How to take the abitur as a foreigner in Germany

 I'm a senior in America and I need more information on what to do once I graduate. I want to become an ATC and I have many plans on how to achieve that. One is to join the airforce and hope I can get into the ATC training program and become an ATC with them for 4 years, THEN move to Germany and directly try to work at Lufthansa, but another, which I'll need a lot more information on how I'll do it, is to go to Germany right after I graduate. My plan is like so: Graduate High School, move to Germany, and go to a school to receive ATC training there; however, my plan has a thorn in it.
I read that school that will train you to become an ATC in Germany require your Abitur. While reading how to take the abitur as a foreigner in Germany, it all confuses me. What I need is a straightforward explanation on what I'll need to do to take my abitur in Germany as an American citizen with a high school diploma. What will I need to do first, in order to meet the requirements to take it and validate my American education in Germany, and what I'll need for the Abitur (knowledge in science, linguistics, mathematics, etc). 
How long will my journey to taking the Abitur take, and what will I need to do to achieve my goal? Will my first plan work, or is my second plan safer overall?

Paging @MYOS1634

Why Germany? is there a personal connection? the free tuition? Are you fluent in German?

I don’t know about ATC in particular, but many programs in Germany accept a HS diploma in lieu of the Arbitur. You can see the requirements for each level of equivalency here:

How fluent are you? Are we talking AP German, post-AP course, 5th semester in college? Have you lived there before?
What AP’s have you taken?
Are you a European citizen?

collegemom317 gave you the link which US qualifications are accepted as equivalent to a German Abitur for university entrance purposes. (A US high school diploma plus specific combinations of AP scores, an Associate’s degree or passing a university entrance exam, with or without attending a year-long Studienkolleg beforehand.)

If you want to obtain a German credential, there’s two general pathways: attend a classroom-based program program and pass a few exams, or prepare yourself any way you like and pass a much more comprehensive set of exams (“Externenpruefung”).

Classroom-based programs may happen during the day (“Kolleg”), in the evening (“Abendgymnasium”) or remotely (“Telekolleg”). The classroom-based programs lead to an Abitur / Allgemeiner Hochschulreife in 3-4 years. There’s shorter programs that lead to restricted university entrance credentials, such as the Fachgebundene Hochschulreife (restricted set of majors) or the Fachhochschulreife (restricted set of universities).

The specific subject and exam requirements differ between German states. Generally speaking, the full classroom-based program includes at the AP level:

  • Math through calculus and statistics
  • Two sciences
  • German and two foreign languages
  • German history
  • An additional 1 or 2 subjects in the humanities and social sciences

I think that pursuing a German Abitur would be a waste of time. If your American high school diploma isn’t good enough to start ATC school directly and if you were willing to go to school for 3-4 years in Germany, it would make much more sense to get a Bachelor’s degree in that time and apply to ATC school with a university degree. (You’d attend a Studienkolleg for 1 year, which prepares foreign students for their major-specific university entrance exam, and then it’s 3 years to a German Bachelor’s degree.)

Two more pertinent questions: are you authorized to work in Germany, and are you near-fluent in German?

Sorry for the late reply, but I’m fluent in German and wish to capitalize on the free tuition.

I want to get my abitur and go to schooling in Germany simply because the free tuition. I’m very low-class in America and going through college and getting my bachelor’s, even with financial aid, is a very scary thing for me. I understand there would be fees in Germany, but not on the level it is in America. If I don’t need my Abitur for ATC (which I’m checking if I do, on the site sent), then I probably don’t need to worry so much about it.

I’m not a EU citizen. I took 4 years of German, taking AP this year, but I also spent my time on German forums and German communities, speaking to German people to build my fluency. @“b@r!um” @collegemom3717 @MYOS1634

If you’re very low income and have great grades, you can get a free ride thanks to Questbridge (not only free tuition, but free housing, free food, and even help with transportation tickets to get to the college). It’d be cheaper than Germany.

Lufthansa does not train and employ ATCs, the Deutsche Flugsicherung does. Go to, it’s in German and English. Don’t bother with getting the Abitur, check the required documents for US applicants with a high school diploma.

I do not quite understand whether you actually want to live and work in Germany indefinitely (for which you need an indefinite work permit) or just take advantage of the free tuition. As an ATC trainee, you will actually get paid from the get go (just very little initially), but you do need that indefinite work permit, since they don’t want to invest in your training for you to have to leave the country afterward.

