The Ultimate Guide to moving to Germany as an International Student

From Singapore to Potsdam for a Master’s degree

As an international student who made the leap from sunny Singapore to Germany for a Master’s degree — and subsequently, the student-to-employee transition — I remember all too well the plethora of questions I had about moving to a new continent and the red tape involved.

From applying for a student visa, opening a blocked account, finding accommodation and finally getting a job and work permit in Germany, I break down and simplify each step of the process and share my personal experiences here. 

This article is all about the nitty-gritty administrative side of things. Assuming you've nailed your spot at a German university, let’s tackle the bureaucratic hurdles so you can focus on the fun stuff — like acing your degree and soaking in all the bier, wurst and schlösser Germany has to offer.

WORK VISA

Depending on your nationality, you may have to apply for a student visa to enter Germany for your education. Typically, a student visa is valid for three, six or 12 months (such as in my case). 

BLOCKED ACCOUNT

In the process of applying for a student visa, you’ll be asked to open a blocked account. This is essentially a form of bank account where the funds you deposit are “blocked” for one year, with a set amount released to you each month as an allowance. 

The purpose of the blocked account is to reassure authorities that you have the funds needed to get through your studies in Germany without facing financial trouble or sacrificing your study time to make ends meet.  

At the time of writing this article, the blocked account amount is 11,208 euros, from which you receive 934 euros to your regular bank account each month.  

Fintiba, Expatrio and Coracle are popular blocked account providers for international students in Germany. While slightly pricier than alternatives, Fintiba's online application process and user experience was perfectly seamless, and easy to navigate for the one+ year I had an account.

HEALTH INSURANCE

Another requirement for applying for a student visa in Germany will be showing proof of health insurance. In fact, this is mandatory for all residents and citizens of Germany.

There are two types of health insurance you can apply for:

  • Public health insurance (if you’re under 30) with providers such as TK, DAK and Barmer
  • Private health insurance (for those above 30, amongst other eligibility criteria) with providers such as MAWISTA, Walter and Allianz

The Fintiba Plus blocked account package I selected came bundled with MAWISTA health insurance (private) which cost 38 euros monthly and covered all outpatient, inpatient and medical treatment.

Note: After study completion, if you’re eligible and wish to stay back in Germany to look for a job, your health insurance will continue at the same (student) rate until you cancel it or find employment.

ACCOMMODATION

Unlike in some other countries, you won’t automatically be assigned a dormitory or student accommodation when you enrol for study in Germany. Finding accommodation in Germany can be a challenge (to say the least) depending on the state or city you’re in. Based on your budget and preferences, you have the following options:

Long-term accommodation:

  • Flatshares (Wohngemeinschaft – WG): You rent a room or share a room, in an apartment with several other people
  • Co-living spaces: Pricier but gaining popularity due to the flexibility offered and shorter-term lease
  • Private apartment or studio: Have the whole place to yourself at a higher price tag
  • Student halls of residence on or near your university campus: Rooms or small studios rented to students and sometimes young professionals (under the age of 40).

I went with the last option, renting a studio for students and professionals. It came equipped with all the furniture you could possibly need, a kitchenette, basic kitchen appliances and of course, much needed privacy.

Temporary accommodation you can look at if you haven’t found long-term alternatives:

  • Youth hostels
  • Regular hotels
  • Pensions (small hotels or guest houses)
  • Sublets: Unlike other countries, subletting is permitted in Germany. Essentially, the current tenant rents out their apartment or room to another individual for a short period while they are away, but retains their tenant status. 

Bear in mind that short-term accommodation typically does not offer Anmeldung registration (which I’ll cover in the next section). And be wary of scammers advertising spaces for rent that don’t exist!

ANMELDUNG

Once you’ve confirmed your accommodation and moved in to your new place, you need to register your residential address at the local citizens’ office (Bürgeramt). This registration is called Anmeldung and it's compulsory by law.

You’re required to register your address within 14 days of moving in, however, appointment dates can be tough to come by. Usually, it will suffice if you book (confirm) the appointment within 14 days, even if the actual appointment date is later.

At the Anmeldung appointment, you’ll receive a certificate of registration. Pretty much everything official in Germany — opening a bank account, getting a tax ID and residence permit — requires you to have this registration done, so it’s a vital piece of paper.

TAX ID

A few weeks after you’ve completed your Anmeldung, you’ll receive your Tax ID by post. Hold on to this piece of paper (in fact, hold on to any and all paperwork you receive in Germany!).

Your tax ID is a permanent number, which means you’ll use it throughout your life regardless of the state you live in, in Germany. Every resident in Germany — citizen or non-citizen — gets issued a unique Tax ID which employers need to calculate your tax contribution and pay your salary.

