Interested in moving to Germany? This is our simple Germany Immigration Guide, containing all the info you need to get started. From getting a visa to finding work and (eventual) citizenship – it’s all here. Read on!
Germany: Quick Facts
- Germany has a population of ~83 million (highest in the EU), and has an area of ~357,000 sq. km. It is divided into 16 states.
- 1,081,000 people moved to Germany in 2012 (a 13% increase from 2011). According to the Federal Statistic Office’s census, there is an increase in the number of well-educated migrants. The census revealed that ¾ of Germany immigrants came from Europe – this is likely due to the recent financial crisis in Southern Europe (Spain and Greece) and the ease with which EU citizens may move freely around the member states. Foreigners make out 8.2% of the population. ~19.3% of the population has a migrant background (at least one immigrant parent or grandparent).
- It is no surprise that many come to Germany in search of opportunity – it has the strongest economy in Europe (fourth largest by GDP in the world after the USA, China and Japan).
- Health insurance is public and obligatory, though some (e.g. lifetime employees of the state, self-employed, employees with high income) may choose to opt out of the system and obtain insurance from a private provider. Germany has the world oldest universal health care system, dating back to 1883.
- Currency: Euro (EUR)
- Spoken languages: German is the official language. Regional dialects exist. Many Germans have a good command of English.
- A note on formality: there are two ways to address another person directly in the German language (you). One is for people of a lower age (e.g., adults to children) or of familiarity (family, partners, good friends), the other is for people of respect, people with whom one does not share mutual familiarity and people one does not know at all (e.g. stranger on the street). The second type of address can be changed into the first one, but this has to be offered first. The person offering will always be the older and the one considered higher up in the hierarchy. Immigrants that are unfamiliar with this custom invariably shoot themselves in the foot – it is deemed insulting and/or brash to address people otherwise.
- Major religions: Roman Catholic (30%), Protestant (29.9%), Muslim (5.2%).
- Largest cities: Berlin, Munich, Cologne, Hamburg, Leipzig, and Dresden.
Why move to Germany
- There are many good reasons why to move to Germany – the country offers financial stability, a good governmental social security, healthcare, education, a stable democracy, and a very high standard of living.
- If you are already well off financially, all doors will be open. If you are not, your best bet is to be a well qualified professional in a sector favored by the Germany economy. If you are neither, you may want to reconsider – while Germany has a great need for migrant workers, the country as a whole is not especially welcoming of immigrants. Nevertheless, some of the perks of working in Germany include:
- A 13th monthly salary is typically paid at the end of the year.
- There is a minimum of 24 vacation days. Holidays are calculated according to seniority.
- Maternity leave is typically for six weeks before the expected birth date and eight weeks after birth. While maternity leave is paid, there is also an option to do “parent time.” New parents (both men and women) have the right to go on an up to three year leave to care for their new born child or children. As a rule, Germans take one year off after the birth of a child.
- The regular working time is 48 hours per week. Depending on the industry, there may be exceptions to this. Full time workers are entitled to a one hour lunch break, and two breaks of half an hour. Women are not allowed to work past midnight in factories. There is no work on Sundays.
- Germany is clean. The country is very conscious of ecological issues, and all waste is recycled.
- It is a beautiful place, with beautiful natural scenery and resplendent gardens.
- There is nothing like German beer. It is still brewed according to the old traditions, and ingredients are kept pure (with nothing unnecessary added).
- Fresh food is plentiful and widely available.
- The holidays in Germany are a very special time. All the traditions are adhered to: shops and streets are decorated, and whole towns come together to celebrate and exchange presents. Between the fireworks displays and urban decorations, it can all make for a surreal and wonderful experience.
- When it comes to culture, there are few countries like Germany. Great theaters and concert halls can be found all over. Most famous musicians perform regular concerts in the major cities. One can also find alternative (sub-) culture everywhere, even in small villages.
- Rent is generally affordable (relative to other developed countries). It is common to rent for many years.
- All in all, Germany is an orderly place. Public transport is extensive, efficient, and relatively inexpensive. Roads are kept in good condition. There is a zero-tolerance policy for drunk driving, and checkpoints are everywhere. Drivers almost always stop for those crossing the street. Obtaining a full (permanent) driver’s license means not only passing a thorough test, but also going through a preliminary probation period. In short, Germans know how to drive and respect the rules of the road. As a bonus, used cars are available for cheap.
