There are a few first steps that you need to take once you arrive as an international student in Germany. The very first one is to enroll at the German university where you have been accepted. The next step is to register and complete all the administrative formalities. After registration comes the planning part, where you have to plan your curriculum in a way to manage your time. There are a number of contact points to help you fulfill these first steps in Germany.
The below article talks in depth about the things you must do as your first steps in Germany. This resource can be extremely beneficial to accepted students as well as to those who are planning to study in Germany.
Enrolling at a higher education institution in Germany
Enrolling or matriculating is the mandatory first step in Germany after being accepted to a higher education university in Germany. International students have to enroll before the start of the semester. Enrolling is essential for international students to attend courses, take exams and gain an academic degree.
How and when to enroll?
Depending on the university you are applying to, you will need to enroll at either the International Office or the Stiftung für Hochschulzulassung. The deadlines for applying are announced by the university, and they may vary from one institution to another. These dates are short, so international students should enroll as soon as they receive their acceptance letter.
Students need to submit the following documents to enroll at a German university
Upon enrollment, the students will receive a letter of confirmation/certificate of matriculation. This letter serves as a temporary student ID and can be used to apply for a residence permit and to avail of student discounts at the cinema, theatre, or other events. Additionally, enrolled students have access to other amenities including cafeterias, gyms, and libraries at German institutions.
Registering at the residents’ registration office in Germany
The formalities don’t end with enrolling; students must also register with the office of residents after enrolment. This is the second of the first steps in Germany. These bureaucratic steps are necessary to apply for a residence permit and to open a bank account. Once the student has been allotted accommodation, they have to register at Einwohnermeldeamt (residents’ registration office) within two weeks. Upon registration, students will receive a registration certificate which means the student is officially living in Germany. You need the following documents to register
- Tenancy Agreement
- Certificate of matriculation
You can get the address of the residents’ registration office from the international office of your university.
The next step is to obtain a residence permit. This step is not required for European Union, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland students. Upon registration, they automatically receive a residence permit to live in Germany. The rest of the students have to go to Ausländerbehörde (foreigners’ office) to apply for a residence permit. The following documents are required
- Passport with visa
- Certificate of matriculation
- Registration certificate from the residents’ registration office
- Proof of sufficient funds
- Health insurance
- Application fee (110 Euros)
- Passport photographs
- Tenancy agreement
- Health certificate
The student residence permit is typically valid for two years. Therefore, international students must extend before the end of this period. Students must pass the test and earn credit points in order to qualify for an extension. The residence permit is given out as a chip card that may contain your fingerprints and passport photo. The process of issuing the card takes between four and six weeks.
International students also need a German bank account to make payments for rent, health insurance, and other living expenses. Most German banks offer free current accounts to international students. Students can use their residence permit and certificate of residence to open a bank account.
How to plan your semester in Germany?
To finish their degrees in a timely manner, international students have to choose their curriculum wisely. German curriculum typically includes both compulsory subjects and optional subjects. Students should thus decide carefully on which subjects they want to study. Each student is required to create their own timetable as a part of their curriculum. Most institutions offer online portals where students can compile their timetables. A German degree program is organized into multiple modules, each of which consists of coordinated courses covering a certain subject. You receive a certain number of credit points after finishing a module. German universities follow mostly the European Transfer Credit System (ECTS).
For example, a bachelor’s program in Germany consists of 180 ECTS and each credit point corresponds to 30 hours of work. This work can be seminar papers, term papers, or examinations. Thus students need 30 credit points per semester to complete their bachelor’s within the standard period of study. Students can attend introductory events organized by universities and departmental student organizations to find out more about how to plan their studies.
You can also refer to the e-learning section of your university website. Lecturers make their courses or teaching materials available online for students in case they miss something. This is especially helpful for students who work a side job and find it difficult to manage their time properly.
Main contacts in Germany
As an international student from another country, you might have a few doubts related to your admission to a German university. Here are a few main contact points of German universities where students might direct their queries.
- International office
Also known as “Akademisches Auslandsamt” (AAA) is the most important contact point for international students to ask queries related to
- Qualifications required to study at a German university
- Overall admission procedure
- Language skills (English/German)
- Transport on arrival
- Translation of mark sheets in English/German
- Legalization of documents
- Pre-departure briefing for Germany
- Registrar’s office or Studierendensekretariat
Studierendensekretariat handles all queries regarding student ID, re-registration, leave requests, etc. You can contact the registrar’s office for information about your application and certificates.
- Student services
Tasks like running a canteen, psychological counseling, and provision of residence to international students fall under student services. They also offer service packages for international students to help them start life in Germany. These packages include semester contributions, housing for students, access to cultural activities, and help with health insurance.
- Central course guidance and subject-specific course guidance
Central course guidance at a german higher education institution provides answers to general questions like selecting a degree program, applying for a place, or the study regulations. It also conducts introductory events and welcome programs for first-year students. If you need help compiling a timetable, then you can contact your subject-specific course guidance.
- Examination offices
They are responsible for handling matters related to curriculum and examinations. They also issue certificates and other documents for students.
- Career centers
The career centers at German universities provide assistance to students with employment and job searching. They also provide career counseling services and help students get in touch with alumni for career guidance.
- Student representation (AStA), Departmental student organizations
AStA also known as the student council is in charge of providing accommodation, and organizing cultural and sports events. For subject or course-specific queries, students can contact the department student organizations. They help first-year students plan their studies and get to know other students.
- International student groups and the Buddy programs
German universities have student groups and Buddy programs for international students. They help new students settle down in the new country and offer events, parties, and campus tours for students. The Buddy program assists students in dealing with authorities, issues from daily life, and queries about their studies.
- Tutors and professors
Senior university students who serve as tutors and student assistants offer advice and assistance to newcomers. Professors at universities are another source of assistance. They offer weekly office hours for students to come with queries about examinations, career advice, etc. You can request them for a recommendation letter for a scholarship application.
Following these first steps in Germany is essential for international students to study in Germany.