One of the most common stereotypes about Germany is the concept of “German efficiency”. While this is true in a lot of cases, there are some glaring exceptions – and few things are as slow and inefficient as the local bureaucracy. Add on the fact that Berlin is the most un-German city in Germany, and the end result is the absolute mess of an application process that new Berliners experience while applying for their Working Holiday Visa.
I personally went through this when moving to Berlin in July 2017. If it wasn’t for a few well-informed people that helped me out, I probably would have given up and settled elsewhere outside of the Schengen zone. Luckily for you, I’ve now put together all of my findings so that you don’t have to struggle (… as much). Trust me, Berlin’s worth it.
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The “Working Holiday Visa Programme” is a bilateral agreement between Germany and a number of countries (Australia, Argentina, Chile, Israel, Japan and New Zealand). There are also similar arrangement with Canada (Youth Mobility Agreement) and South Korea (Working-Holiday-Agreement).
Update (10/12/2018): I’ve noticed that the list of countries has changed. Now, the website states “Foreign nationals from Australia, Israel, Japan, Canada and New Zealand may apply for this residence permit in Germany… Foreign nationals from Korean Republic may apply for this residence permit only in exceptional cases (see below) in Germany.”
All of these Working Holiday Visas are for twelve months, with the purpose of allowing young foreign nationals to experience German culture, travel freely and work within Germany. While there is no obligation to work, this visa gives you the option should you need it – or run out of money.
Popular alternatives to the Working Holiday Visa (or if you’re over 35 years old) are the Freelancer Visa, Artist Visa, Language Course Visa. For a quick guide to what conditions apply for your country’s passport, check out Project Visa.
To be eligible for the Working Holiday Visa, you must:
- Be between 18 and 30 years of age inclusive (up to 35 if Canadian).
- Be a citizen of one of the countries listed above.
- Not be accompanied by dependent family members (e.g. children).
- Have the equivalent of at least 2000 Euros in savings.
- Have your main residence in Berlin.
You must also have all the documents listed here.
While going through this visa application process, there are a few words and phrases that you’ll often hear repeated. The most common ones will be Anmeldung, Bürgeramt, Ausländerbehörde, and the names of a few forms you’ll have to complete.
What is “Anmeldung” and “Bürgeramt”?
Anmeldung is the process of registering yourself to a German address. This is a requirement of your visa (unless you apply from outside of Germany). The Bürgeramt is the local office where you can submit your Anmeldung forms.
To complete your Anmeldung, you’ll need two forms: the “Anmeldung bei der Meldebehörde” is the application form to register yourself at your primary residence, while the “Einzugsbestätigung des Wohnungsgebers” is a form that your landlord – or primary tenant – has to fill out to officially confirm that you now live at this address.
Both forms and more information can be found here (use Google Translate).
What is the “Ausländerbehörde”?
This is effectively the visa office that you’ll be dealing with. Here, you’ll need to bring the “Antrag auf Erteilung eines Aufenthaltstitels” form, otherwise known as the “Application for Issuance of a Residence Permit”.
The Ausländerbehörde is located at Keplerstraße 2, through the gate on the right hand side and around the corner to the left.
I went through this process with an Australian passport, but the information is relevant to most other countries that have a Working Holiday Visa agreement with Germany. The official website for more information can be found here.
Here the short version on applying for a Working Holiday Visa in Berlin:
- Book your Bürgeramt and Ausländerbehörde appointments as soon as possible.
- Arrive in Germany using the 90-day Schengen visa (no application required).
- Find a house, flat or shared flat, also known as a “WG” (or “Wohngemeinschaft”).
- Go to the Bürgeramt and complete your Anmeldung.
- Buy travel insurance for a year (more on this below).
- Go to the Ausländerbehörde and submit your visa application.
Confused? I know. Let’s break this down into parts.
Step 1: Book Your Appointments
There’s such a shortage of public service officers at the Bürgeramt, that you’ll have to book your appointment at least a month or two beforehand. The Ausländerbehörde is even worse – it’s booked out for years in advance (no, you didn’t read that wrong).
The best thing you can do is check the Ausländerbehörde website early in morning, every day, until you find someone who’s cancelled. Don’t be picky, just take any appointment that’s within your 90-day Schengen window.
Get your appointments booked as soon as possible – the earlier the better!
Step 2: Arrive in Berlin
A lot of countries have an agreement with Germany that allows them to stay for 90 days out of a 6-month period without a visa. Project Visa has some useful links that shows each country’s eligibility. If your country’s passport isn’t eligible for this, you won’t able to apply for any sort of Working Holiday Visa using the method on this page.
Step 3: Find Accommodation in Berlin
This can be tricky. The rental market in Berlin is so high in demand that most listings will get dozens, if not hundreds of applications – especially in the more desirable areas. An extra layer of difficulty with this is that you’ll need to sort out your Anmeldung, which a lot of temporary flats or sub-leases often can’t provide.
Still, it’s not impossible. Put some effort into your application, and show the landlord (or your future housemates) why you’d be a good fit.
You can find accommodation using a few methods:
- WG-Gesucht: the most popular website for finding houses, flats and share houses (“WG”).
- Facebook Groups: join as many rental-related groups that you can find. Here’s a few to get you started: Berlin Apartments, Flats in Berlin, Berlin Housing, WG Zimmer Wohnung in Berlin.
- eBay-Kleinanzeigen: German classifieds, sort of like Gumtree or Craigslist.
- Immowelt.de: another website for finding accommodation, where a lot of ads are by agents rather than landlords or tenants.
