Moving to Germany: A step-by-step guide
So, you want to move to Germany? Upsticking your life and moving somewhere new is not always easy - and Germany has its fair share of hurdles and administrative headaches for incoming expats to leap over. But with some careful planning and a healthy dollop of patience, you’ll soon be settling into your new life in Germany.
Why relocate to Germany?
The benefits of living in Germany are plentiful - there’s a reason why it’s one of the top destinations for expats around the world. As well as good job opportunities, high salaries and a great work-life balance, internationals in Germany enjoy a high quality of life and a convenient, central location for exploring the rest of Europe.
On the downside, however, Germany is renowned for its heavily bureaucratic administrative processes, and some expats report finding it difficult to settle into life in the federal republic.
How to move to Germany: A step-by-step checklist
To help you navigate the process of moving to Germany and ensure you get settled sooner rather than later, we’ve put together this step-by-step checklist for you to work through.
Sort your visas for immigrating to Germany
Generally speaking, if you’re an EU citizen, you don’t need any visas or residence permits to immigrate to Germany. You have the right to freedom of movement within the EU and simply need to register your address after arriving in Germany.
If you’re coming from outside the EU and want to stay in Germany for longer than 90 days, you will need a national visa, which you can then convert into a residence permit after arriving in Germany. Citizens of Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea and the US can enter Germany without a visa and apply for a residence permit. Your visa / residence permit will be tied to the purpose of your stay in Germany - for instance, whether you want to work, look for a job, or study.
Get your finances in order
As you probably already know, relocating to a new country costs a fair bit of money. Whether it’s paying deposits for rental accommodation, hiring a moving company, or just the cost of your flight tickets, the bills can stack up pretty quickly. In advance of your move, therefore, it’s a good idea to tot up these different costs and start saving up the funds to cover them.
This is also a good time to look into your personal finances, to consider whether you can transfer your pension to Germany and what kind of bank accounts you’ll need after arriving. You can open a German bank account once you’ve arrived in the country, but it helps if you already know which bank you’d like to use. You can even make an appointment to open the account in advance of arriving in Germany.
Sort out your paperwork
You’ll need a lot of paperwork for setting up your new life in Germany - to register, take out health insurance, open a bank account, you name it. It’s a good idea to check in advance what documents you’ll need, and make sure you have them to hand. This could include your passport and birth certificate, and depending on your circumstances, your employment contract, proof of a blocked bank account, enrolment confirmation for your German university, or your marriage certificate.
Depending on your nationality or country of origin, you may need to get your documents translated and / or certified. If you have foreign qualifications, you may also need to get them recognised in Germany. This is the case if you want to work in one of the so-called “regulated professions”, such as doctors, lawyers, nurses or engineers. You can apply to your local recognition authority for this.
Find somewhere to live
This might be one of the hardest steps on this list, especially from a distance, but if you are moving to Germany, it’s a good idea to try to secure (at least temporary) accommodation in advance of your arrival. This gives you a base from which you can start setting up your life and also gives you an address so you can register with the municipality and get started on your administrative tasks.
If you’re lucky, you’ll have friends or family you can stay with when you arrive, but if not, it might be worth looking at some short-stay accommodation to cover you for the first couple of weeks. Housing is in high demand and short supply in Germany, especially in the larger cities, so affordable options can be hard to find. It pays to start your search as soon as possible.
Arrange for your belongings to be shipped
As the date of your move approaches, it’s time to start packing up your belongings and getting them shipped over to Germany. Of course, you could travel light and just bring a suitcase, but if you have a lot of belongings it might be worth contacting a moving company specialising in international moves.
The benefit of working with a moving company is that they can sort out all of the paperwork for you - for instance, if you’re coming from outside of the EU, you might have to declare your belongings to customs as “imports”.
If you are planning on bringing medicines with you, you might need proof that they are for personal use. You can do this with a medication passport, which you can get from your GP at home or a pharmacy.
If you’re bringing a pet, make sure you research the guidelines on bringing animals into the EU. They will need to be microchipped and have a valid rabies vaccination. Note also that Germany has some tougher rules on what it classifies as dangerous dog breeds.
