Getting a work visa for Germany is not that difficult.
Really. We show you how.
Before we start: The goal here is not to explain everything in detail, but to give you a feel for the bureaucratic hurdles ahead of you. Key takeaways for you:
- getting a visa is a bit complex, but ultimately predictable and manageable
- the a visa is not everything. Getting a flat and a work permit is what awaits you once your plane lands in Germany.
- help is available if you choose to get it, either from your employer or reliable agents in Germany
Visa, flat, work permit. All of this matters only if you get a job offer. So focus all your energy on getting a job. Don’t worry about visa now. The visa question will sort itself out later. Promise.
Without further ado, let’s jump right in. There are 3 things you need to put in place between now and your first 3 months in Germany:
- Entry visa for work
- Work permit
Let’s look at each one in detail, one by one.
STEP 1: Get an entry visa for work
Immigration is a long and cumbersome bureaucratic process. But it’s also a predictable one with a few precise rules which you can understand.
A work visa gives you the right to enter Germany for the purpose of starting work. This is not your average tourist visa. Here is what you need to do to get the visa:
- Make an appointment at the German embassy (example: Cairo) or consulate. Immediately. Book the appointment for a national visa (not a so-called Schengen tourist visa). What to bring? Requirements vary between countries. Look at all the necessary documents for the National Visa. For Egypt, find the list here (Arabic).
PRO TIP: Actually getting an appointment at the embassy can be very hard, because the system often does not show free slots. In that case, send an email to the embassy to get an appointment and attached your job offer to show proof.
- Next, check the list of documents you need to bring, in check if your documents need to be authorized and translated. Some embassies need it, others don’t.
PRO TIP: Check if you are eligible for a Blue Card. You are eligible if three conditions are jointly true:
- You are an engineer and your job is an IT or engineering job paying more than 44.304 EUR gross per year (2021). If you’re not an engineer or don’t do an IT job then you need to make more than 56.800 EUR gross per year (2021)
- Your university institution is listed in the German anabin database. Check it here (in English only thanks to Google Translate). Your institution needs to have the label “H+”.
- Your degree (e.g. “Bachelor of Computer Science”) is listed in the anabin database. Check it here (German only!). You need at least a Bachelor labeled as “equivalent” (“entspricht” or “äquivalent”).
Many of you will meet conditions and 1 and 2 but not 3. See for yourself.
If you are one of them you have two options: Proceed without a Blue Card or pay 200 EUR to get your diploma and courses accredited. If your degree cannot be verified, it’s a bit cheaper. You can request the verification here. It takes ~ 2 weeks if you indicate that you ask as part of a Blue Card process, otherwise it can take up to 5 weeks.
So, what should you do? We recommend you get your diploma verified if you care about one of these 3 things:
- You have a family that you want to bring with you. If you are not Blue Card eligible then your husband or wife will need to take an A1 level German test to get their own visa.
- Your husband or wife immediately wants to work in Germany.
- You want to be on a fast lane to permanent residency in Germany. If you are Blue Card eligible and you have B1 German you can become a resident after 21 months. Otherwise, you can become a resident after 33 months of full employment. This is quite fast!
Back to the overall process of getting a visa…
- Next, if your job pays less than 53.600 EUR gross per year ask your employer to get pre-approval for your employment from the Federal Employment Agency (“Bundesagentur für Arbeit”). If you move to Berlin, your employer can obtain it directly via BIS. If your employer does not bring that pre-approval then the embassy will seek it from the “Bundesagentur für Arbeit”. This means your visa will take longer to process. Push your employer to kick off this process by sending your work contract to the Federal Employment Agency (“Bundesagentur für Arbeit”).
- Get health insurance. In Germany, health insurance is mandatory for everyone. To get a visa, you need a certificate showing that you will be insured once you start your work in Germany.
The costs of health insurance depend on your salary. Example: If you make 50.000 EUR gross p.a. your health insurance is ~400 EUR per month. That’s not cheap, but it covers your entire family if they live with you in Germany. Also, the German health system is world-class, so you get value for your money.
Getting health insurance remotely is not hard. We recommend you choose one of these 3 options:
- Barmer Insurance. #1 go-to source for many expats in Berlin, service in English. Contact Mercedes Motz (email) for details. Take a look at their helpful expat welcome package
- Techniker Krankenkasse. Largest insurance company in Germany, online signup available here.
- PRO TIP: Check out our friends at Popsure — they only work with expats, speak English & work closely with TK. Book a 15 minute (free) appointment here to ask them any question regarding health insurance & the visa process.
Finally, go to your appointment at the embassy carrying all your documents. IMPORTANT: While there, make sure that your visa has a stamp saying “temporarily allowed to work”. If you have pre-approval then you should be eligible to get the stamp. Without the stamp, you cannot immediately start to work. We recommend that you alert your German visa officer to the fact that you need that temporary permit on your visa. Sometimes they forget!
PRO TIP: Your family, if you have one, needs to apply for a separate visa though. Book an appointment for them adjacent to yours. That helps you and the visa officers because logistics are easier and their visa is processed together with yours.
Congrats! You should be now have received your visa. You can enter Germany. Welcome to Germany. Welcome to two new bureaucratic hurdles.
Ready? Here is what you need to do.
STEP 2: Get a flat
To live in Germany you need a place to stay.
The German real estate market is ***hot*** right now in 2020. Landlords choose tenants whose background they intuitively understand. If you are a Newcomer to Germany you are often at a disadvantage.
Renting a proper nice apartment is tough if you cannot show the usual documentation. German landlords always want to see a work contract. They also want a statement from your prior landlord that you paid all your rent (see a draft document here). The landlord also wants to see Schufa proof that you have no unpaid debts.
