Studying abroad from the UK: A Complete Guide


It’s increasingly common for UK students to complete part of their studies abroad. This might be as part of a formal study abroad programme for just a short period, by going to university abroad for undergraduate studies, or by taking part in a masters abroad. There are a wide range of options if you’re interested in studying abroad, so you’ll be able to find the course you want, in an interesting location, and could even choose somewhere with a lower cost of living compared to the UK, to make your money go further.

This guide covers all you need to know about the benefits of studying abroad, and how to choose where to go, as well as some ideas on how to keep your costs down when living abroad. Whether you fancy studying in New Zealand to be close to nature - or studying in Europe so you’re still close to home - overseas study can be a great experience.

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Going to university can be expensive. Classes you have to pay for, books you have to buy and, if possible, you want to enjoy student life as well. Maybe you’ve been saving money to go and study abroad, or you have family or friends who are helping you out, either way, sending money abroad can be a costly business.

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Why study abroad?

Studying abroad is about more than just completing your degree, or getting a better feel for your chosen subject. You’ll also have the opportunity to explore a new country, practise a foreign language, immerse yourself in an unfamiliar culture, and build precisely the sort of soft skills many employers are looking for.

Overseas study can really make you stand out from the crowd after graduation, as you’re showing your flexibility and curiosity about new places and experiences. You may even find that the best provider of the course you want to take is based abroad - so by choosing to study in a new country you get a higher standard of teaching. It’s also pretty common for British students to choose overseas study to find places with lower tuition fees, better financial aid, and lower day-to-day costs.

Studying abroad: Things to Consider

Studying overseas is a big decision, and you’ll want to think through your options thoroughly. Here are some pointers to help you decide where you should go if you’re considering going to university abroad, or taking part in an overseas exchange.

Make use of university league tables, and compare international university rankings

The QS World University Rankings are a great place to start when choosing a university abroad. These global rankings can be sorted and ranked by level of study, country, and subject, so you’ll be able to find the very best universities in the world for your particular course. Or you could select the top universities in a particular country, if you have already decided that a specific destination will work well for you.

If you’re considering studying in the US, you’ll be pleased to hear that the top 4 universities in the world are there - MIT, Stanford, Harvard, and Caltech. Switzerland, Singapore, China, Australia and Hong Kong all also get universities in the top 25 global rankings - good news if you have your heart set on studying in Europe, or were looking for an excuse to study in Australia or Asia.¹

English-speaking universities in Europe

You may be thinking that your only options for overseas study are in English speaking countries. While studying in Australia, New Zealand or the US might be great fun, you do have other choices available too. In fact, many European countries offer university level courses in English.

You can get ideas to inspire your research from the QS Top Universities website. Countries offering a high number of taught courses in English include Germany, the Netherlands, the Nordic states and Greece, although you’ll also find English as the main instruction language at universities elsewhere. Try Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Israel for example.²

Of course, if you’re looking for an extra challenge - and are keen to build new skills while you study, you could also consider taking a course taught in a foreign language too. Perfect your language skills, while getting a full undergraduate degree, taking a masters, or getting credits towards your UK study with a programme like Erasmus.³

What to study in university?

Of course, whether you choose to study in the UK or study abroad, you need to think carefully about the course you take. It’s a very personal decision, but there are lots of resources out there to help you pick apart your options. A quick google search will turn up a lot of tools, from online profiling quizzes, to descriptions of courses, and statistics about the sort of professions people end up in based on their degree choices.

Invest some time in researching the best options for you, using your preferences, strengths, and insight from your teachers, friends and family, to get a rounded picture.

Where to study abroad?

Where you study will influence your university experience on many levels. Choosing a foreign language course in a new country with an unfamiliar culture, will be quite different to choosing to study in an English speaking country like the US or Australia. Here are some points to consider when choosing a location that will suit your needs.

