The 5 Best Study Abroad Countries

Studying abroad is arguably the best experience you’ll have at university, so we’ve set out to show you the 5 best study abroad countries.

For each of our picks, we’ll tell you why we chose them in our top 5. But when you choose your own study abroad country, make sure you take into account your own criteria – do you want to learn a specific language? Do you want to travel around a lot, or just experience the city/ country you’re studying in? Do you want a ‘western lifestyle’, or are you keen to experience a bit of culture shock? Do you care about the reputation of your exchange university? Do you have a budget in mind?

Debating Going Abroad?

If you’re debating the decision to study abroad, don’t. It’s a no brainer. I’ve been on four study abroad programs and I can’t recommend the experience more. Some people might be scared to leave their comforts of home – so go on exchange to a similarly cultured country as yours.

Some people may not have the cash to spare – so go on exchange to the dozens of regions in the world where it’s cheaper to live than your home country, and then you can SAVE money (I know many people from my Uni who did this – specifically to Eastern Europe). Some people may not want to ‘miss anything’ at their home university. Miss anything?! You’re there for at least 4 years of your life. If you’re afraid you’ll miss something by going to an exotic destination for ONE SEMESTER, you’ve got it all wrong – it’s everyone else who will be missing out.

The life experience you gain on exchange is phenomenal, it’s like a gap year without the gap – or the year if you’re just doing a semester. Actually, with that said, the only regret I’ve heard from people who did go on exchange was that they didn’t go for a full year. Couldn’t agree more.

So without further ado, here are our top 5 study abroad countries:

1. Hong Kong

Hong Kong’s never ending skyline. Source: CNN Traveller

Ah, Hong Kong – my first taste of Asia and also one of my four study abroad destinations. I studied at The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), located about 30 minutes away from the city centre. The greatest thing about studying in Hong Kong was the mix of western and eastern culture. I had never been to Asia before, so I wasn’t sure if I should throw myself fully into the culture, or slowly immerse myself by studying somewhere like Hong Kong. There’s very little language barrier here – nearly everyone below the age of 40 speaks English, and if it’s Mandarin that you’re after, no need to study in smoggy China, simply walk the streets of Hong Kong and you’ll hear Mandarin spoken everywhere. Sure, the national language is still Cantonese, but the Mandarin influence is becoming more and more prominent.

AFFORDABILITY – 3/5

CUHK and Hong Kong University of Science & Technology (HKUST) are recommendations. Both offer good access to the city centre, absolutely stunning campuses, solid international reputations, and efficiently run study abroad programs/ services.

The greatest thing about studying off the main island – the affordability. If you live on campus, I assure you that your rent will be cheaper than what you pay at home. Not only that, but the food is $3-5 USD per meal on campus and the transport system is one of the most efficient in the world (and quite cheap). You just can’t beat that. On the island is a different story.

FUN FACTOR – 5/5

You’ll get an incredibly diverse mix of students studying with you, and everyone is surely ready to have a good time. The courses are quite manageable, so students get pretty involved in the local scene. The infamous ‘Lan Kwai Fong’ aka LKF is this street full of bars and clubs and often a student-favourite pretty much any night of the week.

PROXIMITY TO TRAVEL – 4/5

In terms of travel, take an easy 40 minute train ride and you’ll land yourself in Shenzhen, China. Or how bout a 40 minute ferry ride and you’ll end up in the thriving Vegas of the East – Macau. The Philippines is just a short 2 hour plane ride (look up Cebu Pacific for cheap flights), or venture off to Hanoi, Vietnam and check out the infamous Halong Bay.

But the real benefit of studying in Hong Kong is the access to China, without actually living in China. Every weekend you can try a new place around China – Guilin/ Yangshuo, Shanghai, Chengdu, Xi’an, etc. Then come back to the clean(er) air, the more trustworthy food, and the limited language barrier being of Hong Kong during the weeks. A true feeling of home.

