Tuition Free Universities in Germany for International Students

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Study in Germany For Free

What you need to know

When it comes to studying in reputable European universities, tuition free universities in Germany for international students – has been on the top of agenda of many students who aim to gain quality education at the cheapest possible way. Many students across the world have shown serious interest in taking full advantage of free education in Germany for international students.

When it comes to having some of the best universities in the world, Germany is known as the home to some of the best Universities in the world. And you can also study in tuition free universities in Germany for international students in English language. If you want to learn more, check out our list of frequently asked questions about tuition fees in Germany:

Who can study in Germany for free?

Everyone! That’s right: Germans, Europeans, and all non-Europeans can study in Germany free of charge – without tuition fees. It does not matter if you are from the EU or EEA. This applies to almost all study programmes at public universities. There is a tiny catch: If you are from outside the EU, you will need a residence permit before you arrive in the country; and you will have to finish your studies in Germany.

Free Tuition Fee Universities In Germany For International Students

In Germany, you can study for free at public universities. There are almost 300 public universities in Germany, and there are more than 1,000 study programmes in total – so you have lots of options! Some of the largest public universities include:

  • University of Cologne
  • Ludwig Maximilians University Munich (LMU)
  • Goethe University Frankfurt
  • RWTH Aachen University
  • University of Münster
  • Ruhr University Bochum
  • University of Duisburg-Essen
  • Universität Hamburg
  • FAU Erlangen-Nürnberg
  • Technical University of Munich (TUM)

Public Universities In Germany For Masters

Almost anywhere in Europe and the world, universities charge tuition fees – if only from foreigners who come to that country for their studies. Germany is one of the few countries in Europe where you can study for free, even if you are from Asia, Africa or elsewhere.

Germans generally believe that education should not be treated as a commercial product, and that free access to higher education ensures economic growth and welfare for the greater population. In the recent past, there was legislation allowing public universities to charge very modest tuition fees of 1,000 euros annually. But after years of public protests, the tuition fees were abolished again in 2014.

Also, Germany’s governments of recent years have realised the economic and social benefits of immigration. Germany wants to get the smartest minds to study into the country, and ideally to stay after graduation; and that is why they generally oppose tuition fees for foreigners, as well.

If tuition is free, does that mean the universities are not very good?

Far from it! Germany’s universities are among the best in the world, and you can expect to receive a world-class education as a foreign student. Many of the larger institutions regularly rank among the top 100 in international rankings. The fact that higher education at public universities is tuition-free is a purely political decision by the German government. A degree from a German university will be respected around the world and open many doors for your career choices.

Tuition Free Universities In Germany For International Students

Generally, you can study in Germany for free – but there are a few exceptions:

  • Only public universities are tuition-free. If you study at one of the roughly 100 private universities, you are expected to pay, and those tuition fees are on par with what you would pay in countries such as the UK or Ireland. However, because of their competition from the cheap public universities, private schools in Germany tend to offer specialised programmes, and other benefits so that you get your money’s worth. And of course, you might be eligible for a scholarship.
  • German universities distinguish between “consecutive” and “non-consecutive” Master’s programmes. Consecutive programmes are those that you can enroll in immediately after you finish your Bachelor’s degree. Non-consecutive programmes, such as “Executive MBAs”, usually require that students have many years of work experience. Such non-consecutive study programmes usually cost tuition fees, even at public universities.
  • From 2017 on, public universities in the state of Baden-Württemberg can charge tuition fees from non-EU/EEA students. That includes the universities in Stuttgart, Karlsruhe, Mannheim, Freiburg, Heidelberg, and some other cities. The tuition fees are set at 1,500 euros per semester – which is still much more affordable than in many other countries in Europe.

What other costs do I have to consider when studying in Germany?

While there usually aren’t any tuition fees at public universities, you might have to pay something called a “semester fee” or “administrative fee”. But that’s a small amount: often around 300 or 400 euros for the whole semester. This then also covers a public transport ticket for your city and sometimes even the surrounding areas, at a fraction of what you would normally pay for such a ticket. Other than that, Germany is one of the more affordable Western European countries. You can get by on 800 euros per month, give or take a bit, depending on what city you study in. Larger cities like Munich, Frankfurt or Hamburg are known to be more expensive than smaller towns.

What scholarships are available to study abroad in Germany?

There are many scholarships for foreign students in Germany. The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) has an official scholarship database which allows you to search for suitable scholarship options, e.g. based on your country of origin.

Can I stay in Germany after I graduate from university?

Yes, you can! And that applies to all students, regardless of the country of origin. If you are from outside the EU, you can apply for an 18-month residence permit for after graduation. With such a “job seeker visa”, you can search for a job that fits your qualifications; and you are allowed to take any job during those 18 months. The German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy offers more information about the graduate residence permit.

How to Apply to Study in Germany


Germany is one of the most popular non-Anglophone study destinations in the world, and with its trendy student cities and low (or no) tuition fees, it’s not hard to see why.

If you’re planning to study in Germany at postgraduate level, check out our dedicated guides for master’s degrees in Germany and PhDs in Germany.

If you’re planning to study your first university degree in Germany, read on…

1. Choose a university 

So, you’ve decided on Germany as your study abroad destination – now it’s time to choose the right course and university for you. The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) has a database of almost 2,000 programs available to search from, including 1,389 programs in English.

Unfortunately opportunities to study in Germany in English at undergraduate level are currently fairly limited, though there are some courses taught in both English and German (typically starting with English for the first two to four semesters and then changing to German). This allows you to study in English while improving your proficiency in German, particularly as your university may offer German language classes.

You may also like to consider the latest rankings of the top universities in Germany while making your decision, or check the latest QS World University Rankings by Subject to find the top German institutions in your field, using the compare tool to help you narrow down universities.

