How To Move To Germany - The Definitive Guide
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Apply For A Visa[back to top]
Short stay visas (Schengen)
European Union nationals do not require a visa to enter Germany though you will require a passport that is valid for the duration of your visit. For all other nationalities, you will need to check the specific rules depending on your country of origin as the European Community has abolished the visa requirement for certain nations. This means that some nationalities do not require a visa for stays up to 90 days within a 180 day period, whereas other nationalities will always require a visa to enter Germany. You can find a list of the specific requirements for each nationality here.
The fee for all short stay visas is 60 Euros. Fee exemptions may be possible but you should consult your local German embassy for more information on this or the German Federal Foreign office website.
A short stay visa will take approximately 2 to 10 days to be processed, but could be longer in busy tourist seasons. It’s always a good idea to leave plenty of time for your visa application to be processed.
To apply for a short stay visa you may need to visit your local German embassy. You can download all the relevant application forms from the German Federal Foreign Office website.
In order to be granted a short stay visa you must meet the following requirements:
- You must have a plausible and comprehensible reason for entering Germany.
- You must have sufficient income to be able to finance your living and travel costs within Germany. (This can be guaranteed by a third party if necessary).
- You must be prepared to leave Germany before the visa expires.
- You must provide evidence of travel health insurance with a minimum value of 30,000 euros.
- Proof of earnings
- Proof of payment for your previous property – in the form of a credit rating certificate which can be obtained from your former landlord
- Contact details of former landlord for use as a reference
- Details of a guarantor who will support you financially if necessary
- What is their billing structure?
- Are they fully licenced and for how long have they been a member of the German Bar Association?
- What are their qualifications?
- Do they speak both fluent English and German and can documents be provided in English?
- What is their specialist area of law?
- How and when are they contactable?
- Berufsschule – This is a part time vocational training programme that is attended until at least the age of 18.
- Realschule – This is a comprehensive general education programme which lasts six years. At the end of this period pupils receive an intermediate school certificate which allows them to continue to upper-level schools if they wish.
- Gymnasium – The equivalent of a grammar school, this is also a comprehensive general education programme. After eight years of study pupils take the Abitur examination and are awarded the certificate of general higher education entrance qualification. This allows the pupils to go on to study at university.
An application for a visa may be rejected if your presence within Germany is deemed to jeopardise security or public order. In any case where a visa application is rejected, you will be informed of the specific reason for the rejection and you will be entitled to take legal recourse against the decision made.
Long stay visas or stays entitling the holder to take up gainful employment
A long stay visa can take several months to be processed. European Union, European Economic Area (EEA) and Swiss nationals do not require a visa for long stay periods or to take up gainful employment in Germany. However, you will need to register at the nearest registration office (Einwohnermeldeamt or Kreisverwaltungsreferat or Bürgerbüro) within 7 days of arriving in Germany, and you will normally need to be able to speak German in order to register. If you don’t speak German yourself you should make sure that you’re accompanied by someone who does who can help you. Different registration offices will ask you to provide different documents, but this may include your passport, proof of address and marriage or divorce certificates. You may also be asked to pay a fee. It is worth checking the exact requirements with your local registration office before you attend. If you are then moving house within Germany you will need to re-register at the closest registration office to your new home, and you must de-register if you leave Germany.
Most other non-EU foreign nationals will need to apply for a long stay visa from their own country of origin, however nationals from the following countries are able to enter Germany first and then apply for their long stay visa: Canada, Japan, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, the United States of America, Israel and Australia.
In order to apply for a long stay visa you should contact your local Germany embassy in order to collect the relevant application forms and receive more information on specific requirements and fees. Final responsibility for issuing visas is given to individual missions of the Federal Republic of Germany, meaning its embassies and consulates-general that are based in each foreign country. Each of these missions will have its own website with detailed information on applying for a visa. However for general information on all types of visa to enter Germany you can contact the German Federal Foreign Office:
Federal Foreign Office
The official body representing Germany’s interests to the rest of the world.
Tel: +49 3018 170
Find A Job[back to top]
The job market in Germany is strong and Germany has one of the lowest levels of unemployment in the European Union. Its unemployment level has halved over the last 10 years, defying the worldwide economic crisis. Germany is particularly proud of its high levels of employment amongst young people in a time when youth unemployment is at record highs in many countries across Europe.
