There are countless advantages for American college students who choose to study abroad, from picking up a new language to gaining knowhow that will augur well for a role in a major corporation. Arguably the greatest benefit, though, is the experience of learning in an exciting and culturally stimulating international environment among peers from around the world. And given an increasingly globalized marketplace, this could be a key selling point on future graduates’ resumes – wherever their career paths take them.
Still, what price such a location switch? Well, as this list shows, it certainly needn’t be sky-high. Far from it. The following 30 international university towns present the perfect opportunity to pursue a valuable and rewarding overseas education without breaking the bank.
In order for a city to qualify for this article, it had to be the home of at least one university or college. In addition, a minimum of one authoritative source needed to have noted that the location is considered a major hub for students.
Cities were then ranked according to their mid-2014 “consumer price plus rent index” scores on Numbeo, an independent data collection website. This index represents the different locations’ prices of goods, services and accommodation rental rates in comparison to those of New York City. Numbeo uses New York as its benchmark, with a score of 100, so the lower figures recorded here correspond to how much more affordable the places on this list are when measured against the largest city in the United States.
30. Barcelona, Spain
Consumer Price Plus Rent Index: 57.34
The QS World University Rankings 2014/15 positioned the University of Barcelona and Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona as the 166th and 173rd best colleges worldwide, respectively, and as the top two such schools in Spain. This partly accounts for Barcelona’s 2013 ranking as QS’ joint-24th-best world city for students, but so too does a surprisingly low cost of living. Accommodation rental prices, for example, are less than a third of those in New York City, and even food shopping in the Spanish city should leave international students well over 30 percent better off than when buying groceries in the Big Apple. This will leave plenty of euros with which to enjoy hearty Catalan cuisine and the delights of Barcelona’s celebrated arts scene.
29. Dresden, Germany
Consumer Price Plus Rent Index: 56.48
An abundance of good nightlife is just one of the guarantees of a semester or two spent studying in Dresden. The German city boasts more than a dozen budget-conscious student nightspots, and the eminently affordable cost of living means learners can really indulge themselves. As of mid-2014, rental prices on accommodation are over 70 percent cheaper than they are in New York City; and as an added benefit, students aren’t even charged for undergraduate tuition at the 11 higher education establishments located here. The majority of Dresden’s learners are enrolled at Technische Universität Dresden, which is ideal for learners interested in pursuing careers at high-tech organizations like Infineon Dresden and Motorola, two of the city’s industry big-leaguers.
28. Lisbon, Portugal
Consumer Price Plus Rent Index: 48.68
Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Universidade Católica Portuguesa, Lisboa and the University of Lisbon are all possibilities for U.S. students considering academic time in Portugal’s capital. Such choice, however, shouldn’t be the sole reason to relocate to Lisbon, for the “city of seven hills” boasts a temperate climate, awe-inspiring architecture and a markedly affordable cost of living. Indeed, even if students disregard the exceptionally low cost of leased accommodation in Lisbon, they can still expect to pay over a third less for essentials like food, utilities and transport than they would in New York City. And as there are also exciting plans for the city’s future economy, Lisbon could be the perfect match for budding entrepreneurs looking to start a post-graduation venture.
27. Thessaloniki, Greece
Consumer Price Plus Rent Index: 48.27
Stylish Thessaloniki is situated around 320 miles north of Athens, and Greece’s second city certainly gives the capital a run for its money when it comes to luring international students. The Aristotle University of Thessaloniki is the biggest school of its kind in the country, with more than 80,000 learners currently enrolled at its centrally located campus. This means students have a front row seat for experiencing a city that Lonely Planet referred to as an “ultimate party” spot and which National Geographic included on its “Best Trips 2013” list. Students may also be surprised at Thessaloniki’s comparatively low cost of living, with a one-bedroom apartment in the center of town costing an average of just $360 a month.
26. Beijing, China
Consumer Price Plus Rent Index: 47.50
Beijing is big. In June 2014 it was estimated that a staggering 21 million people live in the Chinese capital, making it comparable in population terms to entire countries such as Australia and Sri Lanka. But what Beijing may lack vis-à-vis a cozy, close-knit community, it more than makes up for in educational prestige. The city’s Tsinghua University and Peking University were placed as the 47th and 57th best colleges in the world, respectively, according to the QS World University Rankings 2014/15, which also rated them as the finest colleges in China. Fortunately for international students, then, Beijing boasts a very reasonable cost of living: the cost of an average grocery shop, for example, is appreciably over 40 percent lower than it would be in New York City, while a meal out is nearly 60 percent cheaper.
