We sometimes get emails from students who say that they want to find information about universities with free tuition, but that they can’t afford to pay for our services. The concern I have is that these students have a misconception about what it will actually cost to study and live in Europe.

The Beyond the States database contains over 75 English-taught bachelor’s degree programs and 857 English-taught master’s degree programs that charge zero tuition for international students. These programs are mainly in Norway, Iceland, and Germany. But “free tuition” does not actually mean cost free.

The first thing students need to consider is proof of means, which is  more properly described as “proof of means of subsistence”. Essentially, this is the minimum amount of income a student will need to live as a student. This is an amount set by the individual country’s government as part of the immigration process. Students who aren’t EU citizens need to provide proof that they have the  full amount for the year during the immigration process.  

Norway is one of the countries that offers international students free tuition at their public universities.  It truly is a remarkably beautiful place. During our visit there in 2016, we really enjoyed everything that was on offer. One thing that became immediately apparent was the high cost of living. According to Expatistan, Oslo, Norway’s capital, is slightly more expensive than Los Angeles (after New York and San Francisco, LA is the 3rd most expensive city in the US). 

An international student in Norway will pay no tuition, but they will pay more than 10,000 euros a year on housing, food, transportation, and leisure expenses (and that is on a VERY tight budget).  In fact, proof of means in Norway is 10800 euros which often allows for a very modest lifestyle. Estonia has many similarities to the Nordic countries, and students do pay an average of 3168 euros per year in tuition. However, the living costs are so much lower that EVEN WITH TUITION, they end up paying almost 2000 euros less per year. Of course, because cost of living is so much lower, the amount of money you need for proof of means is also easier to swallow at 4500 euros per year.

Families and students are frequently drawn to the “free college in Germany” idea. Of course, the admissions requirements often create obstacles for students.  The cost of living in Germany can be quite reasonable. Berlin is on the more expensive side at just 28% less expensive than LA.   However, it would still be a mistake to focus solely on Germany.

Let’s compare Germany to the Czech Republic.  Proof of means in Germany is 10236 euros and is 3600 euros in the Czech Republic.  Depending on the source, Berlin is anywhere from 32%49% more expensive than Prague. Even using the lower cost difference, a student in the Czech Republic would have 41 bachelor’s and 98 master’s options in which they would pay the same for living AND tuition as they would pay for living expenses alone in Germany.

While these aren’t all necessarily dramatic differences, we are comparing your overall expenses including tuition. The fact that you can pay less overall while paying a few thousand euros a year in tuition is precisely the reason not to confine your search to only those with free tuition. For a student who has a tight budget, those savings can mean a lot and/or open up a lot of options that are comparable in cost.

Let’s go back to the student who has a very tight budget and doesn’t think they can afford to work with Beyond the States. We have a self paced course called Choosing A University in Europe.  This course walks students through the process of choosing a European university (for bachelor’s)*that fits their criteria and includes 30 days of database access.  Membership is not required for the course, which costs $75.  Without taking this course, a budget minded student might confine their search to free tuition and not know that they need to come up with over 10000 euros for proof of means. They might apply in Norway, not knowing that you need a certain number of AP courses.  They might not be aware of one of my favorite universities in the Czech Republic which has a Environmental Studies program for under 1000 euros per year.

The knowledge gained after making this one time payment will save you endless hours and minimize the risk of making costly mistakes. It also has the potential to save you thousands of dollars. Of course, if you are comparing to US prices, the savings potential is mind-blowing!  

We would love to help you find life-changing opportunities within your budget! Use coupon code “affordable” through March 7th to save 20% on the Choosing A University Course or your first month of bachelor’s or master’s membership.

***Our master’s membership includes webinars that walk students through the same process.