How I got a Job Seeker Visa in Germany
As an American in late 2018
Want to move to Berlin? Join the club!
Don’t have a job lined up? No problem!
I hopped on a one-way flight to Berlin and haven’t looked back. I landed without a plan and dove headfirst into the city’s nightlife and arts culture for a few weeks, then settled into a routine taking intensive language classes.
After realizing I was running out of time on my 90-day tourist visa, I started researching visa possibilities and ruled out each of the following:
- Working Holiday Visas are not offered to Americans in Schengen countries.
- Language Learning Visas can’t be converted to work visas, and I wanted to get a job in Berlin.
- Freelance Visas are a great option for freelance workers, but I had never freelanced and didn’t have the time to build a portfolio from scratch.
- Work Visas require registration and tax ID paperwork that I lacked, so even if I was to land a job, I wouldn’t be able to get a work contract or visa.
My only option to extend my time in Berlin, other than marrying a German for citizenship, was the Job Seeker Visa.
The Job Seeker Visa (Aufenthaltserlaubnis zur Arbeitsplatzsuche für qualifizierte Fachkräfte) is a way for qualified applicants to stay in Germany for an additional 6 months while they search for work. Eligible applicants have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university, 5 years of work experience, and a valid passport. Turn up in Germany on a tourist visa, fill out the paperwork specified by the Ausländerbehörde (foreigner’s office), and voila! One short-term residence permit for you.
I started on the path to a Job Seeker Visa in the fall of 2018 and was accepted in December 2018. I poured over every resource I could find online and talked to several visa experts before compiling this guide.
Before I dive in —
A note on resources.
The process of obtaining a visa in Germany is rather intense, and a resource barrier can hinder your progress towards the Job Seeker Visa. This is a heads-up for those embarking on the visa journey, written by an American with a lot of privilege and great access to resources.
Your situation and access to all kinds of resources could be very different than mine, and I hope this piece helps to frame my challenges in order to better prepare others. You need time, money, and a bit of endurance to make this happen, in addition to all of the privileges required to navigate bureaucratic spaces in a new country.
- Time: It can take several weeks to several months to obtain these documents. Americans are bound by the 90-day rule, so anyone wishing to extend their stay with a visa must be approved before their Schengen visa expires. It can take many attempts to secure an appointment at the Ausländerbehörde, too.
- Money: Applicants must prove they have the financial means to support themselves for 6 months, which means upwards of 6,000€ in your bank account. You will have to pay for other things on the list, like health insurance and a place to live, as well as the costs associated with printing and compiling the documents, transportation to the Ausländerbehörde, and interpretation services if needed. The visa itself is 56€.
- Endurance: It’s a lengthy, challenging process for foreigners to get visas in Germany. At times stressful and irritating, the act of obtaining and organizing the paperwork requires commitment, flexibility, and mental stamina.
Disclaimer: *I can only share my experience and what I’ve learned. Everyone’s situation is different. Please seek professional consultation from an immigration lawyer if needed! The folks at Expath helped me out, and I highly recommend them.*
Okay, let’s get into it. It’s a big list! I’ve broken it into official, unofficial, and supporting documents.
These are documents you need. Without any of these, your visa application will likely be rejected.
Everyone needs to be officially registered at an address in Germany. The Anmeldung is a form you receive from the Bürgeramt (citizen’s office) that legitimizes your status as a resident of Germany. This is likely the most important and the most time-consuming part of the application — at least in Berlin. Most apartments require you to show your paystubs/work contract, and if you don’t have a job in Germany, your best option is to find a sublet. There are many online resources to guide your search.
It can take quite a long time to find a sublet, get the paperwork from the landlord, and find time to go to the Bürgeramt to receive the Anmeldung. Start right away if you can.
2. Health Insurance
Health insurance is required for everyone in Germany, but if you’re applying for a Job Seeker’s visa, traveler’s health insurance will suffice. Applicants must be covered for the entirety of their stay in Germany, meaning you must assume you will be granted the visa and are staying for an additional 6 months. Care Concept and Mawista are popular choices for expats, but you can find cheaper options online.
The less popular insurance plans might not be recognized by the individual bureaucrat looking over your application, but technically all traveler’s insurance is valid. Print the coverage letter that shows the dates of your coverage period in Germany.
3. Bank statement
Applicants must show they have enough money to support themselves for the entirety of the visa period. I’ve been told this should be about 1,000–2,000€ in cash per month, so 6–7k€ is a good baseline. The more money you have, the less likely you are to be an economic burden in the eyes of the government. Because this is a short-term visa, you don’t need to show your expenses like you would for a Freelance visa.
I was told that calculating the conversion of dollars to euros for my US bank is acceptable, but it’s even better if you have a German bank. N26 is a popular choice for expats. I use N26 and have a referral link for new signups. Print a screengrab of your checking/savings account(s) or use your monthly statement.
