One of the reasons that Erin and I chose to come to Germany was that the process to get a Visa is relatively straightforward. I’m not saying it’s easy, just that the rules are defined a little better than in some other countries. So, are you trying to figure out how you can get a visa in Germany without having an employer sponsor you ahead of time? In this case, the self-employment or language visas might be right for you. After many trips to the Ausländerbehörde (visa office) we ended up with a combination of the two. Here is how we did it:
Step 1 (required) – Go to Germany. You can’t win if you don’t show up to play.
Step 2 (required) – Register your address at the Bürgeramt of the city you are living in. You should do this within a week of arriving, and you simply need to bring your passport and a copy of a contract for housing (a lease or similar). Erin and I subleased an apartment for two months, and were able to use that contract and address.
Step 3 (encouraged) – Open a German bank account. Some banks will not open an account for foreigners, but Deutsche Bank didn’t give us any problems. I simply went to the bank, asked them if I could open an account, and 30 minutes later, I was all set (this is not necessarily an endorsement of Deutsche Bank). Be sure to bring your passport.
Having a bank account will allow you to pay for insurance and you will be able to bring a bank statement to the Ausländerbehörde, which they will like. Also, since American credit cards are not widely accepted in Germany, having a German bank account will make your life a lot easier.
Step 4 (required for language visa) – Enroll in a language school. This will help with insurance (see Step 5) and with demonstrating to the Ausländerbehörde why you are in Germany (they don’t like to simply take your word for it).
Step 5 (required) – Purchase health insurance with a German provider. This is the trickiest step of them all. You definitely need a German provider, as we were denied a visa with just our travel medical insurance. The catch is that Germany has some sort of public insurance system (I don’t know a lot about it) that can only be accessed through a full-time employer. Outside of that, most private insurance companies in Germany will not insure those without full-time employment, and those that do, charge very high premiums. Ultimately, Erin and I went with a CareCollege plan that you can purchase if you are enrolled in a language school (which we were, see Step 4).
Step 6 (required for self-employment visa) – Get a contract for work. Anything that will pay you for freelance work will do. We signed a contract with a language school to teach English up to 16 hours per week.
Step 7 (required) – Take passport photos. You can usually find a photo booth somewhere in town that specifically takes passport photos. Just ask around if you can’t find one.
Step 8 (required) – Fill out the application form from the Ausländerbehörde, and turn it in, along with your proof of health insurance, address registration, passport photos, work contracts (if applying for the self-employment visa) and/or language school enrollment (if applying for the language visa), and anything else that might help the visa office decide in your favor. These can include:
- Bank statements from Germany or from home, demonstrating that you have the funds to support yourself
- Portfolio of past work, if your freelance work is in art or design
- Anything else you can think of that makes you look like someone they want to keep in Germany
Once you’ve turned in everything, you will usually be told to wait some period of time before they will let you know the status of your application. For us, it was 2-3 weeks, but I know others who were told to wait up to 8 weeks. Persistence is key, however. After two and a half weeks, we went back to the Ausländerbehörde and were given an appointment one week later to finalize the visa process. I have no idea if they would have ever called without us showing up, but we didn’t wait to find out.
At the appointment, we were told that since we appeared to be applying for both language and self-employment visas, we would be granted a language visa with a special condition that allows us to work on a limited basis. The visa was for one year. After about 8 weeks total, 5 or 6 trips to the Ausländerbehörde, and stumbling through each of the steps above with limited German skills, we finally secured our visas.
If you take away anything from this post, it should be this: if you want to get a visa in Germany, it is possible. It just takes a lot of persistence and patience, because at times it seems like an impossible task (such as when the visa office says you must have insurance, the insurance company says you must have a job, and the employer says you must have a visa). Keep asking questions, and don’t take no for an answer, that’s my best advice.
Moving to Germany? You can also read about how we opened a German bank account and how we made our cellphones work in Germany.
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6 thoughts on “Getting a Visa in Germany: How We (Americans) Did It”
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Nicely laid out. Thanks for the step by step detail!
Thanks, I’m glad you found it useful!
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Many thanks for the helpful info. I appreciate it!
All the Best,
Your welcome, happy travels!