2. Check the admission requirements 

Before applying, check that your current qualifications are recognized by your chosen university. To study in Germany you need to have a recognized Hochschulzugangsberechtigung (HZB), meaning ‘higher education entrance qualification’.

For prospective undergraduate students, a high-school diploma, school-leaving certificate or university entrance exam result is usually sufficient, and the DAAD has a database of information on admission requirements for selected countries. Students with qualifications from outside Europe may have to sit the Feststellungsprüfung entrance examination after attending a preparatory Studienkolleg, although high-achieving students may be able to bypass this.

You’ll also need to check the language requirements. Most courses are taught in German, requiring international applicants to submit proof of proficiency in the German language. Two main tests are available for this purpose: the Deutsche Sprachprüfung für den Hochschulzugang (DSH, meaning “German language examination for university entrance”) and the TestDaF.

Likewise, if your course is taught in English, unless you are a native speaker or have previously studied in English, you will need to prove your knowledge of the language with a test such as IELTS or TOEFL. Universities will usually state the score/s they require on their websites.

3. Get your finances in order 

In order to fulfill student visa requirements, you will need to show proof that you have, or have access to, around €8,700 per year (~US$10,000) to cover your living costs, although you may find you need more, depending on your lifestyle and spending habits (the average student spends €850/US$975 a month). Living costs also vary depending on the location; according to Mercer’s Cost of Living Survey, Munich is currently the most expensive city in the country.

If you’re concerned about costs, there are scholarships available to support students studying in Germany at various study levels.

4. Apply!

For most subjects, you can apply directly to the international office of the university. Alternatively, you can use the website www.uni-assist.de, a centralized admissions portal for international students, run by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), although not all universities use this. You may wish to apply for numerous courses and universities separately to increase your chances of being admitted.

At many German universities it’s possible to apply for admission twice a year – to commence studies either in the winter or summer semester. In general, applications for winter enrolments need to be made by 15 July, and applications for summer enrolments by 15 January. However, application deadlines vary between institutions, and the same institution may set different deadlines for each program – be sure to carefully check the specific dates for your chosen course. 

It’s recommended to submit applications at least six weeks before the deadline, to ensure time for corrections or additions if any information is missing. You should expect to receive a formal acceptance or rejection approximately one to two months after the deadline has passed.

The specific documents required and application process will be set by each institution, but you’ll typically be asked to submit:

  • A certified copy of your high-school diploma or previous degrees, and any other relevant qualifications in the original language
  • A translated overview of your course modules and grades
  • A passport photo
  • A copy of your passport (personal information and photo ID page)
  • Proof of language proficiency (a test certificate or online equivalent)

You may also need to pay an application fee.

For some subjects, there is a nationwide cap on the number of students who can enroll. For these subjects (mostly life sciences), students from the EU (plus Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein) need to apply through the Foundation of Higher Education Admission. Students from outside the EU should apply as normal.

5. Take out health insurance 

Before you leave your home country you should ensure you’ve purchased health insurance to cover you during your stay in Germany. This is required both before you enroll and before you get a student visa and/or residence permit. If you’re a resident of a country within the EU or EEA, there should be a social security agreement in place between your country and Germany. This means that if you have public health insurance in your home country, you should be covered in Germany as well. You will generally need to get a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) to take advantage of this (free to obtain).

If your health insurance is not valid in Germany, expect to pay between €80 (US$92) and €160 (US$176) per month to cover this. The cost is higher if you’re over 30, and if you’re over 29 when starting your course you can only obtain private insurance.

6. Get a German student visa 

The requirements for obtaining a student visa for Germany depend on your country of origin. You can find an overview of the countries for which a student visa is or isn’t required on the Foreign Federal Office’s website. 

7. Find accommodation 

Once you’ve gained a place on a course and your student visa (if applicable), it’s advisable to start looking for accommodation, as unfortunately most German universities do not offer accommodation to enrolling students. Rent is likely to be your biggest monthly expense, and will vary depending on which part of the country you live in. In big cities within Western Germany (i.e. Dusseldorf, Cologne etc.) and smaller, student-oriented cities such as Heidelberg and Freiburg, you should expect to pay slightly more than if you were living in eastern Germany (i.e. Berlin).

Once you’ve found a place to live, you need to register at the ‘residents’ registration office’ (Einwohnermeldeamt) or the ‘citizens’ bureau’ (Bürgeramt).

8. Enroll 

You must enroll before you can start your course and use university facilities such as the library.  You’ll also need to re-register before the start of every semester. This usually costs between €150 and €250 (~US$170-290), depending on the university. There may be an additional charge of around €180 (~US$205) for a “Semesterticket”, which covers public transport expenses for six months.

The usual documents you need for enrollment are:

  • Your passport with visa or residence permit
  • Several passport photos
  • Completed registration form
  • Proof of higher education entrance qualification, either original certificates or officially certified copies and translations
  • Notice of admission
  • Evidence of adequate knowledge of German (or English)
  • Evidence of statutory health insurance in Germany
  • Payment receipt for the semester fee

Once enrolled, you will receive a registration certificate which acts as a provisional student ID, allowing you to apply for your residence permit and register for classes.

9. Settle in to student life in Germany 

Congratulations, you should now be (mostly) all set to begin your studies in Germany! Don’t forget to pack all the essentials, as well as arranging a few more important affairs:

  • If you haven’t already, once you’ve found accommodation you must register with the local registration office of your city (Einwohnermeldeamt or Bürgeramt). Once registered, you’ll receive a document confirming your registration at that address, which you can then use for the next step…
  • Get a student bank account. Most banks offer these for free, and it will make managing your regular payments (such as accommodation) much easier.
  • If you’d like to find a part-time job while you study, you can find out how this works for EU and non-EU students here.

Things to know before studying in Germany

Germany draws loads of international students every year with its reputation for high quality and low costs. If you’re looking to do an exchange or degree program here, there are a few things you should know first.