25. Buenos Aires, Argentina
Consumer Price Plus Rent Index: 46.93
Buenos Aires’ low cost-of-living score can be partly attributed to its distinctly affordable rental accommodation. Numbeo’s mid-2014 rent index reveals that the Argentine capital revels in rental rates that are some 78 percent cheaper than those in New York City. Indeed, the average monthly outlay for a three-bedroom city-center apartment is a little over $1,000. That’s not too much more than $300 each, should international students travel as a trio. While there, learners can attend classes at any of the numerous higher education institutions in the city, the most highly regarded of which is the Universidad de Buenos Aires. Students here could add to the university’s already impressive list of alumni, which features three science-based Nobel Prize recipients.
24. Prague, Czech Republic
Consumer Price Plus Rent Index: 40.94
Join more than 7,000 international students at Charles University in Prague and receive a quality education noted for attracting the attention of global employers. It needn’t feel like traveling far from home, either, for there’s always the option of studying at New York University’s Prague campus, where some 200 students are based. Whether choosing a local or U.S.-affiliated university, though, the capital of the Czech Republic is bound to impress; why else would in excess of 100,000 sightseers visit the city every single day? Well, aside from the attractions on offer, it may have something to do with the remarkably low cost of living. The average three-course meal for two in a mid-range eating spot in Prague comes in at less than $30.
23. Mexico City, Mexico
Consumer Price Plus Rent Index: 40.40
A typical night out for international students in Mexico City could involve forking out less than $2 for half a liter of local beer and under $4 for an imported bottle. That McDonald’s combo meal to round off the evening, meanwhile, should cost less than $6. These are just a few student-friendly examples of why the cost of living in Mexico’s capital is so attractive, though it should be noted that low rental rates on accommodation also play a large part. Fortunately, saving money doesn’t have to mean scrimping on schooling, as the city has several well-regarded higher education institutions – the most significant of which is the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.
22. Santiago, Chile
Consumer Price Plus Rent Index: 39.98
The 2014 QS Latin American University Rankings propelled Santiago’s Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile to the very top, with the institution also named as the 167th best on the planet in QS’ 2014/15 World University Rankings. Chile’s capital doesn’t just boast academic prestige, though; Lonely Planet describes the city as “suddenly cool” and “a destination in its own right.” These should be excellent reasons to consider Santiago as a potential study-abroad location, and students will only be further convinced by its vibrant cultural scene, a stunning Andes backdrop and a surprisingly low cost of living. Renting an apartment with three bedrooms in Santiago’s heart will set students back little more than $800 a month, while another couple of dollars will buy a liter of milk and a loaf of bread.
21. Bangkok, Thailand
Consumer Price Plus Rent Index: 39.78
Over eight million people live in Bangkok, and in 2013 MasterCard’s Global Destination Cities Index named it the world’s top tourist destination, with almost 16 million people visiting during the course of the year. It’s fair to say, then, that Bangkok is a study-abroad location of choice for students wishing to meet new people. That said, Thailand’s capital has more to offer international students than the prospect of company. Five of its universities were placed in QS’ World University Rankings 2014/15, the highest-ranking of which is the almost century-old Chulalongkorn University. And Bangkok’s remarkably low cost-of-living index is highlighted by restaurant prices that are almost 75 percent lower than those in New York City. A romantic three-course dinner, for instance, is likely to give residents change from $20.
20. Tehran, Iran
Consumer Price Plus Rent Index: 39.78
Based on comparisons made with the cost of living in New York City in mid-2014, students in Tehran can expect grocery bills and accommodation rental rates to be lower to the tune of around 45 and 73 percent respectively. Furthermore, the cost of dining out there is 57 percent less than in the U.S. city, with a combo meal at a fast-food eatery totaling under $5, for example. Perhaps this is part of the reason why so many learners are attracted to the bustling Iranian capital – although one would assume it also has something to do with the fact that Tehran’s more central districts are the location of some 50 post-secondary educational institutions. Among the two most notable are the University of Tehran, where in excess of 42,000 students are enrolled, and the Sharif University of Technology.
