Find A Job
Any citizen of an EU country, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Iceland can enter Germany and work there freely without a visa.
Citizens of Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand or the USA can enter Germany without a visa and stay for up to three months. If you want to take up employment then you must first apply for a residence permit.
Citizens of any other countries need a visa to enter and work in Germany. You will need an offer of employment before applying for a work visa. Visas can be applied for through your country’s German embassy.
The Employment Immigration Act, which will make it easier for non-EU citizens with professional qualifications to access the German labour market, should come into force from March 2020.
Finding A Job In Germany
The right to work in Germany alone does not guarantee getting work. Make It In Germany is the official portal for skilled immigrant workers seeking information. It includes job listings and a Quick Check section to check your chances of continuing your career in Germany.
The Federal Employment Agency’s Central Foreign & Specialist Placement Service (Zentrale Auslands- und Fachvermittlung, ZAV) provides help and advice for skilled workers from abroad once they have arrived in Germany. The ZAV can be contacted in German or English, by phone on +49 228 713 1313 or by email on email@example.com.
The government-run Deutschland website includes up-to-date lists of the most sought after categories of worker; the best employers; and job portals.
Insurance And Pensions In Germany
Once employed, you automatically pay social insurance in Germany which takes care of healthcare, unemployment insurance, and nursing or old age care. Your level of contributions will depend on your income. You can also take out private health insurance.
You will automatically be enrolled in a company pension scheme, which will require you to retire no later than 67. You may also take out a private pension scheme.
Cost Of Living In Germany
The average monthly net salary in Germany after tax is €2,246.68. The general minimum wage is €9.19 per hour. Against this, a three-bedroom apartment outside a city centre will cost around €1,020 to rent per month. Basic utilities and internet in a medium-sized apartment will cost around €250 per month.
Working Hours And Vacations
Germany has strict limits on working hours. You may not work more than eight hours per day or 48 hours per week. The average working week (Monday to Saturday) is between 36 and 40 hours. Generally, only workers in the service industry can work on Sundays. Overtime must not average out to more than 48 hours per week over a six-month period, and is generally compensated by time off in lieu. Overtime expectations will be specified in your employment contract.
Full-time employees are entitled to a minimum of 24 paid vacation days per year, as well as public holidays.
Once your right to work in Germany is established then you can visit any recruitment agency near to where you are living. There are more than 150 agencies in the country. You can find them under “Arbeitsvermittlung” in the German Yellow Pages (Gelbe Seiten). It will be best to arrange an appointment by telephone or email before you visit.
On-spec applications are acceptable in Germany. They should be addressed to specific relevant personnel and written in German. You will need to prove your eligibility to work in the country.
Many job advertisements will state what you need to submit along with your application. Key phrases are “übliche Bewerbungsunterlagen” (usual application documents) or “aussagekräftige Bewerbung” (full application), both of which mean the employer will want:
• A covering letter. Germans are not shy about listing their credentials: relevant qualifications should be emphasised here. If you are replying to an advertisement that was written in English, then you can apply in English. Otherwise, only apply in German.
• A CV. This should list: personal data; work experience (starting with current position, then previous jobs); any training you have received; and education (higher, further, basic). Languages and IT skills are also useful to list. You should sign the CV as well as the covering letter. Omitting this detail is a legitimate reason for turning you down.
Your CV should also include:
• A photograph. Photographs are not compulsory, but omitting one is another legitimate reason for turning you down. Use a professional or passport-quality photograph.
• Copies (not originals) of any relevant certificates and testimonials. If you have just finished university or a college programme then include a copy of your diploma or certificate.
Employers may not discriminate against you on the basis of ethnic origin, gender, religion/ideology, disability, age or sexual orientation.
Qualifications And Training
Because so many Germans speak excellent English, there is little demand for native English speakers who do not have any other kind of qualification.
To work as a skilled worker or artisan in Germany, your qualifications must be recognised as equivalent to German qualifications by a trade association or chamber of crafts. Most other industries will accept your home country’s qualification levels, however you might need to check the correspondences before you apply.
