10 most LGBT-friendly countries in the world for international students

best lgbt-friendly countries
Participants dance as they march during the LGBTQ+ Pride parade in Barcelona on June 25, 2022. Source: Pau Barrena/AFP

It’s 2023 and you deserve to be gay where you’d like to be — and at the 10 most LGBT-friendly countries for international students, you can do this and get a great degree too.

Each country varies in its acceptance, awareness, and understanding of people seen as “deviating” from the traditional understanding of sexuality.

And with this, comes a fact that we have to live with — i.e., while many countries have made significant progress in creating more LGBT-friendly societies, unfortunately, this isn’t the case worldwide.

In certain countries, LGBT students still encounter violence, prejudice, discrimination, and even legal repercussions. The locals don’t love you much and they may go to great lengths to show you that.

Only a few countries have taken a stand to protect the LGBT community.

Inclusive and actively striving for equal rights for everyone, the most LGBT-friendly countries are where anyone can express their sexual identities freely.

They are places that do more than just host a Pride parade.

best lgbt-friendly countries

A reveller takes part in the 30th Pride Parade in Buenos Aires city, on November 6, 2021. Argentina may be Catholic but it’s also proudly one of the most LGBT-friendly countries in the world today. Source: Alegandro Pagni/AFP

What makes a country friendly to the LGBT community?

Pride Month is an annual celebration observed by the LGBT community throughout June each year. It serves as a way to acknowledge the significant contributions and impact of LGBT individuals worldwide.

Parades are a prominent feature of Pride Month, accompanied by street parties, community events, public speeches and festivals.

While these events are loud and proud, it takes more to become one of the most LGBT-friendly countries in the world today.

Based on “The 203 Worst (& Safest) Countries for LGBTQ+ Travel in 2023,” an LGBT-friendly country is one that meets the following criteria:

  • Legalised same-sex marriage
  • Protection for workers
  • Protection against discrimination
  • Criminalisation of violence
  • Adoption recognition
  • Good place to live
  • Transgender legal identity laws
  • Low trans murder rates
  • Low propaganda/morality laws

“Some great progress was made this year: several countries legalized same-sex marriage and decriminalized same-sex relationships,” says Asher Fergusson, co-author of the report, to Forbes.

“Still, others like Russia and the US are attempting to take steps backward, particularly with their approach to propaganda laws and anti-trans legislation. In the US, over 300 anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-trans laws were proposed in 2022 alone, which is very eye-opening to me.”

LGBT-friendly countries

The Netherlands was the first country to legalise same-sex marriages. Source: Odd Anderson/AFP

10 best LGBT-friendly countries in the world for int’l students:

1. Netherlands 

The Netherlands is a pioneer in LGBT rights, especially since it was the first country to legalise same-sex marriage in 2001. 

In 1984, the city hosted the inaugural International Gay Youth Congress and Festival, which played a pivotal role in establishing the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex Youth & Student Organisation (IGLYO). 

More recently, it voted to expand its constitution to protect the LGBTQI+ and disabled community from discrimination and is reportedly “reducing cooperation” with Uganda because the African nation has passed controversial anti-gay legislation.

Considered the most accepting nation for the global queer community, the Netherlands offers academic institutions that provide a safe and secure learning environment.

Here is a list of the top LGBTQ-friendly universities in the Netherlands.

  • University of Amsterdam 
  • Utrecht University 
  • Leiden University 

Danish handball back Camilla Andersen (L) gets ready to kiss her spouse Mia Hundvin (C) of the Norwegian team during the medal ceremony after the women’s handball gold medal final, at Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. The married couple are the first to compete against each other in the Olympics and they both won medals with Denmark winning gold and Norway bronze. Same sex marriage is legal in Denmark and Norway. Source: Patrick Kovarick/AFP

2. Denmark 

Denmark is not only the second happiest country in the world but also holds the distinction of being the first country to establish the National Association for Gays and Lesbians in 1984. 

It is widely recognised as one of the top LGBT-friendly study-abroad destinations in Europe. The capital city, Copenhagen, hosts a captivating pride festival and an annual LGBT Film festival called MIX Copenhagen.

Denmark took a significant step towards LGBT equality in 2012 by legalising same-sex marriage. 

In May, Copenhagen mayor Sophie Hæstorp Andersen called out the town of Solvang, known as the Danish capital of the US, for its decision not to hang banners in support Pride month.

“This opposition to Pride does not reflect the genuine warmth and acceptance of Pride that can be seen across Denmark and especially in Copenhagen,” Hæstorp Andersen wrote in a letter published by The Independent.

Here are the most LGBT-friendly universities in Denmark:

  • Copenhagen University 
  • Aarhus University 
  • University of Aalborg
LGBT-friendly countries

Canada is renowned as one of the most LGBT-friendly countries in the world. Source: George Pimentel/Getty Images North America/Getty Images/AFP

3. Canada 

The journey to LGBT equality in Canada began with a series of court decisions in 2003, ultimately leading to the legalisation of same-sex marriage in 2005.

This progressive stance has created a safer and more inclusive environment for LGBT students in the country.

