Studying abroad

Studying abroad is one of the ways in which a traveller can live in a particular city for an extended period. Many people choose to study in a foreign country for various reasons. The quality of education in another country may be better than in their home country, or cost-of-living or educational costs may be lower. Others choose to study in a particular country to improve their proficiency in a particular language. Often, studying abroad will expose you to a different culture in a way that would not be possible in your home country, or even by travelling to that country as a tourist.


See also: Visa

While you may not need a visa for short visits to certain countries as a tourist or for business, going there as an international student generally requires a longer stay than going there just as a casual tourist. In general, staying in any foreign country for an extended period of time will require you to obtain a visa in advance. Student visas generally also have different requirements and application procedures from normal tourist or business visas. In general, you will need an offer letter from the institution you wish to study at, and also show evidence of funds to support yourself for at least the first year of your course. Check with the institution, as well as the immigration department for the country you wish to study in for detailed requirements.

Things to consider

Moving to a foreign country for the first time is a daunting experience for many people, and going abroad to study is no exception. Going to another country to study will need you to start making preparations many months in advance, from making the application to obtaining your visa and making final travel and accommodation arrangements, figure on the whole process taking anywhere from three to ten months. These are some questions for you to research on before you make a decision:

Often, culture shock is one of the main things people experience when moving overseas for the first time. You will have to adapt to the local customs and lifestyle, and these can often be radically different from your home country. In addition, the study environment also varies radically from country to country, and sometimes, even between different institutions in the same country. For instance, undergraduate courses in the United Kingdom tend to be very specialised and structured, and aim to provide their students with in-depth knowledge in their chosen major. In contrast, undergraduate courses in the United States require students to study a broad range of subjects, and aim to provide their students with knowledge in a well-rounded range of areas.

In addition, you will need to consider the language barrier. Most institutions teach in the official language(s) of the country they are in, meaning that unless you know that language well, you will have to put in more effort than the local students studying in their native language to get the same grades. Of course, this is great for those whose purpose of studying in a foreign country is to improve their proficiency in a foreign language (e.g. an Italian studying in Hong Kong to improve his Cantonese). However, if that is not your aim, then you should seriously consider the factors carefully, as having to learn a foreign language at the same time as having to juggle academic knowledge in your chosen major subject is often an unwelcome extra burden. Some institutions do have courses and entire programmes in a foreign language, often a lingua franca such as English, Arabic or Mandarin, or have the course literature in that language. Not knowing the local language will still be a drawback, as it will be used for much informal communication. Some institutions offer beginners' language courses for foreigners. The good news for English speakers, though, is that English has emerged as the international language of communication in science, engineering and medicine, and the vast majority of academic publications in those fields are done in English. This means that many of the more reputable institutions worldwide give postgraduate research students the option of completing their thesis in English instead of the official language of their respective countries.

Finally, you will need to take into account your school fees and cost of living. Many governments subsidise school fees for citizens and permanent residents of their respective countries, but these subsidies are usually not available to international students, meaning that you will have to pay your school fees in full. Sometimes, your home country's government, or a private company can cover all or part of your expenses by giving you a scholarship, but this will often mean that you have to work for your government or that company for a certain number of years after you have completed your studies. The cost of living varies considerably. It can be very cheap if you are in a small village in India or Southeast Asia, but living in major cities of the developed world such as New York, London, Tokyo, Hong Kong or Melbourne can be very expensive indeed. Also in countries where cost of living is generally cheap, this may not be true in cities with universities. There is often affordable accommodation for students, arranged e.g. by the university or the student union. The university may be able to give advice on such matters also when you have to use the private market.

Exchange Students

Another option for those who don't want to commit, or cannot afford to spend several years abroad is to go as an exchange student for a semester or a year. The universities you can study at on exchange is generally limited to those your home university has an exchange agreement with (bilateral or via international programmes such as Erasmus). Alternatively, some universities have branches in other countries (e.g. New York University has branches in Abu Dhabi and Shanghai), and students studying at the main campus are often allowed to spend some time studying at one of the overseas branches (and vice versa). The advantage of this is that you are generally not subject to international student fees if your home university is in your country of citizenship (or permanent residency).

