European Countries With Free College in 2023: Key Factors to Consider

European Countries With Free College in 2023: Key Factors to Consider
Imed Bouchrika, Phd by Imed Bouchrika, Phd
Chief Data Scientist & Head of Content

There were 193,422 American students on study abroad programs in Europe for the 2018-2019 academic year, a 3.1% increase over the previous year (IIE, 2020). In an effort to escape the ever-increasing average cost of college education in the United States, American families are exploring options in Europe where overseas students do not have to pay tuition.

Many people’s hopes were raised by Vice President Biden’s plan to make college tuition-free during the last election cycle, but this proposal has since been abandoned. As a result, European countries with free college are becoming increasingly attractive to middle-class American families.

We take a look at the European nations that provide free higher education and compile a list of the most affordable colleges in these nations.

European Countries With Free College Table of Contents

  1. Student Debt Crisis in the U.S.
  2. European Countries With Free or Nearly Free College Tuition
  3. Nearly or Entirely Free European Colleges for American Students
  4. How European Countries Afford Free College and What They Sacrifice

Student Debt Crisis in the U.S.

Cost influences college selection. According to an online survey by Fidelity Insitutional (2021), 4 in 10 high school students said cost is ‘very essential’ in college selection. Indeed, according to an annual poll by U.S. News (2021), private universities’ average tuition and fees rose by 1% in 2021-2022. Similarly, in-state and out-of-state tuition and fees at ranking public schools have risen by 1% to 2%.

Nearly one-third of all American students must now incur debt to complete their education. The average student loan debt reached $38,792 in 2020. (Federal Reserve, 2020) They all together owe about $1.6 trillion. (Federal Reserve Bank of New York, 2021),

Consequently, the student debt crisis is taking a toll on parents’ mental health. In the study, “The Other Student Debt Crisis: How Borrowing to Pay for a Child’s College Education Relates to Parents’ Mental Health at Midlife,” Walsemann et al. (2020) found that “Fathers having any child-related educational debt versus none was associated with fewer depressive symptoms, but having greater amounts of child-related educational debt was associated with more depressive symptoms and worse mental health. No relationship was found for mothers.” This study was published in The Journals of Gerontology. Series B, Psychological Sciences and Social Science. 

American families, therefore, explore the possibility of studying in European countries with nearly free college tuition for American citizens to offset the cost of college. Additionally, those with limited means to go abroad, they explore the cheapest private and public online colleges in Europe.

Source: College Board

European Countries With Free or Nearly Free College Tuition

European countries continue to be the most popular study abroad destinations for Americans: 55.7% of study abroad students in 2018/19 went to Europe with the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, France, and Germany as the top choices. (IIE, 2020)

Here is a list of European countries with free university for international students or nearly free college education for international students.

1. Norway

Norwegian public universities are free even for international students. Private institutions, however, are free to set their fees.

Norway has seven accredited public universities, nine accredited specialized university institutions, 22 accredited university colleges, and two accredited national colleges of Arts. That gives a long list of public institutions to choose from, but one must keep in mind that the cost of living in Norway is very high!

Cost of Living

Perhaps the free college tuition in Norway was placed to offset the high cost of living. (2021) breaks down the average monthly costs of living in Oslo (converted to USD):

  • Monthly rent (1 bedroom apartment): $1,550
  • Utilities (monthly average): $140
  • Monthly public transport pass: $90
  • Meal (inexpensive restaurant): $20

These conversions could change easily since the price of oil heavily influences the Norwegian Krone. Still, on the plus side, Norway has ‘corridors,’ which are similar to dorms in the United States. In addition, Norway’s tap water is safe to drink. (, 2021) These two options can help students save money.

2. Iceland

All public universities in Iceland provide free education with an annual registration fee of $750 for international students. There are seven major universities, four graduate schools, and three defunct institutions. Only three private universities would have fees of up to $150 per credit unit. However, the cost of living in Iceland is steep.