Also, try and ask around. Similar to job openings, a lot of WGs and flats don’t get advertised due to referrals. Obviously, this can be difficult if you’ve just arrived, but it’s something to keep in mind as you start making friends.
Step 4: Go to the Bürgeramt (Anmeldung)
Don’t be late to your appointment! While the booking process is a mess, the appointments tend to start precisely on time.
If you haven’t managed to book your Bürgeramt appointment, you can try and find last minute cancellations, or simply go to your local office and wait in line. It’s very possible to get a Bürgeramt appointment on the day, just by turning up.
Something to keep in mind is that while most officials at the Bürgeramt speak perfect English, they’ll resent the fact that you don’t speak German. Bring all the documents you need already filled out, and be as nice as possible. If you can bring a friend that speaks German, you’ll have a much easier time here.
On that note: I’m working on a project that matches newcomers in Berlin with German-speaking locals, specifically to help them with get set up with the bureaucracy (the Bürgeramt, Ausländerbehörde, and so on). This includes going to interviews and translation of documents! If you’re interested, get in touch here and let’s talk.
Step 5: Buy Travel Insurance
Of all of the required documents, the most confusing one is the “Foreign travellers’ health insurance that is valid for one year”. In the eyes of the German bureaucracy, not all travel insurances are created equal.
The easiest way to get around this is to purchase the widely-accepted “Student” package from Mawista. It doesn’t provide great coverage, but it’s cheap, has a cancellation period, and ticks all of the bureaucracy boxes (it’s even advertised inside the Ausländerbehörde) – which means can apply for your visa with confidence and switch insurance providers afterwards. I recommend (and personally use) World Nomads.
One more tip: buy your insurance a few days before your appointment date, as it can take a day or two for the documents to arrive in your email inbox. I’ve had friends who have missed their appointments after getting their insurance at the last minute.
Step 6: Go to the Ausländerbehörde
If you’ve made an appointment, this bit is easy – it’s a simple matter of arriving on time.
But if you haven’t managed to make an appointment, the harsh reality is that you’ll have to get to the Ausländerbehörde around 3am in the morning, write down your name, and wait until they open. Arrive any later, and you probably won’t get in at all. Also worth noting is that the office is only open on Monday and Tuesdays from 7am, and on Thursdays from 10am.
Step by step, here’s what you need to do:
- Get to the Ausländerbehörde at 3am or earlier. Bring a jacket and some snacks.
- Someone will have a piece of paper with names on it. Write your name down, find somewhere to sit, and get comfortable. Make some friends if you can.
- In a few hours, someone will come around and start reading out names from the list. Line up as your name is called and you’ll get a ticket with your number.
- Around 7am, the doors will open and you’ll be able to go inside to the waiting room. Your ticket will be exchanged for another one.
- At some point, your number will be called out (probably in German, but someone should be able to translate). Line up at the visa office door and wait for your turn.
- Give your documents to the person behind the counter. Try and be as friendly as possible. If you speak German (or have a friend that does), that’s a plus.
- You’ll be asked to wait.
- Receive your shiny new visa! You’ll have to pay a fee on the way out, so bring cash if you don’t have a IC card. Debit and credit cards won’t work.
- Buy a celebratory beer from a Späti and head home for a nap.
Congratulations – you’ve made it!
If I had to give one piece of advice, it’s this: get your visa before you arrive in Berlin.
Despite what all the official websites (very unhelpfully) might tell you, this is by far the most hassle-free method – largely due to the fact that you don’t have to worry about your Anmeldung and Berlin’s insanely inefficient appointment booking processes. If you’re Australian, you can only make this application from the German embassy in Sydney.
If you’re already in Europe and have some time left during your 90-day Schengen Visa, you could even head to another country. One expat that I met in the visa line applied for his Youth Mobility Visa at the German embassy in Poland – the entire process only took several days to process, and he spent the rest of his time sightseeing around Warsaw.
If you have your heart set on applying for your visa in Berlin, just try to get everything organised as early as possible. It’s not impossible, but 90 days is shorter than you might think – and you really don’t want to be panicking as your time in the Schengen area ticks down.
As mentioned above, I’m working on a project that matches newcomers in Berlin with German-speaking locals – specifically to help them with get set up with the bureaucracy (the Bürgeramt, Ausländerbehörde, and so on). This includes going to interviews and translation of documents! If you’re interested, get in touch here and let’s talk.
One last thing: don’t forget to cancel your Mawista insurance after getting your visa and switch to World Nomads afterwards. I’ve heard of difficulties claiming through Mawista (especially if you’re not actually a “student”) while there’s nothing but good reviews about World Nomads. All you need to do is simply email Mawista with your policy details.
Other Things to Consider
Once you’ve finished the stressful process of settling in, you’ll probably want to set up a bank account and phone number. As far as bank accounts go, all expats (and even many locals) unanimously recommend N26, an online bank with no account fees and free withdrawals. Their app is easy to use, and more importantly for expats: it’s the only real English banking option in Germany. If you need to convert currencies, TransferWise is the fastest and cheapest option (by far!).
As for setting up a phone number, I’ve written guide on getting a SIM card in Germany. I’ve also written an article about various apps and services to help you navigate Berlin, mostly about the best ways of physically getting around. Although intended for tourists, the same services apply for those who have decided to make the move a bit more permanently. There are even a few referral codes in there to help you save a bit of cash! Let’s help each other out 🙂
If you’ve found any of my writing helpful, please be sure to link it to anyone you think might benefit from it.
That’s it. Welcome to Berlin and good luck!