Organise a visa
Luckily, Australian citizens don’t need an entry visa, also known as a Schengen visa to travel to Germany, though you will be subject to usual immigration rules when you arrive. You’ll have three months from your arrival to register for a residence permit if you want to work and stay longer. This does mean it’s entirely possible to travel to Germany without having secured a job, but you’ll have lot more hoops to jump through later.
To be eligible for work in Germany, you’ll need to have a residence permit – sometimes called a ‘title’ before you can work. As Australia has an immigration agreement with Germany, Australian citizens are among the few nationalities who can apply for this both before you arrive and once you’re in Germany. There are three main residency permits, and depending on whether you have a job secured before you arrive, your employer may have already started this process for one of them. The residence permit is the most common, and is usually valid for one year at a time. It’s easily renewable provided things like your employment and marital status are the same as when you originally applied. The EU Blue Card is aimed at highly qualified expats and their spouses. They’re valid for 4 years and you’ll need to prove you have a university degree that’s equivalent to a German qualification and a minimum annual income. This can be from €39,500 and is dependent upon the industry you work in. If it looks like your move to German is going to be permanent – or at least over 5 years, you may be granted a settlement permit, or an EC permit. Some shortage industries can apply for this earlier.
There aren’t separate working visas, so whichever residence permit you have, it will depend on the industry you’re in, the salary you will be earning, and the qualifications you hold. You can only make the application once you have secured a job offer, but it can still be done while you’re in Oz. However, wherever you’re applying from, you will need proof of address, so keep this in mind if you’re planning on securing a job once you arrive in Germany. You’ll need to visit the German embassy or local Consulat office to complete the application, so it’s worthwhile checking out their website for appointments.
You’ll need two copies of the application form, passport photos, your passport and proof of address, plus your offer of employment and photocopies of everything you are submitting. It’s definitely advisable doing the photocopying in advance of your appointment. The processing costs €60, which not all employers will pay.
TIP: Make sure you’re paperwork ready – have plenty of passport-sized photos for visa applications and any other applications you will need to make.
Have a valid passport
It goes without saying really, but just because you’re only a hop, skip, and a jump from Oz, it doesn’t mean you can turn up without valid documents. If you’re worried your passport is due to run out, don’t leave it until the last minute, head over to the Australian Government Passport Authority for all the details you’ll need about renewing – or applying for – a passport.
TIP: Have at least six months validity on your passport before you travel. You don’t want to have to leave quickly or arrange an emergency new passport.
There’s a good distance between Germany and Oz, so we’d always recommend you’re sure you’re going to be living there long-term before putting your kitty or canine through a grueling flight.
Regulations are fairly straight-forward from Australia. Pets need to be microchipped, be vaccinated against rabies and have documentation to prove it. Dogs must also have been treated for worms – lovely – in the 4 days prior to travel.
It’s worth noting that Germany are part of the Pet Passport scheme. While this sounds seriously cute, it means that in order to bring your pet without quarantine, they’ll need to be shipped over in an approved crate and by an approved air or sea carrier, using an approved route. This list should help, as you don’t want to book you pet on to a flight that will land hours away from where you are: www.bmel.de
Once your canine companion has arrived, they need to be registered at your local town hall, and you’ll have to pay a tax known as the Hundesteuer. This cost depends on the breed of dog. You have 30 days to register your dog, and you’ll also have to renew it annually.
TIP: Contact King & Wilson who can arrange all the pet paperwork and transportation for you.
Germany is part of the EU, and so uses the Euro. The exchange rate does fluctuate of course, so keep check via a reliable currency converter www.hifx.com.auto get a feel for the actual cost of things, particularly early on while you are finding your feet. Once you start to earn local currency, the conversion back to AUD won’t be as relevant.
TIP: Download an exchange rate mobile app for the early days of your arrival so you know exactly how much things really cost.
