Moving to Germany: Frequently Asked Questions

Thinking of packing your suitcase and becoming an expat? Here are some tips on how to make it happen. Photo cc flickr user Jonas Design & Photography

Thinking of packing your suitcase and becoming an expat? Here are some tips on how to make it happen. Photo cc flickr user Jonas Design & Photography

Ever since I started blogging about my expat life in Germany, I’ve gotten questions from readers asking for help.  People wanted to know more about my decision to come here, about getting a job or a visa, and about learning the language.  As I often get the same questions again and again, I’ve put together a few of the most frequently asked so that it is easier for you to find answers.  If I haven’t touched upon something you’d love to know more about, leave your questions in the comments, and I will include them in future Q&A blog posts.

How did you end up in Germany?

The story goes something like this: I graduate college with a degree in English literature in the United States. Two weeks after graduation I start my first full-time desk job. Said full-time desk job makes me nuts. A year later—after breaking down in tears in a windowless grey meeting room over a pile of proofs—I decide to look for work abroad. I would have gone anywhere, so I started by looking at a lot of rather serious, scary jobs that I, in retrospect, am glad I didn’t get. On a whim I registered with an au pair placement agency and in two weeks I had an offer to live in Frankfurt with a family of seven. I accepted, quit my job, helped my mom move to a new house, and flew to Germany with a one-way ticket. (Despite the one-way ticket, I was expecting to come back after my year au pairing at the time, no plans of staying forever and ever then. I just didn’t want to have to commit to an exact date.)

Which makes the short, short answer to that question: completely by accident. I had never considering nannying before, and though I enjoyed the babysitting that I did occasionally, I wasn’t that into children. I just wanted a job that would allow me to be abroad and explore Europe. Au pairing was what fell into my lap, so an au pair I became. A German family responded to my application, so I moved to Germany. Au pairing turned out not to be my dream career, but it also was incredibly interesting and got me free trips to both Dubai and Cyprus, so in the end it was a pretty good score.

By the end of that first year I’d started to feel at home in Frankfurt, so I decided to stay and teach English.

How much money did it cost you to get there?

Because of the au pair job—which included room, board, health insurance, and visa organization—I didn’t have a lot of initial costs. I already had a passport, so I bought an adapter for my laptop (probably about 20 bucks) and a plane ticket (about 400 dollars I think).

After my year au pairing I went back to the United States to travel for a few months, then returned to get my own life in Germany started. I stayed at my then-boyfriend’s apartment while looking for my own place and needed about 1000 euro (I think, my memory for detail on this one is a bit foggy) for the deposit on my apartment, as well as money (something between 300 and 400 dollars I reckon) to get me through that first month of apartment and job hunting.

How did you get a visa?

My very first visa—made out to “can stay and au pair for one year”—was incredibly easy. My host mother drove me around to all the necessary offices, filled out the forms, and paid the fees. American citizens—of which I am one—are allowed to stay in Germany for three months on a tourist visa, so I didn’t even need to do anything before arriving. I had my official one-year au pairing visa in my passport by November (I arrived in September).

My second visa was a bit more trying—I applied on the basis of having work as a freelance English teacher. If you’re considering doing the same, here’s what you’ll need (or what I needed in 2005): letters from your employers estimating how much money you will make working for them each month, proof of a bank account, a rental agreement (proving that you have a place to live and informing them of your rent costs), and proof of health insurance. If you only have one employer, you might still get through, but it is a really good idea to have at least two when applying for this type of visa (as otherwise the German government would prefer that the company hire you for real and pay into things like social health care and retirement funds for you). Many of my colleagues at inlingua, my main employer at the time, had only one employer and were given visas for six months. I had two and was immediately given a visa for three years.

