I earned my bachelors in Computer Engineering from my home country. I am now enrolled in a Physics masters program in the same university. Next year I plan to find a different university in Europe in which to enroll in a Computer Engineering PhD program.

However I doubt that I'll receive any scholarships from my homeland's government when studying abroad. Can I survive if I start to live out of my own my pocket? Is that enough to live in Europe just for a half year. Are there any available funds that can supplement my income such as a TA/RA's salary?

My main question is:

  1. How to survive if I want to study PhD in Europe without any scholarship from my home country?
  2. Which country might provide sufficient support for a foreigner to study at graduate level?

I am interested to Germany and Finland but any European country would be acceptable!

  • 1
    Related: What strategy to follow for getting a funded PhD position?
    – ff524
    Commented Jul 7, 2014 at 10:18
  • 2
    University systems vary quite wildly between European countries (even if they've been converging during the last few years), as do standards of living.
    – finitud
    Commented Jul 7, 2014 at 10:21
  • @finitud just tell me a story of any country you have an experience. That's enough.
    – fronthem
    Commented Jul 7, 2014 at 10:38
  • 8
    "Can I survive if I start to live with my pocket money?" Doesn't that mostly depend on how much "pocket money" you have available?
    – xLeitix
    Commented Jul 7, 2014 at 12:46
  • For some general info on PhDs in Europe see academia.stackexchange.com/questions/23584/…
    – Relaxed
    Commented Jul 7, 2014 at 13:11

6 Answers 6


I only know the situation in Germany:

In order to get a visa, you are required to show that you can fund your PhD study. Either by scholarship, salary, or your personal means.

Usually, at least in CS, PhD students are employees of the university. You don't sign a contract that you are going to do a PhD, instead, you sign a contract that you will work for the university, "and you will be supported for doing a PhD". Your salary will be more than enough to support yourself (and thus for visa regulations).

However, it is also possible to do an external PhD. In this case you will not be an employee, rather a PhD student. What you need would be to find a professor who is willing to advise your work. In this case, you might get some scholarship from institutions like DAAD.

  • I would like to emphasize reaching out the the DAAD (I am not affiliated with them). My experience was that they are quite eager to fund foreign students of all levels.
    – CuriousCat
    Commented Jul 7, 2014 at 15:19
  • 1
    There are a few exceptions to what gefei wrote. Some universities or institutes offer graduate schools, where students are funded by the school, rather than being employed by the university. They use a formal application proceedure to select students, who will then also be supported with invitation letters for Visa, etc. - so they are quite international. For CS, I know of two such examples in the German-speaking part of Europe: The Saarland University Graduate school of CS, and the IST Austria.
    – DCTLib
    Commented Jul 8, 2014 at 11:36
  • @CuriousCat How do you contact an university to ask them to work in their university to fund a PhD? Commented Aug 17, 2015 at 1:29

In Norway, and I believe in other Scandinavian countries, a PhD student is considered as a university employee. The salary is more than enough for you to support yourself, and even your family if you have one. In the UK, a PhD studentship is usually restricted only to UK and EU nationals.

  • How about in Germany or Finland?
    – fronthem
    Commented Jul 7, 2014 at 10:17
  • @terces907 I don't know about Germany or Finland, unfortunately.
    – adipro
    Commented Jul 7, 2014 at 19:27
  • In Finland a PhD student is a university employee but whether the university will pay you with its own funds or you need to bring money yourself (with overcosts, perhaps up to 100%) depends on the specific case. The best bet anyway is contacting a professor/group leader that you're interested in working with (and who is willing to accept you) and from there explore possible funding solutions. For reference, the price of everything is outrageous compared to virtually any country in the world.
    – Miguel
    Commented Jul 31, 2014 at 12:32

In Spain, enrolling in the PhD programme and getting funding are two independent processes (then there might be visa issues which I do not know about). I am going to tell you about my experience a few years ago (roughly 2005-2010).

Tuition fees for PhD are usually low, and any kind of financial support you can find will usually cover them.

