6 tips getting an accommodation in Germany: my personal story
“Hard to settle in.” This might be the best way to reflect my experience with accommodations in Germany so far. I am living in my second flat and planning on moving out to my third place in which I will hopefully spend the rest of my time in Germany. I strongly believe that there are people out there who are having a hard time getting a flat in Germany (Yes, you:)). Therefore, in this post, I would like to share my journey of getting accommodation in Germany and tips that I picked up along the way. Hopefully, this post can be partly helpful and comforting to them (you are not alone!). If you want to skip my rambling about my experience, please feel free to jump to my “Tips” section below. 🙂
It was July 2019, two months before I was supposed to come to Germany. This is when I realized how difficult it is to get a flat in Germany. It came to my attention that the chances of getting a dorm in my first semester is quite low because the Studentenwerk (student union) prioritizes exchange students, not international students like me. To make matters worse, the wait-lists for Studentenwerk dorms were quite shocking, which were at least 6 to 24 months. Moreover, many bloggers were arguing that private apartments are hard to get before entering the country because no landlord wants to sign a contract before they see you, which makes sense.
“Oh crap, what do I do now?”
I started doing everything I can. I submitted an application to Studentenwerk (Göttingen), browsed WG-gesucht, and also sent an email to the international office in a way I look pathetic and desperate. At first, things didn’t go well. Studentenwerk told me many students are on the wait-list. People didn’t reply me back on the WG-gesucht. In late July, I was pretty much giving up everything and thinking about getting an airbnb or couchsurfing to crash for the first several days in Germany. But, a few days later, I got an email from an international office and told me a good news:
“You received two offers.”
I immediately reached out to them and started discussing the specifics. I ended up choosing the one that I had better communication with although it was a sublease for my first 6 months. I liked the fully-furnished room, the location (city center) and my flatmates who are also Master students from Germany and India. I had a great time for my first 6 months in Germany. My flatmates were very helpful and nice to a student who just came to Germany. Although everybody was quite busy, we managed to find some time to play some board game, eat out, and have a cooking night.
This is the best part about living in a WG where you can have a nice time with flatmates. To learn a new culture, there is no better way than living under the same roof. Now everybody’s living separately, but we are planning a cooking/board game night when the social restriction is loosened.
5 months flew like an arrow and it was time to find a new place to live. I didn’t have any success with dorms (not surprisingly) and tried to find a flat on WG-gesucht which seemed to be the most reliable source for me. I wrote pretty detailed and nice messages in German to deliver a good impression of me. Surprisingly, quite a lot of people messaged me back and wanted to meet me. In January 2020, I biked around my city to have interviews with the current residents to talk about our life styles. This was quite a process because I had to deal with this while preparing for exams and seminar presentation, and writing a lab report. In February, I moved into a new place where I have been quarantining for the past few months due to the pandemic.
A few weeks ago, I got a place at a dorm: single apartment, which is very exciting. I’ll keep you updated once I move in.
The best tip that I could give you is to start early and go for the dorm first. I can’t stress this enough because I personally think the benefits of living in a dorm excel the advantages of getting a private place as a student. Firstly, private flats are usually more expensive and harder to get. Secondly, their rules are dynamic from flat to flat, meaning that you must be very careful about reading contracts and aware that rent might increase at some point. These might not be very student-friendly.
The dorms, on the other hand, are cheaper (even the single apartments are quite affordable) and allow students to stay for a long-term. Although it takes patience to go through the wait-list, it gets simpler afterwards (no interview etc). The locations of dorms are mostly good as well. You will also be able to find a good friendship because the conditions are student-friendly.
You have to apply to your local Studentenwerk for a place in a dorm. The application criteria may vary in every city – be sure to check this online. Apply as early as possible; if you can before your chosen university has finally accepted. From my own experience, some universities asked me to submit an application at the time of application. The ideal situation would be that you apply for a dorm at the time of university application and will get an offer by the time you come to Germany. But it definitely takes much luck …
If you don’t have much success with dorms, consider WG-gesucht, which is one of the best resources out there for finding a shared flat. There are occasionally quite cheap WGs with reasonable conditions. If you want some cultural immersion and learn some more German, WG is absolutely a better choice than living alone. This is because you actually go through a process of “living in a German flat” other than dorms and live with German flatmates. Try to write a good request in German (together with English if you want). This would deliver a good impression of you and tell the residents that you are an interesting person who is enthusiastic about German culture.
Make sure to follow online communities such as facebook groups and blogs. Facebook has been quite helpful to me getting informed about living in Germany, especially about flat information. People post their flat infos many times a day. If you keep up with them, you will be much likely to find a good flat. ESN group is good to join because that’s where all the international students come together and share information (have parties, too). Our ESN group has a whatsapp chatroom where we share all living information including available flats and international events.
Oh, I almost forgot. University bulletin boards are worth browsing as well. People like to post all sorts of stuffs there including flatmate, selling a bike, and language exchange.
Lastly, don’t be shy to consult international offices. They are aware how hard it is to get a flat. So they would be happy to help you. You should be taking advantage of that. Email them and let them know your situation. This is where I got two offers of flats before I had come to Germany. They are life savers for me …
I recently made a youtube video where I discuss “what I have learned in my first semester of Master program in Germany.” I also talk (briefly) about accommodations in Germany. Please feel free to check it out!
These are the tips that I could think of. Thanks for reading my long post and let me know if you have any questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.