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International students often need a visa to enter Germany. Sometimes they also need a residence permit. Whether you need these documents depends on which country you are from and how long you intend to stay.
Entering Germany without a visa
Citizens of the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland only need a valid ID card or comparable document to enter the country. As soon as you have found accommodation, you should make an appointment with the Einwohnermeldeamt, or residents registration office, in your university town, where you can be issued with a document stating your right to remain.
If you come from Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea or the United States you can enter Germany without a visa. If you stay in the country for more than three months, you can apply in Germany for the residence permit you will then need. The same applies for students from Andorra, Brazil, El Salvador, Honduras, Monaco and San Marino. They may enter without a visa if they do not intend to subsequently work in Germany. Side jobs while you study are excepted from this rule. Nevertheless you should visit a German diplomatic mission in your country (embassy or consulate general) for further information before traveling to Germany.
Applicants from other countries will usually require a visa. There are however further exceptions. Detailed information on visa requirements is available here.
If you need a visa, you must apply for it in your home country in good time. Applications must be made to the German diplomatic missions abroad (embassies or consulates general). Depending on the duration of and reason for your visit you may be issued with a Schengen visa or a merely national visa. The Schengen visa is valid for a short visit of up to three months for holidays, language courses and business trips, and cannot be extended. The national visa is intended for longer study visits.
Applying for a visa
To apply for a visa, contact the German embassy or consulate in your home country. You can find the addresses of the German diplomatic missions on the website of the Federal Foreign Office, which also contains information on exactly which documents you will need. The application forms and any necessary documents can usually be downloaded directly from the websites of the diplomatic missions.
If you have already been accepted to a higher education institution, you can apply for a student visa. If you are still waiting for your letter of acceptance or have to complete an entrance examination, you should apply for a prospective student visa. Prospective student visas are valid for three months and can be extended by six months if you are accepted to a higher education institution or enrol in a foundation course or a preparatory German language course within this period.
TIP: It can sometimes take months for a visa to be issued, so it's important to apply early on even if you have not yet been accepted to a higher education institution. You can apply for a prospective student visa and convert it to a residence permit for studying once you are in Germany. Please note: A tourist visa cannot be converted to a student visa later on.
Information on Immigration and Residence
The DAAD website contains a comprehensive leaflet on the legal framework conditions for entering and staying in Germany.
The daad.de website is only available in English and German. However the DAAD is located worldwide with several offices abroad. Please visit the websites of our offices abroad for country-specific information also in local languages.