calculate each score, we use data about the lender and its loan offerings, giving greater weight to factors that matter most to borrowers. The scoring factors for private student loan providers are customer service ratings, fixed APR, variable APR, loan product availability, minimum and maximum loan terms, minimum and maximum loan amounts, minimum FICO score, and online features.

The weight each scoring factor receives is based on a nationwide survey on what borrowers look for in a lender.

To receive a rating, lenders must offer qualifying loans nationwide and have a good reputation within the industry. Read more about our methodology.

To recap, here are the picks:

Best International Student Loans of April 2024

Many international schools participate in the U.S. federal student aid program. This means that, depending on which school you attend, you may be able to borrow federal student loans to help cover your college costs. If you’re unable to borrow federal student loans or you need additional funds to pay for a degree at a college abroad, you can look at private student loans, but lenders will require you to have a U.S. citizen co-signer.

International students who are eligible can get the same amount of funding in federal student loans as domestic students. However, some programs, like work-study, are usually not available to international students.

Banks, credit unions and online lenders offer private student loans for international students who do not qualify for federal aid.

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