Study Abroad

The Most Popular Study Abroad Destinations in the World [2019 Edition]

Caitlin McCollum-Martinez

Caitlin is a travel writer and polyglot from sunny Southern California. She has traveled to over 15 countries, lived in Spain and the Czech Republic, and is currently residing in Scotland.

The Most Popular Study Abroad Destinations of All Time
Photo by Laura S., MEI Fall Semester Alum

Deciding what country to study in can often be one of the more difficult parts of the process of studying abroad. If you’re struggling to decide where to go, look to these top destinations for inspiration.

We found the most popular countries based on their popularity on the Go Overseas website, the number of program options available to choose from, as well as their popularity based off of internet searches on Google. Some destinations have remained popular while others have pushed their way to the top of the ranks since the last time we created this list -- in 2012!

See the full list below, and click on the country names to learn more about what makes each country so popular for study abroad:

Country Rank (2018) Previous
Rank (2012)
Change
The United Kingdom 1 1 0
China 2 5 +3
Spain 3 3 0
Italy 4 2 -2
France 5 5 0
Costa Rica 6 10 +4
Japan 7 - New
Norway 8 - New
Germany 9 8 -1
Australia 10 6 -4

A few countries that were previously on our list unfortunately didn't make the cut this year. We plan on updating this list every year, and it will be interesting to see which countries move up and down for years to come!

1. The United Kingdom

The Most Popular Study Abroad Destinations of All Time: The United Kingdom
Photo by Brianna Bosco, Study & Intern in London with CAPA Alum

The U.K. remains the most popular study abroad destination, maintaining the #1 spot -- and it is not difficult to understand why. Studying in an English-speaking country takes some of the difficulties of studying in another country off of your shoulders and the U.K. is also a very popular tourist destination with a plethora of famous landmarks and sites to visit.

As a student, you have four unique countries in one to discover; England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales. Explore the multifaceted and multicultural metropolis of London between classes or go from sea, to city, to countryside in Edinburgh -- the U.K. has something for everyone.

Popular Study Abroad Programs in the U.K.

2. China

The Most Popular Study Abroad Destinations of All Time: China
Photo by Laura W., CET Beijing Alum

Previously #5, China has climbed its way toward the top mirroring its escalating economic prowess in the world. Many students choose to study Mandarin because of its importance in international business, contributing to China's popularity. Beijing, the capital, as well as Shanghai, the most populated city in the world, are the most popular destinations in China.

Besides economics, China attracts students with is rich and diverse cultural history. China is home to thousands of years’ worth of art, music, literature, and food culture as well as some of the most modern cities in the world -- there are seemingly endless things to see and do in this country of 1.3 billion.

Popular Study Abroad Programs in China:

3. Spain

The Most Popular Study Abroad Destinations of All Time: Spain
Photo by Danielle P., Study Abroad in Seville with CEA Alum

It’s not surprising to see Spain near the top of the list either; many students study Spanish and Spain is also one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Spain has easily held its position at #3.

The cities in Spain are quite varied, from the cosmopolitan coastal city of Barcelona to the more traditional Seville in the south. You can discover the multifaceted culture of Spain while studying there -- beyond bullfighting and flamenco. Food is the most important pillar of Spanish society, so be prepared to eat hundreds of tapas if you find yourself there, but don’t worry you can take a siesta in between meals.

Popular Study Abroad Programs in Spain:

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4. Italy

The Most Popular Study Abroad Destinations of All Time: Italy
Photo by Anne C., Study Abroad at FAU in Florence with SAI Alum

Another popular tourist destination, Italy remains a favorite among study abroad students despite falling from its previous #2 ranking. Home to the ruins of the ancient Roman civilization, Italy offers a deep and complex history alongside a vibrant modern society.

Among the most popular cities to study are Rome and Florence. If you're looking for somewhere off the beaten path consider Bologna, home to the oldest university in the world or you can get a taste for high fashion in Milan. Who wouldn't want to eat delicious pizzas and pasta every day between class?

Popular Study Abroad Programs in Italy:

5. France

The Most Popular Study Abroad Destinations of All Time: France
Photo by Satchel C., Study Abroad in Aix-en-Provence with CEA Alum

The timeless beauty of France draws in thousands of international students every year. Known for the highest quality of food, fashion, art, and people-watching it is easy to understand why so many people hold a romantic ideation of France.

Paris remains the most popular destination within the country, however smaller cities like Aix-en-Provence and Marseille can provide a deeper connection to the intricacies of the French culture.

Popular Study Abroad Programs in France:

6. Costa Rica

The Most Popular Study Abroad Destinations of All Time: Costa Rica
Photo by Demitra K., Study Abroad in San Jose with CEA Alum

Birthplace of the laid-back attitude and mantra of Pura Vida, meaning “pure life”, Costa Rica is one of the more exotic of the destinations listed here. Students often find themselves learning more outside of the classroom when studying in Costa Rica. The lush jungles and pristine beaches of this Central American country attract ecotourists and students of the natural sciences alike.

Costa Rica is known for its mild dialect of Spanish, making it fairly easy for students to learn and for students to better immerse themselves in the local culture. Costa Rica has been gaining popularity each year -- rising from #10 to #6 this year!

Popular Study Abroad Programs in Costa Rica:

7. Japan

The Most Popular Study Abroad Destinations of All Time: Japan
Photo by Andrea F., Study at Nanzan University in Nagoya with IES Abroad Alum

The Land of the Rising Sun has emerged as one of the newly popular destinations for students. Many perceive Japan as a future-like society with advanced technology and strange quirks, however, Japan remains a very traditional country, full of ancient art, music, and cultural practices. Japanese can be a difficult language to learn, but the locals are friendly, understanding, and will offer to help you despite the language barrier.