Opening a bank account in Germany is straightforward, though it’s probably wise to make sure you have your visa sorted first, otherwise you run the risk of not being able to get a ‘proper’ current account. You will have to have a German bank account to have your salary paid, and for your utilities to be debited.
There is a massive amount of choice when it comes to banks in Germany, and so you might feel overwhelmed with choice. Start off by asking your existing Australian bank if they have branches in Germany, or a relationship with a German financial institution. You might also want to keep open your bank account at home, particularly if you still have financial commitments here.
Next, consider one of the bigger German banks such as PostBank, Commerzbank and Deutsche Bank. They all offer a variety of services, from everyday accounts to savings, credit cards and mortgages if you’re thinking of buying a house in Germany. It pays to shop around though, some banks have a monthly charge to run the account, some require you to deposit a minimum amount each month and others will charge you for accessing your money from an ATM or even using your debit card for purchases. While that might only be one or two cents, it’ll all add up, particularly in your first few months while you’re setting up home.
They’re inevitable I’m afraid. Thankfully though, unless you’re self-employed, you won’t need to worry about the details too much. The amount of tax you pay will vary depending on what you earn. Sorry high-earners, you could be liable for 45% tax on your salary. All taxes for employed residents are taken out through your payslips.
There are also several other deductions that will be taken out of your payslip as an employee, and these are used to cover social security benefits. Think things like old age pension, healthcare and unemployment benefit. While you might not be edging closer to retirement, knowing that you’ll be covered for any periods of illness or unemployment should at least alleviate a bit of worry should something happen out of the blue. And if you are considering spending your retired years in Germany, the pension you pay in to will largely depend on your earnings. Although the money comes directly from your payslip, you do have at least some say about which pension provider it goes to. For a lot of people, this might not be an urgent consideration, but it’s one worth having with your employer when you’re settled and have a better notion of how long you think you will stay in Germany.
One final point, should you decide to return to Australia, you won’t lose out on all the contributions you have made towards your pension. You can apply to have it transferred back home.
TIP: Register for social security card as soon as possible to make use of social benefits such as healthcare.
VAT, or value added tax, is a sales tax charged on many goods and services and comes in at 19%.
If you’re contributing to the social security system through your pay, you’ll be eligible for state-funded healthcare. Basic medications and visits to the Doctor are covered, as are dentists and pre-natal care. Once you are employed and have received your social security card, you will be able to take advantage of this system. One of the main benefits of a state-run provider is that you’ll not have to pay for the cost of treatment upfront, the hospital/Doctor will liaise directly with your insurance provider.
The standard of public medical facilities is world-class, particularly in the bigger cities, and it’s common for medical staff to speak English. However, do keep in mind that this might not always be the case in more rural locations.
If you’re earning over €57,500 per year, you can opt-out of the state health insurance, and go private instead. This will give you access to private surgeries and hospitals in addition to state-run medical facilities. You may have shorter waiting times, but be aware you’ll often have to cover the cost of treatment upfront and then apply for a reimbursement from your insurance company.
It doesn’t matter whether you only have state-approved medical insurance, or opt for a private policy, your employer usually pays half the monthly cost. With this in mind, it is always worth finding out if the company has a preferred provider for you to opt in to their scheme. You’ll need to stay with your initial insurer for 18 months, after which you can change providers as you wish, provided you give two months’ notice. Equally, there are more than one state-run healthcare providers and it pays to speak to colleagues or friends to get recommendations.
TIP: You’ll only have two weeks to register with your choice of healthcare provider once you’ve started work. Speak to your employer to consider your options ahead of time.
Berlin or bust?
Moving to a new country can be a big culture shock, so it’s understandable that you’d want to go to a big, famous city. Berlin is certainly that, and as it’s the capital city, it’s visitor-friendly. The downside, though, is that tourists arrive all year round, and is more expensive than other areas in Germany.
