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10 most popular countries for international students

In 2020, over 5.6 million students chose to reap the huge benefits of studying abroad. However, this figure is expected to hit nearly 8 million by 2025 if the current rate of growth continues.

International students are always on the lookout for the best countries to study abroad. Thankfully, our world is full of a fantastic array of destinations. Whether you’re looking for big cities or small towns, hot weather or cooler climates, there really is somewhere for everyone.

Despite the endless options available, a handful of countries continue to get the lion’s share of international student enrollments. If you’re looking for some inspiration, or are just interested to see where your fellow students are flocking, here’s a list of the 10 most popular countries to study abroad in:

Rank Country International student population
1 USA 1,075,496
2 UK 551,495
3 Canada 503,270
4 China 492,185
5 Australia 463,643
6 France 358,000
7 Russia 353,331
8 Germany 302,157
9 Japan 228,403
10 Spain 125,675

(Source: Project Atlas, 2020)

1. USA

No. of international students Overall % of international students Most represented countries
1,075,496 5.5% China, India & South Korea

(Source: Project Atlas, 2020)

For decades, the US has reigned supreme as the world’s most popular study abroad destination. The country’s prestigious institutions dominate global university rankings, attracting students from across the world with an appetite for academic excellence.

With over 5,500 universities and colleges based in the nation, the US is home to an unbeatable variety of programs. Whatever your interests and career aspirations, you’ll find a subject that suits your needs.

Diversity is at the heart of US identity and the country is a melting pot of different cultures, religions, races, and ethnicities. No matter your background, you’ll be welcomed with open arms.

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2. UK

No. of international students Overall % of international students Most represented countries
551,495 22.3% China, USA & India

(Source: Project Atlas, 2020)

The UK has a rich history of higher-education, and many of the world’s oldest and most admired universities are located here. British universities are also renowned for their cutting-edge research projects and facilities, putting you at the forefront of innovation and discovery.

Another advantage of studying in the UK is the language skills you’ll develop. English is a global language that’s vital to global business and diplomacy, and becoming fluent will open up many international career prospects.

Much like the US, the UK is proud of its vibrant and multicultural society. The country has a long tradition of welcoming people from different cultures and backgrounds, so it’s reassuring to know that you’ll be living in an inclusive and welcoming environment.

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3. Canada

No. of international students Overall % of international students Most represented countries
503,270 23.7% India, China & France

(Source: Project Atlas, 2020)

Students travel to Canada from far and wide to gain an internationally-recognized education. The country boasts an impressive higher-education system, and many of Canada’s universities feature in global rankings.

Beyond the classroom, you’ll enjoy exploring the country’s rich and varied landscapes. From snowy mountains and sandy beaches to celebrated student cities like Vancouver and Toronto, pupils never run out of places to visit.

Canada consistently ranks as the world’s best country for quality of life too. With great safety statistics, friendly communities, super healthcare, and a thriving job market, it’s no surprise your fellow international students are drawn to the nation.

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4. China

No. of international students Overall % of international students Most represented countries
492,185 1.2% South Korea, Thailand & Pakistan

(Source: Project Atlas, 2020)

Thanks to its rapidly-improving educational reputation, China is hot on the heels of the UK. Chinese universities are quickly climbing the global rankings, promising you a superb educational experience at a significantly cheaper cost.

China’s economy is booming and is on course to overtake the US in the coming years. By studying in the heart of this economic superpower, you’ll open up outstanding career opportunities.

Immersing yourself in Chinese culture is also the best way to build your Mandarin fluency. Mandarin is the world’s most widely spoken language, and it’s becoming ever more important in international business and politics. By getting to grips with the language, your employability will skyrocket.

5. Australia

No. of international students Overall % of international students Most represented countries
463,643 31.3% China, India & Nepal

(Source: Project Atlas, 2020)

Australia has the highest percentage of international students relative to its overall student body. Besides the golden beaches and guaranteed sunshine, students are dazzled by the country’s first-rate universities and colleges.

In Australia, it’s possible to study almost any subject you can think of thanks to the rich variety of programs. Tuition fees are lower than most other English-speaking countries, so studying here won't break the bank either.

Australia is a country founded on the principles of diversity and multiculturalism. This forward-thinking nation welcomes individuals from all backgrounds onto its shores, which can reduce the chances of experiencing a culture shock.

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6. France

No. of international students Overall % of international students Most represented countries
358,000 13.4% Morocco, Algeria & China

(Source: Project Atlas, 2020)

France is a great option if you’re looking to gain a world-class education at a reasonable price.

Although tuition fees in France are amongst Europe’s cheapest, you won’t be skimping on the quality of your education. France has a longstanding reputation for academic excellence and is famed for producing some of the world’s most influential scientists, artists, philosophers, and designers.

As well as having access to the great student cities of Paris, Toulouse, and Lyon, you’ll love how France acts as a gateway to the rest of Europe.

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7. Russia

No. of international students Overall % of international students Most represented countries
353,331 8.5% Kazakhstan, China & Turkmenistan

(Source: Project Atlas, 2020)

Russian universities are quickly scaling the heights of global rankings thanks to their world-leading programs in science, technology, and mathematics (STEM). Job opportunities in STEM subjects are growing at around twice the rate of other sectors, so Russia has established itself as the ideal destination if you’re a career-oriented pupil.

Studying in Russia also gives you the chance to be immersed in a truly academic environment. Russia has the world’s most highly-educated population, with over half of Russian nationals holding a university degree.

One major advantage of studying in Russia is the scholarship opportunities available. Each year, the Russian government grants thousands of scholarships to international students. This scheme has seen the country’s popularity grow immensely.

8. Germany

No. of international students Overall % of international students Most represented countries
302,157 11.7% China, India & Syria

(Source: Project Atlas, 2020)

The removal of tuition fees at public universities has helped Germany to secure its place among the world’s most attractive study abroad locations. Besides a few administrative and enrollment costs, you can receive a top-notch education for free.

The quality of the country’s educational institutions has also helped to boost Germany’s popularity. German universities are regularly shortlisted for awards in teaching and research, so you’re sure to have an enriching educational experience.

Due to Germany’s location in the heart of Europe, you’ll also have unbeatable connections and travel opportunities to the rest of the continent.

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9. Japan

No. of international students Overall % of international students Most represented countries
228,403 6.2% China, Vietnam & Nepal

(Source: Project Atlas, 2020)

Japan has some of the world’s highest educational standards, and its universities are renowned for their programs in maths and science.

An increased number of English-taught programs, coupled with the country’s low tuition fees and living costs, has seen Japan’s international popularity soar.

The Japanese government’s drive to attract more foreign students seems to have paid off too. Studying here means you’ll take advantage of the country’s generous scholarship schemes and the international support services implemented by most universities.

10. Spain

No. of international students Overall % of international students Most represented countries
125,675 7.9% Italy, France & USA

(Source: Project Atlas, 2020)

Spain is packed full of fantastic universities and colleges. Whether you choose to study in the city or on the coast, the country’s institutions offer an outstanding array of English and Spanish-taught programs at a reasonable price.

Outside of the classroom, you’ll enjoy Spain’s distinctive culture, delicious cuisine, and fascinating heritage.

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Other destinations

Don’t worry if none of the countries above take your fancy, there are plenty of alternative study abroad destinations waiting to be discovered.

The following nations fall just outside of the top ten in terms of popularity, but that’s not to say you won’t fall in love with them:

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