In order to receive funding, you usually need to be enrolled, or at least admitted, in a PhD program, with an advisor and a strong research proposal. The typical PhD fellowship/contract used to be around 1000 euros per month, during a maximum of 4 years. This was just enough to live in Madrid, and a decent salary in many small towns. Both salaries and flat rents have gone down in the last few years, although other costs of living have been going up, but it's a good first estimate of how much money you will need. Sadly, with the crisis, the research budgets have been slashed and it's even more difficult to find financial support than it already was.

Cost of living can vary wildly even between Spanish cities, with Madrid and Barcelona among the most expensive, and smaller towns such as Oviedo or Granada much more affordable.

All in all, while Spain is probably not the best bet in terms of receiving financial support for research at the moment, it does have lower costs of living than other European countries. Since I don't know where you're at the moment, I can't compare how much your money will stretch in comparison.


As a Ph.D. student in (continental) Europe, you are an employee of the university (or other institution), and so you earn a salary. "Scholarships" are only for undergraduate and Master's students. Normally, the salary will be mentioned in the job postings you apply to (here's a typical one), this answers your question 1.

As for 2, the level of funding varies between positions, depending on available funding at the insitution, etc. This is not country-dependent.

  • Anyway, no tuition fee or cheap tuition fee university also help me right? Could you recommend me some of them?
    – fronthem
    Commented Jul 7, 2014 at 10:02
  • 2
    @terces907 We don't allow "shopping" for universities here (see this meta post for more details)
    – ff524
    Commented Jul 7, 2014 at 10:17
  • 2
    Not completely true. In some countries/disciplines, it's still relatively common to do a PhD without funding (although not in CS, I think). Furthermore many people do a PhD using money from their home country. You might call it a grant instead of a scholarship but the important thing is that those people come with their own money instead of applying for some pre-existing job. Even if there might be further differences between universities in the same country, all this is very much country-dependent.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Jul 7, 2014 at 13:09

First of all it would be extremely helpful if you could provide some information about your homeland.

I'll give a general case of steps that you could do, and then a more specific case for Germany.

In general there are different possibilities to get funding for studies in EU.

  1. Your government provides scholarships for studies in certain countries
  2. The embassy/government of the country which you want to do your studies provides scholarships for foreign students
  3. Some 3rd party organization (European Union, European Council, NGO etc)
  4. The university itself has a scholarship program for foreign students

So basically what you will have to do, is visit the websites of the entities which I have listed above, and try to find the scholarships.

In the case of Germany that would be

  1. (This is related to your government)
  2. German Embassy in your country / DAAD
  3. Erasmus plus / Erasmus mundus / programme
  4. International office of your target univerisity

In general, do not hesitate to contact all the stakeholders (people etc.), that could provide you useful information; Also contact the Professor of the group that you would like to work your Phd at. They always have something in their hand.

The last and most obvious solution is getting a job. In the case of Germany as a student you are allowed to work up to 20 hours per week. If the living costs are not very expensive you can survive easily with that money. If you assume that you will be payed at least 9,5 euros per hour (this is really low), so you have the chance to go up to 13 euros per hour.

If you earn up to 450 euros per month, you don't have to pay taxes in Germany, anything more than that is subject to taxing.

Finally, in order to get the student visa in Germany you need to have 8000 eu in Bank upfront, or a documentation which confirms that you have the required funding to have at least 650 eu per month for living costs. 650 is the living cost calculated by the German government.

Have a look at this sites as well: http://www.phdportal.eu/


Cost of living in european countries is extremely variable. E.g. being a student in Kiel, Germany, I was able to live for 500€ per month, living in comfortable single room in 2-3 rooms flat, and eating/drinking outside quite often. A friend of mine is doing her phd in Oulu, Finland. A salary is about 4 times higher, but it is all wasted for living costs. Every country has their own rules for medical insurance and taxes and so on, in some countries it can be very expensive.

My way would be seeking for a funded position, and based on contract decide whether you can live there for such money or not. I would not recommend Spain for finding a position because you will get into troubles for getting work permit as you are not EU citizen. Also, according to my own experience, EU countries usually give very limited work permits for PhD students, so funding your studies from other work in EU might be really an issue.

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