Enrol in an integration course
In order to give new arrivals a head-start at adjusting to life in Germany, the government has developed the integration course, an intensive 660-hour programme combining language and “orientation” modules. Some people are obliged to take integration courses to qualify for residency, while others can voluntarily opt-in. This is an effective and affordable way of learning German.
If you’re not eligible for an integration course, it’s still worth enrolling in a German language course. You’re of course not obliged to learn German, but it will increase the quality of your life immeasurably if you’re able to communicate with locals on at least a basic level. Outside the big German cities especially, English isn’t as widely-spoken as you might expect.
If you don’t have a job yet, learning German will increase your chances of landing one, while knowing some stock phrases will make interactions with everything from the citizens’ office to the bank to the supermarket that little bit easier.
Consider how you’re going to get around
Once you’ve arrived in Germany, you’ll want to get exploring. Germany has a great network of long-distance trains and buses connecting its cities and federal states, as well as excellent public transport within cities and towns in the form of S-Bahns, U-Bahns, trams and buses. It’s worth looking at the different kinds of passes and tickets on offer (including monthly subscriptions for different transport associations and BahnCards, which give you 25-, 50- or 100-percent discounts on Deutsche Bahn tickets)
If you don’t fancy forking out for a public transport subscription, plenty of people also choose to cycle, as many German cities are well-kitted out for cyclists.
If you have a driving licence, you’ll need to check to see if it will be valid to drive in Germany. You might be required to retake the theory and / or practical driving test before being allowed to exchange your licence for a German one. For that, you’ll need to brush up on German road signs and traffic rules. As for getting your own set of wheels, you can buy a car here, import one from abroad, or look into car leasing.
Make an appointment to register your address
One of the first things you need to do after touching down in Germany is register your address at the local town hall. This appointment will get you a registration certificate (Anmeldebescheinigung), an important piece of paperwork that you’ll need for lots of other administrative processes in the federal republic. After your appointment, you’ll also receive your tax ID (which you will need for things like submitting a tax return) in the post.
There is high demand for registration appointments at citizens’ offices (especially in the larger cities), so getting one can be tricky - especially since you are officially required to register within 14 days of arriving in Germany. Most citizens’ offices let you book appointments online, so it’s worth trying to do this before you actually arrive. Some citizens’ offices also offer drop-in appointments so you can just show up on the day - but be prepared for a lengthy wait! If you need one at shorter notice it is worth refreshing the appointment booking page, some spaces will likely free up.
Get your health insurance sorted
Health insurance is compulsory in Germany. If you’re applying for a residence permit, you’ll need to show proof of cover before your application is approved, and as a student, you won’t be allowed to enrol in your university without a student health insurance plan.
Around 90 percent of the population has statutory health insurance, which is administered by 96 insurance funds (Krankenkassen). These funds all have to give the same standard of care and are not allowed to refuse anyone coverage. The insurance covers you for visits to the doctor, treatments in hospital and basic dental care. If you are employed, you will usually be signed up to a Krankenkasse through your employer, but you do have the option to switch to a different fund if you prefer.
Think about schools for your children
If you’re bringing your family with you to Germany, then you’ll also need to plan and prepare for your children’s new lives, and their education. You’ll need to decide whether you want to send them to an international school or a German school. If you go for the latter, you should do some research on the particularities of the German school system (for instance the practice of “streaming” children after age 11) so you understand what to expect.
If your children attend a German school, they will be given extra help to boost their language levels, but you might want to consider starting at least a little bit of German language learning at home before you move, to help them adjust.
After you arrive, you can register your children at the same time as yourself at the citizens’ office. As for enrolling your child in a school, the process differs from state to state. In some states, you need to apply to the local citizens’ office, while other states ask you to apply directly with the chosen school.
Consider working with a relocation company
If you would like some support with your relocation, you could consider working with a relocation company. They can help you with many of the administrative tasks associated with relocating, from sorting out visas and permits and securing accommodation, to shipping your belongings and finding a school for your child.
Moving to Germany is easier with careful planning
Relocating can be a complicated process, but once you know the scale of the task ahead of you, you can start ticking items off your list. The excitement of heading somewhere new will carry you through, and before you know it, you’ll be packing your bags and getting on that plane. Good luck!