19. Lima, Peru
Consumer Price Plus Rent Index: 39.65
Lima is home to the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos; instituted way back in 1551, it’s among the world’s oldest universities still in operation. The school is also well regarded, although the city’s Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú is now the country’s highest-rated college, according to QS’ World University Rankings 2014/15 list. Still, regardless of which school international students choose, they’ll no doubt enjoy an astonishingly affordable cost of living: accommodation rental rates, for example, are close to 80 percent lower than those in New York City. And this is good news for students eager to explore one of South America’s most absorbing cities – perhaps by taking in one of the excellent museums or its religious heritage by day before indulging in exceptional local cuisine or dancing away at a bustling club come nightfall.
18. Bogotá, Colombia
Consumer Price Plus Rent Index: 38.93
There may be less oxygen to breathe at over 8,000 feet above sea level, but Bogotá more than compensates for this with its remarkable affordability and first-class universities. Scoring well across the board when it comes to the price of day-to-day necessities, its overall cost of living is more than 61 percent lower than New York City’s. With this in mind, students considering a move to the Colombian capital may be tempted by the Universidad de Los Andes Columbia, which is located in the shadow of impressive peaks to the east. The school was placed 262nd in QS’ World University Rankings 2014/15, marking it out as the fifth-best higher education institution in Latin America and the highest scoring in Colombia. Perhaps Bogotá’s learned population is one reason why it is nicknamed the “Athens of South America.”
17. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Consumer Price Plus Rent Index: 38.78
In 2013 QS rated Kuala Lumpur as one of the 50 best university cities in the world, and that same year the publisher went on to rank it as the planet’s most affordable city for students. This latter plaudit was naturally due in part to the low overall cost of living in the Malaysian capital – where accommodation rental rates are more than 75 percent lower than those in New York City. That said, QS’ ranking also takes into consideration exceptionally reasonable college fees: the typical cost of yearly tuition in Kuala Lumpur’s higher education institutions is roughly only $3,000. However, if undergraduates find themselves studying at the Southeast Asia nation’s oldest university, Kuala Lumpur’s Universiti Malaya, they will benefit from even cheaper annual fees, which as of mid-2014 average a little under $2,220 for international undergrads.
16. Istanbul, Turkey
Consumer Price Plus Rent Index: 38.60
Istanbul could be the perfect choice for students looking to get educated abroad without the difficulty of learning a new language. The city’s leading college is Boğaziçi University, and true to its beginnings as the original overseas U.S. university, every program is taught in English. Of course, there are also numerous other higher education institutions to consider here, and all of them provide a base for exploring one of the planet’s most vibrant destinations. The biggest city in Turkey, Istanbul is uniquely split across Europe and Asia and is celebrated for its friendly atmosphere, stunning architecture and superb cuisine. Moreover, it’s ideal for the cash-conscious student, with rent on a one-bedroom apartment away from the center costing around $280 per month, on average.
15. Cape Town, South Africa
Consumer Price Plus Rent Index: 36.64
Hikers, mountain bikers and surfers should seriously consider an academic sojourn in Cape Town. South Africa’s “Mother City” is overlooked by stunning Table Mountain, while sports enthusiasts are well catered for at spots like the Cape Peninsula and Lion’s Head. It’s not all play and no work here, though, for the city is also home to the University of Cape Town, which QS rated as among the top ten colleges in the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) region in 2014. Need more persuasion? This multicultural city’s reasonable cost of living is such that enjoying a three-course meal with a friend in a decent eatery will set a student back well under $30.
14. Budapest, Hungary
Consumer Price Plus Rent Index: 36.56
Renting a place in Budapest is ridiculously good value: a student living alone in a city-center apartment typically pays under $300 in rent per month, while those sharing with two others collectively fork out less than $540 on average – under $180 each. International students should therefore hopefully have enough cash left over to explore the Hungarian capital’s numerous highlights, including everything from quirky bars to bathhouses – the latter of which are sometimes the destination of choice for locals the morning after an evening of revelry. According to QS’ World University Rankings 2014/15 list, Budapest’s top-rated college is Eötvös Loránd University, which accommodates approximately 32,000 students and 1,800 faculty members. It is named after acclaimed physicist Loránd Eötvös, a former professor at the school.
