move to germany from the US

How to move to Germany from the US in 10 steps: All you need to know as a US citizen

How to move from US to Germany: 10 essential steps

Considering a move to Germany from the US? Then you’re in the right place! We’re going to walk you through the entire process of relocating to Germany to make your transition as straightforward as possible.

Why move to Germany?

Germany is an economic powerhouse, recently becoming the world’s third largest economy. It also offers a stable job market with a high level of job security and low unemployment rate, making it ideal for those seeking career opportunities abroad. 

Beyond its economic appeal, Germany boasts a rich cultural and historical heritage. With 52 UNESCO World Heritage sites, famous castles and a landscape ranging from the Bavarian Alps to sprawling vineyards in its wine regions, Germany promises a delightful experience for all newcomers.

For US citizens, the thought of moving to Germany might seem overwhelming. But with the right guidance, the process becomes a lot easier. 

Our comprehensive guide gives you a step-by-step strategy to help you relocate from the US to Germany. Covering everything from visa requirements to the German tax system and finding accommodation, we provide you with all the information required for a successful move abroad. Let’s get started!

Step 1: German visa requirements for US citizens

The first and arguably the most important step is to understand if you are eligible to move to Germany. As a US citizen, you can’t just move to Europe without the correct documents and authorization.

What types of visas are available for US citizens in Germany?

There are many visas available to US citizens in Germany. Choosing the right one is important!

Here are the five most common visa options:

1. Work/Job Visa

A work visa is essential for all US citizens seeking employment in Germany. 

    • A work visa is typically granted for up to four years, but can be renewed for extended periods of time. 
    • To qualify, you must have a confirmed job offer from a German employer with details of your salary and job description, among other things.
    • You will also have to provide other documents like proof of health insurance, CV and proof of your educational qualifications.

Depending on your background, you could apply for the EU Blue Card visa which is more flexible and offers more advantages.

2. Tourist Visa

A tourist visa is designed specifically for people wanting to visit Germany for a limited amount of time and not work while they are here.

    • A tourist visa follows the 90/180 rule, meaning the longest time you can remain in Germany within a 180 day period is 90 days (three months).

As Germany is part of the Schengen Area, you will be able to visit all 29 of the Schengen countries with a tourist visa.

3. Study Visa

If you plan to pursue an education in Germany, then a study visa is the perfect option for you. 

    • A study visa is typically valid for the duration of your studies and can be extended should you need more time to complete your studies.
    • There are three different types of study visas available: language course visa, student applicant visa and student visa. You must decide which is the right choice for you.

4. Family Reunification Visa

A family reunion visa is for people that have family already residing in Germany and would like to relocate to be with their loved ones.

    • A family reunification visa is a long-stay visa that can be extended into a residence permit
    • Both the person in Germany and the person in the US must provide a number of documents in order to apply and qualify for a family visa.

5. The Opportunity Card (Chancenkarte)

This new type of visa will start on June,1st 2024. It will allow you to come to Germany for up to one year to find a job that matches your skills and experience. There will be two ways to benefit from this visa:

    • If you are considered as a skilled worker, you can apply directly for this Chancenkarte visa
    • If you obtain a minimum of 6 points fro different criteria: qualifications, work experience and language skills

Use our Opportunity Card calculator to check your chances.

Get help with the German visa process

If you’re still unsure about which visa you need or the application process, our Get In Expat immigration experts are happy to help! We will guide you through the entire process. 

Find out more on our page about jobs and visas in Germany.

Step 2: Develop a realistic budget for moving to Germany

Moving to any new country is expensive and a huge investment. Living costs in Germany vary between states and cities. Big cities like Munich, Berlin and Frankfurt have higher living costs than smaller towns. According to Get In Expat client experience, averages can range from a minimum of 1,000 to 3,000 euros per month.

Step 3: Arrange your paperwork 

Moving to Germany as a US citizen can be daunting. It’s essential to have all your legal documents in order before you start the moving process. Here are some of the most important documents you will need to prepare:

  • Bank statements
  • Visa paperwork
  • A valid passport
  • Proof of income

Understanding the requirements and preparing your paperwork before your move will prevent any barriers during your relocation and make the whole process a lot less stressful.

Step 4: Obtain your residence permit

If you want to live in Germany for more than 90 days, you must get a residence permit. Those on a job visa get residence permit included as part of their visa. All other visa types require you to acquire a residence permit shortly after arriving in Germany. The duration of your residence permit varies and can be obtained for reasons such as work, studying, and family reunification. 

Below are the key types of residency permits:

  1. Temporary Residence Permit

  • For individuals planning fixed-term stays in Germany. These can include study programs or specific projects.
  • Grants legal residency for a predetermined length of time.
  • Permits engagement in pre-approved activities specified in the permit application.
  1. EU Blue Card

  • Offers a fast-track for skilled professionals to work and settle in Germany.
  • Beneficial for those with specialized skills that are highly sought after in the German labour market.
  • Provides advantages like family reunification rights and access to social benefits.
  1. Permanent Residence Permit
  • Ultimate goal for people seeking long-term settlement in Germany.
  • Grants indefinite legal residency and working rights in the country.
  • Eligibility often depends on meeting certain requirements and proving your integration into German society, as well as your proficiency in the German language.
  • Permanent residency provides stability and security, allowing you to establish permanent roots in Germany.

Step 5: Get to Grips with the German Tax System

When you move from the US to Germany, you must be prepared for the high tax rates and complicated tax system. Although this can seem daunting, it’s essential to have a basic understand of the tax system to ensure you are compliant with German tax laws.