Working while studying

In general, most countries do not issue student visas for international students to study part time. This means that international students are generally required to be enrolled as full time students. Restrictions on employment often apply to international students as well. Some countries do not allow international students to work at all, while some countries allow international students to take up part time employment under certain conditions. For instance, the UK and Australia allow international students to work for up to 20 hours a week, while the US has an additional restriction that international students may only work on campus. Check with the immigration department of the country you plan to study in for more details.

Where to go?

Deciding where to go is often one of the biggest considerations when choosing to study overseas. Some things that influence such decisions include language, distance from home and costs. The overall quality of tuition, as well as the expertise in your subject of choice at any specific institution should of course also be researched. Here is a summary of some of the more popular countries for international students.


Here is a table with information for the main English-speaking destinations.

UK USA Canada Australia New Zealand Ireland
Student visas UK USA Canada Australia NZ Ireland
Reviews of universities Times US News Macleans AEN
Official tourist information UK USA Canada Australia New Zealand Ireland

See our article on teaching English for some discussion of widely used English tests.

United States

Unsurprisingly, as the most powerful and influential country in the world, the United States is one of the top destinations for students wishing to pursue an education abroad. The United States is particularly known for its universities, many of which are ranked among the most prestigious universities in the world. Examples of such institutions include the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as well as a group of 8 of the world's most prestigious universities known as the Ivy League.

Institutions range from some of the world's most prestigious universities, to many lower-ranked institutions whose quality of education may be questionable. Unlike in many other countries, there is no centralized governmental body which regulates the academic standards for university education, meaning that universities are by and large free to decide their own admissions process, syllabi and academic standards. This means that the quality of education, study environment, and reputation varies widely from institution to institution. This also means that there is no centralized body which manages university applications, and you will need to apply directly to each institution you are interested in attending. However, practically all universities are accredited by non-governmental, regional academic standards bodies and many courses of study are accredited by similar bodies or by professional organizations (such as the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology for most engineering programs or the American Bar Association for legal studies). Even within the universities, lecturers are often given considerably more freedom to set their own syllabi and examinations than those in universities in many other countries, so two similar courses taught by different lecturers can also be drastically different in their focus and difficulty.

Most public universities are part of the state university systems, which are partially subsidized by state governments, and may have many campuses spread around the state, with hundreds of thousands of students. Private colleges are generally smaller (hundreds or a few thousand students), with a larger percentage of their students living on campus; some are affiliated with churches and may be more religious in character. Other kinds of colleges focus on teaching specific job skills, education for working adults, and providing inexpensive college-level education to local residents. Although nearly all colleges are open to students regardless of race, gender, religion, etc. many were originally established for a particular group (e.g. African-Americans, women, members of a particular religion) and may still attract primarily students from that group. Several private colleges remain female-only, there are a few male-only private colleges, and private religious colleges may expect students to practice the school's faith.

Bachelor's degree programs in the US are typically 4 years in length, and require a student to study a broad range of subjects, including several courses outside their chosen major, in order to graduate. Master's degree programs, which are typically 1-2 years in length, are usually more specialised, and typically require students to take advanced level courses, and in some cases require the completion of a thesis. PhD programs are typically at least 5 years in length, require the student to take advanced level courses, and also require the completion and successful defense of a research dissertation. Unlike in the UK, medicine and law degree programs are graduate programs in the US, and fall into a special category called professional doctorates, which are typically 3 years in length for law, and 4 years in length for medicine. Dentistry and veterinary medicine are also professional doctorates that require 4 years following the undergraduate degree. Pharmacy requires 4 years for the professional doctorate earned by practitioners, but students typically enter that program after only 2 years of undergraduate studies.

Students applying to American universities are usually required to sit for a standardized test. For undergraduate programs, this is typically the SAT or the ACT (some schools prefer one or the other, but all universities accept both). For graduate (UK: postgraduate) programs, the test required depends on the course of study. This is typically the MCAT for medicine, the LSAT for law, the GMAT for business, and the GRE for most other majors. Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) is also often required from students from countries where English is not the main native language.

Short courses that do not count as credits towards the awarding of an academic degree may be undertaken on a tourist visa, or under the visa-waiver program. Any courses that contribute credits towards the awarding an academic degree will require you to obtain a student visa in advance regardless of how short your stay in the US may be. (This rule does not apply to citizens of Palau, Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia.) In order to apply for a student visa, you will need to present an I-20 form from the institution, pay a SEVIS fee, and demonstrate evidence of sufficient funds to cover your tuition fees and living expenses for the duration of your course. You will also need to demonstrate your proficiency in English. Canadians and Bermudians are exempt from having to obtain a student visa, but are otherwise subject to the same requirements and restrictions as other international students. Note that unless you have applied for and received special permission in advance, international students are not allowed to work off campus in the United States.

