Language & Requirements

Open book with sections of text marked in yellow and black spectacles lying on top
Open book with sections of text marked in yellow and black spectacles lying on top

Before you can begin your doctoral studies in Germany, there are some preliminary steps you must take, for instance, getting your post-graduate degree recognised and applying for a residence permit. The following is an overview of the most important requirements and some practical advice to prepare for your doctoral visit.

1. Is German a “must”?

Although being able to speak the host country’s language is extremely useful, if you are doing an individual doctorate writing the doctoral thesis in German is often not a requirement. You can find out which languages can be used for your thesis in the respective doctoral regulations. Structured programmes frequently allow students to complete their doctorate in English. If you are working for an individual doctorate and wish to enrol for a doctoral course at the university, in some cases you may need to present a German language examination certificate.  Learn German

Doctoral Regulations: These contain the most important academic and departmental rules governing the doctorate procedure. They cover admission to a doctoral programme, admission conditions (degree qualifications, grades, etc.), regulations on submitting the dissertation and drawing up expert opinions, as well as the details of the oral examination.

2. Finding a PhD position

As you begin your search for a doctoral position, you must decide whether you wish to pursue a doctorate on your own with professorial supervision (individual doctoral study) or participate in a structured PhD programme at a graduate school. More information

3. Recognition of your higher education degree

The most important formal qualification for being able to do a PhD/doctorate in Germany is a very good higher education degree that is recognised in Germany. Generally, that is a degree equivalent to a German Master completed after eight semesters of study. Exceptionally well-qualified international applicants might be admitted as doctoral students with a Bachelor degree (fast-track programme). Usually an examination is then required. More information can be found in the PhD/doctoral regulations.

Recognition of the University degree: Each university is responsible for decisions on the admission of PhD/doctoral students and the accreditation of qualifications. That is why applicants must apply for their degree to be recognised by the dean’s office ("Dekanat") or the board of examiners ("Promotionsauschuss"). In some cases admission is dependent on a further examination that determines whether the applicant’s knowledge reaches the standard required for a German higher education degree.

3. Acceptance as a doctoral candidate in a university department

Once you have found a supervisor, you have taken the most important step. Now the re-sponsible department or doctoral committee must confirm your eligibility as a doctoral candi-date. This usually involves completing an application that includes a statement by your doc-toral supervisor, certified copies of certificates and the university degree that entitles you to engage in doctoral study.

4. Admission to doctoral studies

Permission to commence doctoral studies is usually issued by the Student Office after it has reviewed all the required certificates, diploma and – if applicable – proof of language profi-ciency. If the doctoral programme requires that the dissertation be written in German, the candidate must submit proof of adequate knowledge of German (by passing the DSH or TestDaF examination). But in most cases, it’s not necessary to write one’s dissertation in German. Conditions pertaining to the language of the dissertation are outlined in the doctoral regulations of the corresponding department, normally posted on the faculty’s website.

5. Enrollment

Your next step is to enroll. There are several advantages to enrolling as a doctoral candidate, for instance, securing better legal status as a foreign resident. To be eligible for enrollment, the university must first accept your application for admission to doctoral studies (see no. 4 “Admission to doctoral studies”). However, not all departments require doctoral candidates to officially enrol at university. Provisions pertaining to enrollment are stipulated in the doctoral regulations issued by the faculty, which are usually posted on the faculty’s website.

6. Visa/residence permit

Regardless of whether one pursues a doctorate independently or through a structured PhD programme, candidates from outside the European Union require an entry visa when they come to Germany. Do not enter the country on a tourist visa, as it cannot be converted to a long-term residence visa. Holders of tourist visas are required to return to their home country and reapply for the correct visa.

After you’ve arrived in Germany, you must register with the Resident Registration Office (or Citizen Service). If you are not a citizen of the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein or Norway, you must also register with the Alien Registration Office and apply for a residence permit. There, you will need to provide confirmation of health insurance coverage (which is also required for enrolment). We recommend looking for accommodation in advance. To be eligible for a room in a student hall of residence, applicants are usually asked to provide confirmation of enrol-ment. If you need help looking for a flat or room, the Studentenwerk at your university will be happy to help you. Like all students, doctoral candidates also require a current account. You can open one at any bank in Germany – and usually at no charge.