In the United States, the average student loan debt is nearing $30,000. In the UK, it’s closer to $66,000. For millennials, outsourcing higher education is becoming increasingly attractive.

One enticing destination is Germany. The land of poets and thinkers is famed for its practically nonexistent tuition fees at public universities, along with its high quality of life and a location at the nexus of European culture and politics.

But while students with wanderlust in their blood might salivate over visions of free college paired with beer-soaked revelry at Oktoberfest or techno-fueled bacchanalia in Berlin, there are some practical things you should know before jumping on a plane to Germany.

1. Free is relative

After back-and-forth experiments in Germany’s 16 states with nominal tuition fees, the 16th state bowed last year to public opinion and abolished tuition at public universities altogether. But let’s be clear: German tuition is only free if you apply to a specific degree program at a public university, are accepted and intend to study under the same conditions as locals, with all the inherent challenges. Study abroad programs and private institutions also offer wonderful opportunities, but remain as expensive as ever.

2. Curb your workaholic tendencies

The student visa limits the amount you are allowed to work. For students without EU passports, it’s 120 full days or 240 half days per year. During the semester, students may only work for 20 hours per week. That said, compared to major US or UK cities, costs such as rent, food, health insurance and public transit (after paying the negligible cost of a student semester ticket) may be cheaper.

Also, students holding EU passports may be eligible for BAföG – a half-loan, half-grant from the state which is generally interest-free. This funding is only extended to non-EU citizens in extraordinary cases. And a bit of advice: Don’t work under the table. You risk exploitation and being banned from the country if you’re caught.

3. Apply for grants like a pro

Fortunately, there are many grants and fellowships available for foreigners – whether you’re an engineering major, an art school prodigy or a student of German literature, if you’re talented in your field and assiduous in your applications, there may be a source of funding waiting for you.

There are grants to be found if you look in the right places

DAAD, the German Academic Exchange Service, is state-supported and offers the largest range of scholarships for international students – and there are many other foundations with specialty grants. Landing one of these fellowships can also work favorably during the university application process itself.

4. The immigrant struggle is real

Unless you are an EU citizen, expect to spend a decent amount of time dealing with the Ausländerbehörde (foreigners’ office). If you are from the United States and have been accepted into a university program, the visa application should go fairly smoothly, and those who complete a degree in Germany are eligible for an extension of up to 18 months to stay and look for a job.

Still, be prepared for unexpected snags and understand that your starry-eyed dreams are of no interest to anybody within German bureaucracy. You are responsible for getting your act together and navigating the various hurdles of obtaining health insurance, demonstrating financial independence, finding an apartment, registering yourself at the Bürgeramt (local administrative office), scheduling a visa appointment, and having all your documents organized.

For students from developing countries, the process can be far more complicated and begins with long-distance visa applications via the embassies in their homelands.

5. Become a paperwork ninja

On that note, you’ll need to embrace paperwork in general. Familiarize yourself with the conventions of German business letters and bureaucratic language. Keep copies of everything. Be flawlessly organized and quick on the draw with documents. This will tip the scales in your favor in situations ranging from visa battles to snatching a sweet apartment out from under the nose of some yuppie couple with regular jobs, to demanding rent reductions for infringements of your renters’ rights.

If they throw official letters at you, come back with twice as many! “‘Overwhelm them with paperwork’ is exactly my German strategy,” says Leah Scott-Zechlin, Berlin-based graduate student and Papierkrieg (paper war) veteran.

6. Speaking German helps immensely

Sure, in the larger German cities you can get by without knowing the native language, and some degree programs are even available in English. Nonetheless, essentially every aspect of your life abroad will be easier with functional language skills, from dealing with government employees to making local friends. If you decide to stay to work, fluency will give you a crucial advantage in the job market. And why wouldn’t you want to learn? Stale stereotypes to the contrary, German is a lovely language and relatively easy for native English speakers. 

7. German universities will not hold your hand

Here’s the thing about the American private college experience: After laying down $50,000 or so per year, you get all kinds of “free” perks thrown in, from laundry facilities to live entertainment and on-campus health clinics. Between your department advisor, the fellowships center and the housing office, there are all kinds of people being paid to see that you are happy and making the most of the opportunities in your comfortable campus bubble. If you miss too many classes, somebody from the school might notice and inquire or offer you support.

Not so in Germany. It’s on you to figure everything out, survive in a strange country, attend lectures, and study. You only get out what you put in! Also, while certain seminars more closely resemble an interactive liberal arts model and factor in participation and homework, a fair number of courses pin the entire grade on the final exam or paper.

8. Student housing is a snoozefest

Some large German universities do have official student housing, after a fashion – whether a small Studentendorf or urban blocks of designated student-only apartment buildings with spartan singles. Chances are, these options are neither the most attractive flats nor your best chance of acquiring a stellar social life.

Find roommates – it’ll help you adjust and improve your German

Instead, brush up on your charm and apply to join a lively flatshare, known throughout Germany as a WG, or Wohngemeinschaft. Living in a larger WG with a number of Germans is a fantastic strategy for meeting locals and expanding your friend circle in a hurry – not to mention your language skills. This may be a challenge – you could be chosen at the first WG casting you attend, or it could take months. But it’s worth the hassle. Try these websites to get started: wg-gesucht.de, dreamflat.de, studenten-wg.de.

9. You are not the first person to do this

Living and learning abroad involves a lot of responsibility, and sometimes it may feel like you are struggling alone with utterly bewildering challenges. But fear not – if you take the plunge and move to Germany, you are following in extremely well-trodden footprints.

