Moving to another country to study can be intimidating. I studied in Germany for a year and these tips are based on my own experiences. These 14 tips will make your first few days in Germany far less stressful. I didn’t have all this information and wished I had it. You can also adapt some of these tips even if you are going to be an international student in another country though I might write a more general post like this in the future.
You can use Google to do research and speak to family and friends who have visited or live in Germany. DAAD has a guidebook which explains a lot about Germany and student life in Germany so use these kinds of resources. My former classmate did extensive research she researched the crime statistics, unemployment rate and climate of Duisburg before moving to the city. It’s also good to find out if the city where your university is will be a big city like New York a tourist city like Paris or a relatively small place like Gottingen in Germany. Living in a big city like Berlin is often more expensive and this will cut into your travel budget. But, it has a larger student community and much more sights to see in the city itself. Knowing this before the time will help you budget better. You should also find out about how many hours you are allowed to work and where you can work as an international student. Even if you don’t plan on working during your stay it’s just good to know. You might change your mind or be able to help a friend with your wealth of information. A very important thing to know is if you will be greeted by someone upon arrival in Germany. Is someone taking you to your dorm? Or do you need to do it alone? Remember you don’t know the place and might get lost. Ask the scholarship fund, department where you will study and the international student office many questions and research a lot.
If you are a student from outside of the EU like I was you most probably will need a visa. Visa Forms aren’t available at the German Embassies in South Africa, you will find them online. You need to take your letter of acceptance, scholarship funding letter and flat rental contract, and health insurance contract with you. Your ID and passport are obviously also needed and a certificate of criminal clearance which you have to apply for at your local police station.
Registering with the city
When you arrive in Germany you need to register with the city where you live. Even if you already have a visa this applies to all students. It’s difficult to get an appointment and it takes longer to complete the process. So be patient and know that officials will most likely be rude and unhelpful if you don’t speak German bear with it. Contact your university’s international office and they will help you with this by providing you with more city-specific information.
Get prepared for the culture shock
Germans tend to be direct and this can be seen as rude. I have had to put up with rude people or backward comments. Being from Africa means you live in a hut with lions roaming the street. Being Russian means you can’t speak English well. Being from Mexico means you smell or your food is weird and other racist associations can be pilled on to you. Some people are unaware some are plain racist. This is something you will find everywhere not just in Germany. You have to ignore and bear with these people and trust me you do find Germans who are kind and friendly.
Germans don’t warm up to strangers quickly the way South Africans do. The culture is very individualistic whilst African and Asian culture focuses more on community centred living. I remember my Syrian friend’s bother asking a cashier how she was in German, and the lady looked at him like he lost his mind. He explained that he was trying to practice his limited German she explained that in Germany you don’t do things like that it is seen as strange. So people are less friendly than in certain other places. In time you will make German friends if you work at it. They just want to get to know you first.
I also witnessed little respect for women and older people. I know I’m painting a terrible picture of German society sorry about that. I’m being brutally honest and sharing my experiences and that of my fellow international students. I had to get up from my seat and press the inside button of the tram for an older lady because the people standing in front of the tram door wouldn’t do it for her. The door wasn’t working properly and she would’ve missed the tram. I have seen women struggle with luggage all over and never once saw a German man hold a door for a lady or help with luggage. I have seen pregnant women and ladies with babies having to stand on buses and trains. I offered my seat and helped with luggage since I don’t think manners should be gender specific. I have been knocked into and almost walked off the pavement in Essen. To me, this was a massive culture clash which I disliked big time. I hate injustice especially when it’s directed at people who are vulnerable. That being said I met friendly bus drivers, shopkeepers and people on the street everyone is not like this you just have to find the bright sparks.
Also, you need to know that it’s cold and rains a lot if you are from a country like sunny South Africa the weather will make you feel low from time to time. Adopt the German outlook and walk in the rain don’t care about it. Get a good coat for the cold and whenever it’s sunny make sure you are outside. It’s like a race for the sunlight I tell you. The German summer I experienced was full of rain but, I managed to get a tan despite this from spending almost every sunny moment outside. I even studied outside on the grass of my dorm building and when it got too much I booked a bus/train trip to a sunnier part of Europe for the weekend.
