What’s student life like? Students don’t spend all their time in lecture theatres and the lab. Find out here what you need to know about everyday life in Germany.
Living in a major German city is relatively inexpensive by global standards: the cost of living in London, Basel, Oslo or New York is much higher than in Munich, Frankfurt or Hamburg.
All the same, there are considerable differences within Germany, life in a big city in the west costing significantly more than in a small town in the east.
of a student’s budget goes on rent
The biggest expense is rent, which swallows up more than a third of a student’s budget.
The good news is that state universities in Germany charge no tuition fees for a first degree. Higher education institutions in Baden-Württemberg are one exception, where students from non-EU countries have to pay fees of 1,500 euros per semester.
Besides the costs of rent, food, clothing etc., however, you will also have to pay a fee each semester to cover administration, student representation and your student service organisation (“Studierendenwerk”). How much this semester fee costs will depend on whether it includes a semester ticket for local public transport. Your student ID also allows you to eat cheaply in the student canteen (“Mensa”) and gives you reduced admission to places such as swimming pools and cinemas.
The following chart shows how much students spend on average for different things.
|WHAT STUDENTS PAY
|+ Rent incl. ancillary costs
|+ Travel / Mobility
|+ Books and materials
|+ Leisure, culture and sport
Average living expenses for students, selected costs. Total deviations due to rounding.
Source: Deutsches Studentenwerk: updated calculation based on the 21st Social Survey 2019.
Obviously you will know best what you like to eat. But it’s well worth trying some of the different foods that you will inevitably encounter in Germany. There isn’t one particular type of cuisine that is typically German, as international dishes such as pasta are frequently served up and there are also local or regional specialities – like Schweinshaxn (pork knuckle) in Bavaria or Labskaus (a meat stew) in northern Germany.
Alongside classic regional delicacies, you will of course also find restaurants and shops in Germany that cater to different diets like vegetarian or vegan food and various food trends. Wholegrain and organic products are also becoming increasingly popular, and you will find that your canteen also offers such cuisine.
You will quickly come to realise just how important your university canteen is. Here, as well as in the student cafés and bistros, hot meals are usually served several times a day, with hot drinks and snacks also on offer at very reasonable prices. The canteen is also a meeting place for everyone who studies or works at the university.
If you want to cook tasty meals for yourself at home, you will find regional and local products at the farmers’ markets that take place regularly in most cities. You may even be able to buy products directly from a farm shop on the outskirts of the city. If you want to avoid rubbish, take your own bags and containers with you. You will also need them if you shop at an “Unverpackt” (zero waste) shop.
Take your own bags with you
Projects like FoodSharing or Too Good To Go (only in German) are a good way to shop cheaply and sustainably, or even get things for free. They distribute foods that are no longer needed or cannot be sold.
Numerous discount supermarkets in Germany offer products at very low prices. Keep your eye out for the latest special offers and then stock up. A deposit is usually charged on drinks packaging; you will get it back when you return the bottles or containers.
Watch out for special offers
If you need to shop for something other than food, you can go to a second-hand shop to buy used clothes in good condition for little money. Household articles, books and the like can be found cheaply or even for free on local sharing websites or at flea markets. People who do not have much money can purchase good-quality used furniture, household items and clothing at charity shops.
If something breaks, check whether you can find a repair café where others will help you repair a bike or electronic items free of charge.
|HOW MUCH DOES FOOD COST?
|1 kg of brown bread
|1 head of lettuce
|1–2.5 kg of potatoes
|1 kg of apples
|1 l of fresh full-fat milk
|250 g of butter
|10 free-range eggs
|1 kg of pork cutlet
2020; prices of selected foods; source: Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture
You should have at least a basic knowledge of German to cope with everyday life, as you cannot necessarily assume that you will always be understood when out shopping, going to the doctor or eating at a restaurant – even though very many Germans do speak English.
And remember: to earn money alongside your studies or when finding a job after graduation, a good knowledge of German is important.
It therefore makes sense to start learning German before you arrive or do a crash course when you begin your studies here. Higher education institutions often offer preparatory courses for international freshers or special language courses during the semester breaks. You will find such courses listed in the DAAD’s database of language and short courses.
Improve your German and get used to the language by listening to German radio and watching German films at the university cinema.
The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) provides an overview of the different language proficiency levels and what they mean (only in German).
Everyone who lives in Germany must have healthcare insurance. And that means you, too. You will already have to prove that you are insured to obtain your residence permit and to enrol at university.
Students up to the age of 30 must take out statutory health insurance cover (GKV). Special rates are usually available to them, costing around 110 euros per month, including nursing care insurance. For more information, contact your student service organisation or university’s international office.
A person taking a language course in Germany in preparation for a course of study will not normally be eligible for statutory health insurance. In this case you will need to take out private health insurance cover.
Some countries, including all EU member states, have a reciprocal social security agreement with Germany: anyone insured there will remain covered by the insurance in their home country. You will have to have a statutory health insurance company confirm that your insurance is recognised. If you want to work, however, you will need to get insurance in Germany.
The DAAD offers low-cost health, accident and personal liability insurance to international students, their partners and their children.
Information about health insurance can be found at the DAAD.
If you fall ill, your health insurance will cover the costs of your examination and treatment, certain medicines and therapies, and if necessary any surgery you may need. You will have to pay 5 to 10 euros towards the costs of medicines.
Medicine on prescription can only be obtained at a chemist’s shop, whereas over-the-counter pharmaceuticals such as teas, herbal remedies and vitamin supplements can also be bought in a drugstore or supermarket.
If you require treatment, make an appointment with your GP or the specialist of your choice, either online or by telephone.
For medical problems at night or at the weekend, contact:
which will also provide information about the coronavirus pandemic.
In urgent cases, you can go straight to the emergency department of your nearest hospital or, in an acute emergency, you can call the telephone number 112 to request medical help and an ambulance.
To find a chemist’s shop that is open outside the usual times, check the Notdienst-Suche website (only in German).
You will probably want to keep in touch with your friends and family back home, so it’s great that we have the internet! Almost all rooms and apartments in student halls of residence and shared flats have WiFi, and most flats are at least equipped with an internet connection.
Free WiFi will be available on your university campus, as well as in most cafés and pubs. However, free public WiFi networks in squares and on public transport are often not all that good.
Different providers offer special student packages with various data volumes and flat rates for your internet connection at home – often including a tariff for your smartphone. Make sure to check whether prices increase once your initial contract term ends.
If you only need a tariff for your smartphone, you will find that discount providers have some very cheap deals, alongside those on offer from the major telecom companies. Again, it's a good idea to check the length of the contract and notice periods.
If you want to send letters, postcards, parcels and packages, you can buy the stamps you need online or at a post office. Once you have affixed the stamps, you can put letters and cards into one of the yellow postboxes or, like parcels and packages, you can hand them to the delivery person, take them to the post office, or send them via a pack station. Prices can be checked online at www.deutschepost.de/en.
“Just relax: your language skills will improve automatically if you are open to chatting with Germans.”
Iman Benhassine, 24, comes from Morocco and Tunisia. She is doing a master’s in German studies at the University of Bamberg.
Iman already learnt German in her home country and then decided to do a degree in German studies in Germany: “German is not actually difficult, but rather a challenge that can take time and patience to master.”
More infos: www.study-in-germany.de.