Community colleges typically offer college-credit courses on an open-admissions basis; anyone with a high school degree or its equivalent and the required tuition payment can generally enroll. In large cities, open universities may offer short non-credit courses on all sorts of practical topics, from ballroom dance to buying real estate. They are a good place to learn a new skill and meet people. There are also several private for-profit universities that exist, and these generally have an open admissions policy as well, though their quality of education is often questionable, with many seen as nothing more than mere diploma mills.

Colleges are partially funded by "tuition" charged to the student (UK: "tuition fees"), which is often quite expensive, very commonly reaching into the tens of thousands of dollars per year. The most selective colleges (and hence, often the most desirable) run up to $40,000-50,000 per year, including both tuition and "room & board" in that price. In general, private universities charge the same tuition fees for both U.S. and international students. Public universities generally offer subsidized tuition fees only to U.S. citizens or permanent residents who reside in their state, meaning that students from other states are usually required to pay full tuition fees like international students. Most U.S. citizens and some permanent residents receive substantial financial assistance from the federal and state governments in the form of grants and low-interest loans, which are not available to non-citizens.

Often financial aid for foreign students is provided by their home country. They may be eligible for privately-funded "scholarships" intended to provide educational opportunities for various kinds of students. In addition, the US government also funds the Fullbright Scholarships, which allow international students to study in the US, though they would be required to return to their home countries to work immediately on completion of their program. PhD students at the more reputable universities are usually given a full tuition remission and living stipend by their respective institutions, though their availability to international students is often limited. Some U.S. and major global banks offer loans to foreign students, which usually require a citizen to guarantee that they'll be repaid. Contact the Financial Aid Office of any college you are interested in attending for more information about the sources of aid available.

College sports in the U.S. tend to get more attention than in other countries, with games between the top colleges often shown on television during prime time slots. Many universities offer athletic scholarships to students, including international students, who are outstanding in a particular college sport, even if their academic record may be less than stellar.

Almost all U.S. colleges and universities operate web sites (in the .edu domain) with information for prospective students and other visitors. Information on touring a handful of them has been collected into Touring prestigious and notable universities in the U.S.

United Kingdom

With its long history as a centre of education, the United Kingdom is also a very popular destination for international students. Unsurprisingly, it is home to some of the world's oldest and most prestigious universities such as the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge, collectively known among locals as "Oxbridge". Of course, there are also many other institutions which are of good standing domestically and internationally. London is also known as a centre of education and is home to more international students than any other city in the world.

The vast majority of British universities are public universities, and there are only two private universities in the UK.

Bachelor's degree programmes in the UK are usually 3 years in length, though engineering programmes are usually 4 years, and medicine is 6 years. Bachelor's degree programmes in the UK tend to be very specialised and structured, and generally require students to demonstrate an in-depth understanding in their chosen major. Unlike in the US, medicine and law are typically undergraduate programmes in the UK. Master's degree programmes are typically 1 year in length, and can be either coursework or research programmes. PhD programmes are typically 3 years in length, and require the completion and successful defence of a research thesis. However, some universities are also beginning to offer 4-year PhD programmes, which are modelled after the US system, and require students to undergo a year of lab rotations before starting their PhD thesis project.

Standardised testing is generally not practised in the UK, though some MBA programmes require prospective students to sit for the GMAT before they can apply.


Due to its proximity to Asia, reputation for good quality and relatively easy admission criteria and visa arrangements, Australia is a popular destination for international students. All Australian universities actively seek international students, and students from overseas make up a high proportion of enrollments in many institutions as well as across the university system as a whole.

The most prestigious universities in Australia are known as the Group of Eight, and while they are not as prestigious as the top American and British universities, they are in general of a high standard, and eight are consistently ranked among the top 100 in the world. The standard of the other Australian universities is also generally very good, and few Australian employers are concerned about which university job candidates graduated from given the widespread confidence in academic standards across the system.

