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Living in Germany - A Guide for Students

by Dr Nathalie Mather-L’Huillier and Chantelle Francis



Germany is well connected to major cities elsewhere in Europe amd around the world and benefits from an excellent transport network. With its central location in Europe, it is easy to get access to neighbouring countries. Add to that a culturally-dynamic country, a famously friendly and tolerant population and it's no wonder Germany is today one of the 10 most popular study abroad destinations in the world!

What's it like to study abroad in Germany?

One of the stereotypes of life in Germany is that everything is quite orderly, from clean streets and efficient train networks to strict administrative procedures. Indeed if you come from a country where things are less structured, you may well experience a small “culture shock”. However, as a newcomer, these organised aspects of life can make things much easier (as long as you follow the rules!) and you’ll have more time to enjoy your time in Germany!

A better description of Germany is multi-ethnic, open and friendly. Its population of 82 million includes around 9% of foreigners. Traditions and modernity are perfectly integrated and its inhabitants are fun-loving people. Many of its cities still proudly bare the historic scars of war but places, like the capital Berlin, have seen a cultural, economic and architectural renaissance while other have retained their original charm. In fact, all of the German cities have something amazing to offer, from museums, festivals and historic buildings (fairytale castles included) to fashionable shopping districts, vibrant music scenes and clubs. Food in Germany can be hearty but it is not limited to traditional heavy fare and you’ll find good produce to suit all tastes. The food scene is varied and multi-cultural with most cuisines represented: Turkish, Greek, Chinese, Thai…

Getting around in German cities is easy thanks to efficient and inexpensive public transport networks. Some cities boasts trams and underground networks; buses and trains are widely available. Taxis are more expensive of course but all are regulated and will have visible meters which display the fare.

Germany is highly urbanised but the varied countryside is within easy-reach and if outdoor activities are what you enjoy, you won’t be disappointed: skiing, hill-walking, cycling and water sports are all available. With 9 direct neighbours (Denmark, Poland, Czech Republic, Austria, and Switzerland, France, Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands), it is also easy to travel from Germany to other European countries, by bus, by train or by air. Most of Germany’s neighbouring countries are part of the Schengen agreement which allows unrestricted travel within its members (if you are a non-EU citizen your visa will be a “Schengen” visa). This is particularly useful for tourism purposes and also when attending conferences or visiting research labs across continental Europe.

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Accommodation

Students in Germany either live in halls of residence or in private accommodation. In contrast to many other countries, Germany's universities do not automatically allocate a room when you register for your course. If you're looking in major cities such as Munich, Cologne or Hamburg, you should allow yourself enough time to find accommodation, starting before you leave home.

Accommodation options include:

  • Halls of residence (or dormitory)
    A room in a dormitory can cost between approx. €160 ($180 USD) and €360 ($405 USD) per month. Depending on the university, this can include health insurance and a Semesterticket for using local public transport. The Studentenwerk of your university can help you find a room in a dormitory.
  • Wohngemeinschaften, referred simply as WG (private shared flats) which are the most popular form of accommodation. Depending on where you study, you should budget €150-350 ($169-394 USD) per month.
  • Living in a flat of your own
    This is the most expensive option and can cost anything from €400 ($450 USD) upwards.

Living costs

Compared to other European countries, Germany is not overly expensive. Cost of living (including food, accommodation, clothing, entertainment) is on par with the EU average and relatively low compared to Scandinavian countries.

Apart from the Semesterbeitrag (and tuition fees if your institution does charge them), you will need around €750 ($844 USD) per month for subsistence. This amount can vary from city to city, and depending on your lifestyle! Student discounts and deals are widely available. These can be helpful of you are on a budget. The International Student Identity Card (ISIC) is also handy as it can offer a wide range of useful discounts while you’re studying in Germany.

Typical student prices in Germany

The following tables give approximate prices for some of the common items and services you are likely to purchase whilst studying abroad in Germany:


Groceries
Item Price (€) Price ($)
Milk (1 litre) 0.70 0.75
Loaf of bread (500g) 1.40 1.50
Potatoes (1kg) 1.20 1.30
Chicken breasts (1kg) 6.75 7.25
Rice (1kg) 1.50 1.60

Entertainment & Leisure
Item Price (€) Price ($)
Cinema ticket 10 10.70
Mid-price bottle of wine 5 5.35
Cup of coffee 2.60 2.75
Draught beer (0.5 litre) 3.30 3.55
Inexpensive restaurant meal 10 10.70

Monthly Utilities
Item Price (€) Price ($)
Monthly travel pass 70 74.90
Broadband internet (10mbps, uncapped) 23.95 25.60
Domestic utilities (Electricity, Heating, Water and Waste) 218.85 234.10

Note Information in the above tables is based on crowd-sourced data collected by Numbeo. Figures are approximate and provided for comparative purposes only. They do not take account of student discounts and may vary over time or between cities.

Learn more about studying in Germany

Looking for more information about Masters study in Germany? Our detailed guide covers everything from university rankings and courses to fees, funding and applications.

Working whilst studying

Students from the EU or EEA have free access to the German market just as any German citizen does.

International students from outside of the EU can work either 120 full days or 240 half days per year. Work as a research assistant (or "Hiwi", in German) however, is not limited to this amount.

International students from outside the EU can also not work on a freelance or self-employed basis.

You can search for job opportunities on your university’s or students’ union website.

The Federal Employment Agency can also assist in helping international students to find work.

Pay and tax

The amount you earn generally depends on the work you do. However, €5-10 per hour is the average earning for most students.

Some roles of employment, such as research assistants or industrial production assistants, can earn up to €15 per hour.

In certain cities such as Munich and Hamburg, pay may be closer to the €15 per hour mark, but this is because the cost of living in these cities is higher too.

Students can usually earn up to €8,345 per year tax free. Do bear in mind, however, that if you work more than 20 hours per week, you will usually have to pay a contribution towards health, unemployment and nursing care insurance.

Further information

By now you should have a good idea of what it might be like to live and study as a Masters student in Germany. You'll be able to work out your budget, get started looking for accommodation and, perhaps, think about brushing up your German.

There are a few other areas you should inform yourself about before heading to study a Masters in Germany, however.

Banking

If you need a bank account (not compulsory for Masters students) to pay for your fees and other expenses, you can open one at any bank in Germany – and usually at no charge. Having a German bank account also means that you can use ATMs free of charge, as well as allowing you to make payments with a EC/Maestro-card.

If you decide to take up work, or have accessed your course via a scholarship, it may be necessary to open a current account (Girokonto) at a German bank, as some companies and universities will not pay into a foreign account.

In order to set up an account, you will need:

  • your passport
  • a residence registration certificate (Anmeldebestätigung)
  • your university registration certificate (Immatrikulationsbescheinigung).

Transport

Transport in Germany, especially in major cities such as Berlin, is very modernised and extremely efficient. You can choose from a selection of public tranportation options, such as buses, trams, trains, and metrolinks.

Ticketing for these services is also very economical, as the same ticket can be used on any mode of public transport. Day tickets (Tageskarte) and 7-day tickets (Wochenkarte) are a good choice if you intend to do a lot of commuting in Germany.

Search for a Masters in Germany

Ready to start looking for your ideal study abroad opportunity? Browse and compare Masters degrees in Germany on FindAMasters.com

Last updated - 21/11/2016

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