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Emigrating to Germany: Immigration, visas and living costs

It’s no wonder that thousands of expats choose to immigrate to Germany, which is not only the largest economy in Europe but the fourth strongest in the world.

Deutschland is renowned for being a European hub of culture, with an impressive range of job opportunities and remarkable landmarks which all adds to the appeal.

It’s long been a popular destination for British expats due to its high standard of living and thriving economy. From the electric city of Berlin to the architectural and historical hotspot Munich, Germany has plenty to offer families, students, retirees and solo migrants.

Approximately 12% of Germany’s population is made up of immigrants, making the country home to one of the largest expat communities in Europe.

It is also a relatively affordable country to live in, making it a popular destination for immigrants. However, irrespective of whether you’re retiring, immigrating for work or temporarily relocating to Germany, it’s worth knowing how to avoid hidden costs to prevent unwarranted charges.

Our pain-free guide will advise you on the necessary preparations that should be made before moving to Germany, including how to obtain a visa and better managing your finances to ensure your move abroad is seamless and free of financial stress.

Emigrating to Germany

Immigration: How to obtain a German visa

If you’re currently a citizen living in an EU or EEA country, you have the right to live, work and travel in Germany visa-free. However, you will need to obtain a registration certificate (Anmeldebestätigung), from the local registration office on your arrival if you want to open a German bank account, acquire health insurance and a tax code.

UK citizens immigrating to Germany before the Brexit deadline will also be able to enjoy this privilege.

While the UK and the EU are yet to finalise an accord, Britons will likely be treated the same as non-EU citizens post-Brexit, meaning British citizens will need to acquire a visa to work or live in Germany.

Although this may seem daunting, the visa process is relatively straightforward in Germany, albeit the type of visa you obtain will depend on whether an employer has sponsored you, you are self-employed or an entrepreneur.

German work visa

No matter which German work permit you wish to apply for, all applications must be made through your nearest embassy, or Visametric if you’re living in the UK and are applying for employment purposes.

At the time of writing, a German work visa costs EUR 75; however, you may be required to pay additional fees for accompanying documents.

If applying for an employment visa, your employer must issue a letter confirming your pre-approval for work and any original qualifications. You will also need to provide the following documentation:

  • Complete residence permit application form
  • Two passport size photographs
  • Original passport and two photocopied versions
  • Duplicates of your qualification certificate and job contract
  • Proof of your current employment or student status in your home country

Those under 30 and citizens of eligible countries have the opportunity to apply for a working holiday visa, which allows you to work and live in Germany for a year, without having to provide proof of employment.

Suppose you’re self-employed or applying for an entrepreneur visa. In that case, you will need to prove that your bank or own funds fully cover you, as well as how your business will economically benefit Germany.

Should your investment amount to EUR 1milllion or more, and generate more than ten new jobs, you will automatically qualify. However, officials will also assess the sustainability of your business project, so we advise having a thorough plan and substantial proof of your capabilities before you make a move overseas.

If you’re unsure about whether you need a work permit, or what type of visa you should apply for, check with Germany’s Federal Foreign Office online.

 German citizenship

Citizenship and dual citizenship in Germany

Expats currently living in Germany, and those considering relocating may be more interested in how to obtain German citizenship.

Germany is known for having some of the strictest citizenship laws in Europe, and the government is currently drafting a law to make obtaining citizenship even harder.

Suppose you’re considering becoming a German citizen but have no parental ties to the country, the only way to obtain citizenship is via naturalisation, and even then, you must meet the following criteria:

  • Lived in Germany for at least eight years, or three years if you’re married to a German citizen and have been wedded to that person for at least two years.
  • Demonstrate an intermediate proficiency in German and an understanding of Germany’s culture, legal and social system.
  • Prove you can financially support yourself.
  • Have no criminal convictions.

Those wishing to obtain dual citizenship in Germany can only do so if they are born to parents of dual nationality, have one parent who is a German citizen or are an ethnic German repatriate.

EU citizens can also apply for dual nationality under section 25 of the Nationality Act, which was amended in 2007 to promote European integration. However, non-EU citizens will have to renounce their first nationality to become a German citizen as the country avoids granting dual citizenship.

Nonetheless, whether you decide to become a dual citizen or choose to renounce your original nationality and split your time between two countries, you will likely need to execute international currency transfers between your motherland and Germany.

Adult applications for citizenship will set you back EUR 255 and EUR 51 for every accompanying child, with an extra EUR 50 per person for the naturalisation test and citizenship certificate.

Suppose you’re applying from overseas and need to transfer your local currency into euro’s (EUR). In that case, you might want to avoid using banks who tend to levy hidden fees and mark-ups in the exchange rate and source a foreign exchange specialist such as Halo Financial.

