Want to Use VA Education Benefits Overseas? Plan First. Then Enroll.
Many student veterans and other military affiliated students hope to use their education benefits to pay for higher education overseas. But, as many come to find out, this can be a daunting endeavor. Below, we offer some tips to make using your education benefits overseas less stressful.
1. Make sure your program is approved for VA education benefits.
This is probably the biggest issue impacting students’ ability to use VA education benefits overseas.
VA education benefits are approved on a program-by-program basis. This means if you want to enroll in the Biology Program at, say, the University of Oxford, it is not enough that you see the school listed in the GI Bill Comparison Tool or that you’ve heard of others using VA education benefits at the institution. To be sure your specific program is approved, you should contact your school as well as VA through either Ask VA or [email protected].
Remember, that while approval rules are the same for domestic and overseas institutions, domestic institutions usually seek to have a greater percentage of their programs approved due to the prevalent use of VA education benefits throughout the United States. Foreign institutions, however, more often apply to have only a few programs approved and do so frequently in response to specific requests from prospective students wishing to use VA education benefits.
VA makes it very clear that if they “don’t approve your program, you’ll have to pay all costs at the school, including tuition and fees.”
2. If your overseas program of education is not approved for VA education benefits, work with your institution and VA to get it approved.
If your program is not approved, you can try working with your institution and VA to get it approved. The process is extensive and can be complicated for institutions, including those within the United States, not to mention those overseas which may be less familiar with VA requirements and procedures. It’s also possible foreign institutions have policies that conflict VA requirements. It’s crucial that you begin working with your institution as early as possible to pursue program approval as the process can take several months.
Consider the following to work backwards in developing your timeline. VA recommends you apply for benefits at least 120 days prior to beginning your program, and you’re supposed to apply for benefits after you’ve confirmed your program is approved. This means you should ensure your program is approved no later than 4 months prior to enrollment so you can apply for benefits at the 120-day mark. Realistically, though, you should check for program approval much earlier because your program may not be approved. In that case, the institution will need to complete an approval application and VA will need additional time to review it and issue a determination—a process that can take months depending on the pace of the parties.
To begin the approval process, you can e-mail [email protected]. You’ll have to provide the name of the overseas institution, the address, and name of the program you’d like to enroll in. VA can confirm whether a program is approved and supply guidance on next steps if it is not.
Keep in mind, what VA requires of overseas institutions for program approval is substantially similar if not entirely the same as what it requires for U.S.-based institutions.
Challenges encountered with overseas program approval are often the product of institutions’ lack of familiarity with VA education benefit requirements, VA processes, and, in some cases, an inability to comply due to conflicting policies.
3. Ask about Yellow Ribbon benefits.
Check with your institution about whether they participate in VA’s Yellow Ribbon Program. You can search for your institution here, but keep in mind that the information on overseas institutions may not be as up to date as it is for domestic colleges and universities. Remember that participating in the Yellow Ribbon program is optional for institutions and that overseas schools may not be familiar with the program.
It’s a good idea to check with your institution and VA about whether your school participates in the Yellow Ribbon Program.
You can find more information about using your VA education benefits with foreign programs here.
Student Veterans of America continues to work to reduce obstacles for VA education beneficiaries overseas. We’re advocating for legislation that would simplify overseas benefit payments and working directly with VA to better understand and address approval delays as well as to update resources like the GI Bill Comparison Tool and Yellow Ribbon School Finder.
Questions, concerns, or suggestions? Reach out to SVA’s Government Affairs Team at [email protected].