Planning a study exchange
Studying abroad? Preparation and organisation
Studying abroad gives you an insight into university life in another country. You attend lectures and seminars and take examinations at your host university. The course achievements you obtain abroad can in many cases be accredited towards your studies.
Before you set off, however, there is a lot to do and think about. Preparing to study abroad takes time. This is an overview of the most important steps you need to take when planning and organising your trip.
Start planning your studies abroad in good time. We would recommend starting to prepare 12 months before you intend to go abroad.
A step by step guide to organising your studies abroad
1. Motivation and reasons for studying abroad
There are many reasons for choosing to study abroad. Before planning any further, you should be clear about what motivates you to study abroad. Only once you know what expectations, hopes and aims you have when it comes to spending time abroad will you be able to find your way around the wealth of opportunities available.
Reasons for studying abroad may be:
- Increasing your subject knowledge
- Specialising in subjects that interest you but are not offered by FAU
- Benefiting from the research expertise of a foreign university
- Receiving further qualifications by obtaining a qualification from a foreign university
- Getting to know another teaching and learning culture
- Having course achievements obtained abroad accredited to avoid taking longer to complete your degree due to your stay abroad.
- Improving your language skills
- Developing skills in dealing with other cultures
- Experiencing something new
- Facing a new challenge and personal development
2. Study stay or full degree programme abroad?
There are two options for studying abroad:
Option 1: Completing a study stay abroad whilst still studying at FAU, without obtaining an additional qualification: Studying abroad for one or two semesters is classed as completing a study stay abroad. In this case, you remain enrolled at FAU and are enrolled at the foreign university as an exchange student or a visiting student.
You can and should sit examinations and obtain course achievements whilst at the host university abroad. You do not, however, obtain a qualification from the foreign university (non-degree seeking student).
FAU has numerous cooperation agreements with partner universities throughout the world, allowing you to arrange a study stay abroad as part of an exchange programme.
With the Erasmus+ exchange programme and the direct exchange programmes offered by FAU you can study abroad for either one or two semesters.
Option 2: Completing a full degree programme abroad and obtaining a qualification: In this case, you should register as a regular student at a foreign university and study there with the aim of obtaining a qualification. One example: after completing your Bachelor’s degree programme at FAU you change to a university in Sweden, with the aim of studying there for several semesters and obtaining a Master’s degree from the Swedish university.
If you intend studying a full degree programme abroad you will have to organise this yourself. The FAU does not offer any advice for students preparing to study a full degree programme abroad. The best place to start your research is the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD) website.. You should also contact the university you are interested in directly to find out about available degree programmes, admission requirements and costs (tuition fees).
Organisations for promoting education in the host countries e.g. Education USA, the Ranke-Heinemann Institute (Australia and New Zealand) or the British Council (UK) can also help you plan to study a degree programme abroad.
Double degree programmes are another special alternative for studying abroad.
3. Finding the right destination
You should bear the following in mind when choosing your destination:
- Higher education system: What is the education system with regard to schools and institutes of higher education like in the country? Which types of universities/institutions of higher education are there? What is the quality of higher education?
- Semester times: The academic year is organised differently in other countries than in Germany.
Semester times in various universities may differ from those in the country in general. The best place to look is the university’s website, look for the academic calendar.
- Teaching and learning culture: What is everyday student life like? Which differences to studying at FAU should you expect (age of students, liberal or more rigid degree programmes, relationship between lecturers/professors/tutors and students)?
- Language: What is the teaching language? Are you sufficiently proficient in the language to be able to follow teaching units and complete written and oral assignments? What proof of language ability do you need?
- Visa requirements: Which visa and entry requirements apply? Are any costs incurred for applying for a visa? Are any difficulties to be expected? Information can be found on the website of the Federal Foreign Office (information only valid for German citizens) as well as from the embassies and consulates of your destination.
- Costs and financing: Do tuition fees have to be paid? How high is the cost of living? What is your budget (own funds, scholarships, waiver of tuition fees as part of exchange programmes offered by FAU)? Which funding possibilities are there?
- Situation in the country: What is the political, economic and social situation in the country? Are there security issues to be taken into consideration? What has to be considered when it comes to health care before departure (immunisation) and the medical care available in the country? Initial information can be found on the website of the Federal Foreign Office.
- Culture: How do people live in the country? To what extent is there a different mindset in the host country compared to Germany? There are very many guidebooks and reports on people’s experiences in the various countries which you can read to find out about cultural differences.
