A Guide To PhD in Estonia: Everything You Must Know

What is it about PhD in Estonia?

Estonia’s allure as a study destination lies in its top-notch education at reasonable costs. Despite its small size, the nation offers a tranquil setting with a high quality of life, clean air, and the potential for graduates to remain and work for six months post-Masters or PhD. Getting a PhD in Estonia is a great opportunity to tap into the Estonian technological endowment and upskill your creative instincts.

Estonia’s economic growth and prosperity are linked to its investment in education, and with high societal regard for learning, educational institutions receive substantial socio-economic support. Estonia prides itself on offering a supportive academic environment, extending to international students of advanced education, including PhD programs.

Living in Estonia

People from Estonia tend to be reserved and quiet, which might be misinterpreted as coldness. Contrary to popular belief, Estonians are actually rather friendly. Although strangers may notice some reserve at first, the locals quickly warm up to newcomers. Foreign students would do well to acquire a working knowledge of the Estonian language to facilitate cultural integration and increase communication, particularly with the elder generation.

The presence of varied ethnicities in Estonia ensures that a multitude of other national festivities are equally celebrated, allowing international students to connect with their compatriots and partake in shared cultural joys.

Why Study PhD in Estonia

It is potential to seek a PhD in Estonia seemingly for a range of reasons, not the least of which is the possibility of exploring a beautiful and historically rich country. The country has nevertheless a variety of attractions which make it more appealing as a place to study.

There are many positives to the system of PhD study and beyond, and of course, the type of experience a PhD student has will vary greatly depending on the individual situation, discipline and available funding.

The positives that can be drawn from getting a PhD in Estonia are innumerable but for the sake of this post, here are the top reasons why you should consider getting a doctorate from Estonian universities.

  1. Awesome Location

The country is situated in the Baltic region of Northern Europe, in a temperate climate zone close to the Scandinavian countries. Because of its geographical position, Estonia has had a long history of interaction with neighboring regions, which is reflected in its rich blend of Finno-Ugric and Indo-European languages and cultures.

  1. No Tuition Fees

Students in Estonia do not pay tuition fees for doctoral studies and this applies to both EU and non-EU students. It does not matter your nationality or country of origin, as long as you are PhD student in Estonia, you are eligible for a study allowance provided by the state for the duration of your studies. The allowance rates are adjusted annually based on the cost of living. This should be the major reason to study in Estonia.

  1. Good Quality of Life

Estonia is classified as a developed country, with a high-income advanced economy. It holds the 31st position out of 191 countries in the Human Development Index (HDI). In an Estonia country report for 2024, the  BTI Transformation Index ranked Estonia No. 1 among the Central and Eastern European countries in terms of quality of life.

As a PhD student, you will need a comfortable yet reasonable lifestyle by the local standard to be able to sustain quality research and life, and Estonia is offering just that. With a small amount of effort to adapt to life in Estonia, you will find that you are gaining much better in terms of life quality and fulfillment.

  1. Technology Driven Economy

A Guide To PhD in EstoniaEstonia has been called the place “where the future has already arrived” and a part of that future is certainly its thriving technology sector. The growing nature of the technology industry in Estonia also means that there are many prospective job opportunities in a variety of ICT fields all over the country for those who graduate from Estonian universities. Given the signs that this industry is only going to continue to expand, studying a PhD in technology in Estonia is an extremely prospective investment into one’s future.

  1. Innovative Environment

Innovation is the culture in Estonia. With only a little over one million people, it’s already a world leader in the digital economy. It has the most start-ups per person in Europe and is the birthplace of many international technology companies including Skype and Transferwise.

The culture of innovation will provide doctoral students with an inspirational environment and the skills necessary to carry out successful careers, either in academia or in the private sector.

PhD Student Visa Application

A student who is a citizen of the EU or EEA Member State or the Swiss Confederation does not need a visa nor a residence permit to enter Estonia nor is the alleged necessity of a visa or residence permit a ground for refusal to admit to Estonia. The visa requirement does not apply to students who are family members of Estonian or EU/EEA citizens.

A foreign student can stay in Estonia to study without a visa for up to 90 days. If your studies last longer than 90 days or you plan to work during your studies, you should apply for a D-visa or a temporary residence permit. If your purpose is to apply for a temporary residence permit, the foreign representative will usually issue a D-visa for up to 365 days.

Work While Studying in Estonia

International students have an opportunity to work while they study in Estonia. Students can work part-time (up to 20 hours per week). There are several great options for working to consider while studying in Estonia, here are the main three:

  • EU citizen students in Estonia can work without a separate permit. Language skills at the B1 level are needed for the first year.
  • Students can work part-time at their university but should consider career goals and study speed.
  • Students should participate in job markets to integrate into Estonian society, requiring competitive skills and language proficiency.

Work After Studies in Estonia

After studying in Estonia, you can apply for a temporary right of residence to search for work for nine months. You can work without a permit during this time. To work in Estonia, you need to apply for a temporary residence permit for employment. This permit requires an offer of employment and approval from the employment services office. Once approved, the permit is issued within two months and is valid for up to five years. The permit is not required to start working.

How is Estonian University?

Estonian universities operate a credit system which is compatible with the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS). The academic year is divided into 40 weeks of study and is worth 60 credits. One credit corresponds to 26 hours of work by a student, including contact hours, independent work, and examinations.

The nominal duration of a PhD in Estonia is 4 years of full-time study, 240 ECTS. Normally, part-time study is also possible, in which case the nominal length of the degree would be extended. The first year of the PhD is often probationary, and at the end of this year, there will be an assessment of the students’ performance to determine whether they can continue the degree.