Most Australian universities are large public institutions, and there are only a handful of private universities (of which Bond University is the best-known). It's not unusual for universities to operate across multiple campuses in their home state or city, and several have international campuses as well. While most international students study in institutions located in Australia's major cities, some regional universities are very popular. Bridging courses and other support to settle into Australia are generally provided to international students, but are not always adequate.

Useful resources to research and compare Australian universities include the Good Universities Guide and the national government's MyUniversity website. The government's Study in Australia website also provides information about Australia's tertiary education system and the application process for potential international students.

Australian students attend high school for six years, and enter university or vocational education at seventeen or eighteen years of age. (In Australia, neither "school" nor "college" are used to refer to tertiary institutions; they are referred to only as "universities", or "unis" for short - a 'college' might be a primary or secondary school, or more commonly a form of on-campus accommodation). Australian undergraduate programs are usually three to four years in length. A fifth year is compulsory in some professional undergraduate programs such as engineering, law, medicine and dentistry, with a sixth year being compulsory for medicine. Students in three-year degree programs who perform well during the three years can take an optional fourth year known as honours, which generally involves a year-long research project and requires the completion of a thesis, and would graduate with a bachelor honours degree. In Australia, the bachelor honours degree is regarded as a qualification above the regular bachelor's degree, but below a master's degree. Students enrolled in some four year programmes can incorporate their honours thesis into their fourth year, while in other's, the awarding of a bachelor honours degree is solely based on the student's GPA.

Postgraduate studies in Australia fall into two classes: coursework and research. Coursework degrees are generally at the Masters level, and in some cases involve a research component which requires the completion of a thesis. Students whose coursework Masters degrees involve a research component usually have the option of not completing the research component, and obtaining a Graduate Diploma instead. Research degrees are at the Masters and Doctoral level. To qualify for a PhD programme, one is generally required to have either a bachelor honors degree of class 2A and above, or a master's degree. PhD programmes are exclusively research degrees, and require the successful completion of a research thesis or a series of papers to graduate. However, unlike in the US and UK, PhD students in Australia are typically not required to defend their thesis.

Trinity College, part of the University of Melbourne

There are 42 Universities in Australia, and all compete vigorously for overseas students. The use of the word "University" in an institution's name is strictly regulated under Australian law, meaning that all universities are required by the Australian government to meet certain minimum academic standards. Each university has sections on their websites which describe the courses available to overseas students, and they will help you to apply and obtain accommodation and transport. Applications for university courses (and the appropriate visa) will need to be lodged before coming to Australia. Courses range from single year diplomas to full length undergraduate and post-graduate degrees. There is a choice of the sandstone universities, with their history and prestige, modern city universities, and regional (country town) universities, with open space and cheaper accommodation.

All tuition at university level is in English, save for courses that specifically focus on other languages. Students who have not previously earned a qualification in an English speaking programme (or passed high school English) will have to take one of a number of English competency tests (usually the IELTS) before being allowed to enrol.


For domestic students, as well as international students with Australian high school qualifications, undergraduate admission to university is centralised at the state level. You make a single application for admission to the state admissions body stating your course preferences. The universities select students from this common applicant pool based upon their ranking and preferences. Unless you are applying for a creative arts degree, your ranking will be based solely on previous academic performance at both high school and previous university studies.

In contrast, other international undergraduate students apply directly to individual universities or through a non-government education agent. The federal government's Study in Australia website explains the process.

Postgraduate admission is managed by individual universities for both domestic and international students, and you will need to apply separately to each institution you are considering.

Tuition fees

The full fees payable by overseas students are competitive compared to many Western universities. Australian citizens receive substantially reduced fees thanks to government subsidies, and also have the option of deferring payment until they are earning income through the FEE-HELP government-run loan scheme. Permanent residents of Australia, as well as New Zealand citizens also pay reduced tuition fees, but are generally not entitled to defer payment. Other students will generally be required to pay full tuition (usually 3 times what Australian citizens/permanent residents pay) on enrolment each semester.

Scholarships are rarely awarded for undergraduate or postgraduate coursework degrees. A comparatively large number of scholarships are available for postgraduate research usually covering both tuition, where required, and living costs. These are awarded by individual universities. Admission to a PhD programme is usually conditional on receiving a scholarship

Vocational education

Foreign students can also undertake education in Australian vocational education providers. There is a large system of government-run institutions across the country (typically called 'TAFEs'), and hundreds of private-sector providers. The standard of education delivered by the private-sector providers differs considerably, however, and there were several scandals about the non-provision of training which was promised to foreign students in the early 2010s, leading to significant government-led reforms to the sector.