- There is genuine gender equality. Women in Germany have options that may not be available in other (even well developed countries). Parental leave applies equally to men and women. German men are used to sharing in household tasks.
- People are honest and straightforward. If they like something (or someone), they will say so. Promises are taken seriously, and honored. Germans do not become your friend on a whim, but once they do, it could be the start of a lifelong friendship.
- Germany is clean. There is very little trash on the streets – if someone has something that requires disposal, they will carry it until they find a proper bin.
- People are on time. Waiting time hardly ever exceeds 15 minutes. This behavior keeps things very efficient.
- There are a great variety of clubs and associations to join. From choir to rabbit breeding, there is something for everyone.
Reasons Not to move to Germany
Note: these are common expat complaints, and may not apply to you.
- Popular reasons for not liking Germany are: the language barrier, the often gloomy weather, high cost of utility bills, the strict rules (on what feels like everything), and sometimes the behavior of the locals.
- Germans are not very tolerant of people making linguistic mistakes – even for those just learning the language. You are more or less expected to speak excellent German, unless you are clearly a tourist. The country is increasingly demanding that visa and citizenship applicants prove they are capable of understanding at least some German before they even set a foot in the country.
- The weather is a major complaint – it can get cold and rainy for long periods of time. The average temperature in the summer is around 20° C, while the winter temperature is anywhere between -5 to 10°. Winter tires are a must in the colder months.
- The cost of utility bills is high (and going up) – as the country moves from nuclear power to renewable energy sources (solar and wind), the people find themselves subsidizing the cost of new grid infrastructure.
- Bills are expected to be paid promptly. If you forget or cannot pay them on the date due, late fees add up every day that the payment is overdue. Missing the second deadline results in immediate service suspension. Missing the final deadline results in “the cuckoo,” the nickname for a sign that is posted on the door of the household in question. This is an embarrassing situation that Germans wish to avoid at all costs.
- The uniquely German way of doing things can be off-putting or unusual to newcomers. For example, it is commonly accepted that a man and woman will split the bill (e.g. go “dutch”) when on a date – otherwise, a woman may assume that she owes the man something. There are also very specific rules regarding what to give when visiting someone, down to the type and number of flowers. If you want to throw a party, you have to remember to hang up an announcement to make it known to your neighbors (as well as make sure it ends before midnight, lest you want to get noise complaints).
- Loneliness can be an issue, especially if you move there alone. Germans take longer to approach someone and become friends. Meeting a person for months in public places may be the rule before advancing to more familiar terms and invitations to private homes.
- Hugging people in public is, for the most part, unacceptable (as is kissing them). Germans greet each other with a handshake. It is on the whole a fairly cold society and the older one gets, the more difficult social interactions become. Your best bet is to become acquainted with and mingle with other migrants. European (and North American ) immigrants are on the whole regarded as a class better than the others.
- Work can only be found in one’s learned profession. If you do not have the certificates, you will stand little chance. Working hard will not necessarily advance you in a job. Good connections are important (dubbed “Vitamin B” as the German word for relations is Beziehungen).
- You can live for 20 years in Germany and still be considered a foreigner (even after acquiring German citizenship).
Getting a Visa and Finding Work
- Note: German immigration policy is ultimately bound to the regulations of the European Union (concerning the free movement of people).
- Late repatriates (typically descendants of Germans in regions populated by Germans in Eastern Europe), members of the EU, and Swiss citizens do not require a visa to freely live and work in Germany.
- Foreigners desiring to study in Germany can apply for a student visa. The student visa loses its validity shortly after graduation. There are ways to extend the visa for a period of up to 18 months for the purpose of finding work. A student visa is given for one or two years. After this time, a “settlement” visa can be requested. One is allowed to work on a student visa as long as it is a casual job (to support oneself during study) or one that is done as part of a University position (e.g. for doctorate students). Study visas can only be obtained for full time study.
- Asylum seekers can request either to receive refugee status, eligibility to asylum or the recognition of the refugee attribute. People accepted into Germany due to humanitarian or political reasons (according to international law) receive a residence permit.
