I landed at the Frankfurt airport (FRA) at 05:30 on a Friday morning. I had until 09:15 to show up at my AirBnB in Cologne if I wanted to not have to lug my bags around the city until actual check-in time, which was 3 p.m…. I mean, 15:00.
Customs was no problem. I had the documents I needed with me, my acceptance letter into TH Köln and the address of where I would be staying. But, the customs official believed me when I told him, in German, that I was a student and where I would be studying.
Fortunately, I had the learned wisdom (from previously studying abroad) to not have to wait on baggage claim by bringing only 1 carry-on, 1 personal item and a ski jacket. I raced past baggage claim and was the first in line at the train ticket counter. I booked the next ICE (Inter-City Express) train to Cologne Hauptbahnhof at 06:43. I ran to the platform (= Gleis auf deutsch), which was about 70 euros. I had 30 minutes of free WiFi on the train.
I arrived in the center of Cologne, looked at a public transit (Kölner Verkehrs-Betriebe – KVB) map at the station, took a photo of it (actual photo to the right), and caught the line to the stop by my AirBnB. I activated Verizon’s TravelPass for the day with a phone call to the person at the AirBnB, and was let in with an hour to spare.
Things to do when you first arrive in Cologne as a study abroad student:
1. Go to ALDI and pick up a SIM card in the Aldi Talk Prepaid Starter Kit. Find somewhere with WiFi, and start the process of activating your SIM card. This will may take 24 hours.
2. Go to your university’s International Office and pick up the letter that allows you to use public transportation for free as a student.
3. Go to an Insurance Agency to receive an exemption letter that states your insurance will work for your stay in Germany. I went to the AOK recommended by my university and they did NOT give me the document, but THIS ONE DID: Techniker Krankenkasse (TK) located at Habsburgerring Eingang, Pilgrimstraße 2, 50674 Köln.
4. Return, with the letter, to the International Office and pick up your MultiCa (student card). DO NOT LET THEM TAKE THE LETTER — you will need it for the Immigration Office, but nobody will tell you this. They will now also give you the information on the bank transfer you need to make to pay the semester fee of about 275 euros. Paying the fee with Transferwise worked for a fellow student in my program. Do this immediately, as this will take a few days to go through before you can put money on your MultiCa. Some of the Mensa’s (student dining halls) accept cash, but they all accept the MultiCa.
5. Ask your landlord to fill out the form confirming where you will be living: Wohnungsgeberbescheinigung, and take that and your passport with you to register with the city.
6. Apply for a residence permit at the immigration office. This is a whole thing, which requires waking up early, waiting in line at 07:00, and understanding some German. A post regarding this process is