Without a doubt, the United States has some of the best colleges and universities in the world. It is not surprising that so many students from around the world look to attend school here. But with the cost of tuition and additional expenses rising for all students, the question begs the answer as to whether international students can get student loans.

While many international students are able to pay for their tuition, room and board, and other fees outright, other students are required to borrow money to finance their studies in the United States. Read on to learn more about how you can apply for student loans and what loans you qualify for as a foreign student.

How to Apply as an International Student

Applying for student loans as an international student is a relatively simple process that can often be done online through a private lender or bank. To qualify, you must be enrolled at an approved U.S. higher education institution and have a creditworthy cosigner who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. The cosigner must have lived in the United States for at least the previous two years in order to be eligible.

Like private student loans for American citizens, these loans can be used for education-related expenses. They are taken out for an amount up to the total cost of education, aside from other aid. However, because these types of loans are often costlier with relatively high interest rates, international students may want to look for other types of financial aid first. This may include scholarships, grants, or work-study programs.

Can You Get Federal Loans?

International students are not eligible for federal student loans such as subsidized and unsubsidized Stafford loans, Perkins loans, and Grad or Parent PLUS loans. These loans are only available to U.S. citizens and permanent residents. However, many colleges and universities ask international students to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA) in order to determine their financial aid eligibility. The FASFA should be rejected by the Department of Education because it has been submitted by a non-citizen. Afterwards, it can then be utilized by the college or university to issue financial aid directly from the institution since many schools offer financial aid specifically for international students. Alternatively, the school may ask an international student to complete the FASFA and submit it to the college or university rather than the federal government.

Can You Get Private Loans?

While federal student loans are not an option for non-citizens, private student loans for international students are available, which was mentioned earlier. However, if you are not a citizen or permanent resident of the United States, you will likely need an American cosigner for your private education loan application. This cosigner should have a trustworthy credit history and be willing to take on your debt in the event that you are unwilling or unable to pay it. There is one private student loan lender that does not require a U.S. cosigner, Global Student Loan Corporation; if you cannot find an American willing to cosign your student loans for you, this lender may be a good choice for your private student loans.

How Long Do You Need to Live in a State to Get In-State Tuition?

Interest rates on private student loans for international students will vary based on the creditworthiness of the applicant and cosigner. The interest rates for a foreign student private loan may either be fixed for the life of the loan or variable, meaning the rate could change over the term of the loan based on the market. Repayment terms for these loans can range from 10 to 25 years. Typically, the funds will be paid directly to the educational institution. Loan approval can then be used as proof of finances in order to satisfy both the school and the visa requirement for demonstrating that you have one year of financial resources in order to be in the United States and attend the school. An international student advisor at your college or university can typically assist you with meeting these requirements.

Do You Have to Pay Back Your Student Debt?

If you take out student loans to pay for your education in the United States, you have to pay back your debt. This is one of the primary reasons that private lenders require an American citizen or permanent resident cosigner on student loans for international students: to ensure that these debts are paid.

While most private student loan lenders require cosigners for student loans, the citizenship or residency requirement for foreign students is meant to ensure that these loans are paid by the applicant. After all, if an international student leaves the country, it may be difficult for the lender to go after the student to recoup the debt which leaves the lender the only option of going after the cosigner. Citizenship or residency is a sort of guarantee that the applicant will stay in the country though it isn’t definite.

While you could leave the United States without paying back your private student loans, doing so would put your cosigner in the position of having to pay back all of your student loan debt. Depending on the lender, the full amount of your loans may become immediately due when you default. In addition, depending on where you live, you may find it difficult to establish credit or travel internationally if you default on a substantial debt in the United States. You also may not be able to enter or live in the United States afterwards. Ultimately, it would be incredibly difficult — and would potentially ruin the financial health of your cosigner — to not pay back your student loan debt.