A guide on German student visas and immigration requirements for those who plan to study in Germany or carry out academic research.
If you plan to study in Germany, some nationalities require a German student visa before entering the country. This guide explains the requirements to study in Germany and how to apply for a German student visa.
German student visa requirements to study in Germany
EU/EEA/Swiss students don’t need a visa to live and study in Germany but most other people will.
If you want to study in Germany for up to 90 days – on a summer German language course, for example – you may not need a visa depending on your nationality. See this Federal Foreign Office list of countries with a visa requirement to find out if you need one. If you need one, you’ll need to apply for a Schengen visa through a German embassy or consulate. A Schengen visa covers 26 different European countries; see Expatica’s complete guide to German visas and permits for more information.
If you want to study in Germany for longer than three months – perhaps because you’re taking a German university preparatory course (studienkolleg) or entering a degree course at a university, completing a doctoral degree or on a research project – then you’ll need to apply for one of the German student visas below, which will allow you to get a residence permit.
Before coming to Germany, it’s important to be aware of Germany’s student visa rules. If you come to Germany without a student visa or a Schengen visa but want to stay longer, it’s not always possible to extend.
Student visas in Germany
There are different types of German student visas:
German study application visa: If you have not yet been admitted to a university or college
If you’ve applied for a course and have a confirmation letter (plus other prerequisites, such as a secondary school certificate) but have not yet been formally admitted, you should apply for a German study application visa. This will be valid for three months to give you time to fulfill the institution’s admission requirements, but you can extend the student visa by a maximum of six months if necessary, making a total of nine months in all.
Once you have been admitted to a course, you should apply for a residence permit for the purpose of study at the Aliens’ Authority (see below). You can apply for this permit without needing to leave Germany.
German student visa: If admitted to a university or college
Once you have an admission letter from the university or college, you should apply for a German student visa. These are usually valid for three months and by the end of this time in Germany, you should have applied to get your German student residence permit from the Aliens’ Authority (see below).
To study in Germany, you will also have to prove sufficient finances and health insurance coverage; some schools may also require proof of German language proficiency. Most universities have detailed information about residence permits on their websites.
Once you have a German student permit, you are also permitted to work 120 days a year.
Language course visa: For language courses
These German study visas are only valid for the duration of the language course and cannot be converted to either a student application visa or student visa once you’re in Germany.
If you’re planning on taking a course at a German university after your language course, you should apply for the appropriate visa before leaving your home country. Otherwise, you’ll have to leave Germany and apply for a German student visa from home.
See our guide to language courses in Germany.
How to apply for a student visa in Germany
You’ll need to apply for a visa from the German embassy or consulate in your home country. If required, you’ll need to complete a residence permit application form, have a valid passport/national ID and provide other documentation, which may include:
- educational certificates;
- motivation letter, explaining why you want to study in Germany;
- proof of German language skills (if your course is in German) or a confirmed place on a language course in Germany (student/student application visas);
- proof of healthcare insurance and financial resources while you’re in Germany;
- a letter confirming admission (for student visas);
- confirmation of a place on a language course (language course visa);
- evidence of what you have been doing in your home country (e.g. education, work, language course visa).
Postgraduate students and scientific researchers
If you plan to study in Germany for graduate school or research, you will need to apply via the German embassy or consulate in your home country, have a valid passport/national ID, complete a residence permit application form and submit the following:
- invitation from the German university outlining the area of research or study;
- letter from the university in your home country;
- your CV;
- proof of German proficiency (or English, depending on the course language);
- proof of income (salary or scholarship).
Student visa requirements after you arrive in Germany
Mandatory registering with the authorities: everyone
Everyone needs to register with the local registration authorities (Einwohnermeldeamt) in the first week of arriving in Germany. You’ll need to take your passport/national ID (and visa if appropriate), proof of your address in Germany (e.g., a rental agreement from your landlord) and possibly the registration certificate from your course. You’ll be given a confirmation of registration.
Right to residence and residence permits
EU/EEA and Swiss nationals, who may have to provide evidence of sufficient financial resources and healthcare insurance during registration, will receive a right to residence from the registration authorities.
Everyone else will have to report to the Aliens’ Authority (Ausländeramt) within three months of arriving in Germany for their residence permit for the purpose of study. You’ll need to take along certain documents, including:
- your passport/national ID (and visa if appropriate);
- the confirmation of registration;
- the registration certificate from the German university;
- a health insurance certificate;
- biometric passport photos.
You may also be asked for proof of financial resources, a medical certificate and any rental agreement. Between four and six weeks later you can collect your electronic residence permit. The permits are usually issued for a year but may be extended.
Family reunion visas for students: who can come?
Non-EU/EEA/Swiss relatives (spouse and children) may be able to join you in Germany while you’re a student. This is possible as long as you have a valid residence permit, sufficient finances, healthcare insurance and somewhere to live, as confirmed by your educational institution. You will have to prove the relationships and they will have to apply for visas, if necessary. Read more in our guide to family reunion visas in Germany.
Rules for working on a Germany study visa
Citizens of EU/EEA countries and Switzerland can work freely in Germany. However, they cannot work more than 20 hours a week during term time.
EU/EEA/Swiss citizens can work up to 120 full or 240 half days a year (including voluntary work) without permits. You can work more hours if employed by the university as a student or graduate assistant; for other types of employment, you need permission from the Agentur für Arbeit (Federal Employment Agency) and the Aliens’ Authority.
Studienkolleg and language students need permission from these authorities in order to take on any work. Students can’t be freelancers or self-employed.
After your German student visa expires
EU/EEA and Swiss postgrads
Nationals from these countries can look for jobs in Germany and stay on without restrictions, unless you’re an academic and will be taking up a position related to your qualification.
Third-country nationals: Postgraduate residence permits
After you’ve finished your degree in Germany, you can extend your residence permit for up to 18 months to stay and look for work in Germany related to your qualification. During this time, you can take on any type of employment, without needing permission from the Federal Employment Agency, in order to support yourself while you’re looking for work.
You can apply for this extension from your local Aliens’ Authority as soon as you have passed your final exam. You’ll need to take along:
- your passport/national ID;
- proof that you have been awarded your degree (either a university diploma or a letter bearing an official stamp from the university confirming the fact);
- health insurance certificate;
- proof that you can support yourself (eg. bank statements, grant or letter from a guarantor).
If you leave Germany and return to your home country after completing your studies, you can apply via the German embassy for a six-month visa to come to Germany to look for work related to your qualification. To qualify for this visa, you must fulfil certain conditions, including having been awarded a degree and being able to support yourself while looking for work. As soon as you find work, you have to apply to the local Aliens’ Authority for a residence permit or EU Blue Card. See Expatica’s guide to work permits in Germany.