Students and parents who contact us ask a wide variety of questions, but one that nearly every person ask is, "How much does it cost, really?" This is a bit challenging for me to answer, because it requires more information than I normally have about the student at the time. Do they eat out every meal, or cook at home? Do they close the bars in their hometown every weekend, or do they stay in and watch movies? Are they going to get homesick immediately and want to return to the States every three months, or will they stay in Germany for the entirety of their studies?
I try to come to some kind of answer, and normally I lead with the information that, according to the Bundesministerium fuer Bildung und Forschung, German students spend on average 864 Euros per month. This figure includes the cost of rent, food, clothing, entertainment, and books, as well as university-related fees and required costs, like health insurance.
That figure is valuable for giving students and parents a general idea of what they're getting into, but it is no more valuable for budgeting purposes than an average cost of living figure would be for someone deciding between a move to San Francisco or Birmingham. An average student who plans to live in Munich, for instance, should budget, on average, over 900 euros per month, whereas the same student can reasonably expect their outlays to be less than 700/month in Leipzig.
The location is not the only factor that causes estimations to vary widely. Depending on whether a student wants to live in university houses, in a shared accommodation with other students, or in a single apartment, they can realistically expect a range of between 200 - 600 or more per month. Dorms normally run approximately 250 euros/month, while the more popular WGs (shared flats) cost students between 300-500 euros/month. If you want to live on your own, on the other hand, you can expect to spend between 400-600 euros/month easily, depending on which city you live in. It's always wise to check out sites like WG Gesucht and Immobilien Scout before you move to get a sense of what rents are like in the area you plan to move to.
Now, rent is the single largest student expense, but almost more important are the expenses that people tend to either underestimate or ignore. Before planning your budget, ask yourself these questions:
- How much do I normally spend on groceries, and how much do I spend in restaurants?
- How often do I go to bars and clubs, and how much do I spend on other forms of entertainment?
- How often would I like to travel during my studies?
- How many times per year will I want to return home?
Your answers to these questions are very important for your ultimate budgetary figures. If you spend $200/month on groceries now, you will likely spend around the same in Germany. The biggest single mistake most students make is underestimating their costs by ignoring the realities of what they will spend. After you complete your estimations of your current costs, you'll also need to factor in all of the costs unique to Germany.
- Visa application fees (Once per year)
- Health insurance (Every month)
- University fees (Once every 6 months at public universities)
When creating your final budget, a good general rule of thumb is to use your current expenses using a one for one dollar to euro conversion,include all the additional expenses unique to Germany, and add 10%. Ignore many of the figures offered by previous students, because these are likely specific to them, and won't include many things you'll either need or want to spend money on.
Again, be very careful not to underestimate; even those with the best intentions almost always fail to live a lifestyle that costs significantly less than what they are currently paying. Convincing yourself that you can live on 400 euros a month will almost definitely lead to trouble down the road. Most international students in Germany have money woes, mainly for this reason, leading to many sleepless nights and unnecessary stress. But if you create a realistic and honest plan ahead of your move, you'll be left to focus on what's really important: studying.