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STUDYING IN GERMANY

Reader question: Can I apply or return to a German university from a ‘virus variant’ area?

After the summer, many states in Germany are planning to resume in-person teaching. But what are the rules for international students from virus variant areas such as India, Portugal, Russia and the United Kingdom?

Reader question: Can I apply or return to a German university from a 'virus variant' area?
A student walks past the campus of Munich's renowed Technical University. Photo: picture alliance / Sven Hoppe/dpa | Sven Hoppe

With world-class universities, free tuition and generous visa laws for students, it’s no wonder that hundreds of thousands of international students come to study in Germany each year.

But as with almost all other areas of public life, Covid-19 has forced people to reassess their ambitions and even put plans on hold.

While Germany is in the process of opening up travel for people from non-EU countries, there is one notable exception: people arriving from an area of virus variant concern such as India, the UK, South Africa and Brail – among others – where the highly infectious Delta variant of Covid is prevalent.

For people who live in this group of countries, travel into Germany is currently banned, though there are some exceptions, for example if you have German citizenship or right of residency. We go into detail below on the rules you have to follow if entering from virus variant areas. 

READ MORE: Germany relaxes travel rules for vaccinated non-EU residents: What you need to know

So what do you do if you want to study at a German university and you’re living in one of these areas? Are you still allowed to apply, and can you still get funding?

We’ll take a look at these questions, and tell you how to find out if your region has become an ‘area of virus variant concern’. 

Current areas of virus variant concern 

If you want to find out whether your country or region is on the ‘risk list’, or has become an area with a variant of concern, the best thing to do is to consult the website of Germany public health authority, the Robert Koch Institute.

At the time of writing, 14 countries around the world were classed under the ‘virus variant’ category, with Portugal and the Russian Federation having recently been added to the list

READ ALSO: Germany bans travel from Portugal and Russia over Covid Delta variant spread

The other countries classed as areas of variants of concern, as of June 30th, were: Botswana, Brazil, Eswatini, India, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nepal, South Africa, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, including all British Overseas Territories, Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, Uruguay, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Can I still get a visa to come to Germany to study? 

According to the most recent advice issued by the German Embassy in Moscow, following Russia’s entry onto the virus-variant list, visas to Germany are not currently being issued at the centre other than in exceptional circumstances.

However, the same documentation also states that students with an unconditional letter of acceptance onto a course at a German university can submit their applications for a visa – though it remains unclear if the visa can be granted at this point.

Students with an unconditional letter of admission to a German university or preparatory college, as well as students who are already enrolled at a German university or preparatory college, can submit their application at the application center in Moscow,” it states. 

Dr. Klaudia Knabel, Head of Scholarship Programmes Northern Hemisphere at the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), offered a more sombre reading of the situation.


Students sit in a lecture hall at the historic Heidelberg University in Baden-Württemburg. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Uwe Anspach

“The award procedure for DAAD scholarships for the academic year 2021/22 has already been completed for the most part,” she told The Local.

“Unfortunately, some of our scholarship holders, those from the so-called virus variant areas, will probably not be able to enter.

READ ALSO: TRAVEL – Germany plans to maintain border restrictions after pandemic laws end

“For persons staying in so-called virus variant areas with a particularly high prevalence of mutations of the virus, transport to Germany and entry in accordance with the Corona Entry Regulation are currently generally prohibited. This also applies to fully vaccinated persons. Exceptions are only possible in very few cases, for example for persons with residence and right of abode in Germany.

“For students and scientists from virus-variant areas, this means that it is currently not possible to ensure attendance studies, or a research stay in Germany for the winter semester 2021/2022. Entry is also not possible even if the German higher education institution has already granted a study place.”

According to Dr. Knabel, if you’re currently in this situation, the best thing to do is keep an eye on the most up-to-date risk categories of various countries, and refer to the latest information on the website of your local German Embassy.  

Though the outlook may seem bleak at present, a lot can change in the run-up to October. 

What if I don’t have a place at a German university yet? 

If you don’t already have a place to study this year, then it is probably too late to apply to study in the academic year starting this autumn.

However, with the roll-out of the vaccine programme globally, there’s always a chance that the situation will have improved by next year, making it much easier to apply to study in Germany from abroad. 

What if I already have my visa? 

According to the Ministry of the Interior guidance, if you already have a visa to come and study in Germany, this could count as a ‘right of residence’, and you should be allowed to enter to complete your studies, even if your country is not on the ‘risk-free’ list. 

“It is possible to enter Germany for the purpose of completing a university course of study or for individual semesters of study,” the guidance explains.

“Students are required to present an admission notice issued by the institution of higher education. Because institutions of higher education are offering both online and in-person instruction, it is not necessary to provide any separate documentation of the need to attend in person.”

If you were resident in Germany last year as a student, it may also be wise to bring any evidence of this – such as an Anmeldung (address registration) – with you when you enter the country.

You will also, of course, have to observe the latest quarantine, testing and registration rules for people from virus variant areas. 