No matter what existential crisis has struck – from applying for a student visa to finding real saltine crackers in Berlin, from paying taxes to understanding your German lover – somebody on the Toytown Germany forums has undoubtedly asked your question and started a spirited discussion on the topic. Or more likely several somebodies…. So make sure to use the search function and read through existing threads before asking for advice! Few things irritate these knowledgeable, if occasionally cynical expats more than redundant questions. If you use the forums wisely, you will find a never-ending fountain of useful information.

Careful! You might fall in love – if not with a German, then with Germany

10. Fair warning: You may want to stay forever

Free education? Excellent. You are a savvy, intrepid individual who knows how to get the best out of life. You’ll just chill out in Deutschland for a few years, snag that degree, maybe work for a bit, and then come home to make the big bucks, right? Maybe. Or you might fall irrevocably in love with Germany. Then you’ll face the dilemma of either saying a permanent Tschüß to your birth country, or ripping your heart up by the roots to extract yourself from this delightful land. Or the Ausländerbehörde might do it for you, if you can’t ultimately navigate the job world.

One way or another, once you fall for ‘Schland, there’s no going back. You’ll be like David Bowie, still writing love songs for Berlin some 35 years after the fact. But there are worse fates. Like slaving away under a soul-crushing pile of student debt.

So know what you’re getting yourself into – and then do it anyway.

Steps to Study in Germany

If you’re wondering about what you need to do to study in Germany, and you’re confused by the amount of information available on what steps you need to take, you’re at the right place.

We have simplified the process of studying in Germany as an international student into 8 steps you need to go through. Follow these 8 steps one by one to keep track of where you are right now and what you need to do to make your dream of studying in Germany a reality.

1. Find a Study Program

(Start researching at least 3 months before deciding)

Finding a university and choosing a study program that suits your interests is the first step to planning your studies in Germany.

This is not supposed to be a major problem because there are many universities and countless study programs available – and their quality is undoubtedly world-class. Regardless of what direction you want to go in life, there will certainly be a study program that will match your studying aspirations and future plans.

But, finding a university and a study program may take time if you haven’t given much thought to this matter before starting your application process to study in Germany. The high number of available courses could be one of the reasons you haven’t made a decision yet.

We suggest you think about the study program at least 3 months before making a final decision. This period of time is enough to allow you to scan all German universities that offer courses related to your professional field.

Once you find those German universities, you can focus on a smaller list of universities that seem ideal for you. You can either decide to focus on just one university or apply to several that you like best to increase your chances of securing admission.

Finding a university and study program is very important because it determines everything.

2. Meet All Requirements

(Two weeks before the application is opened)

Now that you have decided what university and what study program you want to attend you must check out all the requirements. For this purpose, you check the university website and their admission requirements section. If there are things you don’t understand never hesitate to contact the university directly.

Entry requirements are different depending on the university and the type of course you choose, so it’s recommended to read the requirements section multiple times.

Bad timing and missing documents are the most common issues that happen at this stage and both can lead to delayed admission or even rejected applications. To avoid such possibility you must prepare these documents early enough.

For example, sitting for a German language proficiency standardized test you need to take a language course for at least three months. If you start learning German from scratch it takes way longer than this.

Further legalizations of your documents may have a similar processing time until they’re issued to you. Taken any occasional delay originating from the nature of the process, you must start preparing your documents at least 4 months before applying for your place at the university.

3. Learn The German Language

(Start learning it 6 months before the application or the course commencing)

Your success at university highly depends on your skills in the German language, even if your program is in the English language. Having a solid-rock knowledge in the German language guarantees you will comprehend study materials, understand what is taught in lectures while being able to express your thoughts properly.

In Germany, most undergraduate courses are taught in the native language, whereas many study programs at higher academic levels are taught entirely or partially in the German language. Other than at university, you will often have to speak German with locals.

Learning German from scratch can be difficult, but if you start early, by the time you come to Germany you’ll be speaking German perfectly. We recommend starting at least 6 months ahead of the commencing of your course (or before the application if German language proficiency is a requirement) to gain a basic comprehension of the German language.

4. Find Financial Resources

(at least two weeks before you apply for a German student visa)

The next step is making sure you have the required financial means to live and study in Germany. Under the current law, every foreign non-EU or non-EEA student must have proper financial means to finance their stay in Germany during their studies.

An international student in Germany must possess a minimum of €10,236 which is estimated to be enough for a student to cover the cost of living for the first year of his studies. This amount of money needs to be deposited into a German blocked bank account.

A blocked account is a special type of bank account for international students in Germany, to prove you have enough funds to live in Germany for one year during your studies.

As of 2020, it is estimated that a foreign student in Germany will spend an average of €853 euros per month at a minimum. So, you need to have €10,236 in your bank account before applying for a German student visa.

Naturally, for a student, this a large amount of money and takes time to collect. It’s highly recommended you start saving money a long time before you initiate your university application, except when you’ve been granted a scholarship and use it as proof of your financial means.

Normally, 6 months before your application would be early enough to start collecting this money and two weeks before applying for your student visa you must have them deposited. 

5. Apply For Admission

(As soon as you complete requirements)

After double-checking your application documents, it’s time for you to submit the application. The application can be carried online, but there may be universities that receive only applications in person or by post.

Contact your university to see you which way you can submit your application. Most German universities are part of the national university online application platform known as UniAssist. In addition to this, there are universities that run their own online admission platform on their website.

Keep in mind that universities in German are a hub for international students and admission committees are heavily loaded with foreign applications. Going through all the applications takes time and you need to submit your application as soon as possible to take advantage.

You must submit your application once the call for application is opened and then wait for the admission letter.

Depending on what level of studies you’re pursuing in Germany, the application procedures vary slightly.

6. Get Your German Student Visa

(As soon as you receive the admission letter)

If you’re a student coming from a non-EU and non-EEA country you must get a German student visa.

By the time you are collecting the documents we suggest to contact the German embassy/consulate in person and make a visa appointment.

