8 of the best universities in Spain for international students

Universities in Spain

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Spain is a dream opportunity for international students. A colourful culture, feted cuisine, sun-drenched beaches, exciting cities, and a vibrant lifestyle. On top of that, there are many world-class universities in Spain.

Spain will naturally appeal to the 500 million Spanish speakers in the world, alongside those looking to learn developing their Spanish language skills.  According to the ICEF Monitor (International Consultants for Education and Fairs), there were 618,000 international students in Spain in 2018. The overwhelming majority were enrolled on Spanish language courses.

Interested in learning Spanish? Whatever stage you’re at, we’ve got a solution. Visit our overview of all the Spanish levels to start your learning journey with Language Atlas. 

But universities in Spain offer much more than language learning. Statista reports that the number of international students enrolled on degree courses at universities in Spain (2021-22) is 84,424. The majority (35,603) are EU students, followed by students from Latin America (21,711).

With so many compelling opportunities, it can be a challenge to narrow down a shortlist. That’s why we’ve compiled a quick guide to what’s on offer at the best universidad Española. We also deliver an overview of essential considerations to help you decide if studying in Spain is right for you.

Study at the University of Barcelona, one of the highest rated universities in Spain

University of Barcelona (Universitat de Barcelona)

Topping the QS ratings for universities in Spain is the University of Barcelona. Ranked 184th in the world, the renowned research university is a magnet for international students.

The University of Barcelona (UB) has 106 departments and sprawls over 6 campuses. Of the 44,366 students in 2022, around 14% are international.

Founded in 1450, the largest university in Catalonia offers a diverse mix of programs for bachelor’s and postgrad studies. Their teaching and research programs are globally acclaimed, especially in biomedical research.

Underling UB’s credentials, the university is a member of several international academic networks like the League of European Research Universities (LERU) and the Arab-Euro Conference on Higher Education (AECHE).

Aside from being one of the highest-rated universities in Spain, UB can add Barcelona to its persuasive offer. According to the QS Best Student Cities (2023), the Catalonian capital is the most desirable student city in Spain, and the 31st worldwide.

The delights of Barcelona are well-known, from its Mediterranean beaches to the vibrant nightlife around Las Ramblas. Not to mention some of the most striking architecture in Europe.

There’s a bewildering choice when considering universities in Spain. For many prospective students, the University of Barcelona tops their list of preferences. With good reason.

University of Barcelona in numbers

Total students (2022): 44,366
International students: 6,308
Bachelor’s degree course fees (60 ECTS – one academic year): €2,800 – €3,600
Master’s degree fees: €2,500 – €3,300
Estimated cost of living per month (excluding rent): €745
International student info and contact for the Universitat de Barcelona
Study in Madrid

Charles III University of Madrid – Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M)

Madrid is one city that can match Barcelona for international appeal. There are 15 universities in Madrid, including the Complutense University of Madrid, the oldest and biggest in Spain. However, one of the most sought-after universities in Spain for international students is the small yet distinguished Carlos III University of Madrid.

UC3M (named after the illustrious 18th-century monarch) may be one of the smaller universities in Spain. But around 15% of its students come from abroad, making it one of the most internationally diverse.

Although there are only 19,000+ students at UC3M (compared to 88,000 at Complutense University of Madrid), there is a wide breadth of bachelor’s and master’s programs. The university excels in postgraduate marketing and management courses, explaining the high proportion of international postgrad students (45% of the total).

QS ranks UC3M 320th globally, placing it among the top-performing universities in Spain. Additionally, graduates are highly employable. The (UK) Times Higher Education survey ranks the university 136th for employment prospects internationally.

Aside from world-class universities, Madrid is a remarkable city for students to live in. QS ranks the city the second best for students in Spain and 44th worldwide

It is easy to see why Madrid is so highly regarded. There is something for every interest in the dynamic metropolis. From the Prado National Museum to the ever-buzzing nightlife of the Huertas neighbourhood, Madrid is a cosmopolitan city that never sleeps.

One factor that may discourage students is the cost of living. For students, Barcelona and Madrid are the most expensive cities in Spain. That said, Numbeo still prices Madrid 28% cheaper than Paris. Although just about every city in Europe is cheaper than Paris!

Charles III University of Madrid in numbers

Total students (2022): 19,103
International students: 2,953
Bachelor’s degree course fees (60 ECTS – one academic year): €1,015+
Master’s degree fees: €1,015+
Estimated cost of living per month (excluding rent): €706
International student info and contact for Universidad Carlos III de Madrid
Study at Granada University near the Alhambra Fort

University of Granada (Universidad de Granada)

University of Granada (UGR) is a large university with low course fees in one of Spain’s most captivating cities. With nearly 50,000 students, of which more than 10% are international, UGR is another prime destination for people looking to study in Spain.

