Relocating to Germany: The most important steps to take
Generally, when moving to Germany, several aspects must be considered to facilitate a relatively smooth transition into your new life and avoid nerve-wracking, bad surprises. The Red Relocators offer their advice. [Contributed by The Red Relocators]
Here’s a short checklist of the most relevant topics to consider when planning a move to Germany:
- Work permit for Germany
- Common types of Work Permits
- Where to apply for a German work permit
- German health insurance
- Document requirements for work permits
- Processing time for work permit in Germany
- Travel to Germany
- Taxes in Germany
- Organising your household move
- Finding and settling in your new home
- Home search
- Registering in Germany
- Opening a bank account in Germany
- Moving into your new home
- House handover
- Contracting utilities
- Contracting Internet, telephone and TV
- Applying for your long-term, electronic residence title
- Moving to Germany with children
- Pregnancy in Germany
- Kindergarten (age 1–5)
- Schooling (age 6+):
- Family allowances
- Driving license in Germany
Common types of Work Permits
Working in Germany requires a work permit—as is the case in many other countries, too. Germany has a rather restrictive immigration policy, but in general it’s still a very welcoming country.
Unless you are a EU citizen, there are limited options to successfully apply for a German work visa:
- You already have a job offer, and you have an academic degree and earn more than EUR 49,900 per year, in which case you are most likely entitled to a Bluecard.
- The job you secured requires one of the dedicated professions mentioned on the whitelist, which you must qualify for.
- You apply for a six-month visa to search a job in Germany.
There are other options of course (see an overview on the website of Federal Foreign Office, the website of Federal Office for Migration and Refugees or The Red Relocators Relocation Guide - Working), however, one could write a whole article on the diverse residence titles. If you don’t qualify for a Bluecard, it is the employer’s responsibility to start the application procedure.
Where to apply for a German work permit
Let’s assume you qualify for a work permit. You will need to apply for a German residence title from within your country of residence. The local German embassy or consulate will be the recipient of your application. There are also exceptions based on nationality to this rule. The Federal Foreign Office publishes a list of embassies, as well as the regulations about which nationalities are exempted from the general rule.
German health insurance
The healthcare system in Germany is one of the world’s best, and thus it is protected against misuse. You will need preliminary healthcare insurance for a bit more than 90 days covering the time span between your entry to Germany and applying for German healthcare insurance. This coverage has to comply with a couple of restrictive requirements and it is recommendable to seek support by a specialized insurance broker. Once effectively employed in Germany, you will change over to German healthcare insurance, either by private insurance plan or by public insurance plan. Both have their advantages. You can make your decision prior to your move to Germany and only undertake the signing once your work permit is granted. If you tend to go for private healthcare insurance, a German insurance broker should be contacted, because the conditions differ significantly as do the premiums.
Document requirements for work permits
These are indicated on the respective embassy’s website. If you want to apply for a Bluecard, you can check whether your qualifications will be accepted with a visit to the anabin database. If either your university or your degree is not yet listed, you have to apply for an evaluation, which again takes roughly two weeks and is rather costly (200 euro).
Processing time for work permit in Germany
The authorities will take their time. A Bluecard application is usually processed between 2 and 4 weeks; any other will take considerably longer because the embassy will need to involve the ZAV in Germany. The ZAV is an authority reviewing whether there is no German equivalently qualified for a job given to a foreigner, in which case he should be preferred. The latter process must be facilitated by your future employer by adhering to the procedures to be allowed hiring a foreigner prior to your application. Also a Bluecard application can be sped up by a letter of urgency issued by your future employer and handed in as part of your application. And a personal connection to the embassy’s officer handling your case may be helpful.
If your application is successful, you will receive a 90 days business visa, which will allow you to start working for your new employer. Be sure to have all your application documents at hand for immigration.
Before signing any employment contract, you should seek tax advice to make sure you will not be suffering unexpected cost. Especially, when some of your income or assets remain where they are, outside Germany. You can use a German tax calculator to get a rough idea of your net income. “Make it in Germany” is the government’s official info site on taxes in Germany and you can read about the Top 10 issues in The Red Relocators Relocation Guide – Taxation.
Once you know you are granted a work permit and your move to Germany is definitely happening, you can start organizing the move of your household. We recommend you set the arrival date for the container to three months after your initial travel to Germany. Check out which electronic devices you can use in Germany—a lot of them will not work due to different power settings—and leave them behind. Also bed linen and sheets may have a completely different size. Get some limited stocks of your local favorites and arrange for the goods to be picked up.
One of the key tasks when relocating to Germany is to find your new home. This is best trusted to a relocation agency that knows the area and is able to get you the best available home. It is recommended to start off with a furnished apartment, which you can book whilst still being at home. Usually, no personal inspections are required and minimum rental period is three months—which is actually a reasonable period to find a permanent home.
There are some national providers offering homes via an English-speaking web portal. Permanent houses are offered through three big web portals, all with no English option. See an overview of home search web portals here. A relocation manager will help you make the choice and explain the German specifics about the lease agreement. Permanent houses are mostly intended to be rented out long-term, and long-term means four or five years, or more. Since 2014, real estate agents are no longer allowed to charge their commission to tenants (subject to exceptions). Before being able to move in, you need to transfer the deposit (three months’ rent) plus the rent for the first month.
The moment you know where you are going to live—the interim accommodation—you should reserve an appointment at the local city hall for registration. Being registered is a prerequisite for the important task of opening a bank account. In the big cities, the lead time for such appointments can easily be four to six weeks.
You will need your passport and residence title and a confirmation by the landlord. Sometimes this is difficult to get for short-term rentals like hotels or serviced apartments. When contracting them you should ask for the confirmation right away. Everything you need to know about registration you can find here.
There are basically three big conglomerates of finance institutes who are generally equally reliable, but differ in availability of cash machines and English online banking. For a normal checking account, costs do not differ significantly. Credit cards usually come for a yearly fee of around 50 euro. Dig deaper into the German banking options for Expatriates.
Permanent accommodation almost always comes empty. And empty means empty. There will not even be lightbulbs or blinds. There are regional differences, for example in Hamburg the kitchen is usually minimally equipped with some basic furniture and electrics, whereas in Munich, there is mostly no kitchen included. That means, if possible you should try to arrange a second visit with the current tenant to be able to measure the rooms and be able to order the most important furniture as these, too, often have delivery times of four weeks or more. Buy a stepladder, the most important tools like a screwdriver (a small one for installing bulbs) or a drill; buy some bulbs and blinds (including racks) and cleaning stuff as the apartment may be dusty or not cleaned to your standards.
Insist on recording a handover protocol and make sure all damages which go beyond normal wear and tear are noted down. If your landlord refuses to sign the protocol, usually something is amiss. In such a case, you should ask somebody to witness the damages and sign the protocol. The handover is a good opportunity to clarify how to react to emergency situations, such as lost keys, outage of heating or warm water; also where to find useful support, like a cleaner, especially window cleaners or gardeners and where to dispose your garbage (and how) and how to use the washing machine. Make sure your door bell works, as you will likely be ordering a lot online.
During the handover, the counter readings will be notified in the handover protocol. Based on these you will need to contract with the providers for electricity and water, and if you are renting a house, you will need to contract gas (or oil), too. Tariffs are ever changing and there are numerous smaller providers.
For the first year, it is recommendable to stick to the big providers like eON or Vattenfall and the local water provider—you can change at the end of each year. You will be charged a monthly lump sum as advance payment and it is recommendable to double check the assumed consumption as this is often based on the prior tenant’s consumption whose life situation could have been entirely different. Don’t forget to set standing orders to cover for the payment, as you will quickly be getting payment reminders resulting in legal procedures. On a yearly base the provider will calculate your actual consumption and the resulting over- or underpay is to be balanced. Read more on side cost and utilities here.
Contracting Internet, telephone and TV
The best option for a quick start is a prepaid card. The big brands’ smartphones, unless sim-locked, can usually deal with any prepaid card, which can be purchased in supermarkets or specialised shops. However, they are usually rather expensive.
Once you know where you are going to permanently stay, you can contract a 24-month contract to have WLAN at home, telephone and English (or other languages) television. Again, lead time is around four weeks, whilst the big providers offer a starter package via a USB stick until the router is received and the connection set up. Smaller providers can take longer to make things work as they depend on the big providers to lay the ground for them. It is not recommendable to bring your own router as installation will be difficult and support comes in German only. Read more about staying connected in The Red Relocators Relocation guide – Telephone & Internet.
Once you are in Germany, you can apply for the final residence title and get your visa. This comes in the form of a credit card, is referred to as eAT and two appointments will be necessary. Check with the local Office for Foreign Affairs (Ausländerbehörde) if your application documents sent by the embassy have already been received and your data are in the system. Once they are, you can apply for the initial appointment.
Make sure your passport has enough empty pages left to put in any necessary sticker. In case the appointments cannot be made prior to your preliminary 90 days visa expires, you will need to apply for an extension, which will usually be granted.
Pregnancy in Germany
If you are pregnant when coming over, there are more things to consider. Germany’s population is decreasing and the government has long identified demographic development as one of the major challenges for the mid-term future of Germany. As a result, couples are encouraged with diverse measures to start a family. Pregnant women are subject to a lot of legal benefits, especially under employment, regular examinations are funded by healthcare insurance, birth preparation and post-natal classes, too. Read about some experience of other pregnant expat women. The only profession which really suffered during the last 10 years is the midwife. Whilst their contributions to obligatory insurance rose, the fees they can charge are regulated by the insurance companies and thus profits became lower and lower and many midwives have given up. As a consequence they are very sought after and you should start searching for one as soon as you know that you will be moving.
Kindergarten (age 1–5)
In case you have children, here is another critical task for you. Kindergarten places are very difficult to come by. Thus, if you have children in that age, you should start inquiring the kindergartens in the neighborhood the moment you know where you are going to live. Put your child on every waiting list available and inquire regularly to see if the situation has changed. Whether a kindergarten offers a high quality care concept is difficult to judge and you need to rely on your gut feeling when visiting the premises and talking to the headmasters. After all, it is the individual teacher’s ability to connect with your child. Find out more about language concepts at German kindergartens.
Schooling (age 6+)
The German school system is driven by local state government and is thus slightly different in each state. The education of your children in Germany will generally speaking be on a very high quality level; however, you may not agree to this as the pedagogical concept can divert a lot from what you are used to.
This causes a strong feeling of insecurity, understandably; however, we usually try to remind them of the excellent reputation German academics gained worldwide. And accordingly, to try trusting the system.
If you have children you have two choices: enroll them in a private international school with individual enrollment procedures, or let them start in public school. Unlike in other countries one can generally say that schools in Germany are all good, there are only very few schools which have a problematic reputation for the pupils’ social background. If any, it is more likely to find those schools in neighborhoods with significant lower income level. But then, school authorities are aware of it and teachers are often specially trained to cope with difficult situations. Generally speaking, children do cope far better with the language issue than parents expect them to and teachers are usually prepared to give a helping hand and be less strict about mistakes caused by language weaknesses.
We experienced a year of adoption with most our clients and the benefit for the children was huge. Enrollment in public schools can be done anytime of the year, usually you will be granted a place in a school of the neighborhood, whilst you may be denied a school outside your neighborhood. The school’s term starts in August/September, depending on the specific state of your new home. More on international and bilingual schools in Germany. Government also compiled a guide about the school system in Germany on “Make it to Germany”.
- Kita-Voucher: This is a financial allowance supporting parents sending their children to kindergarten. It can be applied for once your child is registered. Its amount varies by state but regularly is a significant financial support.
- Children allowance: Again this allowance is granted once the child is registered and you are entitled to it as long as the main earnings result from a German employment contract; ie. you pay into the German social security system.
- Parental Allowance: This is also a cash support for families with newborns. It shall enable parents to stay at home with their child and not being forced to work. As such it amounts to 67% of the net income of the precedent 12 months and minimum 300 euro.
The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees has put together some limited information in English onto their website.
Unless your license was issued in the EU, its validity in Germany expires after six months. And driving without a valid license has serious consequences: you will not be insured, thus if you hit somebody in an accident you will quickly be broke, and worse, the injured will not receive sufficient funds to cope with his or her unfortunate new situation. Due to these severe consequences, the penalty when found without license is strict—even jail-time is a possibility. Hence, make sure you put the expiry date in red into your schedule. Again unless EU or some very limited selected states, driving licenses which are not issued in German language must be translated and such translation is to be carried with you when driving. The ADAC provides translations within two weeks; however you have to send in your driving license (and are not allowed to drive in the meantime). The Federal Ministry of Transport and digital Infrastructure issued some valuable information on driving with a foreign driving license in Germany.
These are the most important tasks to be mastered when moving to Germany. It is a lot of effort and sometimes impossible to do without a local expert at your side. A relocation agency like The Red Relocators employs relocation managers who support you and guide you through the transition.
But then, Germany is a beautiful country and it will be a wonderful experience, which some people exchange their former lives for permanently.
Contributed by The Red Relocators.
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