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The Most Expensive Cities for International Students

Jan 16, 2023Date Published
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UniSearch - The Most Expensive Cities for International Students

There is a lot to consider when deciding to study abroad. And of course, one of the most important considerations is where you want to study. And a deciding factor when choosing the right place? How much you expect to pay, to study and live in that country. The most expensive cities for international students also tend to be the cities with the most expensive (and often top-ranked) universities. Here’s a breakdown of how much you’d expect to pay to live and study in the world’s priciest cities.

Where Are the Most Expensive Places to Live As A Student?

Business Insider ranks 2021’s most expensive cities by student rent:

Average Rent Per Week
Top Universities in City
New York City
Columbia University
New York University (NYU)
Cornell University
San Francisco
Academy of Art University
California College of Arts
California State University
University of California, Berkeley
Berkeley City College
San Diego
University of California, San Diego
University of San Diego
University of Saint Katherine
Harvard University
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
​Boston University
University College London (UCL)
King’s College London
University of Edinburgh
Edinburgh Napier University
Heriot-Watt University
University of Cambridge
Anglia Ruskin University
Cambridge Judge Business School
University of Oxford
St. John’s College
University College Oxford
University of Sydney
University of South Wales, Sydney
University of Technology Sydney

Accommodation is just one aspect of cost of living. For better comparison, below are the 15 least affordable student cities in 2022, according to QS Top Universities. The Affordability scores are all out of 100.

  • Los Angeles – 22.9
  • New York – 23.9
  • San Francisco – 24.1
  • Philadelphia – 27.2
  • Chicago – 27.3
  • Boston – 27.4
  • Washington DC – 28.4
  • Baltimore – 28.7
  • Miami – 31.4
  • Houston – 33.1
  • Atlanta – 35.4
  • Pittsburgh – 35.9
  • San Diego – 36.3
  • London – 36.9
  • Brighton – 37.8

Tuition Fees at the World’s Best Universities

Perhaps not coincidentally, several of the world’s most expensive schools for international students happen to be in the costliest cities. Each of the universities below falls within the QS World University 2022 Rankings’ top 10. In general, the bigger and more prestigious the university, the pricier the tuition and living costs. (Note that there are several extenuating factors that may affect how affordable these places are for you - we cover some of them in this article!)

QS Top Universities’ International Student Tuition Fee Breakdown for Top Universities

University Name
Tuition Fees for Undergraduate Programs
Tuition Fees for Graduate Programs
QS World University Ranking 2022
University College London
London, UK
$26,860 – $39,000
$29,480 – $35,890
University of Chicago
Chicago, USA
$49,734 (a year)
Imperial College London
London, UK
$39,480 – $40,210
$40,530 - $41,120
University of Cambridge
Cambridge, UK
$28,130 – $42,800
$31,590 – $42,190
ETH Zurich
Zurich, Switzerland
$1,660 per semester
(all programs except PhD)
$1,660 per semester
(all programs except PhD)
University of Oxford
Oxford, UK
$34,630 – $45,650
$32,150 – $33,420
California Institute of Technology (CalTech)
Pasadena, California
Harvard University
Cambridge, Massachusetts
$48,008 (year 1 & 2)
$12,484 (year 3 & 4)
Stanford University
Stanford, California
$54,315 – $57,861
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Most Expensive Education System in the World

Some places show up frequently in rankings for costly cities to live in as an international student. But there are other places around the world where tertiary education can take from a third to over half of the average household income.
These countries host the most expensive education systems in the world, according to Business Insider. Several of these countries host some of the world’s top-ranked universities.

