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An Expat Guide To Getting A Work Permit In Germany

Due to Germany’s ageing population, the government is relatively keen to have more skilled hands on the proverbial deck.

This is not to say, however, that Germany has cut out its one true love: bureaucracy. Basically, if you’re an non-EU citizen, you’re going to have to get a fair number of papers stamped on your journey into the German labour force. The upside? Germany scores pretty well when it comes to living standards, so coming here to work will pay off.Whether you’ll be granted a work permit in Germany is dependant on a number of factors, including your qualifications, level of education, nationality, and salary. Germany is primarily on the lookout for skilled workers with high qualifications, so getting a work permit here is easier if you hold a university degree. Germany is especially keen to get its hand on IT workers, doctors, caregivers, engineers, scientists, and other professions outlined here. If you fall into one of these areas, then you’re in luck. If not, there is no need to panic – there are still roads open to you.

This article will cover EU Blue Card work permits, visas for job seekers, and working as a self-employed person or freelancer in Germany.

EU Blue Cards

Blue Cards are essentially the EU’s version of America’s Green Card. They are primarily given to foreigners in the hope of upping the skilled labour force. If you are a non-EU citizen with an accredited university degree, and you have a work contract where your salary exceeds 1.5 times the German average (or 1.2 times for professions in shortage) then you will be eligible to apply for a EU Blue Card. That is, you need to be earning around €50,800 Euro per year at most jobs, or just over €39,000 if you have a contract in one of the professions in shortage outlined above.

If you do not have a degree but can prove that you have at least five years’ work experience in your profession then you will also be eligible to apply for the EU Blue Card.

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An EU Blue Card is usually valid for four years. After 33 months of living in Germany, an EU Blue Card holder can apply for permanent residency. Better yet, if you can prove German proficiency to level B1, you can apply for permanent residency after just 21 months.

While this is probably the ideal route for most workers coming to Germany, the kicker of the EU Blue Card is that you need a work contract with a German company before you can apply. If you don’t have this, you’ll need to first take up a job seeker visa.

Job Seeker Visas

No job contract? No worries. You can apply for a job seeker visa, which will give you six months in Germany in order to look for a job. The conditions? You need to hold a bachelor’s or master’s degree from an institution that is comparable to a German university. Secondly, you need to have experience in your field. Finally, you will also need to show that you have enough money and health insurance for the duration of your stay.

If at the end of your six months you find a job, you will be able to apply for a EU Blue Card. And luckily, even if you’re cutting it fine with time, you will be allowed to stay in the country while the foreigners’ office decides whether to grant your application.

Work Permits for the Self-Employed

Unfortunately, self-employed visas are not the simplest visas to apply for in Germany. But if you’re a freelancer (Freiberufler), an artist, or looking to start your own business (Selbstständiger / Gewerbetreibender), this is the route you will have to take.

As a self-employed visa applicant, you’ll have to establish to the foreigners’ office that your work will somehow be beneficial to the German economy. You will also have to prove that you’re financially secure, so you’ll need money in the bank.

First things first: if you are from the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Japan, or South Korea then you can apply for your self-employed or freelance visa from within Germany. This is recommended as the process has many steps that are only doable from within the country.

If you require a visa to enter Germany, it is probably best for you to visit the German consulate in your home country and discuss with them the best short-term visa for entry. Again, many of the steps that need to be taken in order to apply for a self-employed visa have to be taken within Germany.

Step one: make an appointment at the Ausländerbehörde

The Ausländerbehörde (foreigners’ office) is notoriously busy. Even if you haven’t begun getting your paperwork together, it is worth making an appointment before you even start the process. Usually it takes over a month, sometimes two, to get an appointment. You don’t want to leave this to the last minute or you’ll find yourself in limbo, unable to earn an income.

Step two: the Bürgeramt

Your next stop will be the Bürgeramt, where you will register your address in Germany with what’s called an Anmeldebestätigung. This sounds like something that should be done online, but to the dismay of practically every foreigner in Germany, it’s not. Rather, you will need to check the opening hours of your local Bürgeramt and get there early to start queuing. You will need to bring the rent contract from your apartment and your passport.

Registering your address at the Bürgeramt really needs to be the first major step in the process because you’ll find that this innocuous piece of paper is required for a number of the next steps, including opening or accessing a bank account.

Step three: bank account

With your address registration in hand, you will then need to open a German bank account.

Step four: health insurance

This one might prove a bit tricky as German health insurers are not exactly over the moon about insuring self-employed foreigners, especially those who have not got their visa in order. Probably the easiest thing to do, considering this, is to take out short-term travel health insurance. It’s very possible that the German government won’t allow you to continue using foreign private insurance throughout the duration of your stay, but while applying for the visa this should be okay. Take a look at our guide to healthcare in Germany for more information.

Step five: past bank statements

One of the things the foreigners’ office is most worried about is whether you will be able to support yourself financially within Germany. You’ll need to demonstrate to them via bank statements that you have a solid amount of money saved. Obviously, the more the better, but you will need at least enough savings to sustain yourself without income for a few months.

You may also need to make a profits and losses statement, detailing your expected revenues for the next year, as well as expenses.

Step six: professional documents

This includes your CV, cover letter, business outline, portfolio, and letters of recommendation.

It is imperative for gaining a self-employed work permit that you are able to demonstrate your experience and qualifications in your field. In addition to this, you will also need to present a clear business plan. That is, you must give a detailed explanation of your professional history and how you plan to find new customers within Germany. Depending on your profession, it is also likely that you will need to bring along a printed portfolio of your work. This is especially important if you are applying for a self-employed artist visa or working in a similar creative industry.

Bringing letters of recommendation to the appointment is also essential. It helps if they are from German companies, but this is by no means necessary.

Step seven: visit the Ausländerbehörde

Be prepared! Germans love well-organised and contientious applicants. If you don’t speak German then try to bring along someone who does; it will make your life much easier. It will probably take the foreigners’ office a few months to process a self-employed business or freelance application, whereas it is quicker for those applying for an artist visa.

Step eight: register your business

You do not need to take this step if you are a freelancer or artist. This step is only for self-employed people who are looking to create their own business within Germany. That is, only for those considered a Selbstständiger or Gewerbetreibender. Essentially, a ‘business’ in Germany includes all commercial activity. So even if you are working alone, you may still be considered a business operator. To register your business in Germany, just google Gewerbeanmeldung + your city in order to get the application form and the location of your nearest Ordnungsamt.

Have you worked in Germany? Share your experiences in the comments below, or answer the questions here to be featured in an interview!