Problems I encountered: the people at the Frankfurt aliens office are incredibly unfriendly and a lot of health insurance companies and banks don’t want to do business with you unless you already have a visa. Can’t get a visa without a bank account, can’t get a bank account without a visa. (Sparkasse, to name names, wouldn’t give me an account without one, but Dresdner, now Commerz did without blinking.) Which later became, can’t get health insurance without a visa, can’t get a visa without health insurance. (In this case, I managed to convince the insurance agent that this was ridiculous and to sell me a policy anyway.) Can’t get an apartment without a visa? Well, there I didn’t have a problem. My landlord was used to renting to students, and he didn’t ask me any visa questions.

My advice to anyone trying to do this themselves is to get themselves down to the appropriate Amt and to ask for an application. Could be that requirements have changed since I went through the process, and it could be that each state has different hoops for you to jump through. Oh, and they really like it if you can speak German. (Bring someone with you to translate if you can’t speak German and can find a buddy willing to help. This will make them like you more.)

My third visa was (and is) a “married to a German person” visa. That required a a good deal of paperwork (that then had to be expensively translated), but involved dealing with the very friendly Mainz aliens office instead of the over-crowded, bad-mood-bear Frankfurt office.  So I might actually consider it the easier of the three. That visa is for three years, and if we are still married at the end of those three years, I’ll get a “stay in Germany forever” visa and can finally kiss the whole visa process goodbye.

Did you learn German before you went? Or did you learn it as you went along?

Before I moved to Germany I had already taken nine years of German classes (took it in high school and minored in it in college) under my belt. And yet I learned more German in my first six months here than in those nine years put together. So I’d say it was a little bit of both. During my first year here I also took some refresher courses at the Volkshochschule (VHS). Otherwise it was all trial by fire and practice, practice, practice.

If any of you have other questions about getting set up as an expat (or if I didn’t explain something in enough detail), leave ‘em in the comments, and I’ll make this Q&A into a regular series.

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25 thoughts on “Moving to Germany: Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Christine

    I’m so glad to see a blog like this. I’m also a US citizen, hoping to move to Germany, and possibly teach English.

    I speak some German, but am committed to mastering the language, which is one of the reasons that I want to move there.

    I was wondering if you could go into more detail about how you’ve been able to make ends meet in Germany. A lot of things I’ve read online have said that EFL teaching in Germany is very underpaid and a difficult way to make a living.

    Can you shed some light on this? Do you still work as an EFL teacher? If not, what do you do now? What is your educational background?

    Thanks for your help!

  2. Megan

    Thank you for all the easy to read answers pertaining to visas.
    By the end of this year I plan on moving to Germany to be with my boyfriend, a native German. I have no jobs set up, and don’t really know where to start because I know practically no German. My question to you is, is it necessary to apply for my, I guess “working visa” before I get there, or can I use those 3 ‘free’ months as a time to find a job then apply for the visa??
    Thanks!!

  3. Jose Dianela

    HI,

    I am being offered a job in Frankfurt. May i ask how much salary should i ask if i will bring my wife and three kids with me? By the way I am offered the position of Export Manager.

    1. What salary should i ask if i will let my 3 kids (6,10 and 13)study in INternational school
    2. How about in Bilingual school?

    Which is better to live and stay with my kids in Frankfurt or outside Frankfurt

    YOur sugggestions would be greatly appreciated.

    Thank you,
    jose

  4. Pingback: Germany has jobs, but I have questions! | Deutschland Blog

  5. Kathleen Parker

    Great post! I’ve gone through most of the same visa experiences as you have, and I ended up setting up a company in summer 2012 to help English speakers go through the process in Berlin. I did it because help cutting through the red tape is lacking, and the case workers at the office can put up a brick wall if you’re not yet ready to communicate in German.

    While things became a lot easier for me (and probably you too!) when I got married to a German man, I still will need to return back there in 2015, and then potentially again in another five years, husband in tow. But I am thankful that my visa now allows me to do whatever I want, and that my only reason for visiting the place (which is now pretty much every second day) is to help other people get through it. And if the tax breaks are as good as they say they are for married couples in Germany, well, the tax savings will eventually pay off the wedding :-)

    Cheers
    Kathleen Parker
    Red Tape Translation

  6. Sam

    im us citizen looking to move to germany

    i’m already here in europe and want to get a apartment here in germany munich and apply for school

    can i apply for student visa while i am here and get working permit?

    if you have answer please write me at dj_albokid@hotmail.com

    thanks

  7. Romaine

    Please help me….
    My husband is an EU citizen and he recently got a job offer in Germany. The problem is that I am a South African citizen and I need to go with him in 3 weeks time, I have to do the language test. I do not speak German. What other kind of visa can I get to go with my family? I am completely prepared to learn German because it will be so beneficial to me and my family…but it will be impossible to do this in three weeks…
    so desperate..anyone please give some kind of advice.