Cost of Living

Just like Norway, Iceland is expensive. The University of Iceland (2021) provides an estimate of the monthly living costs in Reykjavík (converted to USD), plus study materials:

  • Housing, including utilities: ~$770
  • Food and daily expenses: ~$385
  • Local public transportation: ~$46
  • Books and other study materials: ~$308/semester

3. Germany

In 2014, all public universities in Germany’s 16 states abolished undergraduate tuition fees but were reinstated for non-E.U. students in Baden-Württemberg in autumn 2017. Non-E.U. students in Baden-Württemberg must now pay 3,000 EUR ($3,500) per year, with a 1,300 EUR ($1,600) reduction for second degrees. (Playdon, 2021)

Cost of Living

Germany is also quite expensive. DAAD (2021) summarizes the monthly cost of living as follows (converted to USD):

  • Accommodation: ~$370
  • Food: ~$193
  • Transport: ~$108
  • Telephone, internet, and T.V. license: ~$35
  • Study materials: ~$23

4. Austria

Tuition is free for Austrian students and those from E.U. and EEA member countries so long as they have not exceeded the minimum duration of their study program. Otherwise, they must pay 363.36 EUR (~420 USD) per semester.

Meanwhile, international students from developing countries with a Residence Permit-Student must pay 726.72 EUR ($841) per semester, plus a mandatory student union ‘H-Beitrag’ and an accident insurance fee of 20.20 EUR ($23) per semester. (OeAD, 2021)

Cost of Living

The cost of living in Austria is relatively lower than in other European countries. OeAD (2021) summarizes the monthly cost of living (converted to USD):

  • Accommodation: ~$463
  • Food (excluding luxuries and tobacco): ~$289
  • Studies and personal requirements (books, culture, recreation): ~$347

5. France

Non-European students pay 2,770 EUR ($3,209) for a bachelor’s degree, while European students pay 170 euros. Residents of Quebec and international students enrolled in doctoral programs can pay the same fees as French and E.U. students. (Campus France, 2021)

Cost of Living

The cost of living in France can be high, especially in Paris and the big cities. Campus France (2021) gives an overview of the monthly costs international students may incur (converted to USD):

  • Housing: ~$146 (in France); ~$729 (provinces); ~$173 to ~$695 (CROUS)
  • Food: ~$347
  • “Restaurant Universitaire” meal: ~$3
  • Annual transit subscription: ~$396 (Paris); ~$289 to ~$347 (outside Paris)

6. Poland

Full-time studies (in Polish) at state Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) are free for Polish students. It is also free for foreigners who begin their studies in Poland under terms applicable to Polish citizens. These include EU/EEA citizens and students with the Polish Charter (Karta Polaka). All other foreigners are required to pay tuition fees, ranging from 2,000 EUR ($2,317) to 3,000 EUR ($3,475). (NAWA, 2021)

Cost of Living

Living in Poland is relatively cheaper. The National Agency for Academic Exchange or NAWA (2021) gives an overview of the monthly spending in Poland (converted to USD):

  • Housing Rent: ~$104 to ~$162
  • Public transportation: ~$12 to ~$15
  • Phone, internet, and T.V. subscription bills ~$19 to ~$25
  • Groceries ~$173 to ~$231

7. Greece

Students from the E.U./E.E.A. are exempt from paying tuition at public universities and colleges in Greece. Some master’s programs may charge tuition. Meanwhile, non-E.U. students must pay small tuition fees at public universities and institutions. Because tuition rates vary by course, it is best to reach out to institutions to determine the precise fee. Non-E.U. students pay an average of 1,500 EUR ($1,737) per year for tuition and materials. (Study in Europe, 2017)

Cost of Living

Greece is relatively cheaper. Find a Ph.D.(2021) gives an overview of how much the cost of living in Greece is (converted to USD):

  • Accommodation: ~$231 to ~$289
  • Restaurant Meals: ~$11
  • Monthly Travel Pass: ~$34
  • Monthly Utilities: ~$176

8. Hungary

Hungary, one of Europe’s top tourist destinations, is also becoming a popular study destination for international students. Although Hungary does not provide free college education, tuition fees there are significantly lower than in other parts of Europe and the United States.

