International students: How to apply for new interest-free loans in Germany

The coronavirus pandemic has hit many workers hard, and especially students, many of whom rely on part-time jobs alongside their studies. But now extra help is on the way.

International students: How to apply for new interest-free loans in Germany
Students taking a break between classes at the University of Tübingen. Photo: DPA

As of June 1st, all foreign students within Germany have been able to apply for financial aid to help facilitate their studies. 

The application form for the interest-free loan of up to €650 per month has been available since May 8th for German students, whereas for Germany’s nearly 400,000 international students it opened at the beginning of June. 

Students can receive the loan – which is issued in payments of at least €100 per month – through an online application available on the website of state bank KfW

Students can then receive the loan for up to 14 semesters, or up to 54,600. 

READ ALSO: 10 words that perfectly sum up being a student in Germany

Who’s eligible for the loans?

According to Germany’s Federal Education Ministry, all students between the ages of 18 and 44 who are enrolled at state-recognised institutions of higher education in Germany are eligible for the loan if: 

  • They are German citizens and registered as living in Germany
  • Dependents of German citizens also living in Germany
  • EU citizens registered and residing in Germany for at least three years (or their dependents)
  • Non-nationals who are registered in Germany and obtained their university entrance qualifications here.
  • All foreign-nationals registered as living in Germany (an exception made during the corona pandemic)
  • The loans are for those currently studying for their bachelor’s, master's, doctoral and postdoctoral studies. The length of the grant also depends on the age of the student.

According to Education Ministry estimates, the loans are set to reach a total amount of up to €1 billion.

Working while studying

Around two-thirds of students in Germany work while studying, according to Federal Education Minister Anja Karliczek. 

That number is even higher for international students, of which around three-quarters are dependent on part-time jobs. 

According to a poll conducted by educational website, 90 percent of international students in Germany say they’ve been affected during the corona crisis. 

“Especially after the lockdown, the majority of students lost their jobs and so this led to financial uncertainty for German foreign students,” Njomza Zeqiri, a higher education expert, told The Local.

Rules for working while studying

Students coming from outside of EU member states are permitted to work part-time, either 240 half days or 120 full days, according to Zeqiri.

Self-employment, however, can be permitted only upon request and in individual cases, based on what’s approved by the foreigner’s office (or Ausländerbehörde). 

If a student is in a language or preparatory course, the rules are more strict, said Zeqiri.

They are only allowed work during lecture-free periods, and only if they obtain permission from both the Federal Employment Agency (Agentur für Arbeit) and the Ausländerbehörde.

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EXPLAINED: Can foreigners apply for student finance in Germany?

Germany has a system of financial support for students known as BAföG. In many cases foreigners are just as entitled to apply as Germans. Here’s what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: Can foreigners apply for student finance in Germany?

What is BAföG?

Bafög is an abbreviation for a word that would surely be the longest in pretty much any other language expect German: Bundesausbildungsförderungsgesetz. This tongue twister breaks down to mean Federal Training Assistance Act. 

Ever since the 1970s it has helped Germans from poor backgrounds to take up a place at university to at a training colleague, with the idea being that financial hardship should never prevent someone from entering higher education.

In its current form the law provides for students form poorer families to receive €853 a month, half of which is a stipend and half of which is a loan that you will need to pay back once you’ve entered the workforce. 

The maximum you are expected to pay back is €10,000.   

Some 460,000 students were being assisted with Bafög payments in 2020, the last year for which there are numbers.

READ ALSO: How to finance your master’s studies in Germany as an international student

Who is entitled to BAföG?

There are two basic conditions attached to BAföG: you have to be under the age of 30 to apply and you parents have to be low-wage earners.

There are some exemptions for the age restriction. If you can show that you were not able to start a course of study before your 30th birthday due to health or familial reasons then you might still be eligible later. Also, if you are applying for support for a Masters degree then you can apply for Bafög up until the age of 35.

According to German law, your parents have an obligation to financially support your education. This means that German authorities ask for evidence of their income to assess whether you are in need of state support.

And this applies whether your parents work in Germany or abroad, the Education Ministry confirmed to The Local.

“Income calculation under the BAföG rules takes place regardless of whether one’s parents live in Germany or abroad. This applies both to German nationals and to people with non-German nationality who are eligible for support under BAföG,” a spokesperson for the ministry confirmed.

What about foreigners?

Bafög is by no means only available to Germans. A whole variety of foreign nationals can also apply.

The rules on which foreign nationals are entitled to financial support are fairly complicated. But the following list on eligibility is somewhat exhaustive:

  • If you are an EU citizen, or from an EEA country, and you have lived in Germany for at least five years
  • If you are married to, or are the child of, an EU citizen who has lived in Germany for at least five years
  • If your are an EU citizen who lives and works in Germany and whose intended course of study is connected to your current job
  • If you are not an EU citizen but have obtained permanent residency in Germany
  • If you have received refugee status
  • If you have lived in the country for at least 15 months as a ‘tolerated’ person (ie you applied for asylum and weren’t given full refugee status)
  • If at least one of your parents has lived and worked in Germany for three of the past six years
  • You are married to a German national and have moved to Germany.
  • You are the spouse or child of a foreign national who holds a permanent residency permit.

Due to the relative complexity of these rules it is advisable to speak to local organisations that support students such as the Studentenwerk Hamburg, the StudierendenWERK BERLIN or the Studentenwerk München.

READ ALSO: Essential German words to know as a student in Germany

How do repayments work?

The Federal Education Ministry states that you are expected to pay back your loan even if you return to your home country after completing your studies.

Repayment begins five years after you received the last installment of the loan at which point you are expected to pay back €130 a month. Although this amount can be reduced if your salary is low.

If you haven’t paid everything back after 20 years then the rest of the debt is dropped.