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Best places to study abroad

Date of publishing: 2016.09.20     Published by Attila M.

Study abroad destination choices

Choosing the best place for your international studies is a highly subjective decision, so we are here to provide guidance on how to choose a study abroad program that most fits your preferences, skills and future goals. Also in this article we will present some of the most popular countries and cities, that are being chosen by thousands of international students every year.

You have already decided that you want to study abroad, so you are a step closer to become an international student. There are numerous benefits of studying abroad, but you must think twice where you go, because this experience will have a great impact on your future. Choosing the host country is by far the most important decision of all. In order to enjoy all the advantages of studying abroad, you must consider several factors regarding where to study abroad.

Geographical preference

First of all you have to take a look at the world map to decide which continent is the most interesting, affordable or reachable from your home country. International students have various study abroad goals and certain continents may better cater your needs as well.

The biggest home for international students is Europe, that is partly due to the advanced student mobility programs between European countries. Many choose Europe because tuition fees are relatively low while the quality of education is still excellent. International students can practice popular languages like German, French and Italian in native envrionment and traveling between European countries is often ridiculously cheap.

The second most favored continent is America, where the most popular countries are the USA and Canada, while Central and South America account for less than 1% of the hosted international students respectively. Highly developed North-American countries are traditionally popular locations to learn world languges and get into well-reputed, globally recognized institutions and research centers.

Asia is targeted by a growing number of foreign students and there is no surprise in that. Japan has been a popular study abroad destination for decades, but now that China, Korea, Singapure, Malaysia and countries from the Arab world have experienced exponential economic growth, they invested a lot to attract international students. Their exotic cultures, languages and the emerging economic importance make Asia a desirable location to study abroad.

Australia and New Zealand have been in the game for a long time, just like the anglophone countries in other contienents. International students can choose between a variety of well-reputed institutions and trailblazers can do the trip of their life.

Africa is by far the most underrepresented continent when it comes to international education. The political unrest deters many, however the exotic landscape and culture are still luring tens of thousands to study in Africa.

Countries to study abroad

You rolled the globe on your desk and you picked a continent, now it's time to narrow it down to a country. The economic development is a key indicator to decide where should you study abroad, because it helps you to set realistic expectations regarding the:

  • level of safety,
  • consumer prices,
  • reputation of higher educational institutions,
  • political and economic stability and the
  • living standards while studying abroad.

Generally the more developed countries offer better circumstances concerning the above mentioned factors. Based on HDI (Human Development Index) we distinguish several categories:

  • Very high level of development: the USA, Japan, Australia, Saudi-Arabia, South-Korea and Western Europe
  • High level of development: China, Russia, Brazil, Mexico and Eastern Europe
  • Medium level of development: Egypt, India, Indonesia, South-Africa
  • Low level of development: Pakistan, Bangladesh and most African countries

First you need to figure out to which category your country belongs and then you can decide whether you want to maintain, decrease or increase the level of your conventional living standards. While the above indicators help you to narrow down the countries where you would like to study abroad, we kindly note here that these statistics do not forecast your study abroad experience. So studying in a highly developed country does not necessarily mean a better experience than doing a semester or a year in a less developed country and vica-versa. Anyways, you must consider these factors when choosing the most suitable place for you to study abroad.

Popular study abroad destinations

The rule of thumb is that the most popular places to study abroad are the nations that spend the most on the international education infrastructure and country branding. The most celebrated host countries offer advanced services for international student. They might be the best for you too, but not because they are popular, but because you make the most of your study abroad program.

Six countries host more than half of the international students in the world and anglophone countries make up one third of the global flow of international students.

In the following list you can see the top 55 countries, hosting over 90% of all international students.

Data we drawn from NAFSA database, 2014

Nowadays prestige matters, so you might want to take into consideration the international reputation of your future host university. Traditionally universities in Western countries (the US, UK, Germany, France, Australia) are ranked higher internationally then Asian or Arab higher education institutions, however the international education landscape is improving quickly in China, Malaysia and Saudi-Arabia as well. University ratings do not guarantee the best experience while studying abroad, but they ultimately represent the level of international recognition you can get after finishing your study abroad program.

From global to local factors


Some students prefer to travel to subtropic or mediterranean countries while others wish to try the Russian or Canadian winter. Extreme climates might be attractive: the monsune of India, the tropic weather of Brazil or Singapure or the mix of boundless deserts and modern cities in Arab countries. As a simple-minded, rational international student you might as well go for a convenient study abroad program by the sea or choose a climate that is similar to what you got accustomed in your home country. In any case, check the climate in the cities where you would like to study abroad and compare them to your home city: that way you can avoid some nasty elemental surprises.