Apply For A Visa/Permit
Citizens of a country in the European Union or the European Economic Area can enter and remain in Germany as a tourist for any length of time without a visa. Note that, until the end of 2020, the UK is still regarded as an EU country for purposes of travel. It is not yet known what arrangements will apply after 2020.
Citizens of the 62 countries listed here on the Germany Visa website can enter Germany without a visa for up to 90 days within any 180-day period. During this time, they can conduct business but not work. To stay for longer than 90 days, they would need a visa or a residence permit; see ‘Residency’ below.
Citizens of any other country need a visa to enter Germany. Anyone staying beyond the term of their visa will require a residence permit; see ‘Residency’ below.
Germany has no work permits as such, so any visa holder wishing to work full-time needs a work visa; see ‘Visas’ below.
There are several types of visa available, as below. Follow the links provided to determine which visa is best for you. You will also find additional details, such as how to apply, the associated fees and which supporting documents you will need.
Tourist & Visitor Visa
A Schengen visa for visitors from outside of the Schengen area – this is valid for 90 days.
A long-stay visa for anyone working full-time in Germany.
Job Seeker Visa
A six-month visa for anyone seeking work.
Guest Scientist Visa
A long-stay visa for scientists or researchers who have been invited to Germany by a scientific institution.
A visa for anyone entering Germany to learn or study. It comes in three forms:
• Language Course Visa – this is for people completing German language courses, lasting from three months to one year
• Student Applicant Visa – this is for prospective students who are still trying to find the right course, or who do not yet have a confirmation letter from a university
• Student Visa – this is for students who have been accepted by a German university
Family Reunion Visa
A visa for family members of German residents. It is a long-stay visa that can be extended into a residence permit. Eligible family members are: spouses (n.b. Germany does not recognise polygamous marriages); children under 18; adult children, if the alternative is unavoidable hardship where they currently live; and parents of minors living in Germany. Families of unpaid interns working in Germany are not eligible for this visa and must apply for a tourist visa.
A Schengen visa for business people who need to remain in Germany on business for more than 90 days within a six-month period.
A visa that allows the holder to train or work as an intern for up to 12 months. The holder must secure the training position or internship before entering Germany.
Medical Treatment Visa
Either a three-month or a longer-term visa for anyone seeking medical treatment.
Trade Fair & Exhibitions Visa
A visa for anyone attending a trade fair or exhibition; its length of validity depends on the event in question.
Cultural, Film Crew, Sports, and Religious Event Visa
A short-stay visa for anyone entering Germany as film crew, or to participate in a cultural, sporting or religious event.
Airport Transit Visa
A visa required by nationals, from a limited range of countries, who need to pass through a German airport en route to their final destination. The visa allows them to leave their plane, remain in the airport for up to 12 hours, and board their onward flight.
Depending on the type of visa you are applying for, you may need a variety of supporting documents. The following will always be required:
• Passport – this should be no more than 10 years old, and must be valid for at least three months beyond your intended departure date
• Application form
• Photo – this should have been taken within the last three months
• Health insurance with a minimum coverage of 30,000 EUR – this must cover illnesses, accidents and repatriation in case of death
• Travel itinerary – this should include proof of your round trip flight or travel reservations
• Proof of financial means – this must show that you can finance yourself during your planned stay in Germany, assuming you spend at least 45 EUR per day
Once you have filled in the form, make an appointment for an interview at the German embassy in your country of residence, but not more than six months before your trip. The interview will last around ten minutes.
You must pay your fees at the interview. Generally speaking, a short-stay visa fee is 80 EUR and a long-stay visa fee is 75 EUR.
There is no work permit as such in Germany.
Citizens of the following countries can enter Germany without a visa, and then apply for a residence permit for the purpose of working: EEA/EU member states, the United States of America, Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Switzerland, and the Republic of Korea.
Citizens of other countries must obtain a work visa before traveling to Germany, as detailed above. This counts as a work permit for as long as it is valid.
Holders of the following visas can work under the specific conditions for which the visa was granted:
• Guest scientist visa
• Business visa
• Training/internship visa
• Trade fair & exhibitions visa
• Cultural, film crew, sports, and religious event visa
• Family reunion visa: every adult that comes to Germany on a family reunion visa, and settles, is allowed to work, providing that the relative they are joining:
– is allowed to work; or
– holds an EU Blue Card (see ‘Residency’ below)
• Studying & language learning visa: you can work part-time but not full-time with a student visa. You cannot work at all with either of the other two types of this visa.
