Settling down in a foreign country can be a challenging process, especially if you do not speak their language well. Untangling the process can be daunting, complex, and usually lengthy.
Before you embark on this process, please make sure that you have enough money with you, so that you can survive until you have opened your bank account for your scholarship, blocked account or sponsors to deposit money for your use. Also, having someone who can help translate German is a boon to many of these steps. P/s: You also have the option to contact a student tutor for help.
Initial trip from the airport to Würzburg
The easiest option to travel to Würzburg is via train. You may purchase your tickets ahead of time via Deutsche Bahn website and search for a cheaper offer. Do provide ample time between your arrival and the train departure, as immigration clearance may take time if there’s a crowd and German trains are usually punctual.
Another option is by coach (locally known as bus). If you’re arriving at either Frankfurt or Munich International Airport, Flixbus provides cheap transport between the airport and Würzburg. However, coaches are definitely slower and less frequent than train.
German phone line (with data)
If you do not have any form of communication and want to avoid hefty overseas mobile charges, this is a very important milestone to clear. There are many options to choose – from phone shops with postpaid phone plans to the cheaper prepaid options from supermarkets.
In Germany, all SIM cards are sold locked. To unlock them for use, you have to complete a verification process, which require your passport, and a bit of time while they process your verification. If possible, complete the verification in the shop immediately after your SIM card purchase. This will save you the trouble of finding a WiFi source (especially if you do not have easy access to one) for the online verification. Do note that you’ll need a German address for this verification. It is possible to use an interim address (e.g. your temporary accommodation) for this.
For example, if you are purchasing the prepaid SIM cards from an ALDI supermarket, approach the cashier and ask for an in‑shop verification. While you might have to wait a while before the cashier is free to help you with the verification, it’s useful in the long run to get your communication channel up and running as soon as possible. Beware though, as some of us were unlucky and encountered service staffs that only spoke German.
Transport within Würzburg can be pricy. A bus ride will cost at least €2.70 per trip. Until you get your matriculation card (which also functions as a transport pass), it is recommended to get the day pass to cover your transport needs. The day pass can be easily obtained from any bus conductor or ticketing stations and costs €5.10.
In the unfortunate event which your matriculation card will take more than two weeks to issue, it will be more economical to purchase a monthly ticket that costs €45. This ticket allows you to travel within Würzburg and its surrounding areas without limitations for a month.
OpenStreetMap is the recommended map service for Würzburg, as Google Maps does not have information about the tram (locally known as street train, or Straßebahn) and bus services that ply in Würzburg. You may use also apps such as Bayern Fahrplan to help you with moving around Würzburg (Android and IOS).
Health insurance is required in Germany. You have a range of choices from both public and private health insurance companies. Do note that choosing between public or private health insurers will have short‑term and long‑term consequences, especially if you have plans to remain in Germany after your studies. You will not able to return to public insurance once you switch out to a private insurer. There is also an age‑restriction for entry into public health insurance (e.g. below 30 years of age). It is essential to do your due diligence before choosing.
If you choose a private health insurer, you would need to get an exemption letter from a public health insurer. One option is to visit the AOK Bayern Student Service Office in Sanderring. As long as your private health plan provides sufficient coverage and is valid for your whole school term (ie. at least 2 years coverage for the EAGLE programme), you may obtain the required exemption letter.
Bring along all necessary documents as instructed by the matriculation letter to the international office. Once you have matriculated, you will need to activate your online student account. The login information will be sent via email. As the activation is not immediate and will take a few days, do complete this online activation as soon as possible.
You will also need to wait for your matriculation card to be produced. The International Office will contact you once the card is ready. Take the card to a validation machine (available in the library and ground floor of building 82). Follow the instructions provided by the Office and your card is now valid for “free” transport.
This is a crucial milestone. Basically, a German address is required for matriculation, phone verification, health insurance, unlocking a blocked account (if you have one), and even opening a bank account. Not to mention, there will be less stress in your life with a secured roof over your head.
Unfortunately, the process of obtaining an accommodation is stuck in a loop with the bank account and residence permit. Simply put, a proof of residence (usually residence permit) is required to open a bank account, which may be required to pay for your accommodation, which then is required to apply for a residence permit.
Fortunately, alternatives are available to break this loop. Not all accommodations require a German bank account for payment. Bring sufficient cash to Germany so that you can use them to pay for an accommodation if needed. You may also wire or transfer money from an overseas account directly to your landlord to pay for your accommodation’s initial payment, if this option is available.
