Choosing to study in Australia can offer you a world of opportunities and experiences – both educational and personal. So how DO you become an international student?
Australian universities and educational institutions are recognised worldwide for the quality of their teaching and the qualifications they can provide, so it’s little wonder why hundreds of thousands of students from over 130 countries migrate to Australia for educational purposes yearly.
In terms of higher education institutions, our universities and colleges welcome the best and brightest students from around the globe through research, scholarship and exchange agreements, as well as through standard application processes. So if you’re considering studying in Australia, whatever your educational or financial situation, there are a variety of options available for you to achieve this.
Research, scholarship, and exchange agreements
Australia offers a wide variety of programs to allow international students to study in Australia for free. That being said, some fees, for example visa fees, may not be included in your scholarship. Some of the more popular scholarships and awards programs include:
- The Australian Awards: These Australian Government funded scholarships and fellowships aim to contribute to the development of partnering countries through education, while promoting links and developing ties with these countries, too. These Awards are available to specific students in Asia, the Pacific, the Middle East and Africa, and require the recipients to return home for two years after the completion of their studies and use the knowledge and leadership skills gained from their time in Australia to contribute to the development of their country.
- International Postgraduate Research Scholarships (IPRS): The purpose of IPRS is to encourage exceptional students to aid in developing Australia’s research effort. This scholarship is available to students worldwide (except New Zealand) and is available for two years (research masters) or three years (research doctorate). There are a total of 330 IPRS places available per year. Applications need to be made directly with participating Australian universities.
- Endeavour Scholarships and Fellowships: These government funded scholarships and fellowships are available to students from the Asia-Pacific, the Middle East, Europe and the Americas. They are merit-based and allow applicants to undertake studies, research and professional development programmes in Australia. Approximately 500 Endeavour scholarships are available per year.
Scholarship and fellowship application dates vary per year. If you’re interested in applying for a scholarship, contact the program direct for more information on how and when to do so.
Apply for a bank account before you arrive in Australia
Applying to study in Australia
Those ineligible or unsuccessful for a scholarship or award can still apply to study in Australia via the standard application process. A good way to get started with this is to research universities that specialise in, or are renowned for, the field that you’re interested to study in. Then, you can hop onto that university’s website and read through the finer details of the courses on offer and their respective entry requirements.
At the very least, these requirements will include:
- Acceptable senior secondary and tertiary qualifications
- Achievement of necessary grades and completion of necessary subjects required to be accepted into the course
- English language proficiency
- Meeting any special entry requirements that might be applicable to the course
If you don’t meet the requirements of your preferred course, don’t despair. You may be eligible to apply for a university pathways (foundation) or an English preparation course to provide you with the necessary qualifications (e.g. International English Language Testing System grades) to meet the course’s requirements.
Many Australian visas (including student visas) require you to have English language proficiency. If your proficiency isn't high enough yet, you can improve through IELTS and English preparation courses online or in your home country. If you're already in Australia and wish to improve your English while here, you might be eligible for the Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP), which provides up to 510 hours of free English language tuition.
The best way to determine if you’re qualified for a higher education, pathways, or preparation course is to contact the educational institution directly.
If you do find a course that you’re interested in studying and are eligible to apply for it, you can apply for a placement. Those studying for an Australian Year 12 qualification or New Zealand Certificate of Educational Achievement in the current year will have to apply for their course through the Australian Universities Admissions Centre (UAC). Those who have achieved, or are achieving, other qualifications in the current year can apply directly to the university. Most of the time, this can be completed online under their International Students section.
When applying for your course, the educational institution will inform you what documentation you’ll need to produce to support your application, as well as any application fees. Supporting documentation may include original or certified copies of your educational transcripts, English language test results, and other qualifying material. Once your application has been reviewed, the educational institution will contact you to advise you if you’ve been accepted or not.
Those who are successful will typically receive either a conditional or a firm offer. The conditional is an offer of place that requires you to satisfy certain conditions, such as taking an English test or providing the final results of your current course, before you can receive a firm offer. A firm offer is an official offer of place at the university and can be given without the need for a conditional offer.
The final step to the application process is accepting your invitation or offer to study in Australia. If you’ve applied for several universities, you might have several invitations open to you. When you decide on one, you can then accept your offer and begin the process of relocating to Australia as an international student.
What you need to know to study in Australia
There are a few key things you’ll need to sort out, or at least understand and consider, before you relocate to Australia. The good thing is that now that you've been invited to study in Australia, all these won’t be too difficult to check off.
It's not uncommon for your educational institution to help arrange many necessities such as accommodation and health cover, which can be a great comfort. But if you're interested in knowing more, including your options, then read on.
Whether you’re on a scholarship or not, you are solely responsible for applying for and obtaining your visa. Without it, you may not be allowed to enter Australia to live and study.