Europe. However, it can be difficult for foreigners to stand out amongst a talented workforce with excellent language skills in order to find work in Germany. The positives are that decreasing birth rates in Germany have led to a significant demographic change and a resulting demand for skilled workers, which presents an opportunity for foreigners. Most opportunities are likely to be available in engineering, research and development or the technology industry, and you may also find positions available in the service industries which account for around 75% of Germany’s employment market. In general, Germany’s major cities have far more job opportunities available than in more rural areas.
There is some seasonal work available in Germany’s hotels and ski resorts. Summer work is likely to be available on the North Coast, Black Forest and Bavarian Alps and the popular ski resorts will have winter work available between December and April. You may find English teaching jobs in summer camps for youngsters, and you could also consider seasonal harvest work. Cherry picking happens in July and August, apple picking in September and grape picking in October and November.
When seeking employment in Germany academic credentials are vital and will be the most important aspect to highlight on your application. Most industries have strict regulations on the specific qualifications that are required in order to be employed in certain roles – you can find out more about this by contacting the relevant trade or business association in Germany. If you want to be employed as a skilled worker you will need to ensure that the local trade association or chamber of craft has officially recognised your qualifications. Germans often choose written communication as their preferred method of contact and they may frown upon hyperbole or overly emotional language in a job application. One of the main benefits of working in Germany is their commitment to flexible working hours – you are often free to choose your own hours, particularly when working in an office environment.
It is likely that you will need to be able to understand and speak a moderate level of the German language in order to be employed in Germany. As most Germans have at least a basic level of English language, native English speakers are not in high demand within the German employment market. Asian language skills, however, are very sought after and will greatly improve your chances of finding a job.
Germany has its own Federal Employment Agency called the Bundesagentur für Arbeit which advertises job vacancies and provides support for employment seekers. You can contact this agency via the following details:
Bundesagentur für Arbeit
The largest provider of labour market services in Germany.
Tel: +49 911 12031010
Other helpful places to look for job vacancies are specialist private recruitment agencies, specialist career fairs and job advertisements in newspapers – normally advertised in the weekend editions. It is usual for the national newspapers to advertise high level executive positions and local newspapers to advertise less senior positions.
There are many online search engines that specialise in jobs within Germany too. You may want to try one of the following websites:
The following Chambers of Commerce can also be a helpful source for finding employment in Germany:
British Chamber of Commerce in Germany
A British-German business to business network.
Tel: +49 (0)30 206 70 80
German-British Chamber of Industry & Commerce
A point of contact for all German-British business issues.
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7976 4100
Finally, it is vital to ensure that you have the right to work in Germany as working illegally could lead to deportation or other punitive measures.
Rent Property[back to top]
Most people living in Germany choose to rent a property not buy. The rate of home ownership in Germany is, along with Switzerland, the lowest in Europe. Renting is relatively cheap in Germany and the regulations surrounding renting a property are generally favourable to the tenants.
German rental contracts can be complex so it is worth using a lawyer to help you through the process. A landlord may ask you to provide any of the following documentation before signing a contract:
Your payment for the property will be split into two parts – the basic rent and the landlord’s additional services or running costs, which may or may not include utility bills. The rent is fixed according to the tenancy agreement but the additional costs may fluctuate over the period of the tenancy. Rent increases in Germany are capped by the government at no more than 15% over a 3 year period, and the proposed increases will be set out in the initial tenancy agreement. Most leases in Germany have an unlimited duration period, and require 3 months’ notice to be terminated. However, if you have agreed to a lease with a fixed duration then it will be very difficult to terminate it early.
You will normally be asked for a deposit equivalent to 2 or 3 months’ rent, as well as your first month’s rent paid upfront. Your deposit will be placed in a dedicated bank account with a signature from both you and your landlord, and if there are no disputes will be returned to you at the end of your tenancy with accrued interest.
