Hey you, yes you…the future expat reading this article. Hallo und Willkommen!
I am excited for you that you are considering (or at least reading about) what it is like to move to Germany from the United States. The idea of such a big change can be scary but also very exciting. As someone who recently (in the last month) made the move, I want to share with you the top 5 things I learned during my move abroad!
#1 Finding an opportunity to move to Germany is as easy as 1, 2, …
Okay, well, maybe it wasn’t THAT easy. It took some work, some preparation, some research, but what I found is that once I started looking, the possibilities were countless! Here is the progression of my story. A recruiter reaches out to me on LinkeIn with an opportunity in Global eCommerce. She mentioned the company’s global footprint and wide imact of over 1 million daily customers. Based on this description, I was intrigued so I requested more information.
That is when it happened. That is when I got hit with the question that started this whole life move – “The position is based in Germany, is that an option for you to consider?”
To help you all visualize what was going through my head at this moment, it looked a little bit like this. 😲—>🤩 —>🤔
First, I was shocked. I love traveling and it has always been one of my goals to live in another country. I wasn’t actively pursuing that goal at the time but sometimes life gives you a jolt reminding you!
Second, I had stars in my eyes as I was flooded by a tornado of positive thoughts —> Germany! wow, incredible, great economy, central location, interesting job, Berlin!, so artsy!
Third, I was a bit puzzled. For many years, there was a rule in the EU that made it very hard for non-EU professionals to compete for jobs. The rule essentially said that a company in the EU could not hire a non-EU citizen for a role if a candidate within the EU could perform the job at hand. So basically, unless you had a very unique set of talents, you were likely not going to qualify for hire in the EU.
I took this curiosity to the internet and what I found was the German Skilled Immigration Act. This Act came into force on 1 March 2020 with the intent to boost immigration of qualified individuals from abroad. It expanded the framework for which qualified professionals can find opportunities in Germany. In summary, Germany is more accessible than ever for non-EU citizens! Now is the time!
In fact, you can even tell Germany’s dedication to this initiative by taking a look at their website – Make it in Germany. Here you can do a quick-check about your prospects of working an living in Germany.
Though I didn’t get the initial role that the recruiter shared with me, I was able to secure multiple interviews with Germany companies and eventually, I found the one.
#2 Navigating The Chicken or The Egg Conundrum
So you have decided to make the move! Congratulations! Now you have the pleasant job of…doing administrative tasks!
That’s right! Now comes all the administrative work to solidify your move. Fortunately, many companies help a lot with this process from start to finish. Though the assistance is extremely helpful, I still found myself puzzled on some items.
Enter the chicken and the egg.
In the case you are planning to apply for a blue card, you will begin to collect the documents listed on the visa checklist in preparation for your consulate appointment. What you will begin to notice is that some items are required in which you might not have information for.
- You need to prove German health insurance in order to move to Germany. In order to get German health insurance, you need an address in Germany.
- Proof of housing in Germany but to get a long term residence in Berlin, you need to prove you are a resident of Berlin.
- Not a chicken of the egg scenario but I was unable to find a single place that could provide me with the correct size of specimen photos required. 5 mm by 45 mm. So instead, I went to Fedex and got their standard passport photos 2” by 2” or 50.8 mm by 50.8 mm and cut them with scissors. Fortunately it worked!
In these cases, my advice is to not let the ambiguity stop you. Sometimes for temporary housing insurance, you can put your office address if your company allows it. And for the proof of housing, you can rent a hotel that you expect to stay at when you first arrive.
All in all, I still don’t know what came first but it didn’t matter. The process of moving from job offer to flight took about 3 months.
#3 Your Home Won’t Pack Itself
Despite your longing for all of your world possessions to hop off the shelves and neatly organize into boxes, it just isn’t going to happen. You will have a million little decisions to make when it comes to deciding the items that will move with you and what you will leave behind.
The important thing is, don’t procrastinate. The process may be long, but time flies. It is crucial that you figure out what you are going to do with your stuff and make plans accordingly. Are you going to take it? Great! Make sure you know the cost of shipping and if you are hiring someone to pack it, get on their calendar now. Are you going to sell it? Also great! It takes time to find buyers who will pay you the price you want for your prized items.
In reality, this part is hard. Especially if you are having to downsize your life. If you are struggling with it, Marie Kondo has a great book – The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying and Spark Joy.