Work Not Allowed
You cannot work in Germany if you hold one of the following:
• Tourist & visitor visa
• Job seeker visa – once you have found a job, you must change this to a residence permit for the purpose of working; see ‘Residency’ below
Anyone who wants to remain in Germany for more than 90 days, or beyond the term of their visa – and is not a citizen of an EU country, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Lichtenstein – needs a residence permit. There are three possibilities.
Temporary Residence Permit (Aufenthaltserlaubnis)
This lets you stay for one year, with the possibility of extension. You can only engage in the activity for which you have entered Germany. For example, if you are in Germany to study, then you cannot also work, and vice versa. If you are looking for work, then you should have a job seeker visa; if you find work, you can then apply for a temporary residence permit as well as a work visa.
Spouses and children of German citizens, or people with a permanent residence permit, must apply for a temporary residence permit. After a certain period of residence, usually two years, they will be eligible for permanent residence. This applies to both mixed-sex and same-sex couples.
EU Blue Card
This is for highly skilled nationals from non-EU countries. To be eligible, applicants must find a job in Germany in the same field in which their skills and educational qualifications apply. The job should have a minimum income of 53,600 EUR. Applicants must have a high level of proficiency in German.
The EU Blue Card is valid for four years, and holders qualify for permanent residence after 33 months, or 21 months if their German is especially good. Holders can bring their spouses to Germany. The spouse does not need to be as proficient in German, and will be able to work after the holder gets permanent residence.
Permanent Residence Permit (Niederlassungserlaubnis)
This allows holders to live and work in Germany, and come and go in and out of the country as they wish. The usual route to a permanent residence permit is to have previously held a temporary residence permit or EU Blue Card. If you don’t hold an EU Blue Card, and aren’t applying for reasons of marriage, then you must have worked for at least five years in a job approved by the Federal Employment Agency, and you must have paid all applicable taxes and social security contributions. The German language requirements are also more stringent than for a temporary residence permit.
To apply for a residence permit:
• Register your German address with the authorities. This process is called Anmeldung. Find your nearest authority by entering your postcode at Um.ziehen.de – it may be called Einwohnermeldeamt, Bürgeramt, Bürgerbüro, KVR or Kundenzentrum. You will be given a certificate (Anmeldebestätigung) confirming your registration
• Get an application form at your local immigration office: the Einwohnermeldeamt (Registration Office) or Ausländerbehörde (Foreign Nationals Authority), probably located in your local town hall. Make an appointment to have your application processed in an interview
• Attend the interview, making sure you have all the paperwork detailed below; the interview will be conducted in German
• Have a minimum proficiency in German
• Hold German health insurance
• Pass a health check
• Be financially stable, i.e. able to support yourself (and family if applicable) – proof of income and a German bank account may be required
• Have no criminal record
You must provide:
• A valid passport
• Proof of a German address (Anmeldebestätigung)
• A job offer letter from your employer, if you are applying so you can work
• An acceptance letter for your course, if you are applying so that you can study
• Your marriage certificate, if you are joining a spouse
Get Health Insurance
Many expats take out private medical insurance, even if this is not a requirement of residence, because healthcare is expensive in their destination country or because certain treatments and procedures are not available.
When taking out health insurance, be sure to check factors such as the annual and lifetime policy limits, whether there are any exclusions which are likely to affect you, whether you are limited to treatment from specific types of healthcare providers, and whether the policy covers emergency evacuation for medical treatment.
Too frequently, potential buyers of health insurance look only for the lowest cost of premiums before really considering the specific benefits and areas of cover they may actually need. Some plans are cheaper for a reason. Often they include large voluntary deductibles on any claim you might make in the future and may severely cap the benefits received under the plan. Clients should define their needs first, establish the particular area of cover they need, then determine their annual healthcare insurance budget. Only then should they look to premium comparisons, last of all.
Do not buy a plan without studying the policy wording carefully. If in doubt, ask, and only when completely satisfied complete all application forms fully, to the best of your ability.
