I moved to Germany in 2011 with two suitcases and without a visa. I knew that as a US citizen I would be allowed to stay within the EU for 90 days, but after that I’d have to leave for 90 days before I entered again. That meant that I needed to somehow secure a residency permit within 90 days or I would be booking another one-way flight back to the US.
No pressure or anything.
Germany allows people from most countries to visit for 90 days without a visa. You can check if your home country is on this list of citizens that need a visa.
Tip: USA, Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand citizens are allowed 90 days in all Schengen countries (aka certain countries within the EU).
The first hurdle I encountered was how to get into the EU. I had booked a one-way flight (because I planned on staying there) but hadn’t considered that I might need to show proof that I was leaving within 90 days once I arrived in the EU. I researched a bit online and saw a lot of mixed comments from people. Some said they had no problem getting into the EU with a one-way ticket and others said they had lots of problems. I decided to be safe and book a one-way flight to Morocco (it was the cheapest flight I found) that left within 90 days after I arrived in Germany. I planned to show this as proof if needed. Luckily when I entered the EU in Iceland I had no problem going through customs and never needed to show my ticket to Morocco. From Iceland off I went to my new home; Hamburg, Germany!
First step once I arrived was to register my address. I already had a place to live, but if you don’t you can read my suggestions for finding a place here.
Once you have a place to call home you need to fill out a form called “Anmeldung.” Just search for it online along with your city name, because every city has a slightly different form. You just need to bring your filled in form to your local government office and have it stamped. It was completely stress-free for me. I also paid a small fee of around 10 euros.
Check out pretty Hamburg!
Next step was to find a job. I planned on working as a freelance English teacher. I had done some research and determined that getting a freelance residency & work permit would be the easiest and best option for me. Before I moved I completed the CELTA course (which you can read more about here) because I determined that the course would give me the best chance of finding a job within Europe.
I found a really kick ass list of all the English schools in Germany here that is divided up by city. I then went through and applied to every single school in Hamburg. I didn’t pay any attention to if their websites actually said they were hiring or not, I just sent emails with my cover letter and resume to every single one.
You can also check out the classified ads on Toytown Germany (I suggest saving this site. It will become your best friend for any problems that may come up while living in Germany)
You can definitely start applying to jobs before going to Germany, but in my experience, most of the companies that hired me only gave me work because they needed someone to cover a class like the next day. It worked out better that I was actually already in the country.
I didn’t expect this, but out of the twenty something schools I sent letters to, I heard back from about five of them within a week inviting me to come in for an interview. Within two weeks I secured contracts with two schools. YEAY! To get a freelance residency/ work permit in Germany you need proof of at least two schools employing you. I could now check that off my list. If you’d like to read more about what it is like to teach English in Germany you can read my experience here.
The next challenge to tackle was to get health insurance. Because I was planning on working as a freelance teacher I would not be receiving health insurance through my employer. I spent a few weeks contacting countless insurance companies who all told me they couldn’t insure me because I didn’t have a residency permit. In Germany, you need a residency permit to get insurance, but insurance to get a residency permit. Thanks Germany!
I eventually came across an insurance broker who specializes in health insurance for foreigners. He put me in contact with a British company called ALC that is recognized by the German government. I signed up for health insurance and was then ready to apply for my residency/ work permit.
Just a warning, health insurance is not cheap, but it’s required in order to get a residency permit, so you just have to deal with it.
On the day of my residency appointment I brought:
-My work contracts
-2 passport photos (which you need to get taken in Germany because Europe has different passport photo sizes than in the US)
-A filled in application form (you can find one online, but they vary slightly depending on where you are living in Germany)
-My proof of health insurance
-Proof of where I was living
-100 euros (the price changes often so check before you go).
The complete list of things you need to bring varies slightly by city, so double check with your city before going. I submitted everything without any problems and got a temporary residency/ work permit until I could pick up my real one a few weeks later.
I submitted everything without any problems and got a temporary residency/ work permit until I could pick up my real one a few weeks later.
It’s good to note that typically your permits will be good for a year, at least to start. That means that every year you have to go through this same process again, but it is so worth it! In comparison to many countries, I found the German residency process to be relatively straightforward and stress-free.
Another thing you might want to know is, sometimes the German government will require you to take German classes if you have limited German skills. I never had to do this, but I know several people that did have to complete these courses. It really all depends on which person you get in the government office.
Yeay! You’re now officially able to live and work in Germany! Enjoy it and travel often. 🙂
If you have any questions about this process feel free to leave them in the comment section below and I’ll try to help you out!
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