So you want to move to Germany… Visas & Permits

Over the last few years, I have gotten more and more emails from people who want to move to Germany or other places in Europe but would appreciate a bit of advice before they take the leap. From singles to entire families, there are a wide range of folks who want to  experience the culture, take some language classes, and take an adventure into an unknown world. Some may be considering participating in a few university level studies, others may have a job here they’d be moving to, and others still just hope to play things by ear.

The majority of people that have contacted me are hoping to create a homestead similar to our own in principle, but dream of having a few chickens and maybe a goat or pig at some point. So as I have been writing all of these people back over the years, I decided it might be a good idea to finally put this info on my blog. And because I tend to be a bit long-winded, it’s turned out that it will be a whole series! So stay tuned for the next several parts of these adventures into expat-life posts in the coming days!

Many thanks to Celeste to wrote me a novel with a bunch of updated info about visas — this is one of those topics with tons of conflicting info. But when it’s done, you can breathe calmly again for a while. 

Visas & Permission to Stay in Germany

Most people who’ve contacted me are American — which is obviously the expat angle I know the best — so I will primarily focus on them when I talk about the visa process. Clearly if you have a passport from another country in the EU, things are considerably easier. And if you fall in love with a German passport-holder, you usually only have to go through a few formalities to get a 2-year visa which can typically be renewed for a permanent visa at the end of its term.

Germany basically has 3 types of immigration titles: Visa (validity of up to 90 days), residence permit and settlement permit (permanent residence). Work permits – if granted – are no longer issued independently but included within the immigration title and are available for foreigners that either fall into one of the several available permit categories (IT specialists, company trained specialist within a group of companies, managing personnel, scientists, highly skilled workers with exceptional income, etc.) or can prove a public interest in the employment.

One way or another, the Germans will want to know that you have a legitimate reason to stay in the country and that you have adequate financial resources to sustain you while you’re here. Germany does not allow immigration without cause, it is necessary to be either enrolled with a school or university, have a specific job offer that fits the requirements of one of the work permit categories or intend to reunify with close family (spouse or minors) already within Germany (family reunification visa). AND you must also have some basic knowledge of German (A1 GER) which would allow you to get around on your own and hold a simple conversation in German. A German Integration Course may also be required, which is 645 hours at €1 per hour.

For the Tourist

There is a 90 day limit for tourists within a 6-month time frame and it’s wise to apply for this visa before you arrive in Germany (at least a few months in advance to allow all the paperwork to be processed.) The cost is €60. This is typically called a Schengen visa and allows you to visit all 24 Schengen treaty countries (basically the EU countries). This visa doesn’t allow you to work here, just to be a tourist. If you do get caught working with only this visa, you’ll get deported with no chance of coming back to try again and get it right.

When I was moving over here 10 years ago, I didn’t have a visa before I came over so I was not able to leave the United States to fly to Germany without having purchased a return ticket back to the States. I have little doubt that this has changed in recent years because the Germans are trying to be a bit more stringent on illegal entry into the country, so you’ll need to consider buying a return ticket you’ll either throw away or use for a visit back home at some point. Make sure that your passport does not expire before the end of your trip and you’ll have to prove you have enough money to get around and get you back home (so you don’t get stranded in Germany). I do know some people who have gotten these sorts of visas and managed to live over here off and on, 3 months at a time, for several years. Obviously that’s not really an option for people who want to raise a few farm animals or kids here, though.

For Living in Germany

If you intend to stay in Germany for more than 90 days, you must first register at the local Einwohnermeldeamt (Registration Office) or Standesamt. You must do this within 3 months of arrival (which seems to be valid as of 2005). US citizens can apply for their residence permit after entering Germany without a visa, or you can apply for a residence permit prior to entry at the German Embassy in Washington DC or at a German Consulate (currently located in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York or San Francisco).

After you are registered, you can then apply for an Aufenthaltstitel from the Ausländerbehörde. Now, it could happen that you get to the Einwohnermeldeamt and they refuse to register you because you didn’t register at the Ausländerbehörde FIRST, and the Ausländerbehörde says to go register first. So it can be a Catch-22 sometimes.

For Working in Germany

If you are hoping to make money while in Germany, you actually need to be cautious of the residence permit you end up with. A  residence permit only allows you to take up gainful employment (employee or self-employment) if you have the Aufenthaltstitel that expressly entitles you to do this.

a) befristeter Aufenthaltserlaubnis
b) unbefristeter Niederlassungserlaubnis 
c) unbefristeter Erlaubnis zum Daueraufenthalt-EG

The befristeter Aufenthaltserlaubnis is basically what ever person who is married to a German will end up with. Then, after two years, or until your passport expires (whichever come first), you can usually get the unbefristeter Niederlassungserlaubnis (assuming your background check comes back clean.) One is also tested on their German skills at this point also to make sure you’re integrating.

