Recognition of international university degrees
Getting a foreign diploma recognised: requirements and tips
Whether or not a foreign university degree is recognised in Germany is regulated by state-level laws on higher education. This article provides information about the requirements for obtaining recognition and the steps that need to be taken.
The recognition of foreign university degrees is not uniformly regulated in Germany – it depends largely on the type of degree, the field of study and the region in which a person wishes to apply for recognition.
The recognition of foreign higher education degrees is regulated by the higher education laws of Germany’s 16 federal states, and there are differences from state to state. As such, it is possible that a degree recognised by one state may not be recognised by another. Further information is available on the websites of the education ministries of the individual states.
When it comes to university admissions, access to advanced studies or the crediting of previous coursework and examinations, the recognition of degrees is decided by the university. There are major differences here depending on the degree programme and location.
Which degrees are recognised in Germany?
The answers may vary when it comes to recognition for those who completed their studies abroad and plan to continue their studies in Germany, to work at a university or to work in the public or private sector. It often depends on the degree and the professional goal connected with it. The legal foundations for the recognition of university degrees is provided by the Lisbon Convention and the European Convention on the Academic Recognition of University Qualifications, and others.
Recognition of degrees in the private sector
Many foreign university degrees qualify holders to apply for a job in Germany. The only stipulation is that the institution or company recognises the applicant’s qualifications and offers a position. To make the decision easier for the employer, the applicant can seek an evaluation of their foreign educational credentials at the Central Office for Foreign Education (ZAB). The agency conducts an expert assessment and produces a “statement of compatibility” of those credentials and their comparability to German qualifications.
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If a person’s university degree falls under a regulated profession, they are not immediately eligible to work in that job in Germany. In order to be allowed to work in that profession, official recognition of the degree obtained abroad is required in advance. This rule applies to many professions, including to university degrees for physicians, pharmacists and psychotherapists.
In principle, so-called professional doctorates are not recognised in cases where the doctorate is not awarded in accordance with the third level of the Bologna classification (after Bachelor's and Master's degrees), but is instead awarded in the initial degree programme, like a doctor of medicine.
The following applies to European Union nationals: If a person has obtained the academic degree for practising the profession within the EU or in Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland, their degree will be recognised no matter what. If the academic degree for a regulated profession comes from another country, however, then recognition depends on the individual case. In these instances a determination must first be made that the professional qualification is equivalent to the German one.
Different bodies are responsible for the recognition of regulated professions. The Recognition Finder on the Federal Government's "Recognition in Germany" information portal provides critical information about the profession in question, as well as about the requirements and how recognition is granted for the foreign qualification.
anabin – the information portal on foreign educational qualifications (only in German)
Recognition of degrees from universities
The situation is different for those who are more interested in continuing their studies in Germany or in working at a university than going into the private sector. Whether a foreign university degree is recognised for this purpose is, in many cases, determined by the respective university to which a person applies.
Regulated professions and university degrees that end with a state examination are exceptions. Here, it is not the university but the federal government or the responsible state that decides whether the qualification is recognised. Further information on this process and the responsible offices in the respective federal states can be found, for example, at the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).
What documents are required for recognition?
The official recognition of a foreign professional qualification can be applied for at any time. For this purpose, the original completed application form must be submitted. In addition, notarised copies of the following documents are normally required:
identification document – a passport or identity card, for example
foreign university diploma
proof of the content of the degree programme.
Depending on the type of recognition, the documents must be submitted in the original language, as a German translation, or both. In addition, further documents may be required, such as a declaration of previous applications for recognition or further documentation that might be required for recognition. The complete list, including detailed explanations of the individual documents for general professional recognition, can be found on the Federal Government's information portal Recognition in Germany.
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Using foreign titles in Germany
The use of the title bestowed after completing a foreign university degree is generally permitted in Germany. However, some criteria must be met in terms of how the title was acquired and the form of the title. The principles for the regulation of the use of foreign university degrees, which are based on a resolution of the Standing Conference of Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs, literally state: "A foreign higher education title awarded on the basis of a higher education qualification recognised under the law of the country of origin after a course of study duly completed by examination may be used in the form in which it was awarded, with an indication of the awarding institution." This applies to the full title as well as to the abbreviation used in the country of origin.
However, it is not permitted to simply translate the acquired degree and use it as a German title. The title of the degree may only be transliterated and the translation may be provided in brackets as a supplement to the abbreviation from the country of origin. But there are individual exceptions where selected foreign titles may be equated with German titles. Depending on the instance, that could apply throughout Germany or only in individual federal states. One example is the PhD, which in many cases may be used as a doctoral title in Germany without the need for any further approval.
Keep in mind that the conversion of a university qualification obtained abroad generally isn’t provided for and is only possible under special circumstances. For example, Spätaussiedler, ethnic German immigrants from the successor states to the Soviet Union and other Eastern European countries, have such a right.
Key recognition databases
Those looking for detailed information about whether a foreign university degree is recognised in Germany and what qualifications it provides in the country can consult the information portal (in German) on foreign educational qualifications.
The site contains further general information on the recognition of university degrees as well as a database. This includes degrees from various countries around the world as well as a classification of their equivalent in Germany.
Recognition of foreign degrees online
Various sites on the internet provide further information on the recognition of university degrees. The following is a brief overview of the sites:
Recognition in Germany: The Federal Government's information portal provides general information on the recognition of university degrees and the legal basis for doing so.
The Central Office for Foreign Education (ZAB): In addition to a certificate assessment, the ZAB offers information on a possible expert assessment of the comparability of foreign educational certificates as well as on other aspects of the recognition of foreign degrees.
The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD): In addition to general information, the DAAD also provides specific information about individual university degrees and maintains a list of the offices responsible for degree recognition. (Note: DAAD has an extensive English website, but this particular article is only available in German.)