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Cost of Living in Germany and Living Expenses for International Students​

Make the most of your money

Even though Germany is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, living expenses in Germany are not as high as you would expect; they are like those of other EU countries. Germany is ranked the 15th highest in terms of cost of living, making it cheaper to live in Germany than it is in the UK, Italy, Denmark, Norway, France, or the Netherlands. When compared to the average cost of living in Europe, although there are always exceptions to this, and what your budget must be will depend on where you are and your lifestyle requirements.

Your banking and payments options

In Germany, there is a ‘three-pillar’ banking system consisting of private commercial banks, public savings banks, as well as cooperative banks. Apart from these, you can also find a variety of international banks, online and mobile banks in Germany, which are user-friendly and make banking simpler. The two main types of bank accounts in Germany are:

  • Griokonto: This is a current account, which is the standard type of bank account in Germany, used to receive paychecks as well as pay bills. German banks tend to offer both, general current accounts as well as specialized accounts (for students and youth).
  • Sparkonto: This is a savings account, which can be opened at the same time you open a Girokonto, and you can use it to save money and earn interest. This type of account can be opened by both, German residents as well as non-residents.

What documents are required to open a bank account for a foreigner?

To open a bank account in Germany, you should provide the following documents:

  • Duly completed application form.
  • Your valid passport and current German residence permit.
  • Proof of registration/address.
  • Initial deposit (the minimum depends on the bank of your choice)
  • Proof of income/employment.
  • Proof that you are a student (if you are opening a student account).
  • SCHUFA credit rating (some, not all, banks require it).

Getting your phone and internet organized

Landline Telephones

If you want to get your phone connected, you will need to take out a contract with a fixed phone line provider in Germany. Be aware that once you have taken out a contract, you are locked into it for the duration of its term (usually 12 months in Germany). Often, your internet provider will offer a combination package that includes a phone line (and sometimes a mobile phone contract) for little or no extra cost.

To take out a phone line contract in Germany, you need:

It is usually possible to do this online. You need to complete a short form with your details. Once submitted, a technician will arrange to come to your home to set up the landline. There is often a one-off charge for this service.

German phone line bills: Payment for your landline is usually in the form of a monthly direct debit that is deducted automatically from your bank account. You will sometimes also receive monthly bills that detail your phone usage and outline any additional charges, if applicable.

Cellular or Mobile Telephones

Most of the SIM cards can be obtained in supermarkets, or local stores for around 10€. They come with no minimum costs and no minimum commitment—most of the bill 9 cents per SMS and minute.

  • Aldi Talk (by Eplus): to be purchased at Aldi only
  • O.Tel.O (Vodafone): to be purchased at  Media Markt, Saturn, Euronics
  • Congstar Prepaid (by Deutsche Telekom):  to be purchased in T-Stores, Kaufland,  Real and Netto
  • Lidl Mobile (Lidl): to be purchased at Lidl only
  • Blau (Eplus):  to be purchased at Aral,  Netto, Real, Rossmann
  • Edeka Mobile (by Vodafone): to be purchased at Edeka only
  • Tchibo Mobile (by O2): to be purchased at Tchibo only

Going online in Germany

When choosing an internet provider, make sure you know for how long you would have to maintain a subscription. Some networks offer promotional packages which, however, must be maintained for two years. If you need the internet for a shorter time, check for Ohne Mindertlaufzeit which means no minimum duration. Otherwise, you can also get a portable USB surf stick. It is important to remember that when receiving a router, it often remains the property of the internet provider and you may have to send it back when changing provider or housing later. Some of the best internet providers are:

  • 1&1 which is currently offering the best internet connection in Germany and a wide range of reasonable packages and offers.
  • o2, one of the cheapest options, however, with requirements for longer-term contracts.
  • Deutsche Telekom (T-home), which offers the best service, but is also the costliest option.

Vodafone, which offers complete and affordable packages.

DSL offers a great variety of providers and, therefore, competitive prices. Telekom tends to be the more expensive option. The most reasonably priced providers offer VoIP, i.e. phoning via the internet. Note, connection speed mostly depends on the distance of the end-user from the nearest distributor and, therefore, the full promised speed of 16 Mbit/s (DSL) may not always be reached. It is best to consult various comparison sites and ask your neighbors and colleagues which provider they use. Most likely, they will have gone through the ordeal of finding the best and most reliable solution.

Besides, Free Wi-Fi (or WLAN in German) can still be challenging to find. Until recently, the Wi-Fi operator risked being liable if a user committed an offence such as downloading music illegally, which stopped most cafes from offering free Wi-Fi. Most bus and train stations, as well as restaurants, pubs, or airports, offer free or paid access to Wi-Fi through their “hotspots”. The places can easily be spotted thanks to a blue icon.

Making international calls

Whether you are phoning from a US landline, your mobile phone, a Skype account, or a number in another European country (e.g., Spain to Italy), you are making an international call. Here is how to do it:
  1. Dial the international access code. Use 011 if calling from the US or Canadian landline or mobile phone; if dialing from a mobile phone, you can enter a + instead of the 011 (press and hold the 0 key). Use 00 if calling from a number in any European country; if dialing from a mobile phone, you can enter a + instead of the 00
  2. Dial the country code, for example, dial 39 if you are calling Italy or 33 for France (see chart below)
Dial the phone number, if the number begins with a 0, drop it (except for Italy)

Accessing the internet

There is a wide range of ISPs (Internet Service Providers) in the German market. It is certain that during your stay you will receive a lot of advertising and promotional CDs from them. All universities and most schools have access to the Internet.

Getting connected to the Internet in Germany is easy, options include dial-up ISDN, DSL, and cable. Bear in mind that it may take a while to get high-speed access, such as DSL, installed.

Dial-up access

Most dial-up ISPs (Internet Service Providers) offer two types of access:
  • a pay-as-you-go service, mainly on a per-minute basis
  • a contract service where you pay a fixed amount per month for limited access (these start at around €15/month)
Note that there are no more flat rates available for dial-up access. Both analogue and ISDN lines can be used to access the Internet by dial-up. ISDN will offer you faster access at 64 kbps (or 128 kbps if you use both lines at the same time). The monthly fee for an ISDN line is a little more expensive you will need a particular ISDN modem.

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