Tuition fees for a bachelor’s degree can range from 600 EUR ($695) to 4,000 EUR ($4,634) per semester, depending on the institution and program. (Tempus Public Foundation, 2019)

Furthermore, the cost of living in Hungary is very low, with an estimated monthly cost of $300. Universities in Hungary, with a focus on internationalization, offer a wide range of programs in English and French, German, and Russian. (Tempus Public Foundation, 2019)

Cost of Living

Study in Hungary (2019) provides an overview of how much the cost of living in Hungary would be (in USD):

  • Accommodation: $74 to $458 (dormitory, private flat, or shared flat)
  • Food: $147
  • Recreation more or less: $30
  • Public bike: $5
  • Urban public transport: $8 to $15

9. Slovenia

Slovenia, located in Central Europe, provides free college tuition to E.U. citizens and citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Kosovo, and the Republics of Macedonia and Serbia.

At the bachelor’s degree level, students from non-EU member countries pay between 2,000 EUR (~2317 USD) and 5,000 EUR ($5,792) per year. (Study in Slovenia, 2021)

Cost of Living

The monthly cost of living in Slovenia is estimated to be 600 EUR ($695). The University of Ljubljana (2021) breaks down the monthly cost of living in Slovenia (converted to USD):

  • Accommodation: ~$173.78 to ~$521.34
  • Food: ~$231.71
  • City Transportation: ~$23.17 (Urbana bus card); ~$57.93 (used bicycle)

10. The Czech Republic

Higher education at public and state institutions in the Czech Republic is free for all students who study in the Czech language. Fees for studying another language range from $0 to $22,350 per year, depending on the institution and program. (Study in the Czech Republic, 2021)

The advantage of studying in the Czech Republic is that the cost of living is relatively low, ranging between $350 and $750 per month. (Study in the Czech Republic, 2021)

Cost of Living

Study in the Czech Republic (2021) breaks down the monthly spending of students in the Czech Republic (converted to USD):

  • Accommodation: ~$150 to ~$450
  • Lunch at students’ canteen: ~$2
  • Restaurant meal: ~$6
  • Loaf of bread: ~$1

share of U.S. students who went to Europe for studies in 2019

Nearly or Entirely Free European Colleges for American Citizens

While several of the mentioned countries in the previous section charge tuitions for international students, the costs are still much lower than the U.S. average cost of tuition and fees of $43,775 at private colleges, $28,238 for out-of-state students at public schools, and $11,631 for state residents at public colleges (Powell et al., 2021), European college with nearly free tuition for American citizens and other international students remains to be a better option.

Here is an excerpt from Global Scholarship’s (2021) list of nearly or entirely free European colleges for American students.

1. Norway

  • University of Bergen: Free
  • The Arctic University of Norway: Free
  • Norwegian University of Science and Technology: Free
  • Norwegian University of Life Sciences: Free

2. Iceland

  • University of Iceland: Free
  • Iceland Academy of the Arts: Free
  • University of Akureyri: Free
  • Reykjavik University: Free

3. Germany

  • Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich: Free
  • Technical University of Munich: Free
  • Technical University of Munich: Free
  • RWTH Aachen University: Free
  • University of Bonn: Free

4. Austria

  • FH Vorarlberg University of Applied Sciences: $25/per semester
  • University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences: $25/semester for students of designated developing countries to $875/semester
  • University of Vienna: $25/semester for students of designated developing countries to $900 per/semester
  • Medical University of Vienna: $25/semester for students of designated developing countries to $900 per semester

