BACK WHEN I first wanted to move to Germany I felt extremely discouraged. I seemed to lack many of the things that I needed and wasn’t sure who to look to for answers.
Then, just over a year later, I packed up all of my necessities and flew hopefully to Frankfurt on a one-way ticket – I don’t even think that I was fully aware of the fact that I was without a job, a visa, or even my own place to live, but I wanted it badly enough to try. The initial experience was intimidating, but everything eventually fell into place. I’m in no way a government official and I don’t know much about immigration, but I’ve learned a bit along the way. It is my hope that this article will give you the answers that you need in order make the move, whether short- or long-term, if living abroad is something you hope to experience.
// One-Way Flights
I mentioned before that I flew to Germany on a one-way ticket, and although this was the best decision for me economically, it isn’t the best option for everyone. According to an email exchange with the German Embassy prior to my flight, a one-way ticket is only possible for United States citizens (and I believe Canadians as well):
US citizens can travel to Germany with a one-way ticket because you can apply for a residence permit or extension of your stay when you get there. We do not give any “permissions”, these are the rules and regulations. An airline can deny you service for any reason and a country can deny you entry for any reason.
The reason I chose to email the embassy was basically for my security if I were to have any trouble during my travels; many countries forbid travelers from using one-way tickets because there is no substantial ‘proof’ that they plan on leaving. The problem lays not only in the border patrol at the destination airports, but also with the check-in desk of the departure airport. The reason is this: if an airline allows you to board a flight using a one-way ticket and the destination country does not allow it, it is essentially the airline’s responsibility and they are required to pay for any hotel accommodations or holding-room fees on the other side. Because of this, an airline will almost always ask to see a traveler’s return flight information, even if they booked using two separate airlines.
Regarding this: I was able to board my airplane and clear customs in Germany without a problem, but I also was never asked how long I would be staying (which I was asked during my first visit to Germany). I can imagine that customs officials might grow skeptical if a traveler answers that they don’t yet have a flight back, even if their intentions are innocent, so be careful with how you answer this. If a country wants to deny you entry they will likely escort you to the ticket counter and have you purchase a ticket back home or put you on a plane and send you back to where you came from. Make sure you know the regulations at your destination before either of these things happen.
// Do I Need a Visa?
Some companies require that their employees have a work permit before an interview, but many do not and will even help you with obtaining one later on. Before I came to Germany I was in contact with a language center in the city that I planned to move to. The company does not offer Skype interviews so my only option was to fly to Germany and hope for the best. The interview process took two weeks but I finally got the job, and I was then given an acceptance letter to take to my local Ausländerbehörde (which I celebrated by drinking Sekt with my boyfriend’s mother and grandma). This letter is mandatory when applying for a work permit.
// When is a Visa Required?
Some countries require a visa when traveling to Germany. The United States is not one of those countries; however, in order to stay (and work) for more than 90 days I was required to have a working permit.
Citizens of the United States of America, Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Switzerland, the Republic of Korea, as well as EU citizens may apply for their residence permit for work purposes after entering Germany without a visa. Citizens of other countries are required to apply and obtain a visa for work purposes prior to entry (an option also open to US citizens) at the German Embassy in Washington, the Consulates in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York or San Francisco. // found here
// Applying for Your Visa
1) Purchase International or European insurance (I went through Gunn and Partner located in Hamburg, Germany).
2) Call the Ausländerbehörde in the town which you will reside to make an appointment.
3) Go to the Ausländerbehörde (and bring a German-speaking friend with you if you need to).
4) Print and bring the following items (list found here):
- Two fully completed application forms (pdf file) and required declaration.
- Proof of International or European insurance.
- Two biometric photographs (strict requirements, see details; I got my picture taken at a photography shop in Germany for 12€).
- Valid national passport and two copies of the data page (note: its expiration date must extend beyond the duration of the visa you are applying for by at least 3 months, it must contain two blank pages, and it must have been issued within the last 10 years).
- Employment contract or letter of intent from your future employer in Germany // two copies.
- A driver’s license or utility bill in your name as proof of residence in the district where you are applying (I used the residents permit which I received the day I visited the Ausländerbehörde–my boyfriend’s mom had to verify in writing that I would be staying in their spare bedroom).
- Additional for non-US citizens: original of valid US alien registration card or valid US resident visa (type A, E, F, G, H, I, J, L, O, R) // two copies.
- 50€ for the Processing Fee.
Some additional requirements may be requested upon arrival; often times a bank statement is required to see that you can support yourself (I guess Germany doesn’t want foreign bums hanging around the streets, or worse, stealing from their hardworking people). The meeting at the Ausländerbehörde will take about 20 minutes, but the processing can take up to 6-8 weeks. Please note that the immigration office will keep your passport until your visa has processed. Be sure to make copies of your passport beforehand and keep them in a safe location.
// Health Insurance
Depending on your job you will need to purchase either private or public health insurance. Private insurance is typically more expensive, but is required of freelance workers like myself (it is likely that your employer will talk with you about which insurance is required). Additionally, in order to apply for a visa it is mandatory to have dental coverage and maternity coverage (women), so be sure to communicate your desire to hold a visa with your insurance agent. aLC is based in the UK so communicating with them in English is no problem, if necessary. They also have an office in Hamburg, so this insurance works quite well with the immigration offices. Another option is Care Concept, which is very inexpensive and practical for those planning to stay less than 2 years–the only downside is that many immigration offices do not always accept it, so be sure to check with your local Ausländerbehörde before applying.
// Drivers Licenses
A German driver’s license isn’t necessary if you plan to join the wonderful world of public transportation. However, if you want to do this you can go to any Fahrschule and apply for one. For license holders from many U.S. states, additional road testing is not required in Germany–only a fee must be paid. And to my understanding, it is also legal to use a U.S. license in Germany for up to 90 days. More information can be found here.
// Phone Cards
When I came here, I wasn’t prepared or willing to go to a German provider and buy a new cell phone or data plan. Instead, I chose to buy a prepaid SIM card from Aldi Talk, which provides users with 1500MB of high-speed internet for 10€ each month. It is then 3 cents per minute for calling, and free (yet slow) internet once all of the megabytes are used. The SIM card on my iPhone 5c came unlocked, so it was just a matter of installation.
Note: It is completely possible to change an iPhone SIM card yourself. However, the iPhone 5 uses a nano SIM card, so the chip I purchased from Aldi had to be trimmed to a smaller size using a professional tool. You can go to any phone store to do this and it will cost around 5€.
Since you now have a job you will more than likely be earning money, which means you need a bank. Commerzbank is a well-known option, as well as Deutsche Bank and Sparkasse. Although my work money gets deposited into a German bank, I do still use my Michigan ATM card with a fee of about 40 cents each time I withdraw. And, because I do not want to lose my Michigan account, I am sure to make some sort of action every 2 months, even if it’s just depositing $2 into my checking account.
// Getting Around
The Bahn is a very convenient and reliable system, (even though it can have a tendency to run late). Depending on where you work, it can cost around 150€ for a monthly train pass.
// Other Tips:
- If you pay any bills via automatic payments, be sure to contact those companies and ask to change the card number that they will be withdrawing from.
- Be sure you have saved enough money prior to your move. Purchasing new insurance, possibly going without work for a few months, and buying train tickets to get to work each month can certainly add-up; new furniture, visa expenses, and appropriate clothing for your job may also be factors.