least expensive cities
The least expensive cities in the world offer great savings and great value -- for as low as US$3,440 per year. Source: AFP

All of us would love the chance to stay in another country — but that can be expensive.

If you’re a student, you’ll have to pay tuition fees as well on top of living expenses.

Depending on the country and university of choice, you’re looking at paying tuition fees as high as US$19,288 per year.

This may not sound like a lot to some of you, but wait until you add food, commutes, housing, clothes, books and more. 

The least expensive cities in the world for international students are places that let you save on all these things and more.

The city, district and area you stay in can make a big difference to your day-to-day expenses, which is important especially if you’re a student on a budget.

It’s entirely possible to study in the most exciting countries in the world without getting into debt — all you need to do is get into colleges and universities located in or near the least expensive cities to live in:

Least expensive cities

People taking public rail transport. Source: AFP

The least expensive cities for international students

Cardiff, UK

Cardiff is known as one of the most affordable cities for students in the UK.

The city has some of the cheapest accommodations in the country, with an average monthly rent of around 384.23 pounds (approximately US$488.18). 

It’s estimated that students spend about 1,140 pounds (approximately US$1,448) per month on rent, food, socialising and travelling.

If you’re a student at Cardiff University, your student card will entitle you to further discounts in shops and restaurants, even for rail cards and coach cards.

If you’re looking for similar options for the least expensive cities around the UK, check out our quick guide on the top 10 cheapest student cities in the country. 

A resident walks by the usually busy Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra. Source: AFP

Canberra, Australia

Canberra, the national capital of Australia, is known as one of the most liveable cities in the world.

It’s famously known for its vibrant atmosphere and busy nightlife but remains Australia’s most affordable city for students.

The city houses a number of top-ranked universities, such as the University of Canberra and the Australian National University.

It’s not far-fetched to say that you would find a student from either one of these universities in each corner of the city.

Student accommodation in Canberra is relatively affordable and ranges from 150 Australian dollars to 380 Australian dollars (approximately US$99 to US$250).

Opting for PBSA (Purpose-Built Student Accommodation) is also a great choice, as utilities are included with rent. 

Canberra offers convenient public transport – student prices are offered for MyWay cards, which are the smartcard ticketing system used for bus and light rail services.

The city also has an excellent network of biking lanes, which students can use to bike around and save costs. 

Interested to know more? Check out our guide on the five cheapest Australian cities for international students.

least expensive cities

Coretta Scott King (5th-R) led a “March on Memphis” in April 1968, five days after the assassination of her husband, US clergyman and civil rights leader Martin Luther King. Source: AFP

Memphis, US

The beautiful city of Memphis overlooks the iconic Mississippi River and is famous for cultivating generations of rock ‘n’ roll, soul and blues music.

Big names such as Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash used to reside in Memphis, and made a name for themselves at the legendary Sun Studio, which continues to attract big names in popular music until today. 

If its cultural significance isn’t reason enough to visit, it’s also one of the US’s most affordable cities to live in, with so much to offer.

The area is peppered with low-cost, high-quality restaurants, convenient transportation and over 160 green parks. 

The city’s overall cost of living is 24% lower than the national average.

Housing and accommodation alone are 62.9% lower, with rent for an apartment coming to about US$900 a month. These factors make Memphis a great place for students – or anyone – to visit. 

Least expensive cities

People on Mont Royal in Montreal, Quebec. Source: AFP

Montreal, Canada

Montreal stands out as one of the least expensive cities to live in Canada’s Québec province.

It has several colleges and universities, and many students spend their entire degree years here – for many good reasons.

From housing and transportation to food and fun activities, the city boasts one of the lowest costs of living in the world, making it the ideal destination for international students.

Accommodation and housing prices are 20% to 40% lower than surrounding cities, offering a mix of multiplexes, townhouses and low-rise apartments.

The monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Montreal is around 1,290 Canadian dollars (approximately US$956).

The city has an efficient public transit network, as well as bike paths and ride-sharing systems.

For those who prefer walking, there are plenty of walkable neighbourhoods with great access and low traffic, ensuring a safe journey.

Many international students choose to live in The Plateau, a lively hub dotted with quirky shops, cafes, and affordable restaurants offering delicious food.

Rotorua, New Zealand

New Zealand is a popular choice for international students because it has some of the best colleges and universities in the world.

While the cost of living is already pretty affordable in New Zealand, Rotorua has a lower cost of living overall and is perfect for students and tourists alike.

