Canada and the UK have overtaken the US to become the world’s two most popular study abroad destination countries, has found.

Canada and the UK have recently overtaken the USA, which dropped from first to third place in just two years, to claim the top international study abroad destination spot.

These findings came from a number of surveys undertaken by The four surveys titled Study Abroad Trend Analysis ran from January 2018 to October 2020, and sought to assess the attitudes that prospective students held regarding international study.

UK and Canada rise driven by rapid drop in US popularity globally

Interestingly, the report found that neither the UK nor Canada has successfully surpassed the US due to particularly significant gains in their own levels of prospective student interest.

Instead, the rise in Canada and the UK’s popularity can be attributed to the sheer extent of the decrease in popularity which US HEIs have witnessed in just over the last two years. 

According to, US, Canada and the UK have consistently held the position of the top three international study destinations for a while.

However, this shift in the position of US HEIs has been incremental, which seems to demonstrate that no one singular event (for example, COVID-19), has created this effect.

US as top study abroad choice dropped from 21.6% to 10.7% from 2018 to 2020

Out of the prospective students responding to the 2018 survey, 21.6% selected the US as their top choice for study abroad.

In 2019, this dropped to 20.8%, and in January 2020, it declined further to 14.4%.

The latest survey in October 2020 revealed that the figure stands at just 10.7%.

Germany and Australia the ‘best of the rest’, Japan and South Korea drop out of top 10

The report demonstrated that Germany and Australia have successfully cemented their respective positions just below these top three destinations of choice for study abroad.

France, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain and Sweden were the countries that made up the rest of the 10 most popular host countries.

In the most recent survey, the Netherlands and Sweden replaced Japan and South Korea in the top 10 list.

Job opportunities quickly becoming most important factor behind study abroad choices

Amongst the survey’s other findings, it was revealed that employment opportunities after graduation was an increasingly important factor influencing the choice of study abroad country.

UK recently confirmed that foreign students forced to continue their studies through distance or blended learning will remain eligible for UK PSW visas in 2021 upon graduation.

Canada said it will grant PGWP post graduation work permit (post study work visa) to international students starting between May and September 2020 who study 8 to 12 month programs fully online.

UK also confirmed work rights for dependants of postgraduate international students in UK who get a PSW post study work visa from 2021.

Job opportunities rose from being ranked as the 9th most important factor in the January 2018 survey, to third in the most recent survey. 

The other two most important factors were cost of living, and the host country’s language and culture.

The position of the above factors have not changed since the first survey was undertaken.

Respondents to the survey expressed consistent reasons to study abroad across the four different surveys, with the top reasons being a combination of experimental and personal development goals.

These included achieving their career goals, experiencing a new culture, accessing higher quality teaching, and having an adventure.

In an earlier article, we reported that the findings of a similar study, which likewise assessed the attitudes of prospective study abroad students.

The report found that, even amidst the turmoil created by the COVID-19 pandemic, less than 4% of students intend to cancel their study abroad plans.

Pic: Sara Groblechner

Josephine Walbank is a reporter for Global Education Times (GET News) with a focus on education in the UK, Asia-Pacific, and Americas, and student experience and lifestyle news.

Josephine is an experienced journalist who previously served as the Editor-in-Chief of The Falmouth Anchor. She is also the former Deputy Editor of Voices, the Falmouth & Exeter Students’ Union’s publication, and has written for various food and lifestyle publications.

You can reach her at

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