Important questions to ask the insurance provider:
1. Does the plan allow for cooling off periods, cancellation and then repayment of premium in full?
2. Does the plan offer “Moratorium” or is it “Full underwriting” and do you need to have a medical examination before joining?
3. Does the insurer offer a 24 hour help line, 7 days a week, available from anywhere in the world (freephone)? Most insurers now offer this facility.
4. Are pre-existing conditions excluded when joining and if so, for how long are such conditions excluded?
5. Are all and any nationalities accepted or are there restrictions which apply to local nationals? Some insurers will only take expatriates abroad and not local nationals into an overseas plan.
6. Does the plan allow you to continue cover unbroken through your lifetime? In most cases insurers will continue to offer existing clients cover year on year, irrespective of age or claims history, although premium rates charged can increase dramatically with age.
7. Does the insurer allow for any doctor or consultant or hospital within the plan? Are there any restrictions in this respect? Most international plans do not place restrictions on either hospitals or doctors, but almost all demand that their help lines are called first, prior to approval of any inpatient care.
8. Does the insurer provide for the direct settlement of bills presented by hospitals worldwide, regardless of location (or do you have to pay first)?
9. What are the insurers procedures for outpatient claims? Do these require any pre-authorization or if stated in the plan can you just pay and claim? How long before you get money back from the insurer? 14 days? 28 days?.
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Rent Or Buy Property
The housing market in Germany is equally split between renting and buying. There are no restrictions for foreigners buying property, even those from outside the European Union.
There are various online property websites, including ImmoScout24, Immonet.de, Immowelt.de and Berlin vis-à-vis. All of these list rental accommodation, as well as properties for sale. Property listings include overall living space (in square metres) and the number of rooms, not including bathrooms. WG-Gesucht is a dedicated property rental portal and, unlike those listed above, offers an English language version.
Local newspapers, especially weekend editions, usually also have property listings, and these can give you a general indication of the prices you can expect to pay.
All residents in Germany must register their address with their district office. The process varies according to local jurisdiction, but must be completed within two weeks of moving, irrespective of whether you own or rent the property. Generally speaking, you will need to complete an application form, as well as provide proof of ID for all residents, proof of ownership or rental agreement, and a residency permit (if you are not an EU citizen). Additional information may be required, so you should check for this online or with local residents associations.
Rental properties range from purpose-built apartment complexes to houses and house conversions. Consideration should be given to local amenities, transport links and car parking (if required). The majority of rental properties are unfurnished, and many of them do not even include kitchen appliances or light fittings. As half of the German population prefer to rent, securing an apartment in larger cities, such as Berlin and Munich, can be difficult.
You can engage the services of a local Makler (estate agent) to identify suitable properties, and to assist in contract negotiations – this may help you to avoid any potential language barriers. Fees are normally the equivalent of one month’s rent. The more reputable agents are likely to be members of Ring Deutscher Makler or another accredited professional body.
Rents are calculated by the overall size of the property. These vary according to location, with suburban and rural areas being significantly cheaper than city centres. In 2019, the average price was €15 per sqm. Heating and utilities are not always included, and there may be management service fees for properties in larger apartment blocks. The average basic monthly rental for a one-bedroom apartment in central Berlin was about €1,493, while in Frankfurt it was €1,678 and in Munich it was €2,243.
A security deposit, typically one to three months’ rent, is always required, returnable at the end of the contract. Your tenancy agreement may stipulate that you must restore the property to the condition it was in when you moved in. Failure to do so may result in you forfeiting the return of your deposit.
Lease agreements in Germany can be long, with an initial period of up to two years. You should ensure that all relevant details are included in your tenancy agreement, and that the conditions for early termination are clearly stated. A minimum of three months’ notice to terminate is required from either party. Landlords can only initiate eviction proceedings if you default on the rent for two consecutive months. You have the right to contest their decision, and courts tend to rule in favour of the tenant. You can also challenge any rent increases not stipulated in the tenancy agreement.
To secure a rental property, you will need to submit an application form, together with the following documentation: your passport or ID, three payslips as proof of income, three months’ bank statements and, if you have been in the country long enough, a credit report (SCHUFA-Auskunft) with your credit record. In the absence of a SCHUFA record, bank statements should be sufficient to support your application. You may also require references from previous landlords and/or a financial guarantor.
