Studying in Germany: How to apply for a student visa
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So you want to study abroad in Germany, the largest economy in Europe. It’s a great country filled with many high-quality, internationally competitive universities. Plus, lovers of pretzels and sausages will never find a better place to be. Of course, if you’re an international student, you’ll probably need to get a visa before you can go.
If you’re a citizen of the EU, Iceland, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, or Norway, good news! You won’t need any type of visa to study in the country. Prost, indeed!
Citizens of some other countries don’t need a student visa to enter the country, but will need one to complete their studies in Germany. These include citizens of the United States, Great Britain, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, and South Korea.
If you aren’t from the Schengen area, applying for Germany’s student visa might seem to be a daunting process, but we’re here to help make sense of it. The process is relatively straightforward, although it has many pieces. Read on to learn about how to apply for the student visa in Germany and our tips for making the application process easier for you.
Note that this information is accurate as of the publish date above. Some of these requirements could be changed by the German authorities over time, however. Be sure to double check with the references provided at the end of this article.
Note that this article does not cover work visa requirements for Germany. But fear not – we have another article for just that!
Applying for a student visa
The exact requirements for a student visa are subject to vary depending on the country you’re applying from. Check with your local German embassy or consulate for exact details. You can search for the nearest embassy or consulate that will process visa applications on this page at the German Federal Foreign Office’s website. In most cases, the following guidelines apply.
You will need to make an in-person appointment at an embassy that is able to process visa applications and provide several documents for them to take and/or copy. The following documents are typically necessary:
- A completed visa application
- Your valid passport
- Proof that you have German health insurance
- Proof that you have sufficient funding
- Proof of acceptance into a German university
- Proof that you have sufficient language skills
- Only if applying for a prospective student visa: a recognised higher education entrance qualification
- A fee (typically; check with your embassy or consulate)
We’ll walk through each of these documents below.
Completed student visa application
This document should be available to download from the website of the embassy you’ll submit the application to. It may require some additional documents not listed in this article – such as a certified copy of your birth certificate – but these documents will often be required when processing other documents on this list, such as your passport.
Be sure to download and read the application form that your nearest German embassy provides for more specifics.
Naturally, you must have a valid passport in order to apply for a student visa as a foreigner. Make sure that you apply for your passport as early as possible. Some countries – or certain seasons – can take a long time to process passports, especially new ones.
If you already have a passport, it’s also wise to check the expiration date on it to ensure that your passport will not expire during your intended period of study. You should get it renewed if there’s a chance it could expire during your normal course of study.
If you find yourself in Germany and worrying about your passport expiring, do note that some embassies – such as the U.S. embassy in Frankfurt – will allow you to renew your passport while you are in Germany. However, this often requires you to fulfill additional criteria. It’s easiest to renew your passport in your home country, but if you’re facing an impending emergency, check with your country’s embassy in Germany to see if they can help.
Proof of health insurance
In Germany, students are required to have health insurance. This means that you will most likely have to apply for and be approved for health insurance in Germany before you arrive.
Certain international students can continue to use their public health insurance from their home country while in Germany, and do not need to take out German health insurance. This includes students from other EU countries, and additionally Switzerland, Iceland, Macedonia, Norway, Liechtenstein, Tunisia, Israel, Morocco, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Serbia. Be sure to check with your current health insurance provider to confirm that they will continue to cover you in Germany.
Public health insurance is available to university students under the age of 30 who have not completed more than 14 semesters of school in Germany; costs are usually around €110 per month. If you don’t qualify for public insurance, you’ll have to take out private insurance for the duration of your studies.
Fortunately, applying for German student health insurance is not overly difficult, and several providers maintain English translations on their websites. Two notable and popular options for foreigner’s student health insurance include Techniker Krankenkasse (or just TK) and Barmer. Both feature English translations of their websites.
One complication that may arise: some insurance providers might ask for proof of your German residence (though as of this writing, it’s possible to register for insurance with both Barmer and TK without this). However, this is an obstacle that can be overcome even if you don’t have an address or proof of one before you arrive in Germany. It’s usually possible to enroll in a health insurance plan using your proof of acceptance to a German university instead.
It may also be possible to find a place to live online, and receive appropriate documentation from your landlord fulfilling this requirement before you move to the country. But, if you take this route, you ought to be careful and use reputable sources when pursuing this option. INOMICS has previously written about how you can find lodging in a foreign country when planning to study abroad; these resources can help.
Additionally, your university might provide student housing options, particularly if you’re pursuing a Bachelor’s degree. You can also look for student housing that isn’t necessarily attached to a university, for instance through the DAAD’s website (the German academic foreign exchange service).