Most of us believe banks provide the safest and most cost-effective means for international currency transfers. However, Halo Financial, which is authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), can achieve up to 3-5% more currency for your money transfer.

With the spread of the coronavirus altering the economic landscape and giving way to increased uncertainty, the resulting exchange rate volatility has created an even more challenging valuation environment.

Halo Financial provides several currency options that hedge against exchange rate volatility to ensure you have a competitive advantage and maximise your currency transfer.

Whether you’re an expat already living in Germany, emigrating for work or have existing retirement plans, currency exchange rates can make a significant difference to your income and savings.

Using a service like Halo Financial, which mitigates against downside risks and provides unlimited upside potential will help you save on your overall costs so that you can make the most of your new life in Germany.

Are living costs expensive in Germany?

Compared to other European countries, and economic giants such as the United States, Germany has a relatively reasonable cost of living.

That being said, those considering relocating to the country should note that living costs vary between cities, with the capital, Berlin, being considerably cheaper than other metropolises such as Munich and Stuttgart.

Check the rate of your local currency in euro’s (EUR) by visiting our currency exchange pages on Halo Financial website.

According to Numbeo, the overall cost of living in the United Kingdom is more expensive than in Germany, with rent prices 5.2% higher and restaurant prices 12.7% higher in their latest study.

Although the differences between the UK and Germany’s national minimum wage is marginal, average salaries in Germany are par excellence, with more expensive cities such as Munich boasting some of the highest-paying wages.

According to Payscale, the average yearly salary in London is GBP 37K, while in Munich this is EUR 56K – a difference of approximately GBP 13.7K.

Renting in Germany

Rental costs in Germany

When estimating your cost of living abroad, you should also factor in rental costs as a significant amount of your income will be spent on rent.

Those who don’t want to stray too far from the city but have a tight budget should note that Germany has an excellent network of public transport facilities, which allows people to commute to the city for work or recreation without much hassle.

While the German rental market varies from region to region, property outside of major cities tends to be more affordable, albeit it should be relatively straightforward to find a place to stay no matter where you choose to settle.

Renting in Munich: Important things to consider

If you can afford a high-quality lifestyle, Munich may be the place for you, boasting a broad range of activities and attractions to suit all tastes and preferences.

However, a one-bedroom apartment in the heart of Munich will set you back EUR 1,274.71, with the three-bedroom apartment averaging at EUR 2,286.27.

That being said, rental prices in Munich are still more than 30% lower than rental accommodation in London and 50% lower than rent prices in New York.

While this may be a relief for those emigrating from larger cities, many flats in Munich are let completely unfurnished, which in some cases means no kitchen or appliances, among other things.

Although there are fully furnished apartments available, these will likely be more expensive, so it is essential to factor in furniture costs before you move.

Renting in Frankfurt

Renting in Frankfurt: Important things to consider

Frankfurt has increased in popularity in recent years, renowned for its multicultural population, vibrant arts scene and excellent transportation links to Germany and wider Europe.

Crime levels in Frankfurt are also notably low, which makes it an excellent destination for immigrants with families.

However, the cost of living in Frankfurt is relatively expensive, with rent prices averaging at EUR 1050 for a one-bed apartment and EUR 1980 for a three-bed apartment in the city.

According to Numbeo, consumer prices are 6.23% higher in Frankfurt than in Berlin while restaurant and rent prices are more than 17% higher.

It’s also said to be challenging to find detached housing in Frankfurt, although there are a plethora of rental apartments available, including offerings catering to four or five people.

Those seeking a luxurious lifestyle may want to settle in Bornheim – a young and lively neighbourhood lined with cafes, restaurants and shops.

Whereas those immigrating with family may prefer the Kronberg or Nordend districts, both of which are beautiful architectural towns with lush parks, good schools and excellent transport.

German healthcare system

Whether you’re immigrating to Germany with your family, solo, or with a partner, you’ll be glad to know that you won’t have to live in fear of extensive medical bills as Germany offers free, universal healthcare.

According to the US News & World Report, the German healthcare system is one of the best in the world, covering hospital fees, outpatient treatment, rehabilitation, the majority of prescription costs and basic dental care.

Like the UK’s NHS, healthcare is funded through taxation, which in Germany amounts to approximately 7.5% of your monthly salary.

However, public-funded healthcare is only available to German residents, citizens and EU nationals; other non-EU citizens will be required to pay for treatments.

Once you become a German resident, it is compulsory to take out German health insurance as part of your application. While some Germans can exchange state-funded healthcare for a private policy, called Private Krankenversicherung (PKV), it is rarely allowed.

However, all citizens and residents have the right to top-up state coverage with private healthcare should they desire.