Studying abroad in America

The US has a staggering 12 of the top rated 25 universities in the world.¹ While you’ll find a wide range of courses on offer, and language shouldn’t be a barrier, there are big differences both in how US study programmes are arranged and graded, and how students tend to live their daily lives. This alone makes for an adventurous experience, whether you’re planning on doing a study abroad programme for just a semester, or completing a full degree.

University fees in the US can be on the high side, and UK students will also need to get an appropriate visa before they are able to head over to start their studies.

Studying in Europe

Studying in Europe can appeal to British students who are able to balance a great education, with quick budget flights home - and may even be able to take university courses for free.

Many European countries offer a range of courses in English in their major universities.² In some countries, such as the Nordic states, Greece and Austria, EU students can access free university education. In a very small handful of countries, including Norway and public universities in some parts of Germany, you may be able to get free university level education even if you’re not an EU/EEA national.

Universities in New Zealand or Australia

With English as a main language and universities among the top in the world¹, both New Zealand and Australia offer many options for UK students interested in living abroad. Of course, there are a wide variety of options, including large universities in the major cities, which provide plenty to do, but may be a little pricey, through to smaller universities outside of the big cities which are likely to come with a cheaper cost of living and a different insight into life abroad.

Of course, for British students, the main challenge with studying in Australia or New Zealand is the travel time - and cost - from the UK. There’s no getting away from the fact it’s on the other side of the world - which may excite or intimidate you depending on your outlook.

Cost of studying abroad

The costs of study will vary widely depending on where in the world you want to go, and the type of lifestyle you choose to have. Here are a few of the key costs you need to think about, with some global examples:

Type of fee/cost What you may need to pay
Tuition fees Here are some examples, for international students studying in different popular universities: University of Chicago, US - USD55,425/yearETH Zurich, Switzerland - CHF1,298/year⁴University of Sydney, Australia - AUD7,000/year⁵
Housing Monthly rent in the city centre, one bedroom apartment: Chicago - USD1,803⁶Zurich - CHF1,723⁷Sydney - AUD2,608⁸ Specific student accommodation may be available at some universities
Day to day living Estimate of costs of living for a month for a single person - excluding rent: Chicago - USD985⁶Zurich - CHF1,510⁷Sydney - AUD1,359⁸

As well as checking out the costs of the course you want to follow, it’s also well worth understanding the opportunities for scholarships and other funding opportunities. In Europe, you might look at Erasmus funding, for example. It’s also worth checking whether or not you will be able to work while you’re studying, to give you an additional source of income. In Europe you will be free to live and work as long as you’re an EU citizen - in other countries your visa may dictate the work you’re allowed to take on.

When you’re studying abroad you’ll need to have a way to manage your money across different currencies, to make day to day spending easy, and cut the costs of currency conversion. A great way to avoid poor exchange rates, and send and receive international payments all over the world, is to get a Wise borderless account. You’ll get your own local bank details for the UK, US, Australia, New Zealand and the euro area, so you can receive payments for free, and hold your money in any of dozens of different global currencies all in the same account. This can save you time - and make sure you can spend more on yourself, and less on bank fees.

Countries with free university

At present there are a number of countries in Europe which offer free university places for undergraduate degrees for all EU students. This policy will change from time to time, and there are also a broad range of other requirements to gain a place on these courses. That means you’ll need to thoroughly check your eligibility for the countries you’re interested in.

Countries currently providing fee free university places for EU citizens:

  • Austria
  • Denmark
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany (also free for eligible students from other countries)
  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • Norway (also free for eligible students from other countries)
  • Poland
  • Slovenia
  • Sweden

If you’re considering joining the large numbers of UK students studying abroad, you’re in for a life changing experience. Not only can you further your education, you’ll also get a chance to immerse yourself in a new culture and explore a different part of the world. Take some time to research to find the right location and course for you - and don’t forget to also look for ways to cut out unnecessary costs. Grab yourself a Wise multi-currency account and you could avoid exchange rate markups and high international bank fees - leaving you more in your pocket to enjoy your new adventure.

Sources used:


Sources checked: 24-May 2019.

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