If you’ve recently relocated to Germany and are looking to learn the language or find out more about German culture and customs, you might consider taking an integration course. You may even be required to take one to qualify for a residence permit.
What is the German integration course (Integrationskurs)?
Integration courses were designed by the German government to help anyone who has recently arrived in Germany to adjust to everyday life, culture and customs. The courses consist of around 660 hours of instruction, comprising a mixture of language and “orientation” components. They are usually done full-time, although there are part-time and evening options available for anyone who is already working.
Most integration courses begin with a language course, which lasts 600 hours for general courses, or 900 hours for special courses (see below). The modules are designed to help you express yourself in various everyday situations, such as:
- Writing letters and emails in German
- Administration and completing forms
- Making telephone calls
- Working in Germany and finding a job
- Education and training
- Raising children
- Services, banks and insurance
- Eating and drinking
- Visiting the doctor
- Cities, mobility and transport
If you do not pass the language course the first time around, you can apply to repeat up to 300 of the lessons.
Once you have successfully completed the language component, you will move on to the orientation course. This module consists of around 60 hours of instruction and discussion on aspects of life, politics and culture in Germany, including:
- The German legal system, history and culture
- The political system, German political parties and democracy
- Rights and obligations in German society
- Societal values in Germany
As well as intermediate tests throughout the course that monitor your progress, all participants will take a final exam at the end of the integration course, the German Language Test for Immigrants (Deutschtest für Zuwanderer - see below).
Special integration courses
As well as the general integration course, there are several types of “special” courses that group people with special requirements or similar personal situations together. Participants on these special courses usually receive additional instruction of up to 300 hours. The following special courses are available:
- Courses including literacy skills (i.e. those unable to read or write, or unable to read or write in Latin script)
- Courses for women
- Courses for parents (i.e. interacting with the German school system, helping children with homework)
- Courses for young adults (up to 27 years)
- Catch-up courses (i.e. those who have already been in Germany for some time but have not acquired adequate language skills)
- Intensive courses (i.e. those already adept at learning languages, proceeds at a much faster pace)
Who can take a German integration course?
In general, integration courses are open to anyone who does not have sufficient command of the German language to adequately engage in everyday situations. In order to attend, you need to obtain a certificate of eligibility (Berechtigungsschein) from the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge - BAMF). Usually, non-EU citizens are entitled to places on integration courses and receive their certificates automatically, whereas EU and German citizens must apply, and can attend only if there are places available.
Non-EU nationals with residence permits
Non-EU nationals are either entitled or obliged to attend an integration course, as follows:
Entitlement to attend an integration course
- Family reunification
- Humanitarian reasons
However, you are not entitled to an integration course if any of the following apply to you:
- You are a child, young person or young adult attending school in Germany.
- Integration is deemed unnecessary in your situation.
- You already have an adequate command of the German language (although you may still choose to attend an integration course).
Obligation to attend an integration course
You are obliged to attend an integration course if any of the following apply to you:
- Your command of German is insufficient to make yourself understood in simple, everyday situations (determined by the immigration authority when issuing your residence permit).
- You receive unemployment benefit II and the job centre requests that you attend an integration course.
Note that this obligation may be waived if you are in full-time employment or have other obligations, such as care responsibilities.
Residence permits issued before January 1, 2005
If you received your residence permit before January 1, 2005, you are not entitled to an integration course but you may still be admitted if there are places available. You need to submit an application to your regional BAMF office (as for EU citizens, see below).
EU citizens & German nationals
As an EU citizen or German national, you are not legally entitled to a place on an integration course. You can, however, receive permission to attend from the BAMF if you are unable to speak German, you have integration needs, and there is free space for you on the course.
To receive a certificate of eligibility, you need to complete an application form and submit it to your regional BAMF office. Once you have received your certificate of entitlement, you can search for an integration course provider (see below).
How much does an integration course cost?
All participants are required to pay the integration course provider a contribution of 1.95 euros per lesson. This is paid in advance before each 100-hour module (i.e. 195 euros per module and approximately 1.300 euros for the entire integration course).
If you are on a low income, you can apply to the BAMF for your contribution to be waived. If you receive unemployment benefit II, your fees are automatically waived. If you are exempt from paying course contributions then you can also apply for an allowance for travel expenses (to the course provider closest to you).
If you successfully pass the final examination, the BAMF can reimburse you for half of the cost of the integration course, as long as you complete it within two years. To receive this reimbursement, you must apply to your regional BAMF office.
How to find an integration course
Once you have received your certificate of eligibility from the BAMF, you can search for your local integration course provider. This will usually be a German language school or community college (Volkshochschule) authorised by the government to deliver integration courses. You can find a list of providers on the BAMF website.
Once you have chosen your provider, you can attend in person to submit your certificate and register for the course. You may also undergo a short assessment. This helps your course provider determine which type of integration course would be most suitable for you.
German language test for immigrants (Deutschtest für Zuwanderer)
At the end of the course, you take a final exam, the German Language Test for Immigrants (Deutschtest für Zuwanderer). This exam primarily tests whether you can speak, read and write German to an A2 or B1 level. It consists of a written exam and an oral exam.
The written test has reading, writing and listening exercises that cover aspects of everyday life in Germany, as well as a short writing task. The oral exam lasts 15 minutes and is usually taken together with other course participants.
If you pass the examination, you will receive an integration course certificate that certifies your German language skills at either level A2 or B1.
Integration course & German citizenship
With your integration course certificate attesting to your command of the German language, you are able to claim German citizenship by naturalisation after seven years, rather than the standard eight. The topics covered in the orientation course will also prepare you well for the naturalisation test.
Additional German language courses
Once you have completed the integration course and mastered the basics of German, you might consider taking another German language course to take your skills to the next level!