Studying in Germany: FAQ

Studying in Germany: FAQ

Written by Sarah Hastings-Woodhouse

Planning on heading to Germany for your Masters or PhD? Applying to study abroad can be a complicated process and there’s a lot to keep track of, from course types and entry requirements to visas and accommodation.

If you’re just getting started on your application journey, it’s likely that you have more than a few questions! To make things simple, we’ve compiled a list of frequently asked questions about studying in Germany as an international student.

#1 Can I study in Germany for free?

The vast majority of public universities in Germany do not charge tuition fees to students of any nationality! You may have to pay approximately €700 per year in semester fees (although this depends on location and type of university) – but this is still far lower than the average tuition costs in most other European countries.

#2 Do German universities offer courses in English?

Yes! Germany offers over 1,400 English-taught Masters and PhD courses – which is actually far more than at the undergraduate level.

You won’t need proficiency in German to apply for one of these courses, and given that many people in Germany (especially in major cities) speak very good English, you’ll probably be able to get by with just a basic level of German.

But do take advantage of any German lessons offered at your university as it’s a great way to immerse yourself in the culture and get the most of your time abroad.

Many traditional PhD programmes do require students to write their thesis in German – though some institutions will allow other languages.

#3 Will I need to take a language test to study in Germany?

Although there are many English-taught postgraduate courses available in Germany, you may still wish to study in German (and PhD students may be required to write their thesis in German). In this case, you’ll probably need to take a German language test.

The most common is TestDaF (Test of German as a Foreign Language). You’ll usually have to pass the TestDaF with at least a level four to gain admission onto a university course.

If you’re applying for an English-taught programme as a non-native speaker, you may need to take an English language test. An exception may be made if you studied your undergraduate degree in English.

#4 How can I learn German as an international student?

A degree abroad can be the perfect time to learn a new language – and Germany offers plenty of opportunities to do just that!

Most universities offer German-language courses alongside their postgraduate programmes, or as more intensive summer courses, which usually take place between June and September each year. You can view a list of upcoming courses on the DAAD website.

Another great way to learn German as an international student is through a ‘language tandem’ arrangement. This allows two students to meet regularly and learn to speak each other’s native tongue. You’ll usually be able to register your interest in a language tandem at your university’s international office.

There are over 500 higher education institutions in Germany, and narrowing down your search can be difficult. All of them offer accredited, high-quality programmes, and the best university for you will always depend on your personal preferences and goals, so it’s difficult to say which are the ‘best’.

Still, rankings can provide a good place to start! We’ve put together a list of the top 20 universities in Germany, using three reputable international ranking publications for 2024. It’s worth noting that rankings are not postgraduate-specific, and that each ranking system uses a different methodology.

We also have detailed information on how to use rankings as a postgraduate.

The German government estimates that international students will need to budget €867 per month for living costs. You’ll need slightly more than this (€11,208 per year) in order to apply for a student visa. This puts the cost of living in Germany largely in line with the EU average.

Exactly how much you’ll spend in Germany obviously depends on your lifestyle and choice of location. We looked at the five cheapest cities to study in and put together six ways to save money while studying in Germany over on or blog.

PhD students can apply for a DAAD research grant which provides up to €1,200 per month to cover living costs, plus an annual research allowance of up to €460. Doctoral grants cover up to four years of study.

You can find out more about DAAD funding, as well as other financial support on offer for postgraduate students, in our full guide to German PhD funding.

#8 Do I need I need a visa to study in Germany?

Not necessarily. The German government offers visa-free entry for students from the following countries:

  • The EU, Iceland, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Norway
  • Australia, Canada, the UK, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea and the United States (you will need to apply for a residence permit to stay more than three months)
  • Andorra, Brazil, El Salvador, Honduras, Monaco and San Marino (you must not intend to seek separate employment before or after your degree)

#9 What postgraduate qualifications do German universities offer?

Germany is a signatory to the Bologna Process, meaning its higher education programmes follow a common European format.

Higher education qualifications are offered in three cycles. A Bachelors degree (first cycle) can be followed by a Masters degree (second cycle) which may in turn prepare students for a PhD (third cycle).

#10 What are the entry requirements for a PhD in Germany?

To study a PhD in Germany, you’ll usually need to have completed at least eight semesters of academic study. At the end of this, you’ll need to have achieved the equivalent of a German Masters degree.

Very rarely, you may be able to get onto a German PhD with just a Bachelors, but you’ll need exceptional professional and/ or extra-curricular experience, and to take an entrance exam.

You may need to take a language test in either English or German, depending on your native language and the programme you’re applying for. Structured doctoral programmes will usually be taught in English, while traditional PhDs sometimes require students to write their thesis in German.

You can find PhDs in Germany or read more about the entry requirements for a German PhD in our application guide.

#11 How do I apply for a PhD in Germany?

If you’re applying for a traditional PhD in Germany, you’ll first need to identify and contact a supervisor before submitting an application to your university. If you’re applying for a structured doctoral programme, you’ll apply directly to your chosen university or graduate school.

You’ll usually need to submit academic transcripts from your previous degree(s), and at least two academic references. You’ll also need proof that your qualifications have been recognised by the Dean’s Office or Board of Examiners.

If you’re applying for a traditional PhD, you’ll need a statement from your supervisor confirming that they intend to oversee your research. Learn more about applying for a German PhD.

#12 Where will I live as an international student in Germany?

Most universities offer student accommodation, which is usually the most affordable type of housing. However, it is also the most competitive as it’s not guaranteed – so it’s important to start your search early! The German government’s ‘Find A Student Hall’ tool is a good place to start.

Other popular options include flat shares (Wohngemeinschaft) and individual private rented accommodation.

#13 Can I work in Germany during my Masters/ PhD?

You can work during a Masters/ PhD in Germany, but some restrictions may apply depending on your nationality.

EU and EEA students are free to work in Germany without restrictions, but you will need to make the required insurance contributions if you work more than 20 hours per week. Students from all other countries can work up to 120 full days or 240 half days per year.

#14 Can I work in Germany after my Masters/ PhD?

The German government is keen to attract international talent and offers generous post-study work opportunities for foreign students.

EU and EEA students have the same access to the job market as German citizens. You will be able to stay and work in Germany as long as you like.

Students from other countries can apply for an 18-month permit allowing them to stay in Germany while they seek employment. You’ll need to prove that you can support yourself financially during this period – but other than this, there are very few restrictions. Once you’ve found suitable employment, you can apply for a work permit that will allow you to stay in Germany on a longer-term basis.

Have a question we’ve not answered here? We have plenty more information on studying in Germany, covering course types, accommodation, funding, student life and more.

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Last Updated: 20 November 2023

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