For many international students from outside Europe, a visa is their permission to enter Germany. Depending on where you are from, it is one of the essentials if you want to study here. We know that this is the requirement that may worry you the most: Finding your way through what at first seems like a bureaucratic jungle can be confusing. Having some officer at a German embassy (Botschaft) or Consulate General (Generalkonsulat) decide if you get your visa or not can be scary.
With this article, we want to try as best as we can to ease some of that pain for you, by breaking down the topic of how to get a visa to study in Germany and give you more clarity about:
- what type of visa you need,
- which documents are important,
- how to handle the proof of financial resources,
- and which bureaucratic steps await you after your arrival in Germany.
It is important that you familiarize yourself with this information and take the visa application process seriously, because it can really make or break your academic career in Germany.
It is our goal to inform you honestly and accurately, therefore, we need to add a disclaimer:
Do international students need a visa to study in Germany?
The answer to this question depends on your citizenship: Only about ⅔ of the international students coming to Germany from the top 20 countries of origin actually need a visa. If you fall into any of these two categories, you do not need a visa:
- Citizens of EU member states, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein or Switzerland do NOT need any visa. Students from these countries can enter Germany with their national IDs and do not have to go through any visa application process prior to their move to Germany. The only bureaucratic step you will have to do is register your address with the Resident Registration office (Einwohnermeldeamt) after your arrival in Germany.
- Citizens of Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea or the USA do NOT need a visa to enter Germany and do not have to go through any visa application process prior to their move to Germany. Students from these countries simply have to register their address with the Resident Registration office (Einwohnermeldeamt) and get their residence permit after their arrival in Germany.
- Citizens of Andorra, Brazil, El Salvador, Honduras, Monaco, and San Marino can fall into a special group: the may enter Germany without a visa and just apply for a residence permit, too. Nonetheless, it is better to apply for a student visa before entering because otherwise students from these countries are not allowed to stay in Germany after graduation (for up to 18 to seek for a job).
Group 1 (EU + 4)
No visa or residence permit needed.
Group 2a (North America, Japan, South Korea +3)
No visa needed, but residence permit (after arrival).
Group 2b (Brazil+5)*
Residence permit is sufficient, but not recommended.
Group 3 (rest of the world)
Always need a student visa.
*International students from Brazil and the other five countries mentioned need to apply for a student visa before entering Germany. Otherwise they are not allowed to stay and seek a job (as visa holders they could stay for up to 18 month after graduation).
If you hold any of these citizenships, you can skip ahead and learn how to register and apply for a residence permit in Germany.
- All other international students need a visa to enter Germany. If this applies to you, you have to apply for the visa in your country of residence. After your arrival in Germany, you additionally have to register your address with the Resident Registration office (Einwohnermeldeamt) and get your residence permit.
If you are in the group of students that do require a visa: We wrote this text for you and will do our best to guide you through the process.
What type of visa do international students in Germany need?
Throughout your visa application process, the website of Germany’s diplomatic representation abroad in your country of residence will be an important point of contact for you. If you have visited their website before, you will find various types of visas, which might leave you wondering which type you have to apply to.
To take up full-time study in Germany and finish a degree program, there are two types of visa you can get. Which one you should apply to depends on your situation:
- The Student Visa is the right choice for you if you already got accepted by your university. This visa is usually valid for 3 months, which gives you enough time to enter Germany, get settled, register your address and get your residence permit, which gives you permission to stay for your entire studies.
- The Student Applicant Visa is the right choice if you have applied at a German University, but do not have an acceptance letter, yet, or if you need to prepare yourself in Germany for your studies, for example by taking a language course. This visa is usually valid for 3 months but can be extended. This way, you have enough time to meet the university’s entry requirements and convert your student applicant visa into a residence permit once you are in Germany and get the admission letter.
Both visas are equally as valid to enter the country and stay as a student. In the application process, they differ slightly in the documents you will be asked to provide.
Why should I apply for the Student Applicant Visa (rather than for the Student Visa)?
