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Do you know, that even if the university of your dreams offers free tuition fees, there are still a couple of things you need to cover financially? What are these costs? Here’s what you need to know about preparing your finance for studying at a tuition-free university!

Ideally speaking, education is a universal right of every human, thus, every responsible country should take care of its citizen’s education by providing tuition-free colleges/universities.

Unfortunately, it’s easier said than done. In fact, technically, NO country offers free higher education to its citizen. What some countries do, is provide a tuition subsidy to those who qualify to attend university.

In countries that offer subsidized tuition, higher education access is rationed and largely based on merit. And rarely will any tuition subsidy cover advanced higher education.

 9  Types of Expenses You Still Need to Pay in "Tuition-Free" Universities

Most of the countries providing “free” education are European countries. The European education system is very much state-funded, thus the tuition fees are negligible and making it possible for every capable student to easily access a quality college education. They don’t have to pay any tuition or only pay very little tuition.

So, is tuition-free college really free? Well by now we know that it’s not. What are the “hidden” costs we still need to pay then?

The answer may vary, depending on where exactly you want to continue your higher education. Wherever you go, most likely the college system will still charge various fees directly to students.

But let’s take a deep dive into European countries as a study case. The reasons are that they offer high-quality education, excellent teaching and research, and many of its universities ranks among the best in the world.

It is also quite a safe zone, nowhere near conflict areas. The countries are also located conveniently close to one another, making them one of the most popular destinations for international students since the possibility of traveling during school breaks is relatively easy.

If you plan to pursue a college education abroad, and you don’t have plenty of funds, then Europe is the most suitable place to continue your education.

So, what do you need to know about paying for college in a European “free” education country? Well, let’s dive in!!!

These are the expenses you need to pay throughout your study in a “free “education country:

1.   Enrollment Expenses

When preparing for university applications, there are plenty of things you need to prepare. You will need to prepare the documents you’ll need to submit, such as your diploma from your previous educational level, your transcripts, birth certificate et cetera, to be translated by a sworn translator and legalized by the institution authorized to do it (in many cases, by the embassy of the country of your study destination)

If you are not a native English speaker and wish to attend an English Taught Program, you will also have to take the TOEFL or IELTS test. The preparation course (should you need to take one) could last for months and will not be cheap.

The test fee itself is also quite expensive. And if you failed (not reaching the minimum standard which is usually 80 for TOEFL and 6.5 or 7 for IELTS) you will have to take another test and pay the same amount (around US$300). Surely if you need to take another course for a certain period of time to increase your ability, you’ll need to put the extra expenses into account.

Don’t forget other small expenses. They may look small, but once it’s piling up, the number could be high. To help you make an estimation and document all your expenses during your study application period, you can check this Budget Tracker.


2.   Entrance/Registration Fees

Many universities charge an entrance fee, in exchange for the service and assistance they offered you. For example, in the UK, pretty much everyone who wants to study for an undergraduate degree in the UK will have to apply through UCAS.

UCAS stands for Universities and Colleges Admissions Service. It’s the centralized service that students use to apply to university. For 2021 entry, the application fee is £20 for a single choice, or £26 for more than one choice.

Other countries may or may not have centralized services. If they don’t, each university in that country could determine whether they are going to charge an entrance/ registration fee or not, and the amount of the entrance/registration fees themselves.

3.   Plane tickets

This one is quite obvious. You will need to pay for your plane tickets. In many cases, even full-ride scholarships will not cover this. The ticket for your arrival at your study destination will be on you, as well as the other tickets for when you want to fly home for the holidays.

This is one of the things you need to consider. Obviously, the longer the distance between your home country and your study-abroad destination, the more you have to pay.

When your return ticket home is pretty much the same amount as your monthly living expenses, you need to allocate them separately, make sacrifices of not going back home as often as you would like, or change your plan altogether by choosing to study somewhere closer to home.

4.   Mandatory Deposit in Your Bank Account

Another important thing to prepare for studying in tuition-free countries is the mandatory deposit in your bank account.

Before you begin your studies, you will have to prove that you’ll have enough money to support yourself (proof of financial resources). In European countries, the amount may vary. In Italy, you need to have at least €448,07 per month for the academic year, a total of €5824,91 per year.

While in Germany. As of January 1, 2021, the assumed annual standard requirement that must be paid into the blocked account when applying for a visa is €10,332.

For more information regarding the proof of financial resources amount required by the country of your study destination, you can contact their embassy or consulate in your home country.

5.   Living Costs

Unless you secure a scholarship that covers all your living expenses, you need to cover all your living costs, such as paying for rent, utilities (gas and electricity), transportation, monthly groceries, internet and phone package, et cetera, as well as the expenses for your personal interests such as museum tickets or traveling budgets.

These expenses could be expensive, especially if you live in a high-living cost country. European countries have been known for having a good standard of living.

While in some places like in eastern European countries, you could have access to good education and high living standard at relatively affordable prices, in other countries will be quite expensive, especially when your home country’s currency is not as strong as the euro.

9  Types of Expenses You Still Need to Pay in "Tuition-Free" Universities

6.   Insurance

Although almost all European countries have a universal healthcare system that provides excellent and “free” service, bear in mind that, again, there is no such thing as totally free.

Healthcare is “free” or only going to cost a small amount because it is subsidized by the government. The source of the subsidy is the tax paid by its citizens and residents. Their monthly payment is cut and in return, they’ll get “free” excellent healthcare, great infrastructure, and so on.

As an international student, you have no contribution in terms of paying taxes. Therefore, you don’t have access to these “free” healthcare services.

In many countries, you need to buy specific student insurance to cover your healthcare expenses during your study in that particular country.

