Moving to Germany is an exciting experience for any international student as it’s a progressive country with plenty of things to do and experience.
As with moving to any country, it’s best to be as prepared as you can be before arriving so you can settle in quickly.
In this article, we’re sharing all of our best tips for living in Germany that will make your life in Germany so much easier. We'll be covering as many tips as we can, from the cost of living in Germany to having the best night out.
Cost of living in Germany
The cost of living in Germany is relatively low - which is great news for students! In fact, the cost of living in Germany is much lower than other popular European cities like Paris, London, and Amsterdam.
On average, students pay around €800-1000 a month to live, or around €1200 if you’re a working professional.
For our students at CBS living in Cologne, the average cost of living will be around €934 a month.
Our tip for managing the cost of living in Germany is to budget and plan your spending in advance, rather than run out of money once you arrive.
The German healthcare system is one of the best in Europe and is available to all residents.
Some European students can use their European Health Insurance Card as insurance, but if you’re a non-EU student you’ll need to apply for German health insurance.
Once you have your insurance plan, you’ll be given a health card which you should take with you to any doctor’s appointments or hospital visits.
The waiting times for doctors appointments can also be quite long in Germany, so don’t be surprised if sometimes you end up waiting 2-3 months!
Make sure to apply for health insurance as soon as you can if you need it. If you don’t, you may face delays with your visa.
We recommend that all students have some knowledge of German before coming here, even if your course is taught in English.
The English language is widely spoken in Germany so it’s not essential to know German, but it’s always polite to make an effort to talk to locals in their own language.
Having German language skills will also make you stand out if you decide to look for work in Germany after graduation.
If you arrive in Germany without any German language skills, a great tip is to try and immerse yourself in the culture and meet new German people - you’d be surprised at how quickly you pick up a language this way.
For CBS students, we integrate language classes in all of our degree programmes to develop your skills. Giving you the opportunity to pursue a degree and learn a new language at the same time.
Here are some basic German phrases to get you started:
Hallo – Hello
Tschüss – Bye
Bitte – Please
Danke – Thank You
Ja – Yes
Nein – No
Germany is a very popular study destination because of the high-quality education and relatively low costs of studying compared to countries like the UK and US.
The best part of studying in Germany is that there are lots of international students, so you get to meet people from all over the world.
Here are some more of our top tips to make the most out of your studies in Germany:
Join as many clubs or societies as you can to meet new people
Arrive at your classes on time - Germans love punctuality!
Be prepared for oral exams
The relationships between professors and students is quite formal compared to other countries
German universities use a points-based system for grades that range from 1 (excellent) to 5 (fail)
Don’t worry if you haven’t decided where to live in Germany, there are so many great cities to choose from - it’s hard to go wrong!
If you are studying at one of our campuses you can easily live in one of the neighboring cities. Düsseldorf, Bonn & Aachen are close to our campus in Cologne. Our campus in Potsdam is only half an hour away from vibrant Berlin and our campus in Mainz is only half an hour away from Frankfurt am Mainz.
There are plenty of job opportunities available across Germany for international students, but the cities with the highest chance of employment are Cologne, Munich, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, and Berlin. Each of these cities have excellent infrastructures for work and have high salaries.
If you want to save money and live in the cheapest German cities, we recommend Bonn, Aachen, and Leipzig. These are smaller cities but are great options for people on a budget.
Depending on your situation, you may live in student accommodation or rent privately.
The amount you pay for your rent will depend on the city you live in, but will normally be around €500-1000 a month - this may be lower or higher depending on your city and accommodation.
Other costs that you need to budget for are utilities and other bills, these extra costs are known as ‘Nebenkosten’. Some of these costs may be covered in your monthly rent and will be shared if you live with other people, but you should still factor these in when planning your expenses.
Nebenkosten can include:
In Germany, tenants usually take everything when they move out so you may have to think about buying furniture. You could buy from stores like IKEA, but to save money we recommend checking out local flea markets, thrift stores, Facebook marketplace, or eBay.
If you’re planning to stay for longer than a few weeks in Germany, it’s probably a good idea to open up a German bank account.
It’s important as some scholarship and financial aid options may only transfer money into German bank accounts.
If you want to set up a student bank account in Germany, you can go to the bank branch of your choice and provide the following documents:
Passport or ID
Student ID/Certificate of Enrolment
Confirmation of registration from the German Resident Registration Office
Once your bank account is opened you’ll be issued with a debit card, but don’t expect to be able to use it everywhere - a lot of small businesses and cafes in Germany only accept cash.
Getting a German visa to work or study is relatively easy compared to other countries, and some students may not even need to apply for one.
Before you move to Germany you should check whether you’re required to apply for a visa. Most EU students should be fine, but if you’re a non-EU student you can only stay in Germany for 90 days on a tourist visa.
