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Living in Estonia – A Guide for PhD Students

Written by Ben Taylor

Estonia is a small but vibrant Baltic country with a fascinating local culture and a famous affinity for technology. PhD students in Estonia have the chance to immerse themselves in a truly digital society that offers plenty of unique research opportunities.

This page will give you an overview of Estonian student life, covering essentials from accommodation and living costs to transport and banking.

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Student life

Despite being one of the least populous nations in Europe, Estonia has a diverse array of tourist attractions and a long and proud cultural history. Tallinn’s fairy-tale Old Town is UNESCO-listed, while the Estonian countryside is one of Europe’s great wildernesses.

Culture and tourism

Most visitors to Estonia first arrive in Tallinn, the capital and largest city. Tallinn is a beguiling mix of cobbled streets, futuristic architecture and innovative urban redevelopment projects. Located in a huge seaplane hangar built in 1917, Lennusadam explores Estonia’s proud maritime history, with a large collection of historic ships.

The Estonian National Museum is just outside Tartu, Estonia’s second city, on a former Soviet airstrip. Opened in 2017, it takes a closer look at Estonia’s fascinating past.

Sport and leisure

Estonia’s pristine countryside offers plenty of opportunities for outdoor adventure, with lots of lakes and islands to explore.

Basketball, football and cross-country skiing are popular past-times in Estonia. If you want to try something a little different, give kiiking a go – invented by an Estonian in 1993, it involves a very big swing (probably best to check it out on YouTube beforehand!).

Food and drink

Estonian cuisine absorbs influences from the country’s Nordic, Germanic and Russian past, with a mixture of fresh produce, smoked fish and hearty stews.


Rent is affordable in Estonia by Western standards. You can expect to pay around €150-350 per month for a room in a student dormitory or €350-650 for a private flat.

University dormitories are one option for doctoral students. This housing involves sharing a bathroom and kitchen facilities with other students (usually three other people). Any utility costs will usually be included in your rent.

Renting privately is normally more expensive than a dormitory, but it does give you a greater choice in terms of location and size. There’s also the possibility of flat-sharing with other students to keep costs down.

Living costs

Compared to other countries in the Eurozone, living costs in Estonia are low. The average monthly student budget is between €300 and €500.

Prices in Estonia

This table should give you an idea of the typical costs you’ll encounter as a PhD student in Estonia.

Student Cost of Living in Estonia - 2024
Restaurant Meal €10.00
Cinema Ticket €9.00
Monthly Travel Pass €30.00
Monthly Utilities €237
Based on crowdsourced data published by Numbeo.

Working during your PhD

Estonia places no limit on the number of hours international students can work during their studies (this applies to all nationalities). You don’t need a work permit during your PhD, either.

However, in order to be allowed to work you’ll need to be studying on a full-time basis (around 30 ECTS credits per semester).

One other ‘condition’ is that your employment doesn’t interfere with your studies – as a conscientious PhD student, we’re sure that you won’t let this happen!


As you may expect from a country as technologically-savvy as Estonia, cards are widely used and it’s a good idea to open an Estonian bank account for the convenience this affords.

When opening an account you’ll usually need to bring the following documents with you:

  • Your passport
  • Letter of acceptance from your university
  • Your Temporary Residence Permit (TRP) – if applicable

There are several banks operating in Estonia and it’s worthwhile comparing service fees as well as the proximity of their nearest branch.


Estonia’s small size means that it’s easy to travel around the country, with plenty of affordable transport options. Helsinki is also within reach – you can take a ferry across the Baltic Sea to visit the beautiful Finnish capital (the trip to Tallinn is popular with Finns looking to take advantage of Estonia’s cheap alcohol).

Bus and rail travel

Buses and trains are a quick and convenient way to travel between Tallinn and Tartu, as well as the smaller towns in Estonia. If you want to travel further afield, you can also catch the train to St Petersburg or one of the other Baltic states (Latvia, for example).

Air travel

There’s only one major international airport in Estonia, located unsurprisingly in Tallinn. However, there is an airport in Tartu with direct flights to Helsinki.

Inner-city travel

Good news if you’re studying in Tallinn: public transport is completely free for all residents (including international students!). First you’ll need to register with the local authorities and get yourself a travel card, but after that you’ll be able to ride Tallinn’s buses and trams for free!

Tartu has an affordable bus network as well as a bikeshare system.

Find a PhD in Estonia

Ready to start browsing some current PhD opportunities in Estonia? Alternatively, you can look at our other guides to PhD study abroad.

PhD Study in Estonia – A Guide for 2024

Interested in studying a PhD in Estonia? Our guide will help you make your decision, covering essential information on doctoral degrees and university rankings through to applications and student visas.

Read more

Last Updated: 19 December 2023