Germany is currently experiencing a housing shortage and, as Germans tend to buy property for life, finding a suitable residence may prove challenging. Prices range from state to state, and central locations are more expensive than rural areas. In the third quarter of 2019, the average cost per sqm was €2,670, but the average in major cities, such as Berlin, Hamburg, Munich and Frankfurt, was €6,100. However, in the eastern states, property prices can be as low as €1,500.
German properties tend to be smaller than their North American equivalents, and built to a high standard, with brick as the preferred construction material. In 2019, the cost of a typical 120 sqm apartment in Berlin was about €599,000. It was about €545,000 in Frankfurt, and €942,000 in Munich.
The majority of German properties are sold through estate agents, although some owners prefer to advertise privately. The onus is on the buyer to identify a suitable property, and the first stage in the process is to secure a mortgage. Rates and deals vary from lender to lender, so you should investigate thoroughly before applying. Your financial position will be fully assessed, as well as the property asking price.
With over 6,000 members, the German Real Estate Association (Immobilien Verband Deutschland) is a reputable source of estate agents. Their website also provides listings for notaries, surveyors, tax advisers and other useful resources.
If you are buying through an estate agent, you should check whether they charge fees to buyers as well as vendors. The online websites provide local area information, as well as details of any potential additional costs that may be involved. It is your responsibility to commission a structural survey, rather than that of the vendor.
Property purchase generally requires a 20% deposit, and agency fees (if shared, these tend to be 3% to 7% of the purchase price), plus 19% VAT. Sales must be notarised and recorded in the land registry. Notaries charge about 2%, and there may be additional translation charges if your notary does not speak your language.
On completion of purchase, you are required to pay property transfer tax to the relevant federal state. Rates vary from 3.5% of the property purchase price in Bavaria and Saxony to 6.5% in Brandenburg, North Rhine Westphalia, Saarland, Schleswig-Holstein and Thuringia. There is also a mandatory annual municipal tax, calculated at between 0.26% to 1% of the assessed property value. Note that these costs are not generally covered by your mortgage lender. If you sell within ten years of purchase, you will be liable for 25% capital gains tax on any profit derived from the sale.
Move Your Belongings
Consider if you want (or are able) to transport your belongings yourself or whether you will need the services of a removals company that deals with international moves. Unless you are travelling very light, or making a fairly short move by road, you will probably need professional help to ship your possessions. Ask for quotes from several companies first, ensuring that they visit your home to carry out a survey of your requirements. It may be worth paying extra for the removals firm to pack your possessions for you, particularly if they are going to be transported to a distant country and need special protection for the long journey. Make sure you bring to their attention anything fragile or precious that needs particularly careful wrapping and packing.
Before agreeing to a quotation, ensure that you are fully aware of exactly what is covered in the price, and that the service to be provided meets all of your requirements. For example, does the service include both packing and unpacking of your household effects? What about disassembling and reassembling of furniture? If you are planning to put anything into storage in your destination country while you find accommodation, does the price include final delivery and unpacking at your home, or will you need to arrange collection of the items? Obtain a firm estimate of the likely arrival date of your items and obtain contact details for any agents that will be dealing with the removal in your destination country. Ensure that the removals company is aware in advance of any practical considerations such as the lack of an elevator to your apartment, or likely parking problems.
If using a removals company, you may be required to take out their insurance cover for your possessions. Whether or not this is the case, ensure that you have adequate insurance for anything of actual or sentimental value that could get lost or damaged during the move. Take the time to accurately complete or check an inventory of your possessions to be moved, as this will form the basis for any insurance claim for losses or damages. Find out if insurance is included in the price quoted by the removals company, or whether you are required to pay extra for this.
The removals company should arrange any customs and importation documents on your behalf, but if you are arranging the move independently you will need to find out what documents are required and what import duties and taxes are payable (and whether you are eligible for exemption from these).
Make sure that you set aside the important documents you will need for the journey, such as passports and air tickets, and keep these easily accessible in your hand luggage.
