The first thing you’ll need to tackle when trying to move to another country is your visa.
If you don’t know, visas are essentially a pass to enter and/or stay in other countries. You may not know it, but just by having a US passport, you already automatically have visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to many countries. In the case of Europe, the Schengen Agreement combined much of the continent into an area with the same set of access laws and regulations. US Citizens with valid US passports have visa-free access to and within the entire Schengen Area for 90 days out of a 180 day period. More on EU countries and the Schengen Zone from SchengenVisaInfo.com.
Beyond those initial 90 days, you will need to obtain a different visa specific to the country you wish to stay in. For Americans moving to Germany, the visa process normally begins after arriving in Germany, more on that below. However, sometimes people go to one of the German Missions (embassies) with their offer of employment or university application confirmation before departing.
Unfortunately for us, the process for obtaining visas in Germany can be somewhat intimidating. I won’t explain it all here, but rather, I’ll make a list below each section with the specific posts related to each type of visa. I’m only focusing on long-term moves, so I’ll limit the complicated network of visas to just work and student visas. The term visa and residence permit will be used interchangeably from this point on. This webpage is a great resource for the various types of visas that Germany has: What kinds of visa are there?
Requirements for All Visas in Germany
US citizens in some cases go to a German Mission in the US to get their visa before heading to Germany. However, most wait until arrival in Germany to get their residence permit sorted out. Below is a list of all the general documents you’ll need to bring with you when applying for any kind of residence permit.
Note that many of these documents require previous steps, like opening a bank account, getting German health insurance, and more. It takes a while to get all these things done. Get started quickly after arriving in Germany! For all the documents or proofs required below, it’s good to have two copies. You should bring both the original and a photocopy of the original with you.
Documents needed for any kind of residence permit:
- 2 completed forms for the general German Visa Application
- Munich has their own version of this form downloadable on their website. I didn’t notice any real differences between the two besides their information and formatting.
- The original signed and stamped residence registration form from your local Residence Registration office.
- That link is to Munich’s registration form, though they shouldn’t vary much from city to city.
- Proof of health insurance coverage (foreign students usually get German health insurance).
- You’ll get a special form from your insurance company to provide to the office when applying for your residence permit.
- Your passport, with copies of the main page. Some special requirements:
- The expiration date of your passport must be at least 3 months past the end of the residence permit you’re applying for.
- Your passport must have 2 blank pages.
- It must have been issued in the last 10 years.
- 2 identical biometric passport photos
- These are obtainable at almost every major U-Bahn and S-Bahn station in Munich.
- 60 euros (best to go with cash here) for the Residence Permit application fee.
- The Declaration of Accuracy of Information, a document declaring that all information provided in the visa application is true.
Student Visas in Germany
In addition to the documents listed above, you’ll need a few extra things to get student visas in Germany. To get your student residence permit, you’ll also need to bring:
- Your letter of confirmation of enrollment from your university.
- This is a short one-page document confirming that you are, in fact, enrolled at the university. It’s usually printable from your university’s online portal.
- If you’re getting your temporary Applicant Student Visa while still in the US, you’ll need to bring your letter or confirmation of admission to the German Mission. Once in Germany, you’ll have to apply for the official student residence permit, however.
- Proof of financial means of support for the next year by providing:
- Proof of being awarded a “full” scholarship, > 720 euros per month, by a recognized scholarship foundation.
- Official bank statements showing at least 8,640 euros, in either a regular German bank account or a “blocked account” which only allows withdrawals of a certain amount per month.
- Proof of parents’ income and assets, if enough to support you.
- Proof of funding support from the German BAföG. This is the Federal Education and Training Assistance Act, which provides student loans.
- Confirmation that a resident of Germany commits to assuming the costs for you.
The German Missions in the United States have updated their list of requirements for application. It has a few extra things on it, like a motivation letter, so you want to check it out!
I’ll slowly fill in posts below with my experiences and knowledge of the student residence permit process. If you want more information, the German Academic Exchange Service, DAAD, has created an exhaustive document for you. As is German tradition, the name of the document is obscenely long just by itself.
