Living in Germany – A Guide for PhD Students
Written by Chris Banyard
At the heart of Europe, and with one the of most prestigious and renowned university systems in the world, Germany is a popular destination for PhD study.
The guide covers useful information about living in Germany during your PhD, including student life, housing, living costs, work permits, setting up a bank account and transportation during your German doctorate.
Germany is one of the most popular destinations for university students in the world, and this is reflected in student-friendly environment. Some of the clichés about Germany are true. It is orderly, tidy and structured. But it’s also welcoming to visitors with a friendly atmosphere and openness to different cultures and ideas.
Germany has one of the most distinct and recognisable national cultures in the world. Its historic palaces, castles, cathedrals and monuments can be found nestled amongst picturesque towns, cities and forests. The ‘land of ideas’ is rightly famed for its tradition of philosophers and thinkers, such as Kant, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Marx and Engels as well as composers such as Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert and Handel. Needless to say, a PhD in Germany will be a great opportunity to engage with and experience their work, regardless of your research topic.
German people are passionate about sport, and many actively pursue sports and activities as part of a sports club or individually. In particular, football is very popular as the country hosts one of the best football leagues in the world and boasts one of the strongest international men’s teams with four World Cup wins. Germany also has lots of festivals and carnivals taking place throughout the year, including the world-famous Oktoberfest.
You’re probably familiar with lots of German cuisine. Whether its beer, sausage, bread or another delicacy, Germany loves its rich and hearty food and drink. And you can experience this food and drink in a genuine bar or beer hall for the true German experience.
You can choose from several types of accommodation during your PhD studies in Germany. The organisation process is generally simple, and your university can provide additional help if necessary.
There are three different options for accommodation for international students within Germany:
- Halls of residence – A room in a dormitory costs an average of €246 per month, this may include health insurance and a Semesterticket for transport
- Wohngemeinschaften – WG (private shared flats) are the most popular and cheapest form of accommodation. The average monthly cost is €363, though this will vary according to location
- Private rental – This is the most expensive option– a small flat in a cheaper area of Germany such as Leipzig may cost as little as €379, but you could pay €595 or more in large cities such as Frankfurt or Munich.
For more detail about accommodation options, and how to apply, you should contact your university’s international office.
Help from your student union
The student services (Studentenwerk) at your institution can help you find a room in halls of residence. Try contacting them if you are struggling to find accommodation.
The cost of living for doctoral students in Germany is very similar to the UK and rest of Western Europe. You should burdget around around €867 per month, including €332 for accommodation and €154 for food.
The following table gives an indication of prices for some common expenses during a PhD in Germany:
Student Cost of Living in Germany - 2023
|Monthly Travel Pass
|Based on crowdsourced data published by Numbeo.
International PhD students will be able to find part-time work while studying in Germany, but there are certain restrictions depending on your nationality.
EU / EEA / Swiss students are free to work without a residence permit and no restrictions on working hours. But, if you work more than 20 hours per week, you will need to pay national insurance contributions.
Other international students are able to work 120 full days, or 240 half-days, per year. To work longer than this, you must obtain permission from the local employment agency (Agentur für Arbeit) and the foreigner’s registration office (Ausländerbehörde).
As a PhD student, you may be undertaking student teaching and / or assistant work and industrial placements. In these cases, restriction on working hours do not apply.
The German currency is the Euro (€ or EUR). The same current is used in most neighbouring countries, making travelling around easy.
Opening a bank account as a PhD student in Germany is usually free of charge. There are lots of different banks to choose from, and many will offer student-oriented accounts. To open an account, you will need the following documents:
- a passport or valid identity card
- proof of university enrolment and / or student ID
- confirmation of registration from the Resident Registration Office
You will normally need to visit your local bank branch of choice in person to open a German current account (Girokonto).
Public transport in Germany is of a high standard, and usually functions with stereotypical German efficiency. You should be able to access student discounts of many travel options using your student ID.
Train travel in Germany is punctual and comfortable, and there are many options available for both inter- and intra-city travel. Deutsche Bahn sell tickets for most train services, with affordable discounts for students such as the BahnCard.
There are lots of German cities that have their own airports, and lots of German airlines that fly to destinations all around the world. Often, you will be able to find low fares to and from the major cities around Europe.
Most German cities are accommodating to cyclists. There are also lots of other public transportation options to get around your university city, including buses, underground trains (U-Bahn), suburban railways (S-bahn), light rail (Stadtbahn) and tram networks (Strassenbahn or trambahn).
Our postgrad newsletter shares courses, funding news, stories and advice