The job offer gets you the visa, the visa gets you on the plane.
Note: This article describes the ins and outs of getting a work visa for Germany in 2023. The messages apply mostly equally to EU Blue Card in other EU countries, but details vary, sometimes substantially. The bottom line is: Getting an EU Blue Card visa is not that difficult if you know the process.
Really. We show you how.
Before we start: The goal here is not to explain everything in detail, but to give you a feel for the bureaucratic hurdles ahead of you. Key takeaways for you:
Visa, flat, work permit. All of this matters only if you get a job offer. → So focus all your energy on getting a job. Don’t worry about the visa now. The visa question will sort itself out later. Promise.
Without further ado, let’s jump right in. There are 3 things you need to put in place between now and your first 3 months in Germany:
Let’s look at each one in detail, one by one.
Immigration is a long and cumbersome bureaucratic process. But it’s also a predictable one with a few precise rules which you can understand.
A work visa gives you the right to enter Germany for the purpose of starting work. This is not your average tourist visa. Here is what you need to do to get the visa:
PRO TIP: Actually getting an appointment at the embassy can be very hard, because the system often does not show free slots. In that case, send an email to the embassy to get an appointment and attach your job offer to show proof. Put "Appointment for EU Blue Card Visa" in the subject line as it can speed things up.
PRO TIP: Check if you are eligible for a EU Blue Card. The Blue Card is a popular work visa but not the only option (more on this later). You are immediately eligible if three conditions are jointly true:
Many of you will not meet all conditions 1, 2 and 3. Let's dive in:
Case A: You fulfill conditions 1 and 2 and 3 → congrats, you don't need any degree verification done - but bring all other documents to the embassy appointment! If you are in IT but your salary is between the mentioned thresholds above you need to have your employer fill out this form here. It certifies that your job is an IT job.
Case B: You fulfill conditions 1 and 2 but not 3 - your degree is not mentioned as A4 or A5 level → To get the EU Blue Card, pay 200 EUR to get your diploma and courses accredited. If your degree cannot be verified, it’s a bit cheaper. You can request the verification here. It takes ~ 2 weeks if you indicate that you ask as part of a Blue Card process, otherwise it can take up to 5 weeks.
Case C: Your university is listed as H+/- in the database or is NOT listed at all → in this case you always must do the verification (see Case B)
Case D: Your university is listed as H- → in this case your university is not recognized by the German authorities as equivalent to a German school. You cannot get a EU Blue Card but you can apply for a standard work visa. If you are in IT, the salary thresholds for that type of visa vary by city but as a rule of thumb, you need to have a salary that is >50K EUR gross per year in Berlin and >60K EUR gross per year in Hamburg and other cities. You also need at least 3 years of work experience.
The EU Blue Card gives you the following advantages if:
Back to the overall process …
The costs of health insurance depend on your salary. Example: If you make 50.000 EUR gross p.a. your health insurance is ~400 EUR per month. That’s not cheap, but it covers your entire family if they live with you in Germany. Also, the German health system is world-class, so you get value for your money.
Getting health insurance remotely is not hard. We recommend you choose one of these 3 options:
Finally, go to your appointment at the embassy carrying all your documents.
IMPORTANT: While there, make sure that your visa has a stamp saying “temporarily allowed to work”. If you have pre-approval then you should be eligible to get the stamp. Without the stamp, you cannot immediately start to work. We recommend that you alert your German visa officer to the fact that you need that temporary permit on your visa. Sometimes they forget!
PRO TIP: Your family, if you have one, needs to apply for a separate visa though. Book an appointment for them adjacent to yours. That helps you and the visa officers because logistics are easier and their visa is processed together with yours.
Congrats! You should be now have received your visa. You can enter Germany. Welcome to Germany. Welcome to two new bureaucratic hurdles.
Ready? Here is what you need to do.
To live in Germany you need a place to stay.
The German real estate market is ***hot*** right now. Landlords choose tenants whose background they intuitively understand. If you are a Newcomer to Germany you are often at a disadvantage.
Renting a proper nice apartment is tough if you cannot show the usual documentation. German landlords always want to see a work contract. They also want a statement from your prior landlord that you paid all your rent (see a draft document here). The landlord also wants to see Schufa proof that you have no unpaid debts.
Expect that it can easily take you 3–4 months to find a proper place, especially if you do not speak German. This can be a deeply frustrating, painful process. Join these → Facebook groups to get a feel for the market.