At the end of the PhD, a student must submit and defend their thesis. At the beginning of their studies, students are often employed as junior researchers or assistant teachers. In the final stage of the PhD, the completion of the thesis is often carried out while the student is on study leave.

Estonian universities can be characterised first and foremost by their size. In comparison to Western European and North American universities, Estonian universities are rather small. The biggest university in Estonia, the University of Tartu, has approximately 14,000 students.

Which Universities Offer PhD in Estonia?

Estonia has seven universities and institutions of higher education that offer PhD studies of which one is a private university and six are public universities. The University of Tartu is a national research university and is regarded as the most prestigious university in Estonia. Due to its strong focus on research, it has become the most popular choice for international students seeking a PhD in Estonia.

Below is the list of the seven Universities in Estonia offering doctorate programs

  • Estonian Academy of Arts
  • Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre
  • Estonian University of Life Sciences
  • Estonian Business School
  • Tallinn University
  • University of Tartu
  • Tallinn University of Technology

What are Estonian University Rankings

Estonia has only been producing university rankings in recent years as part of its involvement with the Bologna Process. This is where Europe easily compare qualifications and students can change countries and count previous years of study. The Bologna Process introduced a three-cycle degree pattern and Estonia has been working on this pattern since 2002. The three-cycle pattern involves

  • Bachelor,
  • Master and
  • PhD

The ratings are conducted by the Estonian Research and Development Council, who base the ratings on the following: research activities, studies and the number of PhD students per academic staff.

According to the QS Rating 2024, two Estonian Universities (University of Tartu and Tallinn University of Technology) are ranked in the top 1000 Universities in the world. While the University of Tartu is ranked 296, the Tallinn University of Technology is ranked 700

Admission Requirements

The following documents are usually required for an application

  • Completed application form
  • Certified copies of certificates/degrees/qualifications showing eligibility for Doctoral studies
  • Academic transcript(s)
  • Academic CV
  • Statement of purpose
  • Two or three photos
  • Copy of an identification document (International Passport)

English Language Requirements

Exceptions to English language proficiency requirements exist for those who are native speakers or who have previously pursued higher education with the English language as the primary language of teaching in an English-speaking country or another EU/EEA country. In any case, if you do not meet this criteria, you are required to present any of the following:

  • TOEFL iBT – 75
  • IELTS – 5.5
  • Cambridge English – B2 First, C1 Advanced or C2 Proficiency
  • Pearson Test of English Academic – 29

Application Process

PhD applications in Estonia are handled through the country’s centralized DreamApply system, which is responsible for processing them instead of the universities themselves. Application deadlines for PhD programs typically fall between June and July, although they may differ depending on the institution.

How To Apply

Visit the DreamApply System portal, select your nationality, choose the program and school you want to study and complete the registration uploading and submitting all necessary documents as may be required. Do not forget to Submit your application.

When to Apply

The application deadline for PhD programs often falls throughout June and July, with the programs commencing in September. However, it is important to note that the specific date may vary depending on the school.

PhD Funding Opportunities in Estonia

The majority of PhD positions in Estonia are salaried positions and cover education costs. However, these can often be very competitive. Certain fields are more likely to be on scholarships, such as funding from the Archimedes Foundation in Technology, the Kristjan Jaak programme in social sciences and humanities, or for people who already have an employment link in the field or pursuit of study.

Other means of finding funding can be in the form of teaching or work contracts at the university. This is often a good opportunity to get valuable teaching experience and research into areas of study, although, of course, time taken away from research must be managed carefully.

PhD Scholarships and Grants in Estonia

PhD students in Estonia, whether they be EU or non-EU citizens, are often employed in a teaching or research position which provides them with a monthly salary. Nonetheless, to strengthen research capacity and to make doctoral studies more attractive, various scholarships are available which provide additional support for PhD students.

Estonian National Scholarships

Estonian national scholarships support doctoral students and young researchers studying and conducting research in Estonia. An example is the mobility grants which can be applied for research, scientific work, teaching, cooperation with colleagues etc. The grant is administered by the Education and Youth Board and it is of two types:

  • Short-term (1-9days) worth45 euros per day
  • Long-term (10 days-10 months) worth 660 euros per month

Estonian University scholarships

Some universities offer scholarships outside the internal budget, which may include tuition fee waivers or stipends with teaching or research duties. Contact the international marketing office or relevant faculty for information.

Directly approaching a professor with a research outline can also lead to scholarship opportunities. Study contracts are being replaced by doctoral initial contracts, where the PhD student is an employee with more rights and social security. This may include pay and the chance to complete a PhD through research or teaching.

Dora Plus Scholarships

Dora Plus Scholarship promotes internationalization, mobility for doctoral students and teaching staff, and the admission of foreign doctoral students to Estonian universities. Terms and conditions vary for foreign applicants, with the possibility of doubling the scholarship amount and duration.

How Much Does a PhD Cost in Estonia?

Doctoral studies in Estonia are absolutely free for both citizens and international students! Instead of charging tuition fees, most PhD courses in Estonia provide a modest salary for their doctoral candidates, which is enough to cover living costs. The salaries are offered for a variety of positions: junior research fellow, lecturer, and assistant. R&D institutions also hire PhD candidates to fill research positions.

How Much is the PhD Stipend in Estonia?

The amount of the doctoral Stipend is 660 EUR per month


This Guide to PhD in Estonia reveals Estonia’s appeal as an ideal destination for PhD Studies. With Free PhD education and job placement with suitable salaries to reduce financial burden, Estonia aims to become a top PhD host nation by improving research and making it bilingual. The guide offers valuable insights for those considering a PhD in Estonia as the Baltic nation is determined to compete globally and embrace change.

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