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WORKING IN GERMANY

The easiest visas to get as an American in Germany

Want to stay and live in Germany but haven't quite figured out the whole job thing? We've got you covered.

The easiest visas to get as an American in Germany
The American flag before Berlin's iconic Brandenburg Gate. Photo: DPA.

When I first moved to Berlin, I was like many a Millennial 20-something and didn’t have much of a plan.

My three-month automatic tourist visa was soon expiring and my enchantment with Berlin still had not worn off, but I still didn’t have a job, nor did I have any clue how to confront the intimidating Ausländerbehörde (Foreigners Office, and really this should be the first German word you learn, if you haven’t already).

Luckily, three years and three different kinds of visa later, I pretty much got the whole deal sorted out.

First: The basics

Photo: DPA.

Americans get three months automatically as a ‘tourist visa’, so you can come and stay for the entire span of that time without doing any paperwork. If you want to stay longer though, there are a number of options.

Before you even get to the Ausländerbehörde though, you’ll have to register your address at your neighbourhood Bürgeramt, Einwohnermeldeamt, or Kreisverwaltungsreferat to get a certificate, or Anmeldung. This can be a hassle in and of itself, but if you don’t yet have a job, at least you have free time on your hands to get there early and wait for hours if you can’t get an appointment ahead of time (this may also be the case at the Ausländerbehörde).

If you haven’t been able to get an Anmeldung (which may also prove necessary when opening a bank account or even registering for German classes), you can also walk into the foreigners office with your lease and a letter from your landlord.

SEE ALSO: Six essentials to ensure a smooth landing in Germany

The most important things that the Ausländerbehörde will be looking for are that you have proper health insurance coverage in Germany and a way to support yourself. Usually some form of traveller’s insurance with a German firm will at least temporarily appease the bureaucrats (they might give you a temporary permit and tell you to come back again with better insurance if it’s not sufficient).

And a letter (even if it’s in English) from a parent or partner, saying that they will financially support you, along with their bank statements and proof of income, should fulfil the whole proof of financial stability thing.

But then you have to know what kind of permit to apply for:

1. The ‘job-seekers’ permit

Photo: Pexels.com

This is for people with at least a bachelor’s degree at a university recognized in Germany (basically all accredited American universities), who want to look for a job. It lasts for just six months, but at least it buys you some time to figure things out further.

Make sure to have an original certificate of your degree(s) as well as a copy to submit, and it doesn’t hurt to throw in any other qualifications that you might have under your belt. The rule of thumb for German bureaucrats: the more paperwork, the better.

2. Permit to study German

Another option is a permit to study German. This is for up to one year and you must be enrolled in ‘intensive classes’ of at least 18 hours a week.

You’ll of course have to show proof of enrolling in a course.

If you’re looking for an option that will also offer some form of financial support or professional experience, you might consider one of the following options:

1. Au pair visa

An young man working as an au pair in Bielefeld. Photo: DPA.

If you like taking care of kids, working as an au pair for up to a year is an option worth considering. You’ll first need to find a host family, which you can do through sites like Au Pair World, or Au Pair Care Germany, as well as a number of others.

2. Internship visa

It’s also possible to get a permit for even an unpaid internship, though no income will mean showing proof that you have another means of support, as previously mentioned.

Check out The Local’s jobs page, as well as BerlinStartupJobs.com, XpatJobs.de or one of the Jobs In Network sites for English-language listings.

3. Self-employed artist or English tutor

Photo: DPA.

If you can’t find a job, why not work for yourself? Another type of permit is the self-employed or freelance permit. But this does require a bit more paperwork. You’ll need at least two freelance ‘job offers’ (I submitted short, not-legally-binding letters from people who said they’d be interested in hiring me) in the field that you want to freelance in.

What kind of work you’ll be permitted to do depends on what these letters say. So for a hot minute I was a freelance ‘editor, journalist, and English tutor’, according to my permit.

But the Ausländerbehörde won’t buy any old job: You also should have some sort of qualification (I used a certificate from a journalism exchange programme) and references backing up that you have previously done this kind of work.

If you’re an artist and have some interest lined up in your work, this permit applies to you, and some people may use it flexibly: like being a freelance musician and using that to teach little kids music theory.

One final important term: Fiktionsbescheinigung

If you don’t yet have all the paperwork you need and your tourist visa is about to run out – don’t panic. Take everything you do have to the Ausländerbehörde and if it’s not quite enough, ask about a Fiktionsbescheinigung – literally fictional certificate.

When I first applied, I was still somehow missing one vital piece of paper, so they gave me this temporary permit which also entailed an extension of time since I was just days away from that three-month mark.

