You’re making the leap and moving to Germany! This is an exciting time, but there is also a lot to prepare for. This article will make it a little more simple. Below you will find an explanation of five things you should know before you move to Germany.
1. German Bank Accounts
2. German Driver’s License
3. International Money Transfers
4. Cash or Credit Card?
5. Residence Visa
Opening a German Bank Account
One of the first things you should consider before moving to Germany is getting a German bank account. Of course you can wait until you arrive in Germany, but you can also get ahead of the game by opening a German bank account online before you go! You will need a German bank account to set up internet services, utilities (such as water and electricity), and get various types of German insurance. Therefore, getting a German bank account sooner rather than later will make your life a little easier.
Opening an account BEFORE you get to Germany
You can easily open a German bank account before moving to Germany through your smartphone or computer. You will complete an online application, and then confirm your identity through a video call or by sending a picture of yourself with some form of ID document.
Some banks might ask you to provide documents such as a valid passport, a visa, German residency documents, proof of employment, or proof of academic enrollment if you’re a student.
Not all banks, however, ask for so many documents!
A great and easy bank for expats in Germany is N26. You don’t need to provide any pay slips or proof of employment or student status. Depending on what country you’re from, you’ll need to provide either your passport, a valid ID, a residency permit or some combination of the three. For example, since I’m from the United States, all I needed was my passport. Click here to find out what documents you need.
What are the benefits of N26?
You can apply for a bank account online through N26 and cross one thing of the to-do list! N26 has a number of other benefits that are particularly helpful for expats including:
- No monthly fees
- Free to open an account
- Opening an account online
- It’s in English
- Costumer support
- No foreign transaction fees
- Banking from the N26 app
- Push notifications every time your N26 Mastercard is used (good for security)
Once you submit your online application (which only takes 5-10 minutes!) you’ll download the N26 app to your smartphone. Through the app, you’ll either do quick video chat with N26 or send a selfie to verify your ID. And voila! You have a German bank account.
If you want to learn more about banking in Germany, you might be interested in our blog article “Open A German Bank Account: A Guide For Expats In Germany.”
You can also click here for step-by-step instructions on how to open an N26 bank account in Germany in less than 10 minutes.
Getting a German Driver’s License
If you are an EU/EEA citizen and have a license from an EU/EEA country, you do not have to get a German driver’s license. You can legally drive in Germany with your license from your home country under these conditions:
- Your license has not expired.
- You have not been disqualified (your license has not been confiscated by Germany or your home country).
- Your license is not provisional.
- You meet the minimum age requirement for the category of vehicle you want to drive (e.g. you need to be 18 or older to drive a car).
If any restrictions have been placed on your driver’s license in your home country, you are required to adhere to the same restrictions when you drive in Germany.
If you are from a non-EU/EEA country, you are allowed to drive in Germany using your current license for no longer than six months after you establish German residency. In other words, after being a legal resident of German for six months, you are legally required to get a German driver’s license. You must follow the same conditions as listed above for EU/EEA citizens, in addition to one more: You cannot be a resident in Germany during time you obtained your foreign driver’s license.
There is one exception to the six-month-rule for non-EU/EEA citizens living in Germany. If you plan to live in Germany for less than twelve months, you might be able to extend the six-month time limit. If you can prove to the local driver’s registration office (Führerscheinstelle) that you will have residency in Germany for less than twelve months, you can extend the deadline up to six more months. You must go to the office before the expiration of the six-month period after you establish residency. Then you can notify the office that you want to continue driving on your current license until your departure.
For example, if you move to Germany in January, you have until the end of June to get your German driver’s license. After this period, your old non-EU/EEA driver’s license is invalid. If you are planning to permanently leave Germany in December, however, you can ask for an extension of 6 months. That way you would not need to get a German driver’s license. You would have to provide the German driver’s registration office with proof that you are moving out of Germany, such as return plane tickets or a work contract with an end date.
Full Reciprocal Agreements
Luckily for some American citizens moving to Germany, some US states have established reciprocal agreements with Germany for driver’s licenses. This means that Americans with driver’s licenses from specific states do not have to take the practical (road) and theoretical (written) exams to get their German driver’s license.
U.S. States with FULL Reciprocal Agreements
If you have a license from one of these states, you can apply for a German driver’s license at the local driver’s registration office (Führerscheinstelle). Even though you do not have to take the practical and theoretical exams, you might need to provide the office with the following documents:
- An official ID document (e.g. your passport)
- A certificate proving your residency from the registration office (Einwohnermeldeamt)
- Your U.S. license and a German translation
- A picture of yourself (35mm x 45 mm)
- A report from a recent eye exam is usually necessary as well.