5. France

  • Université Paris-Saclay: $206/year
  • Aix-Marseille Université: $206/year
  • Université d’Orléans: $206/year
  • Université Toulouse 1 Capitole: $206/year

6. Poland

  • University of Wroclaw: $600 to $1,000 per year
  • AGH University of Science and Technology: $950 to $1,800 per year
  • Academy of Finance and Management in Bialystok: $1,120 to $1,300 per year
  • Adam Mickiewicz University: $1,650 per year

7. Greece

  • University of Crete: Free
  • Aristotle University of Thessaloniki: $1,000 per year
  • University of Patras: $450 to $650 per year
  • University of Piraeus: $1,000 per year

8. Hungary

  • University of Pécs: $3,000/year
  • Corvinus University of Budapest: $2,000/year
  • Budapest University of Technology and Economics: $3,600/year
  • University of Szeged: $4,000/year

9. Slovenia

  • University of Ljubljana: $3,300 to $16,500 per year
  • University of Maribor: $2,000 to $4,500 per year
  • University of Nova Gorica (UNG): $3,500 to $7,650 per year
  • University of Primorska $3,000 to $6,500 per year

10. The Czech Republic

  • Czech University of Life Sciences Prague: $235 per year
  • Masaryk University: $2,410 per year
  • University of Pardubice: $2800 to $4000 per year
  • Metropolitan University Prague: $2,430 to $2,665 per year

Source: US Department of Education; College Board

How European Countries Afford Free College and What They Sacrifice

Many European countries currently provide free college to all students regardless of family status, but that is not entirely free, as the taxpayer foots the bill.

European countries frequently differ markedly from the U.S. Their college enrolment rates are lower than in America. They generally have higher taxes than the U.S., allowing them to provide more social services. (Jackson, 2017)

What is the impact then of free college?

What European Countries Sacrifice for Free College Tuition

Delisle and Cooper (2019) said that “in a world of finite resources,” these three aspects are “inherently in tension with one another:” number of college graduates produced, the number of funds available per student overall, and how much of that funding comes from government sources. They continue that “a government that tries to prioritize one quality usually has to sacrifice one of the others.”

This statement took form after Delisle and Cooper (2019) compared higher-education systems in 35 developed countries based on these three aspects.

The developed world approaches this trade-off in many ways. For example, 70% of young Koreans have completed college, but that comes at a steep price. South Korea ranks towards the bottom in terms of funding and subsidies, forcing students to pay for their fees and universities to run on a shoestring. (Delisle and Cooper, 2019)

The research illustrates that a nation cannot do everything at once: no developed nation ranked in the top third of all three aspects. A country’s higher-education system must inevitably prioritize. In the case of European nations, offering free or nearly-free college education is at the expense of taxpayers.

According to a report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development or OECD (2020), nations with the highest taxes on all-in average personal income tax rates at the average wage for a single person with no children are Germany (38.9%), Belgium (38.4%), Lithuania (35.8%), Denmark (35.3%), and Slovenia (33.7%).

Two of these top five countries are among the European countries with free college or offer very low fees for college education.

German tax for free college

European Countries: A Worthwhile Choice for Affordable College

Despite the high cost of living in some European countries with free college for international students, the overall cost of studying in these nations is still much lower. As such, a college education in Europe could save American families money, not to mention time, as some programs in the U.K. and Continental Europe award bachelor’s degrees after three years.

The question, however, would be are European college degrees recognized in the U.S.? The answer would be generally yes since there is no single authority to recognize foreign degrees and other qualifications. At most, a European degree may only be an issue for the practice of regulated professions in the U.S. In such a case, individuals must present foreign degrees or other qualifications to their respective regulatory boards. (U.S. Department of Education, 2021)

Ultimately, a college education influences pay and job security. According to Allan Goodman, president and CEO of the Institute of International Education, those attending Europe’s top programs are likely to impress employers. (Haynie, 2015)​ European nations are still the best options for Americans who want to get higher education at a much lower cost.



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