With the collapse in air traffic due to Covid, not sure whether it’s such a safe path, to be honest.


Just so you can hear it from an official source, here’s the Deutsche Luftsicherung saying explicitly that you’d need an indefinite work permit to be considered for ATC training.

Informationen für ausländische Bewerber

Auch als ausländischer Bewerber sind Sie bei uns natürlich herzlich willkommen. Allerdings müssen Sie dann etwas mehr Papierkram bewältigen. Wenn Sie nicht aus der EU stammen oder nicht anderweitig gesetzlich begünstigt werden, müssen Sie auf jeden Fall eine gültige, unbefristete Aufenthaltsgenehmigung und eine ebensolche Arbeitserlaubnis vorweisen.*

Indefinite work permits (“Niederlassungserlaubnis”) aren’t hard to get, but it takes a while. You can apply for one after you have lived + worked in Germany for 5 years on a temporary permit (“Aufenthaltsgenehmigung”) or after 3 years on an EU Blue Card (which requires a university degree to get).

@Tigerle @“b@r!um” I already have a residence there, a friend is allowing me to use up one of his rooms, as well as use his address as my place of residence for papers, so I think I can get a student permit instead, which he said might work instead of a work permit, and I do intend on staying there.

I was wrong with my wording and I did work it all out that DFS in fact is the one who trains ATCs, and I sent them an email with my situation, asking if they have any programs, and how it works. I, also, intend to call them soon and ask them a set of questions, such as the one I asked in the earlier paragraph. The fact I don’t need an Abitur and my high school diploma provides me with a great relief. This whole process is extremely bureaucratic, and heavily in the hands of the government, which I am getting used to slowly.

Thank you all for your help, and I’m sorry with my lack of specifying details and understanding of this whole situation.

Yup, that’s Germany. Gotta embrace it, or you’ll never be happy!

@Tigerle @b@r!um Now I’m completely lost, and frankly distraught and scared. I’m not sure how to move on from here now and what to do.

I called the DFS and they told me that once I get my diploma that I am welcomed to go ahead and certify it as equivalent to the Abitur, yet even once I do that, I will need my permanent residence, just as @“b@r!um” said.

The question now is, how?

I mean, I know the requirements to get the permanent residence, but to wait 5 years just to finally achieve this? I am still determined, I just don’t know what I’ll need to do within those 5 years. What can I do? Do I just work for 5 years until I can finally apply for it? I have no idea. Do I go to school there? It’s all just scary to me at this point, when I was so confident going in.

You can’t just show up as an American citizen.
It’s good you have an address, but how will you get to Germany?
If you use the visa waiver system you can’t then get a study or work permit.
It’s easier in Europe for Americans than for Europeans in the US, but it’s still not a waltz in the park.
It’d typically take many years.
First, you’d need a student visa, ie., gain acceptance to a college and prove your level of German (typically, 1 year of language study in StudienKolleg).
Then you complete a degree. This you can do at a FachHochSchule for instance. Perhaps find a co-op.
Then you can have a job but Europeans will have priority over you.

Why won’t you consider colleges that offer full rides for lower income students, or questbridge (if your grades are excellent)?

The permanent residence permits aren’t issued based on time alone, there’s other requirements to go with it. E.g. time on a student permit doesn’t count towards the 5 years required for the job-based immigration route, you would need to be working a regular job. There’s a family-based route that only takes 3 years, but you’d need to be living with a close German family member (e.g. a spouse).

I personally wouldn’t work a menial job for 5 years for the opportunity to apply to an ATC training program in Germany. In all likelihood you won’t be accepted and then what? You can’t even train to do something interesting first, work for a few years, get your permanent permit and then maybe try for ATC training later because you can’t apply if you are older than 24.

I think you have tough choice to make. Do you have your heart set on ATC? Then ditch Germany and look at opportunities elsewhere. Or do you have your heart set on Germany? Then ditch the ATC idea and look at other career goals.

Bureaucratic aside.

I strongly suspect that the reason a permanent residence permit is needed for ATC training is that the federal employment agency (Agentur fuer Arbeit) may block the issuance of a temporary work permit when a foreigner would take a limited opportunity away from a native German. ATC training spots are probably one of those rare occasions where the agency chooses to exercise that power.

^That’s excellent advice.
Either find a subject you can study at a FachHochschule in your friend’s town OR find ways to train for ATC in the US.
(Or find another path in the US.)

This. I’m sorry. If you have other ideas of what you might want to study in Germany, we can help!