Public transportation in Germany: A student's guide

Public transportation in Germany: A student's guide

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Studying at a university in Germany? Or just thinking of applying? In this article, Archit Singh walks you through your options when it comes to public transportation, and gives you an idea of the costs, so you can budget for everything from travel to student accommodation.

Starting your journey through Germany's public transportation system is like diving into a world of trains, buses, and trams - it's exciting but can be a bit overwhelming for students. 

There's a bit of a learning curve to figuring out how to travel smart without breaking the bank. In this guide, we'll walk you through the ins and outs of getting around in Germany, making sure you can navigate the system like a local.

U-Bahn (underground train)

Germany's underground transportation system is known as the U-Bahn: it's the same as what you might call a metro or the underground elsewhere. The U-Bahn is your go-to for zipping around big German cities like Berlin, Munich, and Hamburg. 

Super quick and efficient, and often running throughout the night, it's perfect for getting to university from your student digs, or anywhere else in the city. It's super easy to hop from the U-Bahn to buses and trams, thanks to well-connected stations.

You can recognise a U-Bahn station by its sign: a big white "U" over a blue background.

S-Bahn / Stadtschnellbahn (overground train)

The S-Bahn, which connects the heart of major German cities to their outskirts and also covers longer distances within bigger cities, is a lifeline for students living a bit further from the hustle and bustle. It's the sweet spot between the local U-Bahn and longer-distance regional trains, ideal for those residing in suburban areas, or anyone who wants to cover a longer distance. 

With frequent services and good coverage at off peak times, overnight and on weekends, the S-Bahn is a reliable option for daily university commutes or part-time work travels.

Somewhat confusingly, S-Bahn trains in Germany do often travel underground, and U-Bahn trains also travel overground! S-Bahn stations are designated by a big white S on a green background.  

Trams (Straßenbahn)

Trams are a staple in many German cities, offering extensive coverage that complements the U-Bahn and S-Bahn networks. They're particularly handy for reaching areas that are a bit off the beaten path, where trains or buses might not venture. Night trams (Nachtstraßenbahn) operate in some cities, ensuring late-night connectivity for students and night owls.

Trams travel above the ground, on the road, alongside cars and other forms of transport. You can recognise a tram stop (which is often combined with a bus stop) by the sign: a red square with the word “Tram” on it. 

Buses (Bussen)

The final piece of the public transport puzzle is the humble bus. In Germany, buses fill in the gaps between U-Bahns, S-Bahns and trams, creating corridors between main transport hubs and other places. For instance, you might need to take a bus from your home to your closest U-Bahn or S-Bahn station. 

Buses also usually continue through the night when other services aren't running. A Nachtbus (night bus) can be your lifeline to get home after an evening on the town. 

You can recognise a bus stop by its ubiquitous sign: a green "H" (for Haltestelle, which means "bus stop") on a yellow background. 

Bike-sharing systems

Finally, bike-sharing systems in Germany offer a flexible and eco-friendly way to navigate cities, perfect for short trips or last-mile connectivity. Available in most major cities, these systems feature multiple pick-up and drop-off points, making them highly flexible. They complement public transport well, especially for reaching destinations not directly served by buses or trains.

You will usually see ranks of bikes parked on sections of pavement, which can be rented by downloading the company's app. The app can also show you where your closest bike can be found.

Many bike-sharing providers offer discounted rates for students, making it an affordable option for daily commutes from your student accommodation to university. Some universities even have partnerships with bike-sharing companies, providing special deals or integrated services.

Public transport tickets for students in Germany

To make use of public transport in Germany, you'll need a ticket. S-Bahn and U-Bahn stations don't normally have ticket barriers, but that doesn't mean you can ride for free! If you're caught without a valid ticket by an inspector, you could risk a fine. When entering a bus, you'll need to either buy a ticket or present a valid pass. 

Thankfully, there are lots of good-value public transport pass options for students. 


The SemesterTicket is a big deal in most cities. Offered exclusively to students, it usually covers all public transport in the area and costs somewhere in the region of 200 to 300 euros per semester - a real bargain! 

At some universities, the SemesterTicket is included in the semester contribution (Semesterbeitrag), which you pay when you enrol each semester, making it an automatic perk of your studies.

To purchase a Semesterticket, first see if your university offers one on their website or through the Studentenwerk. Pay your semester fees to activate it, if it's included. After paying, you can usually grab your SemesterTicket online through your university portal.

For cities where the SemesterTicket isn't included in university fees, you can purchase it at local public transportation offices (Verkehrsbetriebe). For specific details and online purchase options, visit the official website of the city's public transportation system.


If you're planning to travel a lot across Germany, meaning not just within your local area, this ticket is a life saver. Costing just 49 euros per month, it gives you unlimited travel on all forms of local transport across the whole country (excluding high-speed trains like the Intercity and the Intercity Express). 

The Deutschlandticket is purchased as a subscription that is automatically taken from your bank account each month. You can purchase it through the Deutsche Bahn app, the app of your local public transport association, or in a station ticket office. 

Social ticket (Sozialticket)

Some regions of Germany offer a special ticket for low-income groups who qualify. The social ticket (Sozialticket) is an affordable travel ticket that gives you unlimited travel within a specified zone. 

You'll need a certificate of eligibility to purchase a Sozialticket, before applying to your local transport association. You can then buy the ticket either on the local provider's app or at a ticket machine. 

Single tickets

If you're not planning to use public transportation that often, it might work out cheaper to purchase single tickets for individual journeys. There are a range of different options on offer, from single tickets for short trips, through to 24- or 48-hour passes and weekly tickets.

You can purchase these tickets either on the local transport provider's app or at a ticket machine in the station. Note that some types of tickets need to be validated (entwertet) before being used. 

Start travelling around Germany!

We hope this article helps you understand the public transport system in Germany for international students. Remember that mastering public transportation in Germany is all about patience and practice. Give it a little more time and before you know it, you'll be zipping around Germany's public transport like a local.

amber student Accommodation helps you secure accommodation for your study abroad journey. Having served 80 million students (and counting), amber is your one-stop shop for all your accommodation needs, with great choices for student housing. Download the amber app from the Google Play Store or Apple App Store to book an affordable home for your adventure.

Archit Singh


Archit Singh

Archit is an avid writer who is keen to get his doctorate. When not writing, he can be found reading, taking the metro and then questioning this decision, and haunting...

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