Roto-Vegas, as the locals call it, has cheap rent, endless entertainment and fantastic food.

The city thrives off tourism, forestry, geothermal development and agribusiness.

The city has a fast-growing economy with plenty of job opportunities in various industries, perfect for international students to find a means to earn pocket money while gaining work experience. 

Because Rotorua offers so much to learn about, students studying geography and tourism tend to flock there to study the unique geothermal environment.

Geothermal development, in particular, is popular as the region is a haven for geysers, mud pools and natural hot springs. 

Least expensive cities

A public bus plies across the bridge in front of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel in Singapore. Source: AFP

Bukit Panjang, Singapore

Education in Singapore ranks highly compared to other countries. This makes it an ideal destination for anyone interested  in Asia while experiencing the beauty of a ultra-modern, multicultural country.

Located around the western part of Singapore, Bukit Panjang in particular is the cheapest area to rent.

The area is situated close to nature, but has two malls, a series of new roads, and various options for cheap, local food.

A four-room HDB (Housing and Development Board) flat in this area is about 300 Singapore dollars (approximately US$223) cheaper than the national average

Students should have no issue with getting around, as Singapore’s MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) and bus systems have an extensive network of routes that will help them zip around the city.

Singapore is also committed to building a liveable and sustainable city where walking, cycling, public transport and other viable alternatives to driving are convenient and accessible.

Chengdu, China

Over half a million foreigners are studying in China, and that number is expected to increase by 10% each year.

Here, living costs are steadily increasing — unless you’re in Chengdu.

Home to giant pandas, Chengdu remains one of the least expensive cities in China to live in.

There are plenty of affordable universities there that provide well-rounded academic programmes and curricula.

Students can comfortably survive on between US$500 to US$700 per month, including rent, utilities, food, transportation and other costs. 

Least expensive cities

People watch the sunset from Garden Hill looking out in Sham Shui Po in Hong Kong. Source: AFP

Sham Shui Po, Hong Kong

Universities in Hong Kong are among the best educational institutions in both Asia and the world. However, it was recently ranked the fifth most expensive city to live in 2023.

Despite rising living costs, it remains one of the most desired locations for the average international student looking for adventure in a fast-paced and exciting city.

Students looking to keep living costs low can consider renting in Sham Shui Po.

The area is widely regarded by many as one of the best places in Hong Kong for affordable living, cheap eats, and an authentic cultural tapestry. 

Alor Setar, Malaysia

Malaysia’s rich ethnic culture and scenic beauty make it a great study destination for thousands of students worldwide.

Compared with the US and UK, studying in Malaysia is still a very affordable option for international students.

The average budget for an international student is around 14,400 Malaysian ringgit (approximately US$3,440-4,600) each year. This includes food, travel and accommodation.

Alor Setar, Kedah is the perfect city for those looking for a cheap place to live. History, culture, food, shopping and even street art; you name it, Alor Setar probably has it.

The bulk of the city sights are in the centre of town, within a reasonable walking distance from each other; making sightseeing in Alor Setar a breeze.

As a bonus, you can get to Thailand via bus, car, tram or train!

Least expensive cities

Source: AFP

Not sure where to go for college or university? 

If you’re still looking around for options to further your education, consider using an application service like UCAS or Common App. Both services are non-profit organisations committed to delivering trusted and flexible admissions processes, helping to lower the logistical and systemic barriers to higher education. 

UCAS, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service in the UK, supports over 1.5 million students annually by providing information, advice and guidance in looking for a university, college, or degree apprenticeship. 

They manage almost three million applications for full-time undergraduate courses at over 380 universities and colleges across the UK. They also provide a wide range of research, consultancy and advisory services to schools, colleges, careers services, professional bodies, and employers, including apprenticeships.

Common App is a similar platform that helps millions of students streamline their application and admissions processes to colleges and universities. Through the platform, first-time and transfer applicants can apply to multiple colleges at once. Students from over 200 countries use the Common App to apply each year for colleges and universities within and outside of the US.

Long gone are the days of sweaty waiting at university open days or going back and forth with education counsellors or agents.

Never worry about missing out on crucial information or making mistakes about application timing – platforms like these simplify processes, saving students and parents time, money, and effort.

They provide easy access to information about each course or school, and allow users to view course details, fees, and even contact information for the university of their choice. 

Apply to over a thousand colleges and universities with a click of a button today!