To bridge this time you need to find a furnished place. Furnished apartments are a bit expensive but, well, at least you have a place to stay. Check out this article for links to apartment sites and some specific advice on where to live in Berlin. In Berlin and most other cities expect to pay ~600–1.000 EUR for a decent and centrally located ~70 square meter place. This does not yet include gas, power, internet, and other costs.
As a rule of thumb, landlords will want to see a monthly net salary 3x your rent. Example: A flat that rents for ~900 EUR in Berlin requires a 3x monthly net salary of ~2.700 EUR which at a ~40% taxes rate means you need an annual gross salary of ~54.000 EUR.
Let’s assume you secured the coveted “temporary work permit” on your visa, and you have a proper place to stay. Congrats!
Now off to the final challenge: Registering yourself with the general registry (“Meldebehörde”) and with the Foreigners’ Office (“Ausländerbehörde”).
First, the general registry (“Meldebehörde”). That entity keeps a register of the name and location of everyone in Germany.
Once you have moved into a proper place, you need to make an appointment online and register yourself at the “Meldebehörde”. What’s a proper place? Either you own an apartment or an officially licensed furnished apartment.
PRO TIP: Airbnb does not count as “proper place” because the host typically does not allow you to officially “register” at their place, just like you cannot “register” in a hotel. Also, stay away from wunderflats.de — nearly *all* of our Fellows who signed up there got a truly awful treatment, and some lost their deposits.
The registration is a simple, standard process that results in your ‘certificate of registration’ (“Meldebestätigung”). Check out this page to see what IDs and proofs to bring for your appointment.
Check out this sweet free tool to do your Registration online → https://appmeldung.com/
PRO TIP: At the “Meldebehörde” you don’t have to show up yourself. If you send a friend or agent to go there, they need a “power of attorney” (“Vollmacht”). This is a simple letter signed by you with your full name that you authorize somebody named in the latter to represent you.
Once you have registered at the “Meldebehörde” the Tax Authorities (“Finanzamt”) will automatically send you a unique tax ID (“Steuer-ID” or “IdNr”). You need the tax ID to receive a proper paycheck from your employer. If you work before you get your tax ID, as many Expats do, then ask your employer for a temporary solution, for example, a prepayment (“Abschlagszahlung”).
Second, the ‘certificate of registration’ (“Meldebestätigung”) is what you need to show to the Foreigners’ Office (“Ausländerbehörde”) that you have arrived and found a proper place. Here again, you need to make an appointment and bring the required documents to get a work permit. For a first impression of the required documents in Berlin, click here and here.
Here, at the Foreigners’ Office (“Ausländerbehörde”) you will now finally get your work permit or Blue Card. If you have a standard (non-Blue Card) work permit (called “§18 status”) then it is typically valid for 3 years. If you get the coveted Blue Card status, then you have the right to work in Germany for 4 years.
Good news: There is plenty of help available. Here are 2 options in addition to the do it yourself-way:
PRO TIP: To get a flat (step 2) you can also contract a relocation agent. Costs vary from 1.500–2.500 EUR for the service of securing your dream place to stay. Want some suggestions we trust and recommend? Here we go.
Move to Berlin charges 2.047 EUR (incl. 19% VAT). Again, this cost is tax-deductible, making it effectively 40% cheaper. We highly suggest you aim to split these costs with your employer or ask your employer to fully pay it as part of your salary negotiations.
Expats in wonderland is an agency that specializes in relocation processes. They can help you from the Visa application to Visa renewal (which you may need a couple of years after your arrival in Germany). If you are looking for long-term flats in Berlin, they are the specialists and give Imagine Fellows a 10% discount.
PRO TIP 2: If you choose to get help, choose a relocation agent, not a real estate agent. They are not the same. Relocation agents like Move to Berlin work for you and scout the entire market for the best offer. Real estate agents are typically paid by the landlord and only give you offers in their own much smaller portfolio.
PRO TIP 3: When working with a relocation agent look for the fine print. Do they promise to find you a place or do they only promise to show you up to 10 places? Subtle differences like these matter a lot.
PRO TIP 4: Check out this amazing Github repo with advice on all of the above and more.
SPECIAL TIP for all who move to Berlin: Berlin has set up a Business Immigration Service (BIS). That’s a bureaucratic ‘fast lane’ that can only be used by firms registered in Berlin & EU Blue Card aspirants. Many firms still don’t know about it. Tell your HR manager about it. It’s free for them. They will be forever grateful to you because the BIS will save them hours of time and headaches. And this, our fellow new German, is how you make your first friend in Germany! :)
That’s it. We hope you enjoyed the read. Now it’s time for action. As always, we are rooting for you. Keep us posted.
— Your friends at Imagine