- A foreigner who wishes to stay in Germany for longer than 3 months (and wants to work or study) requires a visa. Visas must be requested at a local German embassy, several months prior to the intended day of entry into Germany (and subsequent period of stay).
- Family members of Germans (e.g. married partners or minor children) can join their parent/partner according to the law of residence with a spousal visa. Basic German proficiency is a requirement (and must be demonstrated). The language test is waived if the spouse living in Germany is a highly qualified worker or a scientist and the marriage existed prior to the foreign resident’s arrival in Germany (or if the spouse is otherwise unable to acquire the language due to a handicap).
- Working Holiday Visa: just like most EU countries, Germany participates in the WHV program. Citizens of Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, and Taiwan (aged 18-30, 18-35 if Canadian) may apply to live and work in Germany for up to 1 year.
Permanent Residency and Citizenship
People who want to live and work in Germany may acquire a resident title. A resident title with the option to work must be requested. Common ways of obtaining this title include:
- Qualifying as a skilled laborer – one must have a relevant job offer in hand and obtain permission from the Ministry of Employment.
- Being deemed a highly qualified professional – in this case, one may instantly acquire an unlimited settler permit. These are usually scientists and trained academic personnel.
- Having a Blue EU card. This applies to those who have obtained a University degree outside Germany in a field of interest and have a job offer and can demonstrate yearly gross earnings of at least 46,400 EUR. For scientists, mathematicians, engineers, physicians and tech workers labor, the salary requirement is lower (36,200 EUR). This visa is valid for four years, and can be converted after the first 33 months into a permanent settler permit if certain conditions are met (by proving German proficiency, one can shorten the process to just 21 months).
- Scientists can receive a limited resident permit to conduct research with a recognized institution. Cover of sustenance has to be proven through grants, salary, or own savings.
- Resident permits are issued to self-employed (freelance) professionals if their occupation is deemed useful to the regional (or national) economy, and if proper financing is secured. This option is also open for people who have taught at a German University, or have performed research at a University, and whose work shows promise for Germany.
- Those looking for employment (after having received a specialized college diploma in Germany) are entitled for a visa of 12 months to look for work. With a University degree from outside Germany or a comparable diploma, a six month resident permit to look for work can be granted. For this procedure a visa for work search has to be requested first. Working on this temporary visa is not allowed – once work has been found, the applicant may request a resident permit via the Blue EU card or through another fitting option.
A resident permit can be converted into a settlers permit after one has held a resident permit for 5 consecutive years. The general rule is: find work first, obtain an employment letter/agreement, and you will then be able to acquire a work visa and resident permit.
The right to German citizenship is given if the applicant has:
- Unlimited right of residence at the time of citizenship request,
- Passed the citizenship test,
- Lived for at least eight years in Germany,
- Has own assurance of sustenance (including dependent family members) without social assistance or unemployment payments,
- Sufficient German language proficiency,
- No criminal record,
- Committed to the democratic basic order of the German constitution, and
- Renounced his or her past citizenship unless not required (some countries have a special agreement that allows for a dual nationality)
Children born in Germany to foreign parents are automatically granted German citizenship if at least one parent had been living in Germany continuously for 8 years and has at the time of the child’s birth an unlimited resident right. Those children have to decide between age 18 and 23 if they want to keep the German citizenship (dual nationality is typically not allowed).
Starting a Business in Germany
- EU citizens or foreign residents with a self-employed residence permit can start a business, as well as foreigners married to a German (after three years of marriage, when they receive their settler’s permit).
- Germany does encourage entrepreneurship (and foreign investment), so there is a lot of support structure in place for those who do so. Many of the new visa rules favor those who are entering the country to start a business. For more information on entrepreneurship in Germany, consult the business section on the Federal Ministry of Economics and Energy website.
- Those wishing a start a technology company may want to consider Berlin as the headquarters – it has become somewhat of a German (and European) tech startup hub.
Recommended Reading & Resources
- Living in Deutschland now!: A practical guide to finding your feet and integrating in Germany
- Federal Office for Migration and Refugees – available in German, English, Russian and Turkish
- Federal Employment Agency – official site
- Ministry of Education – official site
- France Immigration Guide
- Netherlands Immigration Guide
- Spain Immigration Guide
- Switzerland Immigration Guide