5 cheapest European cities for international students

cheapest european cities
People enjoy their drinks in a restaurant in Warsaw. Source: Wojtek Radwanski/AFP

Going abroad is a big deal. Moving away from your home and family comes with certain considerations. This includes the quality of education you’ll receive, how safe your host country is, and the environment you’ll be living in. 

The cheapest European cities top many lists in this regard. Yes, you read that right. With top-ranked unis, majestic sceneries, captivating cities  and graduate work opportunities, there are many reasons why they attract thousands every year. Add its strategically-placed geographic location and it’s a winning formula for any international student. 

Forget larger and more popular European cities like London, Paris and Geneva. There are European cities that are cost-friendly to international students — all without sacrificing the quality of education you’ll receive. 

Here are five of the cheapest European cities for international students to consider:

5 cheapest European cities for international students

Things are cheap and good in Warsaw, Poland. Source: Wojtek Radwanski/AFP


Warsaw, Poland

It’s no secret that Poland is one of the cheapest countries to live in globally. In fact, the cost of living in Poland is said to be cheaper than 69% of countries in the world — making it a natural choice for students looking for a budget-friendly destination. 

Warsaw itself is full of offerings to international students. As a city, it’s steeped in history: its roots date back to the 1400s and since then, it has seen civil conflict, invasion, and immense suffering. This has shaped it into a powerful force in its own right, with a culture and architectural ruins that create an unparalleled destination to live and study. A month here costs 2,715.25 Poland złoty (approximately US$550.76 at the time of writing) without rent.

More than that, Warsaw has been rated one of the best European cities for international students in terms of its quality of education. This is why Polish graduates are generally able to find well-paying jobs in Europe and other highly coveted destinations worldwide. In 2022, QS World Ranking rated 19 Polish universities among the best in the world — speaking highly of their improvement throughout the years. 

Budapest bustles with scores of compelling new bars, restaurants and boutiques. Source: Ferenc Isza/AFP

Budapest, Hungary

Budapest is another city that’s a haven for travellers and students alike. With its natural beauty and abundance of career opportunities, it’s a top choice for students all over — and its cost of living only adds to this. 

The city itself is relatively affordable for a capital. Monthly accommodation can cost around US$350 a week, and food is quite cheap. Throw in Turkish-era thermal baths, a dynamic fashion scene and more Michelin-starred restaurants than any other city in the former Eastern Bloc, and you’ll have plenty of action on both sides of the River Danube.

This all comes with a high quality of education. Universities in Hungary have been listed among the most prestigious in the world, especially in the case of medical schools. The city of Budapest offers much in this regard, too: Budapest University of Technology and Economics ranks among the top institutions in the country. 

People sit at the terrace of a cafe in downtown Zagreb. Source: Denic Lovrovic/AFP

Zagreb, Croatia

When thinking of Croatia, you might picture wide, sandy beaches and clear waters, or perhaps the country’s significance for being the backdrop to many important scenes in HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” Either way, there’s no denying the pull of Croatia as a country for tourism. 

Living in Croatia is just as appealing. The country is relatively cheaper than many others in Europe whilst being semi-centrally located, with Slovenia, Hungary, and Bosnia and Herzegovina acting as its borders. If you’re single, your estimated monthly costs are 5,105.70kn Croatian Kuna (around US$653.31 at the time of writing) without rent. 

Its capital city, Zagreb, offers the perfect blend of cosmopolitan city life and ancient majesty. Here, students can explore its award-winning Christmas market, spiralling castles, impressive forests and rich agricultural areas. 

As a study destination, Zagreb is unmatched. It is home to some of the oldest universities in the world, with the University of Zagreb being the largest in the country with 75,000 enrolled students. Mastering Croatian can be useful as most universities offer courses in the language, but there is no shortfall of those taught in English — or a mixture of both — as well. 

People sit on the grass in a park in downtown Sofia. Source: Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP

Sofia, Bulgaria

Bulgaria is an ideal location for nature enthusiasts, with no shortage of mountains, culture and history. Its varied weather means that you can go for a sweat-filled trek or skiing trip, and a five hour drive from these would take you to its pristine coastline — which is also home to bustling nightlife. 

Sofia, its capital city, is just as dynamic. This is made all the more appealing by the fact that Sofia is one of Europe’s most architecturally beautiful cities, making for an everyday experience that looks like a fairytale. The cost? 1,139.35 Bulgarian lev (approximately US$561.02 at the time of writing) without rent. You can rent a one-bedroom apartment in the city centre for лв 804.79 (approximately US$396.28 at the time of writing).

As a study destination, Bulgaria has much to offer. Its universities have a wide range of subjects available to choose from, with an international reputation for having a well-developed higher education system. Institutions are significantly cheaper than others in Europe. This combined with its friendly people and encouraging culture makes Sofia one of the best choices for students. 

Aveiro, Portugal

Just a day trip from Porto, this Northern Portugal charms visitors with its canals, gondolas and pottery making. Art Nouveau buildings juxtapose with calçada Portugues (tiles that create images from Aveiro’s naval history on black and white limestone pavements) in what’s known as a low-key “Venice of Portugal.” The climate is coastal, dominated by sea breezes and with extensive sandy beaches. Twelve kilometres away is Costa Nova, a coastal town with colourful beach houses.

Aveiro has the lowest living costs among all cities in Portugal. A month here for a single person will amount to around 510.79 euros (US$492.22) without rent. For 15 euros, you can reportedly have squid stuffed with a pork and spinach mix and a glass of white wine.

The University of Aveiro welcomes hundreds of international students every year — a number that has almost doubled in the last five years. Many are drawn to its prestige (UA is ranked in the top 3% to 4% of world university rankings) and degrees that provide the necessary recognition for entering the labour market or continuing higher education in other countries. A master’s degree here costs between 3,000 euros to 5,500 euros.