If you dream to be where the action is when Oktoberfest rolls along, to be able to visit the weiner dog museum on the daily, or see amazing historical sites whenever you fancy it, you need to make Germany your home. For that, you need to get a visa and a job, and here’s how to do it.
- What visas are you eligible for?
- Necessary appointments and paperwork
- Applying for jobs
- Finding an apartment
1. What visas are you eligible for?
If you’re from the EU, an EEA country, or Switzerland, you don’t need additional paperwork to live, work, or study in Germany, just register at your local Bürgeramt (citizen’s office) when you settle into a proper flat.
Working holiday visa
If you’re 18 to 30 years old and from Australia, Israel, Japan, Canada, New Zealand, or South Korea, you can qualify for a one-year working holiday visa. This permit allows you to work and live in Germany for one year. The issuance fee is $64 and a personal interview is required at the Auslanderbehörde (foreigner’s office). For more information on how to apply for a working holiday visa in Germany, check out the official resources.
The job seeker visa
Qualified applicants can prolong their 90-day visitor Schengen visas with a six-month permit to reside in Germany while looking for work. To qualify, applicants must have a bachelor’s degree that is recognized in Germany, significant work experience (five years or more), enough cash on hand to show the government you can cover your expenses, health insurance, and registration in the city you moved to (see Anmeldung below). The issuance fee is $64 and an interview at the Auslanderbehörde is required.
For more info on how to apply for a job seeker visa in Germany, check out the official resources.
The job seeker visa is usually a prelude to the general employment visa, so keep reading.
Residence through a work visa
If you’re an American, or if you’re from Australia, Israel, Japan, Canada, New Zealand, or South Korea, you can apply for residence from within Germany. There are several paths to a residence permit, but the most popular is getting a job (you need the work contract as proof) and filling out the application for a work visa.
A visa for the purpose of employment will be valid through the length of your job contract, so make sure your employer knows you cannot start working until the paperwork is taken care of. For this visa, you’ll need to assemble all of your paperwork in Germany and head to the Ausländerbehörde for a quick interview — bring an interpreter unless you’re fluent in German.
The appointment itself usually takes less than 30 minutes and at the end, if successful, you’ll be given a payment card to cover the issuance fee. A work visa will cost between $64 and $114, and you’ll have to pay for each future extension. Note that your employer can handle your visa application through the Business Immigration Services (BIS), saving you a trip to the Ausländerbehörde.
For more info on how to apply for a work permit in Germany, check out the official resources.
Residence through a self-employment visa
Freelancers are welcome to apply for a freelance visa for self-employment purposes. The application for a freelance visa is more involved than the regular employment visa. Applicants will need to prove they have work contacts in Germany and are capable of finding paid contracts. Profit and loss statements, expense reports, and a printed portfolio are required, too. An interview at the Ausländerbehörde is required for this visa.
For more info on how to apply for a freelance/self-employment visa in Germany, check out the official resources.
2. Necessary appointments and paperwork
The different types of visas all have different requirements, but they share a few common qualifiers.
How to get an appointment at the Ausländerbehörde?
For every visa mentioned, you need to go through an interview at the Ausländerbehörde. Securing an appointment at the Ausländerbehörde can be tricky, but with some persistent checking, you should be able to find an opening through the official website. Alternatively, you can go to the Ausländerbehörde before the office opens to secure one of up to 50 open appointment slots for the day.
Everyone needs an Anmeldung, which is a registration used to link you to your official German address. You’ll need this registration for many things, such as opening a German bank account, getting your tax ID, receiving mail, and setting up utilities in your new flat. To get registered, you’ll need a form from your landlord, an application form, and your official ID. The registration is granted at the Bürgeramt and is completely free.
Health insurance is compulsory in Germany. You’ll need to have health insurance in place to be granted a visa. Most people in Germany opt for public health insurance, like TK, but private insurance plans, like Allianz, are available for people earning more than $65,380 per year. Employers will offer health insurance benefits for employees that work more than 20 hours per week. Freelancers must secure their own health insurance.
This one goes without saying, but all applicants need a valid passport with two free pages to print the visa.
3. Applying for jobs
There are different job boards depending upon your field. Many jobs can be found on:
Note that even if you score a job contract, you will not be allowed to start working until you receive the corresponding work visa.
Facebook groups are a great way to plug into the expat community in Germany, and many have job postings for English speakers. If you’re thinking about Berlin, check out Berlin Startup Jobs to get familiar with the startup scene. Don’t underestimate the importance of networking and face-to-face meetings in your field. Attend lectures, talks, or meetups with like-minded professionals to gauge industry trends and hiring behaviors. Buying a day pass to a popular co-working space is also a great way to meet people and make contacts.
German-style curriculum vitae
In Germany, it’s common practice to have a photo on your resume along with your nationality and age. It’s important to list your languages, skills, and hobbies in a German resume so employers can have a better picture of who you are as an individual.
4. Finding an apartment
The catch-22 of the whole process is that you’ll need to find a place to rent before you start working so you can get the Anmeldung. However, many landlords require a job contract and your last three payslips to qualify for apartment rentals. There are a few ways to get around this, like subletting for a shorter period of time to get registered and then looking for a long-term apartment once you have your residence permit. Finding an apartment can be quite difficult, especially in some of the bigger cities. In Berlin, the popular sites for finding rentals are:
Check out some Facebook groups about housing to get an idea of what’s available in your area. In Berlin, check out:
5. Herzliche Glückwünsche! (Celebrate!)
It is a lengthy and stressful process to secure a visa in Germany. If you’re feeling lost in the weeds of bureaucracy, reach out to one of the expat coaches in your city. For Berlin, check out the following:
Once you get your shiny new visa printed and put in your passport, it’s time to grab a bretzel and bier to celebrate your new life.