Europe is one of the most popular postgraduate study destinations for international students from all over the world – and it’s not hard to see why.
Studying abroad in Europe will allow you to benefit from the centuries of academic prestige and expertise accumulated at the world’s oldest universities. As you do, you’ll have the chance to learn other languages, get work experience abroad and prove to future employers that you have the skills and experience necessary to succeed in an increasingly globalised world.
We’ve written guides to some of the most popular destinations for international students in Europe, from France and Germany to Sweden and Switzerland.
Interested in studying a Masters degree in Sweden? Our guide will help you make your decision, covering essential information on postgraduate courses and university rankings through to applications and student visas.
The Bologna Process and the European Higher Education Area (EHEA)
If you’re reading about Masters study in Europe, it may not be long before you come across references to the Bologna Process and something called the European Higher Education Area (EHEA).
These may not sound particularly exciting, but they’re actually two of the main reasons studying in Europe is so convenient and attractive. Together they help maintain a common format for higher education and enhance student mobility throughout much of Europe.
What is the Bologna Process?
The Bologna Process is ongoing, but it began in 1999 with an agreement signed – unsurprisingly – at the University of Bologna in Italy (the oldest European university in continuous operation).
Education Ministers representing 29 countries took part in this initial 'Bologna Declaration' and formed the European Higher Education Area together. New conferences are held in European countries every two to three years and additional countries have also been admitted as signatories to the Bologna agreements and members of the European Higher Education Area.
What is the EHEA?
The European Higher Education Area (EHEA) is made up of the countries that have signed the Bologna Declaration and agreed to adopt a common format for their university qualifications (including Masters degrees).
As of 2022 a total of 49 countries (including the Vatican City) are part of the EHEA.
Countries within the EHEA:
The following countries form the European Higher Education Area and follow the Bologna Process:
These are all made possible by a range of other systems that operate within and alongside the Bologna Process and the EHEA.
The European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS)
If you’re studying a Masters in Europe, you may find that your course is organised according to the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS).
The ECTS provides a common framework for measuring academic attainment in European higher education systems. The principle is that wherever you decide to study a Masters in Europe, the academic work you do should be internationally recognisable through its ECTS credit value.
What do ECTS credits mean for Masters students?
Use of the ECTS scale offers several benefits for Masters students in Europe:
Mobility and recognition – The ECTS value of your Masters degree will be internationally accepted, helping you apply for PhD or employment opportunities across Europe and beyond.
Flexibility and opportunity – The ECTS makes it easy to transfer learning between institutions or even countries and to gain credit for the work you do, wherever you do it in Europe. Thanks to the ECTS, studying for a Masters in Europe can mean exactly that.
Student-centred learning – Because ECTS credits are calculated according to learning hours they can accurately reflect the increasing amount of independent and self-directed study that goes into a Masters degree.
Comparability – The use of the ECTS across different European countries makes Masters degrees easier to compare internationally.
How many ECTS credits is a Masters degree worth?
A European Masters degree is normally worth 90-120 ECTS credits, depending on how long it is (the ECTS works by assigning value to individual credits according to the number of learning hours required to earn them).
Some countries in the EHEA also use their own credit systems. For example, the UK uses a Credit Accumulation and Transfer System (CATS). Each CATS credit is worth two ECTS credits, so a one-year 180 CATS credit UK Masters is equivalent to a one-year 90 ECTS credit Masters.
You will earn ECTS credits gradually as you complete individual modules of study and other course components (such as research training or academic development). These will be assigned a credit weighting depending on their duration and the amount of work expected of you.
ENIC-NARIC centres and the recognition of qualifications in Europe
To study abroad as a Masters student, you need to be sure of two things:
That your existing qualifications is recognised by the foreign university you apply to
That the qualification you receive will be recognised if you return home with it or go elsewhere to pursue the next stage in your academic / professional career.
Europe’s ENIC-NARIC centres can help you on both counts.
What are ENIC and NARIC centres?
The European Network of Information Centres in the European Region (ENIC) is administered by the Council of Europe and UNESCO.
The National Academic Recognition Information Centres in the European Union (NARIC) are a European Commission initiative, operating as part of the Bologna Process.
In practice, both ENIC and NARIC centres cooperate to facilitate the recognition of foreign qualifications and support student / staff mobility between European higher education systems.
As a Masters student in Europe, you can generally treat ENIC and NARIC as the same network.
What can ENIC-NARIC centres do for Masters students?
As a postgraduate looking to study abroad, you are likely to encounter one of two general scenarios regarding your existing qualifications:
In most cases your undergraduate degree will be automatically recognised by the foreign university you apply to. This is particularly likely for degrees awarded in Europe, where the Bologna Process and the ECTS credit system make the equivalence of degree programmes easy to determine.
Here, ENIC-NARIC should be able to confirm the fact that your qualification is recognised.
Where a qualification is less familiar, it may need to be subjected to an assessment or accreditation process. Your university will investigate the structure and content of your undergraduate degree to confirm that it provides a satisfactory pre-requisite for admission to the postgraduate programme you have chosen.
In such cases, ENIC-NARIC may be able to help by providing information on the necessary process and by contacting the ENIC-NARIC centre (or its equivalent) in the country that awarded your degree.
