Last update: September 2017
Foreign students have to attend to a number of bureaucratic matters once they have arrived in Germany. Most important is registering at the residents registration office: you cannot, for example, open a bank account until you have done this. You will have to complete the following administrative formalities:
1. Registration certificate
Once you have found a room or a flat in Germany, you have to go to the Einwohnermeldeamt (residents registration office) within two weeks. Everyone who moves into accommodation in Germany is required to register or amend their registration (if they move to a new address in the same city). Once you have registered, you will receive a registration certificate. It confirms that you are registered at a particular address, meaning you are officially living there. The registration certificate is needed on various occasions, for example when opening a bank account, applying for a library card or a parking permit. You will need the following documents to register:
- ID card/passport, with visa where required
- Tenancy agreement or confirmation from your landlord that you have moved in
TIP: Sometimes additional documents such as your certificate of matriculation are required. The International Office can tell you which documents you will need. They will also give you the address of your residents registration office. Larger cities have several Bürgerämter, or administrative offices for citizens; usually, you will have to go to the office in your district.
2. Residence permit
Students from the European Union, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland do not need a residence permit. They receive a certificate showing that they have the right to live in Germany when they register with the residents registration office. Sometimes they will additionally have to demonstrate that they have health insurance and are able to finance their studies.
If you do not come from one of the aforementioned countries, you must report to the Ausländerbehörde (foreigners' office) and apply for a residence permit. Much like a visa, this document is tied to a particular intended course of study. International students require a residence permit for the purpose of studying if they have already been accepted to a higher education institution. Otherwise, they have to apply for a residence permit for the purpose of applying for a study place, which can later be converted. As proof that you have a residence permit a chip card will be issued to you on which for example your passport photograph and fingerprints may be stored. It takes between four and six weeks until the card is ready. The following documents are required for a residence permit:
- Passport, with visa where required
- Certificate of matriculation from your higher education institution
- Registration certificate from the residents registration office
- Proof of sufficient funds
- Health insurance
- Cash for the fee (up to 110 EUR)
- Possibly passport photographs, tenancy agreement and health certificate
TIP: A student residence permit is issued for a period of up to two years. It must be extended in a timely manner before the end of this period. Whether it is extended depends on whether you study regularly, i.e. take exams and gain credit points. The foreigners' office checks whether you are taking your studies seriously and will be able to graduate within an appropriate timeframe. More information is available here.
3. Other administrative formalities
Setting up a bank account: A German bank account makes it easier to handle regular payments such as rent and insurance. Most banks offer free current accounts for students. Compared to other countries, people in Germany frequently pay in cash, especially small amounts, but paying for day-to-day purchases by EC card is also common.
Having your driver's licence checked: Foreign driver's licences remain valid for stays of up to six months in Germany. Sometimes you will need a translation into German or an international driver's licence. Non-European driver's licences however usually become invalid after six months. Then you will have to get a German driver's licence. The Bürgeramt (administrative office for citizens) is responsible for issuing driver's licences.