The university is ranked 494th globally and is the fourth largest in Spain. On offer is a vast program of bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Unlike many universities in Spain, international students are mostly there for bachelor’s courses (73%).

UGR excels in computer science and mathematics teaching. A big pull for international students is the Centre for Modern Languages (CLM), which attracts thousands of international students. It is why UGR is one of the leading universities for the Erasmus exchange program in Europe.

Aside from excellence in teaching, Granada is known for its vibrant student culture. It is yet another reason why UGR has previously been voted the top university in Spain for international students.

Granada has a rich heritage for students to explore in their free time. The former Moorish is home to several UNESCO world heritage sites, including the majestic Alhambra Fort and the Generalife Palace.

Add to the mix a Mediterranean climate, tapas bars galore, a relatively low cost of living, and inexpensive course fees, and you’ve got one of the most rounded student offerings in Spain.

University of Granada in numbers

Total students (2022): 49,856
International students: 5,611
Bachelor’s degree course fees (60 ECTS – one academic year): €758+
Master’s degree fees: €821 (average)
Estimated cost of living per month (excluding rent): €639
International student info and contact for Universidad de Granada
Valencia is favourite destinations for international students in Spain

University of Valencia (Universitat de Valencia)

Valencia ranks in the top 100 cities for international students and is home to several leading universities in Spain. Among them is the esteemed University of Valencia, which the QS rankings place among the top 600 universities in the world.

The University of Valencia (UV) teaches over 48,000 students, including 5,558 international learners. Unlike many universities with a high international intake, the majority are there for bachelor’s degrees (61%).

Founded in 1452, UV has built a reputation for teaching a range of bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD courses to a high level. In 2022, 74 undergraduate subjects were offered, including dual-subject degrees.

Aside from robust teaching foundations, students adore Valencia. The home of paella boasts beautiful beaches and a remarkable Ciutat Vella (old town). It’s the kind of location that that ensures family and friends will keep finding reasons to interrupt your studies.

Spain’s third-largest city is more affordable than Barcelona and Madrid and is home to a large community of international students, making UV the ideal choice for students looking to balance study costs and cultural enrichment.

University of Valencia in numbers

Total students (2022): 48,010
International students: 5,558
Bachelor’s degree course fees (60 ECTS – One academic year): €710 – €1,040
Master’s degree fees: €2,700 (approximately)
Estimated cost of living per month (excluding rent): €655
International student info and contact for Universitat de Valencia
Salamanca is the oldest of all universities in Spain

University of Salamanca (Universidad de Salamanca)

The University of Salamanca is the oldest in the Spanish-speaking world. It is also one of the top seats of learning in Spain, with QS placing it in the top 700 universities globally.

Founded in 1218, the prestigious university boasts a high ratio of international students (18% of 23,436 in 2022).

While stronger postgraduate studies are the big draw for international scholars, the university offers a diverse program of bachelor’s and master’s degrees. According to their own data, they offer courses in 81 subjects. Ranked 5th for incoming Erasmus students, the moderately sized university is a top choice for students looking to pursue postgraduate studies in social and legal sciences.

Salamanca can trace its roots back to Celtic times, and the ancient university is a tourist attraction in a city full of historical architecture. If you’re looking for an emblematic seat of learning in a city brimming with character, the University of Salamanca should be a contender. Especially when pursuing postgraduate studies.

University of Salamanca in numbers

Total students (2022): 23,436
International students: 4,197
Bachelor’s degree course fees for EU students (60 ECTS – one academic year): €720 – €1,80
Master’s degree fees: €960 – €2,700
Estimated cost of living per month (excluding rent): €639
International student info and contact for Universidad de Salamanca
Study in Spain at Alicante University

University of Alicante (Universidad de Alicante)

If your focus is finding accessible universities in Spain near golden beaches and lively nightlife, Alicante might be for you.

The UA is a moderately sized university in a city frequented by tourists, with solid teaching credentials. The modern institution opened in 1979 and covers over 50 academic subjects. Like many universities in Spain., social and legal sciences are in demand. But the university also excels in technology and science.

Most UA courses are taught in Spanish, although a handful of computer science and business courses include English language components.

Around 10% of the student body is international, out of over 23,000 enrolled students. Bachelor’s degrees lead the way, although about 31% of international students are enrolled on postgraduate courses (compared to just 13% of domestic students).  