BANK ACCOUNT

You can only open a German bank account after you've arrived in the country, with either a traditional (brick and mortar) bank or an online bank.

Popular traditional banks such as Deutsche Bank, Volksbank and Sparkasse allow a variety of current account options for international students. Online banks such as N26, Wise and ING Student allow you to open current accounts digitally without the need to visit a physical branch.

I went with N26. After submitting my passport digitally, the verification process took place online within a day or two and my account was created — with no need for physical paperwork or a face-to-face visit. I received my debit card by post shortly after. After two years of living in Germany and using N26, I can say my experience with them has been top-notch — stellar app, user-friendly features and customer support teams that communicate proficiently in English.

As soon as you’ve opened a bank account, make sure to share your account details with your blocked account provider (for example, Fintiba) to activate your monthly payouts, as well as with your landlord for monthly rent deduction via direct debit.

TRANSPORTATION

As a student in Germany, you’ve required to buy a semester ticket — basically a discounted transport card — that allows you to take public transport in the area your university is located in for a semester (6 months).

Some rules and limitations apply. For instance, you’re allowed to ride suburban and local trains and buses with this ticket but not private long-distance and high-speed trains (for which you must purchase tickets separately).

RESIDENCE PERMIT

While a student visa allows you to enter the country, a resident permit permits you to reside there for the purpose of studying. If you’re not an EU/EEA citizen, you need to apply for a student residence permit if you plan to study in Germany for longer than 90 days.

Once you've arrived in Germany and as soon as you've registered your accommodation, make an appointment at the local foreigners’ authority (Ausländerbehörde). Appointments can be hard to come by depending on the state you’re in, so start this process early and check the relevant website for fees and documents required.

If you have trouble getting an appointment via the calendar online (which you will), send an email or submit a message via the contact form on the website, write a nice and succinct message in German and attach your application form and all necessary documents. This then counts as an application and you have proof that you tried to book an appointment.

The application cost me 100 euros and the full process took about 10 weeks (from sending them the first email to collecting the card).

A student residence permit is usually valid throughout the duration of your study program but can be extended if you don't finish your course in time.

WORK-STUDY

With a student residence permit, you can work part-time (20 hours per week) during the semester, and full-time (40 hours per week) during semester breaks, in any job related or unrelated to your study. In other words, you can work a maximum of 120 full days or 240 half-days without requesting approval from the German Employment Agency.

However, if you’re doing a mandatory internship (as part of your study program) or working as a student assistant at your university, the 120-day limit does not apply.

In order to do freelance work or take up self-employment as a student, you'll first need to get approval from the German Immigration Authority and Employment Authority.

JOB-SEEKER PERMIT

After you’ve completed your studies, if you wish to remain in Germany to look for a job, you can apply for a job-seeker residence permit that allows you stay in the country for a maximum of 18 months after your study completion. During this time, you can work any job (related or unrelated to your study) while you look for long-term employment.

And if you already have a job offer upon graduation, you can directly proceed to apply for a working residence permit that allows you to stay in Germany for the longer term. The validity of your work permit will depend on the conditions of your employment.

Stepstone, Xing, Indeed and LinkedIn (where I got my long-term, study-related job) are popular platforms for job-seekers.

PERMANENT RESIDENCE

The icing on the cake? As a graduate of a German university, you enjoy the fast track to applying for a permanent residence (settlement permit). Once you've had a work permit and diligently paid taxes for two years, you can proceed to kick off the application process.

FINAL THOUGHTS..

Two years into my journey here, I can confidently say that despite the initial administrative hurdles, my experience has been nothing short of incredible. Germany’s education system offers the perfect balance: just enough academic rigor to keep you engaged yet ample time to soak in the culture and make the most of your stay here.

To all future students eyeing Germany as their educational haven, fear not the bureaucratic dance. With a bit of patience (and plenty of research), your journey might turn out to be surprisingly unvergesslich. Here's to an unforgettable academic adventure in Deutschland.

MBA News

Feb 07, 2024

London Business School Announces New 1-Year MBA

Feb 07, 2024

More MBA News

More MBA Articles

How to Secure a Competitive MBA Place at INSEAD

Apr 16, 2024

Insider tips for crafting a winning application and securing your spot in the elite MBA program

Choosing Between USA and Europe for Your MBA

Mar 25, 2024

Candidates are now presented with top options on both sides of the Atlantic

Why Fewer International Students are Choosing the UK for their MBA

Mar 21, 2024

Immigration policy changes are creating challenges for overseas students, but the allure of studying in Britain persists

More Articles

Related Top 10 Lists

More Top 10 Lists