Is studying abroad risky and expensive? Not always. In this article, we discuss the options for free education, compare universities and countries, and figure out what you still have to pay for.

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Is it possible to study abroad for free?

Free University of Berlin
Free University of Berlin

Free universities abroad certainly exist, and anyone who meets the requirements of the university or country can enter them. There are two main ways of doing so.

The first option is to get a scholarship with full tuition funding. Such an opportunity is available in almost every country, like the USA, Canada, Greece, Italy, and Denmark. But receiving 100% tuition coverage is challenging — you have to seriously prepare for admission. Achievements will be required not only in academic studies, but also in sports, creative pursuits, and volunteering. This is what the average profile of a student receiving funding from a US university looks like:

  • average GPA of 5.0
  • Participation in school, city, and national olympiads
  • Average SAT score of 1400-1500 or higher out of 1600 (ACT 27-32)
  • Average TOEFL iBT score of 100 (IELTS 7.0) and above
  • Volunteering experience or other socially involved activities

Scholarships abroad

The second way is to go to a country where education is initially free. But there are several nuances here:

  • In some countries, education is free only in the local language. We recommend pulling your language proficiency up to the C1 level, even if the requirements indicate a lower level. This way, you will learn more effectively and stay on top of the curriculum.
  • Before you prepare for admission to a free university, check out the cost of living in the country. It may turn out that you save money on your studies, but spend a fortune on housing and other living costs, in turn paying more than you would at other paid universities. For example, you can study at the expense of the government in Norway, but not all universities pay the scholarships necessary to compensate for living. Granted, studies there will cost 15,000-25,000 USD per year.

How much does free education cost?

Faculty of Law at Charles University
Faculty of Law at Charles University

If you are proficient in the local language, you can study for free in Finland, Argentina, Poland, the Czech Republic, Estonia, and Greece. In Germany and Norway, even English-language programs are available. However, not all of these so-called "free" universities are budget-friendly. Possible costs at free universities:

  • Semester fees of around 300-400 USD. These include public transportation fees, libraries, and student discounts. They are charged in Germany and Norway.
  • Certificate of financial solvency — 4,000-14,000 USD in your bank account or confirmation of third-party financing. This is a mandatory requirement for obtaining a visa in almost every country.
  • Application fees of around 100-150 USD, required for university admission.
  • Membership in a student union — 60-100 USD. This is mandatory in countries such as Finland[1].
  • Medical insurance — 60-300 USD. This is one of the conditions for obtaining a visa in Europe.
  • Language courses at universities — 3,000-4,000 USD. It will be necessary to take such a course if your language proficiency is insufficient for studying. They will ease the admission and adaptation process.

Where to get a free education

Oslo University library
Library at Oslo University, Norway

The following table shows living expensesCosts for accomodation and food in countries with free education and the average salaries of university graduates.

CountryLiving expenses per monthSalary per monthVisa requirement per yearTop 500 universities (QS)
Germany1,504 USD2,928 USD11,670 USD38
Finland1,584 USD2,903 USD7,588 USD7
Argentina648 USD488 USD-5
Norway2,142 USD3,833 USD13,755 USD4
Poland658 USD932 USD4,504 USD4

Czech Republic

1,107 USD1,266 USD4,585-5,731 USD1
Estonia588 USD1,335 USD6,877 USD1
Greece523 USD829 USD5,631 USD1

In Germany, it is believed that education should be accessible to everyone, and is thus paid for by the state[2]. There are exceptions only at private universities, in some specialized master's programsFor example, MBA programs and in Baden-Württemberg.

  • Universities charge a student fee of 185-810 USD
  • There are 117 English-language bachelor’s programs, and 830 master’s programs
  • Foreign students are allowed to combine their studies with work (20 hours a week)
  • Foreign students are required to have health insurance, which costs 90-110 USD[3]
  • After graduating, you can stay in the country for 18 months to look for work[4]

In Finland, education for foreigners has been paid since 2016, but that is an exception for those who know Finnish or Swedish[5]. In English, free education is only available for doctorate programs.

  • Students can work 25 hours a week, but they will not be able to find a job without knowing the Finnish language.
  • Many universities conduct entrance examinations.
  • In addition to hostels, it is common to find student apartments which cost 180-430 USD.
  • After graduation, you can stay in the country for a year to look for work.

In Argentina, education is free only for bachelor’s programs. However, master's programs are very cheap — from 200 USD per year.

  • Instead of entrance exams, you need to pass an annual preparatory program.
  • There are no work restrictions for students.
  • It is possible to apply for citizenship after two years of residence in the country.

In Norway, the standard of living is very expensive, but education is free at every level. However, universities do not offer scholarships that could compensate for living expenses[3]. Most often, they only offer exchange programs.

