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Blog>Guides>Working in Germany as an American: An Expat Guide

Working in Germany as an American: An Expat Guide

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The global economy is constantly fluctuating, which means the job market is continuously changing too. While it can be a challenge to predict where the next hot job market will be, one thing is for sure: there are always opportunities for top-tier U.S. talent around the world. One place, in particular, is Germany. Whether you're looking for a career in engineering, marketing, sales, or other industries, there are many great jobs in Germany for Americans.

The following article breaks down some key reasons why Germany is such a sought after destination for American expats, including useful information that’ll help you to make the move.

Why Work in Germany?

Germany is a great place to work, for many reasons. The economy is strong and stable, the quality of life is high, there are plenty of opportunities for career progression, and it's a beautiful country to live in.

If you’re wondering what it's like to work in Germany as an American, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Germans value punctuality and efficiency. This can be a bit of a culture shock for Americans, who are used to a more relaxed approach to work. But it's also a sign of a well-organized, productive workforce.

  • The German workforce is highly skilled and educated. This means that competition for jobs can be tough. But it also means you'll be working with some of the best and brightest in your field.

  • Germans take pride in their work. This shows in everything from the cars they build to the food they cook. This commitment to excellence is something that Americans can learn from, and it's one of the main reasons why working in Germany is such a great experience.

Do Americans Need a Visa to Work in Germany?

While U.S. citizens don’t need a work visa to enter Germany, they must apply for a residence permit to be eligible for employment. The process is relatively straightforward with a few different ways to gain a permit.

Americans who are interested in working in Germany should consult with a German consulate or embassy to begin the visa application process. You can either apply for a German work visa through the channels available in your home country, or you can apply for a work permit once you arrive in Germany.

Do I Need to Speak German?

You don't need to speak German to work in Germany. In Germany, English is the most broadly used language outside German and many companies have even adopted it as the official business language. However, knowing some basic German will make living and working in Germany a more fulfilling experience. Germans are proud of their language and culture, so embracing these aspects will help you fit in and feel more comfortable in your new environment.

Requirements for Working in Germany

If you're an American looking to work in Germany, you must first take care of some key requirements before making the move.

Eligibility Requirements

Depending on what visa you’re applying for, you’ll need to fulfill certain requirements for eligibility. One of the most popular visas for Americans is the German job-seeker visa, which allows holders to stay in the country for up to six months while seeking employment. To qualify for this visa, you’ll need:

  • A bachelor’s or master’s degree, or the equivalent in a vocational field

  • Savings to support an extended stay in Germany

  • Private travel or medical insurance to cover you until you secure a job

Required Documents

The following documents are required in order to complete your application for a German visa:

  • Visa application form

  • Passport, with a validity of at least 12 months past your expected return

  • Photocopy of your passport’s data page

  • 3 passport-style photos of yourself

  • A cover letter explaining the reason for your visit, employment plans, and alternative plans if you are unable to secure a job

  • A degree or diploma

  • Any previous work experience certificates

  • A detailed resume (known in Germany as a lebenslauf)

  • Health or travel insurance documents

  • Proof of accommodation in Germany

  • Proof of financial means to cover your stay in Germany

Having all the documents above when filling out your German visa application will make the process much smoother.

How to Write a German Resume

A German resume — locally referred to as a lebenslauf — differs from an American resume in a few key ways. Firstly, German resumes typically include a photograph of the candidate to make the application more personal and memorable. Additionally, it’s important to include personal details like name, age, nationality, and a short personal profile to give recruiters a detailed image of the candidate.

Infographic explaining the word in German for "resume."

As with a standard American resume, work experience and education are outlined in reverse chronological order. Referees don’t have to be included — instead, applicants can provide certifications to demonstrate relevant expertise. In addition to this, German resumes often conclude with the candidate’s signature alongside the date of application as well.

A checklist infographic explaining how to write a lebenslauf, or German for resume.

Applying for a Visa

There are various ways to apply for a German visa, but you will most likely need to visit your nearest German embassy or consulate to submit the application in person. You’ll find several German embassies and consulates across the United States, and applications usually cost around €75.

You will be subject to a short interview with an official to confirm your application details. Once the application has been processed, you’ll be notified of the outcome via mail.

Best Companies to Work for in Germany

If you're an American looking to live and work in Germany, there are numerous expat-friendly companies to choose from. These companies generally offer great benefits, competitive salaries, and a good work-life balance. Some of the best companies that actively seek out American talent include:

  • Adidas

  • Volkswagen

  • BMW

  • Allianz

  • Siemens

  • DeepL

Germany has also recently been ranked as one of the best European countries for startups, with the German government actively encouraging the establishment of companies in various industries.

Best Places to Live in Germany for Expats

Germany is a great place to live for people from all over the world. Whether you're looking for a bustling city or a peaceful countryside existence, you're sure to find a place with its own unique charm that meets your individual needs and quality of life. Read on for some of the best places to live in Germany for American expats.

Berlin

People walking around outside on the streets of Berlin.

Berlin is one of the most vibrant cities in Europe. It has become a popular destination for professionals in business intelligence, digital marketing, project management, and education. The city has a great mix of history and culture, which makes it a highly attractive place to work and live.

A combination of great job opportunities, a multinational population, the reasonable cost of living, and very welcoming people makes it easy for Americans to settle into Berlin and feel right at home in no time.

Munich

The sun setting on the traditional architecture found in Munich.

Munich is a beautiful city with a rich history located in the Bavarian Alps. It's famously known for its annual Oktoberfest celebration, but there's much more to Munich than beer and lederhosen!