Nearly a third of Berlin is given over to parks, rivers and green spaces which balances out the busy city. And because much of Berlin was destroyed, segregated and reformed during World War II, each neighbourhood has its own feel. Consider whether you’re looking for an exclusive area like Grunewald, or prefer multi-cultural and fashionable Kreuzberg.
Depending on the industry you work in, there may be less competition in other cities like Munich, Frankfurt or Cologne. Germany has a unique way of operating, each of the big cities is home to a particular industry. And as public transport is very good, you might think about commuting from one of the many smaller towns and villages dotted throughout the country.
The media hub and multinational outpost, Düsseldorf is a really cosmopolitan city. You’ll find plenty of international schools, great restaurants and a good quality of life – but it comes at a price. You’re unlikely to find houses, and apartments can be expensive.
As you would expect from Germany’s financial hub, Frankfurt has some desirable neighbourhoods. Those who can afford it, live in the wooded areas surrounding the city. And although Frankfurt has its fair share of skyscrapers, many opt to commute in to the city in favour of cheaper prices and newer builds.
Munich is perhaps Germany’s most expensive city – and that’s including Berlin! There’s lots of ‘old money’ here and the housing is a mix of sprawling villas, or trendy homes. Munich has a wonderful reputation for nightlife, so whether you’re into clubbing, fine dining or chatting in a café, there is something for everyone.
TIP: If you haven’t already got a job lined up in Berlin, explore some of Germany’s other big cities to see what’s on offer.
To rent or buy:
The decision to rent a home or make the big leap and get a mortgage will largely depend on how long you’re thinking of staying in Germany. If you’re leaving the house-hunting until you arrive, all the major cities have hotels, holiday rentals and short-term aparthotels that you can use as a base for your first few weeks.
Apartment or house sharing is common among young professionals who want to live in the city centre, but can’t afford the bills on their own. They’re also a great way to meet new people and jump right in at the deep end of German life.
Renting can be cheap, as low as €400 per month for a two-bedroom apartment. Keep in mind, though, bigger apartments or those in the heart of a city will cost much more. Renting prices are roughly determined by the size of the apartment, and adverts will usually list the square foot space, sometimes including the total number of rooms. This doesn’t usually include the bathroom, just so you know.
There are plenty of listings in newspapers or online, and while there are estate agents who will help you find a new home, their fees can work out at the equivalent of a month’s rent. Thankfully, many of the larger companies who have an expat workforce can assist in finding you a home, even somewhere temporary to take the pressure off finding your dream home straight away.
When it comes to finding somewhere you like the look of, don’t be surprised if your viewing is gate-crashed by other interested parties: group viewings are not uncommon in Germany, and it’s wise to arrive looking smart as landlords can often make their own shortlists of who they will – and wont – rent to.
Some landlords will want a lot of paperwork, such as three months’ worth of payslips and a letter from your previous/current landlord saying you owe not outstanding rent. These things can be hard to come by, especially if you’ve not been in Germany that long. Confirmation of employment and proof that you can afford the property is often a suitable substitute. However, because of this, you can expect to pay up to three months’ rent in advance as a security deposit.
Tip:Find out who is responsible for sweeping the hallways, or path in front of your property, as you could be fined if someone injures themselves, for example in snow.
Wherever you decide to live, you’re going to need to heat and hot water. There’s a massively competitive market for gas and electricity suppliers. You’ll find most homes will already be connected to a supply, but all providers can give you information about how to get connected if not.
Depending on your rent agreement, you may have what’s called Nebenkostenand which basically means some of your utilities will be included in the rent. This is common in purpose-built blocks where a company will supply the whole building. For important things like heating and water, you must check your lease to see if they’re included. You may find extras like recycling and waste collection is also included.
You’ll usually find that the landlord selects the supplier, though as a tenant you will need to set up an account with them to pay directly.
TIP: You must get registered with your local registrationstation once you’ve moved in – you’ll have two weeks to do this from the start of your contract.