With its proximity to the United States, but with arguably more relaxed visa regulations and less competitive admissions to its universities, Canada is also emerging as a popular destination for international students. Universities in Canada generally follow the US system, though unlike in the US, the Canadian government oversees and sets minimum academic standards that its universities have to maintain. Being a bilingual country, depending on which university one goes to, the medium of instruction could be English or French. Some universities are at least partially bilingual; for example, while McGill teaches exclusively in English, students may submit coursework in either English or French except in courses devoted to learning a specific language. The most famous universities in Canada are the University of Toronto in Toronto, McGill University in Montreal and the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

New Zealand

Renowned for its breathtaking scenery, New Zealand is a popular destination for international students from the Pacific islands, as well as students from Asia. The most famous university in New Zealand is the University of Auckland located in Auckland.


With an Asian environment, but with English as the medium of instruction, Singapore is a popular destination for international students from all over Asia. The National University of Singapore is one of the top ranked universities in Asia, with Nanyang Technological University also consistently ranked among the top 100 in the world. In addition, the Singapore government has been providing a lot of funding to turn Singapore into a biomedical research hub, so there is substantial funding available for research students.

Bachelor degree programmes in Singapore are typically 3-4 years, though medicine is 6 years. Students in 3-year bachelor degree programmes who perform well academically can take an optional 4th year, during which they conduct a research project an write a thesis, and upon successful completion graduate with a bachelor honours degree. Students in 4-year programmes are typically awarded bachelor honours degrees based on their GPA. Master degree programmes are typically 1-2 years, and can be either coursework or research degrees. PhD programmes are exclusively research degree programmes that require the completion and successful defence of a thesis, and typically take about 4 years to complete.

Non English-speaking


Known worldwide for its advanced industries and technological prowess, Germany is rapidly becoming a center for international students looking to pursue higher education. Driven by stricter visa and immigration policies and skyrocketing tuition fees and living expenses in popular study destinations (like the UK and the US etc), international students are increasingly opting Germany as their preferred education destination. Germany's long standing history of education (with colleges as old as those in England) and state-funded education (meaning a very little or NO tuition fee) was probably overlooked because of the language barrier (most of the education is still imparted in German), but now more and more German universities are offering programs taught in English, either partly or completely. German government is actively promoting its higher education in developing countries (such as China, India and Brazil) by setting up DAAD centers worldwide, offering generous scholarships, research grants and counseling support to students wishing to go for higher education abroad.

Germany's universities are recognised internationally; in the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) for 2013, four of the top 100 universities in the world are in Germany, and 14 of the top 200. Most of the German universities are public institutions, charging tuition fees of only around €60 per semester (and up to €500 in the state of Niedersachsen) for each student. Thus, academic education is open to most citizens and studying is very common in Germany. Although the dual education system, that combines practical and theoretical educations and does not lead to academic degrees, is more popular than anywhere else in the world - while it is a role model for other countries.

The oldest universities in Germany are also among the oldest and best regarded in the world, with Heidelberg University being the oldest (established in 1386 and in continuous operation since then). It is followed by Leipzig University (1409), Rostock University (1419), Greifswald University (1456), Freiburg University (1457), LMU Munich (1472) and the University of Tübingen (1477).


With its rising status as a global power, China is becoming an increasingly popular destination for international students. In fact, the Chinese government has many scholarships that aim to attract international students to Chinese universities. China's most prestigious universities are Peking University and Tsinghua University, both located in Beijing, and both of which are consistently ranked among the top 100 in the world. The downside is that the medium of instruction is almost exclusively Chinese, so you will need to take a language course before you can attend.


As a major centre for research and development, Japan is also a popular destination for international students from around Asia. Japan's most prestigious university is the University of Tokyo, located in Tokyo, and considered to be one of the two most prestigious universities in Asia. Another famous university in Japan is Kyoto University, located in Kyoto, which is also consistently ranked among the top 50 in the world.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong has also been a major centre for education since its days as a British colony. Hong Kong's most prestigious university is the University of Hong Kong, considered to be one of the two most prestigious in Asia. Two other universities, the Chinese University of Hong Kong and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology are also regularly ranked among the world's top 100. Course materials and textbooks are usually in English, though classes are often conducted in Cantonese.

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