Germany has landed on a myriad of most affordable study-abroad destinations in the world. Surprised? You won’t be when you learn that last year the German government passed a law requiring all federally funded institutions of higher learning to eliminate tuition for German and international students alike. (Private institutions, which are rare in Germany, are still allowed to charge tuition).

Germany has long been a popular destination for U.S. students, especially those pursuing studies in technology, engineering, the humanities, arts and philosophy. Many of these students have been attracted by the quality of higher education in Germany: In a recent survey 17 German universities made the list of the world’s top 250; every major German city has at least one university ranked among the world’s best. According to a survey by the Institute of International Education (IIE), a leader in the field of study abroad, 3.4% of all U.S. students who study abroad, study in Germany.

If you want to be one of the 3.4%, start by visiting the website of DAAD (Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst known in English as the German Academic Exchange Service), a one-stop-shopping site for any and all information about studying in Germany. DAAD is a membership organization of German institutes of higher education and student organizations founded almost 100 years ago that has a U.S. office in New York and a satellite information center in San Francisco.

Why study in Germany?

Nina Lemmens, the director of the New York office of DAAD, gave us a list of reasons she thinks Germany is so attractive to U.S. students – beyond free tuition for public institutions: It’s very international – you will meet students not only from Germany, but from all over the world; German universities offer more than 1,600 courses taught in English and are some of the most famous in the world; and the cost of living in Germany is not particularly high considering the country’s standard of living (even truer at the moment considering the strength of the dollar compared to the euro). Another factor that appeals primarily to parents, according to Lemmens, is that Germany is such a safe country in which to study and live.

Independent study or sponsored program?

Enrolling independently in a degree program is a definite possibility at the bachelor’s, master’s or PhD level. However, since a U.S. high school diploma is not enough to gain admission to an undergraduate degree program in Germany, students will not be able to go straight from a U.S. high school to a German university without taking a prep course. For more information and a list of available prep courses, see the DAAD website.

For one-on-one advice about enrolling in a specific German university, you can speak directly to the New York–based representatives of 35 of the best-known schools.

As you would expect, DAAD is a good source for identifying study opportunities available to international students; IIE’s Passport.org, with 484 programs listed, is another.

For information on study abroad in general – how to find a program, how to decide what kind of experience you want, how to vet a program – take a look at the acknowledged “bible” of the field, A Student Guide to Study Abroad, published by IIE and the American Institute for Foreign Study (AIFS).

How to Keep Program Costs Down

According to Louise Ann Speed, assistant to the program director of Wayne State University’s Junior Year in Munich, you should keep in mind at least six questions as you consider which sponsored program will give you the best value:

  • Are the program’s scholarships limited to students from their institution or are they available to students from other colleges and universities as well?

  • Does the quoted cost include the big ticket items – housing, health insurance – as well as the smaller costs – the residency permit, host institution fees, transcript fees, excursion fees, etc.?

  • Does the program allow you to matriculate as a native student at the host institution so that you can benefit from German student subsidies (such as access to the university Mensas, or cafeterias, where you can get reasonable meals)? Speed recommends avoiding buying a meal plan – ”you can eat far more cheaply at the Mensa or by cooking for yourself.”

  • If you choose a program with an internship component, is the placement fee included?

  • Are the social events planned for the time you are in Germany included in the cost?

  • If you choose a year-long program, will you be expected to pay extra rent for your room during the semester break, or will you have to move out of your room between semesters?

A Sample Study Program in Germany

We have chosen, as an example, Wayne State University’s Junior Year in Munich, for three reasons – it is one of the most affordable ($20,600 for a full year compared to some programs that are three times as much); it has withstood the test of time (it began in 1953, the first program in Germany after the war); and it allows U.S. students to study at LMU Munich (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München), cited by the Times Higher Education Magazine (U.K.) as the top university in Germany. The cost includes courses at LMU with a choice of 150 subjects, housing, insurance, residency permit, etc.; a one semester option is also available for $10,300. (For financial aid tips, read How to Finance Your Studies Abroad.)

What will you spend your euros on?

