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What Americans in Germany need to know when moving back to the US

The Local Germany
The Local Germany - [email protected]
What Americans in Germany need to know when moving back to the US
A United Airlines flight departs from Frankfurt. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jana Glose

Looking to move back to the US from Germany? It might not be as straightforward as you imagine.


Moving countries is a time-consuming process - but if you're American and living in Germany you might think that moving back to the US would be simpler. Is that true? 

Well, there won't be a language barrier and as a US citizen you won't need any immigration paperwork (although if you're bringing a German partner with you, it can get a little complicated) - but you will still face a fair share of administrative hurdles.

Here's what to expect:

Can I drive on my German licence?

Most people living in Germany for over six months - excluding certain groups like students - are required to convert their US driver's licence into a German one. That also means giving up your American licence.

READ MORE: How do I convert my foreign driver's licence into a German one?

Once you get back to the United States, you may be able to drive with your German licence for a short period of time (usually a maximum of three months, depending on the state). You may also need to hold an 'International Driver's Permit' (IDP) - if you do not hold an IDP, you can request one here

When it comes to switching your licence back to an American one, the steps will depend on the state and whether or not they hold a reciprocity agreement with Germany. If there is no agreement in place, you may have to take driving examinations again.


Can I bring my German partner with me?

German nationals do not need a visa to spend less than 90 days the United States. However, before attempting to travel to the US, they must apply for the ESTA visa waiver, which is valid for entering the country for up to two years in the future. 

But if you want your German partner to spend more than 90 days in the country, then the subsequent administrative steps will depend on your relationship status. If you are dating or in a civil partnership in Germany, then you will not gain any special privileges in the eyes of US immigration authorities. 

For those who are married (including same-sex marriages) you can apply for the 'Immigrant visa for a Spouse of a US Citizen'. To obtain this, you will need to submit Form I-130. The US State Department says on their website that "petitioners residing outside of the United States may file Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, online at or by mail to the USCIS Dallas Lockbox."

When the form has been approved, either the American consulate or embassy will notify you. At this point, you will likely be called for an interview at the embassy.

US Embassy Berlin

The US flag flies outside of the Embassy in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Soeren Stache

Expect that the processing time could be several months (or even a year) and that you will likely need to show proof of your relationship.

It's also possible for Americans to petition for a Green Card for their German spouse while both are living in Germany. The benefit of this is that the German spouse is able to work without restrictions when arriving in the US. The process begins by filing a 1-130 form, but be advised that the whole process will take at least a year.

As for engaged couples, you can apply for a K-1 visa - which means "you and your fiancé(e) intend to marry one another within 90 days of your fiancé(e)’s admission to the United States," according to the State Department.

To qualify, you will need to file Form I-129F, which will ask USCIS to recognise the relationship between you and your fiancé(e).

As these processes can be time-consuming, it can help to join Facebook groups to get advice and hear others' perspectives. You might consider joining either the group "Americans in Germany" or "Expats in Germany".

Do I still have to pay German taxes? Any impact on my American taxes?

Generally, German tax declarations concern the previous year, so you will have to do at least one tax declaration and payment after moving back to the US.

In Germany, you usually need to pay taxes by the end of July (though the deadline was pushed to October 2nd and September 2nd next year), and concerns the previous calendar year. So if for example you move back to the US in November 2023, you will have to complete a tax declaration by September 2nd 2024, covering your 10 months of residency in Germany in 2023.


If you still own property in Germany you will pay property taxes there, and if you have any earnings in your former home you will likely still have to pay taxes there - check with your local German tax office. 

READ ALSO: What happens if you miss your tax return deadline in Germany?

You will also need to inform the German taxman that you’re leaving the country, which you can do online through the Elster portal or leave it to your Steuerberater (tax advisor) if you have one.

ELSTER the online portal for submitting tax returns in Germany. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Christin Klose

As for any foreign income earned in Germany (ex. rental income), you must still report it to the IRS (Form 1040), even if you pay German tax on it. That being said, you could be eligible for the Foreign Tax Credit to avoid paying tax twice. The same principle goes for declaring foreign bank accounts with over $10,000 - even if you have moved back to the US, this declaration (the FBAR) is still required.

