Studying and working in Hungary: The ultimate guide for expats

Studying in Hungary is a great option if you are planning to get higher education in the European Union.

There are excellent universities with popular programs in various fields, courses are available in English, and the Hungarian residency grants you visa-free access to the Schengen zone – both during your studies and after if you decide to stay.

Study in Hungary

Many Hungarian universities offer their programs not only in Hungarian but also in English (and occasionally in German, French, or other foreign languages) to let foreign students take advantage of the excellent Hungarian higher education. 

The most popular fields of interest include medicine, veterinary studies, architecture, computer sciences, and business studies, and programs are available at both the BA and MA level and even in doctoral schools. 

School years consist of two terms (fall and spring term), and tuition fees vary based on the studies and the institutions you want to attend, somewhere between EUR 1,500-9,000 per term. While you find most institutions in the capital city, Budapest, cities like Pécs, Szeged, or Debrecen also boast prestigious universities, and you may find lower costs of living in these smaller cities. 

Since Hungary is not too big and has an excellent public transport system, you can easily visit other parts of the country in your free time if you are willing to spend a few hours on the train. Moreover, students can expect discounts in public transport, as well as in theaters, cinemas, gyms, museums, libraries, and other facilities.

Student residency for expats

EU citizens can study in Hungary without any ado, they just need to register for their residency, which takes only a few days. Third-country nationals, however, need to apply for a residence permit before they can start their studies. If this is you, first you will need to find a Hungarian university you like, then apply for a course. 

Each university has its own office for providing information to would-be students – start there. You might be required to pass an entrance exam, and you will also need to take care of accommodation and healthcare insurance in Hungary.

When all is prepared, you can submit your residency application. The processing time for student residency is supposed to be a few weeks, but in fact, it might be significantly longer, so make sure to apply well in advance. 

Work while studying

While you are studying, you do not need to worry about how to get a work permit in Hungary (which non-EU citizens would need to enter employment, and for which you cannot apply while you are a student in Hungary). 

Working students in Hungary usually do not work for their employers directly but through student organizations that take care of recruitment, most of the administration, and payroll taxes. This way you do not need a work permit while your student residency is valid. 

However, if you are a third-country national, your working hours are limited to 30 hours/week during study periods, and to 90 days or 66 working days a year outside of study periods. Another big plus of working in Hungary as a student is that people below 25 years do not pay personal income tax, so you can keep that much more of your wages.

Stay in Hungary after graduation

Hungary offers a specialized residence permit to third-country resident students who want to stay in Hungary after they graduate: a residence permit for the purpose of job-searching or entrepreneurship. This permit is valid for 9 months, which is supposed to be enough for you to find a job or prepare for starting a business of your own. If you succeed in either, that will be a solid basis for renewing your residency.

If you are interested in finding a job, and if you have been working during your studies, you can start by asking your manager if they wish to take you over as a full-time employee once you graduate. Work permit application takes a few months, so make sure to ask them about this well in advance to allow for a smooth transition.

If you have a good idea for a business, you can also start your own company. Company formation and registration in Hungary takes just a few working days and you immediately get an EU VAT number without any extra conditions, which is essential if you want to take advantage of the EU market. Then you only need a corporate bank account which will let you start doing business in no time. 

Your company will also need accountancy services in Hungary to file every report to the Tax Authority on time and ensure not only that your company is compliant with local regulations but also that you are always on top of your finances, which will let you make informed business decisions.

Plan for the long run

When you first apply for residency in Hungary, the residence permit will be valid for one, two, or three years only. It can be always renewed as long as your presence in Hungary is justified – either by your studies, your job, or by your business activity. However, after three years of continuous residency, you become eligible for permanent residency, which gives you extended rights. 

There is a common misconception that student years count toward permanent residency by half, but that is not true. There are a few conditions fresh graduates typically do not fulfill, so you will probably not be able to able to become a permanent resident right after graduation.

If you spend eight years in Hungary, you become eligible for Hungarian citizenship; if you get married and have children, that happens even sooner. At the same time, one can also obtain Hungarian citizenship by ancestry, and that procedure takes only 1 year. 

If you have at least one (former) Hungarian citizen among your parents, grandparents, or other ancestors, you are already eligible, which means you can take advantage of Hungarian citizenship much sooner, without the stress of waiting for your residency renewal every time.

Find the options that suit you best

Studying in Hungary lets you take advantage of excellent higher education in the heart of Europe, in an advanced infrastructure, for much lower costs than what you would find in Western Europe. 

If you are not an EU citizen, you will need a residence permit, but the application is straightforward, you just need to make sure to get all the paperwork done well in advance. If you find you like what Hungary can offer, you may stay on by finding a job or starting your business: whatever fits you more. In the meantime, you will be able to visit any of the Schengen member states without a visa and get a better picture of life in Europe.