Student life in Sydney

Tips for international students in Sydney
Updated 2023-05-13 19:32

Sydney is ranked in the top 10 best cities for international students, according to the 2023 QS Best Student Cities survey. According to the 2021 census, a massive 43% of its population was born overseas, meaning the city has an international flavor and its residents are used to welcoming new international people and cultures.

Overall, Sydney is a welcoming, diverse and multicultural city. Although it is famous for its iconic opera house and the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the city has so much more to offer than these two architectural wonders. As Australia's financial and economic hub, Sydney is also home to great nightlife, trendy cafes and bars, fantastic beaches and lots of green spaces.

If you like walking around in flip-flops (or 'thongs' as the Aussies say) most of the year, you'll love Sydney's climate and lifestyle with plenty of sea, sun, sand and surf. It also makes a perfect base to travel Australia's East Coast and the barrier reef.

Why study in Sydney?

Quality education & research and excellent job prospects

Two of Sydney's universities rank among the top 50 universities worldwide, following QS University rankings in 2023. In a 2019 survey, the University of Sydney ranked in second place in Australia and 28th for Asia's most innovative universities and is developing a reputation for its world-class research output, passionate teachers and industry partnerships. A degree from Sydney is trusted and can guarantee excellent job prospects.

Amazing student life

You will agree that 236 days of sunshine a year and the proximity to beaches like Bondi or Manly are hard to beat. There's lots to discover in Sydney, from museums and other cultural attractions to the best shopping in Australia, vibrant city markets, great nightlife, and a relaxed and friendly atmosphere.

The academic environment in Sydney

Sydney is home to five universities, all of which have a good global reputation and strong research programs. Though the pandemic put a brief dent in the number of international students, as of 2022, the numbers are climbing, and more and more students are flocking to live and study in Sydney. There are students from all over the world, but common nationalities include China, India, Vietnam, South Korea, Thailand, Brazil and Malaysia.

Australian students are encouraged to study independently and be responsible for completing their readings and research within the deadlines, but tutors can help you to adapt to the Australian system. Generally, students and academics maintain a more casual and respectful attitude and refer to each other using first names. Students are welcome to challenge lecturers and tutors in tutorial discussions and raising counterarguments and opinions is encouraged.

English language requirements for international students in Sydney

The teaching language in Sydney is English, and as part of your application as an international student, you'll need to provide proof of your English proficiency. You can do this in a number of ways, so be sure to check in with the university of your choice. Some common options include:

  • Taking a language skills test, for example, IELTS, TOEFL, or Cambridge certificate. It's best to check in advance which certificates are accepted by your university.
  • Completing the university's pre-session English language course
  • Provide proof of secondary or tertiary qualifications to confirm your level of English.

Sydney's leading universities

University of Sydney

Founded in 1850, this is Australia's founding university and ranks among the country's top three universities. Internationally recognized, the University of Sydney came in 41st in the QS World University Rankings in 2023. It is a world-leading public research and teaching university and home to over 73,000 students. In terms of subject matter, the University of Sydney is known for excelling in the humanities and social sciences, engineering and technology. About 30% of the student body are international students, so there are lots of opportunities to connect with other expats and join clubs and societies. Visit the University of Sydney's website for more information on enrollments.

The University of New South Wales (UNSW)

Regarded as one of the country's leading universities, the University of New South Wales ranked 45th worldwide in the QS University Rankings 2023, achieving excellent results in accounting and finance, law, and civil and structural engineering.

Established in 1949, UNSW is a founding member of several academic networks, such as the Group of Eight leading Australian universities, Universitas 21, the Association of Pacific Rim Universities, and the Global Alliance of Technological Universities. Notable programs of study include renewable energies, climate change, and cancer research, as well as breakthrough technologies and social sciences. UNSW supports international exchange and research partnerships with 200 universities all around the world. To date, its researchers are renowned for their work in solar power, HIV treatment as well as quantum computing. There are more than 62,500 students, of which about 13,000 are international students from almost 130 countries. Check the UNSW website for enrolment information.

University of Technology Sydney (UTS)

UTS has a vibrant community of 45,000 students, with more than 11,000 international students from 120 countries. It offers a huge range of undergraduate and postgraduate courses in architecture, business, built environment, design, communication, education, engineering, information technology, international studies, law, midwifery, nursing, pharmacy and science.

As one of the country's leading universities of technology, the UTS is part of the Australian Technology Network of universities: a group of five innovative universities focused on working with industry, government and real-world research to deliver practical and professional courses. If this catches your interest, check out the UTS website.

Macquarie University

Macquarie is one of Australia's best universities and ranks among the top 200 universities worldwide, following the 2023 QS university ranking. Home to 45,000 students, including 10,000 international students, the university includes the Macquarie University Hospital and Macquarie Graduate School of Management, renowned for their expertise in areas like business, health and medical sciences.