Business visas are available for 90 days within every 6 months. Although you can be from virtually any professional background (from teacher to model to journalist), businesspersons may only attend contract negotiations and buy or sell goods for an employer abroad. All other economic activity is considered work and must not be performed on the basis of a business visa.

If your current employer is transferring you from the US, things may or may not be easier for you.  This should also be done before you leave the US. The German subsidiary must prove to the Arbeitsamt that the American employee being transferred one of the following:

a) has special skills or knowledge that cannot be fulfilled by some eligible unemployed person already living here
b) is temporarily (not longer than one year) managing a project
c) is working on a project which will create new jobs in the German market
d) is coordinating a project in which some German company depends on to hold jobs down in Germany.

If you’re going to try to find a job once you get here, there are jobs available sometimes at the US embassies & US military bases, but they are not easy to get and are often quickly snapped up by ranking military family members. The U.S. military is not officially in Germany and they still pay in dollars. Once you get a German visa, you usually cannot get a job on base, because the DOD does not hire foreign nationals or residents UNLESS they already have a DOD card.

There are American companies here but the available positions are limited and you’re best off if you can get in with them before you leave the US. Most companies still want you to have a residency visa if they are hiring someone living in Germany already. If you have some experience working in Finance, you can consider moving near Frankfurt where you’ll almost always be able to find English-speaking jobs if you’re qualified. So having at least a basic knowledge of German if you intend to work here is definitely recommended to assure your success.

For the Student

Student visas do exist for people taking classes at the local universities, but they are now basically the same thing as a residency visa, or “befristeter Aufenthaltserlaubnis.” You will want to contact the university you’ll be studying at first and register with them, so that they can help you with your visa paperwork.  US citizens can also apply for a student visa after arriving here, but you’ll also need to file for a residency permit in most cases. Student visas do not allow you to work in Germany. After obtaining a university degree, foreign students may stay for one year to find a job that matches their qualifications.

Tips about getting your visas & permits

    • If one person in the family gets a residency permit with permission to work, that does not mean that everyone else in the family also has permission. The family members can come with you, but must apply for their own work permit if they intend to get a job. And you should always register all family members with your local Standesamt…and keep that info up to date if you move, even if it’s just down the block.
    • Get yourself a bunch of passport photos before you start the process (about 10) so you don’t have to run around having more made once you start your applications.
    • Invest in a few books (or ebooks if you have a reader/iPad) for the long waits in waiting rooms. Or bring something else to otherwise occupy yourself and/or your kids.

More about visas & permits

I’m sure I could go on and on about all this because there’s just a million things to know and learn, but I would highly recommend starting the process before you move if you have no EU-citizens in the family. It’s just going to save you a lot of disappointment, headaches and money in the long run.

Alright expats — it’s time to share your experiences and let us know what other tips you have. And if there are any questions, please just shout them out! :) 

Comments

  1. It´s my understanding from the Ausländeramt that something changed in Sept 2011 making it “easier” for US citizens to move here. What that is? I have no idea.
    In my personal experience, US citizens wishing to live here should:
    a) be prepared to get conflicting answers (US Consulate, and Ausländeramt all have different answers to the same basic questions)
    b) be prepared to spend A LOT of time on hold and/or making phone calls.
    c) Know that the Ausländeramt (though they deal only with foreigners) will not speak English. At all. It´s a part of the game.

    • Hmm, interesting. I will have to research that a bit more. I’m just glad that I now have my permanent visa so I don’t have to worry with all that anymore. No idea how many days of my life were lost in those offices!

      Extremely good point about them not speaking English. They are totally not flexible on that, which can be a real hurdle when you’ve just moved here and they start rattling things off at you. If you can befriend someone who speaks German to interpret for you, DO IT! :)

  2. So, for the 2-year visa is it enough to be in love with a German, or do you have to be married? :-)

    SInce I’ve been in Germany for a coon’s age, I’m sure most of my experience no longer applies. My only advice would be that if you’re already married to a German, have the marriage validated by your local German consulate before you arrive. That will save a couple of months of hassle once you’re here.

    And cats have an easier time of emigrating than humans. We brought 3 cats over with all the correct veterinary certificates, and they got waved through without anyone even looking at the papers.

  3. Hi Friend!!

    Wanted to say thanks again for linking up to the blog hop and finding my little corner of the world wide web. Sooo, I’m finally now visiting yours and tickled silly to see that you live in Germany! My husband and I honeymooned in Europe. We’re actually planning a trip back to Germany in November. YAY! Any tips?