13. Krakow, Poland
Consumer Price Plus Rent Index: 36.40
The Krakow Post refers to its city as “a trap” – not because the population is encaged, but owing to the fact that those who live here traditionally find it difficult to leave. That’s perhaps partly because Poland’s cultural hub has an exceedingly affordable cost of living. As of mid-2014, for example, it is over 80 percent cheaper to rent an apartment here compared to in New York City; and restaurant prices, meanwhile, are typically just under 60 percent less expensive. But Krakow is also a spectacularly beautiful city. It’s the location of Europe’s largest market square as well as some exquisite church spires, and there’s plenty for the international student to explore. Study-wise, many opt for Jagiellonian University – one of Poland’s premier colleges and a place where a variety of programs are taught in English.
12. Minsk, Belarus
Consumer Price Plus Rent Index: 36.01
Affordable rent and excellent-value tuition fees make Minsk a strong contender in the study-abroad destination stakes. The city’s mid-2014 rent index from Numbeo is an impressive 18.93 – meaning that a typical monthly lease in Belarus’ capital costs less than a fifth of the equivalent in New York City. Belarusian State University, meanwhile, charges well under $3,000 a year for international students of subjects including math, chemistry and geography. The school is also Minsk’s most prominent, though there are a number of others from which to choose. Moreover, beyond the college walls are numerous sights to enjoy, with the former Soviet city home to impressive art galleries, trendy restaurants and action-packed nightlife.
11. Guangzhou, China
Consumer Price Plus Rent Index: 34.88
Guangzhou’s University City accommodates ten institutions of higher education that between them cater to over 160,000 students. Among them is Sun Yat-sen University, one of China’s leading schools – and a seat of learning whose curriculum embraces everything from the humanities to technical sciences. Guangzhou itself is a key trade destination, and one reason to consider the city is its incredibly low cost of living: typical accommodation rental prices here are less than 20 percent of New York’s norm, while the average cost of a meal out is not much more than a quarter of the equivalent in the Big Apple. That said, it’s worth bearing in mind that students may be better off eating at home during Chinese New Year, when visitors arrive in their droves.
10. Bucharest, Romania
Consumer Price Plus Rent Index: 34.79
Romania may not be the first place that springs to mind when considering exotic locations in which to study abroad, but the country’s capital has much to offer international students. First and possibly foremost is cheap accommodation: should three people club together to rent a three-bedroom city-center apartment, they can each expect to pay less than $235 a month. Second is educational choice: Bucharest is home to 32 universities, perhaps the most prominent of which is the University of Bucharest – an institution with approximately 1,000 overseas students. Third are the city’s attractions, which range from centuries-old churches to the unashamedly grand Palace of Parliament, which harks back to Romania’s dictatorial past.
9. Manila, Philippines
Consumer Price Plus Rent Index: 34.02
Manila’s wider urban area is huge, but the population of the city proper is a little under 1.7 million. Among the Philippines capital’s higher education institutions are De La Salle University and the University of Santo Tomas, while schools lying within its metropolitan remit – where around a further 10 million people reside – include the University of the Philippines Diliman. Such choice will no doubt appeal to potential international students, and so too will Manila’s attractive living costs. A one-bedroom apartment in its suburbs, for example, can be rented for less than $210 a month, while typical rates for a three-bedroom equivalent amount to appreciably under $500 per month.
8. Sofia, Bulgaria
Consumer Price Plus Rent Index: 32.79
Sofia’s supremely affordable cost of living can be largely attributed to its rent index of 12.63 – meaning that renting accommodation here comes in at just over a tenth of the equivalent expenditure in New York City. Such savings mean that international learners can afford to play as well as work in the Bulgarian capital, and many head to “studentski grad,” or students’ town, where numerous clubs, bars and eateries are located. And when they’re not partying, budding scholars can take advantage of Sofia’s numerous green spaces and generally youthful vibe. According to QS’ World University Rankings 2014/15, the city’s top-rated school is Sofia University, where full-time international bachelor’s students are charged annual tuition fees of €3,300 ($4,215).
7. Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Consumer Price Plus Rent Index: 32.24
The Bosnian capital is home to the University of Sarajevo, “the city’s longest-established seat of learning for higher education. Despite feeling the brunt of the three-year Siege of Sarajevo in the 1990s, the school never closed, and today it’s Bosnia and Herzegovina’s biggest university. International students based here can benefit from rental rates that typically work out as almost 89 percent less expensive than those in New York City. And notwithstanding evidence of its troubled past, Sarajevo is, with its minarets and red-roofed houses, an indisputably pretty city. Moreover, looking a little further afield, those with a flair for outdoor pursuits can make the short hop to the value-for-money ski resorts of Jahorina and Bjelašnica.