Most Expensive Countries for a University Education
QS World Universities Ranked in Top 300
University of Tartu
Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile
Universidad de Chile
Universiti Malaya
Universiti Putra Malaysia
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia
Universiti Sains Malaysia
Universiti Teknologi Malaysia
The United States
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
Stanford University
Harvard University
California Institute of Technology (CalTech)
University of Chicago*
University of Oxford
University of Cambridge
Imperial College London
University College London
The University of Manchester**
National University of Singapore
Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
The University of Tokyo
Kyoto University
Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech)
Osaka University
Tohoku University***

*around 60 US universities appear in the Top 300 of the QS World University Rankings 2022
**around 35 UK universities appear in the Top 300 of the QS World University 2022
***11 Japanese universities appear in the Top 300 of the QS World University Rankings 2022

Can You Afford to Study in an Expensive City? Absolutely!

Some of the world’s best universities happen to be in the most expensive places to live in as a student. So, should you just avoid applying there? Of course not.


Despite having high tuition and accommodation fees, there’s plenty of opportunities to study at several of these universities. Many US and UK schools, for example, offer a broad range of scholarships to international students. These can fully or partially cover tuition fees, accommodation, and other living expenses. For example, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), nearly 60% of undergraduate students, including international students, get financial aid.

Along with scholarships offered by the schools, there are also awards available to international students from home and host governments. Check what scholarships schemes your country offers to develop its human capital. These may be generous offers to fully cover your tuition and living costs, in exchange for entering a bond to work for your sponsor after graduating. Alternately, host countries may also offer generous opportunities to cover your education costs. Programs like Chevening Scholarships in the UK and the Fullbright Program in the US are examples.

Work Opportunities

There are often opportunities in several of these countries to work while you study. In places like the US and UK, tuition fees appear higher but take up a smaller fraction of average household income because of stronger purchasing power. In other words, the US dollar and the UK pound have greater value for one unit of currency compared to other currencies. If you get the opportunity to work while studying, you can offset some of your costs! By earning in a stronger currency, you’ll comparatively spend a smaller proportion of your income than if you were converting from your home currency (unless that currency is stronger).

Some of the most expensive cities also have the highest employer activity. For example, Boston ranks at #2 for the Best Student Cities 2022 ranking by QS Top Universities under Employer Activity. The city has an impressive score of 94.4/100 under this indicator. London and New York rank at #4 and #9 respectively. This means that opportunities to work as you study and get a job after you graduate are very high. You might consider the tuition and costs of living in these cities a long-term investment to eventually graduate and earn a living there. Remember, many of these top universities rank very high for the employability of their graduates and student desirability.

Top Affordable Universities

A top university doesn’t necessarily have to be an incredibly expensive one. Tuition and living costs can vary significantly within a city or country, too. In the UK, for example, Aberdeen lands at #47 in QS Top Universities’ Best Student Cities 2022 ranking for Affordability. According to this indicator, it scores a solid 61/100. The University of Aberdeen ranks at #205 in the QS World University Rankings 2022. In comparison, London ranks #95 in Affordability with a score of 36.9/100.

Some of the world’s best universities are also in some of the most affordable countries for international students. Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia ranks a full 100 under the Affordability indicator. Malaysia ranks 8 universities in the top 500 of the QS World University Rankings 2022! These are all within or close to Kuala Lumpur! Canada is also incredibly popular as home to some of the world’s best universities, with affordable tuition and living costs compared to other English-speaking countries. Montreal, for example, ranks #52 under Best Student Cities 2022 for Affordability. It has a strong score of nearly 60 out of 100, compared to Boston’s 27.4 and New York’s 23.6 out of 100. Montreal scores #13 as most desirable student city to live in in 2022, and is home to renowned schools like McGill University.

Final Thoughts:

As you can see, which country is expensive for international students is a complex question to answer. Some of the best universities happen to be in some of the most expensive cities for international students. But you need to consider this against other related factors too. Plenty of these universities offer full or partial scholarships for international students. Others have very high desirability and employer activity as student cities. This means they’re great, convenient, friendly and safe places for international students, with opportunities for earning a living there. Rather than going off just the cost of living, remember to consider these extenuating factors too!