Finding an internship in Germany

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Updated 2022-11-08 17:19

Many universities require internships nowadays to enhance the study experience and prepare graduates for real-life work environments. European universities encourage students to undertake their internships outside of their home country to gain international work experience.

If you are a student or a fresh graduate and want to set foot in the German labor market, applying for an internship may be a wise next step. Three to six months of living in Germany will give you a taste of the expat life in one of the country's big cities (where most internship opportunities are), and help you decide whether pursuing future work opportunities in Germany is the right thing for you. So, if you want to boost your employability, continue reading! 

Why intern in Germany

Germany is the world's fourth-biggest and most powerful economy in the world, and the European Union's largest economy, meaning that the country enjoys continuous economic growth due to efforts made by various national mechanisms. Besides high living standards, Germany offers endless work opportunities, especially in the automotive, mechanical, electrical, chemical industry, trade, finance, information and communication technology fields, which are the country's leading job-creators. Germany's labor market is very attractive to young international talent. Thanks to one of the lowest unemployment rates in the world, Germany is the leading entrepreneurship and career development destination in Europe. Students and new graduates will be considered lucky to start their careers in a country with an ever-growing economy and quality working conditions.

Good to know: 

The chances of turning your internship into a full-time job are very high in Germany, depending, of course, on your performance during the internship and the rapport you build with your employer.

Finding an internship in Germany

Internships can take place in public organizations, private institutions, international or national organizations, and universities, which many students prefer since they already have established networks in their higher education institutions. Usually, the degree programs that require or highly recommend an internship as part of the study will give students a time frame within which they have to start and complete their internship. In that case, we recommend you start your internship search and application process about six months in advance. Begin with making a list of businesses and organizations that you would love to intern with. Then, prepare your CV and cover letter documents, and feel free to contact the relevant departments directly with your internship inquiry. However, it's important to adjust your emails and cover letters depending on the company you send them to, and be explicit about why you are interested in this particular company, what you expect to gain from the internship, and what you will offer to the company. We cannot generalize, but most German companies will appreciate a German cover letter, which reminds us how important it is to have a good level of German language knowledge before considering Germany for an internship. Other ways to find an internship are through your university's careers office or dedicated internship websites. 

Tip: Remember to give the internship the attention it deserves since it's about time you invest in your future, not just an opportunity to live abroad.

Useful links: 

DAAD (Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst) for exchange between Germany and the USA

AIESEC global youth network

Unicum Karrierezentrum for internships (Praktikum)

Praktikums Stellen

Non-EU interns in Germany

Non-EU citizens who want to intern in Germany will have to obtain a study-related internship visa from the German embassy in their home country. To do so, they have to meet the following conditions: 

  • Have an internship contract with a German organization relevant to their studies and stating the monthly payment (if any), place of stay during the internship, and other responsibilities that the company has towards the intern during the internship. 
  • Be enrolled at a university or be fresh graduates, meaning they graduated a maximum of two years before the visa application completion. 

An internship visa application will also require the following documents, but note that requirements may differ from one country to another: 

ZAV consent letter from the Bundesagentur für Arbeit, if the internship pays more than 450 euros per month, but on some occasions, ZAV is required even if the internship doesn't pay at all. 

  • Confirmation letter from the visa applicant's higher education institution, confirming they study there. 
  • Academic certificates and degrees if the visa applicant has already graduated. 
  • Health insurance plan covering the duration of the internship. 
  • Proof of financial resources (Finanzierungsnachweis), adequate to cover the applicant's expenses while interning in Germany. 

Important: 

The monthly living expenses requirement for visa purposes is 867 euros. So, if your internship is for six months, you will have to prove that you have enough money (at least 5,202 euros) to cover your expenses during this time. The safest way to show this money is to deposit it into a German blocked account (Sperrkonto), from which it cannot be withdrawn until you arrive in Germany. 

Nationals of Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, the Republic of Korea, New Zealand, and the United States don't need to obtain an entry visa for Germany to do an internship. However, similarly to EU-EEA citizens, they must apply for a residence permit upon their arrival in Germany to do their internship or training. 

Attention: 

The internship visa can be extended only if the company wishes to extend the internship. At the end of the internship, the internship visa cannot change automatically to a work visa if the company wants to hire you full-time. You will have to return to your home country and apply for a work visa to return to Germany as an employee. 

Interns from the European Union

To intern in Germany, EU and EEA citizens do not need to apply for a visa to enter or remain in Germany as interns. However, there are mandatory administrative procedures to undertake once in the country in order to legalize their status in Germany and distinguish themselves from visitors and tourists. Hence, if you are an EU citizen or a citizen of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, or Switzerland, you need to register with the citizens' office (Bürgeramt) in your area as soon as possible after you arrive in Germany. The registration will include information about your permanent address in Germany (you should provide your lease), marital status, and reason for being in Germany. Once you obtain a copy (Meldebescheinigung) of your original registration certificate (Anmeldebestätigung), you can handle other bureaucratic activities, such as opening a bank account and accessing the German healthcare system

Internship payments in Germany

Some internships are paid while others aren't, or are paid very little — it depends on the company or organization and the field of work. In any case, it is important for interns and organizations to establish mutual expectations at the beginning before both sides commit to the internship. Of course, if the internship is unpaid, the intern will have to plan how to cover their expenses, such as accommodation in Germany, transportation costs, and living expenses. 

In principle, interns over the age of eighteen are entitled to the statutory minimum wage. However, certain types of internships are exempt from the requirement for minimum wage:

  • Mandatory Internships, which are required and a necessary part of university studies or vocational training.
  • Orientation/Accompanying Internships, which are up to three months or less.
  • Sandwich Course Internships unless they are more than three months. 

In other words, any obligatory internship linked to a study program is not subject to the Minimum Wage Act. Similarly, any internship less than three months in duration is not subject to the Minimum Wage Act unless the intern has already completed a three-month internship with the same organization. Voluntary internships completed before or during studies are subject to minimum wage as long as they last longer than three months, whereas post-study voluntary internships should always be subject to minimum wage no matter the length. Regarding holidays, interns are eligible for 2,5 days off per month of assignment. The company could grant exceptional vacation in case of special events (e.g., death, birth, weddings in your family, etc.).

Good to know: 

The minimum wage in Germany is 12 euros per hour.

We do our best to provide accurate and up to date information. However, if you have noticed any inaccuracies in this article, please let us know in the comments section below.