Living as a Researcher in Germany
Written by Mirjam Ax, Sadhna Sahani and Chiara Galante
Last year, we wrote about the research opportunities available in Germany. This time we want to explore the living conditions that a young researcher can expect in Germany. Whether you want to do your PhD or do a postdoc stint in Germany, this information could be useful for you.
How is research funded in Germany?
In Germany, doctoral or postdoctoral positions are usually funded in one of two possible ways: either by a stipend, or by a contract as a research assistant. Such contracts are usually limited in time (up to 1-3 years) and mostly extendable, depending on how the project is proceeding.
Both types of funding have characteristics one should consider before starting a career in a German institution. In a nutshell, stipend holders do not pay taxes, while contract holders do. However, stipend holders do not benefit automatically from the strong social security system that Germany has to protect you on the way to work (Social/liability insurance or Haftpflichtversicherung), if you get sick (health insurance or Krankenversicherung), or lose your job (unemployment insurance/pension benefits or Arbeitslosengeld/Pension). These social-security contributions are fixed by law and deducted directly from your salary. If you have a scholarship, you do not have to pay for them, but you also will not benefit from them. Healthcare is a special case: everyone living in Germany must indeed have health insurance, which gives you access to the German health system and includes cover for basic dental care, physical therapy and mental health care. In general, your health insurance contribution depends on your monthly income. As an employee, you must be covered by a public health insurance of your own choice; as a scholarship holder, you can take a private health insurance, which, in some cases, is cheaper than the statutory option (it might be difficult but not impossible for a stipend holder to have access to public health insurance).
Cost & quality of life in Germany
It has been estimated that the average expenses in Germany are about 850€ per month. The expenses considered vary between statistics, but it takes into account rent, health insurance, food, utilities and clothing. Additionally, they might take into account university tuition fees or semester enrollment cost, public transport and leisure activities (e.g. tickets for the movies or the theater). As a rule of thumb, smaller cities are likely to be cheaper than bigger ones, even though some small cities with big universities and good connection to industries might be surprisingly costlier than expected.
If you are enrolled at a public university in Germany, you don’t have to pay any tuition fee. There is however a semester-contribution that costs around 250-350€ depending on the institution, the Semesterticket. This fee, besides being very cheap as compared to tuition fees applied in other countries, covers costs for public transport (local and regional network of bus, tram and regional trains). If you are an employee instead, you can get a Job-Ticket sponsored by your company/employer, which is a monthly public transport ticket at a reduced price.
The price of groceries changes from city to city, but there are different chains of supermarkets with different price-ranges. Noteworthy, it is possible to find high-quality food also in some of the cheaper shops.
The quality of life is also good, with a social security system considered highly attractive by many Europeans who move to Germany (see also our former article). Moreover, the country has good infrastructure and it is easy to get around by public transport (train, bus, tram). Bicycles are also extremely common, and you will quickly learn that the red stripe marking part of sidewalks is nothing but a biking lane. Moreover, the infrastructure system includes some important airports (Munich, Hamburg, Berlin, Cologne), including the biggest intercontinental hub of continental Europe, Frankfurt Airport.
Visa requirements for Germany
If you are a citizen of the EU, Switzerland or a country of the European Economic Area, you have the right to travel freely and settle within the EU. There is no need for such nationals to get a visa, an identification card or passport is sufficient. This category of nationals is simply required to register at the Resident Registration Office, or Citizen Service (Einwohnermeldeamt or Bürgeramt), if planning to stay longer than three months. Such registration has to be done within one week of your arrival in Germany.
If you are not a citizen of one of the above mentioned categories and you want to stay longer than 3 months, you will need a visa and, later on, a residence permit. You have to apply for a visa to enter Germany at the German consulate in your home country. Special information on the visa requirement based on the country's agreement with German authorities can be obtained from the German Embassy in your home country. German embassies or consulates are the sole legal authorities for issuing visas – an official authorization for a lawful entrance, a reserved right for non-German nationals, guaranteed under German law, the Residence Act, section 71, paragraph 2. The application for a residence permit concerning the purpose of your stay inside Germany has to be submitted at the Foreigners Authority or Foreigners Registration Office (Ausländerbehörde) after registering at the Resident Registration Office.
If you need a visa, beware of the following:
- Be early enough for your visa application. Visa applications might take long processing times, sometimes up to a few months.
- Be punctual for the enrollment process and make sure you arrange entering Germany on time, so you get the time to sort out accommodation, registration, getting the residence permit, opening a bank account and adapting to your new place of stay .
As described in our previous article, Germany offers many opportunities for a career in research. International scientists can receive support from the international offices of their universities, or from the wide network of foreigners already present within the country. They are both always keen on helping newcomers.
Good luck with your career as a researcher in Germany!
Written by Mirjam Ax, Sadhna Sahani & Chiara Galante; Edited by Radhika Menon. Featured Image by NGC/Design.
We thank the Student Representatives of the International PhD Program Mainz (2018-2019) for the comparison between stipends and contracts.