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Moving to Germany: The Ultimate Guide for Expats

Moving to a new place for any extended amount of time is daunting, to say the least. But actually relocating, now that’s a real challenge. In today’s article, we present you with a guide on the entire moving to Germany process. Check it out and find everything you need to know about visas, taxes, jobs, as well as culture, retirement, and more!

Updated: 21/12/2022
Read time: 16 minutes
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Moving to Germany

Checklist for Moving to Germany

This little checklist should keep you company at all times and is a great start. It has the basics every world traveler needs to stay safe and avoid bureaucratic trouble.

  • Passport
  • Marriage certificate
  • Birth certificate
  • Driver’s license
  • Diplomas and certificates
  • Health insurance information
  • Medical records
  • Covid vaccine records
  • Visa documentation
  • Three to six months of bills, rent, and food in savings

German Visas, Work Permits, and Residency Requirements

The most important part of international travel, no matter where you’re going, is getting a handle on visas. Now, in Germany, the possible visas required to enter and stay can be divided into two groups:

  • Short-Stay visas
  • Long-Stay visas

Short-Stay Visas

How to move to Germany? First, figure out on what basis are you moving. Short-term visas allow you to stay in Germany for up to 90 days. The type of visa you apply for depends on the purpose of your short-term visit. These can include:

  • German tourist visa – for vacations, sightseeing, and exploring
  • German business visa – for taking part in business-related activities
  • German medical visa – for receiving medical treatment in Germany
  • German airport transit visa – for landing at a German airport while en route to a non-Schengen destination
  • German transit visa – for embarking within a German harbor while en route to a non-Schengen destination
  • German visa for cultural, sports, and film crews – for work as part of a cultural, sports, religious, or film event.
  • German training and internship visa – for receiving training and an internship within Germany
  • German trade fair and exhibitions visa – for participating in a trade fair or exhibition in Germany

Long-Stay Visas

Staying in Germany for longer than three months means you need to get a long-stay visa. These can be categorized into:

  • Study visa – if you wish to study at a German university
  • Job seeker visa – if you wish to stay in Germany for the purpose of finding a job after you enter the country
  • Employment visa – if you already have a job offer in Germany
  • Family reunion visa – for family members of German residents who want to stay in Germany for an extended amount of time
  • Visa for guest scientists and researchers – for individuals who wish to perform their studies or research at a German institution

How much longer can you stay on these visas when compared to short-stay visas? It depends. For example, the employment visa lasts for the duration of your contract, while the research visa is dependent on your institution. Your German student visa will last as long as your studies.

Note that these can always be prolonged, but only to a limit that is unique to your situation. However, perhaps a better option would be seeking out one of the following options.

German Permanent Residency 

Now, if you’re aiming for something much more permanent, consider gaining permanent residency. As a permanent resident, you can stay in Germany indefinitely without needing to renew your permits. 

Furthermore, you will have access to financial aid, welfare benefits, and will have a much easier time getting a bank loan.

The first step, before you can even think of applying, is spending an adequate amount of time in the country. German immigration law states that if you worked as a freelancer, or are a refugee or asylum seeker, you need to have spent five years. If you are a skilled worker or researcher, you need to have spent four years. 

If you are self-employed or have a family member who is a German national, it takes three years. If you’re a skilled worker who had his training within a German institution, it takes two years.

Finally, if you’re an EU Blue Card Holder, you can get it between 33 and 21 months. 

In order to apply for permanent residency, you need to fulfill the following requirements:

  • You must be able to financially provide for yourself and your family without assistance
  • You must pass a “Life in Germany” test that shows you are familiar with German culture, society, and the legal system
  • You have a B1 (intermediate) proficiency level in the German language
  • You must have legally and orderly paid contributions to your stationary pension insurance during all the time you worked within the country
  • Your employment position is in accordance with your qualifications
  • You must live in a space that can adequately accommodate you and your family

German Citizenship

The final step is becoming a German citizen. This means you will get a German passport, have access to the EU work market and have Freedom of Movement in the EU, have the option to vote, become a civil servant, and your children will be German citizens automatically.

