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The 10 best places to study abroad—where to go to satisfy your wanderlust

Culture, courses, people and places: studying abroad comes with a host of benefits to help you grow as a person. Check out our online guide on 10 fantastic places to study around the world.

9 min read

In 2020, studying was all about having an internet connection, a desk, and an office chair at home. 2021 and beyond? The jury’s still out. But it’s never too early for you to think about studying abroad: so dust off the atlas, spin the globe, and see what options you have for doing a semester, a full year, or even your entire degree abroad. From Asia to South America, here’s our take on the 10 best places to study abroad. 

Note: the 2022 QS World University Ranking is provided for each university listed below.

1. Germany

With zero tuition fees, one of the world’s best nightlife hotspots (Berlin), two of the world’s best academic and business hubs (Munich and Frankfurt), cheap football tickets, and border access to nine other countries, Germany should always be near the top of the list when looking at the best places to study abroad. Here’s a bonus: at many universities in Germany, you receive a “Semesterticket” that enables you to enjoy free or discounted public transportation within the federal state you’re studying in—by bus, train, and tram. Now that’s value!

The facts:

  • Best universities: Technical University of Munich (50th), Heidelberg University (63rd), Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich (64th)
  • International students in Germany: 411,000
  • Tuition fees: None! Tuition fees were abolished in 2014
  • Average monthly rent: Plan to spend around €500-€600 for a one-bedroom apartment; €290-€350 for shared accommodation (expect to pay more in Berlin, Munich and Frankfurt, though)
  • Average monthly living costs: €750

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2. Switzerland

Hands down one of the best places to study abroad in terms of academic reputation, Switzerland has even more to offer beyond its first-rate colleges. With the Alps covering roughly 58% of the country, Switzerland has a six-month ski season, along with excellent hiking routes in the off-season. The cities there may be expensive, but what you get in return more than makes up for it—in 2019, three of the top 10 places to live in the world were found within Lady Helvetia’s borders (Zurich, Geneva, and Basel). 

The facts:

  • Best universities: ETH Zurich (8th), Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (14th), University of Zurich (70th)
  • International students in Switzerland: 19,000
  • Tuition fees per semester: Zero if you are on an exchange program (annual tuition fees for regular students are between €900 and €1,700 per year)
  • Average monthly rent: Expect to spend around €820-€1,800 for a one-bedroom apartment; €455-€820 for shared accommodation (Zurich and Geneva can end up costing more than this)
  • Average monthly living costs: Around €1,000 per month

3. Italy

Vespucci, Polo, Cabot, Columbus—these Italian explorers are famous for discovering vast areas of the world. You, too, could follow in their footsteps by navigating all that Italy has to offer—from the Roman ruins to Milanese style, Florentine museums and beyond. And don’t forget to do some exploring of what matters most—pizza! If you’re looking to work in art history, fashion, design, or archaeology, learning the language could give you a boost over the competition, too. 

The facts:

  • Best universities: Politecnio di Milano (142nd), University of Bologna (166th), Sapienza University of Rome (171st)
  • International students in Italy: 32,000
  • Tuition fees per semester: €450-€2,000 (these fees are means-tested, meaning you pay less or more depending on how much your parents earn as well as your own financial stability)
  • Average monthly rent: €600+ for a one-bedroom apartment; €250 for shared accommodation (expect to pay more in Venice and Rome)
  • Average monthly living costs: Around €500 per month

4. France

Although food, transportation, and entertainment may be a little pricier in France than some other locations on this list, you won’t mind when you’re buttering a croissant on a Parisian terrace overlooking the Seine. Or maybe you’d rather be exploring the winding streets of Marseilles, or perhaps museum-hopping in Lyon? Wherever you decide to study in France, you’ve got nothing Toulouse (ack—couldn’t help ourselves!). You’ll be in good company, too—1 in 8 people studying in France are international students.

The facts:

  • Best universities: Université PSL (44th), Institut Polytechnique de Paris (49th), Sorbonne University (72nd)
  • International students in France: 358,000
  • Tuition fees per semester: €0-€300 (plus a modest €91 campus contribution)
  • Average monthly rent: Plan to spend around €400 for a one-bedroom apartment; €200 for shared accommodation (count on these rates doubling if you’re eyeing up Paris as an option) 
  • Average monthly living costs: Around €500-€600

5. South Africa

Going off the beaten track has its benefits. With 700 public nature reserves, 19 national parks, a huge amount of wildlife, and three capital cities (Pretoria, Cape Town, and Bloemfontein), South Africa has a lot to offer to international students. It also shares a border with six different countries (Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Lesotho, and Mozambique), making it the perfect jumping-off point for exploring the entire south of the world’s second-largest continent.