When it comes to your American taxes, keep in mind that as a citizen filing from abroad, you were eligible for a two-month extension until June 15th each year. Once you move back to the US, you will have to file by April 15th. 

What about my pension contributions accrued in Germany?

If you have been working in Germany, you will probably have been contributing to the German pension system (unless you were a posted worker).

Some countries such as the US, Canada and Australia have agreements with Germany allowing an individual to collect a pension with the employee's portion of the contribution from both countries if the person has worked more than 60 months in Germany. If you have worked elsewhere within the EU, you may also be able to apply these years towards a German pension, as well.

The German Mission in the United States provides comprehensive information on their website about how to transfer your pension, regardless of how long you were living and working in Germany.


Do I need to hand back my residency card, health card etc before I leave Germany? 

Most countries require that you hand back residency cards before you leave, but in truth this is rarely strictly enforced. Check with the Ausländerbehörde (immigration office) that issued your Aufenthaltstitel (residency card) on what they want you to do with them, but most offices will simply ask you to mail it back.

The exception could be if you have a Niederlassungserlaubnis (permanent residency card), which in some cases - i.e. being married to a German or having lived in Germany for more than 15 years - could allow you to hold on to your status indefinitely, regardless of how long you move back to the US. Note though that the only status that will guarantee your rights in Germany in the long term is a German passport.

READ ALSO: How long can you leave Germany for without losing permanent residency?

If you do end up keeping residency or healthcare cards, don't use them on trips back to the EU. Tempting as it might be to avoid long lines at the border or healthcare fees, you will create a confusing official record if you are claiming to be resident of two countries at once.

For the same reason, be sure to remember to de-register from your current address in Germany before you go, too. This can generally be done remotely, either online or by sending a signed letter to the Bürgeramt - but it's a good idea to check beforehand in case you do need to go in person. 

Can I keep my German bank account? Do I need a new US account? 

This one depends on the policy of your bank, but most banks in Germany require you to have a German address.

When you move back, you might have to open new US bank accounts, particularly if yours were closed. Americans living in Germany have experienced issues keeping their US-based checking accounts open due to their permanent residency having been in Germany, and many others have cited problems with brokerage accounts being closed on residency grounds. 

A practical option while you are moving and still have interests in both countries is to open an internet bank account with a company like Wise which offers accounts in both dollars and euros (as well as dozens of other currencies). You can use the Wise account to continue to pay any small payments or bills as they come in Germany. 


What about other financial considerations?

Think about your credit score, as this will become important again once you get back to the United States. If you have continued to make your payments on time and at the full amount, then you are probably in a good position. 

This is another area where you will need to consider your German partner, if you have one. They likely will not have a credit score, which could create issues in accessing affordable home and car insurance, as well as passing screenings for loans and apartment/ home rentals.

Additionally, it will not be possible for your German partner to open an American bank account until they have a valid visa and address. You may need to budget for these delays while both of you are still in Germany.


As for financial considerations on the German side, be sure to close all accounts and subscriptions that you will no longer be using.


If you are registered with the German healthcare system and have a Gesundheitskarte, you need to inform your health insurance provider that you are leaving Germany.

German health insurance cards. Photo: picture alliance / Maurizio Gambarini/dpa | Maurizio Gambarini

You might want to ask your German GP for your medical records, so that you can take them along to the United States. Keep in mind that medical records are not kept in a single file in Germany, instead you have an individual file with each professional you have seen. To request these files, you can ask in person or send a letter.

Once you get back to the United States, you will likely need to re-enroll in a health plan.

If you are planning to enroll in a health plan offered by your employer, be sure to ask when the open enrollment period will be so that you can plan accordingly.

You may be eligible for a plan with the ACA's Health Insurance Marketplace, but keep in mind that the enrollment period for the following year starts on November 1st.

You can find more information here.


Will my EU/ German qualifications be recognised?

If you were studying or gaining professional qualifications while living in the EU, don't assume that these will be recognised in the US. It's a good idea to check if your qualifications will be recognised before you start job-hunting. 

For example, several fields, such as medicine, require lengthy processes for qualifications to be converted. If you were a teacher in Germany, you can check the teacher certification requirements by state here.



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