How can I learn German?
If you have recently arrived in Germany, you may find that the language is one of the biggest challenges to face. In order to interact with German authorities, study at university, do vocational training or find a job, you often need to be able to communicate in German. Knowing German also facilitate your settling down in Germany and enables you to connect to other German-speakers on a personal level.
In an integration course, not only you will acquire the language, but also learn quite a lot about German culture and society. In this page, you can find out what exactly an integration course is and whether you can take part in it – you will also learn about the offices which can potentially cover the respective costs.
What do I need to know?
An integration course is a combination of language and orientation courses and is supposed to aid your integration in Germany. The language course usually entails 600 learning hours, which concludes with a final exam („Deutsch-Test für Zuwanderer" or DTZ for short) at the B1 level. An integration course covers topics such as work, shopping, communicating with authorities and writing emails/letters. In an orientation course, however, you learn mainly about the history, culture, society and politics in Germany. The orientation course usually entails 100 hours of learning and concludes with a final exam.
In addition to the regular integration courses, there are specific integration courses for women, parents or young adults (up to 27 years). There are also literacy courses for the following groups:
- People who cannot read or write well in any language
- people who are not familiar with the Latin alphabet but can read and write in another language.
For fast learners, there are so-called intensive courses, in which they learn the same as everyone else in regular integration courses but in less time.
Whether you can participate in an integration course depends on your residence status.
I have a residence permit: In principle, all foreign citizens (living in Germany for at least one year) who have obtained a residence permit because of their employment, or due to family reunification or by virtue of their recognition as asylum seekers, refugees or individual entitled to subsidiary protection can take part in an integration course. The only exceptions are children, adolescents and young adults who attend school and those who already speak German well enough. Holders of a residence permit in accordance with Section 25 (5) of the Residence Act can apply for participation in the integration course. You can find out more in the section "Where and how can I register for an integration course?".
I have a temporary residence permit ("Aufenthaltgestattung"): If your asylum procedure is ongoing, your right to participate depends on your country of origin or date of entry to Germany:
- If you come from a country with a "solid prospect to stay" ("guter Bleibeperspektive"), you can take part in an integration course. Currently, asylum seekers from Eritrea, Somalia, Syria and Afghanistan are considered to have a "solid prospect to stay" in Germany. To participate, you first need to apply. To learn more, read the section: "Where and how can I register for an integration course?". Important: If you are currently in a “Dublin procedure”, you cannot take part in an Integration course.
- If you come from a "safe country of origin", you are not allowed to take part in an integration course. Currently, the following countries are considered to be safe countries of origin: Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Ghana, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Senegal and Serbia.
- For all other countries, the following rule applies: If you came to Germany before 31.07. 2019, and you are registered as a jobseeker at the Federal Employment Agency or in case you work or are going through a vocational training programme, you may take part in an integration course after three months. To do so, you need to apply first. To learn more, read the section: "Where and how can I register for an integration course?"
I have a tolerated stay permit ("Duldung"): With a tolerated stay, in principle, you are not entitled to participate in an integration course. There are, however, exceptions to this general rule: People who have an "Ermessensduldung" (according to §60a paragraph 2, sentence 3 of the Residence Act) may attend an integration course. A tolerated stay for the purpose of vocational training ("Ausbildungsduldung") and a tolerated stay for the purpose of employment ("Beschäftigungsduldung ") are considered types of "Ermessensduldung". If you have a type of "Ermessensduldung", you must submit an application to the BAMF to attend an integration course. You can read more in the section "Where and how can I register for an integration course?".
Everyone who is entitled to take part in an integration course is also obliged to do so. So if you have obtained a residence permit due to employment or family reunification or as a result of being recognised as entitled to asylum, refugee status or subsidiary protection (for at least one year) but do not speak German well yet, you are required to attend an integration course. Exceptions are:
- Children, adolescents and young adults attending school
- Persons who are doing vocational training ("Ausbildung ")
- People who work and have no time to participate in an integration course
- Persons who, for a valid reason, cannot participate in an integration course, for instance, because they have to take care of a sick family member.
When the Immigration Office ("Ausländerbehörde") hands you your residence permit, they will also let you know whether you are obliged to attend an integration course or not.
Please note: If you receive benefits from the Jobcentre or Social Welfare Office, they may also require you to attend an integration course.
If you can (and must) take part in an integration course, the Immigration Office (or the Jobcentre or the Employment Agency) will issue you a certificate of eligibility ("Berechtigungsschein"). With this document, you can register at the school of your choice directly. Your local Immigration Office and the Jobcentre responsible for you can provide you with a list of schools offering integration courses in your area. Alternatively, you can use the search engine on the BAMF or the KURSNET platform for finding a class nearby. If you need help with the search, you can contact the youth migration service or migration counselling centre in your area.
If you have not received a certificate of eligibility, you must submit an application for admission to an integration course at the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF). You can download the form in German or another language from the bamf.de. There you will also find the address to which you need to send the application. The BAMF then decides whether you should attend an integration course or not and will inform you about the results per post.
Please note: You must start your integration course as soon as possible after registration. You have one year to do so –after that, your eligibility certificate will expire. This also applies if you interrupt the course for more than a year.
The BAMF bears most of the costs of integration courses. The participants only have to pay €2.29 per session (As of September 2022). If you receive benefits from the Jobcentre or Social Welfare Office, you can apply for a cost exemption, so that the BAMF takes over the entire cost of the course -and you do not have to pay anything. You can download the designated application form from BAMF.de - fill out the form and send it to the BAMF branch office responsible for you. You can find the responsible BAMF office at bamf.de. Furthermore, you can also ask your school staff for help; they can complete and submit the application on your behalf.
Please note: If you successfully complete the integration course within 2 years, you can get half of what you have paid back. For the reimbursement, fill out the application ("Antrag auf Kostenrückerstattung") in German and send it (together with a copy of your so-called “Integration Course Certificate”) to the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees.
The integration course usually starts at the A1 level, so you do not need to have any prior German knowledge to participate. Before the classes begin, there is a small test which enables the school to know if someone already knows some German. This person may be able to skip one or more courses because of their prior knowledge.
There are full-time and part-time language courses, but the integration courses are mostly full-time. That means you should attend classes for several hours, every day, from Monday to Friday. Some courses take place in the morning, others in the afternoon or early evening.
When you complete the integration course and pass the exam, you will be handed a certificate. Remember, you need to keep this certificate in a safe place.
If you have failed the exam despite attending the classes regularly, you can apply (only once) for another 300 hours of learning (i.e. „Antrag auf einmalige Wiederholung von 300 Unterrichteinheiten“). You can find the application form at bamf.de. Upon approval, you will be granted the opportunity to repeat parts of the integration course and do the exam again. You must send the application to the BAMF branch office responsible for you.
Even if you are not allowed to participate in an integration course, there are still many other opportunities for you to learn German. In many cities, free German courses are offered by volunteers. Many of these courses take place in Initial Reception Centres, shared accommodation facilities or social and cultural organisations. You do not need a certificate of entitlement to participate in these courses or meetup groups.
In addition to free German courses, you can also take advantage of a vast variety of online learning opportunities, including web pages, video tutorials and apps. The Goethe Institute and Deutsche Welle are among those German cultural and media institutions which offer online learning materials for German learners.
You can find out more about these opportunities in our chapter "Learning German".
When you are entitled to participate in an integration course, you are often also obliged to do so - which means you have to register for a course by a specific date. The deadline is specified in the certificate of eligibility the BAMF has issued you. If you do not enrol in time, the Jobcentre or the Social Welfare Office may reduce the financial aid you receive.