Check with the specific health insurance provider you plan to use for options if they need proof of your German residence. If you can’t get out of that requirement and decide not to use a provider that doesn’t need that proof, these options should work for you. Even if not, there are usually expat websites from your country that can help you.
Image credit: Pixabay.
Proof of sufficient funds
You’ll need to provide proof that you have funding to support yourself through your studies in Germany before you can be issued a student visa. This requirement can be fulfilled in a few ways.
If you are not funding your own studies, options for proving you have sufficient funds include providing proof of your scholarship, grant, or other financial aid, or submitting documents that prove your parents or legal guardians can pay for your living expenses. Again, the exact documents required to prove these options may vary, but your nearest embassy or consulate should provide a list of specifics.
If you are planning to pay for your own living expenses, you should open a blocked bank account (Sperrkonto) and store the required amount of savings before you apply. The amount required is intended to ensure you have at least a year’s worth of savings to cover your living expenses in Germany. As of 2023, the amount required is €11,208, though this is subject to increase every few years depending on inflation.
The blocked account, once opened, is not easily accessed. It does not function like a savings account. Instead, the German government issues you payments from your blocked account savings as if it were a stipend. All of the money continues to belong to you during this time, and you will receive all of your money back, but you won’t be able to withdraw from the account as you please.
As a side note: keep in mind that students are allowed to work, but not for more than 20 hours per week, on a German student visa. So, it’s possible to earn more money to support yourself – even after the blocked account is depleted – but you will have to plan ahead.
Proof of acceptance into a German university
This document is technically not required to obtain a student visa. If you’re planning to study in Germany but have not yet been accepted into a university, you can still obtain a prospective student visa instead. You can find more information about this below.
But, if you have been accepted into a German university already – great! Providing proof of your acceptance will help the student visa process go smoothly. This will usually take the form of an acceptance letter sent by the university where you plan to study.
The next requirement applies to you if you do not have a formal acceptance to a German university. If you do have one, you can safely ignore them.
Proof of sufficient academic qualifications
If you haven’t been accepted to a German university yet, you’ll need to show proof that you have the minimum academic requirements to be admitted to one. This means that you have completed the necessary prerequisite levels of education.
Proof of sufficient language skills
If you haven’t been accepted to a German university – or if you have, but the language is not your native one – you’ll need to submit proof that you’re proficient in the language of instruction. This most often takes the form of a language test, but your embassy or consulate might accept alternative documents as well. A commonly taken German language test is the TestDAF, while a common English language test is the TOEFL.
On this note – while many German degree programs are offered with German as the language of instruction, several major universities – like the University of Cologne and Humboldt University in Berlin – offer certain degree programs in English. It is possible to study in Germany without a high level of German language proficiency, though of course a basic level of proficiency will be instrumental in navigating daily life in Germany. Plus, knowing (or learning) some German will make your time there more fun!
Prospective student visas
Have you not yet been accepted into a university, but are moving to Germany anyway? Or are you applying for a German preparatory language course before you apply to a university?
If yes, then the prospective student visa (sometimes called a student applicant visa) is the type you should be applying for. It has slightly different requirements than the full student visa, and is only valid for three months (though it can be extended for up to six months), whereas the student visa is valid for up to four years.
You will still need to apply for a residence permit and student visa if you’re accepted into a full university program at some point. So, it’s worth it to start preparing with the other documents mentioned in this article.
Entering Germany without a visa
Citizens of certain countries are allowed to enter Germany without having a visa issued. These include but are not limited to Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Great Britain, Israel, Japan, and South Korea. The full list of visa entry requirements by country can be found at the Federal Foreign Office’s website.
Despite this, it’s still useful to be prepared and apply for your visa before you leave for Germany. Entering the country without a visa does not mean you’re qualified to live there long-term. You’ll still need to apply for a student visa and a residence permit if you plan to stay for longer than 3 months. If you fail to acquire your visa (or fail to have a visa appointment scheduled) before that time expires, you’ll be forced to return home.
If the student visa process seems complicated, just remember that many people have done this before you, and it is very possible to do! This article should help you get started. Although there are many things to think about, and many steps, gathering the required documents and applying is a straightforward process. It just takes some planning.
So be encouraged, and remember that it is possible – and worth the effort. Many foreigners have successfully studied in Germany, and valued the experience highly. Viel Erfolg!
Header image credit: Pixabay.
Germany’s DAAD website: https://www.daad.de/en/study-and-research-in-germany/plan-your-studies/visas/
Germany’s Federal Foreign Office website: https://www.auswaertiges-amt.de/en/visa-service
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