Berlin and Munich are the most popular cities for U.S. students studying in Germany; they are also two of the more expensive. (For instance, according to Numbeo, rent in Munich is 19.85% higher than in Hamburg and 42.73% higher than Cologne – other spending categories don’t vary as widely.)

For information on costs in Munich, we enlisted the help of two staff members from Wayne State University’s program in that city – program director Mark Ferguson and academic coordinator Sommer Forschner – and the former representative in the U.S. of LMU Munich, Andrea Adam Moore, who was the executive director of the German University Alliance.

A great online source about the costs you can expect as a student in Germany is a series of DAAD videos that feature Max, an engaging young man who gives you the inside scoop on apartment shares, German paperwork, the cost of a liter of milk and more.

The network of student discounts in Germany is countrywide and well-established so you can expect reduced prices on transportation, at museums, films, etc. Wherever you go, show your student ID and see what happens.

Budget for Typical Day-to-day Expenses

Here are a few examples of some likely budget items in Munich:

[Prices were current as of August 2016, when one U.S. dollar was worth about .89 euros.]

Housing: If you want to live like a German student (and why wouldn’t you?) it’s best to arrange a flat-share with other students. According to Lemmens, rents range from $447 to $727 per month for a sublet – depending on size of room, location, etc. For a leg up on your housing search, take a look at LMU’s accommodations recommendations.

Food: If you share a flat it will be easy to save money on food by making your own meals, using ingredients from large discount supermarket chains such as Aldi, Lidl and Netto. For a meal out that won’t break the bank, take a look at this list from Budget Traveller.

Ferguson recommends two inexpensive choices: Löwenbräukeller’s grilled ham hock with sauerkraut and potato dumpling, $16, and a “really, really big schnitzel” at Steinheil 16 – a student pub next to the Technical University of Munich – for $13. He wants you to know that “there are lots and lots of international restaurants in Munich now – it’s not pork and no salad any more!”

A splurge dinner: To celebrate a special occasion, or when your parents come to visit, go to Spatenhaus an der Oper, opposite the Bavarian Opera at 12 Residenzstrasse and order the half roast duck, $30.

A night out: University students get great discounts to the theater and opera as well as museums. Movie tickets are as low as $8 , and the opera offers student tickets for as low as $15.

Local transportation: Students may buy a $64 ticket that entitles them to use Munich’s mass transit system at certain times of day for an entire semester. Students also have the option of buying the IsarCard – $212 for the semester – that is valid 24/7 for all S-BAhn, U-Bahn, tramways, buses and regional trains. To give you an idea of just what a bargain these are, consider that the cost of a regular single ride is almost $3.

Biking: “Biking is huge in Munich," Ferguson says. "All the streets have bike paths and, of course, there’s the English Garden in the center of the city. Many of our students buy used bikes – a perfectly good one starts at about $216, less at a flea market.”

Drinks with friends: Your choice: a “Helles” (Munich lager, 11 ounces) in a local pub, $3.85; or a “Mass” (1/2 liter or 33.8 ounces) at Oktoberfest, $11; or a Coke, 11.2 oz bottle, $2.22.

Trip to Berlin: Students get special rates on trains to Berlin as well as Venice, Prague and Paris. And when students travel in a group, the discounts are even better. Many students prefer to arrange a car ride to Berlin (about a 6-hour drive) via the popular ride share option, Mitfahrgelegenheit..

Alpine sports: You know what all work and no play can do so join the Deutscher Alpenverein at the student rate and get discounts for ski lifts, Kletterhalle (climbing walls), Berghutten (mountain huts), plus an option for Extreme Sport Insurance – just in case.

The Bottom Line

Germany has done a great deal to help ease the way for U.S. students who want to study there – everything from eliminating tuition fees to providing a website (DAAD) with invaluable information on living and studying in that country. With some wise advance planning, you will be able to study at one of the world’s highest rated institutions of higher learning while holding your costs down with the help of Germany’s well-developed network of student discounts. (For tips on financing your study abroad, read You CAN Afford To Study Abroad.)

(Study abroad can have great payoffs for your career later on. For other options, see Study Abroad: Budget for Italy, Study Abroad: Budget for Florence, Study Abroad: Budget for Australia and Study Abroad: Budget for Spain)

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