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The basics
Australia: Destination Guides

The ultimate student guide to Canberra

Canberra may be smaller than nearby Sydney, but it offers a unique student living experience in a planned city rich with culture, nightlife, and Australian history.

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Canberra is the capital city of Australia, and the capital of its own state, the Australian Capital Territory. This city has sometimes been overlooked in favour of larger cities due to its relatively small population. However, Canberra is putting itself on the map for the student experience.


With a population of less than half a million, the city punches above its weight with a great reputation for world-class dining, unique cultural experiences, and a superb natural environment in the surrounding region.


Its central location, close to Sydney and Melbourne, means that you’ll be right in the heart of everything that Australian culture offers. The city is the seat of the country’s government, so it’s particularly attractive for politics and social science students. 


There’s a course for everyone in Canberra, and the country’s number one rated Australia National University is found here, along with several other excellent institutions.


Canberra attracts many international visitors, including students, every year. This contributes to a buzzing cosmopolitan vibe, with plenty of nightlife and entertainment opportunities while having one of the lowest crime rates in the country.


The city itself is filled with beautiful parks and lakeside walks, while a short way out from Canberra you’ll be able to find wildlife reserves, bushland walks, unspoilt beaches and even ski slopes in winter. 


What is Canberra like?


Location and demographics


Canberra is in the south-eastern part of the Australian mainland and is the largest inland city in the country. It’s a part of its territory, the National Capital Territory, which is found inside the state of New South Wales and is just a few hours’ drive from Sydney. With Melbourne and the east coast also relatively close, Canberra is a great base to explore Australia from.


Culture and history 


The Canberra area has been inhabited by Indigenous Australians for around 20,000 years and is the ancestral homeland of the Ngunnwal people. 


European settlers arrived in the 19th century, and the city was established in 1913. It couldn’t be agreed upon whether to make Sydney or Melbourne the capital of the new nation of Australia, so Canberra was planned and built based on a geometric city plan.


This innovative design has allowed Canberra to flourish into a stunning and unique metropolis, housing all the primary buildings of the Australian government in addition to several safe, spacious neighbourhoods.


Canberra is a truly international city, with almost 35 per cent of its residents born overseas. In addition to this, over 50 per cent of the population has at least one parent that was born outside of Australia.


Prepare for studying in Australia with our guide to Australian English.


What universities are in Canberra?


Canberra has rapidly become one of the premier choices for higher education in Australia. It has five universities that attract significant numbers of international students, providing them with degree qualifications that are valued the world over.


The Australian National University was rated as the number 1 university in Australia according to the QS World University Rankings 2022, and 27th in the world. It offers courses across a range of specialisations, delivered through seven academic colleges. It’s also rated as one of the best Australian universities for graduate employment prospects.


The Canberra Institute of Technology offers high quality technical and vocational qualifications and has a reputation for its cutting-edge facilities and small class sizes. It has excellent links to regional and national industries, helping it to develop its courses and empower its students.


The University of Canberra is also ranked among the best universities in the world and is popular with international students due to its integrated learning model and expert staff. It offers a variety of courses and the undergraduate and postgraduate levels.


The University of New South Wales Canberra (UNSW) and the Australian Catholic University are also based in Canberra, further widening your study options.


Investigate more universities in Australia.


What does Canberra offer students?


What is transport like? 


Canberra is an easy city to get around. Thanks to its modern urban planning and well-connected public transportation network. When you aren’t enjoying walking and cycling around the city, you can make use of buses and light rail connections across Canberra.


Buses in Canberra even come with bicycle racks, so you can hop onto the bus and cycle away on the other side. International and domestic flights are both available from Canberra Airport.


Need to apply for a visa to study in Australia?


What entertainment and food is there?


Canberra is sometimes underrated when it comes to entertainment and activities, but the city is stuffed with hidden gems ranging from eateries and bars to wildlife sanctuaries and outdoor sports.


The city is known for its nightlife, offering students a selection of classy cafes and pubs, as well as lots of great clubs for later in the night.


Canberra has a buzzing restaurant scene, with internationally renowned fine dining, hip cafes, and a range of sustainable and multicultural food options all across the city.


What about accommodation?


As a student in Canberra, you’ll have your choice of living arrangements, ranging from modern apartments in the city centre to well-equipped and sociable halls on your chosen university’s campus. The city supports thousands of international students every year, and your institution will be able to help with a place in halls or support in finding a private rental.


What public services are on offer? 


Students are well-looked after in Australia, and Canberra is no different. You’ll be able to make use of several services dedicated to international learners, such as the Council of International Students Australia (CISA) and the Australian Federation of International Students (AFIS), which offer a range of advice, support, and useful resources.


Learn more about applying to study in Australia.


How much does it cost to study in Canberra? 


The general cost of the city


While Canberra can be an affordable place to live as a student, living in the inner city and certain activities might use up more of your student budget than in other places in Australia. Still, you’ll likely be able to get a little more for your money than in Canberra’s larger neighbours like Sydney and Melbourne.


Discover more about the student living costs in Australia.


What student budget is needed?


As a single international student living in Canberra, you might expect to pay between AUD 600 and AUD 1,200 a week. This is inclusive of rent, utilities, food, transportation, and most other living costs. This could vary depending on your lifestyle and accommodation type while living in Canberra.


Read about the top scholarships in Australia.


Financial requirements


The Australian Department for Home Affairs asks international students to demonstrate that they can access a minimum of AUD 21,041 per year before they can start their studies in Australia. This is equivalent to AUD 1,753 per month or about AUD 405 a week.


Want to find out more about tuition fees in Australia?


What are the attractions in Canberra?


Canberra is home to a huge amount of Australia’s history and culture and as the country’s capital houses all its major government buildings. As a result, you’ll find no shortage of things to do there.


In the centre of the city is Lake Griffin, a beautiful lake which offers scenic walks every day of the year. Along the shore, you’ll also find cultural gems like the National Gallery of Australia and the National Library. A wide range of other galleries and historic government buildings are also well worth a visit.


The city is home to a busy calendar of festivals, such as the Floriade and several food and music festivals across the warmer months. Just a short journey from Canberra itself will allow you to discover all sorts of incredible Australian landscapes, from the coast of New South Wales to the Snowy Mountains. Historic towns and villages dot the landscape, offering local produce and world-famous wines.


Canberra is a thriving, cosmopolitan city that punches far above its weight. It’s home to the cultural heart of Australia and offers excellent educational pathways alongside a vibrant urban lifestyle. Explore your study options in Australia and Canberra using our course matcher tool


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