Aside from being a modern and outward-looking university, the UA can upsell the benefits of living in Alicante.

The medium-sized port city (population: 337,000) on the Costa Blanca is known for its temperate climate, wide sandy beaches, and bustling harbour lined with restaurants and bars. It’s a mix that helped Alicante become one of the fastest-growing cities in Spain in the 21st century.

While there are more prestigious universities in Spain, the University of Alicante offers a balance between quality teaching, modern facilities, and a thriving student culture. More affordable than other cities in Spain, the University of Alicante checks nearly every box for an exciting and enriching learning experience.

University of Alicante in numbers

Total students (2022): 22,506
International students: 2,363
Bachelor’s degree course fees for EU students (60 ECTS – one academic year): €1,020
Master’s degree fees: €1,020 (average )
Estimated cost of living per month (excluding rent): €609
International student info and contact for Universidad de Alicante
Navarra University in Pamplona is one of the leading private universities in Spain

University of Navarra (Universidad de Navarra)

So far, we’ve looked at public universities in Spain, but several private institutions welcome international students in large numbers and are worth a second look. The University of Navarra (UNAV) fits the bill and is among the most prestigious private universities in Spain. 

The UNAV is a small university in the heart of Navarre, an autonomous Basque community in northern Spain.

Established in 1952, the university excels in several areas. QS ranks UNAV as the 253rd-best university in the world. For employability, THE places the university at a lofty 37th globally (2022). This probably explains why 26% of the 12,000+ student body are from abroad.

The university offers a diverse mix of bachelor’s and master’s degrees, with around 53% of international students on undergraduate courses. In particular, the university is the leading law school in Spain. But UNAV excels in a range of academic disciplines, and has a noted medical teaching facility and world-class business school (with some courses taught in English).

Located in Pamplona — famous for its annual festival, the Feast of San Fermín — there is a world of culture and history on the university’s doorstep.

Pamplona is the capital of the Chartered Community of Navarre and the third-largest city in the Basque region. Admired by Ernest Hemingway in The sun also rises, the city blends a modern outlook with a heritage stretching back to Roman times. The star attraction is Catedral de Santa María la Real de Pamplona-Iruñea, a 15th-century gothic cathedral. For nightlife, the city brims with lively pintxos bars.

The University of Navarra is one of the smaller universities in Spain and charges high fees, which may deter some applicants. In return for those high fees, students earn one of the most lauded university educations in Spain.  

University of Navarra in numbers

Total students (2022): 12,081
International students: 3,137
Bachelor’s degree course fees for EU students: €10,000
Master’s degree fees: €13,950 (average )
Estimated cost of living per month (excluding rent): €654
International student info and contact for Universidad de Navarra
Alacala University in Spain awards the Miguel Cervantes prize for literature

University of Alcalá (Universidad de Alcalá)

We return to the Madrid region for our final pick of the best universities in Spain. The University of Alcalá (UAH) dominates the town of Alcalá de Henares, just 35 km (22 miles) outside the Spanish capital. 

UAH was founded in 1977 and quickly established itself as one of the highest-rated institutions in the country. QS ranks UAH among the top 520 universities globally, placing it in the top 100 new institutions (under 50 years old).

UAH can also claim to be one of the most forward-looking, with Cool My Planet placing it third in a global league table of environmentally sustainable universities.

The modern university is small, with under 18,000 students. Yet, the ratio of over 25% international students is high compared to other universities in Spain. And while the UAH offers a broad program of courses, the overwhelming majority (79%) are enrolled on undergraduate courses.

The University of Alcalá shines in several subjects, notably humanities and Spanish language learning. In fact, the UAH is charged with promoting the Spanish language and is responsible for awarding the Miguel de Cervantes Prize, the most prestigious accolade in Spanish literature.

UAH may be small, yet its presence in the moderately sized city infuses Alcalá de Henares with the attributes of a university town. Despite being close to the Spanish capital, the cost of living is reportedly lower and the city is favoured by international learners looking for a student-friendly city.

Although UAH is one of the newest universities in Spain, you wouldn’t know it. The main campus occupies buildings once used by the Complutense University of Madrid (UCM), founded in 1293. It is a modern university housed in a historic building, which adds to the appeal for many international students.

With excellent teaching credentials in a student-friendly city close to Madrid, it is easy to see why the UAH is such a popular destination for international students.