Internet connection is great in Germany, with most apartments having broadband included in the rent. Plus, most cafés and public places also have free WiFi. That being said, make sure you shop around for the best package, some of which will include TV and landline connections. The average price for a broadband connection is €35 per month. Some of the main providers are:
TIP: Look out for hidden extras, such as connection fees which can be a pricey €70, as well as any installation fees.
Just like the internet service, mobile phone reception – and provision – is very good in Germany. It’s a competitive market, so again, be sure to shop around before signing a contract. If you’re not sure exactly what your usage will be, you might want to consider and pay and go sim, at least initially. Sim cards are available in most of the supermarkets. One thing to note, however, is if you’re bring your phone from Australia and plan on using a pre-pay sim card, make sure you’ve had your phone unlocked first, or you’ll find it’s useless in Germany. Being on the same network as friends – or whoever you contact most – can result in cheaper calls and texts, so look in to a provider that has a plan which fits your usage.
The main players are:
Deutsche Telekom www.telekom.de/start
That being said, there are a few providers who rent networks from the big boys, and potentially offer better value. It’s worth looking at:
ARD and ZDF are the two main national TV broadcasters, and to get their channels you’ll need to register at www.rundfunkbeitrag.deand pay the €17.50 per month fee. However, they broadcast totally in German, so to catch up on English-language channels, you’re going to want to look in to cable. Nearly all apartment blocks will have a cable connection already, but you still might be able to pick your own provider. This means you’ll have access to things like BBC World and MTV. Some providers even offer English-language packages will channels just in English. Kabel Deutschland is the biggest national supplier, but your choice will be affected by where you live.
For a wider choice, Sky Deutschland carries a wider-range of English programming, such as Sky Atlantic. A typical package will cost around €20per month.
Public transport in Germany is very good, they have the 6th longest rail network in the world. Main hubs like Frankfurt and Munich all have intercity high-speed rail networks and many bus routes. Commuting for work is quick and efficient, and usually cheaper and less stressful than driving.
If you’re going to be using the train regularly, save money by booking tickets online in advance and invest in a Bahn Card. This annual card could save you plenty of euros throughout the year. Berlin, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Munich, Nuremberg have a subway system, the U-Bahn, with additional cities operating a S-Bahn which runs from the city centre in to the suburbs.
The bus network is more extensive than the train network, and definitely a cheaper option. Inter-city routes are frequent and run late in to the night.
Most cities offer an integrated ticket, meaning it’s valid for busses, trains and ferries.
TIP: Remember to validate your rail ticket on the platform before you board – fines are not cheap.
Getting a driving licence
Providing your Australian driving licence is current and valid, you can use it to drive it in Germany for up to six months. After this, you can extend your own driving licence for another six months – but only if you’re planning on leaving afterwards. Take your driving licence, a German translation, ID and proof of your departure date to your nearest Driver’s License Department Führerscheinstelle. You can get a translation of your Australian license from the German Automobile Club and it costs €55.
Staying longer than a year, and you’ll need a German license. To do this, visit your local Fuhrerscheinstelle with your passport, residency permit, a translation of your Australian license – and the original, plus two passport photos. You’ll have to pay a fee of €45 and you may also need to take an eye test or first aid course.
Oh, and you must apply to exchange your licence within three years. If you miss this cut off, you’ll for a new German licence, which means starting from scratch: yes, you’ll have to take your theory and practical driving tests again.
TIP: Make sure you exchange your driving license within three years of your arrival to avoid having to apply for a whole new license and sit your tests again.
Public schools in Germany are very good, and in fact most of the country is made up of public schools. Kids legally have to be in school between the age of 6 and 15. They’ll often start around the age of 6 though, and many schools have a cut-off for when children can start.
Schools follow a local curriculum and classes are taught in German. The school year is September – July with regular breaks ranging from a week to the longer summer break. Admission policies vary, though precedence is always given to children living in the local area. Depending on how your child performs academically, there are a number of options for their secondary education. This is usually decided at a meeting with your child’s teacher.