Partial Reciprocal Agreements
Some U.S. states have partial reciprocal agreements with Germany. License holders from states with partial agreements are exempt from the practical (road) exam but must take the theoretical (written) exam. The exam can be taken English and costs about 40€. A section of the theoretical exam is German driving-related vocabulary.
U.S. States with PARTIAL Reciprocal Agreements
All Canadian provinces have full reciprocal agreements with Germany. If you hold a Canadian driver’s license, you can apply for a German driver’s license at the local driver’s registration office (Führerscheinstelle). You do not need to take the practical (road) and theoretical (written) exam. However, you may need to provide the same documents as listed above under “Full Reciprocal Agreements” to get your German license.
Transferring Money Abroad
An international money transfer is a way to move money from one country to another country. International money transfers are especially helpful for expats. There are a lot of components to transferring money abroad, and it’s important to understand the best way to transfer your money before moving to Germany. When choosing which international money transfer service to use, you should consider factors such as the fees, the exchange rate, speed and convenience.
The three types of international money transfer services:
- Remittance Services
- Foreign Exchange (forex) Transfer Services
- Bank Wire Transfer
A foreign exchange transfer service will almost always be your best option and a bank wire transfer will be your worst option.
A remittance service, such as Western Union and MoneyGram, is only a good option when the recipient does not have a bank account. For example, if you send money through Western Union, the recipient can pick up the money in cash at any Western Union location.
For forex transfer services and bank wire transfers, the recipient needs a bank account. However, if the recipient has access to a computer and internet, they can get a free bank account through TransferWise to receive the money. This is a great option because forex transfer services will almost always be the cheapest method of transferring money.
Banks charge the most for international money transfers. This is because banks have a very high markup on their exchange rates. Most banks have a flat fee for international money transfers, which may seem appealing for large transfers. However, even if banks market themselves as having low fees for international money transfers, they will usually cost you more because of their high exchange rate. So, pay attention to the exchange rate the bank offers you.
Forex transfer services, such as TransferWise, use the mid-market exchange rate. This is the fairest exchange rate you can get for all international money transfers. Sometimes it is called interbank rate. It’s not a secret. You can find the mid-market rate on search engines such as Google.
So what is the best way to transfer money?
The best way to transfer money internationally is through TransferWise. It’s by far the cheapest service and definitely one of the fastest. TransferWise is the modern, affordable, and more transparent version of a bank transfer.
You can read more detailed information in our blog article “International Money Transfers: Sending & Receiving Money Abroad.”
We also wrote a detailed evaluation of TransferWise, which you can read here: “TransferWise Explained: 6 Things You Should Know.”
Germany’s Cash Culture
A few years ago when I was in Munich I went to register for a 10k race. When I showed up to the registrars office with my credit card, they told me they only accepted cash! This took me by surprise. I knew of places that did not accept credit cards unless the charge was over 10 or 15€, but this was a big race and costed 50€!
Germany’s cash culture is very prominent. In fact, Deutsche Bundesbank decided to do a study comparing the use of cash in Germany and six other countries. The study found that in Austria and Germany, cash is used for more than 50% of the value of transactions, whereas cash accounts for less than 25% in Canada, France and the United States.
Cash continuously ranks as Germany’s most common means of payment. Germans use cash significantly more often than North Americans. Oftentimes you’ll find places that do not accept credit cards. So don’t be surprised if you go to pay your bill at a restaurant and cannot use your credit card! Make sure you always keep some cash in your wallet when you’re out making purchases in Germany.
Applying for a Residence Visa
You need to apply for a residence visa if you plan to stay in Germany for longer than 90 days, or if you intend to work in Germany.
If you are moving to Germany from the USA, Canada, Australia, Israel, Japan, Korea, or New Zealand you do not need to apply for an entry visa. You can submit your application at the local Aliens’ Authority (“Ausländerbehörde”) in Germany. Note, however, that you need to submit your application within the first 90 days of being in Germany. Students can begin academic courses while their application is processing. If you are going to Germany to work, your work permit must be approved before your job/internship begins.
The following documents are usually required when you apply for a residence visa:
- 2 residence visa application forms, completed and signed
- Medical Health Insurance
- 2 §54 residence law forms, signed
- 2 biometric passport pictures (3.5 cm x 4.5 cm) with white background
- passport must be valid for at least 6 months
- passport must have at least 3 empty pages
- 2 copies of your passport’s data page
As a non-EU citizen moving to Germany, one of the required documents for a residence permit/visa is proof of German health insurance.
You might be interested in reading our blog article, “German Public Health Insurance: A Guide For Expats In Germany.”
If you plan to work in Germany you can read our article, “German Health Insurance For Expats Working In Germany.”
If you don’t have any German insurance yet, be sure to read our blog article, “The 5 Most Important Types of German Insurance.”
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