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Work in Germany: A 7-Step Guide to Relocating

The tech industry is booming in Germany, and if you have the skills to fill one of the many positions currently available, you may very well decide to make the move. Fortunately, relocation is now commonplace and Germany in particular is known for being extremely inviting to incoming expats.

Whatever job you choose, the steps for relocating will be just about the same. All of the things covered in this guide will apply regardless of the company you ultimately choose to work with.

Applying for a Work Permit & Visa

Perhaps the single most important step to actually being able to relocate to Germany is applying for a work permit and visa that will allow you to enter the country on the premise that you will be a contributing and employed member of society. Oftentimes, the company hiring you will offer some sort of assistance with this step.

If you already a legal citizen of an EU member state, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, or Switzerland, you’re entitled to work in Germany without a permit. Otherwise, the process and ease of acquiring a work permit will largely depend on your nationality.

If you are a citizen of Australia, Canada, the United States, New Zealand, Japan, the Republic of Korea, or Israel, you don’t need an entry visa either. However, you are required to get a residence permit in order to be able to stay in Germany longer than 90 days. You can apply for a residence and work permit before you get an employment offer.

For other non-EU citizens, you’ll typically apply for a work permit at the same time you apply for your travel visa. Typically, this process will be handled from abroad by visiting the closest German Embassy or Consulate so that you can apply in person. However, if you are from a few select countries (like the USA or Canada), you can hand in your application from inside of Germany.

There are different types of residence and work permits in Germany. However, we suggest applying for a specialist professional residence permit. In order to apply for this type of permit, you should satisfy the following criteria:

  1. Be able to integrate into German society;
  2. Have sufficient funds to maintain yourself;
  3. Have a contract of employment;
  4. Have documentation that shows your professional knowledge and experience.

Alternatively, you can apply for the EU Blue Card. Besides being a non-EU citizen and a qualified worker, you must meet the following criteria:

  1. Hold a German or a foreign higher education qualification which is recognised in Germany;
  2. Your gross salary in Germany needs to exceed EUR 50,800.

Learn more here.

The in-person application process at your local embassy will go like this:

  1. Visit the office to apply in person.
  2. Bring along a valid passport and one copy of it.
  3. Supply several photographs.
  4. Pay all required fees.
  5. Provide supporting documentation like a certificate of good conduct, diplomas, references, and your employment contract.

Your country of origin will have an impact on what you need to supply and the expected wait time.

Diploma Recognition

Every country has its own educational standards and, unfortunately, not all diplomas you have earned in your home country will be instantly recognized in Germany.

Recognition of diplomas obtained is required for certain professions, such as doctors or lawyers. This requirement also applies to those of you who are planning to apply for the EU Blue Card.

First, check if the university you studied at is recognized in Germany. It must be listed on Anabin as H+.

If it is, simply print a supporting document (the option is available on the same website).

If the university you studied at doesn’t appear in the list or is rated as H-, you can send a request for its recognition (re-recognition) to ZAB, the authorities responsible for this process in Germany. Please keep in mind that it will be done at your own cost. Learn more at the KMK website

Moving to Germany Without a University Degree

If you’re a non-EU citizen, the process of moving to Germany without a university degree is not easy.

  • If you have at least 5 years of professional experience (comparable to a German higher education qualification), you can try to get the EU Blue Card. In Section 19a, you can get more detailed information.
  • You can try to get a degree from one of the universities recognised in Germany, and after that to apply for the EU Blue Card.
  • Your employer can fill in two applications here, and if all goes well, you will be able to apply for a specialist professional residence permit.

If you’re a legal citizen of an EU member state, you can easily move to Germany without a university degree, since you don’t need a work permit.

Finding Housing

Once all the prep work is out of the way, the next thing to check off your list is locating housing near your new place of employment.

Your place of work is likely to offer you some assistance with this portion of the move. Some employers offer temporary housing while you search for a long-term housing solution. Otherwise, Airbnb and Wimdu are your best bet.

Below is a short list of sites for long-term property rentals:

Apartments across Germany

Berlin

Hamburg

Munich

Frankfurt

Moving House

After a home has been located, it’s time to begin the moving process. Many employers will provide a one-way ticket for you, some may also provide tickets for your family members as well. In addition to this, they may also cover some of your moving expenses (e.g. furniture, home appliances, etc.).

Taxes

All in all, there are about 30 different types of taxes in Germany. 

If you’re working in Germany, you’re liable for income tax. Its rates range from 0% to 45%. How much income tax you pay depends on the tax category that you are in.

There are 6 taxation classes in Germany:

I – Unmarried, single, divorced;

II – Single with a child;

III – Married with an unemployed or less-earning partner;

IV – Married workers with similar wages;

V – Married with a partner who earns more;

VI – People who receive multiple wages.

Generally speaking, the higher your income, the higher the rate of tax payable. However, if you are married, you may get some income tax advantage.

The first €9,000 (or €18,000 for married couples submitting a combined return) earned each year is tax-free. Any higher amount is subject to income tax.

The top tax rate of 42% applies to taxable income above €54,950. For taxable income above €260,533, a 45% tax is applicable.

In addition to income tax, everyone has to pay solidarity tax, which is capped at 5.5% of your income tax.

Source: Expatica.com

If you have children under 18, your taxable income will be lowered. More information here.

You can use of one of the salary calculators available and project your post-relocation (net) income.

It’s also worth mentioning a church tax (Kirchensteuer). Its rates range from 8% to 9% depending on your Federal State. More information here.

Getting a Job Without Speaking German

In most cases, there’s no need to worry about the local language. You will be able to get a great tech job by being fluent in English only.

In Germany, on the other hand, the civil service and even doctors generally expect you to interact with them in German. So if you want to fully integrate into your new country, you’ll need to learn the language (though, many haven’t and manage to do just fine).

Driving in Germany

Once you are all settled in with your new home, you may be wondering about the potential of acquiring a driver’s license. As an expat, you will find that some aspects of your citizenship are restricted, but you will be able to acquire a license if you desire.
In some cities, this won’t really be needed (or advised) because public transportation might be the most effective way to get around. Germany is known for having extremely efficient public transportation systems that run day and night throughout just about every area of the city you’ll be residing in.

However, if you happen to want a driver’s license, you are allowed to apply for one.

Coming from America or an EU member state? You’re in luck. If you’re from one of 27 states in the USA, or Puerto Rico, you have full reciprocity with your driver’s license throughout Germany. This means you can walk into the local office in Germany with your USA driver’s license, and a few other documents, and you will be granted a German license without having to take any tests.

Now, if you come from another set of 10 states (and Washington D.C.), you will have what’s known as “partial reciprocity” in Germany. This means you will just have to take the German written test before getting your license, but note that it is far more difficult than the standard US written test. All Canadian provinces have full exchange agreements with Germany.

Traffic laws in Germany are completely different, so no matter what, you should be brushing up on them.

If you happen to come from a non-EU member state, you will have to start from scratch. That means, after six months, you will have to go to the German traffic school, which can cost €1,500 (or more) and take 20 to 40 hours of instruction. With that in mind, public transportation may be starting to sound that much more enticing!

Andrew Stetsenko Tech Talents Relocation

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