Moving to Germany — A Guide for Immigrants, Expats, & Digital Nomads

Moving to Germany — A Guide for Immigrants, Expats, & Digital Nomads

January 18, 2024 1 min read

Thinking about making the leap to Germany? From fairytale landscapes and historic charm to cutting-edge tech and a thriving job market, Germany’s got it all. Whatever your reasons for moving abroad, you’ll likely need some help to make it happen. We’re here to help you navigate the entire process.

This digital nomad guide explores the challenges, perks, and steps of moving to Germany. So, pack your bags, and let’s dive into the adventure together!

Things to do before moving to Germany

Before you can enjoy a cold beer and warm currywurst, there are a few things you have to do. Use this moving abroad checklist to make sure you have everything you need.

Legally preparing to move to Germany

There are several different visas to consider. You can find out which is best for you here.

Short-stay visas

Germany is one of the 27 European countries in the Schengen Area where border controls have been lifted. This means nationals from Schengen member countries don’t need a visa to enter Germany. The Schengen visa-free agreement also extends to many other nationalities, including those with visas or residencies from certain countries. Keep in mind, though, that these entry requirements will change in 2025.

Check this list to see if you’re exempt from a Schengen visa. If you’re not, you must apply for a Schengen visa before coming to Germany. Make sure you apply early and meet the requirements, then schedule an appointment at your local German Mission. Most applicants pay an 80 euro fee (some have a reduced cost of only 35 euros).

Whether you enter Germany with a Schengen visa or not, you can only stay for 90 days. This limit covers time spent in any Schengen member country, not just Germany. So, if you leave Germany and hop over to the Czech Republic, your time there still counts against the 90 days. 

Long-stay visas

To extend your stay, you get a residence visa, also called a long-stay or national visa. There are a few different long-stay categories:

  • Work (including EU Blue Card, job-seekers, freelancers, etc.)
  • Research
  • Study
  • Family reunion 

Keep in mind that getting a residence visa can take several weeks or months — often more than 90 days. Check with the requirements for your nationality to see if you need to start the process in your own country or whether you can do it in Germany during the initial 90 days. You can find your local German Mission embassy and website here

The residence visa usually lasts six months. During that time, you can apply for a resident permit specific to your visa type and extend your stay.

After you’ve been in Germany for five years (or less, under certain circumstances) without interruption, you may also be eligible for a settlement permit. A German EU long-term residence permit allows you to stay in Germany or another EU country. After eight years of residence, you can start the naturalization process.

Budgeting for your move to Germany

Before moving abroad, ask yourself plenty of financial questions to make sure you have enough money to cover it all.

How much does it cost to move to Germany?

The average cost of moving to Germany varies depending on your location and what you bring. For example, flying to Germany from New York is likely cheaper than flying from Taiwan. And moving an entire pod of possessions might cost a couple of thousand versus $500 for a couple of suitcases. 

What’s the cost of living like in Germany?

Compared to the U.S. or Canada, things tend to be cheaper in Germany. The average monthly cost of living in USD for one person in Germany is $1,519, compared to $2,434 in the United States and $1,931 in Canada. However, Germany has a more expensive cost of living than Italy ($1,388), Sweden ($1,436), and India ($435). Here’s a quick look at some of the most common expenses you might face in Germany (in USD):

  • Monthly rent for one person: $804
  • Eating out for lunch: $13.40
  • Internet plan: $43.40
  • Gas per liter: $2.07
  • Doctor’s visit: $63.50
  • Monthly transport pass: $69.20

How to set up your finances in Germany

Before settling into your new life, ensure you have access to your finances. That’s where Ria can help.

The first step is opening up a German bank account, perhaps at a popular German bank like Deutsche Bank, Revolut, or DZ Bank. This will give you easy access to your money without the hassle of international conversion fees. Typically, you’ll need the following to apply:

  • Your passport
  • Your residence permit (unless you’re from an EU member country)
  • German registration certificate (you’ll get this from the registration office when you apply for your visa)

When it comes time to fund your account, Ria makes it easy. We offer great rates and low fees on all international money transfers. You can send up to €10,000 per transfer, with a maximum of €25,000 annually, which should be more than enough to fuel your German account.