Will I have to study online?

With continued uncertainty around how Covid-19 infection rates will develop in the autumn, and what impact the vaccination drive will have, it’s impossible to say at this point how much of your course will be carried out online.


Floor markings show visitors the entrance and exit routes at Humboldt University, Berlin, during the pandemic. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Bernd von Jutrczenka

At present, most universities are aiming to restart in-person teaching in the next semester, but depending on infection rates, you could see a mix of online and in-person teaching, or (less likely) an exclusively online course. 

READ ALSO: What it’s like to study abroad in Germany during a pandemic

Rules for entering Germany

If you are allowed to enter Germany from a virus variant area, you will currently have to present a negative Covid-19 test at the border, quarantine for 14 days upon arrival (regardless of whether you are vaccinated or not) and register your entry into Germany on the government travel portal at einreiseanmeldung.de.

For people entering from a virus variant area, there is currently no option to end quarantine early. 

Funding your studies 

If you’re heading to Germany in the time of Covid, you may be wondering how to fund your studies – and if financial help is even available.

The good news is, there are numerous scholarships available from DAAD, and the ‘risk status’ of your country is unlikely to affect your chances of being awarded one, though you may have to be flexible about when (or where) you receive it. 

“DAAD scholarship holders who have already received a confirmation of sponsorship have the following options in the case of an entry ban: they can start their studies online from their home country, provided the university in question offers study programmes remotely. Furthermore, a postponement of the DAAD scholarship is possible,” said Dr. Knabel. 

If you plan to support yourself financially by working during your studies, you should note that many industries that employ German students – most notably hospitality – have been hit hard by the pandemic, so it’s worth putting some savings aside for any eventuality.

However, with much of public life reoping in Germany, it seems the economy is rapidly bouncing back: in June, the unemployment rate fell by a whopping 70,000, suggesting that companies are finally hiring again.

Equally, some hardship funds also have been made available to both national and international students at German universities since the start of the pandemic, which your university will be able to advise you about.

How to access advice and support 

If you are concerned about your forthcoming studies, or unsure about whether you will be allowed entry into the country, there are number of people you can contact for support. 

The first is your university’s International Office, which is the first port of call for most international students at German universities. A directory of international offices at different German universities can be found here.

Another is your local German Embassy, or the German Ministry of the Interior, which is responsible for setting conditions for entry into Germany.

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TRAVEL NEWS

€9 for 90: Everything you need to know about Germany’s cheap travel deal

Germany's €9 monthly transport ticket is coming. Here's everything you should know about the deal that will allow you to to travel the country for next to nothing this summer.

€9 for 90: Everything you need to know about Germany's cheap travel deal

What’s all this about cheap transport?

Germany is about to launch a mega cheap transport ticket – and a lot of people are getting very excited about it.

The “€9 for 90” ticket is a monthly travel card that people can buy for just €9 per month over a three-month period. It’s a fraction of the price of a normal monthly travel card and – even more incredibly – can be used anywhere in the country on local and regional transport. 

The deal was initially announced back in April as part of an energy relief package put together by the government. And despite some anger from state leaders over funding for the scheme, the ticket cleared its final hurdle in the Bundesrat on Friday.

READ ALSO: German states threaten to block the €9 ticket in the Bundesrat

So far, the €9 ticket has received a lot of publicity and attention. That’s probably because it’s one of the more fun measures to combat the energy crisis – one that doesn’t involve complicated claims and write-offs in your tax return.

Instead, the government is hoping that the new ticket will cut monthly transport costs for households and encourage people to use more eco-friendly transport options. With fuel prices spiralling, it’s a great time to leave the car at home and travel around for next to nothing, while doing your bit for the environment. 

Sounds great. Can everyone buy it?

Yes! It doesn’t matter whether you’re a tourist on a weekend trip from Austria, a part-time Germany resident or Chancellor Olaf Scholz himself: everyone will be able to purchase the €9 ticket. (We imagine Olaf may already have his own transport, though.) 

It will, however, have your name on it, so it can’t be pooled between friends (as tempting as an even cheaper travel deal would be). 

READ ALSO: What tourists in Germany need to know about the €9 public transport ticket

Busy train in Stuttgart

People board a busy train in Stuttgart. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Marijan Murat

When will it be available?

It’s currently available in a handful of cities, including Hamburg, Stuttgart and Freiburg – but everyone else will be able to purchase it from May 23rd onwards. 

The deal itself will be a summer travel offer. That means the first monthly ticket will be valid from June 1st and the last monthly ticket will expire on August 31st. Each of the tickets will be valid for the full calendar month so you won’t be able to mix and match with existing tickets.

For example, if you’ve already bought a ticket that’s expiring in mid-June, you wouldn’t then be able to buy a €9 ticket running from the middle of June to the middle of August.

Instead, you would require two €9 tickets  for June and July – though you can get a refund for the part of the prior ticket you didn’t end up using.

Where can I get hold of it?

