In this article, I share the interview that Manuel Dautel, a friend of mine and founder of Squickr, did to me.
Carlos and I met during his master degree in Heilbronn sometime in 2017 through a mutual friend. The good thing having friends like hers is she is so extraverted she will always introduce you to new people she randomly met somewhere. So it just happened that Carlos and I were at the same events, parties but I have never heard the story of how he actually decided to move to Germany, what issues he had to overcome to study there. He is now back in his hometown Agua Prieta in Mexico, which is located on the border to Arizona. “The border is just about 200 meters from my house. I can see the US everyday, but at the moment it is closed due to Covid. Only US Citizens can enter.”
He works as a freelancer in Digital Marketing for Bechtle, a german IT system house company located in Neckarsulm and helps his family in their family owned furniture store. “One of the employees has just quit, so I had to take care of the deliveries this morning” he laughed.
During the Zoom call he wears a winter hat. At daytime it can have up to 20 degrees but at night right now it has around zero degrees. Comparable to Germany, when he was there for the first time in 2011 in Pforzheim for an exchange semester. During this time it became his dream after finishing his studies in Mexico to live and work abroad.
“In college I started to study Italian and I wanted to go to Italy, but I discovered that my University only had double degree programs with France and Germany, so I chose Germany because there the only language requirement was english.”
So it was actually an “accident” but he decided to come back when he finished his bachelor and master degree in Mexico for another Master in Germany. “
I wanted to do something similar so I decided for a Master in International business which was not so difficult, because I already knew, from my previous stay of the DAAD, the german academic exchange service. They provide knowledge which universities could be interesting etc. So that was actually the easiest step”, he laughed. “The difficulty actually just started”.
If you want to study there is three things you have to take care of:
The university provided him with a list of apartments and landlords who rent their place to students, and because of his stay in Germany in 2011 he had some german skills but you have to ask everyone if they have a flat available and this just takes time. Time which is very valuable which he should later see.
“Go study in Germany, that sounds amazing. But that means a lot of work, which you will only discover step by step. Of course if you have done it once or twice you know how everything works and you get used to it, but dealing with the visa, accommodation, city hall, insurance etc. for the first time was tough.”
It was exactly this year in 2016 when the german government introduced the concept of a blocked account for foreigners, to provide a specific amount of money they could not touch to prove they have enough money to live in Germany without any risk of needing support from the state.
The problem was not that Carlos could not get the money, but for the university it was a new concept.
So when he went to Mexico City to the german embassy with his paperwork to apply for a student visa, the clerk told him about the blocked account. “That was when it became really stressful”, Carlos stated. It takes around one or two weeks if you mail your documents to a german bank and they open your account, but at the same time the window to apply was already closing because the acceptance letter of the university ran late. Carlos really started sweating.
“I was lucky because university was already starting, but they understood and told me that it was ok and they would wait. I have heard of people who had the same problem and were rejected, because of things like that. “Just having to wait, not knowing if I will be accepted or if the whole bubble will just blow up and studying in Germany will just slip through my hands was exhausting.”
Also 2015 was the refugee crisis, and telling now landlords or possible flatmates that he had no visa yet sounded very suspicious for a lot of people. “In 2016 it was not easy to find a place. I don’t know right now during Corona but back then it was actually pretty difficult.”
Being asked what he thinks about the 3,5 years in Germany Carlos is full of excitement. He learned a lot, he claims. “If I went again there are a few things I would do differently,“ he says. “First of all become a member of a facebook group. There are so many people who have the same stories like you have and they are usually willing to help you. You need to get in contact with people. It will be difficult to figure out everything by yourself.”
In 2016 using digital banking was not as popular as it is today. “Use it” he voices. “Let organizations etc. help you. You will save time and nerves, especially because time is very valuable as I have seen. Something can always go wrong and if you do everything at the last minute you could end up with nothing, so do it early.” For Carlos that was that he received the acceptance letter late and did not know about the blocked account. “Mail can get lost, somebody forgets to reply, so it is always great to have a buffer.”
Carlos Barraza is a Business Developer, Blogger and Entrepreneur. From 2016 until 2018 he completed his second Master degree in International Management in Heilbronn, Germany. About his experiences he talks in this Blog series with Manuel, the founder of Squickr.
Carlos main tips:
If you want to study in Germany, go look at the DAAD website.
You will find a lot of information on this website and it is a great start. You can type in which program you are interested in and the search engine will filter for you at which universities the program is available.
If you want to find an accommodation try using websites like wg-gesucht for flatmates, ebay-kleinanzeigen or immoscout for apartments. If you go to a new country it is usually pretty easy to just share a flat for the first couple months. On Wg-gesucht you can just do that. As soon as you are in the country then you get to know people and get to know your surrounding.
For the blocked account times have changed a lot since 2016. Usually a bank will take its time, like Deutsche Bank probably a few weeks, services like Fintiba or Expatrio the process is purely online and the cost is around 5€ per month on top of a one time payment of 89€ for Fintiba and 49€ for Expatrio.
