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WORKING IN GERMANY

The easiest visas to get as an American in Germany

Want to stay and live in Germany but haven't quite figured out the whole job thing? We've got you covered.

The easiest visas to get as an American in Germany
The American flag before Berlin's iconic Brandenburg Gate. Photo: DPA.

When I first moved to Berlin, I was like many a Millennial 20-something and didn’t have much of a plan.

My three-month automatic tourist visa was soon expiring and my enchantment with Berlin still had not worn off, but I still didn’t have a job, nor did I have any clue how to confront the intimidating Ausländerbehörde (Foreigners Office, and really this should be the first German word you learn, if you haven’t already).

Luckily, three years and three different kinds of visa later, I pretty much got the whole deal sorted out.

First: The basics

Photo: DPA.

Americans get three months automatically as a ‘tourist visa’, so you can come and stay for the entire span of that time without doing any paperwork. If you want to stay longer though, there are a number of options.

Before you even get to the Ausländerbehörde though, you’ll have to register your address at your neighbourhood Bürgeramt, Einwohnermeldeamt, or Kreisverwaltungsreferat to get a certificate, or Anmeldung. This can be a hassle in and of itself, but if you don’t yet have a job, at least you have free time on your hands to get there early and wait for hours if you can’t get an appointment ahead of time (this may also be the case at the Ausländerbehörde).

If you haven’t been able to get an Anmeldung (which may also prove necessary when opening a bank account or even registering for German classes), you can also walk into the foreigners office with your lease and a letter from your landlord.

SEE ALSO: Six essentials to ensure a smooth landing in Germany

The most important things that the Ausländerbehörde will be looking for are that you have proper health insurance coverage in Germany and a way to support yourself. Usually some form of traveller’s insurance with a German firm will at least temporarily appease the bureaucrats (they might give you a temporary permit and tell you to come back again with better insurance if it’s not sufficient).

And a letter (even if it’s in English) from a parent or partner, saying that they will financially support you, along with their bank statements and proof of income, should fulfil the whole proof of financial stability thing.

But then you have to know what kind of permit to apply for:

1. The ‘job-seekers’ permit

Photo: Pexels.com

This is for people with at least a bachelor’s degree at a university recognized in Germany (basically all accredited American universities), who want to look for a job. It lasts for just six months, but at least it buys you some time to figure things out further.

Make sure to have an original certificate of your degree(s) as well as a copy to submit, and it doesn’t hurt to throw in any other qualifications that you might have under your belt. The rule of thumb for German bureaucrats: the more paperwork, the better.

2. Permit to study German

Another option is a permit to study German. This is for up to one year and you must be enrolled in ‘intensive classes’ of at least 18 hours a week.

You’ll of course have to show proof of enrolling in a course.

If you’re looking for an option that will also offer some form of financial support or professional experience, you might consider one of the following options:

1. Au pair visa

An young man working as an au pair in Bielefeld. Photo: DPA.

If you like taking care of kids, working as an au pair for up to a year is an option worth considering. You’ll first need to find a host family, which you can do through sites like Au Pair World, or Au Pair Care Germany, as well as a number of others.

2. Internship visa

It’s also possible to get a permit for even an unpaid internship, though no income will mean showing proof that you have another means of support, as previously mentioned.

Check out The Local’s jobs page, as well as BerlinStartupJobs.com, XpatJobs.de or one of the Jobs In Network sites for English-language listings.

3. Self-employed artist or English tutor

Photo: DPA.

If you can’t find a job, why not work for yourself? Another type of permit is the self-employed or freelance permit. But this does require a bit more paperwork. You’ll need at least two freelance ‘job offers’ (I submitted short, not-legally-binding letters from people who said they’d be interested in hiring me) in the field that you want to freelance in.

What kind of work you’ll be permitted to do depends on what these letters say. So for a hot minute I was a freelance ‘editor, journalist, and English tutor’, according to my permit.

But the Ausländerbehörde won’t buy any old job: You also should have some sort of qualification (I used a certificate from a journalism exchange programme) and references backing up that you have previously done this kind of work.

If you’re an artist and have some interest lined up in your work, this permit applies to you, and some people may use it flexibly: like being a freelance musician and using that to teach little kids music theory.

One final important term: Fiktionsbescheinigung

If you don’t yet have all the paperwork you need and your tourist visa is about to run out – don’t panic. Take everything you do have to the Ausländerbehörde and if it’s not quite enough, ask about a Fiktionsbescheinigung – literally fictional certificate.

When I first applied, I was still somehow missing one vital piece of paper, so they gave me this temporary permit which also entailed an extension of time since I was just days away from that three-month mark.

This might all seem very overwhelming, but it’s really not. There are more than 120,000 Americans who have somehow found a way to live in Germany, according to April 2020 statistics, and so can you.

Member comments

    1. I’m currently here with NATO, but might consider something in a few years after retirement. I was wondering the same thing.

    2. I checked. There is no retirement visa per say. There is a temp residence visa you can apply for and it may get accepted if you can show “pension income” and “health insurance”. It needs to be renewed annually. After 5 years, you can apply for the permanent residence visa. You cannot work on the visa if you were approved as a pensioner.

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For members

WORKING IN GERMANY

How easy is it to get an English-speaking job in Germany?

Lots of foreigners in Germany hope to get a job or climb the career ladder. But are there still opportunities for English speakers who don't have fluent German? We spoke to a careers expert to find out.

How easy is it to get an English-speaking job in Germany?

The pandemic turned our lives upside down. As well as having to isolate and be apart from family members, many people found themselves in need of a new job or decided they want a change in career. 

If you’re in Germany or thinking of moving here, job searching is of course easier with German language skills. But many people haven’t had the chance to learn German – or their German isn’t fluent enough to work in a German-only environment.

So how easy is it to find a job in Germany as an English speaker?

We asked Düsseldorf-based career coach Chris Pyak, managing director of Immigrant Spirit GmbH, who said he’s seen an increase in job offers. 

“The surprising thing about this pandemic is that demand for skilled labour actually got even stronger,” Pyak told The Local.

“Instead of companies being careful, they’ve hired even more than they did before. And the one thing that happened during the pandemic that didn’t happen in the last 10 years I’ve observed the job market was that the number of English offers quadrupled.”

READ ALSO: How to boost your career chances in Germany

Pyak said usually about one percent of German companies hire new starts in English. “Now it’s about four percent,” said Pyak. 

“This happened in the second half of 2021. This is a really positive development that companies are more willing than they used to be. That said it’s still only four percent.”

Pyak said he’s seen a spike in demand for data scientists and analysts as well as project managers. 

So there are some jobs available, but can foreigners do anything else?

Pyak advises non-Germans to sell themselves in a different way than they may be used to. 

A woman works on her CV in Germany.

A woman works on her CV in Germany. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Christin Klose

“In your home country you have a network, you have a company you used to work for that people know,” said Pyak. “This might be partly the case in Germany if you worked for an international company. But for most employers you are a blank sheet of paper, they know nothing about you. So unfortunately if they don’t know you or your country, they will assume you are worse (at the job) than Germans. It’s completely unjustified but it’s just how people are. 

“Get the employer to see you as the individual person you are, the professional you are. This requires that you have a conversation with somebody inside the company, ideally the decision maker, meaning the hiring manager or someone in this team.”

Pyak said it’s important to go into details. 

“Don’t think of me as a foreigner, think of me as ‘Mark who has been working in IT for 15 years’,” said Pyak. “Don’t read the job advert (to the manager), ask them what his or her biggest worry is and why is that important? And then dig deeper and offer solutions based on your work experience. Share actual examples where you proved that you can solve this problem.”

READ ALSO: 7 factors that can affect how much you’re getting paid

Pyak says foreigners in Germany can convince managers that they are right for the job – even if their German isn’t great. 

“What I advise clients at the beginning of the interview is to ask very politely if you can ask them (managers) a question. And this question should be: how will you know that I’m successful in this job, what is the most important problem I need to solve for you in order to make myself valuable? And then ask why this problem is so important. And the answer to that achieves a million things for you – first of all you’ve established a measurement by which you should be measured. 

“Then when you get into detailed discussion you can always tie your answer back to the question you can solve, which usually makes up 70 or 80 percent of the job. If you can solve this problem then what does it matter if you do the job in German or English?”

So in answer to our original question – it seems that getting an English-speaking job in Germany can’t be described as easy but it is very possible especially if you have the skills in your chosen field. Plus there are ways to increase your chances. Good luck! 

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