1. Get a visa if you need one
Citizens of the EU, the EEA and Switzerland
If you come from the EU, the European Economic Area (Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway), or Switzerland, you do not need to have a visa to live and work in Germany.
You are not required to have a short stay visa for stays of under three months, and you do not need a residence permit for stays exceeding three months.
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Citizens of third countries
If you come from a third country (a country outside the EU, EEA and Switzerland), you need to apply for a visa before you arrive in Germany.
But people from certain third countries are exempt from this step if they are staying for up to three months within a six-month period – like the United States, Canada and Australia. Check whether you are exempt here.
There are two main types of visa for citizens of third countries. The first is the short stay Schengen Visa which is issued to people intending to stay for less than three months. The second is the longer stay residence permit which is given to people who plan to stay for more than three months.
Both types should be applied for at your home country's German embassy before you come to Germany. The application fee is currently set at €60.
To obtain a short stay Schengen visa, you must meet all of the following four requirements. Firstly, the purpose of the trip must be “plausible and comprehensible”. Secondly, you must be able to finance your living and travel costs from your own income. Thirdly, you must be prepared to leave the Schengen area before the visa expires. Lastly, you must provide evidence of travel health insurance which is valid for the whole Schengen area and has a minimum coverage of €30,000.
To obtain a longer stay residence permit, you will need to show proof of your ability to finance your living. You must also fulfil one of the following six requirements: If you would like to get training in Germany, if you would like to work in Germany, if you are entitled to stay in Germany for humanitarian or political reasons, if you are immigrating to Germany for family reasons, if you are a foreign national or formerly German and would like to return to Germany, or if you have a permanent residence permit in another EU member state, you could be eligible for this type of visa.
It takes a few months to process the application for a longer stay residence permit, so make sure you apply early so that your permit arrives on time.
2. Find some accommodation
If you want to get a permit to stay long-term as someone from a third country, you'll need a place to live and you'll need to be registered at that address.
If you would like to rent a flat which is already furnished, make sure you include the term “möbliert” in your search.
When you send off applications for flats, you will generally need to provide a copy of your passport, proof of your salary (i.e. three payslips), and a maybe even letter from your previous landlord/landlady to confirm that you don’t owe any money to him/her.
Be prepared to send off something like 40 emails to different landlords and receive numerous rejections in response until you are successful.
Make sure you know what you’re paying for. “Kaltmiete” is the basic rent which does not include water, electricity, heating or rubbish collection, whereas “Warmmiete” is all-inclusive. There are often several “Nebenkosten” (additional costs). Also, you are normally required to pay a “Kaution” (deposit) to the value of two or three months’ worth of rent.
MUST READ: 6 things to know about renting in Germany
3. Register your residence (“Anmeldung”)
Within two weeks of arriving in Germany, everyone needs to register their residence here. This can be done at the registry office (the “Bürgeramt”, the “Einwohnermeldeamt”, or the “Kreisverwaltungsreferat” if you’re in Munich).
Busy offices will require you to make an appointment as they get booked up very quickly. If you drop in without making an appointment, be prepared to wait a while. At quieter offices, you may be able to just walk in and get an appointment there and then.
Make sure you take your ID, passport and rental contract with you. In Berlin, new regulations state that you will also need to provide a document from your landlord to confirm that you have moved in. This document needs to contain the name and address of the landlord, the date that you moved in, and your name.
At the registry office, you will be required to fill in a form and confirm your identity in person.
At the end of the registration process, you will be issued with a registration certificate (the “Anmeldebestätigung”). Keep this safe – you will need it as your proof of address when you open a bank account, for example.
4. Get an EU Blue Card if you're eligible
The EU Blue Card is a residence permit issued by an EU member state to professionals from non-EU/EEA countries which will provide better access to the job market in Germany.
There are two prerequisites to being issued with a card. Firstly, you need a university degree, and secondly you must show evidence of a binding job offer with a salary of at least €49,600 per year. (In the fields of mathematics, IT, natural sciences, medicine or engineering, your salary must be at least €38,888.)
The card is initially valid for up to four years, but this can be extended. After 33 months of working in Germany, holders of an EU Blue Card can be granted a permanent settlement permit.
5. Open a bank account
Two of the most basic account types are the “Girokonto” (basic current account) and the “Sparbuchkonto” (savings account).
To open a bank account, you will need to provide a form of ID (for example your passport) and also your registration certificate (the “Anmeldebestätigung”). You will be required to confirm your identity in person.
The most widely used German banks are Sparkasse, Kommerzbank, Deutsche Bank, Volksbank and Postbank.
Banks which only offer an online service and do not have physical branches are Deutsche Kreditbank (DKB) and Comdirect.
6. Set up your phone
Make sure you call your phone provider before you get to Germany to activate roaming and check the charges for using your phone here.
Using roaming can get pricey, so it may be cheaper to buy a prepaid SIM card once you get here. Vodafone, Lebara, T-Mobile, E-Plus and 02 are the some of the largest providers in Germany.