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Register For Healthcare
QUICK LINK: Germany health insurance
The German state health insurance system, GKV, operates under the aegis of German social security, who govern around 110 insurers, some of which are more specialized than others. BKK, for example, covers corporate health insurance.
The system is funded by statutory health insurance funds, which operate on two core principles: the solidarity principle (anyone needing medical treatment will receive it) and the principle of benefits in kind (you will not have to make upfront payments for medical care).
Currently, approximately 90% of the German population is covered under state medical insurance.
You are automatically eligible for state insurance if you fall into the following categories:
• you are an employee and have a gross annual income of below €60,750
• you are a pensioner
• you are a trainee
• you are receiving unemployment benefits
If you are in some self-employed categories, you can apply for state health insurance independent of your income.
If you are working in Germany, your employer will register you with the state system, although you are free to choose your own insurer and register yourself. If you do so, you will need to take your passport and residence permit to the local office. Your insurer will then issue you with a health insurance card (Krankenversichertenkarte).
The state system includes coverage for the following:
• visits to the doctor
• hospital care (inpatient and outpatient)
• medical treatment
• mental healthcare
• sick leave
• pregnancy care
• prescriptions (you may have to pay a small supplementary charge, known as a Zuzahlung, for prescriptions)
If you access medical care, you will have to contribute an excess charge of €10 per quarter. If you do not access medical treatment, you will not have to pay this.
Open A Bank Account
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.
There are many ways of sending money from one country to another. As always, expats can save themselves a lot of trouble and expense if they do a little research and shop around for the best deal.
International Bank Transfers
For most expats, currency transfer involves transferring small to medium sized amounts regularly from an existing bank account back home into a new overseas bank account in the local currency. These may be pension payments, benefits, or any other form of income.
Your home bank will usually be glad to oblige. You can set up facilities with them “on demand” whereby you fax or call them on the phone, provide a secret code or two, tell them the amount in question, and they will transfer it to your new bank, automatically converting it into the relevant local currency. Some banks also allow you to make international payments online. Whatever method you choose, transfers normally take between 3-7 days although 1-2 day transfers are often available but be prepared to pay more for these.
You can also set up regular transactions that are processed automatically on a fixed day of each month. Many state pensions and benefits can be paid directly into your new bank abroad without going through your home bank at all. Some private pension organisations may also offer the same facility.
When you first set up a transfer of funds abroad, the sending bank or institution will ask you for various codes that identify the destination bank. Often they will ask for IBAN (International Bank Account Number), BIC (Bank Identifier Code) or SWIFT codes but don?t panic – your new bank will give these to you and they may even already be listed in your new chequebook or bank statements.
As far as charges are concerned, you will probably be required to pay a flat fee per transaction. Additionally a percentage fee is often charged for the currency conversion itself. You may also find that your receiving bank charges you for receiving the transfer. Charges vary by bank but can quickly add up – ask your bank(s) for an indication of the fees involved.
As a general rule, transferring larger sums less frequently usually works out cheaper than transferring smaller amounts more often. However, if you need to transfer regular amounts of at least a few hundred pounds/dollars or need to make a larger one-off payment (e.g. for a house purchase) you should consider the services of a currency broker.
Cash Machine/ATM Withdrawals
Thanks to modern technology, most people abroad can go to a cash machine/ATM and withdraw local currency funds directly from their home bank account. This is a useful option to have for expats but exercise caution – many banks make hefty charges for using this type of facility. You may also find that withdrawal limits are in place (as a security measure) even if you significant funds in your account back home.
You can also use VISA or Mastercard credit cards to obtain cash in this fashion and if you pay the amount off quickly and avoid interest charges then fine – but once again credit card charges for cash withdrawals can be high. Check the rates carefully.
Currency brokers (also called foreign exchange brokers) offer significant advantages over traditional banks. Firstly, brokers will often be able to offer you a better rate than your bank. Secondly, the entire process is more transparent – many banks require you to accept the exchange rate available on the day they process your transaction, whatever and whenever that may be, but a specialist broker will offer greater flexibility, even allowing you to specify the rate you want in advance.
Currency brokers are smaller companies than major banks so always check their background carefully. Ask existing expats for their own experiences and recommendations before choosing a firm to handle your own foreign exchange requirements.