Western Sydney University (UWS)

Western Sydney University is home to over 40,000 students, of which about 10,000 are international students. Its six campuses each have a distinctive character and promote small class sizes. Students can study in the fields of arts and humanities, engineering and built environment, information technology and computing, health science, nursing and midwifery, psychology, science and social science. For admissions, check the Western Sydney University website.

Entry conditions in Sydney universities

International students are required to meet the same minimum academic entry conditions as Australian residents, i.e., hold a recognized secondary (high school) qualification such as A-levels or equivalent and proof of a good command of English. Certain courses may have special or higher entry requirements, minimum entry marks or grades, or require ability tests. As selection procedures and requirements depend on the university and program of study, it's best to check with the university of your choice.

You must obtain a student visa in Australia unless you hold another visa that allows you to study. Check with the embassy or Australian consulate in your home country and the Australian immigration office. Alternatively, a representative of your university of choice may be able to help prepare your student visa application. You will need the university's confirmation of enrolment in order to apply for the visa. So make sure to apply right after you receive the university offer, as it can take several weeks to process your visa application. Note that changing your course level of education after the visa application may result in the visa being canceled.


Overseas Student Health Cover is compulsory for student visa holders.

Exchange programs and scholarships in Sydney

Most universities in Sydney offer university-specific scholarships, awards and international student loan schemes. So make sure to check with the university of your choice. Educational institutions, the Australian government as well as public and private organizations, offer a number of scholarships, such as the Australia Awards or International Postgraduate Research Scholarships, that are available for international students.

Living in Sydney as an international student

Living in Sydney can be costly, with tuition fees and living expenses being relatively high. According to the Department of Home Affairs, international students must have access to at least AUD 21,041 per year to cover their living expenses, excluding tuition fees. Estimated living expenses range from AUD 18,000 to AUD 25,000 per academic year, while tuition fees can vary depending on the university and degree program. On average, tuition fees at universities in Sydney range from AUD 23,000 to AUD 35,000 per year. It's best to check with the university directly for specific course costs.

Despite the high living costs, many international students still choose to study in Sydney for its unique lifestyle. Working while studying is encouraged, and international students in Sydney can work up to 20 hours per week on their student visa.

When it comes to student housing, most universities in Sydney offer on-campus accommodation such as shared apartments or studios, some of which include meals. Prices for these options range from AUD 130 to AUD 650 per week. Other options include independent student housing, homestay (AUD 195-500 per week), private rental (AUD 350 - AUD 570 per week), or flat sharing (AUD 300 - AUD 400 per week). Flatmates and Flatmate Finders are popular websites for finding shared accommodation in Sydney.

Housing costs and living expenses in Sydney vary, depending on your habits and requirements. Some international students are willing to share with many others and live very simply, whereas others may have different needs. Research living costs before you arrive so you don't end up in a situation where you are out of your depth.

Things to do in Sydney

Sydney is a bustling and lively city with a diverse and vibrant nightlife that includes clubs, pubs, and bars in popular areas such as Woolloomooloo (you'll get used to pronouncing words like this!), Darling Harbour, King's Cross, Oxford Street, and the Rocks. Darlinghurst and Surry Hills are also well-known for their bars. For a scenic view of the ocean, head to the beachside pubs in Coogee and Bondi. In addition to the sandy beaches, don't miss out on exploring Sydney's northern beaches, with Manly Beach being the most popular.

Sydney hosts numerous cultural festivals and events throughout the year, including celebrations of food, music, film, arts, and comedy, as well as annual festivities such as Australia Day, Chinese New Year, and the world-famous Vivid light festival, which showcases light installations and projections throughout the city.

Aside from the bars and beaches, there are many other activities to enjoy in Sydney, such as coastal walks from Bondi to Coogee featuring Australia's largest outdoor sculpture exhibit, "Sculpture by the Sea," or a walk from Manly Beach to Sydney Harbour Bridge via Spit. Day trips to the Blue Mountains or to North Sydney's nature parks and beaches are also popular.

When it comes to local cuisine in Sydney, while you may hear about the famous bush foods like damper, crocodile, kangaroo, or Witchetty grubs, some of these may be geared towards tourists. However, there are other local dishes that you should definitely try, such as a classic Aussie BBQ, a hamburger with beetroot, fish and chips by the sea, Vegemite, or Barramundi fish. You'll also find excellent Malaysian, Thai, and Chinese food in Sydney, reflecting the city's diverse population and Asian cuisine influences. Be sure to check out the local wines from the Hunter Valley region and visit the Sydney Fish Market, the largest of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere and the world's third-largest fish market.

Good to know:

Contrary to popular belief, Foster's beer is not a popular drink in Australia but is often geared towards tourists and the export market.

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