Show Me Your Papers – See What Is Involved in Getting a Work Permit, Residence Permit, and City Registration in Germany

Moving to another country is challenging from the aspect of all the required documentation needed.  You can’t just simply show up and expect to stay indefinitely without the proper paperwork.  Well, okay, you can, but we’re talking about entering a country legally 🙂

I’m sure each country is different, but these were our experiences becoming an expat in Germany…

As all international travelers know, the first step is to acquire a passport.  Amanda & I have had ours for a number of years now, so check.  At immigration in the airport, the agents ask your reason for entering the country.  Typically, we would say, “Business” which was acceptable.  But, we can’t exactly say we’re going to be here on ‘Business’ for 3 years.

To ‘live’ in Germany, you have to obtain a ‘Residence Permit’ for the town that you will live.  In order for the town to release this, you have to have a ‘Work Permit’ that is issued by Germnay that allows you to work.

Two types of work permits exist in Germany (and the European Union):  a normal work permit for the work to be performed & a ‘Blue Card’ which grants a little more leeway in the type of work you can do (and allows you to be able to work anywhere in the EU).  Amanda got a Work Permit, and I was able to get a Blue Card.  The process takes 4-6 weeks (with our company’s pressure).

So, once you have a work permit, then you get the Residence Permit.  These two items, along with your Passport, now grants you permission to enter Germany and live & work for the time we will be here.  Also, it is recommended to always carry these documents on your person, because they serve as your official identification (i.e., in the US, we can use a driver’s license for this purpose).

So, now we can enter and stay legally, what’s next?  Well, as anyone knows, the government wants to get their fair share of your income as taxes.  In the US, you complete a W-4 at your employer to initiate the process.  In Germany, you have to register at the Tax Office of the Town you live, and apply for a Tax Record.  You can apply for 3 different levels (Tax Class 3, 4, or 5).  Your class level determines how much withholding tax is taken.  If too much over the year is taken, you get a refund.  Vice versa, too little you pay.  The goal is to find the right balance where you don’t pay or get a refund.  In Germany, the income tax is approximately 40-45% (NOTE:  if you indicate an affiliation with a church, then you are taxed an additional 10% on top of that).

Sounds like a high tax rate doesn’t it?  It is, but with it, you are entitled to basically free health care, a guaranteed pension plan at retirement, free & exceptional higher education, and many other benefits.  If you ran some numbers, even though more is taken out in tax you break even in the long run.

Next, I had to register for my health insurance coverage.  Amanda is covered differently with her job situation, but I am technically employed by our Germany company.  Now that I have my insurance card, I’m covered in case I get sick or need to get a checkup.

So, we’ve obtained our passports, work permits, residence permits, tax identifications, and health insurance.  Next, in addition to all the paperwork required to bring Barney into Germany, we had to obtain a license for him to register him.

Now, we all have our proper documentation, we needed to obtain liability insurance in case anything happens to our personal property, we damage someone else’s property, and we even took out a policy to cover Barney and any damage he may cause.

We have yet to purchase a car, but once we do, we will have documentation needed for this to register the car and for insurance.  Oh yeah, we also had to register with the Television & Radio Communication office to let them know how many TVs we have in our apartment.  The reason, there is an annual tax paid that goes to cover the public television/radio system.  The amount isn’t too much (like 35 euro), but that’s a difference than in the US.  I even registered to take the train/bus system, having a pass that looks like a driver’s license that grants me free passage to almost everywhere in Germany (or at a discounted rate).

It is/was a lot of documentation and registrations we had to do.  And, luckily, our patin who is assigned to help us while we are here, was extremely helpful in knowing where to go, when, and how much things were going to cost at each step.  It sounds like a lot, but there’s a lot of documentation/registration requirements in the States, it’s just that we are use to them and it doesn’t seem as daunting of a task to complete.

We are now free to travel anywhere within the EU without restrictions (well, we can’t exactly bring Barney into England because of additional restrictions).  Gone are the days of border crossings.  It may be the too many movies that I have seen, but I am still waiting on someone in a German accent to say, “Show me your papers.”

  1. Wow…. I knew you and Amanda would have a lot of legal ‘stuff’ to do, but writing it down makes it kinda crazy! I think I like the tax structure. I would have to know more, but I think of it as a way to save for college, medical expense, and retirement. If I’m reading this right, everyone would have these benefits, right? Thanks for posting this, Chad… Very informative! 🙂



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