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STUDENT LIFE

How to finance your master’s studies in Germany as an international student

Although most German universities are free or only ask for a small semester contribution, students should not shy away from seeking out support to fund their daily costs.

How to finance your master's studies in Germany as an international student
Students at the University of Hohenheim in Stuttgart in autumn 2020. Photo: DPA

This can hold especially true for master’s students who may already have had to pay costs or incur loans due to their bachelor’s degrees.

There are various means students can draw upon to help them during their studies, which we’ve outlined below.

Coronavirus-related support

As a result of the coronavirus crisis international students have been eligible to apply for an interest free loan of up to €650 per month. The application can be found here.

International students are also eligible for a non-repayable grant from the Ministry of Education and Research (Bundesministerium fur Bildung und Forschung) found here. It is important to note, however, that this additional help is so far only available until March 2021.

READ ALSO: International students: How to apply for new interest-free loans in Germany

BAföG

The Federal Training Assistance Act (Bundesausbildungsförderungsgesetz, or BAföG), is the primary resource for many students undertaking their studies in Germany. BAföG funding constitutes a generous needs-based grant and interest-free loan that helps many German students fund their courses and living situations.

It is only awarded to non-Germans in some cases. If you are an international student, it is definitely worth inquiring further about your eligibility or putting in an application. 

Students taking their exams in Kassel in summer 2020. Photo: DPA

International or EU students who have long term right of residency in Germany, a parent or spouse who works in Germany, or have lived in Germany for five years prior to their studies may be able to receive financial support.

Students also qualify in certain circumstances if they have worked in Germany previously for a specific time frame, although often in a field related to their chosen course of study.

EU citizens studying in Germany can apply for BAföG if they have been working for 10 weeks in Germany without interruption, for an average of at least 12 hours a week according to the European Court of Justice

The allocation of BAföG to foreign students is complicated and it is advised that you inquire at your local BAföG office to explain your individual situation.

READ ALSO: 10 words that perfectly sum up student life in Germany

Loans 

It is important to research all loan options and particularly avoid those that have high interest rates before taking one on to finance your studies. 

There are various governmental-funded and non-governmental funded student loan resources created to help students finance their studies.

We highly recommend first contacting your university to see if they have student loans available for foreign students.

Aside from this, Bildungskredit is a grant funded by the German government in association with a private banking group. It is not based on need and carries a low-interest rate. It is open to all students under the age of 26 for as much as €7,200 per year. Repayments kick in four years after graduation, and cannot exceed €120 a month.

Other student loan systems also exist, such as that offered by Deutsche Bank, that offer relatively low-cost student loans for account holders, as well as loans available through Sparkasse and HypoVereinsbank.

Part-time jobs

Although it is preferable to be able to focus on your studies entirely, many students may find that they need to take on part time work to finance their living costs, or perhaps for extra cash.

Luckily, it is common in Germany for organisations to offer student jobs, so that you could get a part-time job related to your field of study, gaining valuable work experience while also earning extra money.

If you can't find a student job then there are plenty of other opportunities to find part-time jobs. Under legal regulations, international students from outside the EU in Germany can work up to 120 days of the year.

READ ALSO: EU students turn to Germany as top study destination in light of Brexit

They can earn up to €450 per month tax fee before they would be required to pay into the German tax system. Those who want to work longer need to ask for permission from their local employment agency and the foreigners registration office.

You can ask about jobs at your university student services, or the local employment agency in your location.

Scholarships

Although not guaranteed in any way, scholarships are a great way to finance your studies and boost your CV at the same time.

One of the largest of these is the DAAD, or the German Academic Exchange Service. They offer opportunities for inbound and outbound students in Germany and have benefited millions of foreign students since their inception in 1925.

Archive photo shows students taking a break between classes at the University of Tübingen. Photo: DPA

They have a list of available scholarships including one specifically for master’s students and do not list any exceptional criteria as being needed to be eligible to apply.