Make sure you have secured proper financial means for studying in Germany. One of the easiest and the best way to convince the authorities that you have enough money to cover your study and living cost is by opening a so called Blocked bank account.

We suggest to open a blocked bank account with Fintiba. Fintiba is a German company and is officially approved by the German Federal Foreign Office.

Along with other documents, the German embassy/consulate in your home country will also require you to get a health insurance policy before granting you a student visa.

The health insurance tariff EDUCARE24 by DR-WALTER is suitable for the following groups of people:

  • Foreign exchange students, language students and students participating in university preparatory courses (Studienkolleg)
  • University students
  • Participants in exchange programmes (e.g. ERASMUS, DAAD, SOKRATES)
  • Trainees
  • Accompanying family members

7. Find Accommodation

(If possible two weeks before your landing in Germany)

Now that you’re officially an admitted student in Germany and you have your student visa you must think of a place to stay in. Accommodation in Germany for international students is not that expensive, but is normal that as a foreign student, you should strive to find the most financially suitable place for you.

We recommend you give the deserved priority to this issue because it may cost you a lot of time which otherwise you would use to study. With that in mind, you can try to find an accommodation online before landing in Germany.

In the end, if you don’t find something that fits for you, at least you have a list of resources to contact to secure your accommodation the day you land in Germany. As with other steps explained above, you must find accommodation as soon as you gain your student visa. Two weeks before your landing in Germany should be fine.

8. Enroll At Your University

(First week after arriving in Germany)

The final step to officially be given a place at the university of your choice is to enroll in the course at which you have been admitted. In this sense, the enrollment process takes you from a successful applicant to a registered student in Germany.

The public higher education in Germany is offered for free, but you will still have to pay a registration fee which ranges somewhat between €150 and €250. Additionally, you will have to pay for your Semester ticket to use public transportation free of charge for 6 months.

To enroll at your university course in Germany you need to personally appear at the administration office of your university and submit the following documents:

  • Your valid passport
  • A passport photo
  • Your Visa or Residence Permit
  • Completed and signed Application Form
  • Degree qualifications (original documents or certified copies)
  • The Letter of Admission
  • Proof of health insurance in Germany
  • The payment fee receipt

Following your enrollment in the university administration will issue you a registration document (ID card) which can later be used for residence permit application and attendance of your classes.

An important note: You need to re-register each semester following the completion of the previous one and again you will have to cover the same registration costs.

What You Need to Know Before Studying Abroad in Germany

It’s decided: you want to don a dirndl, hike the Bavarian Alps, have easy access to major European cities, and experience history and culture in the metropolis of Berlin? Sounds like Germany is the perfect study abroad country for you!

Not only is Germany positioned so as to provide a very instructional and unique Western education, where the effects of modern history can be seen firsthand, it’s also increasingly popular for its widely available English-language university programs, and affordable tuition. All German public universities have free undergraduate programs, for locals and international students alike.

Deciding to go on a student exchange in Germany was one of the best decisions of my life. Not only did I learn a new language, make lifelong friends, and get way outside my comfort zone — it also taught me independence, budgeting, and how to make friends wherever you are.

Whether you decide to study in the Northern post city of Hamburg near Denmark, or the Southern Bavarian paradise of Munich near the Swiss Alps, here are some things you need to know before studying abroad in Germany. These are the kinds of tricks I wish I’d known before I went. I hope they help make your summer, semester, or year abroad as memorable as mine!

Germans are Very Punctual

Buy a wrist watch — seriously. You’re going to need it.

Germans love to be on time, or early by North American standards. From their expedient transit systems, to personal meetings, to the start of sporting events — you’ll look like a real schmuck if you show up late, even if it’s just by a few minutes. Some people might even consider it downright rude. Save yourself the pain and invest in a watch before you go so checking the time is as easy as glancing at your arm. You might even consider setting it a few minutes fast, just in case your North American tardiness habits sneak up on you.

Figure Out Your Student Accommodations


Germans love to have everything planned. If you’re hoping to have a homestay arranged, chances are you’ll need to arrange it long in advance of actually arriving in Germany.

If you plan on staying in an apartment, we recommend seeing if your school has any recommendations for the area. There’s often an affiliated dorm or student housing arranged through your partner institution that’s the preferred accommodations for the area.

If you decide to look for your own apartment, there are plenty of resources available in English nowadays via the internet. Do research beforehand to make sure you can find a place that’s relatively close to where you’ll be studying to save some commute time.

There is a wide variety of English-language resources for apartment hunting in Germany, including Craigslist, Studieren Werk Berlin, AirBnB, and Berlin Apartments, among many others. Bookmark these now and plan ahead so you can snag good student housing; if you roll up expecting to sort something out in the two days before classes start, you may be unpleasantly surprised to find there are far fewer good options.

There’s More to Germany than Big Cities

I’m not saying that Munich, Berlin, and Frankfurt aren’t a good time — they’re popular study abroad destinations for a reason! –, but make sure you also investigate some of the smaller cities that also have unique exchange programs. Places like Marburg and Freiburg are small university towns in idyllic settings, built around castles and look like the setting for a Grimm Brothers fairy tale. If hectic cosmopolitan life isn’t for you, it’s worth giving these options a look as well.

Speaking German is Great, but You Can Get By Without

By all means if you can learn some German before you come, that’s great, but one of the best things about Germany and its popularity as an exchange student destination is that there are plenty of resources in the country to help you learn German once you get here. Chances are you destination university has a program, and there are also numerous private language schools you can sign up for to find something that better fits your schedule.

Additionally, it’s true that many Germans, especially the younger ones, speak at least a bit of English. The country also has a good tourism market, so in the bigger cities especially locals won’t be put off by you asking for directions in English — slowly.

Germany has Lots of Amazing Snacks

From currywurst to Berliners, Germans do snacks right, especially when they’re meant to accompany beer. Here’s a short list of some you’ve got to try.