“Canada has a great legislative track record for LGBTQ+ rights,” says Fergusson to Forbes.

“They were one of the first countries to legalize same-sex marriage, they have constitutional anti-discrimination protections and the majority of Canadians report that it is a safe place to live for gay and lesbian people.”

Among the many LGBT-friendly universities, the University of Western Ontario stands out as it is home to the country’s first official university-based queer resource centre.

Most Canadian universities also offer LGBT student societies, such as LGBTOUT, at the University of Toronto.

Here are the top LGBT-friendly universities in Canada that you should consider: 

  • University of Toronto
  • University of Western Ontario
  • The University of British Columbia

4. Germany 

Ranked the eighth best country to study abroad in by US News & World Report, Germany’s journey towards becoming a queer-friendly nation can be traced as far back to the 1800s.

In the early 21st century, Germany introduced the “Life Partnership Law,” which granted same-sex partners access to health insurance benefits.

The country has made significant strides in LGBT inclusivity recently as well, particularly within its academic institutions.

Here are some renowned universities in Germany that prioritise LGBT inclusivity:

  • Technische Universität München
  • Berlin Institute of Technology
  • University of Freiburg
LGBT-friendly countries

Participants celebrate during the “Marcha del Orgullo” Pride parade in Madrid, on July 9, 2022. Source: Oscar Del Pozo/AFP

5. Spain

Spain is an ideal study destination for the LGBT community due to its good weather, delicious cuisine, excellent universities and diverse communities. The country consistently ranks highly on many lists of the most LGBT-friendly countries.

Spain was the third country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage in 2005, reflecting its commitment to inclusivity and support for the community.

In February, Spain’s parliament passed the “Trans Law” to allow gender recognition based on self-identification.

This means trans people no longer need to get a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria, and a two-year period of medical treatment to align their physical characteristics to the gender marker they sought.

Here are some of the top LGBT-friendly universities in the country:

  • University of Barcelona
  • University of Valencia
  • University of Granada

6. Sweden

When looking at the most LGBT-friendly countries, Sweden cannot be missed. The country has consistently supported the community since many decades ago.

Starting with its move to legally allow gender change in 1972, this was followed by the banning of discrimination against sexual orientation in 1987.

Sweden also allows same-sex marriages and the right for these couples to adopt. 

Its support towards the LGBT community can be seen in its academic institutions as well.

Universities such as Linnaeus University, Linköping University, Lund University and many more work towards creating a safe space for LGBT students to learn and grow. 

LGBT-friendly countries

Iceland legalised same-sex marriages in 2010. Source: John Moore/AFP

7. Iceland

Iceland makes the list as one of the most LGBT-friendly countries with its constant support for equal rights. 

In 2006, the country announced the right to adoption and IVF for same-sex couples. This was later followed by the right to same-sex marriage in 2010. 

Reykjavik, the country’s capital city, boasts many universities, bookstores and bars that welcome and accept the LGBT community. 

One in three citizens attend the Pride parades.

Iceland’s support for the community is seen even in the country’s universities, with many providing equal educational opportunities and a safe environment. 

These universities include: 

  • Reykjavik University 
  • University of Iceland
  • Hólar University College

8. Uruguay 

Despite being a tiny nation, Uruguay’s support of the LGBT community is far from small. 

The country has been at the forefront of LGBT acceptance since decriminalising homosexuality in 1934. Remaining consistent with its support, it became the second country in Latin America to legalise same-sex marriage in 2013. 

Many cities and towns boast a friendly and welcoming environment, especially the capital city Montevideo which is home to several gay, lesbian and transgender bars.

Here are some of the top LGBT-friendly universities in the country:

  • University of Montevideo 
  • University of the Republic
  • Catholic University of Uruguay

9. Ireland

According to US News & World Report, Ireland ranks on the top 20 list of best countries to study abroad. This is unsurprising as the country offers high-quality education and is 13th on the World Happiness Index.

Ireland’s support of the LGBT community contributes to these rankings too. In 2015, many celebrated as the country passed the national same-sex marriage law. 

The country boasts many LGBT-friendly student cities, including Dublin, which hosts the annual Dublin Pride Parade. 

If you are looking to study in a welcoming and colourful country, consider these top universities:

  • Trinity College Dublin 
  • University College Dublin 
  • University of Galway 
best lgbt-friendly countries

Revellers take part in the 30th Pride Parade in Buenos Aires city, on November 6, 2021. Source: Alejandro Pagni/AFP

10. Argentina

Argentina remains one of the most LGBT-friendly countries despite many of its citizens possessing strong Catholic beliefs. 

In 2010, the country took its first step forward by legalising same-sex marriage and ensuring adoption rights for the LGBT community in the same year. In 2012, Argentina climbed even higher to the top of the list of LGBT-friendly countries when it supported transgenders by giving them the right to change gender. 

These efforts have turned the nation’s capital, Buenos Aires, into a welcoming destination for LGBT students from all around the world. The city even hosts the March of Pride annually in November. 

According to US News & World Report, these are some of the top universities to consider when choosing to study in Argentina

  • University of Buenos Aires
  • National University of La Plata 
  • National University of Córdoba