2. Buenos Aires

The Obelisco de Buenos Aires. Source: guestlist.net

Beunos Aires – meaning good air in Spanish – is one of the largest cities in Latin America, and number 2 on our best study abroad destinations list. I haven’t been to Argentina, let alone studied there, but the friends of mine who have say nothing but exceptional things about the place. The culture of the city is among the most enticing factors of spending your time abroad in BA – the locals are friendly, vibrant, and always ready for a dance.

FUN FACTOR – 4/5

If you’re keen to indulge in Latin American culture, this is the spot: the nightlife, the wine, the football (soccer), and the tango is at absolute premium here. Also, from what I hear it’s pretty cheap to live – transit is something like one peso for all metro rides, wine is inexpensive (and amazing), and food is quite reasonable as well – but just make sure to save for those steak dinners.

PROXIMITY TO TRAVEL – 4/5

In terms of travel, Buenos Aires is one of the hubs of South America. Enjoy a weekend in Colonia or Montevideo, Uruguay. Or, take a bit of a longer trip and check out Lima, Santiago, Sao Paulo, or Rio – just short flights away. South America is a thriving region of the world, and there’s no better opportunity about learning to do business in the region than studying abroad, immersing yourself in the culture, and learning the language. Try to even stay for the summer break by looking for internships at places like Startup Chile.

AFFORDABILITY – 3/5

Buenos Aires is still relatively affordable. Here are the universities we’d recommend in Buenos Aires, simply based on international recognition and quality of education:

  • Universidad de Buenos Aires
  • Universidad Austral
  • Pontificia Universidad Católica Argentina Santa María de los Buenos Aires (UCA)
  • Universidad Torcuato Di Tella
  • Universidad del Belgrano

3. Singapore

View of the Singapore skyline and nightlife district Clarke Quay. Source: traveldailynews.asia

I’ve had tons of friends study in Singapore and they loved it. Singapore is the business hub and study destination in Southeast Asia. The Singapore Government invests significant funds into their education sector.

The three major universities in the country are: the National University of Singapore, the Nanyang Technological University, the Singapore Management University. Each hold outstanding reputations around the region and are a surefire way to land you at least an interview if you want to stay for a summer internship.

FUN FACTOR – 3/5

Singapore is well-known for its rules – the Government holds a tight leash on what’s happening in its city-state – so much so that dozens of other countries use Singapore as a reference for the direction they should be heading. A few notable laws you should be aware of before visiting:

1. It is against the law and a public caning offense to not flush the toilet after using it.

2. Littering will cost you at minimum $1000.

3. Being nude in your house is illegal… seriously.

4. You can’t hug anyone without specific permission to do so (if you do, it could land yourself in jail!).

But despite all these laws, Singapore still maintains a pretty thriving nightlife – and an outrageously open red light district. Clarke Quay is probably the best place for young people to go party, with just rows and rows of bars around the area.

AFFORDABILITY – 3/5

The problem is, the Government heavily taxes all alcohol, so prepare to pay over $10 USD for a beer pretty much anywhere in the country. If you’re a smoker and you want to quit, study abroad in Singapore. The prices for cigarettes are even more inflated than that of alcohol, but hey what better incentive for you to quit than going broke if you don’t! Even if you aren’t a smoker though, you’ll have to learn to manage your budget pretty quickly because Singapore can be quite an expensive place to live. Tips: live on campus if you can (significantly cheaper rent), eat at food courts (meals $2-3), and take the MRT everywhere (it’s way cheaper than cabs and just as efficient).

PROXIMITY TO TRAVEL – 5/5

It’s in close proximity to some amazing travel destinations: Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, even Sri Lanka and India – and it’s probably the most westernized city in Asia, so if you want all the comforts of home while still having a bit of Asian flare, Singapore is an obvious choice.