There are four main types of secondary school, with Gymnasium being the most academically challenging and kids often stay there until they are 18. Realschule is aimed at intermediary students, and Hauptschule for less academic students. Gesamtschule is a comprehensive school combining all education types. Depending on how your child takes to secondary school, they can be moved between the systems.
Unless you’re in a really remote area where there is feasibly only one school to get to, think about what facilities are offered: does the school have a good selection of technology like PCs, or have they got a range of after-school activities or a breakfast club where you can leave them before/after work.
Depending on the age of your child(ren), going to a state school and being taught in German may be difficult, so you might want to consider an international school. There are numerous schools in big cities and will often follow the IGCSE or International Baccalaureate curriculum. Fees are expensive, around €13,000 a year and this doesn’t always cover costs like textbooks, or the registration and application costs.
TIP: International schools are often oversubscribed. If you know the area you’re moving to, start looking at schools and ask about waiting – or reserve – lists for when you arrive.
If you’re working and you’ve got toddlers, they’re going to need to be looked after. There are a range of formal and information options, depending on whether you want an education focus or not. Day care and nurseries will often have some form of educational focus, and can either be full/half day sessions depending on your working pattern. This is usually up to the age of three, when children will then go to a kindergarten which prepares youngsters for starting primary school.
For a more informal, less educational route, childminders are a popular option. Childminders usually work from their own home, and can have up to five children under the age of six in their care. This service can often be more flexible than other routes and you can often negotiate hours with your childminder. It’s also a great way to socially engage your child with others in the neighbourhood.
Whichever childcare route you opt for, prices will vary depending on the number of hours you’re looking to have your little ones there. Have a look around and don’t be afraid to ask if you can drop in for visits to meet staff before you decide.
You’re not going to be able to work at all without having your paperwork in order. Whether you’re hoping to land a job before you arrive or are wanting to scope out the market when you’re here, use this time to polish your CV. Highlight any skills or positions that are in short supply in Germany. As it’s part of the EU, the priority is to give employment to EU – specifically German – citizens. This means you’ve really got to be able to offer something special to be offered a job.
If you’re recruited from Australia, you may find you’ll be offered a generous relocation package, but these are not as commonplace as they used to be. Plus, if you’re already in Germany, there’s not the same incentive from potential employers to try and lure you across the globe.
Most expats arrive with a job, if only because it’s the easiest way to get other essentials like a house, utilities, and in some cases, a bank account.
There are branches of the Federal Employment Agency (Bundesagentur für Arbeit, BA) in nearly all cities in Germany. Their aim is to help people finding a job, plus the service is free. There are several recruitment agencies and head-hunters who can help you land your ideal role. Just keep in mind they can charge up to €2,000 for the privilege. To be eligible for a work permit, you must be directly employed by a company, not a third party.
TIP: Ensure your CV boasts about the skills and experience you have that nobody else does to overcome the fierce EU employment rules.
Book your flight
The earlier you can book your international flight the better price-wise. If you can travel outside the school holiday peak season, you’ll save money too. This usually means travelling around February to March, May to June, late July to mid-September, or mid-October to mid-December. The sooner that you can lock down your moving date the better so you can plan ahead and save. Check out this Australian Government education resource for school holiday dates.
Cull the clutter
Packing up your life and starting a new one is a good chance to cleanse. Don’t stick everything you own into boxes and transport the lot to your new home. Take the time to cull! There are a few good reasons for this.
You may have been hanging on to old heirlooms from a previous life that don’t need to make the journey across the world. If the planned move is unlikely to be forever, then look into storing a few old boxes with a friend or relative or utilising . You can revisit your old university text books again one day when you resettle back home. Or if the move to Germany might be indefinite, ask yourself whether you need eight boxes of old cassette tapes from the early 90s before you realised that CDs weren’t a passing fad… and while you’re there, how about that CD collection?