And since we have over 500,000 worldwide locations, you can easily pick up a cash transfer, whether you’re in Berlin or Cologne.

How to find a job in Germany

You can work in Germany, but you need the correct type of residence visa with a work permit or an EU blue card. Some residence visas allow you to look for work in Germany, while others require you to already have a contract before applying. 

Finding a job abroad isn’t always easy, especially if you don’t speak the local language. You can start by taking the Quick-Check quiz from the German government. It can help you better determine your chances of finding a job and lead you to extra resources.

You might also consider browsing the Make It in Germany job board, another resource from the German government. It lists some of the highest demand positions, including nurses, physicians, engineers, IT specialists, scientists, and craftspeople. Another good resource is the Federal Employment Agency job board.

If you currently work in a skilled position and are looking for the same type of work in Germany, you may need to have your credentials verified. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research has a professional recognition program that can approve your qualifications, making you eligible for more jobs. This process can take up to three months, so try to do it before you move.

How to connect with other expats and remote workers in Germany

One of the best parts of being an expat is the chance to meet a variety of interesting people from across the globe. You can find them by browsing online expat groups in your local city. They often host meetups and get-togethers where you can network and make new friends. Some popular Facebook ones include:

Don’t also forget about online forums. Toytown Germany is a popular one, as is Expat Forum.

You can also find in-person expat meetups. Head to your local pub or coffee shop and look for flyers advertising expat meetups. Expats often gather in places that remind them of their home country — perhaps an American-style diner or an authentic Vietnamese restaurant.

Another option is joining a coworking space in Germany. Since digital nomads can work from anywhere, they often use these spots as an office. 

How does healthcare work in Germany?

In Germany, the law requires you to have health insurance. As of 2020, 88% of the country had statutory health insurance offered by a national exchange. Another 11% had private substitute coverage, while the remaining 1% was enrolled in a program for military members, police, and other public-sector employees. 

If you have a residence visa and a job in Germany, your employer automatically deducts social security contributions from your paycheck to cover statutory public health insurance. Germany’s official health insurance marketplace has information on the available insurance providers.

But what if you’re a freelancer or don’t have a job yet? And what if you don’t plan on living in Germany for a long time? In these cases, you’ll have to consider private health insurance instead. Private plans often provide the same level of coverage at facilities, but you may get care faster. In return, though, you have to pay your bills upfront and wait for the insurance company to reimburse you. This isn’t the case with statutory insurance.

Also, statutory insurance plans typically include aging reserves — extra payments that help ensure your premiums stay low once you get older. A private plan doesn’t have these tariffs, often lowering the cost.

What are the best cities for expats and digital nomads in Germany?

As a digital nomad, you want a city that offers a good mix of cultural experiences and things to do. Moving to a city with a thriving expat community ensures you have a place to fit in, as expats typically welcome people from all cultures.

Here are some of the most popular picks for digital nomads:

  • Berlin: Germany’s capital city is where history meets hipster vibes. It offers a unique blend of iconic landmarks, a thriving arts scene, and unparalleled nightlife, making it an expat haven.
  • Frankfurt: As Germany’s financial powerhouse, Frankfurt is a global hub teeming with job opportunities, futuristic skyscrapers, and a cosmopolitan atmosphere. If you’re a career-driven expat seeking urban life, this is the city for you.
  • Munich: Located in southern Germany, Munich charms expats with its picturesque landscapes, beer gardens, and old-school Bavarian culture.
  • Hamburg: Maritime magic comes alive in Hamburg, where canals weave through the city. This northern hotspot offers the perfect blend of culture, bustling markets, and a laid-back waterfront lifestyle.
  • Cologne: Cologne captivates expats with its majestic cathedral, arts scene, and welcoming atmosphere. Plus, it’s located on the Rhine, making it a great launching point for additional German adventures.
  • Stuttgart: Stuttgart beckons expats with a high quality of life, plenty of green spaces, and a strong economy, making it an ideal destination for those seeking a slower-paced urban lifestyle.
  • Dresden: In Dresden, baroque architecture, cultural treasures, and a serene atmosphere offer expats a peaceful escape into history and artistic richness.

