After a Eurotrip in 2010, I decided to move to Germany. It just so happened I met someone there, and Berlin itself had stolen my heart. Before I knew it, I was moving to Germany.
I’ve always been a bit of a Type-A obsessive organizer. You name it, I’ve considered the risk, read the book, and researched it. I dream about my to-do lists in my sleep.
So once I made this decision to move abroad, you bet I researched the hell out of it.
The first thing I did was reach out to all the alumni from my former university now living in Germany and reach out to them. This provided me with plenty of options to look into, varying perspectives on moving to Germany, and connections who had done it all before. Some of them had even been living in Germany for decades!
The problem was, most of them managed to get a visa through marriage. My new little long distance relationship was NOT at that point, so I needed to figure out a way to do it myself.
What were my options for moving to Germany?
Luckily I had been learning German and was able to read most of the information about the visa process in German online. I browsed the English-speaking expat forums as well, but these could also be discouraging, with people who had not managed to make it work abroad chiming in to tell you how impossible it is.
My research pointed out the existence of a freelance visa for Germany. As I had my TEFL certification and a year of teaching English under my belt, I decided to go with this first. The one catch is that I couldn’t really apply for it until I was in Germany. Two letters from clients willing to give you some work are required, and these are hard to get when you’re outside the country. I wrote language school after language school and all of them told me they’d be happy to interview me once I had already moved over.
So, I took a risk and booked my ticket. My German partner and I broke up a month before my flight. Looking for a more secure plan, I signed myself up for an au-pair gig that would also arrange my visa.
I moved in with my new German au-pair family, met the kids, and got to work. Most au-pairs work 6 days per week, for 260€ per month, in exchange for room, board, food, a transit pass and language lessons.
Three weeks later, I was miserable. I had already lived on my own for years, and having new parents was not working out for me. My family was a terrible fit, the kids were spoiled and the unwillingness of my family to give me a set schedule made me anxious. Kicking myself for using up three whole weeks of my precious Schengen Zone time, which only allows Americans three months in most of the EU before needing a work or residence permit, I quit.
My first option didn’t work out, what else could I consider?
I considered my options. While getting a company to sponsor me was one way in, it’s quite hard unless you have a background in tech or are already at the management level in your field. Neither of these applied to me at the time, only a couple years out of university, so I decided to apply for the freelance visa to work in Germany.
For this, I needed two non-binding letters from companies saying they wanted to give me work. My language school wrote me one, and another school I interviewed at wrote me the other. Additionally, I needed proper health insurance that fit the visa specifications and proof that I had enough savings to cover myself until I built up plenty of work. Along with the application form, my projected budget and expenses, degree certificates, and a few other forms required by the Ausländerbehörde (Foreigner’s Office), I set off to apply for my visa.
I was granted my freelance visa in early September 2011. My English teaching job went well, but after awhile I decided I wanted to branch out. When you apply for a freelance visa in Germany, you are generally only given permission to work in one or two categories. As I only had the category “English Teacher”, this meant another trip to immigration.
My connections and research paid off and I was offered a freelance gig as a Project Assistant in Admissions at a small private university for creative executives. I was granted another category tied to this one company on my visa.
A bit later, I got offered a great summer job leading the field trips for an American university with a study abroad program in Berlin. This meant I needed to go to the Foreigner’s Office…again.
By this time I was tired of spending my life sorting out my immigration paperwork so I decided to argue for a better, more open category. I reached out to my network and read everything I could on the immigration law.
One thing you learn as an expat in Germany is that bureaucracy and preparedness are everything. The more documents you have to back up your story, the clearer you can argue your point, the more success you will have.
The other thing you learn is that most companies have no idea what a foreigner needs for their visa paperwork.
It was about this time I started writing my own letters for immigration, with the information I knew the Ausländerbehörde wanted to hear. These were then passed on to my companies and clients to proofread, sign and put on company letterhead.