The visa process doesn’t always finish once you arrive in Germany, you also have to register your address with the German authorities - if you don’t, you could get into problems.
To register, you need to show proof of your address to local authorities within 2 weeks of arrival.
If you get a job in Germany you’ll experience good salaries, an excellent work-life balance, and great opportunities.
There are also plenty of student job opportunities for those who speak English.
Something you may not be used to is the workplace culture in Germany. It may be very different from how it is in your home country, so here are some things you should know:
It’s normal to take sick days for minor ailments
German workdays typically start at 7.30am
It’s normal for colleagues to arrive around 5-10 minutes early for meetings
Open-plan offices aren’t very common
If your workday finishes at 5, you’re won’t be expected to stay later
German workers don’t typically engage in small talk around the office
Socialising with colleagues outside of the office is not common
If you’re on holiday, you’ll never be expected to answer an email or phone call
Transport in Germany is known for being highly efficient, clean and on time, plus it’s fairly affordable - especially for students who can take public transport for free with their student card.
The main transport options in Germany are:
S-Bahn (Schnellbahn or Stadtschnellbahn)
Our tip, however, is to get yourself a bike as most German cities are built with cyclists in mind. Most roads have designated cycle lanes so it’s a very safe and cheap way to get around.
If you have a car, you want to make sure you know the rules of the road in Germany - especially the Autobahn. On these highways, there’s no speed limit and you can only stop in emergencies - it’s even illegal to run out of fuel, so you can’t use that as an excuse.
Another tip we have is to make the most of Germany’s excellent transport links between neighboring European countries. You can easily travel to nearby cities in France, The Netherlands or Austria - and it shouldn’t be that expensive.
Studying is important, but it’s also important to make the most of your study abroad and socialise with new people.
Luckily, Germans love socialising and being part of clubs. You should check for student clubs at your University, or for English-speaking groups in your city. Germany is full of expats so it should be easy to find like-minded people who speak English, no matter what city you’re in.
Most universities will have orientation weeks for international students to meet each other so make sure you attend all of the orientation events you can.
There’s no better way to bond with students than by making the most of the vibrant German nightlife. We hope you like techno music because this is the most common music in clubs.
Throughout the year there are festivals dedicated to everything you can imagine, but make sure not to miss Oktoberfest, the carnival in Cologne, and Cologne’s Gay Pride known as the CSD short for Christopher's Street Day.
Oktoberfest is the biggest folk festival in the world that takes place every September which sees 6 million visitors drink over 7.3 million liters of beer.
It’s a big German tradition that’s lasted over 200 years, so it’s an important cultural event that we recommend all international students attend.
Germany is famous for its Christmas markets, which are a perfect way to get you into the holiday spirit every December.
Most cities have their own Christmas markets, but the most popular are in Cologne, Nuremberg, Munich, and Berlin.
Cologne Carnival is a week-long celebration that takes place every year just before Lent.
It’s a crazy party where people dress up in costumes for parades, sing happy Kölsche songs, and shout the famous phrase ‘Kölle Alaaf!’ - which translates to ‘Cologne above all’.
Cologne is home to one of the biggest pride festivals in Germany, it’s a week-long celebration that involves festivals, parties, and political forums.
Here are some additional general tips that we think you should know before moving to Germany.
In Germany, there’s the Pfand system, where customers pay a deposit on every glass or plastic bottle they buy, which they get back once the bottle is returned.
Practice your packing skills because the supermarket checkouts in Germany are known to be pretty quick. You should also put everything straight back into your trolley at the checkout, and then use the bagging areas to pack everything properly.
Germans take recycling seriously, which will become clear when you see all the different bins for different types of trash.
Get to know the recycling system in your new city so you put the right bins out on the right collection days.
It doesn’t matter if you’re meeting up with German friends or attending a meeting at work, you should always avoid being late in Germany.
On Sundays everything is shut in Germany - even supermarkets, so make sure there’s nothing urgent you need to buy.
Germany is a very diverse country, mostly because of the high numbers of expats and students that come from across the world.
Germans are very welcoming and inclusive people, however like anywhere else, certain cities are more liberal than others - for example, places like Cologne and Berlin are especially inclusive cities.
Germans are known for loving bureaucracy and rules. So don’t expect to see anyone trying to ‘cut through the red tape as the rules apply equally to everyone.
We hope that these tips have helped you to learn more about German culture and what you can expect once you live here.
Did any of these things surprise you?
If you’re moving to Germany to study with us at CBS and you’d like some support and advice, you can schedule an appointment with one of our friendly student advisors, or attend one of our info sessions
We hope that you enjoy getting to know more about our school, study programmes and what we stand for. Follow us on Instagram & Facebook, get to know us at one of our Information Events, or Contact our student advisors to get more info.