University of Alcalá in numbers

Total students (2022): 17,446
International students: 4,480
Bachelor’s degree course fees for EU students (60 ECTS – one academic year): €2,800 (average)
Master’s degree fees: €4,700 (average )
Estimated cost of living per month (excluding rent): €560
International student info and contact for Universidad de Alcalá

Some practicalities of studying in Spain

There are several key considerations when applying to universities in Spain. To point you in the right direction, we’ve compiled a quick overview with relevant links to help you decide if Spain should the next stage in your learning journey.

Tuition fees for international students in Spain

All universities in Spain charge tuition fees. This applies to domestic, EU, and non-EU students. Fees are moderate compared to some countries.

Tuition fees at public universities in Spain vary, but all use the Bologna Process to calculate the costs.

The Bologna Process is an EU-wide system built around the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS). ECTS facilitates transparency when transferring credits between European universities.

At public universities in Spain, local governments set local rates per ECTS. In a typical academic year, students will earn 60 ECTS. The formula is simple:

ECTS rate X number of ECTS = cost per course/academic year.

In general, universities in Spain bill per academic year. But shorter courses will be calculated pro-rata.

Tuition fees for bachelor’s degrees at universities in Spain

In 2022, undergraduate fees for public universities in Spain are capped at €30 per ECTS for the first enrolment. That equates to a maximum €1,800 per academic year.

Many universities in Spain charge less. According to Erudera, the average cost of a bachelor’s degree in Spain is €1,200.

Prices increase for subsequent enrolments, up to €100 per ECTS for third enrolments.

Fees for non-EU students may be higher, so check the fine print. Sometimes non-EU students pay the ECTS rate for second or third enrolments, even if it is their first time studying in Spain. 

This structure does not apply to private universities in Spain, which set their own tuition fees ranging from €6,000 to €20,000 per academic year.

Domestic students may benefit from government subsidies and support. Subsidies are not usually available to international students, although many scholarships are available.

Tuition fees for Master’s degrees at universities in Spain

The same ECTS formula calculates fees for master’s degrees in Spain. However, the maximum is increased to €45 per ECTS. Accordingly, master’s degrees in Spain cost up to €2,700 per academic year.

Tuition fees for PhD studies at universities in Spain

Doctoral degrees in Spain cost up to €55 per ECTS or €3,300 per academic year.

Visas to study in Spain

One of the most important considerations when applying to universities in Spain is visa requirements.

For citizens of the European Union and EEA, visas are not required.

If you’re not from the EU, a visa is required when your studies last longer than 90 days. Short-term student visas are required for courses lasting 3-6 months, and long-term visas for anything longer.

Once your application has been accepted, you can apply for a study visa through your local consulate or embassy. 

Study visas in Spain cost USD 80 for non-US citizens. For US and Canadian citizens, study visas cost USD 160.

Student visas typically allow you to work 20 hours per week to help finance your studies.

Non-EU students must also apply for a Foreigner Identity Card at a local police station within a month of entering Spain.

Your visa application will consider various criteria, including your financial situation. Applicants must show they have at least €579 per month for the duration of their studies.

You can find out more about the requirements to study at universities in Spain and download an application from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website.

Cost of Living

Spain has some of the lowest living costs in Western Europe. Out of 42 European countries, Numbeo places Spain 21st.

However, there is a stark difference between Spain’s two biggest cities (Madrid and Barcelona) and everywhere else in the country. For example, using Numbeo’s cost of living index, Madrid scores 53.22, while Sevilla’s is 49.8. Underscoring how affordable Spain is, London scores 74.58.

The best available information indicates that students will need €900-1,000 per month to live comfortably while attending universities in Spain.


Course fees and daily living costs can quickly mount for international students. Fortunately, there is a broad range of scholarships for students at universities in Spain.

The Spanish government lead the way, although many universities and charitable foundations offer scholarships. Check the Ministry of Education (Ministerio de Educación y Formación Profesional) for a comprehensive list of opportunities.

Otherwise, check online to see if your preferred university can help finance your studies.

Language requirements

Aside from business and computing science degrees (and some postgraduate courses), courses are taught in Spanish at universities in Spain.

Most universities demand a minimum proficiency of B1 (intermediate) in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFRL).

You can read more about the CEFR and start your learning journey towards B1 competency in Spanish here on Language Atlas.


Universities in Spain are reportedly the most popular choice for the Erasmus exchange program, especially in Barcelona and Madrid. If you gain a place in the Erasmus program, there’s no shortage of universities in Spain that will welcome you. That includes all the public institutions in our guide.

We hope found something of value in our pick of the best universities in Spain. If you want to know more about studying in Europe, check out our guide to ‘How to study in Europe study for free (or almost for free)’.

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