If Tokyo seems too overwhelming, consider smaller cities like Kyoto, Osaka, or Fukuoka. No matter where you study you are a short bullet-train ride from a new adventure among the lush forests, mountains, or along the sea. Whether you study in or visit Japan be sure to experience the food no other country does better -- the egg salad sandwich.

Popular Study Abroad Programs in Japan:

8. Norway

The Most Popular Study Abroad Destinations of All Time: Norway
Photo by Lauren B., Study Abroad in Oslo with USAC Alum

Along with Japan, Norway is a newcomer among the top study abroad destinations this year. From picturesque fjords to snow-capped mountains, Norway is an adventurers dream. Oslo, the capital, is an amazingly beautiful city with a plethora of museums, a lively nightlife, and countless cultural festivals. You won't run out of activities in here, especially if you love the snow. No matter where you are you will be only a short journey from ski slopes, a hiking trail, or a bike path.

Norway is a great destination for most students, with hundreds of courses on almost every subject offered in English. Although most Norwegians speak English rather well, it would still help to learn a bit of the local language to aid your visits to smaller cities and towns.

Popular Study Abroad Programs in Norway:

9. Germany

The Most Popular Study Abroad Destinations of All Time: Germany
Photo by Caitlin L., Freie Universität Berlin European Studies Program Alum

Did you know Germany is one of the most popular locations for expats in the world? So be careful if you study abroad in Germany, because you may be among those who can't find the will to leave.

Germany will steal your heart, either with its unique and authentically cool cities, or its endless variety of cured meats and sausages -- many of which can be vegan. Those who study the German language don't have many options when it comes to study abroad locations, but by far Germany is one of the best countries "to get stuck" with.

Bonus: Go Overseas currently great resources on scholarships to study abroad in Germany. Check them out on the Germany scholarship page.

Popular Study Abroad Programs in Germany:

10. Australia

The Most Popular Study Abroad Destinations of All Time: Australia
Photo by Megan T., Study Abroad in Gold Coast with TEAN Alum

Rated one of the best countries for students, Australia remains a member of the top destinations to study abroad. Just like the U.K., Australia can be a less difficult country to study in because it is an English-speaking country, however it can still be difficult to adapt to Aussie lingo. Because courses are in English there is a wide variety of subjects offered and can be easier to obtain transferable credits for your home university.

Outside of class, there are many activities for students to participate in. For the adventurous, the expansive outback awaits exploration. The major cities, Sydney and Melbourne, are home to amazing beaches, iconic landmarks, and a vibrant nightlife. It’s easy to find your place in Australia as the country has record numbers of international students each year -- if you’re lucky you may even befriend a koala or a kangaroo.

Popular Study Abroad Programs in Australia:

Honorable Mentions

While these next few destinations did not make the top 10, they are still popular among study abroad students. We couldn't skip listing them, in case you're interested in one of these countries instead.

Ireland

The lush green landscape of Ireland attracts a large number of foreign students as well. The Irish may be known for their perfectly crafted beers, but they are also renowned for being some of the friendliest people on Earth. From the United States, Ireland can also be quite inexpensive to fly to compared to other European countries.

Dublin is quite popular, however, the smaller cities in Ireland, like Cork or Galway, tend to host many international students as well. There are numerous sites within the country to discover, but Ireland is also home to one of Europe’s cheapest airlines, so it can be fairly easy to find cheap flights to continental Europe, helping you discover more during your time abroad.

Bonus: Every year, Go Overseas hosts a scholarship to study abroad in Ireland. You can apply or sign up for updates on the Ireland scholarship page.

See all study abroad programs in Ireland →

New Zealand

Undoubtedly the best place in the world to befriend a Kiwi -- be it a person or bird -- New Zealand is another popular location for study abroad students. Known for its picture-perfect landscapes, New Zealand is perfect for photographers, the outdoorsy, and Lord of the Rings lovers alike.

Like the previous English-speaking countries, New Zealand offers extensive course options in English as well as more unique out-of-the-classroom activities and trips.

Bonus: Every year, Go Overseas hosts a scholarship to study abroad in New Zealand. You can apply or sign up for updates on the New Zealand scholarship page.

See all study abroad programs in New Zealand →

South Korea

In recent years South Korea has gained popularity among students and in popular media. K-pop has made its way into the world music scene and k-dramas and movies onto popular streaming services. South Korea has more to consume than just media with many historical and cultural monuments.

Seoul, the capital and the most popular destination and is filled with endless districts to explore, all easily accessible by the intricate subway system. The city has an abundant number of foreigners, which you’ll likely find around the Itaewon area. Head to the university district of Hongdae for cheap streetwear, hipster cafes, and live music. However, don’t miss out on the other fascinating cities in South Korea, like the seaside port of Busan or the slower-paced city of Daegu.

See all study abroad programs in South Korea →

Chile

Chile is one the more unique South American countries, containing almost every type of natural environment. In just a day, you can trek through the Andes Mountains and soak up the sun by in the Pacific Ocean or find yourself in an otherworldly desert landscape. Chile can be a difficult country to study in with little Spanish language background, but students are able to pick up the language quickly due to the friendly nature of most Chileans.

Santiago boasts several well-respected universities and a large student population. Street markets, food festivals, and cultural holidays add depth to everyday life in Chile and provide ample opportunity to immerse oneself in the rich culture of the country.

See all study abroad programs in Chile →

These may be the most popular destinations to study abroad, but be mindful not to discount the less popular study abroad destinations out there. A less popular option can be rich with adventure as well.

This post was originally published in August 2010, and was updated in July 2018.