Student Veterans Can Now Use GI Bill Benefits on Study Abroad

College students can now easily use their GI Bill benefits to study overseas through an approved study abroad program.
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Matthew Arrojas is a news reporter at BestColleges covering higher education issues and policy. He previously worked as the hospitality and tourism news reporter at the South Florida Business Journal. He also covered higher education policy issues as...
Published on February 21, 2024
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  • It has historically been challenging to use GI Bill benefits to study abroad.
  • The Veterans Auto & Education Improvement Act changed how GI Bill funds can be used.
  • These changes now allow student veterans to use their benefits on study abroad programs offered through U.S. institutions.

It's now easier than ever for student veterans to use their GI Bill® benefits on a study abroad program.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recently changed its guidelines on the use of VA educational benefits to include more potential study abroad options for student veterans. Historically, students have only been able to use their GI Bill benefits on a slim selection of study abroad programs outside the U.S.

Now, these students can use GI Bill benefits on virtually any study abroad program offered through a U.S. college or university.

Under the Veterans Auto & Education Improvement Act, students enrolled in a U.S. institution can now use their GI Bill benefits on any study abroad program offered "under contract or written agreement" between the U.S.-based institution and the foreign institution. Students can also use their GI benefits if they enroll as guest students in a study abroad opportunity offered through a different U.S.-based institution.

The U.S. school offering the study abroad program must eventually seek VA approval for the foreign program. Institutions have five years to seek approval, starting from the semester that particular study abroad program began.

The U.S. school must take responsibility for the study abroad program while waiting for VA approval.

Terrence Hayes, VA press secretary, told BestColleges this change will likely expand study abroad access for student veterans. Previously, foreign institution study abroad partners had to be approved for GI Bill benefits individually, in addition to the U.S. school each student was enrolled in.

"As approved foreign schools are uncommon relative to the pool of potential study abroad arrangements, veteran students often found themselves unable to participate in study abroad at the rates of non-veterans or did so at their own expense," Hayes said.

Now, initial approval is based on the U.S. institution a student veteran is already enrolled in, at least until the foreign institution is granted VA-specific approval.

"This change allows degree-seeking students at U.S. schools to receive VA benefits when enrolled in study abroad at a foreign institute of higher learning while the foreign school is seeking VA approval," Hayes said. "GI Bill students now have more options made available to them when choosing to study abroad."

Over 188,000 U.S. students studied abroad during the 2021-22 academic year, according to the Institute of International Education's Open Doors 2023 report. That constituted a 1,197% increase from the previous year — which was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic — but still falls far below the high of 347,000 students in the 2018-19 school year.

Italy was the most popular study abroad destination, according to the Open Doors report. Europe was the most popular region, hosting nearly three-quarters (73.1%) of all study abroad students from the U.S.

It's worth noting that these recent VA guideline changes don't take away previously existing ways that GI Bill recipients can use their benefits to enroll internationally.

Those methods include:

  • Direct enrollment in a foreign school that is approved for GI Bill funding
  • Guest enrollment in a foreign school while still enrolled in a U.S.-based institution
  • Participation in an instructor-led educational program
  • Enrollment in a U.S. institution's overseas branch campus