    Thank you

    Romaine

  8. SIlly

    I just wrote a huge post about living here in Germany and what I went threw. I did not see the silly captcha code at the bottom and his submit. Next page said ERROR. No Captcha code. I hit the back button in my browser and the entire message that took me 30 minutes to write is gone. I would fix this if I were you. I would rewrite the post but now I am a little perturbed. I will be sure and enter the silly captcha code now. Umwerfen!

    I know, how about move the submit comment button below the captcha code?????

  9. SIlly

    OK.. I am not going to rewrite what I originally posted but here is a website that basically said the same thing I said.

    The exception is I am married to a German citizen and got married in the US. Then moved to Germany. Also when I registered at my local office here they gave me a two year resident permit and a work permit at the same time. Do not know why they did but they did. I don’t even speak the language and have worked two jobs now. We have been living here since May of 2011 with no problems at all. Unless it was a mistake, which I doubt considering how diligent Germans are with their paper work, it wasn’t a problem at all.

    Here is the link….

    http://www.journey-to-germany.com/residence-visa.html

  10. yeshma

    Hi,

    My boyfriend is in Germany doing is masters and i am an indian citizen how can i join him. What are the different kind of visa can I get to go to germany? what are the requirements?
    Please help me in this.

    Thank you.

  11. nikki

    Christine: I won’t go into complete detail as to my finances then, but I found teaching ESL a great way to make ends meet. You will probably need to work for more than one school to do so, however. Best of luck!

    Megan: Whether you apply for a visa before you arrive depends entirely on what country you are from. For example, Americans can apply once here as they have a three-month travel visa that allows them to stay in the country automatically upon entering. Best check with the consulate.

    Jose: I can’t offer much advice on that, not knowing what sort of lifestyle you are used to. As for living in Frankfurt or outside, the communities outside are often quite beautiful, but I find living in the city with children equally feasible. A matter of taste really. Best of luck!

    Kathleen: The company sounds like a great idea. :)

    Sam: I assume that you can, but better check at the appropriate offices.

    Romaine: I wish you the best of luck and hope you were able to figure something out! I do not have experience in that area specifically, sorry! Let us know how it turns out!

    Sllly: They gave you a residence and work permit right away because you are married to a German citizen. Marriage really does make the whole process easier, doesn’t it? It was amazing, comparing my experiences with those offices before I married and after. It was like night and day. Sorry about the captcha code eating your work! We unfortunately can’t make any changes to that. :/

    yeshma: For all those details you should visit the German consulate, or their website. Sounds like you will need to find work in Germany (or start studying yourself) that will let you apply for a visa on your own steam. Could be that if you two were married it would be easier, but I don’t know for sure. Good luck!

  12. Buja

    i’am also studying in Germany in Hamburg, when i first came here i knew very little German, i’ve learnt it very fast and its not that difficult as people use to describe it, all in all it is worthy going to study in Germany.

  13. Rose

    At this moment I am going to do my breakfast, after
    having my breakfast coming yet again to read other news.

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  15. Sommerfeld-Majka

    Thanks for sharing the useful questions which are quite important in legal matter sometimes.
    I truly appreciate your work. Good Going!!

  16. Emilia

    can i apply for student visa while i am here and get working permit?please answer me

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  21. Natalie Silvestri

    Hallo!

    I am currently living in Berlin with my boyfriend (Just arrived August 8th) and am planning to take the au pair route initially. I am wondering how you found your host family??

    Also- what a wonderful blog you have- Thank you!!

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