Visa requirements for Germany are clear, and so are the steps needed for citizenship. There are two ways you can obtain citizenship. One option is after two years of marriage with a German citizen, where you have also spent three years in Germany as a legal resident. The other option is living legally in Germany for at least eight years. 

Now, the list of requirements for both options is pretty much the same and includes the following:

  • Never having been convicted of any crime
  • Be a permanent resident or an EU national
  • You must be employed and be able to financially provide for yourself and your family with no assistance
  • You must have a B1 (intermediate) proficiency level in the German language
  • You must pass a “Life in Germany” test that shows you are familiar with German culture, society, and the legal system
  • Unless your country of origin is Switzerland or an EU state, you need to give up your original citizenship

Moving to Germany

Moving Your Car and Belongings

If you are a resident or have proof that you are in the middle of becoming a resident, you won’t have to pay import duty and import value-added tax on your car. If you are not, you will need to pay the 10% import duty and 19% of the car’s value. 

However, for your car and other items, you need to have proof that you owned them for at least six months before your move to Germany from the United States. Furthermore, all of these items need to be for your personal use only. 

The car needs to be registered in your name, and it needs to arrive at roughly the same time you do. If you only intend to use the car for up to six months, you just need a translation of the registration document, and you can drive with your own home license plates. 

However, if you want to use it in the country for longer, it needs to be registered at your local vehicle registration office as well as pass the relevant inspections and tests. It will also need proof of insurance and an export permit.

Then, all you have left is to find the right shipping and transport company, and get the right documentation in order. 

Moving to Germany with Pets

Moving your pets to Germany is not as complicated as it sounds as long as you fulfill the regulated requirements.

First of all, all pets need to have a microchip, which is the only acceptable form of identification. They also need to have a rabies certificate. An accredited veterinarian needs to issue a health certificate showing the pet is in appropriate health and does not carry any diseases.  

Note that there are certain dog breeds that are banned in Germany. These are:

  • American Staffordshire Terrier
  • Bull Terrier
  • Pit Bull Terrier
  • Staffordshire Bull Terrier

This list is broader, depending on the German state you want to move to. Keep in mind that exceptions can be made for guard dogs, guide dogs, and support dogs.

You can fly the pets non-commercially, which means they fly within five days of your own flight. If not, you will need to pay extra fees and expenses. 

Adapting to Life in Germany

Moving to a new country can be challenging. Even if you’re a Westerner moving to Germany from the USA, there is still a fair amount of getting used to everyday needs to go through.

So, there are a couple of points you should keep in mind. For one thing, Germans are famous for their directness, and some might even consider them blunt. Next, they value punctuality to a great degree, but mainly because they expect you to respect their time (as they will respect yours).

Cost of Living in Germany

As far as costs are concerned, keep in mind that, just like anywhere else, expenses vary. Expenses are usually lower in rural areas compared to urban centers like Munich and Berlin.

With that being said, let’s see what you can expect, on average, when living in a larger city. 

So, monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment is going to set you back €600-€1000, or roughly between $620 to $1062. This is substantially less when looking at the cost of living in Germany vs the USA, which is around $1600 at the time of writing this article. A three-bedroom apartment has rent that amounts to anywhere between €1800 and €3000.

As far as utilities are concerned, a family with two children can expect to pay around €4000, or $4250, per month, including rent. If you’re living alone, you can expect your living expenses to amount to around €950 per month, including utilities, bills, food, and a bit of entertainment, but not rent.

When it comes to food expenses, a decent meal at a restaurant for two is going to set you back by about €40. You can get fast food for anything between €4 to €15. Beer at a supermarket will set you back anywhere between 60 cents to €1.5, depending on the brand and the store.

Cheapest and Most Expensive Cities in Germany

As we’ve mentioned, expenses vary, as does the average cost of living in Germany. So, based on your budget and future plans, check the list of the most expensive and most affordable places in Germany.