For the University application Carlos used uni-assist. Here you can upload all necessary documents to apply for a german university. They will check the application and validate them for you. Carlos paid 75€ for their service and 20€ for shipping.
Now, I will tell you the steps that I followed to find my path to go and study in Germany my master program in English and for free, well almost free. In 2016 I paid around 127 euros per semester, and a total of around 580 euros per the whole master!
Of course, going to study in Germany means that you might have to learn german language, but there are international programs that offer their studies in english, and while you are studying you can also learn german language.
Learning german, might be a never ending story. You will sound as a kid who is trying to learn his first words, but most of the people understand that you are a foreigner, so they will help you to improve.
A small story about me. First when I started my process to study in Germany, I applied to a scholarship in Leipzig. I got rejected. Then, I applied to the International Business program at the University of Stuttgart. I got rejected. My third attempt was Hochschule Heilbronn. I got accepted! 😀
P.D. Don’t give up, life will prepare you even better experiences. For me studying at Hochschue Heilbronn was another of the best experiences that I had.
Keep up reading the learn more about my process to Study in Germany.
First, you can start your research of available international programs at DAAD. I left the link in the upper button so that you can start your search of a program in english.
In that website you can select the course type, language and field of study. At this point I recommend you to don’t filter that much, because this way you might find interesting programs that if you filter, you might miss out.
When I did my research in 2016, I was just intersting on going back to study in Germany. That is it. I was not too much worry about which type of studies, I just wanted to have back again the experience of living abroad.
So I searched for a program to study in Germany in english. And actually, it was pretty easy to find thanks to the DAAD website.
I started the research using different keywords, and I narrowed my search to “international business“, since it was the field of studies where they have more interesting programs among the universities.
Also, there were universities that didn’t required GMAT exams, and honestly, I didn’t have the lust to put myself back again to study hard on those rational questions. No more for me, I had enough at my bachelor.
As well, there is a section on the advanced search menu where you can select the universities option that are with no tuition fee, or you can select the amount per semester.
So I looked for an option that could give me the chance to study in Germany for free.
As I keept researching, the good thing that there is a map option to see where are the cities.
With my previous experience in Pforzheim, I already knew the state of Baden-Württemberg.
So, I found Hochschule Heilbronn Master in International Business and Intercultural Management program in english.
Honestly, at first I was asking myself, where is Heilbronn, is this university good, would it be interesting?
And the tuition fees.
Luckily, at that time I was part of the last generation that didn’t paid the new Baden-Württemberg fee for international students.
Now they are charging 1,500 euros, which is still low for a master program, but there are other states in Germany that don’t have the tuition fee, just the semester contribution.
After thinking and reading requirements, and so on, I decided to give it a new try with Hochschule Heilbronn.
Then, the long process starts. I myself don’t consider liking paperwork processes, but universities are required to know which candidates are qualified to study at their programs.
So, once you decided which program you like, go to their website, (it is the main answer) and start to collect your paperwork.
In the case of Hochschule Heilbronn, they have a checklist that can make it easier for you to check what you have and what it is still missing.
In 2016, I was required to validate my mexican certificates at Uni-Assist. Although I already had a german degree from Pforzheim.
Here I make you aware that you have to consider any document shipping cost to Germany from your country. Check first that you have ALL the documents.
Unfortunately for me, Uni-Assist required more documents, because I sent them in first place some in english. (My University gave me a copy of my diploma in english.) And Uni-Assist wanted it in spanish, so I have to spend twice to send back again some documents. Bye bye to 40 USD. 🙁
Recently, Hochschule Heilbronn has a new partner to do this in Konstanz. So the process of validation might be slightly different, but there might be universities that will ask different types of recognition of certificates.
Also, please be aware that you might neeed to certify copies from german consulates or embassies. So search online for german consulates near you.
I had to drive 4 hours by car to Phoenix, Arizona, because it was the closest german consulate near me, and it was really fast to get the certified copies.
Basically, the requirements for a german university for international students are:
There might be more, it depends on the university, so check them to be sure of what you need.
Once I got the requirements of the germany university, and got the letter of Uni-Assist, it was time to send the documents to Hochschule Heilbronn.
Small story: When Hochschule Heilbronn sent the first email of acceptance letters I was so happy. I remember I was waking up and saw the email. But 10 minutes after I received another email from the university stating that I was rejected. I was, “OMG, not again!” 10 Minutes later, I got another email stating that the university had a emailing list error, and the second email was a mistake, that the first email is the correct one. So I got accepted.
Now hurry up to get the appointment for the embassy.
Depending on the country where you from, you might have different requirements for your German student visa.
Make sure to go to the proper website of the Embassy that it is according to your country.
In my case, I saw the German Student Visa requirements at the German Embassy website for Mexico. I leave here the link to the Visa Categories.
