3. Preparing and Arriving in Germany

There are quite a few issues that need tackling before one actually settles into one’s new life-context in Germany and starts addressing the purely ‘student life’ related concerns. One has to first focus on securing the prerequisites such as fulfilling university admission requirements, obtaining the German visa, and finding accommodation.

Getting Your German Student Visa

study in germanyWhether you need a visa to travel to, and study in, Germany, depends on what your country of origin is. If you are a national of one of the EU member countries or of either Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland, then you don’t need a visa. You only need a valid identification card or personal ID to enter Germany. After you find a place to live in, you must register with the authorities at the city you will be studying in, called the “Einwohnermeldeamt” in German. After that you will be given a certificate that confirms you have the right to reside in Germany.

There are two types of visa, a Schengen visa or “short-stay visa” and a national visa. Schengen visa is ideal for those who wish to go to Germany for a holiday visit, take a short language course or participate in a summer school, since the Schengen visa is valid for 90 days. If you wish to study in Germany for an undergraduate degree or attend a Masters or PhD program, than you will need a national visa which will allow you to reside in Germany for the whole duration of your studies.

To apply for a student visa you will need the following documents:

  • Letter of admission from a German university,
  • Health insurance policy (you can get it here),
  • Proof of academic credits gained or exams passed,
  • Proof of German language skills you may have or of your plans to take a language course in Germany and
  • Proof of sufficient financial resources.

Proof of financial resources

You will need to produce proof that you will have enough means to support yourself for one year in Germany, during your studies when you apply for a student visa. You are required to prove to the Embassy you are applying for a visa at, that you will have approximately Eur 8000 per year during your stay in Germany. There are several ways in which you can prove this, such as by a:

  • Scholarship awarded,
  • Your parents income and assets,
  • Bank deposit guarantee or
  • Somebody from Germany will provide for you.

Make sure to prepare and submit your visa application and all necessary documents, well in advance of your studies since the visa application process may take from several weeks up to a month.

Remember that if you enter Germany without a visa or with a Schengen visa, you will have to leave the country after 90 days, since it is not possible to extend your short-stay visa to a student visa. So please bear in mind that if you wish to study in Germany you need to get a student visa before you leave your home country and not enter Germany on a tourist visa.

University Admission Requirements

To get accepted at a German university you have to apply well in advance. The International Students Office (Akademisches Auslandsamt) will consider your application to make sure you meet all the requirements for admission, including evidence of your previous academic record.

To study at a German university you will need a Hochschulzugangsberechtigung (HZB) or a higher-education entrance qualification. You need a secondary-school certificate that corresponds to the German Abitur. To apply for undergraduate studies (to get a Bachelors degree) you will require a school-leaving certificate which is also known as the “university entrance qualification”, for example your high-school diploma or, if required in your home country, proof that you have passed the university entrance examination.

While for admission at a post-graduate level (Master’s or PhD program) you need a recognition of your university degree from your home country or another country.

Is my high-school diploma valid to study at a German university?

Whether the high-school diploma attained at your home country is accepted for studying in Germany depends on your nationality. For students who are nationals of one of the European Union member countries as well as students from Liechtenstein, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland, a university entrance qualification attained at their home country is accepted when applying at a German University.

If the country where you attended high-school is neither of the above, then you may need to take an assessment test in German “Feststellungsprüfung”. To check if your high-school certificate entitles you to apply directly at a university in Germany consult the DAAD admissions database at: https://www.daad.de/deutschland/nach-deutschland/voraussetzungen/en/6017-university-admission-and-requirements/?id=1&ebene=1

Even though the database provides general guidelines that regulate the recognition of certificates, you should first contact the International Office at your chosen university. They will provide all the necessary information on certificate requirements and the selection process.

study in germanyMaximize your chances of getting accepted

Bear in mind that many German universities will take into consideration SAT/ACT test score results and your high-school grades for admission. Students from abroad applying for a Master’s degree can increase their chance to get admitted if they score good at the GRE/GMAT tests.

Some universities of applied sciences require that you complete a working internship. It all depends on you field of study and your chosen university, so please contact them first to find out in advance if you need a pre-study internship for your chosen university.

For a Bachelor’s degree some universities demand from students to take a test which proves their ability to study, called the “Test for Academic Studies” or TestAS [http://www.testas.de/en/index_en.htm] for short. Passing this test with high marks increases your chance of getting admitted at your dream university.

How much German do I need to know?

Many postgraduate studies are taught completely in English, so you don’t need to be proficient in German to be able to study, but a little knowledge of German will help you greatly in you day to day student life. This is also true for exchange students who come to Germany for one or two semesters. With a small knowledge of the German language you will be able to make new friends easier, find your way when traveling and generally people will be more fond of you when you speak their language, even if it’s just a few words.

