Initial Orientation Course ("Erstorientierungskurs")

Update 03.07.2023

What can I learn in an Initial Orientation Course?

Starting up a new life in a new country is never easy. Not only do you have to learn the language, but you also have to find your way around in everyday life. Refugees, in particular, face many difficulties because they have not been able to prepare themselves for life in the new country. That is why in Germany, the so-called "Initial Orientation Courses" ("Erstorientierungskurse") are organised. In an initial orientation course, you can learn your first words and sentences in German and will receive essential information about life in Germany. For example, you will learn how to call an ambulance in an emergency or can familiarise yourself with customs and traditions in Germany.

Important: Many refugees can start an Integration Course ("Integrationskurs") straight away. You can find out more about these courses in our "Integration courses" chapter. "Erstorientierungskurse" is for refugees who cannot participate directly in Integration courses.

What do I have to know?

Can I attend an Initial Orientation Course ("Erstorientierungskurse")?

You may participate in an Initial Orientation Courses" ("Erstorientierungskurse") if you meet all of the following four requirements:

  • You have applied for asylum but do not come from a country with a reasonable prospect of staying ("guter Bleibeperspektive"). Countries the citizens of which have good prospects of staying in Germany currently are Eritrea, Syria, Somalia and Afghanistan. Please note: Asylum seekers with good prospects of staying are eligible to attend an integration course directly. If that is not possible, they can take part in an initial orientation course instead as an exceptional measure.
  • You do not come from a safe country of origin. Currently, all member states of the European Union, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ghana, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Senegal and Serbia are considered safe countries of origin.
  • The authorities have not yet decided on your asylum application.
  • You are not required to go to school. In Germany, everyone is required to go to school from the age of 6 up to a maximum of 18 years.

In addition, people who fled Ukraine after February 24, 2022, and can apply for a residence permit according to Section 24 of the Residence Act are currently allowed to participate in an Initial Orientation Course.

Others may only take part in an Initial Orientation Course in exceptional cases. For instance, when there are free places available. You can inquire directly from the organisations that offer Initial Orientation Courses. To find Initial Orientation Courses nearby, see the section "How Can I Find an Initial Orientation Course nearby?".

Do I have to know German to participate in an Initial Orientation Course?

No. Although the lessons are in German, you do not need prior knowledge of the German language. The teachers speak basic German and use plenty of pictures and other materials during the sessions.

How much does the Initial Orientation Course cost?

Participation in an Initial Orientation Course is free. You only have to pay for your commuting expenses.

What am I going to learn in an Initial Orientation Course?

In an Initial Orientation Course, you will learn things useful for your everyday life in Germany, for instance, how to call an ambulance in an emergency or buy a ticket for the train. Or how you introduce yourself or which sentences you need in the supermarket or other stores. During the course, you will visit important places with your teacher and other participants, such as the Immigration Office, the city library or shops. You will also learn essential words and phrases in German.
Course teachers decide precisely how to run the course and what to teach. That means each course may differ to some extent.

Is there an exam?

There is no exam or language test at the end of the Initial Orientation Course. However, you can ask the course provider for a language test. Keep in mind that you usually have to pay for the test.

Do I have to attend an Initial Orientation Course?

No, you do not have to participate in an Initial Orientation Course. There is no attendance obligation, so participation is voluntary. That means you would not face a penalty if you don't attend the course or miss a session (for example, because you're sick or have a doctor's appointment).

Important: Although participation is voluntary, you should try to attend all sessions – this is how you can benefit from the course the most.

How do I register for an Initial Orientation Course?

You can register directly with an Initial Orientation Course provider. See the section "Where can I find an Initial Orientation Course nearby?" to find a course provider nearby. Ask the staff what documents you need for registration. If you need help, contact a counselling centre for support. You can find nearby counselling centres' addresses on the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees website. If you are under 27, seek help from the Youth Migration Service. Their staff often speak various languages.

How long does it take to finish an Initial Orientation Course?

The Initial Orientation Course takes between 3 and 4 months to finish. The number of sessions per week and the duration of each session varies from course to course.

How can I find an Initial Orientation Course nearby?

The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) has compiled a list of all available Initial Orientation Courses. You will find the names and addresses of all course providers throughout Germany (in German) on their list. You can download the current list from the BAMF website.

I am a parent. Is childcare available for course participants?

No, there is no childcare available, so you need to arrange for childcare yourself. If you cannot find any, contact your teacher or course provider and seek help. They will advise you on where to find childcare in your area. You can also ask the Youth Migration Service staff for support. The employees often speak various languages. You can find a counselling centre nearby at

I am not satisfied with my Initial Orientation Course. Can I switch to another one?

Yes, you don't have to stay with the same provider and can switch to another Initial Orientation Course. To do so, look for another provider in your area. To find out where you can find other available Initial Orientation Courses nearby, see the section "Where can I find an Initial Orientation Course nearby?".

I cannot read and write well. Can I still benefit from an Initial Orientation Course?

Unfortunately, Initial Orientation Courses do not offer specific support for people who cannot read or write well. Some providers, however, offer extra courses or support for these people. It is best to ask the staff of the course provider.


You cannot have an interpreter accompany you during your Initial Orientation Course. But don't worry, you will be able to follow the lesson well even without an interpreter. And if you have any questions, you can seek help from your teacher.

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