In the next months I was planning to start an individual PhD in the Humanities at a German university. However, due to coronavirus restrictions I might not be able (or it might not be advisable) to move there for some months; while remaining in my home country, I might have to get a (non-academic) job in order to support myself.

Hence my question: assuming my potential supervisor agrees to keep most of our interactions virtual (videocalls/mails/etc), with occasional personal meetings, is it possible and feasible to pursue an individual Phd in Germany living (and perhaps working) in another country? As far as I know, both the PhD type (individual doctorate/Einzelpromotion) and the study field (Humanities) may allow for a larger degree of autonomy on the side of the candidate.

Please note the question is largely theoretical -- hopefully, I'll be able to move to Germany as soon as possible and find funding or employment there.

  • 3
    Short answer: in theory it's completely feasible, but your individual university may have some rules about it. Is your PhD funded? I don't understand why you are planning on working another job if the PhD is full time. Doing this is very hard! Payment (and how those are taxed) may be complicated depending on your home country (is it in the EU?). Nov 20, 2020 at 16:18
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    Unusual times may allow for unusual (temporary) solutions. But this is a question for your particular institution.
    – Jon Custer
    Nov 20, 2020 at 17:31
  • @astronat individual doctorates are not funded, unless you apply successfully to some funding institutions (DAAD, Stiftungen, funds from the Laender etc.). Moreover, being funded by such institutions will almost certainly involve a Residenzpflicht (= you must reside in Germany while studying). If I remain in my (EU) home country because of Covid, I will have certainly to work in order to support myself in next months -- but as you point out, the relative freedom of the individual doctorate does not make it a "part-time" PhD.
    – wagner
    Nov 20, 2020 at 18:41
  • Standard advice: Get funding before you sign up for a PhD. Nov 21, 2020 at 9:09
  • Most PhD students at German universities are employed by the university. And in that case, you would not be allowed to work somewhere else without a formal permission from the university's administration. Moreover, those people who do their PhD part-time usually take long and hand in a low quality dissertation. It might be preferable to get a student loan and do the PhD full time from the start. The shorter the PhD is, the earlier you can cash in on the wage surplus that comes with the degree, probably compensating the cost of the student loan.
    – user
    Nov 21, 2020 at 10:29

1 Answer 1


This question is very difficult to answer in general as PhD programs and their rules are hardly standardized in Germany, every university can mostly do as they please.

In my research institute (STEM) PhD students are employed workforce and as such your contract cannot start before you present yourself to HR at least once in person. But this does not seem to be the case for you.

During these Covid days many rules have also changed or are temporarily not applied. In my experience, the administrations have become very relaxed, allowing many things that were not permitted before. For example, a friend of mine was able to receive the written assessment of his thesis by email, vowing to delete it again, while normally it is strictly required to read it in person, under supervision and the strict ban of any recording devices.

As such, in general, if your supervisor agrees to you staying in your country as long as Corona is around, there will probably be a way to make it happen.

  • The last point is particularly important I think. Not only are many rules adapted at the moment, they are also often adapted as needed.
    – mlk
    Nov 24, 2020 at 8:02

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