My plan for Germany was always very vague. I had set up my itinerary for the first three months including a month spent at a summer camp in Korea on my way over to make a little extra money. The first two months I spent learning German in two different cities; Freiburg and Köln (Cologne).
In my planning I had always assumed that I would be ready to move on to England by the end of the two months and I had my 5 year ancestry visa all sorted for this next step. But I had also gotten myself a working holiday visa for one year in Germany, in case I decided I liked it and wanted to stay. And I did. So I started looking for jobs in my last week of school and I scored two interviews in Berlin for the following week. I sorted a mitfahrgelegenheit (car sharing service, a bit like organised hitch hiking) and got myself up to Berlin, got one of the two jobs and found that my plans had drastically changed.
Having been here for over a year now I’d like to think I have a fair bit of knowledge on getting started here.
To begin with I recommend sorting yourself a visa while still in your country. For New Zealanders you can find information on how to acquire this here.
There is a list of links to various visa options. I got the working holiday option which is valid for 12 months for people under 30. The processing of my visa took just two days and was couriered back up to me in Auckland. It was very efficient and painless.
Getting yourself a visa before leaving your country saves you the hassle of going to the Auslanderbeörde once you are in Germany. This is a very unpleasant experience and if you don’t have a competent level of German you will struggle as although it is the ‘foreign office’ they will refuse to speak English with you. Having everything in place before you leave will give you peace of mind and you will be free to start searching for a job from the moment you land.
For Kiwi’s, familiarise yourself with this site before leaving. The staff members at the German embassy were extremely helpful whenever I had any questions.
Once you get here I strongly recommend taking a couple of weeks of intensive German classes. It is a great way to start your time here, meet new friends, and go out and explore the city on the schools cultural events that they should offer.
You can read about my recommended schools Here
If you end up finding a job in Berlin you will soon learn that you can get by with a little German and most people working in retail and hospitality services speak almost fluent English. But as learning German was my reason for coming here I have continued German lessons. It’s also nice not to be an “ignorant foreigner” living in another country expecting the locals to speak English everywhere you go.
First of all it is worth signing up for an account on Toytown – “Germany’s English speaking crowd”.
There is a pretty helpful forum on there with lots of questions similar to your own, a Jobs section and you can trawl for friends in your area! Beware of the nasty internet trolls that may put you off ever posting again.
Coming from an ESL background I attempted to find work as an English teacher but I found that most places would hire you as a freelancer only. This type of work didn’t appeal to me because I wanted something stable and I wasn’t prepared to pay the German health insurance on my own. But do check this site for opportunities in English language teaching: www.wallstreetinstitute.de
Another option is to sit down one day and do a big search on the net of German companies. A lot of jobs do not get advertised directly on those job websites but are found directly on the company website under the careers section.
Another route is to au pair for a while. The pay is not ideal but generally the family you work for will provide you with your own room in their house and you will eat all your meals with them, so you are essentially saving on rent and food. I have heard of some instances where the family has also paid for the au pair to take German lessons during the day and also provided a monthly transport ticket.
Try searching aupair-world.net
You may find that you’ll be invited to interview at company’s in different parts of Germany. Unfortunately the Deutsche bahn regional train is crazily expensive and it is often cheaper to fly.
Check out: http://www.bahn.de
For flights: http://www.skyscanner.de
Alternatively Germany has a widely used car sharing service named Mitfahrgelegenheit.de. You can search through the listings for someone who is driving in the direction you’re headed and they will charge you a fee for petrol and ask you to meet at an address on a date and set time to begin the journey. I have used this service five times.
Once you have a job you will need somewhere to live. Finding a shared flat in your city can be stressful or easy depending on the time of year. Be prepared to travel all around the city to various flat viewings and interviews. The interview types will also vary, and you may find yourself in an audition with another 20 people trying to make a good impression.
Try looking here: WG-gesucht.de
You may find something on Couchsurfing by looking for a group under the name of your city and then the sub group ‘Accommodation’.
There is also an option of renting peoples furnished rooms while they are out of the country. This can be a really good option if you are not sure how long you will stay in a city and don’t want to commit to buying furniture and signing a rental agreement. You can find options on couch surfing through expats and locals that are going away temporarily and will generally rent their rooms out at a reasonable price with an additional deposit. Or check Craigslist
This is also a good place to go to put yourself out there and meet people. Join up to a group on couchsurfing which focuses on your city and sign up to the different events people organise. In Berlin there are about two meet ups scheduled weekly on Monday’s a language exchange takes place at a central cafe and Wednesday and Thursday nights meet up’s are scheduled at pubs in popular night life areas.
Go along to one of the weekly meet ups. This is how I met a lot of my friends. I also posted a new thread on the Berlin group saying I was new to the city and looking to meet people. I got about 30 different replies and gradually met up with a few of them and went along to different events around Berlin.
Once you are pretty much settled in and have your first month’s salary, hunt down some schools in your city that offer evening classes. I go to a school here that has classes on Mondays and Wednesdays from 7.45pm till 9.15pm.
Evening classes twice a week should cost between 95 – 110 per month. Before paying the set amount for a month, email a few places and ask if you can go along for a trial lesson. You will be surprised how much your opinion of a school will change after sitting in on one lesson. The location, price, number of students per class, text book and teacher are all things to consider.
Those are the basics of setting up and I’m sure a lot of these tips are similar to how you’d approach getting started in any new country as an expat.
And just in case I’ve missed anything, check out this How to guide for Germany.