You’ve decided it’s time, you cannot wait any longer to wear leather pants, yodel from the Alps, speak in tongue twisters and eat a dizzying array of pork products in many forms, but mostly tube-like.
It should be noted here that nobody yodels in Germany as a daily habit, and you will be looked at strangely if you do this. Leather pants are not only regional, but mostly seasonal, so do be sure to check the official Lederhosenwochenkalendar to determine the official days these should be worn.
You can however have all the tubemeat your heart desires, at any time.
First, I’m writing this for Americans who want to immigrate, as this is my personal experience so I could not comment on how it works for other countries. But it should be taken into account that the USA is among “third countries” on Germany’s list so if your country is also on this list, it could be a similar process.
Second, I am not a lawyer, so this is not legal advice.
Third, again this was a personal experience, so results may vary depending on which country you come from and which state in Germany you move to.
OK. We are assuming now you’ve definitely decided Germany is for you so first steps: locate Germany on a map. This is important so you know where you will be living.
Then, collect a lot of paper. Also a German dictionary, or just Google Translate. Here is what I recommend you have from the USA:
- Your birth certificate
- Marriage certificate (if applicable)
- Birth certificates of children (if applicable)
- Bank statements
- Passport, obviously
- Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups because they are just not the same here
To get approval to Germany, there are three pretty common avenues to choose from: Blue Card (DE specific), Long term resident, or someone who wants to work and live not under the Blue Card. I chose the last of those options. As an American citizen, I was able to arrive here on a tourist visa (the standard 90 day visit) and do all my paperwork in country. I understand it can be done at consulates in the states but I am not familiar with how that process works.
Getting here is something of a chicken and egg problem: to get a job, one needs (most of the time) a work permit first to allow a company to hire you. But to get a work permit, one needs a job offer with contract. This is where the head spinning starts.
I will assume you have found a company who will hire and sponsor your work permit, as this is basically how I did it. The Ausländerbehörde will need to see this contract, which must have 1) length of time for employment and 2) salary. Which, if it doesn’t have those two things, I’m not so sure I would sign that contract.
You will now need an address in Germany which, again, a landlord is going to need to see proof of income which you will need a contract for, which you will need a permit for, etc…
You need the address to complete your Anmeldung. Once you have this you are ready for your appointment with immigrations. In Wiesbaden, registering for an appointment online is quite easy. Once this is completed, it can be a long wait for the actual email from an agent who makes the appointment. In my case it took 3-4 weeks, and then the appointment itself was 3 weeks from that. I recommend making this appointment at the same time you make the appointment for the Anmeldung because of the potentially long wait, which could push you past your tourist visa allowance. I was really pushing the time limit so if you can, I recommend avoiding this type of adrenaline rush.
Once that email with the appointment time arrives, it should also contain an application and a checklist of documents needed. At this point, if you do not know German, you should find someone who can help you with the forms. It would also be a good idea to have this person come to your appointment with you, as I was told (and in practice it happened this way) that English was not allowed during the appointment. I had to speak German.
Generally, the items you will need are:
- Everything mentioned in the “bring from USA list”
- German passport photos (hopefully you got extra at Anmeldung!)
- Wohnungsbescheinigung – proof from your landlord that it’s ok for you and others to live in their house
- Completed permit application
- Work contract
- Proof of health insurance (this is a post on its own, but basically make sure your health insurance is considered valid in Germany, because not all are)
Awesome! I’m ready to go!
In Wiesbaden, once you get to the office, go into the waiting room and register your appointment number (it will be within your email) otherwise they won’t know you’ve arrived and you will have missed your appointment. When your number flashes on screen, then go up to the offices upstairs. Here is where I get a little unsure, even though I’ve been a few times now. The doors will be closed, and will not open for your appointment. It is up to you to knock and let yourself in, which to me felt strange and uncomfortable but it’s protocol. They will take your documents, ask some questions like “how long do you intend to stay?” “can you support yourself financially?” “who will you live with?” “Sir Stewart was the best Star Trek captain, agree or disagree?”
Assuming all goes well, you either receive temporary approval now or they wait and email to you later. After that, you get another email that says you’re in, or you get a letter that says no. I got my email, went back all smiles and had a new sticker in my passport.
At some point I read that I was supposed to receive an actual EU ID card, but that hasn’t materialized. When asked, they told me due to all the refugees arriving they didn’t have time to create cards for everyone (this was fall 2015 when I asked) but I’m not sure why I still don’t have one. Perhaps it’s because each time I’ve changed jobs and gone back for the appropriate work authority approval, the contract has been for a year at a time so they think why bother. I couldn’t speculate further than that though.
This was stressful, but exciting, because I wanted to have a new challenge in life and immigrating without a safety net is about as challenging as I could imagine at the time. And even today I look back at that first year of hoop jumping and am sort of impressed I had the patience and will power to keep going along with all the rules.
If you decide to do this, I hope you feel comfortable and confident in your decision and I would love to talk to anyone who thinks they still have questions I didn’t answer here. There are lots of resources out there and while it seems they all vary slightly, I think I’ve provided the most general “what you can expect” that would apply to Americans coming over and applying. There’s more bureaucracy ahead of you but it’s doable and worth it, in my opinion.