After stepping off your flight to Germany, these are the most important things you will need to do upon arrival. If you do it quickly enough and pay careful attention to the documents you need to bring along (being attentive to detail is key in dealing with German bureaucracy), you will only require a day or two at the most to settle all the administrative formalities!
The most important thing you’ll need to do upon arrival is to enroll yourself at the university. Please bring along your passport, acceptance letter (Zulassungsbescheid) and proof of German health insurance coverage (to be elaborated in the next point) to the International Office of your university. There, you will then be matriculated into your university. Depending on your course, you may need to bring further documents such as the DSH/TestDAF, or proof of payment of your Semester Contribution (as well as tuition fees for full-time students and Freemovers, where applicable).
State-recognised Health Insurance is mandatory for all students seeking part-time or full-time studies in Germany – you will not be enrolled without proof of your health insurance! Take note that travel insurance or insurance bought in Singapore does not count as it is not legally recognised in Germany!
As most students chose to be covered by the various state health insurance providers, the premium for the student health insurance (around €80) are the same no matter which provider you go to. However, different providers may provide different services and offer additional coverage at different prices. You may want to check out the differences. Most international students are insured with AOK or TK, which usually has a desk at the international office during matriculation to allow students to purchase the health insurance on the spot. You may also register for a private German health insurance which will give you additional perks such as lesser waiting time at the doctor’s, but this comes at an additional premium and do check beforehand with your university for the list of private German health insurance providers which are recognised by both the university as well as the state.
To apply for the insurance, you will need your passport (together with your student visa) and a valid German bank account. Please click here for more information on health insurance. After signing a contract with the insurance provider, you will need a written confirmation from your insurance provider stating that you are covered by them; this document is necessary for matriculation as well as in applying for your Aufenthaltserlaubnis (residence permit). Simply showing the European health insurance card (EHIC) is insufficient as it does not sufficiently prove that you are still legally covered by the approved health insurance provider!
Your next stop should be the bank. For exchange students, all you need to do is to go to the nearest Deutsche Bank branch and unlock your Blocked Account (Sperrkonto) with which you had used while applying for your student visa. You may need to wait up to a week before receiving your PIN and EC-Karte (ATM Card) – these will be delivered to you separately, for security reasons.
For full-time students who did not have open a blocked account (e.g. scholars who applied for their visa using a statement guaranteeing financial support), you may choose any bank to open an account with. However, for maximum convenience, many Singaporeans have an account with either Deutsche Bank, Commerzbank, Dresdner Bank, HypoVereinsbank or Postbank. These 5 banks form what is known in Germany as the Cashgroup. Cashgroup is a scheme where a customer of one of these banks may use the ATMs of any of these banks for free withdrawals. Otherwise, withdrawing from ATMs from other banks usually entail an administrative surcharge of several Euros per withdrawal.
Banking in Germany is a service which usually has monthly administrative charges involved. However, many banks offer what is known as a Studentenkonto (Student’s Account); these are banking accounts without any administrative charges attached. To open a student account, you will need your passport (and the visa in it), the receipt of your registration with the authorities, as well as a proof of your current status as a student (or student-applicant). This proof can be a letter from your language school confirming your registration with them, your Zulassungsbescheid or your Immatrikulationsbescheinigung (student card). Some banks also offer what is known as a Jugendkonto (Youth account) which offer the same banking benefits as the student account but do not need a proof of your status as a student. The age limit for these accounts are usually 24 to 26.
Banking staff understand that you need an bank account before you can do anything in Germany, so they are usually very helpful with account-related matters. For more detailed information on how to ‘grow your cash’ while studying here, please click here!
Registering with the Authorities
This is probably the most important administrative hurdle to clear. There are two things which you will need to do with the authorities: Register your address with the Residents’ Registration Office (Bürgerbüro) and the Foreigners’ Registration Office (Ausländerbehörde).
At the Bürgerbüro, you will need to register your address to prove that you are currently living in the city. Please bring along your passport and rental contract as proof. Should you be staying in temporary accommodation, you must update the Bürgerbüro once you have moved to a brand new permanent location. The Bürgerbüro must always be kept updated in the event of any changes of address. They will also issue you with an Anmeldungsbescheinigung or Anmeldungsschein upon successful registration – keep this document safely as you would need it for other various administrative purposes!
After registering your address, you will need to extend your visa at the Ausländerbehörde. Please note that your visa will not be extended if you do not have an officially registered address in Germany – this is proven through your Anmeldungsbescheinigung! While the student visa has allowed you to enter Germany for study purposes, to stay in the country beyond your visa (usually 3 months), you will have to convert your visa to a residence permit. Students are given a “limited residence permit” known as an Aufenthaltserlaubnis or Aufenthaltsbewilligung. It is different from a full residence permit (such as a Aufenthaltsgenehmigung) in that it does not allow you full recourse to public funds and allows only a limited number of days of employment per year. While the residence permits (collectively known as Aufenthaltstiteln) used to be issued as stickers pasted in passports, authorities have begun issuing identity cards (similar to the Blue IC in Singapore) since 2011 as part of improving security and meeting European/Schengen requirements. Like a German Personalausweis, the new Aufenthaltstitel in card form would make travelling within Schengen-areas as well as many other administrative matters (e.g. opening of new bank accounts in future) much easier.
You will need to apply for your residence permit before your visa expires at the Ausländerbehörde. You will need the following:
- Receipt of your registration with the authorities (Anmeldungsbescheinigung)
- Valid passport and student visa
- Proof of sponsorhip or financial ability
- Proof of insurance coverage (simply showing the health insurance card is insufficient!)
- Proof of purpose of residence (Deutschkursbescheinigung, proof of attendance of language course) or Immatrikulationsbescheinigung (proof of matriculation at a university)
- Completed residence permit application form
- Biometric-compatible passport-sized photographs
After submitting your documents, you will receive notification through snail mail regarding the results of your residence permit. You will be issued the new Elektronischer Aufenthaltstitel or e-Aufenthaltstitl (your ‘Blue IC’) along with a Zusatzblatt (Supplement). Do not throw this supplement away! Your e-Aufenthaltstitel is only valid with a valid passport and the Zusatzblatt; because of this, when travelling around, it is best to ensure that you have all these with you as well.
And with that, you’re done! Don’t forget to renew your permit when the time comes but in the meantime, enjoy living the student life in Germany!