I met many wonderful Germans so don’t go there expecting everyone to be horrible. You need to keep an open mind and look for silver linings. Because I would return to Germany if I could for a vacation/holiday. I had a life-changing and amazing time over there so be yourself, be kind and friendly and people will warm up to you.
It’s easier to live in student dorms. I found that in Essen the dorm I lived in mainly had other Erasmus students. This was great since I met so many people from all over the world and made some close friends who I still stay in touch with. It was also bad though since it felt like we were being separated from German students. I shared my apartment with one other girl since our third flatmate left early on to live in private accommodation. We each had our own bar sized fridge and two bathrooms very cool. My superstar roomie Gwen from France loved cleaning so I was often spared from cleaning. And all I had to do was make her pancake in return. My roommate also brought all her kitchen appliances and utensils from France since her stepdad drove from France to Germany to her dorm. Lucky me I didn’t have to buy much in the kitchen. I also didn’t have to buy cleaning products or laundry detergent.
There were other classmates and friends of mine who didn’t strike it lucky like me. I heard stories of a girl who kept washing her dishes in the shower for some reason, leaving bits of food behind. There were people who vomited and didn’t clean it afterwards; flatmates who kept old food in the fridge often creating mouldy science experiment worthy things. Noisy people, annoying people…… Lots can go wrong. So you might want to consider private accommodation. But, if you don’t speak German have a student assistant at the international student office help you. You need to be interviewed and have your visa, and funding proof with you.
You also have to ask about electricity and water costs. Extra fees, deposit fees, smoking policy and whether the place would be furnished or not. Are you allowed to have people over? Is there Wifi? The housing department of the university often has a list of places for private students and Erasmus students can join the Erasmus Facebook Page to see many accommodation ads listed by other students.
Carry some cash
You need to have a bit of cash with you 300 euro is way more than enough; you should have about 100 euros minimum with you. If you are getting a scholarship it might take a while to open a bank account and to get your first stipend payment. So have a bit of cash of your own. You might also have to pay to get from the airport to your accommodation.
Opening a Bank Account
Deutche Bank and Sparkasse are the popular German banks. Sparkasse tends to have more ATM’s and as a student you can have a credit card with both accounts. The bank staff all tend to speak fluent English so no worries about communication. You will need the following things
- Identification– A passport is usually required
- Proof of address–Within Germany, your dorm or flat contract has these details on it.
- Proof of registration (Meldebescheinigung)- If you will be living in Germany permanently, you need to register your address with the local authority, called Bürgeramt. In fact, even if you will be living there for a year like I did you will need to do this. The process is Meldebescheinigung, every time you change your address you need to do it again. Most banks will require proof that you have registered in order open an account.
- In order to complete the process, you’ll need to fill out a form (you can print this off your local Bürgeramt’s website), and then go to the Bürgeramt office with the form and your passport or identity card.
- Proof of income– Your scholarship contract, or work contract. For me I showed my scholarship contract.
- Proof of your student status-The confirmation/acceptance letter from your university will prove that you are a student.
I had a student assistant from my department help with opening my bank account. But, he didn’t do much since all the staff spoke English.
Click the link for more information on opening a bank account in Germany: https://transferwise.com/gb/blog/opening-a-bank-account-in-germany
Travelling around for all students with a valid student card via public transport is free within your region in Germany. I could travel by train to Cologne, Dusseldorf, and Bonn…for free. Only the trains marked ICE are luxury high-speed trains which you as a student cannot use for free. The bus, train, the tram is all free your registration costs covers all of this. I loved this about Germany. The splendid part of it is you get a student discount when using the train to visit another country. I paid only from the last stop in Germany in the North-Rhine Westphalia region although I travelled there by train that part of my ride was free. I paid roughly 30 euros to travel to and from the Netherlands because of this discount.
There are many buses like Flixbus and Megabus which drive to various cities inside Germany and to places like Brussels, London, Rome etc. This is a longer but much cheaper way to travel around. I had no problems using these buses whilst travelling. Then you can also use student tour bus companies.
