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.
Note: there are some quick links in the sidebar that isn’t visible on mobile devices. For the full experience, be sure to check out this article on a larger screen.
Important Note: What’s Changed in 2019?
This guide has been updated on 16 September 2019, after learning that the visa application process has since changed. I hope this updated version helps with any confusion when you read older guides from before 2019.
Here’s a summary of what’s changed (or I’ve previously missed):
- Previously, visa applicants used to get their Working Holiday Visa on the spot. Now, you’ll have wait about a month for your visa to be processed. In the meantime, you’ll receive a letter that states you are allowed to stay in Germany for this time. More on this below.
- If you apply from outside of Germany, you get to skip the Anmeldung process, but you also are limited to working a maximum of 6 months at any employer. There are also some other pros and cons that are detailed below.
If you have any feedback or want to share your experience (which is greatly appreciated), simply head down to the comments section.
What is the Working Holiday Visa?
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 Berlin 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.
Requirements for a Working Holiday Visa in Germany
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 (“Anmeldung” or rental agreement and written confirmation of occupancy from your landlord).
You must also have all the documents listed here.
For more information on the alternative to getting an Anmeldung for your visa, that same link has all the information you’ll need under “Proof of main residence in Berlin” and “More information”.
Demystifying the German Jargon
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 main 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.
How to Apply for a Working Holiday Visa in Berlin
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.
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. Don’t worry about the “Student” label – it also says “Work & Travel” which is what the Working Holiday Visa is meant to be.
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 you can use it to apply for your visa with confidence and switch insurance providers afterwards. Most do. 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.
- Soon after, you’ll be given an official letter that states that your resident card will be ready in about a month, with an appointment date. It also states that you are allowed to stay in Germany until that date.
The visa application process used to end at #8, but this is no longer the case.
Step 7: Return to the Ausländerbehörde
If you’re within your 90-day Schengen visa exemption days, you can spend this waiting time by travelling for a while, otherwise just sit tight.
Technically speaking, you could travel inside Schengen during this time even if your Schengen days are finished. This is because the whole point of the Schengen agreement is that borders are open and unchecked. But technically, again, you would be travelling illegally. All it takes is one overly curious police officer or for you to get into an accident to reveal that you’re not meant to be outside of Germany. All in all, I’d suggest holding back from booking any travel and just enjoy Berlin while you wait for your visa to be ready.
Head back to the Ausländerbehörde in time for your appointment, and you will receive your residency card. That’s it – you’re done! Buy yourself a celebratory beer from the nearest Späti.
Applying for Your WHV Visa from Outside of Germany
One of the most-asked questions from applicants is whether or not they should apply for their Working Holiday Visa after arriving in Germany or from abroad. Here are some pros and cons.
Applying from within Germany:
- Pro: No limit to your Working Holiday Visa
- Pro: Lower amount of funds required for your visa (unconfirmed)
- Con: Getting Anmeldung can often be quite difficult, although you might be able to get around this by getting a rental agreement and written confirmation of occupancy from your landlord
Applying from elsewhere (home country or German embassy):
- Pro: Anmeldung not necessary
- Pro: Appointments are easier to come by
- Con: Maximum of 6 months of employment at any company
- Con: Higher amount of funds required for your visa (unconfirmed)
- Con: Exit flight for your departure from Germany required (unconfirmed)
At the end of the day, it comes down to your personal preference and what you plan to do during your time in Germany.
If you’re Australian, you can only make this application from the German embassy in Sydney – however I’ve also heard of some people who have applied at their own state’s embassy (e.g. Melbourne), who then in turn sent the documents to Sydney. Unlike the Berlin website, the “Missions of the Federal Republic of Germany in Australia” website has some surprisingly helpful information about applying for the Working Holiday Visa from Australia.
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 of the expats in the comments below successfully applied from Vienna, Austria.
With either of these methods, I’d suggest giving your local embassy a call first. Make sure that it’s possible to go through the application process from there before making the journey over. I would also say that generally calling is better than email, as they tend to take a while to reply.
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 Schengen time ticks down.
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 while there’s nothing but good reviews about World Nomads. All you need to do is simply email Mawista with your policy details and state that you would like to cancel.
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!).
If you’d like learn more, have a look at my article where I explain the steps of setting up a bank account in Germany.
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!