It is important to know that for property in Germany the number of rooms advertised includes living rooms, dining rooms etc but not bathrooms, kitchens or hallways. For example, a property with 2 bedrooms, a living room and a separate dining room will be advertised as a 4 room property. Rental property prices vary throughout Germany but in large cities you can expect to pay from 400 Euros upwards per month for a 2 room property or 600 Euros upwards for a 4 room property, and in rural regions you will pay from 300 Euros upwards per month for a 2 room property or 450 Euros upwards per month for a 4 room property.
Furnished properties are very rare in Germany and are likely to be incredibly costly. Instead it is likely that you will opt for an unfurnished property. This normally means that the property will be completely bare, with no kitchen appliances, built in cupboards or closets or lights and other fittings at all. Many German properties are rented without any designated kitchen whatsoever, so you should be careful to check this when you are searching for properties.
When you move in to a property you will be given the option to have it painted immediately or at the end of your tenancy. If you have it painted immediately the landlord will do it and you will not be able to make changes to it. If you decide to paint it at the end of your tenancy, you will be able to make any changes you like throughout the tenancy period but when you leave you will need to have it painted to a standard that the landlord agrees is acceptable. If not, the landlord has the right to charge you for professional painting services.
Real estate agents in Germany are known as Immobilienhändlers. If you choose to source your property through an agent you should check whether the fees are your responsibility or are paid by the property owner, as the law for this is currently in the process of changing. Other options for sourcing properties might be advertisements in newspapers or real estate websites. Bear in mind that rental properties are often snapped up very quickly, so you’ll need to act fast and make quick decisions.
It is always advisable to have an inventory carried out before you move in to a property and to take photographs as evidence of any existing damage to the property. You will require written permission from your landlord if you want to keep a pet or you want to install a satellite dish or tv antenna etc. Most properties will already have internet and a telephone line installed. It is not advisable to set this up yourself as it can cause complications with your tenancy agreement.
Buy Property[back to top]
The property market in Germany is very different to many other countries. Renting is very popular in Germany and, along with Switzerland, Germany has the lowest percentage of homeowners in the European Union. When German people do buy a property it is normally for life, and in general they are not interested in frequently changing their home or developing properties. In line with current worldwide trends, mortgage rates are low in Germany and are likely to remain that way for the foreseeable future. Houses in Germany are often fairly small but are built with high quality materials and under strict regulations.
As a general rule, property prices are higher in German cities and lower in rural regions. The West of Germany is also usually more expensive than the East, although Berlin is an exception. Average house prices currently range from around 125,000 Euros to 500,000 Euros, depending on the size of the property. You will normally be required to pay 20% of the purchase price as a down payment and mortgages in Germany are normally agreed for a period of 10 or 20 years. It is unlikely that you will be able to find a specialist English language mortgage service in Germany, but most financial professionals will speak at least a basic level of English.
When considering purchasing a property in Germany your first step should be to seek the guidance of a lawyer (Rechtsanwalte) and a tax consultant (Steuerberäter) who can take you through the process that you’ll need to follow. To find a reputable lawyer you should ask the following questions:
In Germany estate agents don’t use For Sale signs so to search for properties you’ll normally need to consult an agent directly, or check advertisements in newspapers and on dedicated websites. The Local de is an English language news service for people living in Germany, and includes advertisements for properties for sale:
The Local de
Independent, daily reporting from around Europe.
Tel: +49 (0)171 225 9508
The following websites may also be helpful for searching for properties in Germany:
No matter where you source a potential property, it is likely that you will still need to use the services of an estate agent or buyer’s agent. All agents in Germany are required to have a municipal licence, and it is also worth checking whether your agent is a member of the European Association of Real Estate Professions or the IVD Bundesverband (the German real estate professional association).
The agent may ask you to sign an exclusivity contract but this should be avoided if possible. Commission payable to estate agents in Germany is not regulated and rates can vary widely. Commission can also be charged to the buyer, the seller, or to both parties. It is advisable to check the full details before you ask the agent to carry out any work on your behalf.
In addition to agent commission, the overall costs for purchasing a property will add up to approximately 10% of the purchase price. This includes the property transfer tax, which will be around 3.5% to 6%, the notary fee, which will be around 1.5% to 2%, and any other additional administrative costs.