Questions about living in Germany

We know you have more questions about living in Germany, and we’re here to help. 

What will I need in order to move to Germany?

Here’s a moving abroad checklist that covers all the things you’ll need before moving to Germany:

  • Valid passport
  • Valid visa (unless you are coming for a shorter stay and are exempt from the Schengen visa)
  • Extra passport photos
  • Health insurance
  • Basic German language skills (required for some visas)
  • At least a few months of rent money saved
  • Funds to cover hotel/transportation during the first days
  • A plan to ship, store, or sell your belongings
  • An emergency fund

What are taxes like in Germany?

In Germany, you’ll pay an income tax from your paycheck. The tax rates range between 0% and 45%, depending on your income. You may also have to pay social security payments and benefits in kind tax.

If you’re a freelancer who doesn’t have a paycheck, you’ll have to register with your area’s local tax office to get a freelance tax number. Then, you’ll use this to make your tax payments.

What’s the currency in Germany?

Germany uses the euro.

How long can I stay in Germany without becoming a citizen?

If you’re from a Schengen Area country or a country exempt from the Schengen visa, you can stay in Germany for 90 days without getting a visa. You can also apply for a long-stay visa, which you can renew as long as your circumstances remain the same. Germany also offers settlement visas. 

What will I need to become a German citizen?

To become a German citizen, you must live in the country for at least eight years. If you complete an integration course, you only need to wait seven years. Other requirements include:

  • Sufficient command of the German language
  • Declaration of allegiance to the German constitution
  • Passing score on the naturalization test
  • Ability to support yourself without social assistance
  • A clean criminal record
  • Renouncing your previous citizenship

Does Germany offer digital nomad visas?

Germany does not have an official digital nomad visa, but it does offer a freelancer visa.

Is Germany a good choice for European expats?

When considering what country to move to, Germany is an excellent choice for European expats. It has a thriving economy and numerous job opportunities, especially in sectors like healthcare and IT. Germany’s central European location also means you can visit your home country often.

Is Germany good for North American expats?

Many North American expats love Germany for its mix of history, modern amenities, and rich culture. They often enjoy effective public transportation options, like Germany’s extensive network of trains.

Is Germany a good choice for Asian expats?

Yes, it’s a good option for Asian expats, as noted by the recent increase in Asian immigrants arriving in Germany. It offers an international, inclusive feel and diverse job opportunities. 

Is Germany safe?

Yes. The Global Peace Index ranks Germany as the 15th safest country in the world. 

Can I move to Germany without knowing the language?

Yes. That said, not knowing German can complicate things. Many visa forms will be in German, and you may struggle to travel and shop without basic German language skills. Some visas even require German skills.

Can a U.S. citizen live full-time in Germany?

Yes, a U.S. citizen can live full-time in Germany if they get a residence visa. After four years, you can also apply for a permanent settlement permit or EU long-stay visa if you don’t want to give up your U.S. citizenship.

Is it worth moving to Germany from the U.S.?

Yes, it can be worth it for U.S. expats to move to Germany, especially with the lower cost of living. Some people may enjoy the education system, which Data Pandas ranks 2nd worldwide (compared to the U.S., which ranks 13th). The 2023 CEOWOLRD Health Care Index also notes a significant difference in healthcare quality, ranking Germany 14th and the U.S. 45th worldwide. 

Useful resources for expats in Germany

One of the biggest resources you can utilize during your time abroad is Ria Money Transfer. We take the hassle out of all of your international transactions. Whether you want to send money to your loved ones back home or transfer your money into your new German bank account, we have you covered. Every transaction is fast, safe, and guaranteed, offering you complete peace of mind.

If you need additional resources, consider this list of other helpful information we’ve put together. 

Visa info

Job resources

Expats forums


Unlinked Sources:

  • https://www.expatica.com/de/healthcare/healthcare-basics/a-guide-to-german-health-insurance-693463/
  • https://www.academics.com/guide/taxes-in-germany 
  • https://www.iamexpat.de/expat-info/taxation-germany/german-tax-system
  • https://www.iamexpat.de/expat-info/official-issues/residence-permit-germany

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