Time zone difference from home

Your friends, relatives, girlfriend, boyfriend and even your dog/cat wants to hear about you. The eight hours time difference between Los Angeles and London or Paris and Sydney will put you to the test to keep in touch with people who need you at home, while going from Berlin to Rome will not cause any trouble, as you are staying in the same time zone. In that case you can tick that criterium.

Country specific knowledge hubs

The traditional study abroad destinations like the USA, the UK, Australia, Germany and France offer a wide range of programs in many fields, but newly emerged Asian economies, for instance China, Singapure and Saudi Arabia are catching up in the knowledge hub competition. Find a top performer host institution in your preferred industry.

Partner university options

In case you are an exchanges student, you have to ask questions at your international office to see what sort of study abroad partnerships your home university can offer. The bigger your university is, the more countries and universities you will find in the student mobility database.

City size

You may prefer to live in a megalopolis like Tokyo, Beijing, New York, Los Angeles, London or Moscow with a population over 10 million. If you like crowded places and people rushing everywhere, 24/7 shops on each corner, spectacular night life and an intercultural city, go for it.

In case you are not ready for the full throttle excitement or you have more modest needs but you still wish to use the metro,then you may choose a city that has a population between 1-10 million. There are hundreds of options, but consider cities like Madrid, Toronto, Miami, Berlin, Sydney just to mention some.

You will have an amazing study abroad experience in cities smaller then 1 million as well. Usually they are the second biggest cities of the country or the state/region/province. Public transport is much less complicated and the natural environment is more emphasized, however you have to compromise on the variety of clubs and bars.

Cultural distance

Think about the local culture of the potential study abroad destinations: you have to decide whether you want to challenge yourself and test your abilities in a truly culturally different environment or you are fine with the baby steps and you rather study abroad in a neighbour country, or a country where your native language is widely spoken. Going on a study abroad program from the USA, Germany or France to an Asian culture and vice versa might trigger a tremendous culture shock, while a French student stuyding in the French speaking part of Belgium will most likely manage with the cultural differences relatively easily.

Connect language and culture

Learning languages is more meaningful and more fun when you can test it in a native or intercultural environment. Mastering a language is not just about using a wide vocabulary and correct grammar, it is also about understanding a different way of thinking. You can't learn that from books, you have to get the feel of it. That kind of language and cultural exchange is also experienced by students whose native tongue is the same as in the host coutnry.

So for instance someone going from the US to the UK, Ireland or Australia will learn about the host culture through listening to locals speaking thei shared native language. The same goes for French, Spanish, German, Russian, Portuguese and other languages that are spoken in more than one country. Bigger groups of international students commonly converse in English between each other, but that shouldn't stop you from practicing your second language, because fellow international students may speak your second language as a native language. In general try to choose a host country where you can practice your second and third langauges in a native environment. If you want to practice your English, well, you are much less bound to specific countries.

Prices matter abroad, don't they?

You have to think about what you can conveniently afford or else you will face constant troubles while studying abroad. Not challenges, just endless troubles. Why would you want to study in a country where you would run out of money in the first month? We discussed prestige above, and yes it is an important factor, but not at any cost. Let's say you are able to grind money for the tuition fee, rent, groceries and your books, but you can't afford traveling and leading an active social life in your host country. That means you cut off most of your learning and networking opportunities and suffer from constant stress regarding your financial situation. It's simply not worth it.

There are various options to fund your study abroad program, so do try hard to get what you want: a full scholarship, a grant or other support may boost your study abroad opportunities. But in case none of these options worked out for you, then find a country where you can afford to enjoy the international student lifestyle without stressing about money. Cultural immersion, language learning and international experience are all for free, but you can only make the most out of them if your financial background is in order.

Instead of challenging your pocket (or your parents' pocket) take up the challenge to study in an emerging economy or in lesser advertised European countries. The quality of education is, the number of foreign professors and the size of the international student community is growing in every country. Your study abroad experience can be so much more meaningful if you can afford traveling and socializing with fellow international students.

Choose the golden middle road, find your own balance. Use these tables to see the approximate price ranges and find a country and city where you can have a balanced and meaningful study abroad experience!

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Best places to study abroad