Once the buyer and seller have come to an agreement on the purchase price the contract must be signed in the presence of a notary. You, and any other co-owners, should take your passport with you as proof of ID. The notary is responsible for checking the land register to ensure there are no restrictions on selling the property and for registering the change of ownership. The buyer is allowed to choose their own notary to use, so it is advisable to find a notary who can explain everything in English. Having said that, it is law that the reading of the contract must be carried out in German, so you may also want to hire an interpreter to help complete the purchasing process.
Register For Healthcare[back to top]
QUICK LINK: Germany health insurance
Germany provides health services of a very high quality, with a full range of services available. It is very unlikely that you will ever be required to wait for medical treatment in Germany and hospital infection rates within the country are low.
If you are a European Union citizen and you are visiting Germany temporarily you can use your EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) to get access to Germany’s state health system. This will allow you to receive medical treatment at a reduced cost or for free – essentially you will be paying the equivalent of what a German national would pay. Foreigners from other countries may need to ensure they have sufficient travel insurance to cover any medical costs.
If you are planning to stay in Germany permanently, in most cases your employer will register you with a health insurance company (krakenkasse). It is advisable to check with your employer that they have done this for you, or if you are self-employed you will need to register yourself. In Germany you must register for state health insurance and may also apply for private health insurance. The following are the biggest and most popular health insurance companies in Germany:
A comprehensive health management service. (Consult website for contact details of regional offices)
Private health insurance for employees and the self-employed.
Tel: +49 89 207002930
A large, efficient and innovative insurer.
Tel: +44 (0)800 333 0060
A traditional health insurance company with more than 230 years of experience.
Tel: +49 040 325 325 555
Compulsory or voluntary health insurance services.
Tel: +49 40 85 50 60 70
Health insurance in Germany is normally paid 50% by your employer and 50% by yourself (taken from your salary). The rates are set by the German government but for state healthcare you normally pay approximately 15% of your monthly salary. If you earn more than 4350 Euros per month you may be able to de-register from state health insurance and only pay for private health insurance.
Most medical services, including dental treatment, hospital treatment and prescriptions are free for children under 18 years of age. If you are a pensioner of British origin living in Germany you may be eligible for state healthcare paid for by the UK.
When visiting a doctor in Germany you must show your health insurance card, which will be given to you by your health insurance company. If you require a prescription it is likely you will need to pay upfront and then be reimbursed by your insurance company. You will normally pay 10% of the cost of the prescription, between a minimum of 5 Euros and maximum of 10 Euros. For non-emergency hospital treatment you will need to be referred by a doctor. There is a fixed cost for hospital treatment which is 10 Euros per day up to a maximum of 28 days in a year.
For medical emergencies in Germany you should dial 112 which is a free emergency helpline. Most medical professionals will be able to speak some English, although this is not guaranteed.
German citizens are generally very healthy, with a life expectancy of 77 years in men and 83 years in women. Cardiovascular disease and cancer are the biggest threats to health in Germany due in part to an increasingly overweight population. Smoking and tobacco use in Germany is moderate and tobacco related deaths are lower than the average for other high-income countries. Different federal states within Germany have different laws on smoking, however most states are moving towards a ban on smoking in public places, if they’ve not already done so. The majority of states are very strict on minors using tobacco products, and to use cigarette machines in Germany you will have to insert either a German driving licence or a bank card. Penalties for breaking smoking-related laws can vary – you can be fined anywhere between 500 Euros and 5000 Euros.
English language counselling services and counselling services designed specifically for expats are widely available throughout Germany. Details of individual qualified counsellors can be found easily online and in directories.
If you are travelling to an area of Germany that is over 2500 metres above sea level, you should be prepared for the chance of altitude sickness and should ensure that you do not ascend too quickly but allow time for acclimatisation.
Open A Bank Account[back to top]
In Germany it is a very straightforward process to open a bank account and in a study by Global Finance magazine German banks made up 4 out of the top 10 safest banks in the world. It is possible to open a current account (Girokonto) or a savings account – whether instant access (Tagesgeldkonto) or limited access (Sparbuch). There are four types of banks in Germany: public sector commercial banks (Private Geschäftsbanken); savings banks (Sparkassen); credit cooperatives (Kreditgenossenschaften) and the Postbank. However all four types of banks offer the same range of services and account options.