A good broker will discuss all the options with you and enable you to make the best decision for your circumstances. Using a broker will typically off the following advantages:
1) Currency brokers generally provide superior exchange rates to the high street banks. The currency brokers have access to the interbank rate and do not have the high costs that the banks have. This means that they can usually offer better exchange rates.
2) Use of a free Market Watch/Order Service: This allows you to tell your currency broker your target or budget exchange rate and they will ring you if that exchange rate level is reached. As the rate moves every few seconds, currency brokers can act as your eyes and ears on the market.
3) Ability to fix the exchange rate in advance using a Forward Contract. If you know you need to convert/move funds in the future but don?t yet have the money you can reserve a rate in advance using a Forward Contract. During this period, you are exposed to exchange rate movements and therefore, a forward contract is ideal if, for example, you have agreed to buy a house and want to fix the rate now but will not be making payment for a couple of months.
Savings from currency brokers can vary from between 1 and 4 per cent on the exchange rate alone, and specialists do not typically charge any fees for transmitting the funds abroad, unlike banks which often levy expensive fees or charges. If you are emigrating and transferring a large sum of money – such as the proceeds of a property – a foreign exchange company could potentially save you thousands.
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Learn The Language
If you are moving to Germany to work and live, you will need to consider the ease with which you are able to communicate. Learning at least some of the local language is one of the best ways for an expat to integrate and begin to feel more at home.
The language of the country is of course German, spoken by 95% of the population, although you will find other languages here as well. There are a number of local minority languages, such as Sorbian, Romani, Danish and North Frisian (which is closely linked to English: although it is a different language, it sounds rather like English spoken with a strong accent). Germany has a large migrant population so you will also hear languages such as Turkish, Hindustani and Polish spoken quite widely, to name but a few.
However, German itself is the most widely spoken language in the European Union and is spoken by approximately 100 million people.
In common with many European nations, German schools teach English to a very high standard: it is the first foreign language taught in German schools, followed by French. Many Germans are only too happy to practice it in the workplace or the cafes, to the point where it may be difficult for you to practice your German: English is the lingua franca of the international workplace, especially banking, airlines and tourism. At an estimate, 67% of Germans speak at least one foreign language and around 56% of the population speaks English.
However, if not just for the sake of politeness and integration, and especially for ease of communication away from the main urban centres, it is still highly advisable to learn at least some basic German vocabulary to get by.
Linguistic experts generally recommend an immersive learning experience as the quickest way to attain fluency in any language. If you are planning to go out as a couple, it is a good plan to make a pact to speak in German together as often as possible. Immersing yourself in German language television and newspapers is also highly productive. You may also be able to arrange ‘language swaps’ with Germans who want to learn English.
For self-teaching the German language, there are a large number of courses available on the internet – many free. It is better that you try to gain at least some knowledge before you go, but these courses can still be very useful for your continued linguistic development on arrival.
It is wise to rely on your own knowledge and a good phrasebook, rather than digital translation, although Standard German is a major European language and thus digital translation is fairly reliable.
You will find plenty of provision in German instruction if you want to learn the language while you are in the country. There are German language schools in the main cities, such as Frankfurt and Berlin, including schools run by large companies such as Berlitz, but also a host of smaller providers including individual tuition, if you prefer to opt for a one-to-one route rather than a classroom setting. You may also wish to contact the Goethe-Institut, which sets the gold standard of German instruction. You can take their assessment test for free online or on-site and choose between an intensive, evening, morning or weekend course.
Levels A1 and A2 are for beginners, B1 and B2 build on this basis and are designed to enable you to use the language independently. C1 and C2 are the final levels, which will give you the autonomous language competence (these levels correspond to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages). After completing each level, you can take an examination. All Goethe-Institut examinations are internationally recognized as proof of your German language skill and this may be a sensible choice if you are intending to work for a German employer and need to show evidence of your linguistic competence when applying for jobs.
You will find German courses for specific needs, such as language instruction for young people and for business purposes. Most language schools can arrange accommodation with host families if you are intending to visit the country with the aim of learning the language.
