Is Postgraduate Study in Germany Really Free? |
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Is Postgraduate Study in Germany Really Free?

They say nothing in life is free – but is postgraduate study in Germany the exception?

You may have heard that German universities don’t charge for Masters and PhDs programmes (which is true!), but their postgraduate degrees aren’t freebies in quite the same way as the mint humbug at the end of a restaurant meal or your 10th latte at Caffé Nero.

So exactly how much will a PhD in Germany set you back, and what hidden costs should you watch out for? We have the answers.

Do German universities charge tuition fees?

The short answer to this question is no. Most degree programmes in Germany are tuition-free for all students, regardless of nationality!

Free tuition is only guaranteed for up to three years (or six semesters) of PhD study. If it takes you longer than this to complete your doctorate, you may have to pay fees.

Private universities may charge fees. That said, the majority of universities in Germany are public so you’ll have no shortage of state-funded institutions to choose from if you want to avoid extra fees!

Is there a catch?

The eagle-eyed amongst you may be scanning for the fine print. After all, how often is anything worth having really, truly free and not just free*?

All students at German universities are required to pay a semester fee (Semesterbeitrag) of between €100 and €350. This means you could pay up to €700 per year to your university. However, this is significantly less than you can expect to pay for tuition in most other European countries!

Most of your semester fee will be allotted to your university’s student support services (Studentenwerk) and representative body (AStA). So you can be sure that the little you do pay will go towards improving the experience of students (like you!).

At many universities, the semester fee also includes the cost of a Semesterticket, which covers unlimited use of public transport in your local area. These can be worth up to €200.

So all in all, it would be inaccurate to say that PhD study in Germany is completely free. What we can say, however, is that it’s a very good deal.

*very much not free

Other costs

Of course, there are more costs associated with packing up and heading to a new country for your PhD than just tuition fees.

The German government estimates that students budget around €867 per month (including rent). You'll need a little bit more than this (€11,208 per year) to apply for a student visa. These living costs are roughly in line with the EU average. You may even be able to get by with less if you choose a cheaper form of accommodation or study in a cheaper city.

The cost of housing in Germany is quite variable. It can be as little as €246 per month for a student dormitory or as much as €595 for a private flat.

Taken together with the lack of tuition fees, Germany’s middle-of-the-road living costs make it one of Europe’s cheapest options for postgraduate study!

Find out more about studying in Germany

Want to know more? Read our full guides to studying in Germany, covering fees and funding, student life, top universities and more. Or start searching for a German PhD today .

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Last Updated: 13 February 2023