Thinking about pursuing a degree in Germany? There are a number of reasons for doing so: zero tuition fees (most programs are tuition-free, even for international students), a wide variety of degrees taught in English, the opportunity to work off-campus and the chance to live and travel in the Schengen Area, to name a few.
Three years ago, I moved to Frankfurt to attend graduate school. I soon discovered, however, that life in Germany could serve up some pretty dramatic surprises to an unwitting international student.
If you’re considering studying in Germany, here’s what you need to know.
1. Setting up a blocked account
Citizens of Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand can’t apply for a student visa until they’ve arrived in Germany. Once there, they must secure a residence permit with all the necessary documents, including a bank account displaying sufficient funds.
That's why once you’ve received a letter of admission from your German university of choice, you'll need to open a “blocked” bank account. A limited-withdrawal account, its purpose is to hold the funds necessary to live and study in Germany for a year.
Deutsche Bank usually offers this service; you can find the instructions to set up a blocked account with them here. If there is a local Deutsche Bank branch where you live, you can set up a blocked account in Germany through them, which is what I did. However, note that these funds can't be accessed until you arrive in the country.
2. Applying for a residence permit
Soon after arriving in Germany, you will need to register your address at the local Einwohnermeldeamt (registration office). Once you obtain the Meldebestätigung (confirmation of registration), you can proceed with the application for your residence permit at the Ausländerbehörde (foreigners’ office).
Further information on the application process and list of required documents can be found on the German Academic Exchange Service's (DAAD) website. Be sure to take a German-speaking friend or an interpreter along, as you will find that the officials often speak little to no English.
3. Choosing adequate health insurance
As a student in Germany, it’s mandatory to possess health insurance—which will need to cover far more than your regular travel insurance. Called Gesetzliche Krankenversicherung ("compulsory insurance"), the prices vary depending on your age and other factors, but start from a monthly fee of around 70€. Here is a list of public health insurances available in Germany.
You also have the option of enrolling in a private health insurance program. In order to be eligible to do so, you must obtain a stamped letter of exoneration from a public health insurance provider certifying that you have opted out during your time as a student. The catch here is that once you take this step, you cannot go back to receiving public health insurance for the remainder of your time as a student.
Depending on your country of origin, you may be able to get your health insurance from your home country recognized in Germany. You can refer to the DAAD website for more details.
4. The travails of house hunting
University housing fills up quickly and remains in high demand throughout the year, so be sure to apply early and get on the waitlist.
If you’re looking to rent on your own, you may encounter situations where you’re told that German tenants who can provide documents such as the Elternbürgschaft (parental guarantee) are preferred. As frustrating as that can be, don’t let it bog you down. Popular housing sites such as Wg-Gesucht and Immobilien Scout are good places to start looking.
5. Registering for exams
In addition to signing up for courses at the start of the semester, you will be expected to register for the respective exams at a later date. Be sure to ask faculty when the exam registration period is.
6. Scoping out free German lessons
Most public universities in Germany offer free language courses at their Sprachenzentrum (language centre). Make sure to take advantage of this opportunity and learn basic German skills, as it will go a long way in making your life more enjoyable.Add this article to your reading list