You may be travelling to Germany to teach English and you will find considerable demand. It is always easier to get work in international education if you have at least a certificate in either TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) or TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages).
It is also preferable if you have experience in teaching schemes such as the Cambridge English exams or IELTS (International English Language Testing System): the English test for study, migration or work. Some teaching experience in the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) will also be helpful. This assesses analytical, writing, quantitative, verbal, and reading skills in written English for use in admission to graduate management programs, such as the MBA. You may also find work more easily if you are experienced in teaching English for particular sectors, such as tourism and hospitality, or in summer schools. Salaries are in the region of US$2500 – 4800 per month, depending on your qualifications and experience.
It will also be helpful to have at least a Bachelor’s degree as most language schools require this: basically, the rule of thumb is that the more qualifications you have, both in TEFL and in academic subjects, the easier you will find it to get work.
Choose A School
The German education system is a little complex to unravel, but it is held to be one of the best in the world by many metrics. Its literacy rates have remained stable at around 99%, and Germany ranks well above average amongst OECD reporting countries on the percentage of GDP spent on education, at over 5%. The nation’s PISA rating is also very close to world average, but there is a shortage of teachers and an increase in non-German children attending school here, which have both affected ratings, and are seen as issues of a mature and successful system.
State education in Germany is very well developed and well regulated. It is controlled by the Ministry of Education. Lessons are conducted in German, but several other languages are taught throughout the system, including French and English.
If your child needs German language training to be able to attend state school, this can be organised locally (typically a minimum of 70 hours would be required from scratch), and extra support can be continued at school.
The German education system varies in detail region by region, but in general it is divided into several levels. Nursery/kindergarten is widely used in Germany, with a large percentage of German children receiving this level of pre-schooling. Primary and basic secondary tuition is then compulsory from age 6 – 15, and all tuition is provided free up to secondary school graduation, and free or near free at university level.
Primary schooling covers ages 7 – 11. Secondary school runs from ages 11 – 15, but there are provisions for vocational tuition even at this early age, and parents must choose the type of school they want their children to attend, generally based on academic ability.
Upper secondary school runs from ages 15 – 18, although many students will continue with vocational or technical training at age 15, with the aim of gaining qualifications in their chosen trade. The duration of tuition here will vary depending on the profession or occupation chosen. For those attending the vocational colleges or taking apprenticeships, there is also the chance of further advancement through technical universities, and there are many institutions for professions such as teaching.
For those continuing their studies in the state upper secondary system, a final Graduation Exam is taken at the end of studies, with many then expected to go on to university, depending on exam grades.
Homeschooling is illegal in Germany. Your child must attend a recognised school.
There are also just under 6,000 private schools in Germany, offering tuition at various levels. Their curricula will generally be closely aligned to the state system, with additional classes and activities depending on the philosophy of the individual school.
There are a large number of fee-paying international schools catering more specifically for expat children of all ages, some with day care for infants, but separate pre-school kindergarten (ages 3 -6) is also available privately in the larger cities. Whilst the curricula at these schools will generally follow the various state regulations, many of them offer the full International Baccalaureate Diploma Program (IBDP), and most are based on tuition in English under various national education systems.
Here are a few of the international schools in Germany:
• International School on the Rhine, Dusseldorf/Neuss (IBDP, IGCSE)
• Bavarian International School, Munich (IBDP, English as an additional language)
• Munich International School (IBDP)
• St George’s British International school, Cologne, Duisburg, Munich (UK curriculum, IBDP)
• Swiss International School, Berlin & five other locations (bilingual, IBDP)
• Frankfurt International School (full IBDP)
Extra-curricular activities will vary considerably, and need to be ascertained from the individual school. Demand for places at international schools is always high, and it is important to contact the school of your choice as early as possible. Fees will also be quite substantial, and need to be ascertained with the school. It is always important to read the small print – additional expenses can mount up – for example many schools have additional contributary capital funds for improvements/repairs.
Secondary school or international school graduates will have the choice to continue their studies in one of the many German universities, which generally have excellent reputations, but some students, local and international, will want to pursue their higher education abroad. Successful graduation from German schools (public or private) will give your child an internationally recognised high standard qualification, which is accepted at major universities worldwide without the need for additional assessment tests.