5 countries that offer free or very cheap PhD programmes

Cheapest countries to study a PhD
Are you a PhD aspirant? There are several countries that offer free or very cheap tuition for international students to pursue a PhD. Source: Narinder Nanu/AFP

Are you a degree holder or master’s graduate who wants to take your studies to the next level by pursuing a PhD abroad? The good news is that in some countries, those with graduate degrees — such as a master’s and doctoral degree — had the highest earnings and lowest unemployment rates.

The bad news? The cost of pursuing a PhD abroad can be eye-watering. You would need to consider tuition, living and other miscellaneous expenses when studying abroad. There is, however, a workaround for this. Your next course of action would be to look for the cheapest countries to study a PhD programme.

Fortunately, there are more than a few countries where tuition for PhD programmes is free or very cheap. This makes it possible for you to enrol in a world-class university abroad and experience what it’s like to live in a new country and adapt to different cultures.

Studying a PhD abroad with minimal financial worries lets you focus on your education, as well as any personal or professional pursuits.

With that being said, here are five of the cheapest countries to study a PhD in:

Cheapest countries to study a PhD

International students can pursue a PhD programme in Sweden for free (or near enough). Source: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP

5 cheapest countries to study a PhD for international students


If you’re planning to pursue a PhD in renewable energy or something closely related, then Sweden is your best bet. Data shows that almost 56% of the energy used in Sweden comes from renewable sources in 2019.

The best part about pursuing a PhD in Sweden? It is free for all — including international students. (Do note that free tuition is not applicable for non-EU/EEA students pursuing bachelor’s or master’s programmes.)

Sweden is home to some of the most highly acclaimed universities in the world, with seven of them listed in the top 350 universities in the world in the QS World University Rankings 2023. The best universities in Sweden KTH Royal Institute of Technology and Lund University, are ranked 89th and 95th respectively accordingly.


Another Nordic country which tops the list of five cheapest countries to study a PhD in is Norway. Tuition at public universities in Norway is free for all students, regardless of nationality.

Like Sweden, the cost of living in Norway is relatively high, so you might want to explore options to help cover your living expenses. Other than that, you will only be required to pay a small semester student union fee to cover things like exam or sports facilities — which would only set you back between 300 – 600 Norwegian krone (approximately 30 to 60 US dollars).

You can try your luck at applying for the highest-ranking university in Norway the University of Oslo ranked 101st spot in the latest QS World University Rankings.

Cheapest universities to study a PhD

International students who study in Finland get to bask in the spectacular views of an incredible natural phenomena witnessed in only a few parts of the world, such as the Northern Lights. Source: Oliver Morin/AFP


Finland is another Nordic country which tops our list of cheapest countries to study a PhD for international students. Like Norway and Sweden, pursuing a PhD is completely free in Finland, even for non-citizens.

Finland is home to two top 150 universities, according to QS. This includes the University of Helsinki and Aalto University, which are ranked 106th and 116th respectively.

It’s educational aspects are not the only thing that sets it apart as a world-class study destination. Finland’s capital, Helsinki is ranked 66th in the latest “Best Student Cities” survey by QS.

If you are a lover of nature and the outdoors, Finland’s wide, open spaces are home to some of the world’s most incredible natural phenomena such as the midnight sun and the Northern lights (aurora borealis), which illuminates the sky with a spectacular view for anywhere between 10 to 20 nights a year.


Germany is renowned for its world-class education system and its reputation as an innovative country. Three of its universities are in the top 100, according to QS. This includes the Technical University of Munich, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München and Heidelberg University, each ranked 49th, 59th and 65th respectively.

Two of its cities, Munich and Berlin, are in the top 10 best student cities in the latest Best Student Cities rankings by QS.


Another country to make it to our pick of the cheapest countries to study a PhD in is France, with four of its universities ranked in the top 100, according to QS.

Tuition charged at French universities are relatively low. For instance, the nominal fee at public universities is approximately 380 euros (US$396 at the time of writing) a year.

Thanks to its international academic reputation and low tuition fees, three cities in France are ranked in the top 100 Best Student Cities: Lyon, Toulouse and of course, the capital Paris, which is ranked 9th according to QS.