The facts:

  • Best universities: University of Cape Town (226th), University of Witwatersrand (424th), University of Johannesburg (434th)
  • International students in South Africa: 45,000
  • Tuition fees: €1,160-€3,500 per semester
  • Average monthly rent: Around €600 for a one-bedroom apartment, €800 for mid-size accommodation; €300-€400 for shared accommodation
  • Average monthly living costs: Around €515 per month

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6. Austria

With the Alps on your doorstep, a culture that combines hundreds of years of heritage with a modern spirit, and a prime location in the heart of Europe, Austria is the gift that keeps on giving to international students. Lounge in a coffee house in Vienna, visit Mozart’s birthplace in Salzburg, or head to the opera in Graz—the cultural activities are endless, which is likely one reason why more than 1 in 4 students come from outside Austria to study (the low-to-non-existent tuition fees help, too). The country’s colleges also hold their own in the world rankings as well, with five universities in the top 500 of the 2022 QS World University Rankings.

The facts:

  • Best universities: University of Vienna (151st), Vienna University of Technology (180th), Graz University of Technology (277th)
  • International students in Austria: 60,000 (26% of students overall)
  • Tuition fees per semester: €0-€363 for EU/EAA students; €727 for all others
  • Average monthly rent: Around €650+ for a one-bedroom apartment; around €400 for shared accommodation
  • Average monthly living costs: €550

7. Japan

With its neon lights and breathtaking sights, Japan is one of the best places in the world to study for many reasons. There’s the cultural heritage spanning thousands of years, diverse cuisine, high educational standards, and clean, safe public spaces—to name a few. It’s expensive, which may be the reason why it attracts the fewest number of international students on this list, but there are a host of Japanese scholarships you can apply for to help with costs. Here’s another reason to give it a try—according to Ethnologue: Languages of the World, just 1 million people speak Japanese as a second language. You’ll be giving your career prospects a boost if you can master the language to a conversational level.

The facts:

  • Best universities: University of Tokyo (23rd), Kyoto University (33rd), Tokyo Institute of Technology (56th)
  • International students in Japan: 2,800
  • Tuition fees per semester: Around €1,400-€2,100 for a national university
  • Average monthly rent: Expect to spend €1,700 in more rural areas and around €3,400 in Tokyo
  • Average monthly living costs: Around €900+ per month

8. Australia

Boasting the third-highest number of international students in the world, Australia earns its place on the list of best places to study abroad thanks to its excellent academic institutions, breathtaking scenery, ease of communication (the national language is English, after all), and a multicultural society. Fanatical about surfing? Study in Sydney and you can head off to Bondi Beach after class. How about indie music festivals? Perth is your hotspot. More of a fan of tropical climates and national parks? Look no further than Darwin. The drawback to studying in paradise? It has some of the highest tuition fees in the world. Fortunately, there are various scholarships you can apply for to soften the blow.

The facts:

  • Best universities: Australian National University (27th), University of Melbourne (37th), University of Sydney (38th)
  • International students in Australia: 869,000
  • Tuition fees per semester: €6,100
  • Average monthly rent: Around €470-€1,070 for a one-bedroom apartment; €220 to €540 for shared accommodation (count on paying more in Perth and Sydney)
  • Average monthly living costs: Plan to spend between €660 and €950+

9. Spain

From the delicious cuisine to cultural activities, the Iberian Peninsula is one of the best places to study abroad. Spain’s Mediterranean coastline has an average of 300 days of sunshine per year (more than California!), and the food—including everything from EU-protected jamon iberico to tapas and turrón—is both cheap and delicious. Plus, the nights out start at 10 pm and often go on until well after dawn. Whether you’re on La Rambla in Barcelona or exploring the Guggenheim in Bilbao, you’ll find people who are friendly, engaging, and helpful. In fact, a survey by expat network InterNations found that over 80% of foreign residents felt extremely welcome in Spain. And with low tuition fees and living costs, you’ll have more disposable income available to invest in cultural and leisure activities.

The facts:

  • Best universities: Universitat de Barcelona (168th), Universidad Autònoma de Madrid (207th), Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (209th)
  • International students in Spain: 194,800
  • Tuition fees per semester: Around €400 to €1,250
  • Average monthly rent: Expect to spend €1,000 (in Madrid), €850 (in Barcelona), and €600 (elsewhere) for a one-bedroom apartment. Anything starting from €250 for shared accommodation
  • Average monthly living costs: Around €400

10. Argentina

Two reasons why Argentina is one of the best places to study abroad? Zero tuition fees and a high standard of education. But there’s so much more than that. Argentina is a country that combines the best of urban and natural life. Visit one of 100 movie theatres in Buenos Aires between classes, or party with activists, artists, and street performers in the port city of Rosario. Head off to the Patagonian Steppe, the Andes, or the coast, and sample asado, yerba mate, and empanadas on every street corner—you can do it all here! And it’s well worth learning the local Spanish variant, Rioplantense Castellano, so you can converse with people from all walks of life.

The facts:

  • Best universities: Universidad de Buenos Aires (69th), Pontificia Universidad Católica Argentina (322nd), Universidad de Palermo (391st)
  • International students in Argentina: 50,000
  • Tuition fees per semester: None—all public universities are tuition-free
  • Average monthly rent: Around €225 for a one-bedroom apartment; €100 for shared accommodation
  • Average monthly living costs: €200 per month

In this study, you can find more information on study costs and livability in more than 100 cities and 50 countries around the world.

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