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How to Move to Germany as a Student

Encouragement to Get You Started

Being a student in Tubingen, Germany.
Tübingen is one of many university towns in Germany.

The easiest way to live in Germany is to become a student. Even though the government has lifted the ban on tuition fees, it shouldn’t discourage foreigners from studying there. The charge is usually about €500 per semester and some schools only charge when students have not completed their course of study in the prescribed time frame or have gone back for a second degree. Enrollment entitles students to benefits like public transportation, a residence permit, health insurance, language school, and travel discounts. Pick a university, go to its website, and start researching the programs available for foreign students.

You can also get a residence and work permit if you first find a job. Why not start looking within your field? Even if you do not speak German, there are quite a few multinational companies based in Germany that may find your native language quite attractive. As an “Angestellter” or employee you are entitled to all the social benefits the country has to offer, including health insurance, retirement, unemployment, paid sick leave, and maternity/paternity leave. Try looking in the local newspaper or online at Monster (English option).

Even with no experience and no degree, you can always teach your native language. Go around to the language schools with a resume, hang up a sign at the supermarket or university, advertise in the local paper. You can even trade lessons. You can engage in “tandem learning,” helping others learn your native language while they teach you theirs. Just get out there and get some experience.

The one thing that is incredibly complicated is paying taxes on the money you earn, even for the natives. Get an accountant to do it for you. A professional accountant can be expensive, so my advice is to find an accounting student and trade your tax return for English lessons. Be creative! There is also another catch, clearly, as you must abide by the rules and stipulations of the work permit to obtain a visa to work in Germany, and that can sometimes be tricky, just as it can be involved to do so when coming to the United States to work while a student, but it is possible.

“But where will I stay?” you may ask. The answer is a “WG,” pronounced “vehgeh.” It is short for “Wohngemeinschaft” and means apartment sharing. You rent one room in an apartment and share the utilities and telephone bill with the other residents. The rent is differentiated between “Warm” (the total price of the room including all Nebenkosten, or extras) and “Kalt” (meaning before utilities and telephone).

There are many ways to find a WG. Every bulletin board at every university is jammed with offers. Living in a WG is a great way to meet new people and build friendships. Plus, it will save you the cost of buying all the household items needed such as pots and pans, dishes and flatware. Look for a “möbliertes Zimmer” or furnished room if you would like to avoid buying the furniture for your own room.

If you would rather live alone, apartments are another option. One thing to watch out for in your apartment hunt is real estate brokerage costs. If you employ a real estate agent or the property owner does, it is not uncommon to be charged three months “cold” rent known as Courtage (meaning the cost before extras).

Within the German bureaucracy you will have two destinations. The first one is the “Ausländerbehörde” or the immigration office. This is where you’ll get your residence and work permit. You can get the residence permit with your proof of enrollment at a university. You can get both the residence and work permit if you find a job. It is also possible to get a residence permit if you can prove you can support yourself. A bank statement will do. When you find a place to live and have your rental contract, take this and your passport and go to the “Einwohnermeldeamt” or registry office. Everyone in Germany has to register their place of residence with this office.

On Wednesday and Friday afternoons offices are closed almost everywhere. There are so many benefits to living with people of another culture—from learning about yourself and your own culture through comparison, to learning a new language, to becoming more flexible and willing to try new things.

The last time I was in the U.S. it shocked me to hear from a number of people that their dream was to do exactly what I am doing now. They had so many reasons for not doing it, however; one woman said to me, “I’d love to go to Europe, but I have these two dogs.” My answer: Bring them! There are dogs in Europe too. You just have to pick a place, set a date, prepare the best you can, and be flexible.

For more reasons to study abroad, check out this guide for international students in Germany.

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