Completing an internship

By completing an internship, you get to know the German job market and you can familiarise yourself with professional requirements. Here, we introduce you to the different kinds of internships and we offer you some tips about finding an internship.

What is an internship?

When you do an internship, you work for several weeks or months in an institution or business and gain practical experience in the working world. Internships are part of virtually all study programmes in Germany. They are a useful way of finding out whether you are really suited to your course of study and chosen career. There are paid and unpaid internships. An internship usually lasts between two months and one year. The exact length depends on the study regulations for your course, your own personal wishes and those of your employer.

Advantages of an internship

An internship helps you decide on your future career. You get to know yourself and the professional world better. You may also meet potential employers and can build up a network of contacts. An internship helps you develop your social skills, such as the ability to work in a team, deal with conflicts and assert yourself. Every internship improves your career prospects because employers expect applicants to have practical professional experience. If you're really lucky, your internship may even lead to a job offer.

Here are the different types of internship:

Compulsory internships are a required part of many academic courses. Inquire in good time at your department's Internship Office about internship requirements. These can vary according to subject and university.

For some courses of study, you have to complete a pre-study internship to qualify for admission (for example for technical subjects and applied social sciences).

In some subjects, such as engineering, practical semesters of 20 to 26 weeks have to be completed. You cannot register for examinations unless you have successfully completed a practical semester.

A voluntary internship is completed out of personal interest, in other words it is not required by the study regulations.

A further training internship follows on directly after a degree course. For more information, see "Internship without studying in Germany" below.

Internship checklist

  • Work permit

For compulsory internships you do not require a work permit.
For voluntary internships, the following applies:

  • If you come from Europe, you have free access to the German labour market and you do not require a work permit. Exception: for students from Romania and Bulgaria, this will not apply until 2014.
  • If you are in Germany on a student visa (or you have a residence permit), you are entitled to work for 120 full or 240 half days a year. Every internship day is deducted from the 120 days that you are permitted to work by law. If you have already worked for 120 days, you will need permission from the foreigners' authorities and the "Agentur für Arbeit" (Federal Employment Agency) to do an internship. This also applies if you are not being paid for your internship. To obtain your work permit, you must prove that you have approx. 700 euro a month to live on. If you earn less in your internship or your internship is unpaid, you need proof that you can support yourself financially.

For all important information about work permits, see "Earning money".

  • Insurance

To take part in an internship programme, you need to have health insurance. Your student health insurance policy is sufficient . If you are not registered at a German university at the time of your internship, you must take out your own health insurance. You should also find out from your internship coordinator/employer before you start your internship whether and with which company you are covered by accident and personal liability insurance. 

  • Internship agreement

Before signing an internship agreement, be sure to have it checked by an internship coordinator in your department or ask to see standard internship contracts.

  • Knowledge of German

A knowledge of German is always useful, and actually necessary if you are interning with a German company or institution. If you are working in an international company or institution, proficiency in English is usually required.

What makes a good internship?

  • It usually lasts at least two to three months.
  • An internship plan is prepared for you.
  • You have a supervisor who instructs you. In this way, you learn a lot without having to assume sole responsibility.
  • You get to know different areas/departments in your company/institution.
  • You work on specific projects and perform tasks which are appropriate to the qualifications you will obtain through your course. You are not just asked to make coffee, do photocopying or odd jobs

How do I find an internship?

The Internship Office in your department will help you look for and apply for an internship. Start looking well in advance, if possible before you arrive in Germany. The internet offers numerous platforms. Here are some of them:

• The IAESTE programme (International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience) helps students studying technical and scientific subjects find international internships with companies, research institutes and universities. You apply to the national IAESTE committee in your country or to Referat 514 "International Internship Exchange" at DAAD.

• The law student association ELSA runs the international internship exchange programme STEP (Student Trainee Exchange Programme). Vacancies are advertised in the STEP newsletter.

AIESEC is the biggest international student organisation with local committees in 107 countries. Contact your local committee which will help you find a placement and support you before, during and after your internship.

• Send an unsolicited application to German companies and institutions. Check out their respective websites for information and contact persons.

Internship without studying in Germany

You can complete an internship in Germany even if you are not studying at a German university or have just finished a course. The only condition is that your work placement should relate in some way to the subject of your course.

Students who are not from EU or EEA countries as well as students from Romania and Bulgaria need a permit from the German International Employment Agency "Zentrale Auslands- and Fachvermittlung der Bundesagentur für Arbeit" (ZAV) (http://www.zav.de) to do an internship in Germany. With this "Confirmation of approval", you must apply for a visa at the German embassy/consulate in your country or for a residence permit at your local foreigners' authorities if you are already in Germany. Your prospective employer may also submit an internship application for you to the ZAV.

Useful links:

Good luck with your internship in Germany! Who knows, maybe you'll decide you want to continue working in Germany in the future!