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8 Steps for a Successful Start in Germany

Many German businesses look to hire expats, nevertheless, expats have a hard time getting settled in Germany. Strategies can alleviate the most common problems associated with moving abroad. Malte Zeeck, founder and Co-CEO at InterNations, the world's largest expat network, shares some tips.

I used to travel all over the world as a TV reporter, and I spent a great deal of time in India and Brazil. While living and working overseas, I encountered a number of challenges that expats are often faced with. Based on our experiences, co-founder Philipp von Plato and I decided to create an international network for expats to help make their stay abroad as pleasant as possible. 

Based on reports from our members, we know that expats often have trouble getting settled in Germany. One of the main hurdles is the language barrier, which is accompanied by the bureaucracy expats are faced with when moving to Germany. A signed employment agreement is by no means a guarantee for a successful overseas stay, so preparations for relocation should include more than just getting ready for a new position.
Here are eight tips designed to help expats get off to a smooth start when moving to Germany:

1. Get to Know the Labor Market

Before moving, it’s a good idea to find out if your qualification is a good match for the German labor market and where demand is highest for people with such qualifications. Sometimes it can make sense to choose a new career path or to acquire a new skillset before moving. Find out if your qualification will even be recognized in Germany and, if so, what requirements are there for it to be recognized. It’s worth noting that this doesn’t just apply to vacancies in the medical sector. 

2. Obtain the Right Visa

Not everyone who finds a job in Germany is automatically entitled to a work permit. Only job applicants with a recognized higher educational qualification and minimum annual gross salary are entitled to an EU Blue Card residence permit. The requirements also vary depending on your nationality. US nationals, for example, can enter Germany without a visa and then apply for a residence permit entitling them to for work, while a Lebanese national need to apply for a visa before entering Germany for work purposes. 

3. Apply the Right Way

Job applications in Germany are a highly formal process. Recruiters don’t just look at an applicant’s previous positions and qualifications; they also review the presentation of the application itself. If the candidate hasn’t paid enough attention to detail or supplied a professional photo, recruiters will immediately form a negative image of the applicant in their mind. Anyone who does their homework in terms of formal requirements is already a step ahead of the competition. 

4. Learn the Local Language

Companies – especially those without any international operations – set great store on having good German language skills. Anyone who makes an effort to learn the language before relocating will find many more doors open to them on the German labor market. If your application lands you an interview, it’s always a good thing if you’re able to communicate with recruiters and potential superiors in their native language during interviews and future salary negotiations.

5. Be Aware of German Etiquette

Every country has its own idiosyncrasies. Germans are famed for their punctuality, and they consider it a sign of disrespect if you turn up late to a meeting or appointment. Long-standing businesses often use a more formal tone, while the finance and insurance industries generally have a more conservative dress code. Nevertheless, nothing is set in stone, and you’re bound to come across start-ups who do away with German traditions in favor of a more relaxed working environment. The best thing to do here is follow the lead of your new colleagues.

6. Don’t be Afraid of the Germans

Expats consider the Germans to be very direct, yet somewhat reserved and aloof. This seems to make it tricky to make friends with them. According to the Expat Insider 2018 study, 30% of those surveyed said that they consider the Germans to be unfriendly. Having said that, there’s no need to be afraid of new colleagues as the Germans soon warm to people and are willing to help out once they get to know you. Once you make friends with a German, they tend to be lasting friendships.

7. Understand the Bureaucracy

German bureaucracy is notorious, and even seasoned expats can end up wanting to tear their hair out when faced with seemingly simple tasks such as registering at a certain address or obtaining a work permit. Forms are often only available in German, so many expats need help filling in applications correctly. This is compounded by the fact that civil servants are often pressed for time or only speak German, meaning that they can’t take the time to help expats fill in the forms properly. Anyone who has trouble understanding the process and forms should ask a work colleague or friend if they can find out what documentation is required and where to obtain it. Maybe they can even come along to appointments. This won’t help you jump the queue, but at least that way you’ll get the job done properly and won’t need to return because you misunderstood or forgot something.

8. Build up a Contact Network

Contacts aren’t just useful when dealing with the authorities, they also make life in general easier and much more pleasant. Fostering relationships with work colleagues and attending expat get-togethers are always a good idea. Look out for expat groups on social media such as XING or InterNations as regular events are a great way to meet new people, make new friends, and feel more at home in Germany. They say a problem shared is a problem halved, so it’s good to have an opportunity to talk about the trials and tribulations of everyday life with people in a similar situation. That way, you’ll soon feel right at home in Germany.

Inside InterNations: Visit the official corporate blog of InterNations for further insights into the company and team stories.


Malte Zeeck InterNationsAbout the Author: Malte Zeeck, founder and Co-CEO at InterNations, has experienced life as an expat. After graduating from the University of St. Gallen he traveled the world as a TV reporter for German broadcasters such as n-tv and ARD. In 2007, Malte and Philipp von Plato decided to create the InterNations network, which now has 3.4 million members in 420 cities, making it the world’s largest expat community. InterNations Business Solutions was launched in 2018 to support global mobility and HR professionals with expert insights and personalized solutions for smooth and successful foreign assignments and improved retention of international hires.


This article was originally published by XING Klartext in January 2019.

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