This insurance could be provided by the universities as it is already included in the tuition fees, using the insurance company which affiliates with the university. Or, if it’s not included, you’ll need to buy them separately.

In some cases, where you think the insurance provided by the university is not enough to protect you (for example, you have a specific illness that won’t be covered by the insurance), you can also upgrade them.

In any case, you should communicate this with your university. Ask them what kind of insurance you need to have which is in line with your need, as well as the host country’s requirements and healthcare systems to make sure you will be fully protected throughout your study.

7.   Language Course Fee

In many European countries, English is not widely spoken. Furthermore, if you want to have smooth experiences dealing with everyday life, dealing with bureaucracy for your documents and paperwork, and eventually have a chance to find a job in your host country by the time you finish your study, you’ll need to learn the language.

Therefore, you need to allocate a certain amount of money to study the language of your host country. According to the Council of Europe, The Common European Framework of Reference for languages (CEFR) organizes language proficiency in six levels, A1 to C2, which can be regrouped into three broad levels: Basic User, Independent User, and Proficient User, and that can be further subdivided according to the needs of the local context.

As an international student in Italy, I took an Italian language course for foreigners at the local government facilities. Thus, the amount I need to pay is practically free, only about (then) €30 for each level of competency.

But, if I chose to learn in a private language school course or institution, it could cost me about €300-500 per level. In Italy, you need to have a B2 level to apply for a job and permanent residence.

I studied a little Italian before I came here to study, therefore, I managed to go straight to the A2 level and skipped the A1 level during the placement test.

Throughout my study for my Master’s degree in Italy, I diligently took Italian language classes, from A2, B1, and B2 levels (the A2 and B1 levels lasted for 6 months each, and the B2 course lasted for a year to complete).

If you want to study in Europe, you might need to take language classes. Find out what CEFR level is needed in your host country to study and to work there, and calculate the amount you need to spend on the courses.

For example, If you want to go back to your country as soon as you finish your studies, perhaps mastering the A2 level is already enough for you to get by and interact with the locals throughout your studies.

But if you want to stay, find a job, and work there after graduation, having a certificate on the B2 level, or even C level is a must, depending on the country’s language proficiency requirements.

Budget Tracker

Use this budget tracker template to track your expenses during your Back-to-School preparation period. All the things you might need to prepare financially for attending a University, an online college/course, even for a study abroad, are listed here. This template consists of 11 different worksheets, each sheet represents a different phase of your Back to School Journey preparation.

8.   Studienkolleg

I’m taking an example from studying in Germany.  Other countries in Europe might not require this, but this is something you need to take into consideration, as one of the expenses you need to allocate to studying in a “free” education country. Especially if you want to study in Germany.

The Studienkolleg is a public educational institution in Germany for students whose graduation certificate is not recognized as equivalent to the German Abitur (secondary school leaving certificate which allows access to university studies in Germany.

It is a preparatory course for academic study at a university. German is spoken in all courses. You can find more information as well as the location of Studienkollegs here.

Studienkolleg is a free foundation course, but it depends on your Studienkolleg. If the university you want to study at is public and offers preparatory courses independently, then no fees are applied. However, you still need to pay the student’s semester contribution.

So, if studying in the country of your dream required you to attend some preparatory course before starting university, you might need to pay some fees, depending on the country and the university.

9.   Other Expenses Related to Your Studies

Even if you don’t have to pay tuition fees or any type of contribution at all for your studies, most likely you’ll still have to buy your textbooks and pay some fees for the school facilities, such as certain laboratories and practical classes.

There will be also some facilities that will charge you a small amount of fee to use. Make sure you’ll know these expenses so that you can budget them accordingly.

Even though they are small expenses, you will be studying for several years there, and the amount could end up significantly big if you don’t calculate them and allocate them to your budget from the beginning of your study period.

You could try to estimate your study expenses by using this budget tracker. Thus, you will be more prepared and make more accurate financial calculations, and avoid having surprise expenses later on as everything has been calculated since the beginning of your back-to-school plan.

Over to You…

Those are the 9 types of expenses you still need to pay in tuition “free” colleges in Europe. In the end, there’s nothing in the world completely free anyway, so this should not come as a big surprise.

Even though the tuition fee itself is free, or only a small amount of contribution, we still need to pay for our expenses during the enrollment process, the entrance/registration fees, our plane tickets, as well as providing a significant amount of money as a proof of our financial resources.

We also need to allocate some money for our monthly living costs, to buy insurance to protect us throughout our studies, to attend a language course, to pay for a preparatory course to make our studies easier, and other expenses related to our studies.

In summary, “free” education is not just about enrolling, flying to Europe, starting to study in an international environment, partying and traveling around, studying for your exam, and graduating.

You need to prepare for many things, financially, as well as mentally. It will be challenging, but, just like many things in life, difficult doesn’t mean impossible.

If you are willing to work hard, anything is possible. Prepare yourself, don’t let your dream cut short before you can touch the finish line (graduate, find a job, and have an international career) because you stumble upon fees you didn’t prepare for beforehand.

What do you think? Is studying in these “free” education countries sounds appealing to you?  Do you think you will save tons of money studying there, even with these “hidden” costs mentioned above? Do you have any comments? Write them down below, I would like to hear from you…

If studying in Europe has been a dream for you, start researching and enroll now!!! Hopefully, this post is useful for you.

Pin it and share it on your social media, spread the info, and let your social circle knows the information as well. Who knows, maybe you’ll end up studying in Europe (at a low cost) together!!!

Thanks so much and till next time…

 9  Types of Expenses You Still Need to Pay in "Tuition-Free" Universities