Back

Living and studying in Germany

Germany is a country of beautiful landscapes and exciting cities. The welcoming culture is unique: People from all over the world choose to live here.

Germany for Newcomers
Germany for Newcomers

Discover the country of poets and philosophers

  • Culture
    Germany has a lot to offer: a diverse arts scene, festivals and Oktoberfest. Cities like Heidelberg, Munich and Berlin offer a wide range of recreational activities, such as street food festivals, film festivals, concerts and thousands of parties to go to.
  • Language
    The official language of Germany is German. Some dialects are spoken depending on the region. Although most Germans understand and speak English, we always advise our students to learn some German. It will make your life easier and will facilitate your entry into the German job market. More information about our German classes.
  • Living costs
    Compared to other European countries, living costs in Germany are moderate. Students are entitled to reduced prices at theatres, museums, opera houses, cinemas, swimming pools and other institutions. All you have to do is present your student ID. 
  • Working while studying
    International students with a valid residence permit are allowed to work while they are pursuing their studies. However, there are restrictions on the working hours. 
  • Safety
    Germany is a very safe country. The police are reliable and can help you in any situation. Whether you live in a big city or a small town, you can move around during the day or night without having to take any special precautions.
Discover your study town
Discover your study town

Living in Heidelberg

As one in five residents of Heidelberg is a student, there is a multitude of bars, bistros, coffeehouses, and cultural meeting points in the Old Town of Heidelberg. 

  • Castle Illumination: In memory of the destruction of the Heidelberg Castle by the French General Melac and his troops over 300 years ago, the castle walls turn blood red and brilliant fireworks are launched from the Old Bridge. The castle illumination takes place several times a year and starts after dusk.
  • Old Town Autumn Festival takes place at the end of September, and the whole pedestrian zone of Heidelberg turns into one big party with lots of music, a medieval market, an art and crafts market, and a flea market.
  • Heidelberg Christmas Market starts at the end of November and ends two or one days before Christmas Eve. Over 140 stalls all over the Old Town of Heidelberg spread the spirit of Christmas.

FAQ Things to know before you get here

Coming to a new country always means learning about – and adjusting to! – a new culture. It is often helpful to prepare yourself for the new culture you will encounter abroad by consulting books and the Internet or talking to students who have already been there. 

Do you want first-hand information? Our students are happy to share their experiences with you, tell you about their courses, their projects and student life in Heidelberg, Munich and Berlin.

Find your unibuddy

Meeting people and experiencing a new way of life and outlook in another country are perhaps the most enriching aspects of spending time abroad. Just remember to keep an open mind and not expect everyone to act just like they do back home. Here are a few observations that foreigners have made about German culture:

Just as the stereotype often dictates, Germans tend to value good organization. Don’t be surprised if someone wants to work out the details right away instead of at some vague time in the future. This also means keeping appointments (or informing people when you can’t). Being on time shows respect, and German people will appreciate it.

Another famous German characteristic is their directness. Germans value good solutions and working together to find them. Thus, an exchange of ideas may include an honesty that people from less “direct” cultures find surprising. If you come from a culture where interactions between people are more indirect, it may be helpful to keep in mind that German frankness is cultural and to be expected – disagreement, for example, is often meant constructively, not as disrespect.

Germans are famous for their independence. They take their own bags to the supermarket and weigh the vegetables themselves. However, this doesn’t mean they don’t help each other! There is also a pronounced sense of community in Germany, an attitude that carries over to foreign visitors. This means that, in addition to their directness, Germans are also often helpful and quick to assist you. Don’t be shy about asking for help if you find you need it – there will always be someone happy to give you a hand!

A person’s title is important, especially in business. Be sure to use “Mr.” / “Ms.” or “Dr.” where applicable. First names are only for friends and other informal relationships.

Shaking hands: This is the established form of greeting, even if you have met before. Be sure to take the other hand out of your pocket, as well, and look the other person in the eye.

Punctuality: Try to be punctual or apologize if you are not.

Table manners: Say “Guten Appetit” (“goo-ten ap-pe-teet”) before eating. Keep both hands, but not your elbows, on the table. When you toast, look your partner in the eye!

Heidelberg is in one of the warmest regions in Germany, with almond and fruit trees as well as vineyards. There is a nice blend of all four seasons.

Summer: Afternoon temperatures are generally between 20 and 30 degrees centigrade (upper 60s to mid 80s in Fahrenheit), and summers are usually quite pretty in this region. However, the weather has become more changeable during the past few years, and we have had more rain and more heat. In recent years, temperatures have sometimes risen to well over 30 degrees (86 Fahrenheit) or more. You should therefore bring clothes for all occasions, including a light jacket for the evenings and cooler days and summery sandals for the warmer ones. Do not expect to find air-conditioning in most flats, houses or classrooms!

Spring and fall: The difference between night-time and daytime temperatures is wide. We recommend bringing layers of clothing to adjust to cool nights and pleasant days. A light rain jacket is a good item to have on hand!

Winter: Temperatures at night and during the day can hover around the freezing point, and it may snow. Be sure to bring a warm coat and boots for the winter months. Often, we have cold, but clear sunny days. You can engage in some excellent cross-country skiing in the surrounding Odenwald National Forrest or in the Black Forrest.

