Studying and working in Germany: What does it take to make it right?

Germany, with its rich culture, strong economy, and superb selection of universities, is a great country to move to. But, as is often said, it is a country that has quite a strong tradition of tricky bureaucracy. That bureaucracy is far from impossible to navigate, however, you just need to know what to do.

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How to study in Germany

If you want to be one of the many international students in Germany, the first thing to do is to decide at which university you want to study. Germany has over 380 state-recognized universities, and there is a huge range to choose from depending on what you want to study. Most large cities have at least one traditional university for studying the arts, sciences and humanities, as well as a technical university (usually referred to as the TU), and a university of applied sciences, where more practically focused programs are available.

Once you have decided where and what to study, the next step is applying. That means checking the entry requirements - you will need something equivalent to the German Abitur (school leaving certificate) - before moving onto the application. For most German universities, it's possible to apply directly through an online portal called UniAssist, or you go directly to the university’s international office.

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After you've been accepted onto a program, the next step is sorting a visa and your travel health insurance. The requirements for a student visa are fairly straightforward. Applicants must submit all the standard documents - passports and the like - as well as proof of admission to the university, your educational certificates, and a CV. Most important is to be able to prove that you have the financial means to support yourself. If you have a scholarship for your studies or proof that a local in Germany is going to support you, you just need to send proof of one of those. If you or your parents are supporting yourself, then you will need to open a blocked bank account - you can do that through - into which you'll need to deposit a total of €861 per month you plan on living in Germany. Finally, you need to be able to show proof that you have travel insurance covered, so that while you are getting yourself set up in Germany any health costs will already be sorted.

Once all these steps are completed, it's time to start thinking about how to move to Germany itself. This is in some ways very simple - if you have a visa then you just need to book a flight and go - but also the most difficult. The topic of accommodation in Germany is something of a sore point, but it is manageable. Usually, it's easiest to move first to something mid-term and then find something long-term once you are actually in Germany.

You have finally arrived in Germany. What now? The most important thing on arrival is to sort out permanent health insurance. German health insurance has an excellent coverage. New arrivals need to choose which health insurance provider they want to go with, and then apply. This can be a bit of a challenge when you have first arrived as not all the providers have English customer service, so it can be easier to get a company like Expatrio to do it for you.

Now to the final steps - enrolling at university and doing the Anmeldung. In your letter of admission to university, it should tell you when you are able to enroll at the university. This is actually relatively simple: you just need to go to the university itself and register. Once you've done that you will usually receive an identity card from the uni itself, and then you can start registering for courses. The final thing to do - and this is something of a German rite of passage - is to Anmeldung. This is when you tell your local Bürgeramt (citizens' office) that you live in Germany and what your address is. It can be tricky to get an appointment, but you should be able to do so just by searching online for your local Bürgeramt. Once you are 'angemeldet', you can start doing everything from opening a bank account to getting a job.

If you are not intending to study in Germany, but rather to move there for work, the process is a lot simpler. There are two main options. Either you should apply for and find a job before you move, in which case your new employer should sort things out for you, or get ajob seeker visa. That has a few requirements - a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree as well as several years work experience - and allows you to move to Germany for six months while you apply for jobs.

Learning the language

It is useful to have at least basic German before you move, as most German bureaucracy is not very accessible without it. However, moving to Germany without any German knowledge is certainly doable. Throughout Germany there are excellent and cheap public language learning schools - like the Volkshochschule system - where you can study German intensively, and if you need to, it's always possible to hire someone to come to official appointments with you to translate. It's also worth knowing that it is possible to study in Germany in English, and, especially in the big cities, there a lot of jobs for English speakers.

Getting the most out of German’s international community and making German friends

Because Germany has become such a hub for international students over the last few decades it’s become easier to get to know people. One of the best options is to join DeGiS, which is the largest non-profit organization bringing together international students in Germany. The association has more than 15,000 members from over 100 countries worldwide and runs meetings throughout the year to help international students meet one another. It’s always good, if possible, to make some German friends – it can be tricky to fully ‘get’ Germany without that. Overall, most Germans, and especially the younger ones, speak excellent English, so connecting with them through university or work should be relatively straightforward. But there are other options too, including using websites like MeetUp, which is used by a lot of people in big German cities to find new hobbies or groups of people to hang out with.

Things it's worth knowing about German culture

Before you make the move, there are a few things it's worth knowing about German culture. For one, it's a very culturally rich country - it has a huge number of museums, theaters, and high quality universities - and the people are very friendly once you get to know them. But there are also a few cultural practices it's worth being aware of. When people first arrive in Germany, they can find Germans to be unexpectedly direct. It's not a sign of rudeness, but rather a slightly different way of being. Because of that it's always better in Germany just to say you what you mean. Second, Germany is a country of unwritten rules, which you might feel a little intimidated by if you don't know them. Don't worry, this is a feeling that passes, and, once you are over these bumps, Germany is a genuinely excellent place to study and live.

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