Just go to the website of the Embassy (as always said, information is already on websites), and see the checklist of the visa.
Mainly for a German Student Visa is required:
As I stated on my interview, everything sounds happy and wonderful, until you have to get paperwork done.
Another small story: In my case, since in 2016 was introduced the concept of the German Blocked Account, that tiny concept almost ruined my way back to Germany.
When I was at the embassy with all my paperwork, the embassy lady told me that I needed the German Blocked Account, I didn’t understand. And not because it was other language, the lady was talking spanish, and I was proving my mexican bank account with the funds.
The thing was that since it was a new law, they didn’t had on their checklist yet that concept. So I was totally unaware, and I literally almost cried. The lady recognized it was a new thing and they supported me in that day to do the paperwork.
I have to say that I was in Mexico City (I am from another city from north, Agua Prieta), by myself, no car, no phone because you are not allowed to enter with your gadgets to the no clue of all the requirements for the blocked account and it was Friday, embassy doesn’t work on Saturdays and I had my flight back home on Sunday.
I had to nailed it in just half a day.
The embassy lady asked me to sign one document of the german blocked account, to buy a pre-paid document shipping, to print out some extra documents, and come back without further appointment.
So I didn’t hesitate. I think I asked for a place to print and I went to an Office Max, or kind of similar store. Got a computer with internet. Checked out the documents that Deutsche Bank needed. Filled and print out the documents. Ran back to a DHL post I saw, and they told me they didn’t have that service of prepaid shipping. Or at least the lady didn’t knew. I went to Pakmail and they sold me the prepaid shipping folder. I went back to the Embassy just on time.
More likely, my way look like the map above.
It was getting late, but arrived on the afternoon.
I left the documents, and then I had to wait 2-3 weeks . It was getting stressful, because classes were almost starting at Hochschule Heilbronn.
So please be aware of the time that you have to take when doing the paperwork!
As I told in the previous stories, this German Blocked Account almost stopped me from going again to Germany.
It was a new concept in 2016. But there are new digital services that are offering support with this.
I might say that it would be better those services, than going by your own.
Germany is the country of insurances.
You will find in Germany many insurance services for many sort of things.
Insurance for your bike, insurance if you hit someone with your bike, insurance for your dog and so on.
There are public and private Insurances.
The one that I bought for Visa purposes was an international one that I found on Google.
It helped to get the visa, but I think it is changing now.
Eventually, when I was at the Rathaus they asked me to get a German Health Insurance.
So I went directly to get AOK Insurance, because I already knew it since Pforzheim.
When selecting an Insurance I recommend you somethings.
Besides the price, see if the health insurance will cover the payments that you have to do when you visit the doctor.
With AOK, I didn’t have to worry about paying the visits that I did.
There are other insurances like Techniker Krankenkasse or Mawista. I know that the first one is also good, and Mawista is cheaper, but I think you have to pay first and then they do the rembuirsment.
For this, I also recommend the services of Coracle, Fintiba or Expatrio to decide.
But if you want to go for the easy solution, AOK is fine.
I have a long health story in Germany, due to my labeled Hashimoto autoimmune condition, that eventually I would let that topic for another moment. But if you are worried if you have a preexistent condition, generally the german health insurance also covers it.
Of course, searching for accommodation might be different for each city in Germany.
The good thing of smaller cities, in comparison to Stuttgart, Munich, Hamburg, Berlin, Frankfurt, is that the rent cost might be lower.
Heilbronn hasn’t been considered to be Cosmopolite city yet, but I really loved the place.
Curiously, I have lived in Pforzheim and Heilbronn, what some Germans considered them to be ugly cities. In my opinion, Germans have very weird concept of what they consider what is an ugly city. I say I lived in two of the most beautiful cities in Germany.
Of course, you can’t compare a city with 5 million habitants with one with 100 thousand. The number of restaurants, services and activities are way different in amount and types.
Anyways… Regardless of the type of Germany city that you choose, there are website like WG-Gesucht.de where you can find available flats.
The disadvantage that I see, is that many people are looking for flats, and the owner requests you to have a visit. Making it impossible for you since you are in your country.
Universities might have their own accommodation services or at least a list of places to stay. This way it could be easier for international students to find a place to stay in Germany.
I recommend you to search for Facebook Groups, that are realiable, and ask for places to stay. Or give a hunt of posts where people are offering places.
In Heilbronn, there is an internationals groups where you can find people that might be willing to help.
Take into consideration that there will be places that will include services such as Internet, Electricity, Water. This type of rent is called Warmmiete. And there will be places that don’t offer this and you will have to pay it by your own, also known as Kaltmiete.
I recommend you for the first flat, try to find something that is already furnished and with the services included. Why? Because in your first time in Germany, many things might be confusing. So, as you learn to live in Germany, you eventually get used to the things that you have to do and where to go, plus don’t forget, do it in German.