The 5 most affordable German cities are:

  • Dresden
  • Magdeburg
  • Leipzig
  • Bamberg
  • Bochum

The 5 most expensive cities in Germany are:

  • Munich
  • Hamburg
  • Berlin
  • Dusseldorf
  • Cologne

German Transport and Infrastructure

Transportation in Germany is excellent. The country is famous for its Autobahn, a federal controlled-access highway system. It’s in excellent condition, connecting the entire country with two, three, or four lanes in every direction, with emergency lanes everywhere. 

As far as the lack of a speed limit is concerned, that is mostly true. Yes, there are no official speed limits, but if you go faster than 81 mph (130 kph), you will have increased liability in case of an accident. Also, certain sections of the highway (30% of the entire system) do have speed restrictions. Still, for many, this is a huge boost for their move to Germany.

Bicycle lanes are available in many major cities, allowing you to ride around town safely. Most cities also have well-developed public transportation networks, with many having excellent subway, tram, and bus infrastructure.

Power outages in urban areas are practically unheard of, high-speed internet access is excellent pretty much everywhere, and street and bridge repair is much more consistent when compared to the US.

Working in Germany

As far as working in Germany is concerned, you can expect a very high degree of professionalism and punctuality. They also observe and respect hierarchy, with clear distinctions among responsibilities between roles and departments. Formality is also expected, at least at first.

As an American working in Germany, you will appreciate that worker rights are important and respected in the country. There is ample sick leave, vacation days, and a (mostly) strict adherence to work-life balance. 

At the time of writing this article, the minimum wage in Germany is €12 per hour, pre-tax, which amounts roughly to around €1,600 per month. Average salaries vary, of course, but according to a study from 2021, almost half of Germans claim they are happy with a monthly salary of €5,300. The average salary, however, is €3,975. 

Keep in mind that Germany also has an incredibly low unemployment rate, at 3%, half of the EU average. 

As far as jobs for expats are concerned, there is always work for skilled workers in STEM fields, tech, engineering, and sciences in general. There is also a worker shortage in health occupations, mainly nursing.

German Healthcare

Germany’s universal healthcare system is ranked as one of the best in the world. The system is funded through a mix of statutory health insurance, which is mandatory for all citizens, and private health insurance, which is optional. Note that health insurance for expats in Germany is pretty much the same as it is for its citizens.

Statutory health insurance is funded through a combination of employee and employer contributions, as well as government subsidies. It covers a wide range of medical services, including hospital stays, doctor’s visits, prescription medications, and preventive care. Most people in Germany are enrolled in statutory health insurance, although some may opt for private insurance if they feel that it offers additional benefits or if they are self-employed.

Private health insurance is typically more expensive than statutory health insurance and may offer additional coverage, such as alternative therapies or private hospital rooms. However, private insurance is not as comprehensive as statutory insurance and may have more exclusions and limitations.

Foreign nationals living in Germany are entitled to receive healthcare coverage under the same conditions as German citizens, as long as they are registered residents in the country. This means that foreign nationals are able to access the same high-quality healthcare services as German citizens, including hospital stays, doctor’s visits, prescription medications, and preventive care.

Roughly 14% to 16% of your salary goes to statutory health insurance.

School and Higher Education in Germany

The educational system in Germany is divided into several levels, starting with primary education and continuing through higher education. Anyone on a student visa in Germany will definitely appreciate its robust system.

Primary education, or “Grundschule,” is compulsory for children between the ages of six and ten. It is followed by secondary education, which is divided into two main types: lower secondary education, or “Hauptschule,” and upper secondary education, or “Gymnasium.”

Lower secondary education is designed to provide practical training and is generally considered to be less academically rigorous than upper secondary education. It is typically completed by students who are not planning to attend university.

Upper secondary education, on the other hand, is designed to prepare students for university studies. It consists of a three-year program known as the “Abitur,” which is required for admission to a university in Germany.

Higher education in Germany includes both university-level studies and vocational training programs. Universities offer a wide range of degree programs, including bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees. Vocational training programs, known as “dual studies,” combine classroom instruction with on-the-job training and are typically focused on preparing students for specific careers.

