5 things to consider when moving to Germany as a student

Phoebe

Updated on Jan 11 • 3 minute read

There're more than 300,000 foreign students currently studying in Germany and having a good time. But moving to a new country, even as a student, isn’t without its challenges.

Although there're numerous benefits of living abroad, adapting can be daunting, especially if you don’t know what to expect. Simple things are a mystery —— like knowing whether or not shops are open on Sunday or if dickmilch is edible.

This article written by the German online magazine Expat-News comes up with five things to be aware of before you step off the plane.

1. Finding somewhere to live

Finding a student accommodation in Germany can be quite challenging as the market is very competitive. You need to act fast, which can mean going to an open viewing to impress the existing tenants. The selection process is always a mystery. But if you use a platform like HousingAnywhere, you stand a good chance as you don't need to go to a viewing and you can secure your room or studio even before you arrive.

Either way, make sure to get your head around the rental laws, know which documents are required, and ingratiate yourself with the property manager (Hausverwaltung).

2. Getting registered

“Bürgeramt”. It’s not without reason that the German word meaning “citizen's office” sends expats living in Germany into a cold sweat.

If you’re planning to stay in Germany for 3 months or more, you’re required by law to register your address with the local authorities. Sounds simple enough, right? But it’s not quite.

We might be living in the digital age, but registration (Anmeldung) still has to be done in person. Unless you've several hours to spare waiting to see an administrator at your local “Bürgeramt”, you’re advised to book an appointment ahead of time.

But be warned, you may end up waiting a few weeks for an appointment, especially in Berlin. Remember to take along your ID, your tenancy or sublet contract, and don’t forget a letter from your landlord (Wohnungsgeberbestätigung) confirming you’ve moved in. You’ll also have to fill in the “Anmeldung bei einer Meldebehörde” form, which you can find at the entrance to the “Bürgeramt” or online.

3. Navigating the healthcare system

If you've a student job or internship lined up, a percentage will be taken from your monthly wages and you can access Germany’s state-run healthcare system. But if you’re studying, freelancing, or simply in Germany for fun, you’re required to have suitable health insurance if you want to remain in the country.

That’s because to get your residence permit, which you apply for at your local foreigners’ registration office (Ausländeramt), you’ll be asked to show evidence of your health insurance and a certificate of health (Gesundheitszeugnis für Aufenthaltserlaubnis) issued by a doctor in Germany. Without these documents, your permit will be denied.

Besides the whole permit palaver, it’s always a good idea to have private health insurance when living abroad. Knowing you’re covered if the unexpected happens can give you peace of mind in a country where you’re unfamiliar with the healthcare system. Particularly in Germany, where without appropriate cover, treatment can be expensive.

4. The language barrier

“German is a really easy language to learn,” said no-one ever. Lots of expats find that learning German is one of their biggest hurdles when it comes to truly integrating into the country.

Sure, it can be perceived as complex —— not an unfair assessment for a language which lays claim to a 79-letter word (Donaudampfschiffahrtselektrizitätenhauptbetriebswerkbauunterbeamtengesellschaft — in English it means “Association for subordinate officials of the head office management of the Danube steamboat electrical services”). But if you do want to make Germany your home (and make some actual German friends) you really should learn the language.

Of course, many Germans do speak English, particularly if you choose to live in the big cities; however, it’s always appreciated if you make the effort to pick up the local lingo.

There're lots of apps which can help you get to grips with the basics or you could sign up for some lessons at a language school. Once you feel confident enough to test what you’ve learned you can always find a Meetup group to practice with and make some new friends while you’re at it.

5. Cultural differences

No two countries are the same, and what may be acceptable in your country could be an unforgivable faux-pas in others. Germany is no exception. For example, Germans take rules seriously and feel it’s their social duty to keep each other in check. So don’t be shocked if someone calls out your bad parking or tells you off for not clearing away your tray in a cafe. They’re not being rude, they’re just upholding their civic responsibility.

And above all remember, if the light is red at a crossing —— even if there are no cars for what may be kilometres around —— you do not cross.

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