4. Time and duration
The ideal time for studying abroad depends on the type of stay you are planning and the requirements of your degree programme (examination deadlines, compulsory teaching units, structure of your degree programme). Some degree programmes stipulate a specific time frame in which students who wish to study abroad should do so.
Generally speaking, the later semesters are suited for studying abroad, as you already have a good grasp of your subject by this point:
- Bachelor’s: from the 3rd semester
- Master’s: from the 2nd semester
- Degree programmes leading to a State Examination: from the 4th semester
A study stay abroad usually lasts one to two semesters. More than one year may be spent abroad as part of double degree programmes.
When planning when to go abroad, you should also consider how you intend to continue studying when you return to FAU. Can you continue to study at FAU directly after returning from your studies abroad? Do the different semester times abroad mean that you will have to fill in time before you are able to continue studying at FAU?
Ask your subject advisor for advice on deciding on the best time to go abroad.
5. Language ability and certificates
Different institutions abroad have different requirements relating to language skills and what proof has to be provided. Generally speaking, you need to be sufficiently proficient in the teaching language to be able to participate actively in the teaching units.
In order to be accepted at a foreign university, you also have to be able to prove that you have sufficient language skills. You are usually required to submit an up to date language certificate.
You are well prepared to study abroad if your proficiency in the relevant language is equivalent to at least level B2 of the Common European Framework of Reference.
In many cases it is also possible to study abroad with a less advanced knowledge of the relevant language. You can find out about the required language skills and certificates from:
- Programme coordinator (FAU exchange programmes)
- Scholarship organisations
- Host university abroad (for stays abroad organised independently as a free mover)
If you apply for an exchange programme run by FAU and have to provide proof of your language ability for the internal FAU application this is usually possible by taking a “mobility test” at the FAU Language Centre.
6. Costs and financing
Generally speaking, it is more expensive to study abroad than in Germany. Whilst it is true that the cost of living (rent, meals, leisure activities) is often lower than in Germany, extra costs are incurred for travelling to and from your destination, visas and insurance cover. You should include the issue of financing in your plans from the outset.
Information on the typical costs for studying abroad and the most common ways to finance your trip can be found on our website. You should in particular check whether tuition fees are incurred for studying abroad.
Whilst you should presume that you will need to cover the majority of the costs incurred for studying abroad yourself, there are still a number of possibilities for obtaining financial support. Look into funding options as early on as possible and plan sufficient time for completing applications for scholarships.
The application deadlines for scholarships granting a considerable amount of money (e.g. Fullbright, DAAD one-year scholarship, foundations) are often 18 months before you plan to start studying abroad.
7. Exchange programmes
FAU cooperates with a number of foreign institutes of higher education. Students at FAU have the opportunity to study abroad for one or two semesters at a wide range of partner universities.
Studying at an FAU partner university has a number of benefits:
- Tuition fees usually waived
- Advice and support from FAU
- Easier to gain admission to the partner university
- Accreditation arranged
- Access to scholarship programmes
[Hinweis]The range of FAU partner universities you can choose from for studying abroad depends on the degree programme in which you are enrolled at FAU [/hinweis]
There are only a few partner universities which accept applications from students of all faculties. Most FAU partner universities only accept applications from students from a certain degree programme or faculty.
You should first of all find out which opportunities FAU offers for students on your degree programme.
The following rules apply:
- Erasmus+ programme: Study stays in Europe and partner countries
- Partner universities for your faculty or your degree programme
- Direct exchange programme for students of all faculties: study stays in Asia, Europe (not Erasmus+), Canada, Latin America, USA
Your faculty will be happy to advise you about the partner universities available for the faculty or specific degree programmes:
- Faculty of Humanities, Social Sciences, and Theology: International Office
- Faculty of Business, Economics, and Law (School of Business, Economics and Society): International Relations Office
- Faculty of Business, Economics, and Law (School of Law): Internationalisation coordinators
- Faculty of Medicine: Office of the Dean for Student Affairs at the Faculty of Medicine
- Faculty of Sciences: Internationalisation coordinator
- Faculty of Engineering: Office for Student Information and Advice
In most cases, you will have the option of studying at one of several FAU partner universities.
The following criteria should be borne in mind when selecting your host university abroad:
- Quality of the university in your subject
- Choice of courses
- Teaching language
- Admission requirements
- Services provided at the foreign university
You can apply simultaneously to several FAU exchange programmes.