There are plenty of opportunities for Americans in Munich. Leading industries include business services, automotive and mechanical engineering, life sciences, aerospace and defense, environmental technologies, and tourism. What’s more, there are plenty of things to do in your free time.

Hamburg

A canal between buildings lit up during nighttime.

Hamburg is a charming city located on the River Elbe, in the north of Germany. It’s a multicultural city with a very welcoming population. Most people here speak English and it’s home to a large expat community, meaning you won't have any trouble communicating with locals or meeting people from all over the world.

Hamburg is a great place to progress your career in industries like software engineering, finance, sales and marketing, business development, and project management. The city has a strong economy that makes it an ideal choice if you're looking for a vibrant, cosmopolitan city to call home.

Frankfurt

Frankfurt's city skyline under white clouds.

Americans who move to Frankfurt find so much to love about this German city. Frankfurt is a thriving metropolis with a lively culture and plenty of opportunities for work and entertainment. You’ll be spoilt for choice if you work in industries like aviation, banking and finance, logistics and mobility, and law.

Frankfurt is also well-connected, making it easy to travel to other parts of Europe and beyond. The cost of living can be quite high but with a little planning and research, your move to this German city could truly be a dream come true.

German Work Culture

Germany is known for its strong work culture and unwavering dedication to efficiency. Germans are always looking for ways to optimize their work processes and get the most out of the workforce, which leads to higher quality work and greater productivity.

However, it can also be a source of stress for workers who might find it difficult to take a break or slow down. Although the work culture can be demanding, it can also be very rewarding. If you can adapt to the fast pace and high expectations, you'll position yourself to achieve a lot more in your career.

German Working Hours

In Germany, the average working week is 41 hours, but despite high working hours and an underlying conscientious mentality, German employees get more vacation days than employees in other countries.

The average German worker gets 24 vacation days per year, which is more than the average private industry worker in the United States (10 to 19 vacation days) and the United Kingdom (20 vacation days). This entitlement is known in Germany as urlaubsanspruch.

What’s more, there is a growing trend of employees working fewer hours. This is partly due to the rise of the part-time and freelance labor market as well as the growing awareness around the importance of work-life balance.

Holidays

Nine public holidays are observed in each of Germany’s 16 federal states as shown below, but there are also additional regional holidays that individual states celebrate.

  • New Year’s Day (Neujahrstag): January 1st

  • Good Friday (Karfreitag): Dates vary between March and April

  • Easter Monday (Ostersonntag): Dates vary between March and April

  • Labor Day (Tag der Arbeit): May 1st

  • Ascension Day (Christi Himmelfahrt): 40th day of Easter (or 39 days after Easter Sunday)

  • Whitmonday (Pfingstmontag): Dates vary between May and June

  • German Unification Day (Tag der Deutschen Einheit): October 3rd

  • Christmas Day (Erster Weihnachtstag): December 25th

  • Boxing Day (Zweiter Weihnachtstag): December 26th

Parental Leave

Germany is one of the most family-friendly countries in the world, and this extends to its policies on parental leave. Each parent is eligible for up to three years of unpaid parental leave per child. This applies to all employees who have a German employment contract — whether it be full-time, part-time, fixed-term, or permanent.

In Germany, parental leave is protected by law. The employer cannot terminate employment, except in exceptional circumstances such as insolvency. Employees must notify their employers in writing that they are planning to take parental leave, usually a minimum of seven weeks in advance. Parental leave is tracked by employers and reported to the Federal Office for Social Security.

Part of the parental leave must be taken before the child’s 3rd birthday and all leave must be taken before each child’s 8th birthday. Parents can take their leave entitlement all at once, or split it into multiple time periods. However, parents can only carry over a maximum of 24 months of unused leave allowance beyond their child’s 3rd birthday.

Parental leave is available to all parents, including those with adopted children, foster children, and step-children. You’re not entitled to a salary during parental leave but you can apply for parental allowance, also known as elterngeld in Germany.

An infographic explaining the definition of Eltengerd, or German for "parental allowance."

Taxes for American Expats in Germany

The tax rules for American expats in Germany are relatively straightforward. You will be required to file a German tax return as well as a U.S. tax return, but you may be eligible for certain deductions and credits that can help offset your tax burden.

U.S. citizens are entitled to claim the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion. At this guide’s time of writing in August 2022, the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion allows expats to exclude up to $112,000 (2022 limit) of foreign-earned income. Americans can also claim a Foreign Tax Credit, which allows taxpayers to claim tax credits to the value of income tax paid to the German government.

Overall, taxes for American expats in Germany are not too different from what you would expect in the United States. However, it is important to be aware of the specific regulations and requirements to ensure you remain compliant with both the U.S. and German tax authorities.

Review & Plan

Living and working in Germany can be very rewarding for Americans seeking opportunities in another country. The cost of living is low, the quality of life is high, and there are plenty of chances to learn new things and experience different cultures. However, it is important to thoroughly research and carefully plan your move to ensure everything goes smoothly. Use the checklist below as a guide to realize your dreams of relocating to Germany:

  1. Comprehensively research the culture, costs, and general requirements for life in Germany

  2. Look for employers that are open to hiring American citizens

  3. Apply for jobs you’re qualified to excel in

  4. Gather all your paperwork and apply for a visa at your local embassy or consulate

There you have it, folks. By following the guidance above, you’ll be one step closer to achieving your dream of living and working in Germany. With countless job opportunities across various sectors, you’ll be sure to find a role that ticks all your boxes!

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