For more on minimalist packing check out this interesting perspective from Forbes.com.
Tip: Cull unnecessary belongings and possessions before packing boxes.
10 Weeks Before Moving Day
Give yourself plenty of time to plan the logistics of packing. A good international removalist, like King & Wilson will be your best friend in this regard – they won’t want you leaving this to the last minute either. A few things to think about 2-3 months out from the big day:
Put together a folder or box for all documents and receipts relevant to the move.
Start a conversation with an international shipping company such as to get an estimate.
Create a floor plan for your new home to get a sense of how many of your large sized furniture or appliances you may need to get rid of.
Your belongings will be arriving by sea; however, it only takes a couple of weeks for your boxed-up life to arrive in Germany. You may therefore only need to pack some additional clothing, linen, towels and key crockery and key kitchen utensils in your flight luggage. You may also consider pre-arranging excess baggage as it is much cheaper to book in advance than turning up on departure day with more than your baggage allowance. King & Wilson offers a smaller air shipment service to cover off this need as well.
If you haven’t done so already, get yourself a German bank account, and if possible start to pay a little in to it so you have a cushion when you arrive.
Tip: Start a conversation with international movers now rather than later
6 Weeks Before Moving Day
Now you are edging closer to the big move, you want to start ticking off what will and won’t make it on the journey. For example:
- Take an inventory list of all items around your home that will need to come with you.
- Start selling off large or redundant items via Gumtree or ebay that you don’t want to take with you.
- Hold a garage sale or take advantage of any local market stalls or jumble sales
- If you are not wanting to ship your car across, then start the process of selling your vehicle on Carsales or a similar online classifieds service
- Begin getting any paperwork you need for bringing your pet, make any necessary vet appointments and have any vaccinations your animal needs.
- Start to compile your paperwork: things like CV copies, letters of recommendation, health certificates, medication lists. Basically, anything you might need to register for a service, or secure a house/job.
4 Weeks Before Moving Day
With less than a month to the move, you need to start getting your hands dirty and actually packing a few things away, particularly items you are not using day to day:
- Collect moving boxes and packing supplies. Or if you move your home with King & Wilson, simply use the international shipping cartons provided.
- Start by packing things you don't use much currently like extra dining or kitchen utensils and seasonal clothing. Visit this resource from Energy Australia on the right way to pack when moving house or this interesting blog post on the subject by Frugal Mama.
- Donate the things you don't need (or that you haven’t been able to sell off).
- Think about consuming your pantry stocks and frozen goods as well as home cleaning products, shampoos and soaps.
Tip: Start by packing the things you do not use day to day
1-2 Weeks Before Moving Day
Eek! You are merely days away from the move now and need to be thinking about leaving behind a clean, empty home for a new inhabitant. You also need to think about tying up loose ends at home, the flight and what you need for your first days in Germany:
- Confirm all your travel arrangements.
- Finish packing your essentials.
- Clean and defrost your refrigerator 24 hours before you move, turn off all the pipes and make sure you didn't leave any appliances on.
- Cancel the newspaper subscription, contact Australia Post to redirect your mail to your new address in Germany, disconnect your utilities like the electricity, gas and internet.
- If you know your new address in Germany, you may wish to pre-arrange your utilities connection. A specialist international moving company like King & Wilson can arrange this for you.
- Say your goodbyes, provide your new contact details and travel itinerary to your family and friends.
Tip: Don’t forget to redirect the mail to your German address.
On Moving Day
You’ve made it to the big day. The job now is mainly to get out of the way of the professionals and focus on your breathing:
- Let the professionals do their thing. A good removalist will take care of packing your belongings carefully and thoroughly.
- A good international shipping mover will also cover off all the necessary shipping documentation to facilitate prompt customs clearance and quarantine inspection once your belongings arrive in Germany.
Get to the airport, put on those noise cancelling headphones and relax for 3 hours or so in anticipation of your new adventure!