8. Application and admission
There is not a uniform procedure for applying for exchange places at FAU partner universities and no one application deadline which applies to all exchanges. How to apply, when to apply and where to apply all depend on which partner university you are applying for. Please contact the office responsible for the exchange with the university you are interested in to find out details in good time.
Generally speaking, the following applies:
- Erasmus+ exchange: If you would like to study at an Erasmus partner university you should apply to the Erasmus coordinator for your subject.
- Partner universities of your faculty or your subject: apply to either the International Office of your faculty or the chair in charge of arranging the partnership.
- Direct exchange programme for students of all faculties: Please apply to the Central Office for International Affairs.
The following steps should be taken to gain a place at a FAU partner university:
- Apply in good time to the correct office at FAU.
- The selection committee responsible for allocating places will take the decision about how available places are to be allocated.
- You are notified if your application for a place at an FAU partner university has been successful in the internal FAU application process and you can then accept the exchange place.
- The programme coordinator informs the FAU partner university that you have been nominated as an exchange student by FAU.
- Now you need to apply to the FAU partner university. Your programme coordinator will be happy to help or give you further information.
- The foreign partner university checks your application and decides whether you can be accepted as a student. The decision is usually positive and you receive your letter of acceptance.
If you study abroad for one or two semesters whilst studying at FAU, you can apply for leave for the time you spend abroad. Being granted leave means that your studies at FAU are temporarily suspended. No course or examination achievements can be obtained at FAU during a semester of leave (with the exception of resitting failed examinations).
A semester of leave does not count as a semester of studying.
One example: You spend your 5th semester studying abroad in France and are granted leave for this semester. When you return to FAU, you continue with your studies in the 5th semester due to you having been granted leave. Being granted leave for studying abroad therefore has the advantage that you do not run into time difficulties when continuing your studies at FAU (regular duration of study).
You remain enrolled at FAU during a semester of leave. Please be sure to remember to re-register in time and pay your semester fees.
The leave must be taken within the regular duration of study of the degree programme and the stay abroad may not be an integral part of the degree programme. The FAU Student Records Office will be happy to answer any questions you may have about taking leave.
Even if you have been granted leave from FAU to study abroad, you can and should obtain course achievements abroad and have them accredited when you return to FAU.
10. Accommodation abroad
The question as to accommodation abroad is only relevant once you know which foreign university you are going to be studying at. As soon as that is clear, you should start looking into accommodation options. It is up to you to organise somewhere to live abroad yourself.
If you are studying at an FAU partner university you will usually receive information on looking for accommodation directly from the partner university. It is often possible to apply for a place in official student accommodation at FAU partner universities. Please note, however, that there is often only a limited number of places available in student accommodation. There is no guarantee that you will be offered a place in the foreign university’s student accommodation.
Please plan enough time for looking for accommodation and find out about the different options available to you:
- Student accommodation
- Sharing a flat
- Staying with a host family
- Renting a flat of your own
- Short-term accommodation (e.g. hostel)
General information and helpful links for looking for accommodation abroad can be found in the country information from DAAD. You can also search for information on the website of the foreign host university.
Depending on where you are going, looking for accommodation abroad can be quite straightforward or more difficult. In towns where there tends to be pressure on the housing market it is a challenge for students to find accommodation too. In order to be well prepared when looking for accommodation, you should make a start early on, looking into:
- Where students typically live in the country you are going to
- Situation on the housing market
- Typical costs of renting (how much to budget for rent)
- Special aspects to be taken into account when renting accommodation in the country (duration of contracts, rent due on a weekly or monthly basis)
- Typical standards for rented accommodation in the country when it comes to furnishings and living standards
Depending on your destination, type and duration of study stay, you may require a visa or a residence permit.
Studying abroad does not mean that you are entering the country as a tourist! The simplified entry requirements for tourists do not apply.
You should therefore take care to find out in good time about the entry and residence regulations which apply to you. Information on entry regulations can be found on the website of the Federal Foreign Office (information only applicable to German citizens) and from the embassies and consulates of your destination.
Plan sufficient time for applying for a visa. In some countries you have to provide proof of certain immunizations and health certificates before you can enter; again, you shouldn’t underestimate the time you will need.