In general, there are eight study visas available for applicants, however if you’re a university student who’s enrolled in a registered higher educational course, you’ll be on either the 573 or 574 visa.
The 573 Higher Education Sector visa is for the award of a bachelor/associate degree, graduate certificate/diploma, masters degree by coursework or higher education/advanced diploma, while the 574 Postgraduate visa is for the award of a masters degree by research or a doctorate. Both visas allow the holder to reside and study full-time in Australia for the length of their course.
Generally, to be eligible for a student visa you will need to prove that you have:
- Enough financial resources to fund your lifestyle during the course of your studies (minimum $18,610 per annual year.
- A letter of confirmation that you have been accepted for studies at an approved Australian educational institution.
- Health insurance. You may also need to provide proof of good general health.
- Good character.
- No outstanding debts in Australia.
For a full list of visas, visit our Australian visas and citizenship page.
How to apply for a student visa
A special process called Streamline Visa Processing (SVP) is in place to cater for student visas. This allows students to be treated as a lower migration risk, regardless of their country of origin. If you’re ineligible for SVP, your immigration risk is determined by your student assessment level; which is the calculated ability of students holding a particular passport and studying in a particular education sector to comply with their visa conditions. The higher the assessed risk, the more evidence the applicant will need to provide to support their application to study in Australia.
As part of visa condition 8516, students who are granted a visa under SVP must continue to maintain enrolment in an SVP eligible course and provider. In the event that you transfer to a course or provider that is not SVP eligible, your student visa will be cancelled by the DIBP.
Anyone approved for a student visa is eligible to bring their spouses and dependants with them on this visa, as well.
Overseas Student Health Cover (OSHC)
All international students holding temporary student visas are required to take out appropriate health care insurance, which must be valid for the full duration of their studies. This health cover must be from a provider that’s been approved by the Overseas Student Health Cover (OSHC) scheme and can be purchased through your educational institution, which will cover you with their preferred provider, or independently with an approved provider of your choice.
Taking out OSHC provides you with free access to the University Health Service and public hospitals in Australia. Note that waiting periods may apply for certain treatments and higher-level cover (dental and optical). Treatments that aren’t medically necessary (health screenings and medical examinations) also won’t be covered. Depending on your university, you may have to make your first payment for OSHC upon receipt of your offer of acceptance into your university. Once your cover begins, unless otherwise stated by your university, you will be solely responsible for all future payments to the provider.
Once you have obtained appropriate OSHC, the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) will have to be notified, as student health cover is a mandatory requirement for all student visa. If you choose to take OSHC through your university, they will most likely advise the DIAC on your behalf. If you already have OSHC or have purchased it independently, you will be responsible for advising the Department.
If you plan to stay in Australia after you complete your studies, you should understand that your cover ceases when your student visa expires, so you’ll have to apply for another policy if you wish to continue having health cover.
Due to special inter-governmental arrangements, students from certain countries might be exempt from obtaining and paying for OSHC. These include:
- Swedish students covered by MARSH
- Norwegian students covered by the National Norwegian Insurance Scheme
- Belgian students covered by Belgian Government Insurance Scheme
- New Zealand students who come to Australia on a non-student visa and have entitlements under the Reciprocal Health Care Agreement between Australia and New Zealand.
Students holding Australian government scholarships will also be exempt from having to pay for OSHC, as this will be paid to the provider by the scholarship on their behalf.
Rules, restrictions and requirements for purchasing OSHC
Every insurance provider has its own criteria for eligibility which will have an affect on your premiums. For example, most insurers will make you go through a waiting period of about 12 months if you have a pre-existing condition. Some may not cover you at all. Remember that extras like optical and dental procedures won’t be covered – so consider taking out extra cover if there’s a possibility you may need an optometrist or a dentist during your stay.
You should also consider how much your insurance will cover regarding medication. Most policies won’t cover pharmaceuticals over a predetermined amount, so you’ll be left to pay the remainder if there is any. Before committing to your policy, read the terms and conditions so you completely understand what you’re covered for, and contact your provider if you have any queries or concerns.
Image: Thomas Leuthard
Tuition fees and other expenses
Your tuition fees will vary depending on your course and will be advised to you upon acceptance of your offer.
As an international student, you are not eligible for the government’s High Education Loan Program (HELP), which is Australia’s study assist scheme. This means that, unless you are on scholarship, you’ll have to pay the overseas student fees charged by your educational institution. In many cases, international students are required to pay their tuition fees up-front and in-full, although there may be systems in place to allow you to pay in instalments. On top of this, it’s likely you’ll be required to pay a deposit to the university upon acceptance of your offer in order to secure you place in the course.