The ticket will be available via Deutsche Bahn’s DB Navigator app, on the DB website, at in-station terminals and at ticket desks and offices.

Regional transport operators are likely to have their own ticket purchasing options as well – most likely online, but in some cases also at ticket machines and in-station offices. 

READ ALSO: How to get a hold of the €9 ticket in Berlin

A regional train near Hornberg, in the Black Forest.

A regional train near Hornberg, in the Black Forest. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Philipp von Ditfurth

What types of public transport can I use it on?

The ticket is valid throughout Germany, but only on regional and local transport.

That means you can use it on all local trains like the U-Bahn and S-Bahn, as well as on trams and buses. You can also travel on the Regionalverkehr (regional trains) across Germany. 

You can’t use the ticket for private services like Flixbus and Flixtrain or on other long-distance rail services like IC, EC and ICE trains. If you’re travelling around your state and aren’t sure if the ticket will be valid, check if the train you’re taking has an ‘RE’ in the name. That’s the shorthand for regional trains.

It probably goes without saying, but taxi services won’t be included in the price. And, yes, you will still need to pay for those e-scooters as well. 

Can I use it to travel first class?

If you’re hoping for a month of budget transport but also want to be treated like royalty whilst on board, we may have to disappoint you. The €9 ticket can only be used in second-class carriages.

This is largely because there’s likely to be huge demand for the budget offer – so there could be scuffles for first-class seats with that extra bit of legroom. 

READ ALSO: How to explore Germany by train with the €9 ticket

I’ve already got an Abo. What can I do?

This has been a big concern for the folk who have already opted to pay full price for their public transport. (What fools they were…) 

Luckily, this group of keen transport users won’t miss out either. According to the DB website, people who’ve already shelled out on a monthly or annual ticket will be contacted by their local transport provider and informed about how they can get a refund.

If you’ve got a standing order set up, the transport operator will likely just debit the €9 from your account instead of the usual amount. Otherwise, you may get sent a refund via direct debit. 

Your subscription ticket will be valid for local public transport throughout Germany during the three month offer period – not just in your area.

Will students also benefit from the ticket?

Absolutely – though this is one area where things may be a little less well-organised. If you’re a student with a semester ticket, you will be entitled to a refund of the extra amount you paid, which will likely be handled by your university. 

One thing that seems a little unclear is whether the semester ticket will suddenly be valid outside of your local region, just like the €9 ticket is. We assume it will, but we’ll try to clarify this with DB and other service providers in the coming weeks. 

Can I take my bike on board?

Unfortunately, bikes aren’t included in the offer – and this seems like a deliberate choice. 

DB is recommending that people leave their bikes at home during the three months that the €9 ticket is on offer. This is because trains are likely to be extremely busy and they can’t guarantee that they’ll have room for everyone, let alone a hundred or so bikes. Instead, you can usually hire a bike at your destination.

However, if you’ve already got a subscription that allows you to take your bike with you (i.e. a student semester ticket or another type of Abo), you’ll still be able to do so. 

What about my dog? 

You will unfortunately not be able to purchase a €9 ticket in the name of Rover T. Dog (well, you could try, but it probably won’t work). However, the usual rules will apply to travelling with a furry friend. 

In some places, you may need to buy an extra dog ticket for Rover, while in others, he’ll be able to accompany you free-of-charge. 

READ ALSO: Who benefits from Germany’s €9 public transport ticket offer?

A woman carries her dog through a Berlin train station

A woman carries her onesie-clad dog in a Berlin train station. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Annette Riedl

Do children need to pay for a ticket? 

Children under six can travel for free on public transport, while children over the age of six will need their own €9 ticket. 

What about seat reservations? 

Transport operators are trying to keep things as flexible as possible to cope with demand over summer, so you unfortunately won’t be able to use the ticket to reserve a seat in advance.

Won’t public transport be rammed? 

At the moment, nobody really knows. According to the Association of German Transport Companies (VDV), there could be as many as 30 million public transport users per month over summer – but this is only a rough estimate.

READ ALSO: How many people will use the €9 ticket?

One way around this is to try and travel on weekdays and off-peak services where possible and (as mentioned) to hire bikes rather than bringing them in the train.

It could also be helpful to familiarise yourself with different transport connections and routes in your area. 

The other thing that could help ease the crush on public transport is the fact that the government is also planning to cut taxes on fuel in tandem with the €9 ticket. That means that, for three months over summer, drivers will be able to get cheaper petrol and diesel – so some may indeed decide to take the car after all.

The ticket ends at the end of August. What happens next? 

Once again, it’s hard to say. Critics of the €9 ticket say that the scheme will leave gaping holes in transport budgets and could ultimately lead to ticket prices going up in autumn.

On the other hand, proponents of the offer believe that it could have the effect of luring people back to public transport after the Covid crisis. That would mean that more people would be buying subscriptions after summer and using local buses and trains, which can only be a good thing for transport budgets in the long-run. 

READ ALSO: ‘Fantastic’: Your verdict on Germany’s €9 transport ticket

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