So you want to come and work in Germany? In particular the thriving startup scene in Berlin? A lot of people ask me about the process so I decided to write my notes here. In short - the process is not difficult if you follow the steps correctly and have secured a job offer. This is the money shot. There are other options like the Freelancer / Artist Visa (very popular in Berlin), but I do not know much about this. Apparently they are a lot easier though and give you the freedom to work for anyone. Disclaimer: I’m not a legal expert so proceed at your own risk.
The first step is to book your plane ticket and make your way to Europe. As a citizen from Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Korea or the USA you are able to enter Germany start the process of applying for a residence permit. This is very beneficial if you want to meet with companies before you choose a job. You don’t have to apply for everything remotely, but having a job of course will really help your situation.
After arriving in Germany this is the basic process:
- Find a place to live and receive a rental contract (popular sites include immonet.de, http://www.immobilienscout24.de & https://www.wg-gesucht.de for shared accommodation)
- Take your Rental Contract and your passport to your local Bürgeramt and register yourself. It is compulsory to always be registered whilst living in Germany. This applies to Germans too. They will issue you with an Anmeldebescheinigung (registration card). You will need this for all sorts of things - your visa, mobile phone & insurance contracts.
- Find a job and obtain a German Working Contract. Your employer will need to complete several forms in order to prove they have looked for Germans to fulfil the same job or you are qualified/super special to take the position. The forms include: “Antrag auf Erlaubnis einer Beschäftigung” (Request permission for your employment from the authorities) and an “Stellenbeschreibung” (Job Description about the role, not about you personally). Contrary to many other country requirements for foreign visas, you do not need a University Degree for a German Residence Permit. This is a big difference to the USA. However, you should be qualified enough to perform your specific line of work. E.g: You won’t be able to practise as a heart surgeon with only a high-school education.
- You should then select an insurance provider (more on that below).
- Visit the Finanzamt with your Anmeldebescheinigung & Passport. They will issue you with a tax identification number which you need to provide to your employer.
- Final step: visit the Ausländerbehörde (Office for Aliens) with all of the documents from above (plus your passport, 2 x passport photos and any documentation including qualifications to support your visa) to apply for your Residence Permit. This is the hardest step and most likely the one where you can encounter problems.
I’ll explain some of the steps now in more detail:
Choosing a place to live can be very difficult depending on the suburb and number of people looking. I’ve noticed it’s very affected by seasonal changes as well. e.g. University breaks and Summer. It was definitely crazy when I was first looking in July compared with January and the winter months. There are both unfurnished and furnished places. Generally you’ll pay a tiny bit more for furnished places, but obviously you can save a few thousand in furniture costs upfront. I’d do this step first so you can register yourself, relax and start on the more important steps. Once you’ve found a place be sure to stick your name on the letter boxes and master door so you receive all the important mail from the authorities.
My advice for anything ending with ‘amt’ would be to take a friend who can speak German. It makes the whole process much easier and less stressful. On the other hand if you learn things by trial & error and want to do it the hard way then try to do it all yourself. I did the latter and often created a lot of confusion, not to mention looking like an idiot and annoying the authorities (probably not the smartest option).
When it comes to insurance in Germany be prepared for a massive reality check. In Australia I paid somewhere around $40/month for private health insurance. In Germany I pay over 15x times that amount (your employer will pay half, but obviously it will still cost you more). I’ve been told they changed the laws a few years ago and its now compulsory to have health insurance. The steep premiums are to protect the insurance companies in case you lose your job (they still have to insure you regardless of your income situation) and also to support the large percentage of unemployed people who can no longer afford to pay their premiums. To obtain a Residence Permit you must choose between either Private or Public Health Insurance from a German provider. Travel and Expat insurance is not acceptable. I’ve been told the latter can be used in the Freelancer arrangement. Public health insurance is based on what you earn. If you earn less than 50k a year it probably makes sense financially. If you earn over 50k a year then you also have the option to use private health insurance. Private health insurance generally provides a better service, but it is based on your healthiness and well-being. My advice would be the “less you say, the less you’ll pay”.
Insurance info is all in German so most expats use an Insurance Broker. They help you to choose between a number of different options. Be aware that they earn a commission based on the plan you sign up for so be careful of adding on extra options or you’ll pay a fortune. If you want a great English speaking insurance broker then I can highly recommend John Gunn (http://www.gunn-partner.com/). He is based in Hamburg, but is able to sort you out over the phone & internet. He was the best by far out of the 3-4 I worked with.
By this stage you probably should of opened a German Bank Account. There are a couple of “online-only” banks where you’ll save a lot in fees, but they rejected my application for reasons unknown (probably due to having just arrived and having zero credit history). In the end I went to one of the big names in person and had no trouble opening account (the bloke spoke good English). The same problem applies to credit cards and post-paid mobile phone plans. Most banks won’t issue cards without at least 3 years positive history. This makes it extremely hard to purchase online. Fortunately Germany has a great solution called “Sofort überweisung” which is like direct debit on steroids. Many merchants accept this or standard direct debit and ship goods immediately. I’d also recommend you open a PayPal account for the rest and link it to your German Bank Account.
Finally you need to visit the Ausländerbehörde with all of the documentation you have amassed. Before you go be sure to fill out a “Antrag auf Erteilung eines Aufenthaltstitels” (Residence Permit Application), take your passport and also 2 x passport photos. That will save you a lot time when your there. Google for it - it’s available online. I went to the Ausländerbehörde in Berlin. It’s not the nicest place and it is definitely very bureaucratic there. If you want to take a German-speaking friend to any authority, then this is the one I’d recommend. They will issue your permit on the spot or they may want to run a few more background checks including verifying the position with the Labor Authority, so be prepared to wait several more weeks before you get an answer. Legally you are not allowed to work until you receive your residence permit.
They say the Ausländerbehörde in Berlin only takes appointments (with often a month long wait). This is true, however I decided just to turn up and try my luck around 12pm as my 3 month stay was running out. My residence permit was issued for the duration of my contract (12 months). Unlike Australia, working contracts are not normally “unlimited” here and generally renew on an annual basis. In the middle of this year I will have to take my renewed working contract back to the Ausländerbehörde and ask for my residence permit to be renewed.
I did a lot of research online about each of the required steps. Theres some great stuff on toytowngermany, but I hope you find the above information useful. If you have any questions then just leave a comment or send me a message.