Free mover term worldwide

The many names of a free mover student

You want to study abroad as a free mover, but the university of your dreams only accepts “visiting students”. What do you do? Can you still dream to study abroad for a semester there?

In this guide, we will clarify on the different terminology used to describe the free mover mobility, so that you have a clear idea on whether your sought after destination can be a target for your next experience.

So, what exactly is a free mover student? A free mover student is someone who independently organizes their study abroad experience. Unlike traditional exchange students, free movers aren’t limited by their home institution’s partnerships. Instead, they take the initiative to enroll in foreign institutions, navigating the application, admission, and enrollment processes on their own. This approach offers unparalleled flexibility and a unique opportunity for personal and academic growth.

However, different regions and universities use various terms to describe students like you. Definitions such as “study abroad student” or “visiting student” can vary in meaning depending on the location, and they can sometimes be ambiguous. For instance, “study abroad student” can refer to anyone studying outside their home country, which might not fully capture the independent spirit of free movers.

The different terms used

A free mover student can be described by a plethora of terms, each rooted in specific geographical areas. Among the many words used, only four of them have a significant global relevance:

  • Free mover student
  • Study abroad student
  • Visiting student
  • Guest student

To better understand how these terms are used around the world, let’s take a look at some maps we have created to illustrate the prevalence of each definition in different regions.

Free mover student

The term free mover student is deeply established in Europe, and is gaining traction in other geographical areas as well. This term is valued for its clarity and specificity, denoting a student who independently manages their study abroad experience. As the term continues to spread, it could represent a better alternative to the other three potentially confusing terms, ensuring that free mover students receive the support and resources tailored to their unique needs.

Study abroad student

Study abroad student is a prevalent term in the Anglosphere, including the United States, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom. This term is very broad and applies to any student studying outside their home country. However, its broadness is also its weakness. “Study abroad student” can refer to exchange students, free movers, or any other category of international students, making it less specific and potentially confusing for those who independently arrange their study experiences.

Visiting student

The term visiting student is widely used in North America, parts of Europe, and Australia. This definition encompasses all students temporarily studying at a different institution. Like “study abroad student,” it is somewhat ambiguous and can include various types of temporary students, not exclusively those who are independently organizing their study abroad experience. This generality can make it difficult for free movers to identify themselves and access specific resources designed for their unique situations.

Guest student

The term guest student is used in the Anglosphere, in parts of Europe, and in other select regions. However, it is a lesser-used term compared to “free mover student,” “study abroad student,” and “visiting student.” While “guest student” effectively conveys the temporary status of the student, it can sometimes overlap with other categories of non-degree students or short-term visitors. This overlap can lead to ambiguity, making it harder for institutions to identify and support independent study abroad students specifically.


While terms like “guest student,” “study abroad student,” and “visiting student” are commonly used, they often miss the mark when it comes to describing students who independently manage their study abroad experiences. That’s where the term “free mover student” shines. It’s clear, distinct, and unambiguous, perfectly capturing the adventurous spirit of these students.

We strongly believe in using the term “free mover student.” It says exactly what it means: a student who takes charge of arranging their own study abroad experience, usually for a semester or a year, earning recognized credits towards their degree. This term cuts through the confusion and makes it clear who these students are and what they do. By adopting and promoting the term “free mover student,” we can create a more supportive and understanding environment for these independent scholars. So, embrace your identity as a free mover!