In general, you will require about EUR 750 - 850 per month to cover living expenses. This can be broken down into approximately EUR 350 - 400 for accommodation, EUR 200 for food and clothing, EUR 30 for books and learning materials, EUR 20 for telephone/Internet, EUR 50 for recreation, culture, sports etc., and EUR 110 for health insurance.

Students are eligible for numerous price concessions. With your student ID, you pay less for tickets and entrance fees to theatres, opera houses, cinemas, museums, public swimming pools, and other cultural venues.

Important! Bring some cash (Euro) with you for your first few days in Germany. Credit cards might not be accepted at cafes and grocery stores!

Unlike in some other countries, it is not typical to make small purchases with a credit card in Germany. MasterCard and Visa are often accepted in larger shops and in some restaurants, but don’t rely on it. Your bank/debit card from home will also not work in the stores.

Although there may be some stores that accept foreign currency – tourist shops, for example – but these are very rare. We recommend changing your money in advance into the local currency, the Euro.

It is also important to have an ATM card with the ‘Visa-Plus’ sign to access your bank account at home (but note that you can’t access savings accounts from ATMs in Europe). A credit card (MasterCard or Visa) is good for emergency purposes. Ask your bank at home for advice. Sometimes they may even have partner banks in Germany to which they can refer you – this is ideal, as money transfers between partner banks are often free of charge. This also applies to ATM use.

Therefore, your best option when shopping is cash or a German bank/debit card (“EC Karte”). Sometimes, credit cards can be used to withdraw money at cash points, depending on your agreement with the bank.

Part-time jobs and internships offer a perfect opportunity to gain some work experience in the German labour market and make useful career contacts.

International students are allowed to work in Germany under certain conditions. A part-time job may supplement your budget, but it will almost certainly not cover all your living expenses, as studying must be the main emphasis, according to the law. There are labour laws that precisely stipulate how many hours students are allowed to work. The regulations vary, depending on where a student comes from.

Are you a citizen of the EU, Iceland, Norway or Switzerland? You may work without any additional permit. However, like German students, you should not work more than 20 hours a week during the semester. If you do, you will have to pay social security and taxes.

Are you a citizen from a country not listed above? You are allowed to work 120 full days or 240 half-days a year. Those who wish to work longer require a work permit from the Federal Employment Agency and the Aliens Registration Office (Ausländerbehörde). Whether you are issued a work permit largely depends on the conditions in the job market.

Please note: The labour laws pertaining to international students are very strict, and if you break them, you risk your visa status.

Internships are regarded as regular employment. This applies even when the internship is unpaid. Every day of your internship is subtracted from your 120-day employment credit. And if you have already worked the full 120 days and wish to take an internship, you will have to apply for an additional work permit from the Aliens Registration Office and the Federal Employment Agency.

There is, however, an exception to this rule! An internship is not regarded as regular employment if it is required by your degree program (mandatory internship). No permission is necessary for mandatory internships, and they are not subtracted from your 120-day employment credit. Students in student-type, part-time employment are required to apply for a "steuerliche Identifikationsnummer" This can be obtained per mail. More information see here

When paying in a restaurant, it is common to give the person serving you a small tip. About 10 percent of the sum is normal. Sometimes this just means rounding up to the next Euro, sometimes adding another couple of euros, depending on the size of your bill.

The public transportation network of the whole Rhine-Neckar region is very comprehensive. You can choose between the tram, the buses, the S-Bahn (commuter trains) or the Deutsche Bahn (German railway network). With the “Semesterticket,” you can ride all of them. You can find timetables and destinations at www.vrn.de or www.bahn.de.

The first time you visit Germany, you will probably be surprised by the number of bicycles. Germans, and students in particular, are very fond of using bicycles as a means of transport. In smaller towns, you can get everywhere on a bike, so do consider getting hold of a second-hand one while you are here. You can always sell it again when you leave. There are second-hand bicycle shops in many towns, or you can look through the classified advertisements. A second-hand bike will cost you about EUR 60.

Used bicycles and rent-a-bike:
Radholz, Bergheimer Str. 101 or
Alte Eppelheimer Str. 31a, www.fahrrad-heidelberg.de

You can drink the tap water in Germany. It is safe and high-quality. Bottled water is often mineral water, either carbonated (mit Kohlensäure) or non-carbonated (ohne Kohlensäure), often simply called “stilles Wasser”.

If you order “Wasser” in a restaurant, you will usually have to pay for it. Don’t expect a pitcher of water to be put on the table.

Generally, morning classes are set to begin at 9.30 a.m. (although some do start as early as 7.45). After a 75-minute break for lunch, afternoon classes resume at 2.00 p.m. and can take place at any time slot well into the evening. Most students only have a few lectures per day. Individual timetables will be issued through the respective faculties. 

Academic performance is assigned a grade (mark) on a scale from 1.0 to 5.0, with 1.0 being “excellent” and 5.0 being a failing grade.

Usually, credit points are awarded in accordance with the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS). The number of credit points depends on the workload of a specific course, not on the student’s performance in an examination. The workload reflects all the time and effort involved in attending a lecture or contributing to a seminar, including preparation and follow-up work, presentations and written work, as well as studying for tests or examinations.

One credit point is deemed to be the equivalent of 25 – 30 working hours. The degree programmes are usually structured so that students have to complete 30 credits per semester in order to complete the programme in the prescribed time.