This being said – namely that both visas are equally as valid to enter Germany as an international student – we have a preference and want to advise you to go for the Student Applicant Visa. Many international students start the application process for their student visa once they receive the letter of admission. While this seems to make sense at first, it leads to some difficulties. Here’s why:
Typically, universities take around 4-6 weeks to admit successful applicants to a program. If applications are processed by Uni-Assist, it may take even longer. If the application deadline for the Winter semester, for example, is on the 15th of July, this would mean you only get your admission letter in late August or early September, which leaves you with slightly more than a month until your semester starts in Germany in mid-October. This is often not enough time to get a visa, 38% of students even miss the start of the semester.
This can be avoided with the Student Applicant Visa. For this visa, you do not have to present a letter of admission, but a confirmation that you have applied. You can also take a letter from the university stating that you are likely to be admitted, or printed e-mail correspondence with your future university.
Your timeline could then be a bit more relaxed: You apply to a university as soon as the application period starts and exchange e-mails with the university’s international office or the program coordinators. For the Winter semester, this would typically be in May. Parallelly, you can apply for a Student Applicant Visa, and are more realistically done with the process by the time your program starts in October.
This visa is also great if you get a conditional admit, and for example, need to take a language course or other preparatory classes before being able to fully enroll. With this visa, you can live in Germany for 3 months (which can be extended by 6 months) before you actually need to hold the admission letter in your hand to convert your visa into a residence permit.
In summary, we prefer the Student Applicant Visa because it is the safer and more relaxed alternative. There is no risk involved, since if you do not get the admit by the university of your choice, you can resolve your blocked bank account and thus won’t lose the money allocated to your time in Germany.
What documents do I need for my visa application?
Whether you apply for a Student Visa or Student Applicant visa, it is important you present the right documents to the German embassy or consulate. Preparing your documents early is one of the most important advices we have for you. Also, we recommend you check with the German embassy responsible for your application if there are any nation-specific documents you need to bring or criteria that apply to you. However, there are some general documents that you can expect to have to turn in.
- Two recent biometric photographs, format 3.5 cm by 4.5 cm.
- Proof of preliminary health insurance that covers the first 3 months in Germany. At this point, a travel insurance usually suffices. In Germany, you will have to get an insurance plan with one of the private or public providers that covers the rest of your stay.
- Proof of language skills: present a language certificate or proof that you plan to attend a language course in Germany before starting your studies (in English or German).
- Certificates of past academic achievements, e.g. Bachelor’s degree, secondary school degree.
- For a Student Visa: acceptance letter from German university or foundation course.
- For a Student Applicant Visa: application confirmation. You can also take a letter from the university stating that you are likely to be admitted, or printed e-mail correspondence with your future university.
- Proof of financial resources.
- Pay the visa fee, which currently is 75 € for a Student Visa and Student Applicant Visa. Check beforehand which form of payment the embassy responsible for you prefers, and then bring a check, cash, credit card, or another payment form accordingly.
It is important to get the right documents to the right place. Your place of residence and not your citizenship defines which embassy or consulate is in charge of your request. You can use this list of all German representations abroad to find the embassy or Consulate General in charge of your application.
Did you know that in some countries (for example Brunei, Fidschi, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Papua-Neuguinea, Russia, Singapur, Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, China, Thailand, and Tunisia) the German missions abroad cooperate with a private service provider, namely VFS Global. Check the website of the German representation near you to find out, whether this is an option for you and whether you would like to take that option. The visa requirements remain the same, even if your application gets processed by this service provider.
The embassy or consulate will give you all the information you need and process your application. To hand in your documents and apply, you cannot just show up to the embassy, but have to reserve an appointment for a visa interview beforehand.
For many embassies, these appointments can be made via their website with an electronic appointment reservation system. If your embassy doesn’t offer this service, they will most likely specify on their website in which form they expect you to request an appointment.