It is important to note that the application should be submitted a year in advance to your course beginning. The master's scholarship finances your studies usually for one year however they offer longer term support for phD students as well as various short term loans. 

The Deutschlandstipendium is another scholarship that is aimed at academically excellent students. The German government contributes half as well as private companies and organisations to make up to €300 per month per student, usually awarded for two semesters.

READ ALSO: In Numbers: Who are Germany's international students

This scholarship is awarded to students by the university itself and is usually given to students who excel academically.

There are also some private organisations that award scholarships to international students including the Max Plank Society Research and the Heinrich Boll Foundation Scholarship, with various stipulations such as academic excellence and involvement in social or political projects or organisations.

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STUDYING IN GERMANY

EXPLAINED: Can foreigners apply for student finance in Germany?

Germany has a system of financial support for students known as BAföG. In many cases foreigners are just as entitled to apply as Germans. Here’s what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: Can foreigners apply for student finance in Germany?

What is BAföG?

Bafög is an abbreviation for a word that would surely be the longest in pretty much any other language expect German: Bundesausbildungsförderungsgesetz. This tongue twister breaks down to mean Federal Training Assistance Act. 

Ever since the 1970s it has helped Germans from poor backgrounds to take up a place at university to at a training colleague, with the idea being that financial hardship should never prevent someone from entering higher education.

In its current form the law provides for students form poorer families to receive €853 a month, half of which is a stipend and half of which is a loan that you will need to pay back once you’ve entered the workforce. 

The maximum you are expected to pay back is €10,000.   

Some 460,000 students were being assisted with Bafög payments in 2020, the last year for which there are numbers.

READ ALSO: How to finance your master’s studies in Germany as an international student

Who is entitled to BAföG?

There are two basic conditions attached to BAföG: you have to be under the age of 30 to apply and you parents have to be low-wage earners.

There are some exemptions for the age restriction. If you can show that you were not able to start a course of study before your 30th birthday due to health or familial reasons then you might still be eligible later. Also, if you are applying for support for a Masters degree then you can apply for Bafög up until the age of 35.

According to German law, your parents have an obligation to financially support your education. This means that German authorities ask for evidence of their income to assess whether you are in need of state support.

And this applies whether your parents work in Germany or abroad, the Education Ministry confirmed to The Local.

“Income calculation under the BAföG rules takes place regardless of whether one’s parents live in Germany or abroad. This applies both to German nationals and to people with non-German nationality who are eligible for support under BAföG,” a spokesperson for the ministry confirmed.

What about foreigners?

Bafög is by no means only available to Germans. A whole variety of foreign nationals can also apply.

The rules on which foreign nationals are entitled to financial support are fairly complicated. But the following list on eligibility is somewhat exhaustive:

  • If you are an EU citizen, or from an EEA country, and you have lived in Germany for at least five years
  • If you are married to, or are the child of, an EU citizen who has lived in Germany for at least five years
  • If your are an EU citizen who lives and works in Germany and whose intended course of study is connected to your current job
  • If you are not an EU citizen but have obtained permanent residency in Germany
  • If you have received refugee status
  • If you have lived in the country for at least 15 months as a ‘tolerated’ person (ie you applied for asylum and weren’t given full refugee status)
  • If at least one of your parents has lived and worked in Germany for three of the past six years
  • You are married to a German national and have moved to Germany.
  • You are the spouse or child of a foreign national who holds a permanent residency permit.

Due to the relative complexity of these rules it is advisable to speak to local organisations that support students such as the Studentenwerk Hamburg, the StudierendenWERK BERLIN or the Studentenwerk München.

READ ALSO: Essential German words to know as a student in Germany

How do repayments work?

The Federal Education Ministry states that you are expected to pay back your loan even if you return to your home country after completing your studies.

Repayment begins five years after you received the last installment of the loan at which point you are expected to pay back €130 a month. Although this amount can be reduced if your salary is low.

If you haven’t paid everything back after 20 years then the rest of the debt is dropped.

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