Expect that it can easily take you 3–4 months to find a proper place, especially if you do not speak German. This can be a deeply frustrating, painful process. Join these Facebook groups to get a feel for the market.
To bridge this time you need to find a furnished place. Furnished apartments are a bit expensive but, well, at least you have a place to stay. Check out this article for links to apartment sites and some specific advice on where to live in Berlin. In Berlin and most other cities expect to pay ~600–1.000 EUR for a decent and centrally located ~70 square meter place. This does not yet include gas, power, internet, and other costs.
As a rule of thumb, landlords will want to see a monthly net salary 3x your rent. Example: A flat that rents for ~900 EUR in Berlin requires a 3x monthly net salary of ~2.700 EUR which at a ~40% taxes rate means you need an annual gross salary of ~54.000 EUR.
STEP 3: Get a work permit
Let’s assume you secured the coveted “temporary work permit” on your visa, and you have a proper place to stay. Congrats!
Now off to the final challenge: Registering yourself with the general registry (“Meldebehörde”) and with the Foreigners’ Office (“Ausländerbehörde”).
First, the general registry (“Meldebehörde”). That entity keeps a register of the name and location of everyone in Germany.
Once you have moved into a proper place, you need to make an appointment online and register yourself at the “Meldebehörde”. What’s a proper place? Either you own an apartment or an officially licensed furnished apartment.
PRO TIP: Airbnb does not count as “proper place” because the host typically does not allow you to officially “register” at their place, just like you cannot “register” in a hotel.
The registration is a simple, standard process that results in your ‘certificate of registration’ (“Meldebestätigung”). Check out this page to see what IDs and proofs to bring for your appointment.
Check of this sweet free tool to do your Registration online: https://appmeldung.com/
PRO TIP: At the “Meldebehörde” you don’t have to show up yourself. If you send a friend or agent to go there, they need a “power of attorney” (“Vollmacht”). This is a simple letter signed by you with your full name that you authorize somebody named in the latter to represent you.
Once you have registered at the “Meldebehörde” the Tax Authorities (“Finanzamt”) will automatically send you a unique tax ID (“Steuer-ID” or “IdNr”). You need the tax ID to receive a proper paycheck from your employer. If you work before you get your tax ID, as many expats do, then ask your employer for a temporary solution, for example, a prepayment (“Abschlagszahlung”).
Second, the ‘certificate of registration’ (“Meldebestätigung”) is what you need to show to the Foreigners’ Office (“Ausländerbehörde”) that you have arrived and found a proper place. Here again, you need to make an appointment and bring the required documents to get a work permit. For a first impression of the required documents in Berlin, click here and here.
Here, at the Foreigners’ Office (“Ausländerbehörde”) you will now finally get your work permit or Blue Card. If you have a standard (non-Blue Card) work permit (called “§18 status”) then it is typically valid for 3 years. If you get the coveted Blue Card status, then you have the right to work in Germany for 4 years.
Summary & suggestions
- Getting a job is harder than getting the visa
- You have one big status decision to take: Blue Card or not
- There are 3 things you need to put in place: An entry visa, a flat, and a work permit
Good news: There is plenty of help available. Here are 2 options in addition to the do it yourself-way:
- FIRST BEST: Ask your employer to help you. A few big companies like Zalando or GYG have their own teams that help you to some extent with all three processes above. But don’t rely on it, every employer is different
- SECOND BEST: Contact a relocation agent who takes care of processes 1 and 3. Agents in Germany are reliable. For Berlin, we recommend Christine Gerkrath and her team from Move-to-Berlin. To give you support in the whole visa process and work permit process, they charge 595 EUR (incl. 19% VAT) if you are Blue Card eligible and 857 EUR (incl. 19% VAT) if you are not. These costs are tax deductible in Germany, which means that you will get ~40% reimbursed when you file your taxes. Working with an agent is good value for money as it can spare you a lot of headaches and worries.
PRO TIP: To get a flat (process 2) you can also contract a relocation agent. Costs vary from 1.500–2.500 EUR for the service of securing your dream place to stay. Move to Berlin charges 2.047 EUR (incl. 19% VAT). Again, this cost is tax-deductible, making it effectively 40% cheaper. We highly suggest you aim to split these costs with your employer, or ask your employer to fully pay it as part of your salary negotiations.
PRO TIP 2: If you choose to get help, choose a relocation agent, not a real estate agent. They are not the same. Relocation agents like Move to Berlin work for you and scout the entire market for the best offer. Real estate agents are typically paid by the landlord and only give you offers in their own much smaller portfolio.
PRO TIP 3: When working with a relocation agent look for the fine print. Do they promise to find you a place or do they only promise to show you up to 10 places? Subtle differences like these matter a lot.
PRO TIP 4: Check out this amazing Github repo with advice on all of the above and more.
- THIRD BEST: You do it all by yourself. We recommend you do this if you are Blue Card-eligible and if you know people in Germany.
SPECIAL TIP for all who move to Berlin: Berlin has set up a Business Immigration Service (BIS). That’s a bureaucratic ‘fast lane’ that can only be used by firms registered in Berlin & EU Blue Card aspirants. Many firms still don’t know about it. Tell your HR manager about it. It’s free for them. They will be forever grateful to you because the BIS will save him/her hours of time and headache. And this, our fellow new German, is how you make your first friend in Germany! :)
That’s it. We hope you enjoyed the read. Keep us posted.
Keep us posted. Your friends at Imagine.
Thanks in particular to Christine Gerkrath from Move to Berlin, to Burkhard Volbracht from BerlinPartner, to Mercedes Motz from Barmer Insurance and to Mimmi Pakkala from Imagine partner GetYourGuide.com for sharing their immensely valuable hard-won insights for this article.
This post is part of a longer series. For more visit us here: https://medium.com/imagine-foundation