In both cases the primary function of the ENIC-NARIC network is to provide accurate and reliable information to yourself and your prospective institution.
What can’t ENIC-NARIC centres do for Masters students?
While ENIC-NARIC centres can provide an important information resource, their role is primarily advisory. The final acceptance of your existing qualifications will be up to the university you apply to.
Finding your ENIC-NARIC centre
Each European country maintains its own ENIC-NARIC branch. Usually this is organised by its ministry of education.
You can find details of individual ENIC-NARIC centres via the main web portal of the ENIC-NARIC network.
Visas and immigration for Masters students in the EU and EEA
EU and EEA nationals (as well as citizens of Switzerland) are usually subject to the same immigration and education rights as domestic students when studying in other EU and EEA member countries.
You qualify as an EEA national if you are a citizen of the above countries or of Iceland, Liechtenstein or Norway.
Switzerland maintains bilateral agreements with the EU and EEA and, in practice, its citizens are subject to most of the same immigration and employment rights as EU and EEA citizens.
Visa requirements for EU and EEA students
If you are an EU national you may normally enter another EU country without a visa and reside there for up to three months (90 days). In effect, this right is often also granted to EEA nationals and Swiss citizens.
As a Masters student you will almost certainly wish to live and study in Europe for longer than this. You still won't require a visa to do so, but will need to formally register as a foreign student and receive a Registration Certificate (this will be given different names in different countries).
In order to apply for a Registration Certificate you will need to present the following documents at a police station or other local authority in addition to your passport or identity card:
Proof of your enrolment at a recognised higher education institution. Your university should be able to provide this through its international office. The document you submit should usually confirm the duration of your course.
Proof or declaration that you have sufficient financial resources to support yourself whilst you study. In general this should take the form of existing resources, such as student funding or personal savings. Income gained by working alongside your studies may not be accepted as sufficient evidence of financial resources.
Proof that you have comprehensive health insurance. A European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) may satisfy this requirement in whole or in part, depending on arrangements in your host country.
Working in the EU or EEA as a Masters student
EU and EEA nationals usually have the right to seek work freely in other EU or EEA countries.
There is no overarching agreement covering the right of non-EU / EEA nationals to work in the EU and EEA (this now includes UK students).
In many cases you will still be permitted to work, but this will be subject to restrictions on hours and may require the sponsorship of your university. Check our guides to studying a Masters in individual European countries for more specific information.
Schengen visas for Masters students
If you are studying abroad in Europe, you may qualify for (or already effectively possess) a Schengen visa. This will allow you to move freely across European countries in the Schengen Area, spending up to 90 days in a 180-day period in fellow Schengen countries.
What is the Schengen Area?
The Schengen Area is a free travel zone within Europe. It comprises 22 of the 27 EU member states (all except Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland and Romania) as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. These countries are referred to by the EU as ‘Schengen States’.
What does the Schengen Area mean for Masters students?
If you are an EU or EEA national, you are already entitled to live and study in any of the Schengen States. You are also entitled to enter other Schengen States for up to 90 days without needing to apply for formal registration of residence.
Students from outside the EU or EEA may benefit from free movement within the Schengen Area for specified periods, either as a right accorded to citizens of certain countries or by acquiring a ‘Schengen Visa’.
There are two situations in which you may wish to do this as an international Masters student in Europe:
You need to cross the territory of another Schengen State while travelling to your country of study
You want to travel outside your country of study during your Masters degree (perhaps to visit archives and facilities elsewhere in Europe, or for leisure purposes during a vacation)
Applying for a Schengen Visa as a Masters student
In most cases you should apply for a Schengen Visa at the embassy of the country most directly concerned with your intended travel. This will either be the country you intend to visit, the country in which you expect to spend most of your journey or the first country you will enter. For example:
If you are travelling to your country of study, but will need to change flights in another Schengen State, you should apply to the embassy of that state for an airport transit visa.
If you are travelling to your country of study via the territory of one other Schengen State, you should apply to the embassy of that state for a transit visa. If you are crossing the territory of more than one country, apply to the embassy of the country you will spend the most time travelling through, or of the first country you will enter on your journey (whichever is most appropriate).
If you are travelling to visit other countries within the Schengen Area you should apply for a short stay visa from the embassy of the country you will spend most of your time in (usually the country you are travelling to visit). If you are travelling without a primary destination, apply to the embassy of the first country you will enter.
In order to apply for a Schengen Visa you will usually need to submit the following documents along with your passport or identity card and a completed visa application form:
Evidence that you have sufficient funds to support yourself during your travels. Countries may stipulate different minimum amounts for given periods.
Evidence of the purpose of your visit. This can include proof of tourist accommodation or other bookings. If you are travelling for research purposes your university may be able to provide documents to support your application.
Evidence that you are a registered student.
Evidence that you have valid health insurance covering you throughout your trip.
From 1 January 2021, UK students are no longer EU citizens. This means that you won't automatically benefit from the right to study in the EU without a visa. However, the UK is still a member of the EHEA and most UK and EU qualifications will be mutually recognised as part of the Bologna Process (some exceptions may apply to professional Masters which need to specifically accredited in different countries). The UK also remains part of ENIC-NARIC.
There are a few other ways Brexit changes things for postgraduate study in Europe, including fees and funding for UK students in the EU and EU students in the UK.