    Wishing you the very best! Newest follower :)

    Kelly

  4. Mariabennett33 says:

    My boyfriend plays professional basketball in Germany and want sme to go stay with him for 10 months… How do I go about doing this if I am not going to be working. I am hoping I will be in school but I am not even sure about that. Also I was told that you had to pay a monthly fee to love in Germany with your visa. Please help!

  5. My girlfriend is german and i was wanting to visit and live with her for 6 months…. how would i go about that and what all do i need to do that??? Im new at this traveling stuff lol

    • Hi Dustin,
      For a visit of up to 90 days, you don’t need a visa…but if you would then have to go back to leave for 90 days before you can come back again. If you want to stay for 6 months at a time, you will need to apply for something like a “friend visa”, in which your girlfriend will need to vouch for you with the German Embassy. You can learn more about it here: http://www.germany.info/Vertretung/usa/en/05__Legal/02__Directory__Services/01__Visa/__Relatives__Friends__Visa.html

      Definitely contact the German Embassy before you leave for an easier time of getting the visa. If you try to travel to Germany with an open-ended plane ticket or with a return date of 6 months from now with no visa, they will likely not let you fly out of the US.

      Hope that helps and have a great time in Germany!

      • how much does a visa cost and do i need health insurance for tha trip??

        • You most definitely need health insurance — it’s included on the list of requirements in that link I sent before.

          ” confirmation letter from your health insurance stating coverage for medical emergency, hospitalization and repatriation with a minimum of 30,000 Euros (equiv. US$ 50,000) for trips outside the US and one copy thereof”

          Regarding the cost, it depends on the exchange rate. But it’s about USD 90. There is an extra fee of USD 20 if you need them to return your passport (which normally you would just give them copies of, I believe.

          Contact the German embassy — they should be able to answer all your questions. Or at least look at the link in my last response. All the answers you need are on there.

    • Samira C. says:

      Hello Dustin,
      I hope you guys have all papers you need to come to Germany, DId you already decided which place you want to go to?
      If there is anything you need just contact us
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      or call 004930290278155

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  7. “And if you fall in love with a German passport-holder, you usually only have to go through a few formalities to get a 2-year visa which can typically be renewed for a permanent visa at the end of its term.”-Could someone please explain how that works? That would be extremely helpful.

    • As an US citizen you can enter Germany as a tourist on your regular passport without a VISA ! After arriving in Germany, you apply for a “Aufenthaltstitel” at the local “town hall”. That may restrict you from working in the first place (you need to find a job first and then apply for the “Arbeitserlaubnis” together with your employer) but it allows you to stay there. To do so, you need your translated marriage certificate as well as proof of health insurance. Your spouse has to sign a form for taking care of you. But you have 90 days to get all that done.

      This can be done before you leave for Germany or after you arrive. More info can be found here: http://www.germany.info/Vertretung/usa/en/05__Legal/02__Directory__Services/01__Visa/__Relatives__Friends__Visa.html

      • Hmm… The thing is, we’re not actually married yet. How is that going to affect us?

        • You still get a 90-day visa without any complications. If you don’t have a job over here when you come or aren’t planning to go to college, that is going to make things harder. The same applies if you’re not planning to get married within those 90 days. I wouldn’t say it’s impossible, but without some sort of proof that you aren’t going to try to draw from the welfare system, the visa offices are not going to make life easy. Which means you’d have to go back and forth every 90 days or so in order to not break any laws about being in the country illegally.

          • Ok, so do I need to have a job here or get married there, or do I have to do both? 

          • Ok, I’m geting pretty mixed up here. Do I need to have a job AND be getting married, or just one of those things. We really don’t plan on getting married so soon.
            Sorry for being such a pain.

          • You have an automatic visa for 90 days in Germany, no questions asked. That’s the standard tourist visa.

            In order to stay longer, you need to go through the process described at the bottom of the page here: http://germany.usembassy.gov/acs/working_in_germany/

            You can also apply for a residence permit prior to entry at the German Embassy in Washington or at a German Consulate (currently located in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York or San Francisco). Inquiries may be made at the German Embassy at http://www.germany.info

            If you don’t get the residency & working permits, you’ll have to leave the country every 90 days for at least 90 days.

          • Is it actually possible to get a job in Germany without a degree?

  8. I found this site trying to help someone out…. She is a USA Army Wife… she is pregnant and as soon as the baby is born her Husband is to be stationed in Germany… She will need to find employment in Germany to make ends meet for their family…. Will she be able to work off base??? or On base only??? what are some tips & advice you can give her?????

  9. How can a US citizen, working as a Dod civilian in Germany for 10 years get his Filipina wife to live with him? What are the requirements? Thanks in advance..

  10. Mbemvgc says:

    I am Mexican with a green card. My girl is from Germany and I am planning on moving to Germany and marry her. What is the requirements I need?

