The high price of higher education: Ranking the 10 most expensive countries for students in 2023

Can you afford to study at the most expensive countries in the world?
Money can't buy you happiness but it could buy you a degree in one of the best universities in the most expensive countries in the world. Source: Mark Ralston/AFP

Every year, millions of us pack our bags, ready to travel and study abroad. And every year, it’s getting costlier to do so — thanks to the list of most expensive countries in the world growing. 

That’s thanks, in huge part, to inflation. It causes the price of goods to increase over time — and when this happens, you lose your purchasing power.

Tomorrow, your dollar will not go as far as it did today.

While it’s not great to afford fewerer things, inflation is not always a bad thing. It reflects an economy where people have a lot of extra cash and credit — and want to spend them.

If it’s low, stable and predictable, inflation is good for an economy according to most economists.

Spiking inflation, however, isn’t good — especially so for students.

High inflation, the US dollar and the international student

Inflation in the US has been relatively stable in the last few decade, averaging 1.88% over the past decade.

In April 2023, the US Labour Department data pegs it at 4.9%. This spike can spur the US Federal Reserve to increase interest rates as it tries to cool off the economy and slow demand.

When US interest rates increase, people invest more in it. Its demand increases and thus, its value goes up.

The reasons behind this are more complex but the impact of a strong dollar is clear to students from countries weaker currencies.

Given around 90% of the world’s trade is done in US dollars, almost everyone needs to fork out more, from businesses down to the cost-strapped student.

But not being able to afford to study in the most expensive countries in the world doesn’t mean you should avoid them.

most expensive countries in the world

Studying in the most expensive countries in the world has left many students in debt. Source: Brandon Bell/AFP

Why you should study in the most expensive countries in the world

The short answer: it may just be well worth it.
This may be puzzling given in the US alone, the average student loan debt has reached an alarming number of US$1.75 trillion.

This begs the question, is it worth it to graduate with debt between US$10,000 and US$40,000 that you’ll could be paying into your 50s?

Many families believe so. If they’re not taking loans, they’re using a lot of their savings and retirement funds to send their children to some of the most expensive countries in the world.

They know the enduring power of international education. Enriching and life-changing, a degree in a foreign country often lead to a world of opportunities.

Some of the benefits are more obvious, like opening the doors to a successful career with a high-paying salary.

Others are more indirect, like helping a teenager from India become worldlier and have better marriage prospects.

Ultimately, which country you choose should fit your personal goals, values and the potential return on investment. You may spend more today but end up spending less tomorrow.

A good degree in the right country for you, although expensive, could ensure you don’t have to get more qualifications in the future, for example.

The first step is to know who you are, your options and get the advice of teachers and parents.

And this list of the most expensive countries in the world for international students can help you make an informed decision that makes the most of your money in the long run.

The US has been ranked the most expensive country in the world for international students. Source: Mark Ralston/AFP

10 most expensive countries in the world: 

1. US 

From LA to New York, Chicago to New Orleans, American cities are packed with character.

Over at its great parks like Yosemite and trails like the Appalachian, you’ll find calm, beauty and more. Whether urban or rural, good US colleges and unis are seemingly everywhere. 

While it may boast high-ranking universities, the US is considered one of the most expensive countries in the world for international students. 

According to College Board, 2018/19 tuition fees at state colleges are an average of US$26,290 for out-of-state students. This compares to an average of US$35,830 at private non-profit colleges. 

As for accommodation fees, students spend US$9,330 to US$13,620 on average on room and boarding for the 2021-22 academic year, following statistics from the College Board.

While these are steep figures, the US is also generous in helping deserving students.

Some scholarships cover tuition fees, while others cover your living and travelling expenses. Here are some you can consider: 

  • Knight-Hennessy Scholars Programme
  • American University Emerging Global Leader Scholarship
  • International Tuition Grant by Michigan State University

Students on F-1 visas can also work part-time on campus for up to 20 hours per week during the academic term. This can help alleviate some of the high living costs while studying in the US. 

most expensive countries in the world

Australia is ranked among the top 10 most expensive countries in the world. Source: Marco Longari/AFP

2. Australia 

Home to tropical beaches, cute koalas and top universities, it is no surprise that thousands of international students choose to further their studies in Australia every year.

In fact, the Land Down Under is one of the most popular study-abroad destinations in the world, ranking among the top 10 countries for international students.

