At the crossroads between central and Eastern Europe, Hungary combines many of the attractions of both regions, although it's very distinctive from its neighbours. Hungary’s strong culture spreads over several disciplines such as classical music, poetry, literature or folklore. A relatively small country, Hungary still has much to offer visitors, from the architectural and cultural delights of capital city Budapest, to rolling hills and historic castles.
You may think that you do not need to speak Hungarian. While this may be true for academic purposes, it will make your life much easier if you acquire some rudiments of Hungarian for your day-to-day activities. Any language skills you develop will be valuable, especially as Hungarian universities often offer Hungarian courses at low or no cost.
Your university should have ‘welcome guides’ for international students so it is worth consulting those when you are choosing where to study in Hungary. Equally the city or region of your chosen university will have a website (although not necessarily in English) where you can get information about local services such as public transport or sports facilities. Once you’re in Hungary, universities will offer support and advice to international students so don’t hesitate to contact them.
In terms of sources of information, other students can also provide a more personal view of their experience in Hungary. For formal information on visas, driving or legal issues, it is best to access official sources of information, but if you are after a general view of day-to-day living and studying in Hungary, then blogs can be really useful. Supervisors or heads of graduate studies may also offer you support before you arrive in Hungary.
By European standards, the cost of living in Hungary is on the low side, which makes it an affordable place for postgraduate study. Hungary is not part of the Eurozone and the Hungarian Forint (HUF) is the official currency.
The Central European University based in Budapest has a handy cost of living guide on its website, although it is mainly for Budapest, Hungary’s capital city, this will give you an idea of what to budget.
As an indication of your budget for the duration of your studies, students requiring a visa to study in Hungary must demonstrate that they have at least 160,000HUF/month available to support them. This is the recommendation of universities too, although the amount you need will depend on your individual living standards.
If you are on a budget remember that as a student you can get discounts in university restaurants and cafeterias, on public transport, in cinemas...
In your financial planning, it is best to exclude any predicted part-time employment income because it can be difficult to get one if you do not speak Hungarian.
There are three types of accommodation available to students:
If you are a non-EU student and are living in a privately-rented flat, make sure you ask the landlord for a Certificate of Property Ownership from the Land Registry Office. This document will cost 6,250HUF and will be required when you apply for a residence permit at the Immigration Office (see below).
All students will need to register with the local authorities, regardless of where they are from. There are also specific visa procedures that non-EU students will have to go through. The Central European University has very detailed information for different categories of students. It links to official immigration information (which may not be available as extensively in English).
It is normally compulsory to have adequate healthcare insurance to study in Hungary. If you are studying at an accredited institution in Hungary, you may have access to the National Health Service (called TAJ). This still needs to be paid through your university (around 6,500 HUF/month). A number of universities will offer students the opportunity to purchase their own health insurance (similar cost to that of the National Health Service), although if you are in receipt of a scholarship, this may be included.
You do not need to buy health insurance from your institution and you may wish to look at private providers. EU students are strongly advised to obtain a European Health Insurance Card. This allows them to continue to have the same access to medical treatment as in their home country. However, outpatient treatments must be paid for and then claimed, so you may choose to subscribe to your university’s plan instead.
As a PhD student, you will need to have a Hungarian bank account if you are in receipt of a grant/scholarship from a Hungarian organisation. There are several banks operating in Hungary. You should check what type of services are available to you as an international student, although your choice of bank may be largely influence by the availability of English-speaking staff. Each bank will have an application procedure but you are likely to require your passport (and visa, if applicable), proof that you are registered with the local police/town hall, proof of address and your enrolment documents. You will most often be given a debit (ATM) card which allows you to withdraw cash and to pay for goods and services. Having a debit card is not free and you will have to pay an annual or quarterly fee. Also note that if you withdraw cash from a cash dispenser which does not belong to your bank, you may be charged a small fee.
Within cities, buses and trams will be the most prominent ways of travelling. Budapest is the only Hungarian city to have a subway network. Around the country the railway and motorway networks are fairly well developed. The main airport is in Budapest, although there are a total of five international airports in Hungary.
There is much to be enjoyed in Hungary during your spare time. Café culture, museums and galleries will also be within your reach in all the cities where universities are present. Further afield the vineyard-covered hills and historic sites make for great days out or weekends away. You can go hill walking, spend time by the Lake Balaton (one of the largest in the region) or even ski (don’t expect very arduous slopes though!).
Hungary is also a great place from which to visit neighbouring countries, notably Austria with which it shares a cross-border rail network and Slovakia – Vienna and Bratislava are both readily accessible from Budapest.