  • Currywurst — classic German ‘street meat,’ grilled sausages sliced up and then drizzled with curried ketchup.
  • Spreewaldhof Get One! — these single pickles packaged in a can will make you laugh, and also make for a good study snack.
  • Spritzkuchen — delicious fried German pastries drizzled with icing; sometimes called German Crullers.
  • Pumpernickel Bread — It might have a funny name, but Germans are downright serious about their bread. The darker, the better. In fact, bread in general is huge here, with bakeries doing everything from dark rolls to savoury loaves, to sweet brötchen. You’ll quickly forget about the bread of home.
  • Pretzels — Not the tiny, dried one you find in chip bags, but big, luscious pretzels to season your beer at the local Oktoberfest.
  • Marzipan — This sweet treat made from almond paste is especially popular around Christmas time, and any students studying in Hamburg should make a point to visit Lübeck, a town just an hour northeast of Hamburg that’s especially renowned for its marzipan.

There are Different Dialects of German

Most people are surprised to learn there’s not just one version of German that’s spoken across the country. There are many different dialects, most belong to either the ‘High German’ or ‘Low German’ classification.

High German (Hochdeutsch) is the dialect you’ll hear around the central and southern half of Germany, and into Luxembourg, Austria, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland. It’s also the main administrative language for the country, and what you’ll hear most people in mass media or higher education speaking. Low German (Plattdeutsch or Niederdeutsch) is the dialect you’ll hear spoken in the north, and is not as common.

If you forget which is which, it helps to remember that Low German comes from the low-lying coastal regions to the north, and high German comes from the more elevated mountains to the south.

And then you have Bavarian, known in German as ‘Bayerisch’, which is something else entirely. As a German-as-a-second-language-speaker, Bavarian will no doubt leave you wondering what the heck just happened to your ears and why all the German you were learning suddenly seems to make no sense. This fun language is spoken mainly in the southern Bavarian parts of Germany, and also some places in Italy and Austria.

German Cinema Will Help You Fit In

Germany is a huge contributor to cinematic history, especially in the early 20th Century. There are distinct German film periods, including that of the Weimar Republic, Nazi Germany, East Germany and West German films. Recently there have been a string of hits out of modern German cinema, including Run Lola Run, Good bye Lenin!, The Edukators, and The Lives of Others.

I recommend watching a few German moves before you go to get a feel for the culture, and also have some pop trivia to discuss with your German classmates. We also recommend screening them in German with English subtitles, of course! This is also a great way to pick up some slang to add flavor to your German.

Here’s my list of recommended German movies to watch before you go, with titles in English (followed by German).

  • Run Lola Run (Lola Rennt)
  • Good Bye Lenin! (Good Bye Lenin!)
  • The Edukators (Die fetten Jahre sind vorbei)
  • The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen)
  • Nowhere in Africa (Nirgendwo in Afrika)
  • The Baader Meinhof Complex (Der Baader Meinhof Komplex)
  • Downfall (Der Untergang)
  • The Boat (Das Boot)
  • The Bridge (Die Brücke)
  • The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (Die Bitteren Tränen der Petra von Kant)*
  • The Crocodiles (Die Vorstadtkrokodile)
  • The Counterfeiters (Die Fälscher)

If you watch everything here, you’ll have a great overview of German cinema culture before you even set foot in Deutschland!

*In Bavarian German, bonus!

Football is Sacred

‘Fußball,’ or soccer as Americans call it, is huge in Germany. You’ll see bars full of crazed football fans on big game evenings, and it’s not uncommon for big rivalries to sprout between fans of opposing teams.

Football fans who choose to study abroad in Germany will be especially at home in Munich, where the whole city can be seen sporting the red colors of home team Bayern Munich when they have a big game, and where you’ll need to buy your tickets in advance if you want to catch a match.

Forthrightness Will Help You Communicate

Germans are very direct and outspoken, straightforward, and honest. If someone asks ‘How are you?’ They mean it as a serious question, not as a small-talk starter to be brushed off with, ‘Oh, I’m fine.’ If someone asks you how you are, they expect to hear about you, your family, how you’re feeling and what your plans for the next little while are. By contrasts, Americans’ proclivity for shallow small talk is one that some Germans find downright frustrating.

Furthering this intercultural communication crisis is the fact that German humor is often blunt to the point of seeming rude by American standards, and often relies on context rather than a knowing ‘wink’ or obvious guffaw to deliver the punchline. I promise once you get used to it though, you’ll find Germans are actually hilarious. Also, get used to making lots of eye contact.

Sundays are for Coffee & Cakes

Even though Germany has a very liberal attitude towards religion, they have a very strict attitude towards ‘No Work on Sundays,’ leftover from when it was still considered ‘the Lord’s Day.’ This means not only are most stores closed (except for train stations, and some other necessary conveniences), but Germans don’t like to see you doin anything that disturbs the peace, or looks like hard work. This means no mowing the lawn, doing anything loud, or even practicing music.

I once made the foolish mistake of thinking a nice Sunday afternoon was the perfect time to practice my flute music for an upcoming orchestral performance with the youth orchestra I was involved in. I never saw my host father fly up the stairs so fast as when he did to stop me, assuring me that it was too much work for a Sunday. Telling him I wasn’t even practicing ‘that hard’ did not to assuage him.

Save your Sundays for hanging out and relaxing with family and friends. On Sunday afternoons in particular, Germans are very fond of serving coffee and cakes, sort of their version of a British high tea. Some bakeries even open for a couple hours on Sundays just so Germans can pick up some cakes for this very reason.

Germany is a Wonderful Study Abroad Destination

The semester I spent living in Hamburg, Germany was one of the best six months of my life. Not only did it instill a huge sense of independence and responsibility in me, but I learned the language, grew a love for German culture and cinema, and had the crazy experience of learning to communicate with classmates in a totally different language (although, I admit, I never did finish my copy of Hobo Faber by Max Frisch — sorry, guys!).

