Now it’s time to apply for your travel visa, and this is where you have some options. If you have a US passport, you can actually stay in Germany for up to 90 days without getting a travel visa. During this 90-day period, you can start your apartment hunt and job search if you didn’t do those things in the states. You can’t actually start working in Germany yet, though.
If you want a little more time to take care of all of this, you can apply for a Job Seeker Visa, enabling you to stay in Germany for up to six months. This step isn’t necessary, but it’s nice to have so much extra time to take care of everything. You’ll apply for this visa through the German Embassy that services your area.
And it bears repeating that neither of these options actually allows you to start working in Germany. They just allow you to seek employment with a German company. You’ll still need to apply for a work visa and a residence permit before you’re legally allowed to work.
It’s also possible to seek a German employer while you’re stateside. If your skills are in high demand, your new employer may be willing to wait for you to make the trip and apply for residence before you start working. If you want to start looking for jobs before your move, this resource can help.
Your residency permit is what allows you to work, study, and live in Germany long-term. You can apply for your permit after you’re living in Germany or before. There are a few different kinds of residence permits:
- Residence permits for work
- Residence permits for study
- Residence permits for family reunification (for spouses or children of German citizens or foreigners with German residence permits)
To get the official breakdown of each visa type and decide which one is right for your situation, carefully read over the German Embassy’s guide to residence visas.
Applying for your residence permit before you’re actually in Germany guarantees you’ll have all the documents you need before you get there, but it also has one distinct drawback: it takes much longer to get your application approved.
When you apply for your residence permit in the US, your application gets sent from your nearest US consulate to Germany for processing. Then, after you’re approved, everything gets sent back along with your permit. This whole process can take months.
Applying when you’re already in Germany is much faster because it cuts out the delivery time between countries. And since US passport-holders get to stay in Germany for 90 days without residence permits, many opt to apply when they’re in Germany so that the process is running in the background while they’re starting their new lives abroad.
Waiting to apply until you’re already in Germany takes a leap of faith, though. It’s always possible that your application might be denied and you’ll have to leave.
If the complexities and particulars of this process are overwhelming and confusing, we can’t say we blame you. Luckily, Germany’s Federal Foreign Office has you covered. To clarify everything, the office has put together a list of answers to frequently asked questions.
If you decide to fly to Germany before getting your residence permit, consider storing your household goods in the US instead of paying your moving company to ship them immediately. This means you won’t have most of your stuff during your first few months in Germany, but it will save you money if your job hunt or permit application goes south.
If your residence permit gets denied while you’re in Germany, you have to leave after 90 days—or six months if you got a job seeker visa. And if all your stuff is in Germany with you, you’ll have to pay a moving company to ship it all back for you when it’s time to leave. In short, you’ll pay for two international moves without actually getting to stay in Germany.
The easiest solution is to box all your belongings up and leave them in the home of a friend or family member while you’re abroad. Once you have a job offer with a German company and your permit is approved, the person you left your stuff with can coordinate with your moving company for delivery.
If this isn’t an option, you can leave all your belongings in a storage unit instead. Moving companies can pick things up from a storage unit if someone is there to let the moving crew into it, so you’ll still need to enlist a friend or family member who lives near the storage facility. Check out our list of the best storage companies to find a unit for your household goods.
Alternatively, you can even ask your moving company about storage. Many moving companies own storage facilities, and storing with the company that will eventually deliver your stuff would remove the necessity of help from friends or family.