This is the question I am getting most often. So here is the nitty gritty for those who are interested or researching this type of move.
This is in NO WAY any sort of official path to moving to Germany. It is 100% based on our own experience.
1. We saved some money. This seems obvious, but I also want to encourage people that it can be done. It costs less than you think to live here. It’s true that we were at an advantage with no children and no real debt, but if you want to do this start skipping the morning Starbucks, lunches out, and restaurant dinners. Visit your library instead of the bookstore. Enjoy Netflix instead of cable or going to the movies. It all adds up. The German government will want to see that you have enough to support yourself. Their requirement is just under $9,000 per person for 12 months. I would say that’s bit low, but not by much.
2. What are you going to bring? We sold/donated 99% of our belongings before we moved. This is hard for some people. We are of the opinion that it’s just stuff and we’d rather not be tied down. The experience is more desirable than the accumulation. We have a few items in storage at Chris’ parents, which is a huge deal as we don’t have to pay for any storage. We came to Germany with one large suitcase each, and one carry-on each.
3. Find housing. One reason we chose Berlin is that it is incredibly affordable and has a lot of available housing. There are many companies that specialize in furnished housing for short term (6-12 months), but be aware of the commission they charge. It can often add up to an additional month’s rent. The advantage here is that they have enormous inventories. You could get off the plane and be in an apartment in 3 days. We found a company called Berlin99 and cannot recommend them enough. They manage multiple affordable properties, have no commission (although I am sure it’s just built in to the rent), and make the entire process very simple.
4. Get health insurance. This sounds intimidating, but it was so simple. We used a company called Care Concept. It’s a German company that provides coverage for non-Germans or Germans who are traveling abroad. We went onto their website, completed the application (name, address, age, and duration of coverage). We paid the premium – $620 for each of us for 13 months – and 5 minutes later our insurance cards were emailed to us with a welcome letter and policy pages. Ridiculously easy.
5. Let Germany know you are here. This is the first bureaucratic step. It’s an in-person visit to the Burgeramt to register your address. The online info says you can make appointments but we were unable to get one for at least a month, so we went and stood in line 2 hours before they opened. Burgeramt offices are located all over the city, usually in the Rathaus (town hall) of various city neighborhoods. Check the times and hours, get in line early, and don’t be afraid to elbow people who try to cut ahead of you in line. Once inside you are given a number and application, and you wait. And wait. And wait. When it’s your turn you meet one-on-one with someone who checks your passport and lease agreement and gives you a document that shows you are now “official” with the city. This is NOT a visa, but you need this before you do anything else. There was no cost for this.
6. Get a visa. This was by far the biggest pain, but again – it wasn’t hard, just a long process. There is one location in all of Berlin for visas. This is called the Auslanderbehorde, or foreign office. Again, they say to make an appointment, but that is not an option as we didn’t see an appointment for at least 7 months. So you get in line early. Not just early – ungodly hours of the morning early. They open at 7am on Mondays and Tuesdays. On a Monday we went at 4:30am and the line was down the block. We knew we’d never get a number that day. The next morning we got up at 2am and were in line by 3:15. We were not the first ones there, but we were not too far from the front. The gates are opened at about 6am and security keeps everyone orderly as you get in the ticket number line. At about 6:30am they start to let people in to get their numbers and then you are dispersed throughout the building depending on your visa type/country of origin. We had to wait a bit, but once we were in the process was simple and we were done by 9:30am.
What did we need for the visa? The visa application (they have one in English), our passports, the certification from the Burgeramt’s office, proof of health insurance, bank statements, a marriage license if applicable (not on the list, but we were glad we brought it), certificates from our language school, and two biometric photos (like a passport photo – there are overpriced booths at the visa office or places all over the city.) We brought our birth certificates just in case, but we didn’t need them. This cost 100 Euros total, or about $110 US.
We were granted a one-year language visa. This is not a student visa and it does not allow us to seek employment.
You can also apply for the visa before you leave, but that requires a trip to a Germany embassy in the US and a long/undetermined wait. It could be three weeks or it could be three months before your visa approval arrives and you can travel. The long morning of waiting in line was worth it in our opinion.
I want to emphasize that none of this was hard. If you have an Internet connection you can have all of your ducks in a row. The longest part of the process was two mornings of waiting in line.
So there you go. We are done with the bureaucracy and are enjoying life!