To give you an idea of just how easy it can be — when I left for Germany the only sentence I could say was, ‘Your house looks nice,’ and ‘I’m hungry.’ I was the only English exchange student in my class, and I still had a total blast. Germany is an absolutely wonderful destination for study abroad, and one that makes fitting into another lifestyle quite easy for English speakers. From Hamburg in the north to Munich in the south, there’s plenty to do and love from the big cities to the natural wonder of this country, and living there gives you a chance to explore it first-hand.

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Nine life-saving tips for foreign students in Germany

Studying abroad in Germany sure has its quirks and traps. Here are nine things you need to know before jumping into the deep end of German student life.

Max Bringmann is a Berlin-born writer and former student at Freie Universität (FU) in the capital of Germany. He delves into his experiences to bring you the dos and don’ts of studying at a German university.

1. Covering your bases

So you’ve received your student visa and you’re set to start classes, but don’t yet know where you’re going to sleep tonight?

Hardly any German undergraduates live on campus in Berlin and the other major cities. Most of them live in a so-called Wohngemeinschaft, or WG, (shared housing), with three to four students sharing an apartment. It’s on you to get your hands on one of those rooms – and the competition is tough.

Wanting to start my own WG, I was vying for a three-bedroom-flat along with over 20 other people  – and out-competing young families with doe-eyed babies is no piece of cake.

In Germany’s smaller university towns though, the scramble for housing is less messy. And if you make it, you’ll have a proper room, maybe even a balcony – your own first little home.

2. Akademische Viertelstunde – academic quarter of an hour

At the start of the semester your inner model student surfaces and pushes you to be punctual for class. If you do end up arriving on the hour though, you may be the first person there.

The “akademische Viertelstunde” is a tacit rapport among German students and teaching staff that allows everyone to come to class late and not get shunned.

It’s one of the only occasions when us Germans can escape our compulsion to be on time. You’ll soon come to appreciate those extra-15-minutes you get in bed. 

3. Attendance? Never heard of it.

Another way universities in Germany go against every German stereotype is their strictness on class attendance, or rather the lack thereof.

As a student, I had at least three lecturers tell our group that “I’m not going to check attendance – if someone doesn’t want to be here, I don’t want to teach them.”

No one will e-mail or call you if you haven’t shown up in a while. Every semester, a large number of young Germans even sign up for a “Scheinstudium”, which means being registered as a student without attending a single seminar (but tapping the discount for a six-month train ticket included in being at a German Uni).

Let the lawless land of German academia set you free.

4. Studying and puking

German students of psychology, finance, or medicine – disciplines which have traditionally compelled learners to drum endless amounts of definitions into their brains – have recently found a term to describe their agony: “Bulimielernen” (bulimia studying) – studying hard, puking it all out during the exam, and forgetting everything afterwards.

At German universities it’s common practice to schedule all exams for the end of the term and give hardly any assignments throughout the semester.

Use those first months to let the sun shine on your belly, because when the time comes, you’d better be ready to study and puke, study and puke…

5. Teaching

Which brings us to the issue of teaching (or trying to anyway). Just like at every university, teaching abilities differ greatly from lecturer to lecturer at the FU.

Be warned, not all Germans are born with an uncanny ability to arouse the masses. But that doesn’t mean they’re not knowledgeable.

I tried to engage my professors in as many conversations as possible and took more away from it than from any of their two-hour readings.

It’s also advisable to chose a class with a young instructor – many of them have studied abroad and are familiar with more innovative and engaging teaching methods than those taught in Germany.  

6. Freunde finden – making friends

Many of my international friends in Germany have told me that making friends with Germans can be a long shot.

Especially in big cities where university campuses often extend over several districts, you may meet people once and never seen them again.

While our club/association culture isn’t nearly as big as those in the US or Britain, joining a debating club or political association at your German university is definitely a way to get you started.

After all we highly value our time off campus. Pick up a hobby like rowing, or improve your German reading at a book club, and soon enough you’ll be surrounded by a consistent group of fun German friends. 

7. WG-parties

And once you get invited to your first WG-parties over Facebook (yes, we still use FB to organise our get-togethers), you know you’ve cast a spell on German youth.

Here, too, small town beats big city – when there are no clubs to go to, half the student body will flock to an apartment to party.

If you’re looking to host your own, you may therefore want to take a few precautions. Make sure that none of your guests is prone to tearing down walls – you’re the one who’ll have to pay for it in the end.

Also, let your neighbours know that “es ein bisschen lauter werden könnte” (it might get a bit louder).

German neighbours have a particular proclivity for calling cops on everyone who dares to disturb their beauty sleep. 

8. Mystery of the German Sunday

Since most parties go down on Saturdays, make sure you have your hangover-kit ready for Sunday.

If not, you’ll be stranded with a half-open pack of pasta and a mouldy tin of tomato soup – most grocery stores in Germany are closed on the last day of the weekend.

That’s if you go to uni in a smaller German town. The big cities often have so called “Spätis” – late-night shops that have realised there is money to be made in overcharging desperate students on a Sunday.

You may want to avoid that scenario, so stock up beforehand and make plans for a plentiful Sunday pick-nick instead.

9. Festival summer

With the sprouting of crocuses, music festivals both large and small start popping up on the lush pastures of pre-summer Germany.

And by the beginning of June, science nerds come creeping up from their laboratories while humanities students relax their furrowed brains to join in on the months-long dancing season.

While you may not dig the deep, thrumming techno beat, you may still enjoy floating in the carefree festival bubble.

Once it’s over, you may finally feel ready to say a teary “Tschüss” to your time at a German university.