I wrote my own letter arguing why I should be granted the category “English-speaking Project Assistant”, explaining my work history and the tasks I would do. I backed it up with several letters from current and potential clients. After handling the questioning on my roles at immigration, I walked out with the category I wanted. The benefit of being a “Project Assistant” is that many things can be considered a project, meaning more freedom of work for me.
At this point, I started getting asked for help almost every week by friends and friends of friends interested in moving over to Germany.
I went with many friends to immigration, translated at government offices, checked over acquaintances’ documents, brainstormed how to argue for the best categories, and connected people to my contacts for health insurance. Pretty much everyone I helped, managed to get their visas by following my instructions.
The requests kept coming in, but as I was working almost full-time at this point I could no longer keep up. A few friends suggested I write a book about the process with templates for how I set up my budget and expenses, how I argued to add categories to my visa, and how to decipher all the requirements from the German immigration.
Around this same time, I got a gig working as a consultant at a relocation firm focused on expats, and began offering coaching sessions to new expats in Berlin and teaching workshops on how to be a freelancer in Germany.
How could I help people interested in moving to Germany?
With all my knowledge and contacts over the years, I put together my Get Visa Germany eBook.
With so much incorrect (and often illegal) information being shared in expat forums, and no time to handle all the requests for help that were coming to me individually, I still wanted to offer something to help.
I took all the information I collected over my first several years in Germany and put together an eBook covering five different working and residence permits available to foreigners in Germany: The freelance visa, artist visa, residence permit for German language-learning, preparing to study visa and the job seekers’ visa.
What you get in the Get Visa Germany eBook
First, I walk you through the different options available. Depending on your work experience, field, how long you want to stay in Germany, and your longer-term goals, one visa option might be a better fit than another. I provide information and letter templates for how to add a category to your freelance or artist visa, the difference between self-employed and freelance, how to watch out for “fake self-employment” and the penalties for it, and how to get the “open” visa after three years, which allows you to work any job freelance or employed. I also give tips on what to take into account when choosing your work category, so you can have the most freedom.
I go over the different types of health insurance accepted, and direct you to some good (and free!) health insurance brokers who can set you up with all the insurances you need (in English!).
For the residence permits, I also cover the different ways to prove your income, and what letters you need to show to have another person officially confirm they are supporting you financially if you do not have the funds yourself.
I link you to the exact web pages to sign up for an appointment at immigration with screenshots so you don’t have to wait outside at 3 am to fight over tickets for the same day appointment. Similarly, I cover how to register your apartment officially, how to check if your university degree is qualified in Germany and the first things you’ll need to worry about once you get your visa. Germany has a lot of bureaucracy you need to be aware of, so consider this your starter kit!
I am now a permanent resident of Germany and have helped countless other foreigners make the move abroad. While adjusting to a new country and its different regulations can be overwhelming, it’s totally doable. I’m very happy with my life in Germany and want to help other people achieve their dream of moving abroad as well. I enjoy the great public transportation, the international atmosphere, the comprehensive health insurance (can you believe I get paid to go to a fitness class by my health insurance?!) and the fact that I can go to other European countries for a weekend trip! Although the move is stressful in the beginning, it’s been totally worth it for me.
With a bit of preparation, straightening out your career story for immigration and getting all your documents ready, you can make the move as well. To make the information available to everyone, I’ve priced my Get Visa Germany eBook at an affordable 24,99€.
I wish you the best of luck in your journey. See you on the other side?!
Nicole has been living in Berlin, Germany since 2011. During the panic of her senior year of college what-will-I-do-with-my-life?! dilemma, she googled “how can I not live in America?” and ended up in Berlin. Originally flown over for an au-pair job, she suddenly needed a way to stay in the country…quickly. After endless stressing and conflicting information, tons of research and lots of confusing conversations in German at many government offices, she finally left with a freelance visa in hand.
Nicole helps people follow in her footsteps to obtain a visa for Germany. Find out more on her site Get Visa Germany.