This might all seem very overwhelming, but it’s really not. There are more than 120,000 Americans who have somehow found a way to live in Germany, according to April 2020 statistics, and so can you.

Member comments

    1. I’m currently here with NATO, but might consider something in a few years after retirement. I was wondering the same thing.

    2. I checked. There is no retirement visa per say. There is a temp residence visa you can apply for and it may get accepted if you can show “pension income” and “health insurance”. It needs to be renewed annually. After 5 years, you can apply for the permanent residence visa. You cannot work on the visa if you were approved as a pensioner.

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For members

BREXIT

EXPLAINED: How can Brits visit or move to Germany post-Brexit?

Many Brits may be considering spending time in Germany or even moving for work or to study. Here's a look at the rules.

EXPLAINED: How can Brits visit or move to Germany post-Brexit?

The Brexit transition period ended on January 1st 2021, but it’s been a turbulent few years with Covid-related restrictions, which mean many people may not have travelled abroad since then. Here’s what you should know about the rules for travelling and moving to Germany post-Brexit. 

Can I visit Germany from the UK on holiday?

Absolutely. But you do have to stick to certain rules on how long you can stay in Germany (and other EU countries) without a visa.

“British citizens do not require a visa for the Schengen Member States, if the duration of their stay does not exceed 90 days within any 180-day period,” says the German Missions consular service in the UK. 

You can find a full explanation of the 90-day rule from our sister site, The Local France, HERE, along with the Schengen calculator that allows you to work out your allowance.

READ ALSO: Passport scans and €7 fees: What will change for EU travel in 2022 and 2023

Note that if you were living in Germany before January 1st 2021, different rules apply. People in this scenario should have received a residence permit – known as the Aufenthaltstitel-GB – from the German authorities, which proves their right to remain in Germany with the same rights as they had before Brexit. 

READ ALSO: Reader question: How can I re-enter Germany without my post-Brexit residence card?

Can I move to Germany from the UK after the Brexit transition period?

Yes. But if you are coming to Germany to live and work, you will need to apply for the right documents, like other so-called ‘third country nationals’. All foreigners from outside the EU who want to to stay in Germany for more than three months have to get a residence permit (Aufenthaltstitel). 

As we touched on above, citizens from some countries (including the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, Japan, Israel, New Zealand and Switzerland) are allowed entry into Germany without a visa and can apply for a residence permit while in the country. You can contact the Foreigners Office (Ausländerbehörde) in your area to find out how to get a residence permit.

You’ll need various official documents, such as a valid passport, proof of health insurance and proof that you can support yourself. You usually receive your residence permit as a sticker in your passport.

Passengers wait at Hamburg airport.

Passengers at Hamburg airport. Brits coming to Germany have more things to consider after Brexit. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Markus Scholz

Germany has a well-documented skilled worker shortage at the moment so there are work permit options to consider that may suit your circumstances. 

For the work visa for qualified professionals, for instance, your qualifications have to be either recognised in Germany or comparable to those from a German higher education facility. 

You may also be able to get an EU Blue Card. This residence permit is aimed at attracting and enabling highly qualified third-country nationals to live in the EU. 

It comes with benefits, including the right to to request and bring family members to the country, and shortcuts for applying for permanent residency. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How German citizenship differs from permanent residency

When applying for a Blue Card in Germany this year, you have to earn a minimum gross salary (before tax) of €56,400 – down from €56,800 in 2021. 

In so-called shortage occupations (Mangelberufe), where there is a high number of unfilled positions, the minimum gross salary is €43,992 – down from €44,304 in 2021.

Shortage occupations include employees in the sectors of mathematics, IT, natural sciences, engineering and medicine.

If you want to come to Germany from the UK to study then you also need to apply for a visa. For this you may need proof of acceptance to the university or higher education institution of your choice and possibly proof of your German language skills.

Check out the useful government website Make it in Germany for more detailed information, as well as the German Missions in the UK site, which has lots of info on travel after Brexit, and on visas.  

What else should I know?

The German government plans to reform the immigration system, although it’s not clear at this stage when this will happen. 

It will move to a points-based system, inspired by countries like Canada, where foreigners will have to score above a certain threshold of points to get a residence or work permit.

This scoring system will be set by the government, but it will include factors like language skills, family connections to the country, specific qualifications or work-related skills, or the amount of money in your bank account.

Keep an eye on The Local’s home page for updates on the changes to immigration laws. 

Have you moved to Germany – or are thinking about moving – after the Brexit transition period and want to share your experiences? Please get in touch by emailing [email protected] 

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