In my case, we sold as much as we could early on. Even though it meant sleeping on an air mattress for 2 months, it was much better than the stress of having to throw stuff out or coordinate donation at the last minute.
All in all, I reduced my belongings into 2 big suitcases, 1 carry on and 1 backpack. I prioritized my backpacking items that I couldn’t leave behind, some clothing, with an emphasis on winter clothing since Berlin is cold, a few pairs of shoes, and some medicine and snacks from home.
#4 Just because other people don’t get it, doesn’t mean it isn’t right for you
I think that number 4 is very important. When going through a big life change of any kind, undoubtedly there wil be people who don’t understand your motives, who don’t agree with your decision, or simply are worried for you and don’t know how to manifest it in a positive way
These questions and more will come repetitively as you begin to share your ambitions for your upcoming adventure with more and more people. Some questions from key influencers in your life may even start to deflate you a little bit. You are likely full of butterflies as it is, and you could really use support. You want someone who will say “Congratulations! You’ll have the best time of your life”
Well…let me be the one – Congratulations! You’ll have the best time of your life!
To be clear, I had a lot of support mixed with support with undertones of reservation and fear. The best way to handle it is to have clarity of your purpose. Why did you make the decision? How are you hoping to grow as a person?
As long as these questions are clear to you, then you are making the right decision for you! Remember that and it will get you through. In fact, expressing your excitement and resolve will also settle some of the worriers in your family and friend group and maybeee make them express their hidden excitement a bit more.
#5 Know the essentials before you arrive
And finally…do some research before you arrive! It will make your life a thousand times easier when you get there!
Here are some things that would be essentials to know:
- Phone Service
This is an immediate need as it will give you a way to let everyone know you made it and it’s great for safety purposes as you settle in.
Short Term – I use Google Fi which connects me to local cellular service when I land. You could also use roaming through your existing provider and then switch in the first couple of weeks.
Long Term – There are several providers in Germany including Telekom, Vodafone, and O2. You can create a contract with one of these companies for a certain amount of time. Fortunately, you can use a German cell phone plan in all EU countries without incurring roaming charges provided you are contacting other German numbers. Calling other country numbers will incur costs.
In addition to setting up your phone, know the emergency numbers – In Germany 110 is for the Police and 112 is for Fire/Ambulance/Paramedics.
- Additional Administrative Tasks
Likely when you arrive, there will be more tasks to do. You will need to register where you live through an Anmeldung appointment, file for your residence visa/ long term stay, open a bank account, and more. Discuss this with your employer and do research ahead of time.
- Salary, Banking, and Budgeting
If you get a job in Germany, often they list the Gross Salary. Use a net salary calculator to know how much you will actually take home since taxes are much higher in Germany. Many subscription services in Germany such as the gym and grocery delivery require and IBAN. In order to get this, you will need to open a German Bank account. In order to do this, you will need your Admneldung (above). Likely your salary will also be direct deposited into your newly created German Bank Account. Some banks you could consider are Deutsche Bank and N26. Additionally, learn the basic cost of living so that you can find reasonable accommodation and budget accordingly.
- Most things are closed on Sunday
If you are used to doing your weekly grocery shopping on Sunday, think again! Due to the Ladenschlussgesetz “Store-closing law”, no stores are allowed to operate on Sunday. An except to this are shops in the U-Bahn (train station).
- The Public Transportation is Incredible
If you are skeptical of public transportation because your hometown didn’t have one or it wasn’t reliable, this is often not the case in Germany. Speaking for Berlin, I can go pretty much anywhere I want via train. If you are uncomfortable, you may want to read a few articles on this to start familiarizing yourself. It is the cheapest option (other than walking).
- Pharmacies are separate from grocery stores
You might need to make two stops as opposed to two in the US if you are looking for medicine and food. Pharmacies are called apotekes. Big grocery stores to look for here are Edeka and Rewe.
- Know A Decent Amount of German
Just Kidding 😉 It is a plus but isn’t a necessity. If you will be in a big city, likely most people will speak some English. In more rural Germany or smaller towns, knowing German will be more important. I know very little and I’m able to get by.
So there you have it! 5 Tips for beginners looking to move to Germany! I hope you enjoyed this article and I wish you the best of luck on whatever adventure comes next.