If you would like to open a bank account in Germany you can do so in person or online. In person, you may need to make an appointment or it may be possible to simply stop in at your local branch. The required documentation can vary between different banks, but you will normally need some form of ID, proof of address and possibly proof of earnings. You will also need money for an initial deposit. If you are transferring funds from another account there may be a waiting period before the account can be confirmed. To open an account online you should visit the bank’s website where there will normally be step by step instructions and an application form to fill out. You’ll then need to print out the completed form and take it to a Post Office with your passport or ID card. The Post Office will confirm your identity and you can then post everything to your bank.
A bank account in Germany will normally involve a monthly charge of up to 8 Euros, or there may be a charge per transaction. It is usually free to use your debit card (EC-Karte) but there may be charges associated with using a credit card. Credit cards are not as widely used in Germany as in many other countries, for example most restaurants do not accept credit cards (debit cards only). Mastercard and VISA are more likely to be accepted, whereas American Express may not be.
Here is a list of some of the most widely used banks in Germany:
A leading international commercial bank.
Tel: +49 69 136 20
Deutsche Kreditbank AG
A German bank founded in 1990 with headquarters in Berlin.
Tel: 030 120 300 00
Part of UniCredit, one of the largest banking groups in Europe.
Tel: +49 (0)89 3780
One of the largest retail banks in Germany.
Tel: +49 228 5500 3300
The following website is also useful for comparing banking services in Germany:
With regards to ATMs, German banks are mostly grouped into two large networks (Cashgroup and Cashpool), and it will be free to use any ATM from within your bank’s network. In addition to these two networks, you can opt to open an account with Sparkassen, which are state owned banks. This can be a good option if you are living somewhere more rural, as they have branches in most small towns and villages and tend to provide a much more personal relationship with their customers. The disadvantages to Sparkassen are that their services can be inflexible and outdated, and particularly pertinent for expats, it can be a complicated process to make international transactions.
If you are making a payment you will need to work out whether you want to make a transfer (Überweisung), a standing order (Dauerauftrag) or a direct debit (Lastschrift). Transfers are simple one-off payments between two accounts, standing orders are recurring payments of a set amount, and direct debits are recurring payments of varying amounts.
To apply for an overdraft or loan in Germany you will usually need to have at least 6 months’ history with a German bank and a positive SCHUFA rating. You will normally be allowed to take 2-3 times your net salary and the interest rate charged is normally between 11% and 18%.
Some banks in Germany offer services that can be very helpful for expats. For example, Commerzbank and Targobank provide online banking services in English. Several large banks also have dedicated international desks which provide specific help for foreigners.
Banks in Germany are normally open between 8.30am and 4pm on weekdays, with special late opening hours on Thursdays between 5.30pm and 6.30pm. Some smaller branches may close at lunchtime.
Learn The Language[back to top]
German is the official language of Germany and over 95% of the population speak German as their first language. German uses the Latin alphabet and is one of the official languages of the European Union and one of the working languages of the European Commission.
In addition to German, there are several minority languages recognised in Germany – Frisian (spoken by 0.01% of the population), Romani (spoken by 0.08% of the population) and Sorbian (spoken by 0.09% of the population). Danish is also a protected minority language in Germany and is spoken by 0.06% of the population, mainly around the border with Denmark. Germany has a large number of foreign nationals living within its borders, speaking their own native languages. Most notably, 1.8% of the population speaks Turkish and 0.3% of the population speaks Kurdish. As well as minority and foreign languages, there are many local dialects of German spoken throughout the country.
English is taught in most schools in Germany meaning that the English language is widely spoken amongst the German population, at least to a basic level. Germans are very highly educated and 25% of the population speak two or more foreign languages. It is common to find multiple languages being spoken in the workplace in Germany; this will normally be dependent on where the company’s customers are based as it is common in Germany to be expected to speak to customers in their native language whenever possible. Frequently offices and businesses will trade in both German and English although you will normally need a moderate level of German to find employment in Germany. A formal level of language is expected in the workplace in Germany and it is important to always address colleagues as politely as possible and never address managers or seniors by their first name. Your employer may consider funding a German language course therefore it is recommended to look into this option and ask your employer for their advice.