In 2022, the country welcomed over 613,327 international students

However, this isn’t the only area where it ranks highly. Australia has been recognised as one of the most expensive countries in the world for international students. 

From tuition fees to living expenses, studying here doesn’t comes cheap.

In 2021, 36 out of 45 universities in Australia ranked in the QS World University RankingsThis world-class education can cost you between 20,000 to 45,000 Australian dollars for an undergraduate degree. 

These high tuition fees, combined with the rising cost of living, can be heavy on your pockets. According to the Australian government, an international student spends an average of 21,041 Australian dollars (US$14,041.61 at the time of writing) on living expenses annually

But if you are still determined to study in Australia, don’t worry. These are a number of ways you can still achieve your dream:

3. New Zealand 

From stunning natural beauty to its multicultural society and being the second safest country in the world, not many would think twice about studying here.

That is, until you see the full cost to study and live here.. 

Regardless of whether your chosen programme is in the arts and social sciences or in science and engineering, tuition fees alone range from 20,000 to 75,000 New Zealand dollars (US$12,570 to US$47,137.50 at the time of writing). 

This is not including living expenses which can vary according to the location you choose to live in.

For example, the estimated budget for those choosing to study at the Victoria University of Wellington and the University of Auckland is 20,000 to 27,000 New Zealand dollars each year (US$12,570.00 to US$16,969.50). 

It may cost slightly less for those who choose to study at the University of Otago: approximately 18,000 to 21,000 New Zealand dollars (US$11,313.00 to US$13,198.50).

Scholarships in New Zealand are often targeted at postgraduate students and are affiliated with universities.

Government-funded scholarships are only restricted to New Zealand citizens or a resident of the country. 

For those still interested in studying in one of the most expensive countries in the world, here are some scholarships to consider:

  • Manaaki New Zealand Government Scholarships
  • The University of Waikato International Excellence Scholarship 
  • The University of Auckland International Student Excellence Scholarship
most expensive countries in the world

Canada is among the most popular and most expensive countries in the world for international students. Source: Geoff Robins/AFP

4. Canada

The average cost of an undergraduate degree in Canada for an international student is around 36,100 Canadian dollars per year (US$26,809 at the time of writing).

Living expenses can go up to CA$5,000 to CA$20,000 per year per person. 

Don’t give up just yet, though. Canada is very welcoming to international students — and this includes allowing students to work up to 20 hours per week. 

Student minimum wage is US$14.60 per hour, which amounts to US$292 for 20 hours in a week. In a month, that could go up to US$1,168.

There are other ways you can study in Canada without breaking the bank:

  1. Several universities in Canada offer students a free ride to university with fully funded scholarships. This includes Lester B. Pearson International Scholarships by the University of Toronto, University of British Columbia scholarships and York University Scholarships
  2. Apply to universities that offer application fee waivers, such as University of British Columbia or University of New Brunswick

most expensive countries in the world

Five Hong Kong unis were ranked in the Top 100 for QS World University Rankings 2022Source: Isaac Lawrence/AFP

5. Hong Kong 

Hong Kong has become a higher education powerhouse in the last few years, with five Hong Kong universities ranked in the Top 100 for QS World University Rankings 2022

On average, international students are expected to pay an estimate of US$11,500 to US$34,000

Considering the high standard of living in Hong Kong, living costs are equally as high. Students are expected to budget between US$650 to US$2,000 per semester for student dorms.

Other living costs – transport, food and leisure — are estimated to cost students an extra US$3,900 to US$6,500.

For students on a budget looking to Hong Kong, consider applying to scholarships such as HKU Belt and Road Scholarship and ADB-Japan Scholarship Program For Developing Countries In Asia & Pacific which cover almost everything.

most expensive countries in the world

Home to many world-class universities, it is no surprise that the UK is one of the most expensive countries in the world. Source: Tolga Akmen/AFP

6. UK 

Studying here doesn’t come cheap. While there are a variety of undergraduate programmes to choose from, the tuition fees are notorious for being some of the highest in the world

The cost of tuition fees varies depending on the course chosen, but an international student in the UK can expect to pay between 10,000 to 38,000 pounds a year. 

The cost of studying in London is much higher. According to QS, the average tuition fee for international students is around 21,200 pounds. 

Living expenses are just as high. British Council predicts that international students should budget between 1,300 to 1,400 pounds a month in London and 900 to 1,300 pounds in other parts of the UK to cover the cost of accommodation, groceries and transport. 