The first thing to know is that Germany operates a progressive tax system meaning that tax rates vary based on income levels. The higher you earn, the more tax you will pay. You will also be issued a tax class on arrival in Germany. This tax class may change depending on your employment or marital status. For more information on tax classes or to change your tax class, you can check out our page on tax class in Germany.

Here’s a beginner’s guide to the other essentials of German taxes:

Pay As You Earn (PAYE) System

If you are employed in Germany, your employer will automatically deduct taxes from your salary. This makes your tax management much easier as you typically won’t need to file a tax return unless you have additional income or deductions to report.

Filing your taxes

If you find yourself having to file a tax return, or you choose to file one voluntarily, then generally it must be submitted by July 31 the following year. This deadline is extended if you use a tax advisor. You can file online or via post and will require you to submit details of all your income, deductions and expenses.

US-German Tax Treaty

US citizens earning income in Germany may benefit from a foreign tax credit on their US tax return, thanks to the treaty between Germany and the US. This helps mitigate the risk of double taxation and eases the potential financial burden for US expats and immigrants. However please note that as a US citizen you will still have to file your taxes in the US every year, regardless of income in Germany.

Where does your tax money go in Germany?

The tax rate in Germany might be a lot higher than US expats are used to. But it’s crucial to understand the reason behind these higher rates.

Tax money in Germany funds essential public services like:

  • Healthcare
  • Education
  • Infrastructure development

Germany also has a robust social security system offering support to those facing financial challenges. Tax money helps support this system.

Step 6: Find accommodation in Germany

Finding accommodation in Germany, particularly in the large cities, can be notoriously difficult. It can also be a tedious and time consuming task, especially if you are moving with your family. There are some websites you can check for an idea of the market and rental prices, but the best thing to do is work with a relocation specialist who can help make the process easier.

Luckily, Get In Expat offers relocation packages to help ease your stress and get you to Germany fast!

Step 7: Register your address in Germany

The paperwork doesn’t stop once you have finally moved from the US to Germany! Once you have found a place to live, you must register your new address with your local city registration office. 

To do this, you will need proof of your rental agreement or proof that you have bought your property. You must register your address every time you move. If you move from one city or state to another, then you must also de-register with your old city or state and register with your new one. 

You have 14 days after arrival in Germany to complete this process, known as Anmeldung. If you are confused or need help with this process, we can help! Our free Anmeldung filling service provides you with guidance and support in completing the registration forms.

Step 8: Open a bank account in Germany

If you are relocating to Germany on any visa other than tourist, you will need to set up a bank account.

It’s especially important if you are working in Germany and want to receive your salary every month. Most employers require that you have a German bank account with a German IBAN to pay your wages.

A German bank account also allows you to easily transfer funds from your American bank so you can continue to fund your German adventure with ease.

Step 9: Secure health insurance

Unlike the US, health insurance is mandatory in Germany. Every resident must obtain coverage to cover any medical treatments or procedures.

There are two types of insurance available in Germany: public and private. 

Public Health Insurance

Known as “Gesetzliche Krankenversicherung” (GKV), public health insurance is the most common healthcare option for residents in Germany. Contributions to public health insurance are typically based on a percentage of your income, with both employees and employers sharing the cost. 

Essential medical services are covered by public health insurance, like doctor’s visits and medications, but it also cover preventative care and holistic health. It is even possible to partake in sports courses like yoga or Nordic walking with some providers! 

Some public health providers in Germany include:

  • TK
  • Barmer
  • IKK
  • AOK
  • DAK health

Private Health Insurance

Private insurance is known as “Private Krankenversicherung” (PKV) and is open to certain individuas who meet the right criteria. Notably, it is available to high-income earners, self-employed individuals and freelancers, as well as civil servants.

You can easily customize your coverage with PKV and premiums are based on individual factors like age, health, status, and what coverage options you choose.

Here are some examples of private health insurance companies in Germany:

  • AXA health insurance
  • DKV
  • Alliance private health insurance
  • ARAG health insurance

It’s important to consider your individual circumstances before deciding which health insurance you take out in Germany. Consulting with a qualified insurance advisor can help expats and immigrants select the most suitable option for their situation.

Use our free consulting service provided by our partner Feather (Book a call with an expert)

Step 10: Learn German

Easier said than done. German can be a difficult language to master. But once you have cleared the bureaucratic hurdles, the next thing is to learn basic German ready for your move.

Many Germans can speak English, but learning the language is important to make your move from the US easier. Fear not, there are plenty of affordable resources available these days to help make learning more accessible and fun.

How to learn German in 2024:

  • Take online or in-person classes. Platforms like Preply and Lingoda offer remote, online language courses. Alternatively, you can search for a language school in your new German city.
  • Use language learning apps like Duolingo or Babbel to learn basic phrases and get to grips with understanding.
  • Listen to language learning or German language podcasts to help increase your understanding and listening skills.
  • Watch TV shows and movies in German on streaming platforms.

The basic German phrases

Here’s a short list of some basic phrases you’ll need to know as a newbie in Germany:

  1. Guten Tag (Good day)
  2. Danke (Thank you)
  3. Bitte (Please)
  4. Entschuldigung (Excuse me)
  5. Sprechen Sie Englisch? (Do you speak English?)

Move to Germany from the US: Final Thoughts!

Moving from the US to Germany can be a wonderful and unforgettable experience. But it is important to remember that preparation and planning are vital. If you go through each of the steps in this guide, you will be able to navigate your relocation with ease.

Aside from formalities and bureaucracy, it’s important to acknowledge the significant cultural differences between the US and Germany. It might take you some time to adjust to your new life.

If you’re seeking new opportunities, moving from the US to Germany can be a great choice. At Get In Expat, we offer dedicated support to US citizens throughout your journey to Germany. Contact us to explore our range of services and learn how we can make your relocation easier.