Moving to Germany? Avoid this paperwork trap!

Moving to Germany? Avoid this paperwork trap!

Moving to Germany? Avoid this paperwork trap!

Expats In Wonderland is a relocation service founded to help professionals, artists and businesses make their home in Berlin. Through years of experience, they’ve helped hundreds of fearful newcomers navigate their way through the “danger zone” of Berlin bureaucracy, and onto their new lives.

The attraction of moving to Germany is clear: good jobs, generous wages and a high quality of life, to name but a few. Unfortunately, prospective residents also sometimes find that, to get your hands on all that, you must first surrender yourself to Germany’s infamous bureaucracy.

In what can only be described as the bureaucratic equivalent of a colonoscopy, they scrutinise every shred of paperwork that has passed through your hands over the past decade.

In particular, we find that new residents quickly discover that there are three major pressure points in their paperwork pain. We call this the Bermuda Triangle of German Bureaucracy: namely finding a flat, getting a visa and paying for health insurance. But what makes these three points of the triangle so particularly perilous?

Here’s the catch...

Point 1: Getting a visa

You might think that the first thing you need to think about when moving to Germany is finding somewhere to live. Wrong. Unfortunately, if you are a national from outside the EU, it is highly unlikely that you will secure a flat contract in your name without having a working visa. So, demote flat applications to position three of your priority list, and focus first on getting that work visa.

After a bit of online research, or even an email to the immigration office, you will most likely still have absolutely no idea whether or not you qualify for a working visa! This is because there are a lot of variables. To get you started, there are a couple of important points to consider before making your application:

1. Your country of origin

This will determine where you can complete your visa application. Only citizens of the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan & South Korea are permitted to apply for their working visa while already in Germany visiting as a tourist.

All other citizens of non-EU countries will have to make their application via the German embassy in their home country, regardless of whether or not a job has been offered.

2. Your profession & education

Certain careers are prioritised as high-demand in Germany, while employers offering “low-skilled” jobs such as waiters and retail assistants are prohibited from hiring non-EU staff.

Generally speaking, if your profession requires a degree or specialist qualification, and you have a job offer, you will likely be granted the right to work. However, if you are aiming to rave your way into a position on the Berghain bar, you might have to reassess your entry strategy.

Surprisingly, artists and freelancers are often eligible for visas. It can sometimes be easier to obtain an artist visa, with some samples of your work, than to secure the right to set up a company. If you do want to be self-employed or work as an artist, don’t be discouraged as there are flexible options for your application.

So, maybe you have your papers in order and even a job offer from a German company. If only it were that simple... At the bottom of your visa requirement list is that innocuous request for proof of health insurance.

Point 2: German health insurance

One of the requirements of getting your visa is to have a recognised German health insurance policy. Germany has two systems of health insurance, the private and the public. Both are legitimate options, but you should choose extremely carefully.

Private insurance offers cheap monthly rates for young people, but payments increase rapidly as you age. You can find yourself locked into paying thousands of euros each month for your policy later in life, with no way to re-enter the public system.

On the other hand, public insurance payments seem high at first, particularly for freelancers or the self-employed with monthly payments of between 300 and 700 euros, depending on earnings. However, this rate is fixed and provides excellent cover in later life, making it the best solution if you plan to stay in Germany in the long run.

Time for another catch. To get public health insurance, you are required to be a resident in Germany with a registered address. That means you need to find a flat.

Point 3: Getting a flat

So, you fulfil the criteria for getting a German working visa, and you’ve decided whether you want public or private health insurance. Now it’s time to start searching for somewhere to live.

German tenancy law works strongly in favour of the tenant. This is great for your long term security, but it also means that your finances will be carefully checked before any contracts are signed. This is understandable considering how difficult it is for a landlord to evict you from their property once you have moved in.

However, here’s where we hit a major snag: most housing associations will require proof that you are eligible to work in the country (i.e. your visa) before offering you a flat. So, to get a working visa, you need health insurance; to get health insurance, you need somewhere to live; and to get somewhere to live, you need - you guessed it - a working visa!

The solution?

Our solution to this troublesome triangle starts with your health insurance policy. You can secure private insurance before entering the country, and then switch to a public one once your visa is approved. However, these contracts often require you might have to pay for at least a full year of cover, so add that to your budget.

It’s safe to assume that you will not be given a flat contract without an approved visa. This means that it’s likely you will have to land in Germany without a place to live. Rather than outlay on expensive hotel rooms, there are some companies that offer temporary furnished flats for new residents. This can be a great way to cover the first couple of months while you get your paperwork in order to find a permanent place. You’ll be especially thankful for this when you realise that new flats in Germany usually don’t come with a kitchen included!

The most cost-effective option is, of course, to stay with friends, or to sublet a room in a shared apartment. Airbnb is highly regulated in Berlin and other German cities, but there are a lot of social media groups offering these kinds of temporary shares. Like in any city, just be wary of scammers.

Realistically it takes those from outside of the EU a couple of months to get set up in Germany. There are a few other hoops to jump through, but with help from Expats In Wonderland, you’ll be living the dream in no time.

Ina Pilkington


Ina Pilkington

Expats In Wonderland was founded to help you with your Berlin relocation. After spending countless hours in visa offices, and searching for flats as a touring dancer and performance artist...

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