4. University Diploma
Germany has its own process for evaluating foreign Universities. To qualify for the visa, your university must be recognized in Germany as an accredited institution. Use the Anabin database to lookup your university, then print the forms that show your school’s rating. If your school is not listed in the database, you might have to pay a fee to have the organization certify your university.
The bureaucrat looking over your application will need to see your university diploma, as well. The original document is preferred, but I printed a scan of my college diploma and it was accepted.
5. Application Form (Antrag auf Erteilung eines Aufenthaltstitels)
This one is pretty straightforward. Don’t forget to sign and date the form at the bottom!
6. Biometric photos
Go to any FotoFix machine around town and pay 6€ for some flattering headshots. In Berlin, these photo machines are in seemingly every other U-Bahn station.
7. Valid Passport
You need at least 2 blank pages where the visa can be printed.
These are documents that aren’t required but can help build your case. You want to prove to the bureaucrat reviewing your application that you are professional, prepared, and employable in Germany.
A CV that shows your expertise in a particular field can demonstrate your ability to find work in Germany and can help make a case for your Job Seeker Visa. However, a German CV is much different than an American résumé. Check out some examples online to get a better idea of the differences. The CV doesn’t have to be pretty, just informative, and for the Job Seeker Visa, it should include:
- A Headshot
- Contact Information: Address, Phone, Email, Nationality, and Date of Birth
- Mission Statement/Objective — be as specific as you can here! “I’m in Berlin to work in this specific field.”
- All work experience from the last 5 years — even the seemingly irrelevant odd-jobs we would exclude in the US. The intent is to show zero/few gaps in employment, which is apparently important in Germany.
- Skills & Certifications
- Languages — make sure you list any German if you have it!
- Hobbies — go nuts here. If you rock climb, have a book club, or bake bread from scratch in your spare time, list it on your CV. It paints a picture of who you are outside of work.
2. A Letter of Intent
A one-page, cover-letter-like document should answer any questions you might encounter in the interview. Outline why you’re in Germany, why you’re in the specific city you chose, and why you want to work there. Include details about how you’re going to find a job, which job titles you’ve already applied to, and which interviews you’re scheduling/completing, if possible.
At the end of the letter, write about what you’ll do if you don’t find work in Germany. I never had a legitimate contingency plan, so I wrote I’d fly home if I didn’t find work.
Print the letter and sign and date it.
3. Appointment Confirmation
While not needed for the visa, the confirmation sent to you via email will detail the building, floor, wing, and waiting room of your appointment at the Ausländerbehörde. It will also have a document checklist and the appointment number. Printing the confirmation form made my time in the waiting room of the Ausländerbehörde slightly less stressful (if that’s possible) since I could double check everything and stare at my number until it appeared on the screen.
These documents are by no means required, but help to build a stronger case. By preparing these documents, you can present yourself as someone who will succeed in Germany and will contribute to the German economy. I was advised to keep these documents in a separate folder and only present them if needed.
- Letters of recommendation
A standard recommendation letter from your former workplace/coworkers can add to your application. Have the author sign and date the letter if possible.
2. Printed interview confirmations/correspondence with recruiters
This shows that you’re proactive about getting a job, have been taking initiative, and are employable. All are good things in the eyes of the government!
3. Letter of financial support
If you’re on the lower end of the 1,000€ per month suggestion, you can have someone write a letter stating they will support you financially. I had my mom sign a letter I wrote saying she was able to support me until I found a job, even though she has no intention of doing so. While you should be honest in every aspect of this application, I included this non-binding letter to strengthen my financial position in case I was told I didn’t have enough cash on hand.
4. Sprachschule (language school) certifications:
Brownie points for expats learning German. I attended classes at Speakeasy and had them print an official-looking confirmation form for the levels I completed. (side note — Speakeasy is awesome and I fully recommend their classes for beginners!)
Other actionable items:
- Book your Ausländerbehörde appointment! I wrote more about that here.
- Hire an interpreter if you’re not fluent in German.
Once you’ve assembled your paperwork, prepping for the big day is quite easy. Dress like you’re headed to a job interview and present yourself confidently. Get to the Ausländerbehörde early, wait in the correct waiting room, and watch for your number to appear on the screen.
The caseworker might ask for your documents and tell you to go back to the waiting room while they are being reviewed. Alternatively, you might be interviewed while the caseworker is reviewing your documents. If you’re missing part of the application, ask for a temporary extension (Fiktionsbescheinigung). If you’re rejected, ask them to explain why.
Celebrating a visa:
If you’re approved, the visa will be printed in your passport. You’ll be instructed to pay the 56€ fee at an ATM-like machine in a different part of the Ausländerbehörde. Welcome to the expat population in Germany! :) You’re free to come and go from Germany with this shiny new residence permit. Hit a Späti on the way back home and call your mom, you did it!