We recommend you even take the making of an appointment with the embassy seriously. Stick to the way the embassy asks you to reserve the time slot. Don’t forget your appointment, because no-shows might have difficulties reserving another one. If you realize in advance that something extremely important prevents you from going to the embassy on the day of your appointment, cancel it. Also, be on time, as late-comers might not be seen but send away.
How does the proof of financial resources work?
One requirement for your visa is to prove that you have access to enough money to support your stay in Germany. You do this by delivering proof of financial resources (Finanzierungsnachweis). German authorities have calculated how much money an international student in Germany needs to completely finance themselves and landed at 853 € per month. That is why the embassies will require international students to prove that for the first year of their studies, they have access to those 853 € every month: For a whole year, this adds up to 10.236 € of financial resources. There are multiple ways to deliver this proof:
- Most international students choose to open up a blocked bank account. This means, they transfer the sum of money required for a year (10.236 €) and can only withdraw 853 € from it every month. There are some officially recognized banks that offer this account format to international students: Deutsche Bank or the online providers Fintiba or Expatrio. Indian students may also choose the service of Kotak Mahindra.
- Another option is a declaration of commitment (Verpflichtungserklärung): Family or close friends in Germany vouch to pay for all your expenses.
- With a Statement of Assets (Vermögensnachweis) you can certify to the German embassy or consulate that you or your family have enough means to support your studies.
- A bank guarantee (Bankbürgschaft) is another option: A German-based bank will act as your guarantor. You or your parents will have to present guarantees to the bank.
- You can also cover your expenses, or parts of them, with a scholarship. Present your Scholarship Award Letter (Stipendienzusage) to the German embassy to certify they cover the required sum. If your scholarship grants you less than 853 € per month, you can provide proof of the missing sum on a blocked bank account.
You need to figure out which of these options works best for you and your situation. Also, check with the German embassy or consulate that you will submit your application to if they have any preferences or restrictions towards which way you choose.
Keep in mind that you will have to renew your residence permit after your first year in Germany. At that point in time, you will have to prove your financial resources for the next year of your studies.
Do I have to pay the 10.236 € for the blocked account in advance (and why is it worth the effort)?
The point of a blocked bank account is that, after you transfer the necessary sum of money (10.236 €/year), you can only withdraw a certain amount from it every month (853 €), even though all of that money is still your money. Thereby, you will leave no doubts with the German authorities that you will actually be able to support yourself financially.
While we know that it is not easy to produce 10.236 € all at once and put it on a bank account (which is what you have to do to open up a blocked bank account), we still think this is a good option and we advise you to go with it if you can. Here is why:
- It’s a fair deal: When you apply for the visa, you only have to prove your financial resources for one year, even if your program takes longer than that. Also, it helps you estimate how much it will actually cost to live, eat, and study in Germany for a year.
- It may increase your chances to get a visa: While some of the other options to deliver your financial proof may be interpreted to your disadvantage by those who decide if you fulfill this criterion or not, the blocked bank account is totally objective: Either you have that much money on your bank account or you don’t. Further, this option is most widely accepted by German embassies and consulates around the world.
- It is useful: Because you can only withdraw a certain sum each month, you won’t have to worry about running out of money and you can realistically calculate in advance how much your studies in Germany are going to cost you.
- It doesn’t have to be used up: The money is still your money, and if you follow a frugal lifestyle, you don’t lose what you don’t use. If you take on a side job, you may even save some of the money.
How do I get a blocked account?
If you decide to provide your proof of financial resources in the form of a blocked bank account, you have to, first of all, choose one of the worldwide and officially recognized providers. These are (in alphabetical order): Coracle, Deutsche Bank, Expatrio, Fintiba (and for Indian students also Cox and Kings Financial Service Ltd. & Kotak Mahindra). Coracle, Finitba, and Expatrio are online providers, while the Deutsche Bank works with the embassy or consulate in your country. You can read about blocked accounts on the website of the German Federal Foreign Office.