  • It is impossible to enter a university after the eleventh grade, you need to complete a preparatory program or the first year of the university in your home country.
  • There are only 27 English-language bachelor’s programs.
  • A student visa is not issued for taking language courses at universities[6].

In the Czech Republic, if you know the local language, you can study for free at all levels.

  • To enter the country, you need to pass two exams: language and field of study.
  • Student benefits and insurance are not available to people over 26.
  • Students have no restrictions on working hours.
  • After graduation, students have nine months to find a job.

In Poland, foreigners with a certificate indicating a B2 language proficiency can study without payment. Universities have language courses that will improve your chances of admission, but cost 3,439 USD per year.

  • There is low competition among university entrants.
  • You have nine months to look for a job after graduation.

In Estonia, programs in the local language are free. But if you fail to cope with the workload (less than 75% of students pass the courses), education will become paid.

  • Language courses cost 1,375 USD/per year.
  • A visa is valid for nine months after graduation.
  • There are no restrictions on working hours for students.

In Greece, education is free in the local language. However, you must take a mandatory language course before or after admission to a universitynot necessary if you know the language. The course costs 930 USD per year.

  • For admission, only a high GPA is required.
  • Students receive benefits for all types of transportation, theater, cinema, concerts, as well as free meals at university cafeterias.
  • Few dorm rooms are available. The average price for renting an apartment in Athens is 283-397 USD/month.
Library at the University of Helsinki
Library at the University of Helsinki, Finland

Universities with free tuition

Ranking (QS)UniversityCountryCityLanguage levelConditionsDetails
54Technical University of MunichGermanyMunich

German B2

English TOEFL 88 IELTS 6.5

300 USD/per semesterSemester fees and other payments

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62Ludwig Maximilian UniversityGermanyMunich

German B2

English TOEFL 80
IELTS 6.5

450 USD/per semesterSemester fees and other paymentsNavigate
69University of Buenos AiresArgentinaBuenos AiresSpanish B2Complete the Foundation Program (one year)Admission is based on GPA and interviewNavigate
104University of HelsinkiFinlandHelsinkiFinnish B2

130 USDStudent union membership + medical insurance

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112Aalto UniversityFinlandEspooFinnish B2130 USDStudent union + medical insuranceNavigate
121Humboldt UniversityGermanyBerlin

German B2

English TOEFL 84 IELTS 6.0

315 USD/semesterSemester fees and other paymentsNavigate
130Free University of BerlinGermanyBerlin

German B2

EnglishThere is only one bachelor's program in English TOEFL 80 IELTS 5.0

357 USD/semestersemester fees and other paymentsNavigate
135University of OsloNorwayOslo

Norwegian B2

English TOEFL 90 IELTS 6.5

80 USD/semesterFee for the first semesterNavigate
144RWTH Aachen UniversityGermanyAachen

German B2

EnglishThere are no bachelor's programs in English
TOEFL 80 IELTS 6.5

343 USD/semesterFee for the first semesterNavigate
159Berlin University of TechnologyGermanyBerlin

German B2

English
TOEFL 87
IELTS 5.0

300 USD/semester

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171University of BergenNorwayBergen

German B2

EnglishThere are no bachelor's programs in English
TOEFL 90 IELTS 6.5

65 USD/semesterFee for the first semesterNavigate
214University of HamburgGermanyHamburg

German B2

English
TOEFL 80 IELTS 6.5

318 USD/semester

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266Charles UniversityCzech RepublicPragueCzech B1-Navigate
295University of TurkuFinlandTurkuFinnish B2130 USDStudent union membership + medical insurance

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300University of TartuEstoniaTartuEstonian B1-Navigate
308University of WarsawPolandWarsawPolish B2-Navigate
309Jagiellonian UniversityPolandKrakowPolish B2-Navigate
358University of JyväskyläFinlandJyväskyläFinnish B2130 USDStudent union membership + medical insuranceNavigate
363Norwegian University of Science and TechnologyNorwayTrondheim

Norwegian B2

English
TOEFL 90 IELTS 6.5

66 USDFee for the first semesterNavigate
369University of TromsoNorwayTromso

Norwegian B2

English
TOEFL 60 IELTS 5.0

72 USDFee for the first semester

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373University of Chemistry and Technology, PragueCzech RepublicPragueCzech B2-Navigate
377University of OuluFinlandOuluFinnish B2130 USDStudent union membership + medical insuranceNavigate
403Czech Technical UniversityCzech RepublicPragueCzech B2-Navigate
414Lappeenranta University of TechnologyFinlandLappeenrantaFinnish B2130 USDStudent union membership + medical insuranceNavigate
477National Technical University of AthensGreeceAthensGreek B2-Navigate

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