12. Insurance and precautions
It is the insurance companies which are responsible for any questions concerning insurance in the event of illness or accident, not the university. You should therefore contact your health insurance company before your departure to find out about the conditions for insurance coverage during your stay abroad. Most important in this respect is the general question of whether insurance coverage exists for the country in question and which services it includes. When preparing for your time abroad, you must make sure that you have sufficient insurance cover. The following are particularly important:
- Health insurance
- Accident insurance
- Liability insurance:
Since 1 January 2016, the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), is accepted in all EU countries as well as in Liechtenstein, Norway, Iceland and Switzerland. It replaces form E 111 but, unlike the E 111, it is only valid for temporary stays abroad (holidays, transfer of employees, job search, study stays) and may only be used for services necessary on medical grounds.
You can obtain an EHIC from your statutory insurance company. To find out whether you already have an EHIC, check the back of your insurance card for the EU star sign. If you are privately insured, you should contact your health insurance company to find out which services will be covered in other European countries.
Additional health insurance
For stays abroad outside of the European Union, it is often worthwhile taking out additional private health insurance. Please also look into what is required by your host university abroad. In some cases you are required to take out insurance specifically offered by the university itself.
If you are on an exchange organised by or receive funding from the DAAD or one of its partner institutions, you may opt for insurance coverage via the DAAD group contract which includes health insurance, accident insurance, liability insurance and luggage insurance. The same type of insurance packages for stays abroad are also offered by other insurance companies.
You should take the requirements of your host university abroad into account for all insurance-related issues.
As you usually remain enrolled at FAU for the duration of your stay abroad (including semesters of leave), you must keep your German health insurance policy, this is one of the essential requirements for enrolling at a German university!
Go for health checks before leaving Germany (e.g. a check up at the dentist) and consult your GP on medication you should take with you.
13. Before departure: What should still be done in Germany
There is not only a lot to organise in your destination before leaving to study abroad, there is also a lot to be done in Germany. Some of the most important things you should remember are:
- Hand in your notice for your accommodation in Germany or arrange for it to be let while you are away
- Cancel ongoing contracts (part-time job, newspaper subscription, mobile phone contract)
- Leave your contact details abroad with friends and family
- Leave copies of important documents and possible powers of attorney with someone you trust
- Pack your suitcase
- Hold a farewell party
Room for rent? If your room in Erlangen, Nuremberg or the surroundings is unoccupied whilst you are abroad and if you would like to make it available to a foreign exchange student to rent, please contact the accommodation service of the Central Office for International Affairs.
Studying abroad for students with disabilities
- Does the foreign university have disabled access?
- Do university buildings and student halls meet the requirements of the disabled?
- Are there special representatives for the disabled at the host university?
- Will students with a visual impairment be given special assistance?
- What are the local medical services like?
- Are local shops easy to reach?
Information can be found on the website of your host university. There you can also find out who you should contact to discuss the specific details of your stay. Support can be provided at FAU by the Central Office for International Affairs (RIA) and the Disability Liaison Officer when preparing for studying abroad.
The Central Office for International Affairs can advise you on additional funding options available for students with disabilities e.g. within the context of the Erasmus programme. Additional funding must be applied for separately. We are happy to be of assistance with your application.
Further information can be found on the following websites:
Studying abroad with a child
All options for studying abroad are also open to students with children. It goes without saying that they will have a number of other important questions relating to spending time abroad as a family in addition to the topics outlined above. These may be:
- Is family-friendly accommodation available?
- Is childcare available?
- What about schooling (for children of school age)?
- Are all the necessary products available abroad (baby food, formula milk)?
- Which documents does the child require (children’s passport)?
- What should be taken into account with regard to state benefits (child benefit, parental allowance)?
The Central Office for International Affairs and the Family Service at FAU will assist you in preparing to spend time abroad.
The Central Office for International Affairs will also give you advice on additional funding options available to students with children, e.g. within the context of the Erasmus+ programme. Additional funding must be applied for separately. We are happy to be of assistance with your application.
All important details on organisation, costs, insurance, accommodation, child-care, family policies in various countries and reports by other exchange students with a child can be found at www.auslandsstudium-mit-kind.de. The website was drawn up by the Robert Bosch Foundation and the Centre for Higher Education (CHE); it represents the main source of information on studying abroad with a child.
A FAU student from FAU studied abroad with her child in the academic year 2012/13 as part of the Erasmus programme and shared important information and advice for other parents wishing to go abroad in her blog and a television interview.