If you rather want to fly use Ryanair it’s by far the cheapest option. You do need to find out where you are stopping and plan ahead since sometimes the airport where you land with Ryanair is far from your final destination. Plan ahead and pay extra for a taxi just budget for it if need be.
Some phones don’t work in Germany. Mine didn’t give me that problem although it later broke so I had to use my tablet as a phone for a while. The best thing to do is to go to Aldi supermarket to buy a German sim card for your phone; I chose Aldi talk because my friend suggested it. Then fill in the online form and you will be connected very quickly. Using your sim card from home will mean paying much higher fees that are unnecessary.
I used Lyca mobile to call back home via normal calls. My mom is a technophobe and doesn’t use the internet so I got the Lyca mobile sim which was handed out for free to call her and my dad. For other people, I used Whatsapp, Facebook video chat, and Skype. I received 500 gigs of data per month in Germany so I could call home often.
DAAD is the biggest scholarship fund in Germany and provides health insurance cover; cover for all tuition, accommodation and depending on how long you are staying a flight back home.
Erasmus Mundus is another big scholarship which is funded by all EU countries and provides exchange funding for European students. It also funds students from Africa and India and provides them with comprehensive scholarships.
You can find more scholarships by Googling, looking at German Universities funding pages, and using sites like PlanetScholarship.com to find more funding opportunities.
Remember that tuition is free for both German and International students there is only a registration fee that must be paid. Having funding is important though since it’s costly to live in Germany especially if you are from a developing country the exchange rate will not be favourable for you. Apply for a scholarship as soon as you apply to the school you want to study at.
Daad website: https://www.daad.de/en/
Erasmus website: https://eacea.ec.europa.eu/erasmus-plus/scholarships_en
German Public Holidays
On Sundays and German Public Holidays everything is closed. Supermarkets and stores, only a few bakeries and restaurants remain open. So if you are arriving on a public holiday know that almost everything will be closed. I arrived the day before reunification day which is the 3rd of October. I was saved by my Syrian friend Maria who stayed at the apartment for a week and a few days whilst I was there. She shared her food and let me call back home using her Wifi. So if you can don’t let your organizers book your flight to land on a Sunday or German public holiday. And find a list of the holidays specific to your region public holidays differ from region to region in Germany.
Aldi and Lidil is cheaper
Aldi and Lidil are the cheaper supermarkets. Rewe is much more expensive it does sell better quality things and more variety. But most of my groceries were bought at Aldi and Lidil. I bought certain things only at Rewe such as certain fruits and vegetables. You can save more by shopping at the cheaper supermarkets and most Germans shop there to so don’t worry about looking like a poor international student. And do note that you need to pack your own items when shopping into shopping bags. The cashier doesn’t do this in Germany so learn to pack fast.
Your bus ticket and train ticket must be validated after buying it. There’s a machine which you swipe your ticket on to do this. Before you get your student card you may have to buy a few bus and train tickets so validate them without validation you can be charged a fine for trying to skip the fare. Like I said as a student you don’t pay for public transport once you have your student card you just have to swipe it on the bus. In the train, it doesn’t matter just keep your student card with you and show it to the train conductor if he/she checks for tickets.
This means sorry and or excuse me. You will hear it in busy supermarkets and it means the person needs you to allow them to pass. Get out of the way or else you will be insulted in German. There’s nothing like being insulted in German and Afrikaans these languages naturally sound rougher so just be kind and learn this word. My friend Maria gave me this tip and I’m forever grateful to her for it. If you can do try to learn a bit of German. I didn’t master the language but, I understand bits and pieces now. Not enough to hold a conversation but at least I can say hello and thank you, please the basics. One day I will hopefully learn much more.
Thank you so much for reading my blog. That’s as comprehensive as I can get for now. If I think of more to add I will update this post.
You might have tips to add or maybe you would like to share your international student experience.
How did you prepare? How did you feel? Let me know and feel free to comment on this post. I love reading comments on my blog and I don’t mind criticism since it will make me a better blogger.
Wishing you happy travels through the journey of life and to those of you who are studying good luck!
xxx Nikki xxx