Steps to opening a blocked bank account with the online providers Coracle, Finitba and Expatrio:
- Register and fill out a questionnaire.
- Upload a copy of your passport.
- Pass an identity check.
- Receive your account details.
- Transfer the money.
- Receive your blocking confirmation.
- After your arrival in Germany: Get a German bank account to which your blocked sum can be transferred each month, update your information & confirm your identity.
Steps to opening a blocked bank account with the Deutsche Bank:
- Complete application form to open a blocked account.
- Print the application form twice.
- Reserve an appointment with the German embassy or consulate.
- Make sure to bring documents: application form, passport, copy of admission letter, or application confirmation.
- Bring a prepaid envelope from a private service provider (e.g. FedEx, DHL, UPS).
- Go to the appointment: Sign the application and receive an authorized copy of your passport.
- Send your complete application to the Deutsche Bank.
- Receive your account details.
- Transfer the money.
- Receive your blocking confirmation.
What works best for you depends on your situation. However, we find that setting up an account with Finitba or Expatrio works a bit faster and easier, therefore we recommend using one of the online providers over the Deutsche Bank.
How do I register and get a residence permit in Germany?
Stereotypes about German bureaucracy wouldn’t exist, if a visa was the only piece of paperwork you would need as a student in Germany. You may have noted above that a Student Visa or a Student Applicant Visa typically are valid for three months. If the amount of time you intend to stay in Germany as a student exceeds this time, you will have to get a residence permit once you are in Germany: While the visa is the permission to enter the country, the residence permit (Aufenthaltserlaubnis) is the permission to live in Germany as a student for an extended amount of time.
To get your residence permit, you first have to register your address in Germany with the Resident Registration office (Einwohnermeldeamt) in your new home town after you arrive in Germany.
International Students registering at the Resident Registration office need to:
- Check if they can reserve an appointment online, a service offered in some cities.
- Present a passport and a proof of residency from their landlord.
- Receive a Confirmation of Registration (Meldebestätigung) from the Resident Registration Office.
Again, citizens from EU member states, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland can rejoice: This is the only registration process they will have to go through. Together with the Confirmation of Registration, they will receive a certificate confirming their right of residence in Germany. Students from these countries do not even need a passport since their national IDs will suffice.
All other international students then need to apply for their Residence Permit at the Alien Registration Office (Ausländerbehörde). To submit your application for your Residence Permit with the Alien Registration Office you need to:
- Get an appointment.
- Check with your university’s International Office which documents are needed.
- Bring the required documents to the appointment, usually, this includes:
- Confirmation of Registration from the Resident Registration Office.
- Proof of your health insurance.
- The letter of enrolment or admission from a German university.
- Proof of financial resources (if not presented during visa application).
- One or two biometric passport photos.
- Pay the fee (up to 110 € for first-time applicants).
- Receive the notification that your residence permit is ready to be picked up.
This permit is valid for at least one year, in some cases up to two years and can be extended. When you have to renew your residence permit, bear in mind that you will also have to renew the proof of financial resources for a year. Also, you receive the residence permit for a specific purpose, namely to study. Be prepared that, when you have to extend your residence permit, you will be asked to prove that you have actually been taking courses and passing exams.
International Students need a visa to study in Germany. Exceptions apply to people from certain countries, among them EU citizens.
- There are two types of visa to study in Germany, a student visa and a student applicant visa.
- get a visa, certain documents are necessary. For example proof of health insurance and proof of financial resources.
- The most popular form to provide a proof of financial resources is the blocked bank account. There are also other forms.
- After they arrive in Germany, international students have to register with the authorities and apply for a Residence Permit.
Do it yourself!
Even if it seems tempting to avoid dealing with all this visa stuff and paying some agency to submit the application for you, we really recommend you don’t do that. When you are invited for an interview with the embassy, you have to show up in person. In this interview, you should be able to demonstrate that you know which documents are part of your application and therefore important to enter and live in Germany. Showing competence and being prepared are good signs for the embassies and consulates.