While study assistance from the government is not available to international students, depending on your university and financial circumstance, you might be able to obtain a student loan through your university. To find out if there are student loans available for you, contact your educational institution’s student financial assistance officer or similar.
Before you leave your country of origin, you might like to take out a student loan or see if there are any government loan systems available for your circumstance that can help you out financially.
For more information regarding loan options available to students, see our Non-Resident and Migrant Loans guide.
Don’t forget, it’s not just tuition fees you’ll have to bear the costs of. You should also consider other educational expenses (student services and amenities fees, incidental fees and textbooks), accommodation expenses, your recurring health cover fees, and general living and transport expenses.
It should be noted that as an international student you are permitted to work while in Australia, which can help you financially throughout the course of your studies. See Working as a Student (below) for more details.
What’s the cost of living as an international student?
No doubt one of the biggest questions on your mind is: How MUCH does it cost to live as an international student in Australia? To give you an idea of the answer, at the time of writing (2014), the University of Technology estimates that an international student requires AUD$14,786 to AUD$25,680 to cover their living expenses for one academic year. These expenses include rent for shared accommodation near your educational institution, groceries, phone and internet bill/s, home utilities like electricity and water, textbooks and other study materials, and transport. As you’ll no doubt be in Australia for longer than a year, students should also account for an estimated five percent increase in living expenses per year.
It should also be advised that, as of 1 July 2012, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) requires that all prospective overseas students must prove that they have access to AUD$18,610 per year to cover their estimated living expenses. Students bringing their families and spouses will need to meet higher monetary requirements, depending on the number of dependants.
Most Australian universities offer on- and off-campus accommodation, which are specifically designed for international and interstate students. These can vary from shared houses to catered dorm rooms, and are designed to suit different budgets. On top of being close to your place of study, student accommodation provides you with the opportunity to develop friendships with other students and build a sense of community ‒ which can be nice especially if you’ve relocated to Australia on your own and don’t know anyone here yet.
Many universities offer its students a housing/accommodation service which can arrange your housing needs (both on- and off-campus) prior to your arriving in Australia.
As a general rule of thumb, shared on-campus accommodation tends to be cheaper than off-campus renting and can include internet, phone, gas and electricity costs.
Working as a student
Both the 573 and 574 visas allow you and any immediate family you’ve brought with you on your visa to work while you are in Australia. However, both these visas come with working restrictions.
Students holding a 573 or 574 visa are allowed to work up to 40 hours per fortnight (20 hours per week) while their course is in session, and for an unlimited number of hours (within work placement laws) when their course is on break.
Similarly, family members on this visa may work up to 40 hours per fortnight once the student has commenced their course, or an unlimited number of hours if the student is studying a postgraduate (Masters, PhD) course.
In order to be properly taxed for your work, it’s highly advised that you obtain a TFN (Tax File Number) upon commencement of work in Australia.
Working in Australia for more information about working in Australia as an international student.
Student entitlements and discounts
Unfortunately international students do not receive the same governmental student benefits and discounts as Australian students and permanent residents.
Generally, international students are not entitled to student concessions on public transport (this may differ for scholarship students), although they may be eligible for reduced price tickets under the International Student Travel Program (ISTP).
You should be advised upon enrolment into your university of your public transport ticketing options. If you are not, you should contact your educational institution for full details regarding your travel discount options.
As a student, you may also be eligible for general student discounts that are provided by retailers (food stores and fashion outlets) throughout Australia. All you need to do is present your student card to participating retailers to receive your discount. Please note: acceptance of your international student card is up to the retailer's discretion.
Important contact information
International students have a variety of consumer protection and support services available to them. Here are a few that might come in handy if you ever find yourself in need of some advice or aid while studying in Australia.
Overseas Students Ombudsman
The Overseas Students Ombudsman investigates complaints with private education and training in Australia by international students. These problems could include being refused admission to a course, problems with fees and refunds, incorrect advice provided by an education agent, and the cancellation of enrolment. These services are provided free for overseas students.
Education Services for Overseas Students (ESOS)
This framework protects the interests of international students by ensuring the quality of education services provided. It sets standards, roles and responsibilities for education institutions, and provides tuition and financial support services for students where required.
Tuition Protection Service (TPS)
This government initiative aims to provide support for overseas students whose education providers are unable to deliver their course of study. They achieve this by either providing an alternate course of study, or facilitating a refund (full or partial) of tuition fees.
Student associations are there to provide support for students both in maximising their experience in Australia as well as their education. Each education provider has a dedicated student association that you can contact for assistance or further information.
Australia has strict laws on educational discrimination, which state that institutions may not refuse, prioritise, or deny access to students on the basis of disability. If you are unfairly being discriminated against on this basis, you can lodge a formal complaint with the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission.