When moving to Germany, several aspects must be considered in order to avoid nerve-racking, bad surprises.
- Work permit for Germany
- Travel to Germany
- Taxes in Germany
- Organising your household move
- Finding and settling in your new home
- Registering in Germany
- Opening a bank account
- Moving into your new home
- Applying for your long-term, electronic residence permit
- Moving to Germany with children
- Driving license in Germany
Working in Germany requires a work permit, as is the case in many other countries. Germany has a rather restrictive immigration policy, but it’s generally 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 a university degree and earn at least EUR 50,800 per year, in which case you are most likely entitled to a Bluecard. The threshold is adjusted every year and can be checked on the official Blue Card website.
- The job you secured requires one of the dedicated professions mentioned on the white list, which you must qualify for.
- You apply for a six-month visa to search a job in Germany.
There are other options of course – read the overview at the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees website to find out about residence permits. 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
Assuming you qualify for a work permit, you will need to apply for a German residence title from within your country of residence at the local German embassy or consulate. 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 to cover 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 specialised 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 of which have their advantages. You can make your decision prior to your move to Germany and only sign once you have started working in Germany or, more correctly, once you have registered in Germany. If you prefer private healthcare insurance, contact a German insurance broker as the conditions and premiums differ significantly from public insurance. It is important to know that in most cases, though they do a lot of advertising, CIGNA insurances do not cover German legal requirements and thus is not sufficient under immigration law.
Document requirements for work permits
These are indicated on the respective embassy’s website. If you want to apply for a Blue Card, 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 takes roughly two weeks and costs EUR 200.
Processing time for work permit in Germany
A Blue Card application is usually processed between two and four weeks; any other type of visa or permit will take considerably longer because the embassy will need to involve the ZAV in Germany. The ZAV is an authority under the Federal Employment Office that reviews whether there is no German person equivalently qualified for a job given to a foreigner, in which case he should be preferred. If there is no German person with the same qualifications available, your future employer must adhere to the procedures to be allowed to hire a foreigner prior to your visa application.
A Blue Card application can be sped up by a letter of urgency issued by your future employer and handed in as part of your application. A personal connection to the embassy’s officer handling your case may be helpful.
If your application is successful, you will receive a 90-day 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 surprised by unexpected costs – especially, when some of your income or assets remain outside Germany. You can use a German tax calculator to get a rough idea of your net income. The easiest one to use is the Brutto Netto Rechner, as all but the salary is reasonably defaulted. It is not exact, as you may have other income, but it gives a fairly decent figure and also assumes public healthcare insurance. Read “Make it in Germany”, the government’s official site on taxes in Germany.
Once you know you are granted a work permit and your move to Germany is definitely happening, you can start organising the move of your household. We recommend you set the arrival date for the container to three months after your initial arrival in Germany. If your move crosses oceans, be aware of the global shipping crisis. The logistics company you choose will only tell you estimated arrival times, and it is not unlikely that these times change due to the rescheduling of routes.
Check which electronic devices you can use in Germany – a lot of them will not work due to different power settings – and leave them behind. A normal king-size bed fits in German bedrooms just as well, but living rooms are often smaller and very big sofas may reduce the space significantly and it may be better to leave it behind.
One of the key tasks when relocating to Germany is to find a new home. Because it is a new country and you are busy handling other aspects of the move, it is best to trust 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 rent while still in your home country. 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, while permanent houses are offered through three big web portals, but with no English option.
A relocation manager will help you make the choice and explain the specifics about German lease agreements. Permanent houses are mostly intended to be rented out long-term—meaning four or five years, and sometimes more. Since 2014, real estate agents are no longer allowed to charge their commission to tenants, subject to exceptions. As a consequence, many landlords request you to waive your cancellation right for an initial period, often between one and two years. The waiver works both ways, i.e. for the landlord and tenant. Before being able to move in, you must transfer the deposit (two to three months’ rent) plus the rent for the first month.
Apartments at lower price points are often viewed with other interested tenants, and you may be up against some 20 to 30 people. Apartments in the low to medium price range apartments can only be visited once before renting—otherwise, you may be perceived as indecisive or difficult. Only for very high-priced properties may you sometimes be granted the possibility to visit again before making a decision. Ask if you may take photos, and bring along measuring tape to be able to measure rooms. Note down any particulars of the apartment—especially any damage or dirty walls. Ask if the landlord intends to repair the damage or paint the walls before you move in. If it is handed over as is, you have to hand it back as you got it, i.e. you don’t need to paint the walls when moving out. Otherwise, depending on the time you spent in the apartment, you will have to undertake some repair work.
Once 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 big cities, the lead time for such appointments can easily be four to six weeks.
You will need your passport, residence title and a confirmation by the landlord, which may be difficult to get for short-term rentals such as hotels or serviced apartments—to avoid this, ask for confirmation right away.
There are three large finance institutions 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 are sometimes free but often cost a yearly fee, ranging from EUR 25–50 and up. Read more about German banking options for expats.
Permanent accommodation almost always comes empty—and empty means empty, with most apartments lacking even light bulbs and blinds. There are regional differences; for example, in Hamburg the kitchen is usually minimally equipped with some basic appliances, whereas in Munich, the kitchen is generally bare. If possible, you should try to arrange a second visit after contracting with the current tenant to be able to measure the rooms and order the most important furniture, as these too have delivery times of four weeks or more.
There are certain things you should buy straight away: a stepladder; tools such as a screwdriver (a small one for installing bulbs) or a drill; bulbs; blinds (including rods); and cleaning supplies as the apartment may be dusty or not cleaned to your standards.
Insist on recording the handover and make sure all damages which go beyond normal wear and tear are noted. If your landlord refuses to sign this document, something is usually amiss—though he is not legally obliged to sign it. In such a case, you should ask somebody to witness the damages and sign the document as well. The handover is a good opportunity to clarify how to react in emergency situations, such as lost keys, outage of heating or warm water. This may also be the opportunity to get useful advice such as finding a cleaner or gardeners, as well as where and how to dispose your garbage and how to use certain appliances included in the apartment. Remember to make sure your doorbell works—you will likely be ordering a lot online!
Setting up utilities
During the handover, the counter readings will be noted in the handover report. Based on these, you will need to sign up with providers for electricity and water, and if you are renting a house, you will need to find a gas company (or oil), too. Tariffs are ever changing, and there are numerous smaller providers.
For the first year, it is recommended to stick to the large providers such as E.ON or Vattenfall and the local water provider—you can change at the end of each year. You will be charged a monthly sum as advance payment, and you should double check the assumed consumption as this is often based on the prior tenant’s consumption, whose usage could have been much different. Don’t forget to set standing orders to cover the payments—non-payments trigger reminders, which can result in legal procedures. On a yearly basis, the provider will calculate your actual consumption and the resulting over- or underpayment will be balanced.
Setting up internet, telephone and TV
The best option to get everything your phone up and running quickly is a prepaid card. The big brands’ smartphones, unless SIM-locked, can usually use any prepaid card, which can be purchased in supermarkets or specialised shops. However, they are usually rather expensive.
You can sign up for a 24-month contract to have WLAN at home, telephone and English- (or other language) television. Lead time may again be around four weeks. Larger providers often offer a starter package via USB stick until the router is received and the connection is set up. Smaller providers can take longer to make things work, as they depend on the larger providers to lay the groundwork for them. It is not recommended to bring your own router; installation would be difficult and support comes in German only.
Once you are in Germany, you can apply for final residence permit and get your visa. This comes in the form of a card, called eAT; two appointments will be necessary to receive it. Check with the local Office for Foreign Affairs (Ausländerbehörde) if your application documents sent by the embassy have already been received and your data is in the system. Once they are, you can apply for the initial appointment.
Some offices will allow the online reservation of appointments. Others will require that you contact them and some will not give out appointments and you simply have to arrive early, pull a number and wait until it’s your turn. Since lead times for appointments can be significant, it may be wise to reserve the appointment before you have even entered Germany. In Hamburg, for example, the Welcome Center has a lead time of eight weeks or more.
Make sure your passport has enough empty pages left to place any necessary stickers. In case the appointments cannot be made prior to the expiration of your preliminary 90-day visa, you will need to apply for an extension, which will usually be granted.
Pregnancy in Germany
If you are pregnant upon arrival, there are a few more things to consider. Pregnant women are granted many legal benefits, especially in regards to employment, covered medical examinations, birth preparation and post-natal classes.
One of the only professions to have suffered over the last 10 years is the midwife. Their contributions to obligatory insurance rose, but the fees they can charge are regulated by the insurance companies—profits therefore dropped, and many midwives have given up their practice. As a result, midwives are highly sought after. Start searching for a suitable midwife as soon as you know that you will be moving to Germany.
Childcare (ages 1–5)
In case you already have children, another critical task is to ensure your child is enrolled in school. Preschool or day care spots are very difficult to come by, and if you have children in that age, you should start making inquiries in the neighbourhood the moment settle on a place to live. Put your child on every waiting list available, and inquire regularly to see if the situation has changed. Whether a day care or nursery school offers a high-quality care concept is difficult to judge—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. Read more about language concepts at German nursery schools.
German schools for children ages 6+
The German school system is driven by local government and is thus slightly different in each state. The education of your children in Germany will generally be high quality; however, you may be wary of the German school system as the pedagogical concepts can diverge from what you are used to. This may cause an understandably strong feeling of insecurity; however, German academics have earned an excellent reputation worldwide.
You have two choices: enrol your children in a private international school with individual enrolment procedures, or let them start in public school. Unlike in other countries, one can generally say that most schools in Germany are goo; there are very few schools that have a problematic reputation for the pupils’ social background. It is most likely that these schools are located in low-income neighbourhoods. However, school authorities are aware of these issues, and teachers are often specially trained to cope with difficult situations. Generally speaking, children do cope far better with language barriers than parents expect, and teachers are usually prepared to give a helping hand and be less strict about mistakes caused by language weaknesses.
Enrolment in public schools can be done anytime of the year. You will usually be granted a place in your neighbourhood school, and you may be denied a school outside your neighbourhood. The school’s term starts in August/September, depending on the specific state of your new home. Check out the German government’s “Make it to Germany” guide about the school system in Germany.
You are very entitled to the financial support Germany offers to families. Once registered, you can start dealing with the application.
- Kita-Voucher: This is a financial allowance supporting parents that want to send their children nursery school and kindergarten. It can be applied for once your child is registered. Its amount varies by state, but it is a significant financial support.
- Children allowance: This allowance is granted once the child is registered; you are entitled to it as long as your main income comes from a German employment contract, i.e. you pay into the German social security system.
- Parental Allowance: This is also a cash support for families with newborns. It enables parents to stay at home with their child during the first year without being forced to return to work or suffering financial loss. Families with higher incomes receive 65 percent of the net income of the preceding 12 months, and a minimum EUR 300 and maximum of EUR 1800. Lower-income families may receive up to 100 percent of the net income.
The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees has put together some limited information in English onto their website.
Unless your licence was issued in the EU, its validity in Germany expires after six months. Driving without a valid licence has serious consequences: you will not be insured, so if you get in an accident you may owe thousands of euros; worse, if you have injured someone, they may not receive the funds they need. If found without licence, the penalties are strict—even jail-time is a possibility. Make sure you put the expiry date in red into your planner.
Unless it is an EU or from some very limited selected states, driving licences that are not issued in the German language must be translated; the translation must be carried with you when driving. The ADAC provides translations within two weeks; however, you have to send in your driving licence and are therefore 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 it is sometimes impossible to do without a local expert at your side. A relocation agency employs relocation managers who support you and guide you through the transition.
Germany is a beautiful country, and your adventure abroad will be a wonderful experience—for which some people exchange their former lives permanently.