Moving to Germany: A Guide for Expats and Digital Nomads
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- With its relatively low costs and high quality of life, Germany has emerged as a popular choice for expats.
- Applying for one of the many German visas and finding jobs calls for thorough research and careful planning.
- Deel’s step-by-step guide shows you how to effortlessly navigate the German visa process and settle into your new home.
Nested in the heart of Europe, Germany has long been a destination for people from all over the world in search of financial stability and a new life. The country has seen a significant increase in its foreign resident population over the years, with more expats and digital nomads choosing it as their new home base.
The surge in remote work has made moving to Germany a particularly attractive option, with its robust infrastructure, rich history, and vibrant culture.
As a member of the EU and the Schengen Zone, Germany has streamlined processes for foreigners to gain permanent residency or even German citizenship. However, moving to Germany requires careful planning and preparation to navigate potential challenges and paperwork.
Step 1: Prepare your documents
Before you venture to Germany, ensure you are eligible to live in the country and apply for an appropriate visa.
If you hail from an EU country, you can live, work, and study anywhere within Germany without a visa. This also applies to citizens of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.
The German residence permit for non-EU citizens
Acquiring a German residence permit (Aufenthaltstitel) is mandatory for non-European citizens planning an extended stay in Germany, surpassing the 90-day limit imposed by a standard visa. Unlike a visa designed for shorter durations, the residence permit grants the privilege of residing in Germany for over three months and serves as a form of identification within the country. This permit also facilitates unrestricted travel throughout the European Union.
It’s important to initiate the application process promptly upon arrival and before the expiration of the initial visa.
A residence permit is unnecessary for EU and EEA citizens planning an extended stay exceeding 90 days. However, these individuals are required to register their German address with the local foreigner's office (Ausländerbehörde) within 90 days of arrival.
Meanwhile, citizens from Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, and the US can enter Germany without a visa and subsequently apply for a residence permit within 90 days.
There are two types of permits: the temporary residence permit (Aufenthaltserlaubnis) and the permanent residence permit (Niederlassungserlaubnis).
The temporary permit is issued for specific purposes, such as work, study, or family reunion, typically valid for one to four years, contingent on the stated activity. Work permits vary based on qualifications and job specifics, including residence permits for job seekers, qualified employment, the EU Blue card, self-employment, and IT specialists.
For those meeting certain criteria after residing uninterruptedly for 3-5 years, the permanent residence permit, also known as the Settlement permit or Niederlassungserlaubnis, provides an indefinite stay and work option in Germany. Application requirements include proof of financial independence, sufficient living space, and contributions to the statutory pension insurance.
The estimated processing time for the residency permit is 2-4 weeks, during which applicants receive a certificate for legal status and travel within Germany. The electronic residence permit (eAT) is issued upon approval, containing biometric information for multifaceted uses like age verification, online identification, and EU travel. This comprehensive resource strives to equip non-European citizens with a thorough understanding of the German residence permit application process.
The German government offers a variety of visas tailored to different categories of foreigners:
Schengen visa: For short-term stays of up to 90 days, generally for tourism, business trips, or visiting family and friends
Residency permit: For long-term stays, it's required if you plan to stay in Germany for more than 90 days
Job seeker visa: This is a long-term residency permit allowing you to stay in Germany and search for a job
Freelance visa: Specifically designed for self-employed individuals or freelancers
Student visa: For those who want to pursue a university degree in Germany
Work visa: To apply for this, you must first secure a job in Germany. Your prospective employer will start the process of your visa application
Family reunion visa: This is reserved for family members who wish to join their relatives who are legal residents or citizens of Germany
EU Blue Card: This work permit is for highly skilled non-EU citizens who have secured a job in Germany
Unless you are married to a German or EU citizen, non-EU foreign workers need a job offer from a German employer who will act as a sponsor.
Essential document checklist
Compile your paperwork early in the German visa application process to avoid unnecessary delays or issues. Depending on your visa type, pertinent documents may include:
✅ Valid Passport: It should be valid for at least six months beyond your intended stay and have at least two blank pages
✅ Passport-sized photos: The standard dimensions are 35mm by 45mm, and the photo must be no less than six months old
✅ Visa application form: Download, complete, and sign based on your specific visa type
✅ Proof of outbound travel: This can be a train ticket or aircraft boarding pass
✅ Health Insurance: It's mandatory to show you have health coverage during your stay in Germany
✅ Proof of accommodation: You must provide details of your accommodation in Germany
✅ Proof of employment: If you're applying for a work visa, your job offer or contract is required
✅ Criminal record check: Some visas may necessitate a clearance certificate from the police
✅ Educational certificates: If relevant, you'll need certificates of your academic qualifications
✅ Financial records: Verification that you have sufficient funds to support yourself during your time in Germany is needed
✅ Marriage and birth certificates: If you're relocating with your family, certificates are essential for their dependent visas
Importance of authenticating and translating documents
German authorities may need to legalize certain documents. If your country isn't a member of the Apostille Convention, your local German consulate or embassy will need to authenticate your paperwork.
Documents, such as birth or marriage certificates, could also be required to be translated into German. Use a professional service that can verify the translation’s accuracy.