German Finances, Taxes, and Remittance

You’ll notice that the rules for expat taxes in Germany, as well as opening a bank account, are something of a chore.

First things first—if you’re not an EU member state citizen or if you’re not using a long-stay visa, i.e. if you’re not a resident, you won’t be able to open an account at a regular bank. The only way to send money to Germany from the USA, or vice versa, is to go through a “direct bank.” In other words, you don’t go through a brick-and-mortar bank but do everything online. 

If you do fulfill one of the above requirements, you will still need to go through a large amount of paperwork, but you will be directed by the branch you visit on what you actually need to do.

Now, if you’re working in Germany as an American, you might want to send some money home. Regarding remittances, most German banks use the SWIFT system, and they charge a flat fee when you transfer money internationally. Note that many of them have hidden fees on their exchange rates, as well as margins, which can total to somewhere between 5% to 7%. The exact flat rate fee depends greatly on the bank. 

Taxes

Any person who has spent and worked more than six months in Germany needs to file a tax declaration. This can be done online or at a local tax office. The deadline for online tax declarations is the 31st of July, whether you’re a citizen or on a work visa in Germany.

You will also receive your tax ID in your mail within two to four weeks once you have been registered at your new German address. This ID is necessary to file taxes.

Note that there is a 5.5% tax on all income of all taxpayers and an additional 8% to 9% income tax liability if you’re a member of a church that has the right to impose church tax. 

As far as income brackets are concerned, you will pay:

  • 0% if you make 0 to 9,500 euros
  • 14% to 42% if you make between 9,501 and 57,000 euros
  • 42% if you’re between 57,001 and 270,500 euros
  • 45% if you make more than 270,501 euros

Note that the above tax brackets change from year to year, but they should give you a rough estimate of what you can expect.

Marrying and Starting a Family in Germany

What if you’re moving from America to Germany and want to marry the love of your life? Marrying in Germany as a foreigner is not that difficult. You will need the following:

  • A valid passport
  • Birth certificate
  • Ledigkeitsbescheinigung, a special document, proof that you’re not married in your country of origin
  • Proof that you have spent 21 days continually in Germany
  • Forms and documents required by your local magistrate’s office
  • Proof of divorce or death certificate of a former spouse, if applicable
  • Certified translations of required documents

Costs of basic processing and documentation range from between €65 and €200.

Buying Property in Germany

The good news is a foreigner can buy real-estate in Germany, and there are no legal restrictions that can prevent you from doing so. However, financing the home and getting a loan from a bank can be a challenge, whether you want to emigrate to Germany or just buy real estate. 

Namely, like any home loan, the bank assesses the risk of you being able to pay off said loan. As a foreigner, you might be considered a higher risk. The closer you are to gaining permanent residency, however, the better the deal you’re gonna get. 

As far as prices are concerned, an apartment in Munich is going to set you back much more than a house in a rural area. The national average price per square meter is around €5,000, which amounts to around $530 per square foot. So sure, you might be immigrating to Germany for a better life, but you need to have the funds to back it up.

Note that these prices are much higher in the cities. For example, you will pay almost a thousand dollars per square foot in Munchen, 750 in Frankfurt, and 560 in Berlin.

Agent fees amount to somewhere between 6% and 7.5%. 

Retiring in Germany

Germany does not have a retirement visa. If you wish to stay in Germany indefinitely, you need to begin the process of becoming a permanent resident. 

As far as pensions are concerned, 18.6% of your gross income will go to the German pension fund. Note that your employers will pay for half of that. In order to be eligible for a pension, you need to contribute to this fund for somewhere between three to five years. 

Conclusion

While moving to a different country is a challenging and difficult endeavor, it can also be incredibly rewarding. If you’re looking for new opportunities and a way to challenge yourself, then moving to Germany might just be the right choice for you!

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With a BA in English literature and linguistics, training provided by veteran licensed court interpreters, and direct SEO management experience, Aleksandar Hrubenja knows what good content looks like. He’s tackled any topic thrown his way, spending the last six years writing articles on SEO, digital marketing, and finance – just to name a few.

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