  11. capetowncouple says:

    My husband has been offered a full time contract as a highly skilled worker and we have applied for residents permits according to new eu blue card system. We are Non Eu. Do I as his spouse have to do a language course before being granted a resident permit? Can I do a course there, or will I have to stay and join my husband later?

    • I would recommend contacting your local embassy. You don’t have to speak fluent German to get residency but it is extremely helpful. Otherwise you will likely need a translator at the immigration offices.

      I’m not really sure about Africa specifically, but many countries have a standard 90-day visiting visa that you would be able to use when you first arrive, and then you’d need to go about getting a different residency permit before that one runs out — or leave the country for 30+ days to “reset” the visitors visa.

  12. larcen lahcen says:

    hello , i live in morocco and looking for job , may i find a job in germany , please let me know , i would love to hear as soon as possible from you , manifactring job anythings ,

    thank you

  13. Kathleen Mittleider says:

    Hi Tiffany,
    I have many questions that have been asked, but not answered. My husband works for Microsoft and is looking to transfer to a position that is available there. Clearly I’d like to go with him…but I need to work as well. Since he will be on a work visa sponsored by Microsoft, what does that mean for me? Will I have to do the language course? Or is that only for someone coming in and marrying a German? The guidelines are not very clear.

  14. I want to live in Germany for 3 years. I’m not a student and I don’t have a trade what can I do?

    • I’d suggest you try contacting your local German embassy and speak with them. I’m not really an expert on the various ways to live here. Generally speaking, having a spouse who is German, becoming a student or moving here for/with a job are the easiest means of staying for an extended length of time.

  15. Thanks very much for the information. I ended up getting a residency permit for self employment, I’ve also documented the process for others in case they are curious about what happens: (http://www.codeandbrats.com/2013/07/how-i-got-a-self-employment-visa-in-germany/)

    Thanks again, love the website!

    Ryan

  16. Much thanks for the article!

  17. I am a US citizen currently stranded in Germany. I moved here 2 years ago with my husband, my 16 year old son and our dog. My husband of 10 years worked for DRS as a DOD contractor for the Navy SPAWAR contract. As sponsored family members, we had visa/sofa and military base privileges included in his work contract. Upon discovering his extramarital affair 1 year ago, he moved us into a hotel, stating he would send us back to the US. The movers put our household goods in a container and held in storage until we arrived stateside and provided an address. We stayed in the hotel for 2 weeks waiting for him to sign the separation papers and transfer the agreed funds for our relocation. I soon discovered he quit his job, moved back to the states and we have no contact, only email he will not reply too. I have no access to go onto base and an expired passport. He has no family I can contact, DRS does not care, the military says they have no authority over contractors, the US embassy will not help unless I pay the hourly fee for “extra services”, (which is over $400 an hour) We are barely surviving and paying storage fees by selling our belongings piece by piece on eBay. I have no family stateside and the home we owned was seized in November for failure to pay taxes. We are heartbroken our government does not care that we are stranded here and in a dire situation. We were told by a friend, If we are willing to abandon our dog and everything we own, the German government will deport us to the US and send the bill along with it. Upon arrival in the US, we will join the homeless masses. We are afraid to go to the German authorities because we have now broken the law by being here without a visa to do so. Any suggestions that may help us? I know this article is a few years old, so I hope you respond. Beyond desperate and terrified.

  18. my girlfriend is still living with her parents in germany and ill be 18 in a few months. she wants me to come stay with them for two years. her parents agreed. her mother is fluent in german, as well as my girlfriend. ive taken a few highschool classes in german but is there any way i could live with them for two years without marriage, schooling, or working? i plan to wait until she finishes school, and move back to the states to go into the military. please help meeeee.

  19. My husband its German with a green card, we want to move to Germany maybe next year. We got married in Vegas and wanted to know if our marriage its valid in Germany and my 22 year old can also get a resident visa?, my son has never been married, I don’t speak German, it is a very hard language as much as I tried. What are the requirements and do I have tom speak German?. Thanks for responding.

    From Florida too !! :)

    • Hi Carolina,
      You can move with him and your marriage is valid in Germany, but they may ask you to get the paperwork translated when you register there. I’m not sure about your 22 year old. I think it might be necessary for him to get a student or work visa but you’d want to consult the consulate or a visa specialist on that.

      There are two steps of visas in Germany. The first will be a temporary two-year visa. If you stay within the limits of the law, you can apply for a permanent visa after that. I did not speak much German when we first arrived in 2001 but I had my husband to translate. If you don’t German and go to these offices, take someone with you who can translate for you. On the permanent visa, I’m not sure that they require you to speak German, but it does make it easier since you are showing signs of “integration.”

      And be sure to get your German driver’s license (you can take the test in English) within 6 months of arrival to maintain reciprocity of your US license (although this varies from state to state).

      Hope this helps and good luck!

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