4. Sydney

The iconic Sydney harbour. Source: redbubble.net

I didn’t study abroad in Sydney, nor do I have any close friends who did. But I have lived here and I truly believe it’s one of the greatest cities on Earth.

PROXIMITY TO TRAVEL – 3/5

In terms of proximity to travel, I had to give it a 3/5 – not because there aren’t any amazing travel destinations near Sydney, but only because Australia is so isolated that it’s a long-haul flight to just about any international destination. But seriously, there’s little need to hop on a long-haul during your semester abroad. I’m pretty certain all semester abroad programs run during the Feb- July semester (Australia’s semester dates are much different than the northern hemisphere), so I highly recommend getting here in January and experiencing the incredibly Aussie summer – heat waves, beaches, surf, sand and sun. You just can’t beat it.

If you want a weekend away, the gorgeous Blue Mountains are just a 1 hour train ride from downtown Sydney – abseiling down waterfalls, hiking, mountain biking – the Blue Mountains is one of those amazing adventure locations. How about Melbourne? It’s only a 1.5 hour flight south and it’s an incredibly cultural rich city with great food and nightlife. Byron Bay, the Gold Coast, Tasmania, even Fiji – these are all destinations you can affordably visit from Sydney – so if you’re thinking of avoiding Aus because of the lack of travel options think twice. Plus on the way home you can stop off wherever you like!

AFFORDABILITY – 2/5

The only downside to Sydney is it’s incredibly expensive to live. I’m not joking, food – especially eating out – is inflated 20-30% compared to North America. Beer is also really expensive, so you often hear of students opting for alternatives like ‘wine in a box’ and just traditional wine in glass bottles as well, which is quite reasonably priced down unda. But if you’re coming to Sydney for exchange, start saving. Rent is so insane that you often hear about people having ‘roommates’ as opposed to ‘flatmates’. Yes, people literally share their apartment rooms with sometimes up to four people just to afford the rent here.

FUN FACTOR – 4/5

I just met someone from Italy who went back home because she literally had no time to have fun – she was working too much to pay for her daily living costs! So definitely be sure to have a decent chunk of cash before you come, or learn to live off of a shoestring while your here.

I guess the reason why the cost of living is so high is because the demand to live here is just as high. Sydney is an incredibly beautiful city – it’s got the harbour, the Opera House, and dozens of famous beaches just minutes from the downtown core. Nightlife is also hopping, and unlike most North American cities, it’s not just congregated in the city centre – the surrounding suburbs also boast some amazing bars and clubs, including King’s Cross, Surry Hills, and Newtown.

In terms of universities, I’d recommend the University of Sydney as well as the University of New South Wales (UNSW). These schools have the best reputation, exchange programs, and campus amenities. But don’t expect the same campus culture as North America (or even Europe), almost no locals live on campus and instead choose to save money and live at home with their parents – which makes sense, but makes it a bit more difficult interacting with the Aussies.

5. London

London skyline. Source: Wikpedia

FUN FACTOR – 4/5

London, London, London. This can’t be a surprise to anyone it’s one of our choices for the best study abroad destinations – it’s one of the best cities in the world, it’s got some of the most prestigious universities, and great nightlife, food, and travel opportunities.

PROXIMITY TO TRAVEL – 5/5

Barcelona, Amsterdam, Berlin, Manchester, Paris, Dublin… honestly the travel options in Europe are endless and it’s great having access to the discount airlines like Ryan Air and EasyJet.

AFFORDABILITY – 2/5

The only downside – London can be an incredibly expensive city to live. Rent costs are out of control and eating out – particularly if you’re using Canadian dollars – can add up quite quickly!

So there you have it – our top 5 best study abroad countries. Choose wisely, opt for a year rather than a semester, and prepare to have some of the best times of your life. Enjoy!

Joel Nicholson

Joel Nicholson

Joel Nicholson is the Co-founder of CampusRankings and the MatchU™ quiz, making it easy for you to find the right school.

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