8 Essential Steps for Students Preparing to Study a Master’s in Germany

The German higher education system stands out through the wide range of universities it offers. Many universities are focused on research and you can also enrol in specialised institutions that offer programmes in certain fields, like Education or Arts.

When you decide to study abroad in Germany, it’s important to learn as much as you can about the education system, organisation, and costs. It will help you adapt faster and you won’t have any unpleasant surprises once you get there. So, here are 8 essential tips to prepare you for studying a degree in Germany.

1. Make sure you know your German university names

Germans are fond of keeping everything neat and tightly organised. That’s why they have many different types of universities which are grouped by category. We have translated these for you so you know which type of university you’re applying for:

  • traditional universities (Universitäten)
  • universities of applied sciences (Fachhochschulen)
  • universities of technology (Technische Hochschulen or Universitäten)
  • universities of education (Pädagogische Hochschulen)
  • universities and colleges of art, music and film (Kunst-, Musik-, und Filmhochschulen und Universitäten der Künste)
  • universities of applied administrative sciences (Verwaltungsfachhochschulen)
  • universities of the armed forces (Universitäten der Bundeswehr)
  • distance studies universities (Fernhochschulen) and universities of cooperative education (Berufsakademien)

Most of these universities are public institutions and many of them offer a significant number of English-taught degrees. Check out programmes offered by these German universities:

  • IUBH University of Applied Sciences
  • University of Hamburg
  • Technical University Berlin
  • SRH Hochschule Berlin
  • Institute for Cultural Diplomacy
  • Georg-August University Goettingen

2. Budget for affordable tuition fees in Germany

Most of the states in Germany do not charge any tuition fees to EU/EEA as well as non-EU/EEA students. Students only pay an administration fee of 100 – 350 EUR/semester, which often includes a transit pass for public transport in the region or even the whole state. Additionally, the administration fee partially covers the administration costs of your university and the social contributions to the Studentenwerk.

Long-term tuition fees

Some universities request around 500 EUR each semester from those students who need three to four semesters longer than their fellow students to complete their programmes.

Apart from tuition or administration fees, you’ll also have to cover your living expenses which vary depending on the German city in which you live.

3. Get informed about the university admission requirements

To be admitted at a German university, you must prove that you hold a higher education entrance qualification with which you can be admitted to higher education in your home country.

This would be a secondary school leaving certificate (for example, High School Diploma, Gaokao, Matura, A-Levels, Bachillerato). You might also have to offer proof that you have successfully taken a university entrance exam. To be able to study in Germany, your school leaving certificate must be recognised as equivalent to the German higher education entrance qualification (Abitur).

You can check whether your higher education entrance qualification is equivalent to the German qualification by going to the DAAD Admissions database or to the KMK database.

Applicants from EU and EEA countries

If your school leaving certificate entitles you to study in your home country, this is also accepted when you apply for a study place in Germany.

Applicants from non-EU/EEA countries

The international office or the student registration office (Studierendensekretariat) at your chosen university will check whether your higher education entrance qualification allows you to be admitted. If your certificate is not recognised as equivalent, you must take an assessment test (Feststellungsprüfung). 

4. Make sure you meet the German/English language level

German

Before you can take up a course at a German university, you normally have to prove that your German language skills are good enough for studying. The most common German language tests are:

  • “Deutsche Sprachprüfung für den Hochschulzugang ausländischer Studienbewerber” (DSH). You can only sit the DSH at your German university.
  • “Test Deutsch als Fremdsprache” (TestDaF). It can be taken at many test centres located in Germany and abroad.

Other language certificates are also accepted, but you will first have to check with your chosen university.

You can attend German language courses in parallel with your normal studies once the academic year begins. Universities in Germany organise special German language courses for international students.

English

If you apply for an English-taught degree, unless you come from an English speaking country (e.g. the United Kingdom), you will have to prove your English language proficiency. Accepted English language tests are:

  • IELTS
  • TOEFL

5. Make sure you get your German student visa on time

If you are from a non-EU/EEA country you should also check out German student visa requirements depending on your nationality:  

  • Indian students applying for German visa
  • Iranian students applying for German visa
  • Students from Egypt applying for German visa
  • Turkish students applying for German visa

6. Get accustomed to the academic calendar in Germany

At German universities, the academic year is divided in two semesters (winter and summer). Dates may vary slightly from one university to another. Check the Registrar’s Office at your university for the exact dates.

For Universities of Applied Sciences (Fachhochschulen)

  • Summer semester: March to August (lectures begin: 15 March)
  • Winter semester: September to February (lectures begin: 15 September)

For Universities (Universitäten)

  • Summer semester: April to September (lectures begin: 15 April)
  • Winter semester: October to March (lectures begin: 15 October)

Semester vacation/recess (non-lecture period)

  • Summer: end of July to September
  • Winter: end of February to mid-April

7. Take into account the costs of books and other study materials

How much you spend on study materials and excursions will depend on what subject(s) you are studying. Disciplines like Arts and Humanities only require you to buy books. The university libraries hold the essential textbooks you need, but some books can only be read in the library, without the option of renting them.

It may make sense to buy the specialist books and literature that are important to you. You can buy many second-hand books at reasonable prices via offers posted on the notice board in your university or in second-hand bookshops.

On average, you will spend around 200 EUR per semester on books. Artistic subjects and medical courses are much more cost-intensive (requiring about 50 EUR per month).

8. Make sure you have enough money to cover the overall study costs

When calculating your budget, ensure that you include all the expenses related to your studies:

  • the administration fee (once per semester): around 100 – 350 EUR
  • expenses for study materials and excursions: 50 – 70 EUR/month
  • health insurance contributions : 80 – 160 EUR/month
  • tuition fees: only in private universities and in the Federal State of Baden-Württemberg, where non-EU/EEA students pay tuition even at public universities.
The first step to choosing the 'right' college? Ignore the rankings, says  Stanford researcher | Stanford Graduate School of Education

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