But there is still hope. The country offers many scholarships for international students interested in studying in the UK.

Here are the most common scholarships and financial aid available:

  • Scholarships awarded by the university 
  • Scholarships awarded by private or global organisations (e.g. Chevening by the British Council)
  • Scholarships awarded by national organisations 
  • Student loans or bursaries granted by your country

7. Singapore

If you think the best universities in the world are only based in the West, think again. 

In the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2023, Singapore leapt into the world’s top 20 for the first time, with the National University of Singapore ranking 19th.

The “Lion City” also makes the list as one of the most expensive countries in the world to study in.

Here’s why. The cost of tuition fees here varies according to your nationality or visa status. These categories are:

  • Annual Subsidised Fees Payable by Singapore Citizens
  • Annual Subsidised Fees Payable by Permanent Residents
  • Annual Subsidised Fees Payable by International Students
  • Annual Non-Subsidized Fees

The subsidised fees to study at a Singaporean public university cost an estimated 8,000 to 9,000 Singapore dollars per year.

However, for non-subsidised and international students, it costs up to S$10,000 (US$7,480) or more. 

Here’s a detailed breakdown of undergraduate tuition fees according to discipline and nationality at the National University of Singapore (NUS)

According to NUS, living expenses for international students can go up to S$6,000 (US$4,488).

On-campus accommodation at NUS for single/double occupancy costs between S$2,800 to S$5,500 (US$2,094 to US$4,114).

8. Israel 

While not the most common study-abroad destination for international students, Israel is the place to be for those looking for a sense of adventure.

Israel is renowned for being one of the most innovative countries in the world and the most developed and advanced country in Western Asia. 

By choosing to study in Israel, you will experience its top-ranked universities, vibrant student life and fascinating culture. 

However, before you hop on that plane, you should first note that Israel is one of the most expensive countries for international students. 

An undergraduate bachelor programme starts as low as US$4,000 and can go up to US$15,000 a year. This fee is even higher for master’s students and can cost around US$30,000

When it comes to living expenses, the biggest chunk will go towards accommodation and students should budget between USD$436.95 and US$873.90 a month. 

Though there aren’t many scholarship opportunities available here, students do have several options to help aid their studies in Israel. 

most expensive countries in the world

Though tuition fees in Swiss public unis aren’t expensive, living costs here are high, making it one of the most expensive countries in the world. Source: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

9. Switzerland 

Home to institutions that consistently rank in the top spots of the QS World University Rankings. Described as one of the most innovative countries in the world, according to the Global Innovation Index. A world-class healthcare system. These are some reasons why many international students choose to study in Switzerland.

Surprisingly, tuition fee costs are not as high compared to other countries on the list. The average tuition fees for bachelor’s and master’s programmes cost between 400 and 3,700 euros each year (US$436.65 to US$4,038.99) at Swiss public universities. 

PhD degrees cost between 100 and 900 euros (US$109.16 to US$982.46) per year.

Unfortunately, living costs here are high, making it one of the most expensive countries for international students.

International students should budget around 1,300 to 1,700 euros (US$1,419.10 to US$1,855.75) a month on average to cover expenses such as housing, food, transportation, supplies, and leisure activities, among other things. 

Geneva and Zurich are the most expensive cities in Switzerland, and you may need a monthly budget of more than 1,700 euros (US$1,855.75) to live there comfortably.

Read here for a breakdown of the cost of living in Switzerland. 

most expensive countries in the world

Though one of the most expensive countries in the world, Japan is a beautiful place to study abroad. Source: Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP

10. Japan 

Known for sushi, cherry blossoms and Mount Fiji, Japan is a beautiful country with so much to offer. International students who choose to study abroad here can enjoy the diverse culture, breathtaking scenery and high-quality education. 

Though not the most affordable, the tuition fees in Japan are relatively cheaper compared to other popular destinations like the US, UK, Canada and Australia. 

The cost of tuition and living expenses depends greatly on the city you choose to live in and the institution you enrol at.

Tokyo is known to be one of the most expensive places to live in the world. Here, the rent can start as low as 43,000 yen (US$319.48 )and go up to 100,000 yen (US$742.99) per month. 

Studying in Japan at an undergraduate level costs around US$23,000 and around US$12,000 for a master’s. 

However, if you are on a student budget and looking to save some money, Japan offers several scholarships for international students.

Here are some of the Japanese scholarships offered are: