Six stress-busting steps for moving to Germany

With its many vibrant cities and leading international status, there’s never been a better time to move to Germany.

Six stress-busting steps for moving to Germany
Photo: Getty Images: View over the Rhine Tower Düsseldorf

Take Düsseldorf, for instance, located on the beautiful banks of the Rhine, and the neighbouring County of Mettmann. The city and wider region are experiencing a boom and are among Europe’s most exciting centres of telecommunications, fashion and business consultancy. The region is also a huge centre of research, boasting more than 22 universities and research institutions, located within the city of Düsseldorf and throughout the surrounding area. 

However, moving to a new country always comes with significant challenges – and in 2020 there are more than usual. Fortunately, one of the many things Germany does well is helping new arrivals to quickly settle in. Here, The Local presents a guide to six key things to take into consideration when planning your move to Germany.

If you’re making the move to Düsseldorf or the County of Mettmann for work, you can get help in navigating each of these challenges from Expat Service Desk. This is an official institution run by the Office of Economic Development of the City of Düsseldorf and the County of Mettmann, as well as the Düsseldorf Chamber of Industry and Commerce. 

The Expat Service Desk provides advice and support, and their service takes the stress out of settling into the region, with free advice, seminars and activities for new arrivals.

1. Moving in the time of coronavirus  

We can’t avoid it: the Covid-19 pandemic is the most transformational event of the century so far. It has changed the way we travel, communicate and work. Even within the European Union, nations have implemented strict measures to halt the spread of the virus, such as quarantines for travellers. 

Germany is no exception. The government regularly updates a list of countries from which migration is currently restricted – unless those arriving come under the category of ‘skilled and highly qualified workers’. Your homeland appearing on this list can derail your move, wasting months of planning. In worst case scenarios, bureaucracy at both ends can delay your arrival in Germany by a number of months. 

If you're an international professional moving to work for a company in Düsseldorf or the County of Mettmann, help is at hand. As an official arm of the local government, Expat Service Desk can ensure you can start your move as soon – and as smoothly – as possible.

Are you a professional moving to Düsseldorf or the County of Mettmann? Find out how Expat Service Desk can help you

2. Sign on the dotted line – registration and insurance

Once you have a visa (if required), you'll need to do two things – register at your local citizen’s office (Bürgerbüro) and provide proof of insurance. Registering is a fairly painless procedure, all things considered, but you'll need documentation to prove that you're residing at your given address. 

Providing proof of insurance is also reasonably painless, but the wealth of providers and plans can be overwhelming. It’s important to ensure that the insurance plan you choose covers both you and your family for your specific health needs. 

Again, a guiding hand to give you advice on registering and obtaining the best insurance provider can save a lot of time and stress. 

Photo: Expat Service Desk (From left to right: Johannes Grünhage (Head of Expat Service Desk), Thomas Geisel (Mayor, State Capital Düsseldorf), Svitlana Bayer (Project Coordinator, Expat Service Desk), Thomas Hendele (County Administrator, Mettmann) and Gregor Berghausen (CEO, Chamber of Industry and Commerce, Düsseldorf)

3. Finding a place to live (and the right school for your kids)

The search for a suitable house or apartment can prove tricky, especially in big cities such as Düsseldorf, which is a top location for many industries from telecommunications to legal and business consultancy – as well as having a growing start-up scene.

Combine a shortage of housing in certain areas with a bewildering array of jargon (kalt? warm? WG? nebenkosten?) and the search for a place can be perhaps the most stressful part of a German move. Making sure you get good advice can save you a great deal of time, money and worry. 

If you’ve got kids, finding a suitable school in Germany for them can also be fraught with challenges. Finding the right school for your children is never easy. When faced with international schools, bilingual German state schools and alternative learning environments, it’s easy to become completely confused without help from a reliable source.

Expat Service Desk can support your company to strip away all the difficulties of settling down, so you (or your employee) can focus on getting on with your job.

Get help settling into Düsseldorf or the County of Mettmann with Expat Service Desk

4. Making friends 

Coming to a country where you don’t speak the language can make for a lonely experience. It’s easy to feel lost, and cultural differences can make the process of finding friends long and arduous. 

Basic German courses, and immersion activities in the local community can be helpful, but they can also be relatively hard to access, especially if you don’t know where to start and your preferred learning style. Again, having those around you who can evaluate and make the right introductions can not only make finding friends easier, but help you give others advice upon their arrival. 

Expat Service Desk, for example, organises seminars in English that provide you with information about all aspects of living and working in the region – and where you'll have the opportunity to meet fellow expats who can give you the lowdown on your new home. They also provide information about international associations and further help to get in touch with the local expat community.

5. Don't forget about fun!

To some, Germans have a reputation as overly serious, lacking a sense of humour and fun. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Germany as a nation is a riot of fun, festivals and free time activities. Nowhere is this more true than in Düsseldorf and the County of Mettmann.

Like history? You’re surrounded by it! Enjoy the great outdoors? The region has some of the most gorgeous environments in Europe. The County of Mettmann is also known for its green landscapes and classical German architecture, as well as including the Neander Valley, where the first identified Neanderthal bones were found in 1856.

County of Mettmann. Photo: Expat Service Desk

Are you a foodie? You’re going to eat like a king – along with an altbier! While half the fun of settling into a new country can be discovering what makes it tick, having people around you who can point out things that you'll enjoy is always a help. 

6. British? Get the latest on Brexit 

If you're British, there's unfortunately one more thing to think about. In terms of migration, however, things remain fairly stable – if you are resident in Germany before 31 December 2020, you'll have the right to permanently reside in the country.

You'll have to get a new residence document to confirm your rights under the Withdrawal Agreement between the UK and the EU (but the exact process for obtaining this is yet to be announced).

After 31 December, however, things get more complicated. To work within Germany, Britons will require the same kind of work visas that those outside the EEA do. While German bureaucracy is fairly efficient, it can still seem overly complex for outsiders.

Organisations such as Expat Service Desk – for those in Düsseldorf or the County of Mettmann only – can offer assistance in ensuring you make the right appointments, have the right paperwork, and receive documentation with the least stress. 

If you’re moving to Düsseldorf or the County of Mettmann, all these challenges can be avoided by using the Expat Service Desk to take the stress out of settling into the region. Click here to find out more now. 


For members


What happens if you overstay your 90-day limit in Germany?

People visiting Germany from a non-EU country are often subject to the 90-day rule, which states that they can only stay for 90 days out of 180. But how strictly is this rule enforced - and what happens if you end up overstaying?

What happens if you overstay your 90-day limit in Germany?

Most people who’ve come to Germany for short leisure trips should be aware of the so-called ’90-day rule’. 

The applies to citizens of non-EU countries that have a visa waiver agreement with the European Union, including people from New Zealand, Australia, the United States, Canada, and – since Brexit – the United Kingdom. 

It also applies to people travelling in Germany on a Schengen Visa for tourism or business purposes. Though visa durations can vary depending on personal circumstances, the most common type of Schengen Visa issued allows people to stay in the free-travel area for up to 90 days out of 180. 

But while the rules may seem pretty clear-cut, it’s often not obvious what the consequences are for people who end up staying longer than they’re supposed to. Here’s a rundown of the current rules and how Germany applies them.

What exactly is the ’90-day rule’?

As we mentioned above, the 90-day rule dictates that people from certain non-EU countries can only stay in Schengen states for up to 90 days in every 180.

It applies to people visiting Germany for tourism, business or leisure activities from countries like the United States, Japan, Australia and Singapore, which have a visa waiver (i.e. visa-free travel) scheme in place. You can check if you’re eligible to enter Germany without a visa here.

The 90 days can be used all in one go or over the course of several different trips. However, the important thing to remember is that no more than 90 days should have been spent in Schengen within 180 days of first entering the travel zone. 

As an example, if you enter Germany on the 1st of January and leave on June 30th, you can’t return until at least September. You should also note that moving to another Schengen country like France or Italy after your 90 days is up won’t cut it: the rule applies to time spent in the EU, so you will need to leave the Bloc entirely. 

People from countries without a visa waiver scheme can generally apply for a 90-day Schengen Visa. This generally has similar conditions to the visa waiver programme for Austrians, Brits, etc., but you would need to apply for another visa in order to return after the 180 days is up. 

If you plan to work or study in Germany or want to stay longer than 90 days, you’ll need to apply for visa. Nationals of certain countries, including the US and the UK, can apply for a visa while already in Germany, while others will have to apply for this before they travel.

You can find more details on moving to Germany from a third country in the following articles:

What consequences are there for overstayers?

If you spend more than 90 days in the EU or Schengen zone without a visa or residency permit then you are officially an overstayer. And unlike the pre-EU days when passport control consisted of a man in a booth with a rubber stamp, scanning of all passports on entry/exit of the EU makes it pretty easy to spot overstayers.

This is set to become even more stringent when the EES scheme comes into effect next year – full details on that HERE

The EU lists a range of possible penalties although in practice some countries are stricter than others.

A police officer at border control in Germany

A police officer at border control in Germany. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Matthias Balk

Within the system, anyone who overstays can be subject to the following penalties:

Deportation – if you are found to have overstayed, countries are within their rights to either imprison you and deport you, or give you a certain number of days to leave. In practice, deportation is rare for people who aren’t working or claiming benefits: they are more likely to be advised of the situation and told to leave as soon as possible.

Fines – fines can be levied in addition to other penalties and vary according to country. In Germany, they will depend on a range of circumstances, such as how long your overstay, whether the overstay is deemed intentional and if you have any previous convictions. For cases that are deemed to be ‘administrative offences’ – i.e. overstaying out of negligence – a fine of up to €3,000 is possible. In criminal cases, courts can set fines on a case-by-case basis. They could decide to issue a fine based on the number of days you’ve overstayed (for example, €40 per day) but are also likely to consider any other aggravating or mitigating factors. 

Prison sentences – in extremely rare cases, people who overstay their visas in Germany can face up to a year in prison. However, this would generally involve aggravating factors like working for several months or committing another offence while in the country.

Entry ban – countries can impose a complete ban on re-entry, usually for three years although it can be longer. A complete ban is usually only put in place for people who have over-stayed for a significant amount of time.

READ ALSO: Does transit through Germany’s neighbours affect Brexit 90-day rule?

Difficulties returning to the Schengen area – even if you avoid all of the above penalties, the overstay alert on your passport will make it more difficult for you to return to the EU, and this applies to any EU or Schengen zone country, not just the one you over-stayed in. People who have this alert on their passport are likely to face extended checks at the border and may even be turned back. You will also likely encounter difficulties if you later apply for a visa or residency.

People who simply stay in an EU country without securing residency become undocumented immigrants and will not be able to access healthcare or social security provisions. If caught, they face deportation.

How is Germany enforcing the rules?

Compared to some other EU countries, Germany has a reputation for having especially strict immigration rules. Though they may not spot your overstay immediately while you’re still in the country, it’s likely to be picked up when you leave. 

This could have consequences for future visits or visa applications, or other consequences mentioned above. 

A woman passes through the automated passport control in EU

A woman passes through the automated passport control at Düsseldorf airport. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Federico Gambarini

How can I avoid overstaying in Germany?

One of the best ways to avoid an accidental overstay in Germany is to have a firm grip on the rules. It’s worth remembering, for example, that the date you arrive counts as the first day of your stay, even if your flight lands just before midnight. The same goes for the date you leave: anytime after midnight counts as the next day, even if it’s in the early hours of the morning. 

If you’re planning to make multiple short trips to Schengen in the 180 day period, you can use this handy calculator to work out how many more days you are allowed to stay. 

Of course, unforeseen circumstances can occur, such as sudden illness or other problems affecting your ability to return home. In these circumstances, you should contact your nearest Foreigners’ Office (Ausländerbehörde) as soon as possible to see what options are available to you. In some cases, they may allow you to extend your time in Germany without treating it as an illegal overstay. 

READ ALSO: REVEALED: EU plans digital-only Schengen visa application process