However if you wish to study in a program taught entirely in German, than you need to be proficient in German and you need to provide proof of this, by way of tests. There are two kinds of tests available for you to prove your German language skills as an international student:

  • TestDaF – test of German as a foreign language
  • DSH – the “Deutsche Sprachprüfung für den Hochschulzugang ausländischer Studienbewerber”

If your degree course is in English than you will have to take the TOEFL test, since an English language proficiency certificate is required by universities.

Useful Resources:

Examination for university admission – TestDaF:
http://www.testdaf.de/

Test your German online for free:
http://www.goethe.de/cgi-bin/einstufungstest/einstufungstest.pl

Finding Accommodation

Half the battle is preparing your documents, applying and getting accepted at a University, while the other half is your time and energy spent searching for a place to live during your studies. Cost of living can be high in Germany, especially in large cities such as Berlin, Hamburg or Munich, and admission at a university does not guarantee you a room in dormitories. Your rent will be higher if you decide to get cable TV or Internet services, not including standard utility bills such as electricity, water and heating consumption.

But in smaller towns rent is cheaper and a popular choice among students is to share an apartment with others. What kind of accommodation you choose largely depends on your personal lifestyle and budget. It takes a considerable amount of time to find a cheap apartment for rent, so it’s recommended that you tell as many people as you can that you are in need of an apartment and, if possible, not focus only on a specific district of the city, in order to increase your chances of finding a cheaper place to live in.

Student Residences (Dormitories)

As noted above, getting admitted at a university in Germany, doesn’t necessarily secure you a room in student residence halls, as may be the standard in many other countries. Therefore as soon as you get the letter of acceptance you should submit an application to the “Studentwerk” (Student Services) at your host university so they can guide you through the whole process of finding accommodation.

In students residences you have the choice to rent a room or a small apartment. On average, a room costs between €120 and €200, while monthly rent for a small apartment is between €250 and €370. It’s a good idea to contact the International Office at your university so they can help you with detailed information about renting, leases, furniture and the people you need to contact before moving into a student residence.

study in germanyShared Accommodation

The most popular form of accommodation for students is living in a private, shared apartment called “Wohngemeinschaften” in Germany,  or WG for short. If you will be studying in the metropolitan area of a German city, where the rents usually higher, then your best bet is to share an apartment with several other people. This form of accommodation ends up being way cheaper than living by yourself and is a good chance to make new friends, learn German and get to know people from other countries. This way, you would be having your own room, but share the kitchen and bathroom as well as the utility bills with your flatmates. So, expect to pay from €150 to €350 per month, depending on the city you are studying in.

You should start apartment hunting way before your arrive in Germany, because there is great demand for rooms in WG at the start of the semester and especially in large cities. Internet is your friend in searching for a shared apartment, since there are a lot of websites dedicated exclusively for apartment rent services.

If you are already in Germany than check daily newspaper ads as well as ads that are posted by students looking for roommates on university notice boards, supermarket or at cafés. The International Office as well as the Student Services can help in this regard, so make sure you contact them.

Living by yourself

If you are the kind of person who needs a lot of private space and quiet time, than your best bet is to rent an apartment all by yourself. Keep in mind that living alone is great if you really don’t want to live with others in dormitories or in shared apartments, but the monthly rent cost will be significantly higher, since you are paying everything by yourself including extra services that you may need such as an Internet subscription to stay in touch with friends and family back home.

It’s very unlikely that you will find an apartment for less than €250 base rent, and additional costs can amount up to 50% of the net rent. A good way to save if you are on a tight budget is to get a small apartment with no furniture. Go to a flea-market where people put out furniture for sale for very cheap prices, and thus save on paying a large monthly rent fee just because the apartment is furnished. If you study in a smaller town, than finding a furnished apartment for cheap will probably be easier. Most likely you will be asked to pay a security deposit upfront, equivalent to one or two months’ rent and the fee for real estate agents’ services.

Whatever you choice of living will be, make sure to search for and find accommodation as soon as possible before you arrive in Germany. If for any reason you can’t find a place and need to be in Germany because your studies start, than a good temporary solution are cheap hostels and guest houses, until you find your own place for the whole duration of your studies.

Useful Resources:

Websites for shared apartment vacancies:

www.wg-gesucht.de
www.easywg.de
www.studenten-wg.de

Websites for private accommodation vacancies:

www.immonet.de
www.immobilienscout24.de
www.immowelt.de

Hostels & guest-houses:

www.hostelworld.com
www.jugendherberge.de

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