Iceland is a Nordic island country located in the North Atlantic Ocean, known for its dramatic landscape with volcanoes, geysers, hot springs, and lava fields. It offers high quality of life, advanced economy, and excellent education system. Iceland has become an increasingly popular study abroad destination for international students due to its tuition-free policy at public universities, stunning natural scenery, and vibrant student life.
This comprehensive guide provides up-to-date information on studying in Iceland for free as an international student, including application process, admission requirements, tuition fees, scholarships, cost of living, post-study work visa, and more.
Overview of Iceland’s Education System
The Icelandic education system comprises pre-school, compulsory, upper secondary and higher education levels. Schooling is mandatory for children between the ages of 6 to 16.There are 7 accredited higher education institutions in Iceland, including 4 public universities:
- University of Iceland
- Reykjavik University
- University of Akureyri
- Iceland Academy of the Arts
In addition, there are 9 accredited Private Higher Education Institutions focusing on specific subjects like computer science, business, tourism, etc.The Ministry of Education, Science and Culture oversees all levels of education in consultation with the municipalities.
Icelandic as the primary language of instruction, however, many programs are offered in English to international students.The academic year runs from September to May and is organized in 2 semesters – autumn (September to December) and spring (January to May).
Tuition Free Public Universities
Iceland has a long-standing policy of not charging any tuition fees at public universities and colleges. The only fees international students need to pay are:
- Application/Administration fee: Around $500 per year
- Student union fee: Around $100 per year
- Potential cost for learning materials
Following are the main public universities in Iceland offering tuition-free education:
1. University of Iceland
Founded in 1911, it is the country’s largest and most prestigious university located in the capital Reykjavik. It has over 300 undergraduate and graduate programs across 9 schools offering courses in diverse fields.Around 14,000 students are enrolled here, out of which 10% are international students from over 90 countries. A wide range of English-taught programs at the Masters and PhD level are available to international students.
2. Reykjavik University
Established in 1998, it is a research university located in Reykjavik offering professionally oriented education. It has around 3700 students and all the courses are conducted in English, making it popular among international students.It focuses on STEM, Business, and Law programs integrated with practical training and internships.
3. University of Akureyri
Founded in 1987, it is located in the town of Akureyri in northern Iceland. It offers programs in the fields of health sciences, social sciences, natural resource sciences and business & science.It has over 1300 students out of which 10% are international students. Many courses at UoA are offered in English.
The application process to study in Iceland is straightforward and each university has its own international admission requirements. Following are the standard documents required:
- Online application form – Available on university website during admission period
- Application fee – Around $75, waived for some students
- High school certificates – Translated copies along with grading system
- Standardized test scores (TOEFL/IELTS) – If medium of instruction was not English
- Statement of purpose
- Recommendation letters – Usually 2
- Copy of passport
- Bank statement – Proving you can afford your stay and studies
Application deadline is around 2 months before the semester start date. Exact dates and requirements vary across universities.Some programs may also conduct entrance examinations, interviews, or assess other criteria before offering admission.
Iceland offers a number of scholarships specially for international students through government funded programs, universities and private organizations. These help cover cost of living and other expenses incurred by students.Some popular scholarships and grants include:
1. University of Iceland Scholarships
- USTIP Scholarships – For students from developing countries
- Eimskip Fund – For students from Baltic countries or Northwest Russia
- Vilhjálmur Vilhjálmsson Scholarship – For disabled students
2. Icelandic Student Innovation Fund
Merit-based scholarships for undergraduate and graduate students
3. Erasmus+ Exchange Program
Funded exchange programs for students from Europe
4. Nordplus Exchange Program
For students from the Nordic and Baltic countries
Cost of Living
Iceland has a very high cost of living compared to other European countries due to its remote location and heavy reliance on imports. Living expenses for international students are around 800 – 1100 USD per month.Major costs include:
- Accommodation – $500-800 for rented room/shared flats
- Food – $300-400 per month for groceries
- Health insurance – $100 per month
- Other costs – Transportation, winter clothing, internet, leisure activities etc.
Students are allowed to work part-time during their studies and can earn around $1300-2000 per month. Many students work during summers to earn extra money.
Post Study Work Visa
International graduates from Icelandic universities can apply for a Residence Permit on completion of their degree which allows them to live and work freely while searching for relevant job opportunities.The permit is valid for up to 3 years for Bachelor’s graduates and 5 years for Masters and PhD graduates. This allows students to recover the high living costs incurred during their studies and gain international work experience.
Why Study in Iceland?
Here are some of the key advantages of studying in Iceland:
1. Tuition-free education – Public universities charge no tuition fees (only small administration fees)
2. English-taught programs – Wide range of courses offered in English at all levels
3. Developed economy – Advanced infrastructure, technology, high wages, quality of life
4. Scenic landscape – Dramatic natural scenery including glaciers, volcanoes and northern lights
5. Vibrant student life – Active student organizations and frequent cultural events
6. Global alumni network – Opportunity for international career prospects
7. Post-study work visa – Chance to live and work in Iceland after graduation
8. Part-time work – Allows students to gain work experience and fund their education
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some common queries by international students regarding studying in Iceland:
Do I need to learn Icelandic language?
No, learning Icelandic is not mandatory. A majority of programs at Icelandic universities are fully taught in English to accommodate international students. However, learning basic Icelandic can help students interact with locals and understand the culture better.
Are there any entrance exams?
Most programs only assess academic qualifications mentioned in admission requirements. Some specialized programs like medicine may require additional entrance tests. Each university and program has its own criteria.
Can I work part-time as a student?
Yes, international students can work up to 15-20 hours per week during studies and full-time during vacations. Popular student jobs include working at cafes, stores, restaurants, farms or startups.
Is health insurance required?
Yes, international students must have comprehensive health insurance coverage valid in Iceland for visa approval. This costs around $75-100 per month.
What are accommodation options for students?
Many affordable housing options are available like university dormitories, shared flats with other students or renting private apartments. Average rent is $500-800 per month.
- Iceland offers high quality tuition-free education at its public universities along with lower cost of living compared to the USA, UK, Australia etc.
- All programs are taught in English, no need to learn Icelandic language
- Easy student visa process, post-study work visa allows staying back after graduation
- Apply directly to universities which have their own admission criteria and scholarships
- Students can offset costs by working part-time during studies and summer breaks
So if you are looking for an affordable yet high-standard international education paired with the experience of living in a stunning Nordic landscape, Iceland presents an excellent study destination.
Ready to start your educational journey in Iceland? Here are some immediate next steps:
- Research universities and programs – Find one that matches your interests and career goals
- Check admission criteria – Prepare documents and confirm application dates
- Learn basic Icelandic phrases – Hello, thank you, my name is etc.
- Arrange finances – Apply for scholarships and get proof of financial funds
- Complete application – Carefully go through requirements and submit accurate documents
If you fulfill the eligibility conditions, studying in Iceland for free can turn out to be the most exciting and rewarding adventure while preparing you for a successful global career.
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