Thinking of Moving to Germany? Here’s What to Know If You’re American

published Jan 31, 2024
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Fish market square with tourists resting in cafes, colorful houses and St. Martin Church in Koln. Travel and sightseeing
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Dreaming of moving to Germany from the U.S.? Whether you’re hoping to take the next step in your career, meet the love of your life, or just get a fresh start in a new place, making a big international move can be an appealing option. But moving abroad can also be complicated, and you likely have a few questions about how exactly to make it happen. As you brush up on your German language skills, here’s what to keep in mind as you consider this big move.

Can a U.S. citizen live in Germany?

Americans can visit Germany for up to 90 days without a visa, as long as they have a valid passport. But after that, you’ll need to obtain a residence permit and check in at the local registration office within a week of arriving in the country, according to the U.S. Embassy & Consulates in Germany.

If you know you ultimately want to live in Germany longer-term, you can apply for a residence permit before you fly across the Atlantic by visiting the Germany Embassy in Washington, D.C., or a German Consulate in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, or San Francisco. Or, if you’d rather, you can also wait until you get to Germany to do so — it’s up to you.

You’ll need this residence permit no matter what you choose to do while living in Germany, whether that’s finding a job or enrolling at a college or university.

What do I need to know before moving to Germany?

  • Brush up on your German. Sure, you can probably get by speaking English for a little while, especially in metropolitan areas like Berlin and Frankfurt. But if you plan to stay in the country long-term (or if you hope to move to a more rural area), you’ll definitely want to master the German language. The country even has a special language acquisition visa for visitors who enroll in intensive language programs.
  • Bring your cold-weather gear. The weather in Germany varies depending on where you settle. But, because of its latitude, German winters can be brutal, especially compared to warm-weather locales like Texas and Florida, says Nicholas McMillan, a real estate broker based in Westchester County, New York. As you start packing, remember to bring along your cold-weather gear. And, if you are moving to Germany from a place with a mild climate, you’ll want to factor cold-weather apparel into your moving budget.
  • Save up. On the topic of money, it’s a good idea to pad your savings account before making a big move like this. Eric Bramlett, a real estate broker based in Austin, Texas, recommends saving up enough to cover six months’ worth of living expenses, just to be safe. “An international relocation is a big change, but with the right preparation it will open up new opportunities for you and your family,” he says.

Can I move to Germany without a job?

Yes, you can move to Germany without a job — and the country even has a special six-month job seeker visa for those who are looking for work. 

That said, you’ll need to come up with a long-term plan for what you hope to eventually do while living in Germany, because you can’t extend the job-seeker visa. For example, Germany has a self-employment visa if you want to freelance, a student visa if you plan to enroll in school, a research visa, a vocational training visa, and even a special visa for IT specialists, to name a few. 

Also, be sure to spend some time researching Germany’s employment rules. The nation has strict policies about jobs and, depending on the visa you’re going for, you’ll likely need to apply to have your professional qualifications or your university degree recognized.