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Reader question: Can I apply or return to a German university from a ‘virus variant’ area?

Reader question: Can I apply or return to a German university from a 'virus variant' area?
A student walks past the campus of Munich's renowed Technical University. Photo: picture alliance / Sven Hoppe/dpa | Sven Hoppe
After the summer, many states in Germany are planning to resume in-person teaching. But what are the rules for international students from virus variant areas such as India, Portugal, Russia and the United Kingdom?

With world-class universities, free tuition and generous visa laws for students, it’s no wonder that hundreds of thousands of international students come to study in Germany each year.

But as with almost all other areas of public life, Covid-19 has forced people to reassess their ambitions and even put plans on hold.

While Germany is in the process of opening up travel for people from non-EU countries, there is one notable exception: people arriving from an area of virus variant concern such as India, the UK, South Africa and Brail – among others – where the highly infectious Delta variant of Covid is prevalent.

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For people who live in this group of countries, travel into Germany is currently banned, though there are some exceptions, for example if you have German citizenship or right of residency. We go into detail below on the rules you have to follow if entering from virus variant areas. 

READ MORE: Germany relaxes travel rules for vaccinated non-EU residents: What you need to know

So what do you do if you want to study at a German university and you’re living in one of these areas? Are you still allowed to apply, and can you still get funding?

We’ll take a look at these questions, and tell you how to find out if your region has become an ‘area of virus variant concern’. 

Current areas of virus variant concern 

If you want to find out whether your country or region is on the ‘risk list’, or has become an area with a variant of concern, the best thing to do is to consult the website of Germany public health authority, the Robert Koch Institute.

At the time of writing, 14 countries around the world were classed under the ‘virus variant’ category, with Portugal and the Russian Federation having recently been added to the list

READ ALSO: Germany bans travel from Portugal and Russia over Covid Delta variant spread

The other countries classed as areas of variants of concern, as of June 30th, were: Botswana, Brazil, Eswatini, India, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nepal, South Africa, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, including all British Overseas Territories, Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, Uruguay, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Can I still get a visa to come to Germany to study? 

According to the most recent advice issued by the German Embassy in Moscow, following Russia’s entry onto the virus-variant list, visas to Germany are not currently being issued at the centre other than in exceptional circumstances.

However, the same documentation also states that students with an unconditional letter of acceptance onto a course at a German university can submit their applications for a visa – though it remains unclear if the visa can be granted at this point.

Students with an unconditional letter of admission to a German university or preparatory college, as well as students who are already enrolled at a German university or preparatory college, can submit their application at the application center in Moscow,” it states. 

Dr. Klaudia Knabel, Head of Scholarship Programmes Northern Hemisphere at the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), offered a more sombre reading of the situation.


Students sit in a lecture hall at the historic Heidelberg University in Baden-Württemburg. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Uwe Anspach

“The award procedure for DAAD scholarships for the academic year 2021/22 has already been completed for the most part,” she told The Local.

“Unfortunately, some of our scholarship holders, those from the so-called virus variant areas, will probably not be able to enter.

READ ALSO: TRAVEL – Germany plans to maintain border restrictions after pandemic laws end

“For persons staying in so-called virus variant areas with a particularly high prevalence of mutations of the virus, transport to Germany and entry in accordance with the Corona Entry Regulation are currently generally prohibited. This also applies to fully vaccinated persons. Exceptions are only possible in very few cases, for example for persons with residence and right of abode in Germany.

“For students and scientists from virus-variant areas, this means that it is currently not possible to ensure attendance studies, or a research stay in Germany for the winter semester 2021/2022. Entry is also not possible even if the German higher education institution has already granted a study place.”

According to Dr. Knabel, if you’re currently in this situation, the best thing to do is keep an eye on the most up-to-date risk categories of various countries, and refer to the latest information on the website of your local German Embassy.  

Though the outlook may seem bleak at present, a lot can change in the run-up to October. 

What if I don’t have a place at a German university yet? 

If you don’t already have a place to study this year, then it is probably too late to apply to study in the academic year starting this autumn.

However, with the roll-out of the vaccine programme globally, there’s always a chance that the situation will have improved by next year, making it much easier to apply to study in Germany from abroad. 

What if I already have my visa? 

According to the Ministry of the Interior guidance, if you already have a visa to come and study in Germany, this could count as a ‘right of residence’, and you should be allowed to enter to complete your studies, even if your country is not on the ‘risk-free’ list. 

“It is possible to enter Germany for the purpose of completing a university course of study or for individual semesters of study,” the guidance explains.

“Students are required to present an admission notice issued by the institution of higher education. Because institutions of higher education are offering both online and in-person instruction, it is not necessary to provide any separate documentation of the need to attend in person.”

If you were resident in Germany last year as a student, it may also be wise to bring any evidence of this – such as an Anmeldung (address registration) – with you when you enter the country.

You will also, of course, have to observe the latest quarantine, testing and registration rules for people from virus variant areas. 

Will I have to study online?

With continued uncertainty around how Covid-19 infection rates will develop in the autumn, and what impact the vaccination drive will have, it’s impossible to say at this point how much of your course will be carried out online.


Floor markings show visitors the entrance and exit routes at Humboldt University, Berlin, during the pandemic. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Bernd von Jutrczenka

At present, most universities are aiming to restart in-person teaching in the next semester, but depending on infection rates, you could see a mix of online and in-person teaching, or (less likely) an exclusively online course. 

READ ALSO: What it’s like to study abroad in Germany during a pandemic

Rules for entering Germany

If you are allowed to enter Germany from a virus variant area, you will currently have to present a negative Covid-19 test at the border, quarantine for 14 days upon arrival (regardless of whether you are vaccinated or not) and register your entry into Germany on the government travel portal at einreiseanmeldung.de.

For people entering from a virus variant area, there is currently no option to end quarantine early. 

Funding your studies 

If you’re heading to Germany in the time of Covid, you may be wondering how to fund your studies – and if financial help is even available.

The good news is, there are numerous scholarships available from DAAD, and the ‘risk status’ of your country is unlikely to affect your chances of being awarded one, though you may have to be flexible about when (or where) you receive it. 

“DAAD scholarship holders who have already received a confirmation of sponsorship have the following options in the case of an entry ban: they can start their studies online from their home country, provided the university in question offers study programmes remotely. Furthermore, a postponement of the DAAD scholarship is possible,” said Dr. Knabel. 

If you plan to support yourself financially by working during your studies, you should note that many industries that employ German students – most notably hospitality – have been hit hard by the pandemic, so it’s worth putting some savings aside for any eventuality.

However, with much of public life reoping in Germany, it seems the economy is rapidly bouncing back: in June, the unemployment rate fell by a whopping 70,000, suggesting that companies are finally hiring again.

Equally, some hardship funds also have been made available to both national and international students at German universities since the start of the pandemic, which your university will be able to advise you about.

How to access advice and support 

If you are concerned about your forthcoming studies, or unsure about whether you will be allowed entry into the country, there are number of people you can contact for support. 

The first is your university’s International Office, which is the first port of call for most international students at German universities. A directory of international offices at different German universities can be found here.

Another is your local German Embassy, or the German Ministry of the Interior, which is responsible for setting conditions for entry into Germany.


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