German language courses are easily accessible throughout the world and it is normally possible to learn German before you enter the country, including specialist courses such as business German. The Goethe Institute is an internationally renowned German language service provider and is part of the official cultural institute of the Federal Republic of Germany. The Goethe Institute offers German language courses across the globe, as well as online courses. Please see below for contact details:
German language and cultural services
Tel: +49 89 15921-0
As many German nationals speak English to a good level, native English speakers are not in high demand in Germany. It is advisable instead to research fields of employment where there is high demand, such as engineering, where the focus is on your professional skills and experience, rather than your native language. If however you’re keen to find a way to earn money from your English language abilities then your best bet may be to look into teaching English at one of Germany’s language schools.
English language television programming is rare in Germany and if it does exist it will normally be dubbed into German. To access English language programmes you will require satellite, cable or internet television. Satellite television will give you the most English language options, with potential access to hundreds of English language programmes. The Astra 2 satellite in Germany provides access to the full range of BBC channels, as well as the other most popular British channels such as ITV, and SKY. Cable television can provide between 10 and 20 English language channels, or you may choose to connect your television set to a computer for internet based services. If this is the case, you may need an international proxy service in order to access geographically-specific services such as BBC iPlayer. You should also bear in mind that if you are moving to Germany from North America your television may not work at all in Germany due to different broadcasting systems. You may need to purchase a PAL/multi-system television or a PAL/NTSC converter in order to get your television working, although a converter shouldn’t be too expensive or difficult to install. It may be possible to access English language radio stations within Germany but this cannot be guaranteed.
Choose A School[back to top]
In Germany you will find a good standard of education across all age ranges and study programmes. Classroom sizes are generally small and pupils are not required to wear school uniforms.
Each state in Germany is responsible for designating its own regulations with regard to education, although the regulations are fairly similar throughout all the states. It is compulsory for children to attend full time education for either nine or ten years, normally between the ages of six and fifteen. Pupils will then attend a part time vocational school or will continue with full time general or vocational education. All public schools in Germany are free of charge, and educational materials are also provided for free. Children of non-German origin are welcome in public schools although education will almost always be carried out in the German language.
Private schools in Germany are fewer and far between than public schools, and they are required to receive state approval. They are normally international schools and are likely to charge significant tuition fees. Single sex schools and boarding schools are rare within Germany but there are many special needs schools (Sonderschulen) available for children with disabilities. Home-schooling is against the law in Germany and preschool education is not publicly run by the German state.
The school day in Germany normally starts at 7.30am or 8.00am and ends at midday or 1.00pm. There is also school on Saturday mornings or alternate Saturdays. Once pupils finish their school day they normally have a large amount of homework that needs to be completed. The school year runs for 10 months, with a 6 week break for summer.
Primary school is known as Grundschule in Germany and lasts for four to six years, depending on the state. After primary school, pupils move on to secondary school, known as Hauptschule. After attending secondary school for five or six years, the pupil will receive a secondary general school certificate. They then have three options for continued education:
Enrolling your child into school in Germany is compulsory and therefore you will be contacted by your local state school. They will let you know what documentation and medical certificates you need to provide, and then you will be asked to visit the school during office hours to enrol your child. If you have decided to opt for a private school you must let the relevant state school know.
Curriculums in Germany are highly academic with very little emphasis on physical education, art or music. Extracurricular sports activities are rare, however additional computer classes are becoming increasingly popular.
Many universities in Germany are becoming increasingly overcrowded and very competitive, particularly for specialist subjects like medicine and law. Not all universities in Germany charge tuition fees and where they do they are much lower than in the UK or the US. Most students are eligible to apply for financial aid to help with living costs – this will partly be awarded as a grant and partly as a loan.
Classical universities in Germany provide a broad, general education with a study programme up to 6 years long. Technical universities train students for specific careers, with programmes lasting 4 years. There are also Hochschulen universities which provide art and music orientated programmes. Within Germany it is possible to find a wide range of degree programmes that are available in English although this will normally be within private universities. Upon completing your study programme you will take a Bachelor, Master or State examination. State examinations are the qualifications required to become a doctor, lawyer, pharmacist or teacher. You may also continue your education to obtain a Doctorate.
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