Whether you’re looking to work for a newborn startup or long-established company, those who go in search of new professional challenges in Germany may find themselves on a journey to one of the most bureaucratic countries in the world.
For natives, the waiting rooms of the authorities are familiar practice fields, where patience and bureaucratic endurance skills are honed over many years. For newcomers from abroad, this new situation can be difficult to manage. So before those challenges turn into insuperable obstacles, employee and employer should prepare and work through the necessary processes together. The following five tips will help:
#1 Start the process as soon as possible
First things first. Everyone who is not a citizen of the European Union (EU) or the European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland has to apply for the a residence permit (Aufenthaltstitel) specifically for the purpose of living and working in Germany. A visa is also needed for entry into the country. Once it’s certain the new employee will start working for a German company, employee and employer should start organising important papers and documents.
Which documents are needed? It’s a question of EU or non-EU
Employees from non-EU countries need to apply for a visa ahead of time – meaning weeks before entry. Country-specific German embassies will provide further information but in general the following documents are needed:
- Papers confirming the employee’s qualification: Often a certain qualification is needed for a job, for example a degree or vocational qualification. It is important to check whether the employee’s qualifications are accepted in Germany. It might be necessary to get them recognised first.
- Proof of a concrete job offer: Everyone who enters Germany with an agreement with a company should have a copy of the employment contract. If that’s not possible, at least have a detailed job description at hand.
- Documents for the employee’s planned residence in Germany, for example a rental agreement.
Coming to Germany is less complicated for everyone from the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland. No visa is needed – only a passport or ID and a packed suitcase.
It’s easier for graduates
For graduates with a recognised university degree or a degree comparable to a German university degree, it’s easier to get in. The new residence permit “Blue Card EU”, which came into effect on 1st August 2012, facilitates entry. For example, no approval from the federal job centre (Bundesagentur für Arbeit) is needed if you can prove a concrete job offer with a gross salary of at least €44,800 per year. Qualified employees (such as those working in IT or engineering) or doctors only need an income of €35,000 per year. In this case, though, the federal job centre has to give permission first.
Graduates can even apply for a visa with a work permit without needing to submit a specific job offer – they’ll have six months to look for a suitable job.
#2 Get tips before taking action
Before getting started, it’s wise to consult with a company that’s been through these processes a couple of times. In the end, everybody will benefit from this exchange of experiences. There are also central contact points in Berlin where companies can go to get support to hire foreign employees. Berlin’s economic development agency Berlin Partner has helped many startups such as Groupon, Zalando and Wooga. The employer service departments at the immigration and public job centres (the Arbeitgeberservice at the Ausländerbehörde and Arbeitsagenturen) are there to give advice and supply information about necessary documents and important contacts, as well.
#3 Involve the employee in the process once they get to Germany
On arrival in Germany, the new employee will face an immense flood of information. Depending on the native country and cultural background of the new employee, those first impressions can be overwhelming. It’s important not to lose track of what’s essential and needs to be done.
- Citizens of the EU need to register at the citizen’s registration office (Einwohnermeldeamt) – an address at a hotel is not accepted as an official place of residence.
- The immigration department (Ausländerbehörde) is the first place to go for non-EU citizens – those entering Germany with a visa but without a residence permit (Aufenthaltstitel) for employment purposes must apply for one right away. One should not wait too long to do so. At least four to six months before the visa expires, an appointment should be made – immediately is even better.
Non-EU citizens may not be familiar with the bureaucratic processes of German authorities and should be prepared before their visit to the Ausländerbehörde. It will come in handy if the company has an information folder ready that lists all the important steps, addresses, processes and deadlines in a short and concise way.
#4 Accompany the new team member
It’s important the employee doesn’t feel left alone – and not just for the bureaucratic processes. If he or she is new in town, the streets and faces will be unfamiliar. A trip to the authorities can be confusing, the waiting rooms are crowded and corridors are long. It’s helpful if a native German-speaking colleague accompanies the newcomer and acts as a mentor of sorts, helping with trips to the authorities, translations and other challenges.
Apartment hunting, registration, mobile phone contract…
Apartment hunting in large cities such as Berlin can be difficult. A place of residence is required for the visa application but sometimes it isn’t that easy to find an apartment. Hotels or a colleague’s spare room can serve as an interim solution. Unfortunately, the authorities will not accept this as a place of residence. Some companies with high numbers of foreign employees temporarily rent apartments for newcomers. They can live there until other accommodation is found. A letter of recommendation from an employer can work wonders during apartment hunting.
Once an apartment is found, there are more tasks waiting – managing energy providers, water suppliers, internet providers and the GEZ (broadcasting authority) to mention a few.
Insurance and child benefits
The German insurance system is new to most foreigners but important. Signing up for social insurance is essential for employees required to make that kind of contribution. In general, it includes compulsory health insurance, a pension contribution and provisions in case of required care, accident and unemployment.
Immigrants to Germany with children should know they have the right to receive child benefits. The only requirement for this is a valid settlement permit (Niederlassungserlaubnis) or another type of residence permit.
#5 Prepare the team
It’s best to prepare other employees for the arrival of the new team member in advance, especially if communication in the office has to switch to English. Everyone should be informed about the arrival of the new employee and the process he or she has to go through ahead of time. This is especially important for those who will work closely with the newcomer, to aid with integration. Rather than being surprised, the team will be able to introduce the new colleague to familiar workflows and help him or her find a way quickly into ongoing projects.