Step 2: Manage your finances
Germany offers a robust economy and a high standard of living, but it also comes with a cost of living that might be higher than some expats are used to, especially in cities like Munich, Frankfurt, and Hamburg. Here’s how to navigate your finances effectively:
Cost of living in Germany
Here’s what you can expect in terms of living costs in Germany:
Renting: A one-bedroom apartment in city centers can cost around €1,100 ($1,175) per month, while in smaller cities or on the outskirts, prices can drop to about €700 ($747)
Buying property: The property market in Germany is strong, with prices varying wildly between regions. Additional costs include notary fees, real estate transfer tax, and possibly a real estate agent fee, totaling around 7-15% of the purchase price
Food and drink: Groceries are reasonably priced, especially when purchasing from discount supermarkets. Eating out at a mid-range restaurant may cost around €45 ($48) for two
Transport: Public transportation is efficient and affordable, with a monthly pass in major cities costing about €80 ($85). Moreover, a recent scheme offers national public transportation for a very affordable monthly rate. Car ownership involves taxes, insurance, and fuel costs, with fuel prices on the higher side
Utilities: Expect to pay around €150-€250 ($160-$267) per month for utilities, including heating, electricity, water, and internet, depending on the apartment size and usage
Germany’s taxation system is progressive, ranging from 0% to 45% for income tax, with additional solidarity surcharge and church tax for members of certain congregations.
Expats should also be aware of the "Wohnsitz" rule, where your tax liability in Germany depends on your residence status. Double taxation agreements with many countries ensure you don’t pay tax twice on the same income.
Banking and currency exchange
To open a German bank account, you’ll typically need proof of residency, your passport, and sometimes proof of income. Many German banks offer services in English, and there’s also an array of international banks.
Germany uses the Euro (€). Currency exchange is widely available, but for better rates, consider exchanging money before you arrive or using a bank card internationally recognized in Germany.
Step 3: Arrange housing and accommodation
Finding the right accommodation will be a major step in your relocation process, impacting not just your comfort but also legal matters like registration with local authorities.
Renting vs. buying
Renting is common in Germany, with protection laws favoring tenants. However, the rental market can be competitive, especially in larger cities. When applying for a rental, be prepared to show proof of income, ID, and sometimes a SCHUFA (credit report).
Buying property in Germany might be a long-term goal due to the strong economy and stable property market. Remember the additional costs (notary, transfer tax, etc.) when budgeting for a purchase.
Finding suitable housing
Germany offers a wide range of housing options, from modern urban apartments to suburban homes. Websites like ImmobilienScout24, WG-Gesucht (for shared apartments), and Immowelt can be useful in your search.
Considerations for expats often include proximity to work, schools, and amenities like shops and public transport.
Once you’ve selected a property, closely review the rental agreement, which should detail:
Rental amount and payment details
Security deposit (usually two to three months’ rent)
Lease duration (unlimited or fixed-term)
Responsibilities regarding property maintenance
Policies on pets and subletting
Understanding these aspects will help ensure an easy adjustment to living in Germany, setting you up for a successful and enjoyable expat experience.
Step 4: Job market and working arrangements
Germany's job market is robust, highlighted by sectors such as engineering, automotive, IT, healthcare, and renewable energies. The country is known for its high level of industrialization and offers various opportunities, especially for skilled workers.
The average monthly income can vary significantly across different regions and industries.
German work culture is characterized by efficiency, punctuality, and a strong emphasis on work-life balance. Proficiency in German is often essential, though many multinational corporations and startups use English as their working language, and broad language skills are always appreciated.
Step 5: Accessing healthcare and education
Germany boasts a world-class healthcare system, offering both public and private options. All residents, including expatriates, are required to have German health insurance. Once registered, individuals can access a wide range of healthcare services. The public healthcare system (Gesetzliche Krankenversicherung) provides comprehensive coverage, while private insurance (Private Krankenversicherung) might offer quicker access to specialists and more private hospital rooms.
The German education system provides high-quality schooling options, including public schools, which are free of charge for all residents, and private and international schools offering instruction in English and other languages.
Germany is also renowned for its higher education landscape, with top-ranked universities and no tuition fees for undergraduate students at public universities, even for international students, subject to certain conditions.
Step 6: Ensuring your safety
Germany is considered a safe country for expatriates. To avoid petty crimes, standard precautions should be taken in urban and crowded places. The country is well-prepared for potential natural disasters, and emergency response systems are highly efficient.
Emergency contacts and protocols
In emergencies, you can dial 112, the European emergency number, accessible free of charge for medical, fire department, or police assistance. Though many Germans speak English, learning basic emergency German phrases is advisable for effective communication in critical situations.
Step 7: Embracing culture
German Customs: Greetings involve a firm handshake, and titles are important, so always use last names unless invited to use first names
Dress Codes: Dress codes vary, with business environments favoring formal attire, while casual wear is typical for everyday life. However, Germans are known for their practicality in dressing
Social Norms: Punctuality is highly valued in German culture, reflecting respect and efficiency. Privacy is also deeply respected, and direct communication is the norm, with clear expressions of thoughts and opinions being expected
Café Culture: While not as prevalent as in some European countries, the café culture in cities like Berlin and Munich is vibrant, offering cozy spots for coffee, cake, and conversations. Beer gardens are uniquely popular in Germany, serving as communal hubs for socializing over a beer
Kickstart your new life in Germany
From the bustling streets of Berlin to the enchanting landscapes of Bavaria, Germany offers expats many benefits, including a strong economy, high-quality healthcare, world-class education, and a rich cultural tapestry.
If you're considering a move to Germany, careful research and planning can ensure a smooth relocation. For extra support, Deel can guide organizations and their employees through the visa application process and help them shop for insurance plans.