6. Hanoi, Vietnam
Consumer Price Plus Rent Index: 31.93
Lonely Planet refers to Hanoi as a city that combines “Parisian grace and Asian pace.” The former descriptor no doubt concerns evidence of the destination’s French colonial history, while the latter likely nods to the fact that the Old Quarter is awash with motorcycles – and it’s true that Vietnam’s capital offers the best of both worlds. The cost of living here is far from Parisian, though, with rent on a one-bedroom apartment downtown costing under $300 a month. A meal out for two, meanwhile, typically won’t equate to more than $15 when dining at a mid-range restaurant. As for study options, among the higher education institutions based here are the Hanoi University of Science and Technology and Vietnam National University, Hanoi – the second of which caters to over 21,000 full-time undergraduates and more than 10,000 postgrads.
5. Lviv, Ukraine
Consumer Price Plus Rent Index: 27.90
A trio of international students would typically pay less than $200 a month each for renting a centrally located three-bedroom apartment in Lviv – a city characterized by its blend of German, Italian and eastern European architecture. Indeed, the city’s heart is a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site, where cobbled streets and quaint coffeehouses add to this Ukrainian cultural hub’s ambiance. Learning-wise, approximately 17 percent of Lviv’s population of around 730,000 are students, with the city accommodating 38 tertiary educational institutions. Among them is the Ivan Franko National University of Lviv, which established its International Office in 1983. Today, the school has partnerships with universities in over 35 countries around the world.
4. Cairo, Egypt
Consumer Price Plus Rent Index: 24.61
According to QS’ World University Rankings 2014/15 list, The American University in Cairo is Egypt’s highest-ranking college. Central to its appeal is the fact that it’s fully accredited in Egypt and the U.S., meaning that its English-taught degrees are recognized in both countries. It’s also worth noting that 11 percent of the school’s student population are from overseas. And as for nearby sights, the campus is located around an hour’s drive from the Pyramids of Giza, while the pharaoh-era antiques of the impressive Egyptian Museum are even closer. Such cultural attractions aside, international learners can typically expect to pay monthly rent that works out as nearly 90 percent cheaper than that of New York City, while food is well over 60 percent less expensive than it is in the Big Apple.
3. Bangalore, India
Consumer Price Plus Rent Index: 20.10
Bangalore will offer international students a one-bedroom city-center apartment with basic utilities, as well as a full mid-range meal out for two, for less than $250 in a given month. This isn’t the only reason to study there, however. The forward-thinking city has been nicknamed the Silicon Valley of India, which gives some idea as to the number of technology companies that call Karnataka’s state capital home. Approximately 300 such firms are based at Bangalore’s Electronic City, so it’s little surprise that it acts as a magnet for computer science students. Many opt for programs at the 1979-founded Bangalore Institute of Technology, while others choose the multi-discipline Bangalore University, whose roots go back to 1964. Still, whichever institution learners select, they can look forward to savoring what Lonely Planet refers to as the “new face” of India.
2. Pune, India
Consumer Price Plus Rent Index: 19.38
Located approximately 520 miles northwest of Bangalore, in the state of Maharashtra, Pune is another Indian city geared towards overseas students. And like its Karnatakan counterpart, Pune is also home to a number of big software companies, including the likes of Infosys and Wipro. Hence, it too is regarded as a high-tech hub, with approximately 70,000 IT specialists employed at the city’s Rajiv Gandhi Infotech Park. Nine universities are based here as well, and this has undoubtedly given risen to Pune’s nickname, the “Oxford of the East.” One of the city’s leading higher education institutions is Savitribai Phule Pune University, which boasts 61 departments and 629 affiliated colleges. What’s more, an international student relocating to the destination can look forward to paying less than $150 in monthly rent when sharing a downtown apartment with two others.
1. Karachi, Pakistan
Consumer Price Plus Rent Index: 19.26
Karachi’s appearance at the top of this list is due in large part to its incredibly low Numbeo rent index figure, which is nearly 95 percent lower than New York City’s. As of mid-2014, a one-bedroom apartment can be rented in the center of Pakistan’s biggest city for an average of only $110 per month. Such an affordable figure is perhaps surprising given that Karachi is Pakistan’s commercial and financial heart – indeed, the city is currently responsible for a quarter of the country’s overall revenue. Karachi is also home to Pakistan’s biggest higher education institution, the University of Karachi. Prospective international students are welcomed at the school, which currently enrolls just over 24,000 learners.