German housing terms
Before we discuss how to find the perfect student apartment, it's useful to define a few key German terms. Germans have their own mini-language where housing is concerned, so here's a quick glossary to help you navigate during your search.
Firstly, "Erdgeschoss" means ground floor. After that, look for the word "Stock" after numbers to denote different floors.
Apartments are referred to as a "Wohnung", and sharing an apartment is called living in a "Wohngemeinschaft" (or WG). Smaller one bedroom apartments may also be referred to as an "Einzimmerwohnung". Frei" also means "free", as in ready to rent.
The word "möbliert" means "furnished" – which actually isn't that common in Germany.
You should be able to tell what comes with apartments by consulting the "Kaufvertrag" (contract).
Finally, there are financial terms. Your deposit will be referred to as "die Kaution", while rental payments are "Miete", which has to be paid to "der Vermieter" (your landlord).
Before you can rent any properties, you'll need to sort out certain administrative formalities.
Firstly, renters need to sign a "Mietvertrag" (literally, "rental contract"). This is pretty much the same as anywhere else in the world, and sets out things like your deposit, rental term, and monthly payments. It also contains information about terms of notice required before tenants can be evicted, and what happens if rental payments are delayed for some reason.
In Germany, rental agreements tend to feature two payments. There's the standard rent, as well as a charge called the "Umlagen". The first is fixed, but the second can vary, as it covers bills and tax payments by your landlord.
Secondly, renters may have to sign a "Bürgschaft”. This is like an insurance policy for landlords, and specifies who will pay the rent if you aren't able to do so.
The Bürgschaft generally applies to renters with shorter work histories or poor credit ratings. Landlords just want some form of reassurance that you won't run away without paying.
Co-signees could include family members or employers – anyone who the landlord is satisfied can stand surety for your payments.
How much does it cost for a student to live in Germany?
Generally speaking, Germany isn't an expensive place to rent (at least compared to many other European countries).
Expect a one bedroom city center apartment to rent for around 700 €, rising to 1,300 € for a 3-bedroom property. Divided between 3 people, that's around 450 €.
The average monthly living costs for a student in Germany total around 850 € – so bear that in mind as well when picking the right room. You'll need money for books, food, and socializing.
How much do apartments cost in Germany?
Alternatively, you might have the resources to actually purchase student accommodation. Prices vary depending on which city you are living in, and how close you are to the city center.
As a rule, expect to pay almost 5,000 € per square meter in the center of town, and as little as 3.500 € in the suburbs.
If you have a few friends to live with and the money to do so, buying apartments can work out much cheaper over the long term.
Apartment Hunting Online
When you've arranged the finance, asked someone about guaranteeing your rent, and looked into the way rental agreements are written, it's time to start house hunting. For students, this generally means looking for a WG.
What is a WG in Germany?
WG stands for "Wohngemeinschaft". This literally means "shared apartment." However, the apartment is less important than the agreement signed between renters to pool their resources and share monthly payments.
Usually, in a WG everyone will have their own room but share living and cooking spaces. Bedrooms won't usually be furnished, so factor that into the cost of joining a WG.
WG's are cost-effective, but not always convenient for new arrivals. In that case, it might be better to take a "Zwischenmiet" (sublet room) for a brief period. This will generally be furnished and ready to live in.
What is a Zweck-WG?
Sometimes, you may see WG's advertised as "Zweck-WG" arrangements. In this case, there's no legal difference. You still sign the same agreement and move in with other people.
The difference is cultural. In a Zweck-WG, occupants won't know each other beforehand, and there's no pressure on tenants to be friendly. They may become great friends, and letters often enjoying hanging out and sharing the space, but for a while, the tenants will be strangers. Fortunately, most WGs are more informal are not Zweck-WGs.
Either way, there are several WG websites to check out. WG-gesucht.de is the leading option, but WG-suche.de should also work well.
Place an ad
Going online to find a WG isn't the only accommodation option for students. Even though it may seem fairly old fashioned in the digital age, you can also seek accommodation via want ads, and Germans often do so.
People starting WGs are often on the lookout for tenants, and they may well resort to search sites like WG-gesucht. You can create a short ad, discuss who you are, what you need, where you'd like to live, and - importantly - how much you are willing to pay. When writing your ad, keep things simple and informative. Provide any relevant information, but not more than is necessary.
Remember that landlords and fellow tenants want to be reassured that you are reliable, so focus on your work and studies, and don't use too much humor.
Don't be afraid to ask how to find student accommodation in Munich, Heidelberg, or Berlin. Administrators are knowledgeable, and know how to master the admin tasks involved.
Just as importantly, most universities have what is known as a "Schwarzes Brett". This notice board is usually placed in the cafeteria or some other popular spot. It's often covered in notes requesting flat-mates, with phone numbers attached. If you need a short term room while you settle in, they are good places to look.
These days, the Schwarzes Brett tends to be digital as well. So use your university's online resources if available.
Noticeboards can also be a great way to find secondhand furniture and appliances, tickets, textbooks, and much more.