- Study and Scientific Research Visas – German Missions in the United States
- Step-by-step guide for new students arriving – City of Munich
- Visa application process for international students – DAAD
- Applying for the correct visa – Study in Germany, DAAD
Working Visas in Germany
Getting a working visa will undoubtedly be “easier” than getting a student visa. Getting visas in Germany, or anywhere for that matter, will never be easy. However, if you’re transferring to a branch in Germany or starting a new job here, the company will be able to support you. Be sure to talk to your supervisor, HR, or anyone who would be familiar with the process. Larger companies and organizations will definitely be well acquainted with the process. Moving to Germany will go a lot more smoothly if you keep that line of communication open. As a US citizen, you can either head to a German Mission in the US (if you already have your signed contract with you), or wait until arrival in Germany to get your residence permit sorted out. The most important item when applying for a working visa, is the work contract. However, your particular field or your qualifications can certainly play a big role, too.
- German Residence Permits – JustLanded.de
- How to Get a German Residence Permit – InterNations
- Working, Self-Employed Work, and Economic Migration – City of Munich
General Employment Residence Permit Requirements
Below is a list of documents you’ll need to bring with you when applying for your working residence permit, in addition to all the general forms. There are a few types of working residence permits. It’s a bit complex and there are huge areas of overlap, but I’ll break each general type into its own section.
- The signed original work contract or offer letter from your employer in Germany.
- Your CV or Resume
- There seems to be a requirement for “your vocational qualifications”, I think the CV/Resume fits here
If you are an experienced professional in a certain set of fields, you may be able to skip the visa process. Individuals who have a contract for a specific type of job, from a German employer, can apply for a settlement permit. Before applying, however, they must obtain permission from the Federal Employment Agency. Normally, immigrants must live here for 5 years before they’re able to apply for this. The direct-to settlement permit approach only applies in a few circumstances:
- Master’s degree holders with special professional knowledge and experience.
- University-level educators and professors with outstanding career profiles.
- Senior-level managers with a job offer/contract with a salary of at least 84,600 euros.
- Germany Working (Employment) Visa – GermanyVisa.org
- Employment in Germany – German Missions in the United States
- Residence Permit for Employment Requirements – German Missions of the United States
Freelancer / Self-Employed Residence Permit Requirements
If you are self-employed or normally work as any kind of freelancer, you’ll need to provide a bit more information to the immigration office. Germany wants to be sure that you can support yourself. One of my first friends in Germany taught English here as a freelancer, and made it just fine. I’ve read about many other types of freelancers coming here, though. So-called “digital nomads”, such as web developers and other booming online fields are quite common. If you’re applying for the self-employed residence permit in Germany, you’ll need:
- Bank statements to prove you have enough assets to maintain your life in Germany. Again, they want to make sure that if you’re going to stay here, you’re not going to starve.
- Proof you have a chance at succeeding as a freelancer in Germany, namely:
- A cover letter and your resume / CV
- Your portfolio
- A business plan for your work
- Recommendation letters and/or signed freelance contracts
- Any relevant certifications needed to practice your profession
Note that not all of these documents may be required for freelancers, but it definitely doesn’t hurt to bring them. Free-professionals, or Freiberufer, such as doctors, lawyers, engineers, etc., are strongly encouraged, however. When it comes to visa applications, as with many things in Germany, the more documentation you have, the better.
- Residence permit for the purpose of freelance or self-employment – City of Berlin
- Self-Employment in Germany – HowToGermany.com
- How-to: Get your German Freelance Visa without losing your sanity – Cat Noone, writing on Medium.com
EU Blue Cards
The Blue Card (in German, Blaue Karte) is a special form of a residence permit for third-country citizens. In this case, third countries are those not in the EU nor in the European Economic Area (EEA). It’s the EU’s response to the Green Card in the United States. The Blue Card last 4 years, unless your work contract is limited, in which case it is valid for 3 months after your last day. The basic requirements for getting a Blue Card through Germany are below:
A foreigner, a citizen of a non-EU- country, can apply for the EU blue card if:
a) he or she has a German or an accredited foreign or a university degree that is comparable to a German one.
b) he or she has a working contract with a gross annual compensation of at least €49.600 (4.134 Euros per month), a contract in the so-called shortage occupation (scientists, mathematics, engineers, doctors and IT- skilled workers) with the amount of €38.688 (3.224 Euros per month).
The Blue Card is definitely a major path towards permanent residency and citizenship if you want to go that route. As with all the other permits, the more prepared you are for the application the better. Best have your shit together!
- Requirements for the EU Blue Card – German Missions of the United States
- EU Blue Card Germany – BlueCard-EU.de
- EU Blue Card FAQs – BAMF (no, not that BAMF; it’s their Federal Office for Migration and Refugees)
- Apply now – EU Blue Card Network