If you are fortunate enough to secure an accommodation before you arrive at Würzburg, give yourself a pat on the back. Demand for accommodation here is way more than supply – even the student apartments may have a waiting list of one semester or more! There is no easy way around finding an affordable accommodation here. You will need to use all possible avenues, such as Studentenwerk, WG-Gesucht and even word‑of‑mouth, until you find a suitable place. In the interim, you may try Babelfish or Jugendherberge for a cheap temporary accommodation.
While opening a bank account can be annoying as part of the bank‑accommodation‑permit loop, there are possible bypasses (e.g. obtaining an official letter with your name and German address on it or opening an account with an online bank).
To open an account in the usual brick‑and‑mortar banks, you will require a residence permit or an official letter with your name and German address on it. As the contract for opening a bank account is only legally binding in German, you will need to either understand German or bring someone who can translate German to you. A fee is required in order to keep the current account operational. Some banks offer a student account which has zero fees, but these accounts are usually age‑restricted (e.g. below 27 years of age).
If you would prefer to avoid the traditional banks, online banks are available for your use, such as N26. As with all financial decisions, do take time to research and consider your options carefully.
In order to obtain a residence permit, you need an accommodation, period/full stop. When you secure one, you will be provided with a letter for registration at the town hall (local term: Rathaus). You will also need your passport, matriculation letter/matriculation card, and bank account statement. If you are married, a translated copy of your marriage certificate (in English or German) is required too.
After you have obtained a residence permit, you may receive a letter from the German broadcasting institution (Beitragsservice von ARD, ZDF und Deutschlandradio). The legal ruling is that each residence is required to pay the fee, regardless of whether you use their services. If you live alone, do register with them as instructed and pay the fees (€17.50 per month). If you have housemates, check if anyone is already paying, get their account number and inform the Beitragsservice that you’re covered under that account number.
Electronic residence card
The final milestone. You are only allowed to book an appointment with the Rathaus when you have less than three months remaining for your student visa. Depending on the length of your entry visa (e.g. some were given three months while others have six months), you might have to wait.
On your first visit, you will not be processing anything. Instead, you will be given a form to fill and a second appointment on another day. This means, please do not come to the Rathaus with less than a month of your visa remaining.
On your second visit, you will need to bring all the documents as instructed in the form and €107 (either in cash or by debit card). You will need to come half an hour before your given appointment time to provide your mugshots and biometrics (fingerprints, etc). That costs €7. Your application will then cost another €100. It’s then time to return home and wait for two letters (about a few weeks later).
When you get the two letters, bring them for your third visit to the Rathaus and get your card. Congratulations, you are now a third state citizen in Germany! Do check the validity date on your card. If you only have one year before it expires, then you will need to repeat the whole application process (including another set of mugshots and biometrics) in your second year here.
Other useful information
If you come from a country/place which businesses and shops open till late and on weekends, be prepared for a major change. Not only do shops and supermarkets in Bavaria close at 8pm or earlier, they are also non‑operational on Sundays and public holidays. While there are exceptions such as certain F&B outlets, this means that you will need to stock up with food (and party beers) beforehand to avoid nuisance during these periods.
Remember to bring your own bags for shopping. Shops in Germany do not provide free bags for your groceries and other shopping goods. You will need to purchase these bags at a small cost from the cashier if you require them.
You may refer to the University calendar here. That should help with your scheduling and time management.
Tips for convenience
Bring more money if possible. Until you get access to your funds (e.g. unblocking of blocked account), your funds will be mostly restricted to what you bring. For blocked account holders, you will need to undergo a verification process before your account can be unblocked. Verification may be delayed for many reasons. Do take that into consideration when planning your money.
Most entry visa do not come with an innate work permit for students, which is a pre‑requisite for a student job. If you wish to get a work permit, please visit the Rathaus.
Having someone to translate German for you will be highly helpful. In fact, it may even expedite the process considerably. While you can approach the student tutors available at the International Office, don’t shy away from asking your fellow coursemates and/or seniors who can speak German. This will double as an icebreaker, which will make a great start for your student life in EAGLE!
Settling down in Würzburg may seem complex and frustrating when you’re unprepared for how Germany conducts her administrative matters. For the well‑prepared, this can be a smooth process. If you are ever frustrated or depressed about this matter, remember that you can always approach your seniors – we’ve been through the process! Feel free to contact us through our contact form. We look forward to meeting you in Würzburg!
This article is written based on the experiences and mistakes by your EAGLE seniors when they first settled in Würzburg.
Many thanks to everyone for sharing your experiences and challenges, as well as providing feedback to improve the article.
This article was written in June 2018.