American expat explains how she extended her stay in Germany with a work visa.
What’s your name?
What brought you to Germany?
In seventh grade, I had a six-week language class exposing us to French, German and Spanish. From that point on, I knew I wanted to spend time in central Europe “when I grew up.” First I immersed myself in French and planned to move to Paris. But while I was doing a my Bachelor’s Degree in Piano Performance, I had the opportunity to study abroad in Vienna, Austria. That allowed me to learn German and realize that I was perhaps better suited to a German-speaking country. After completing my degree, I moved to Bonn, Germany. After two years in Bonn, I went to New York to pursue my Masters, but returned to Bonn after earning my degree.
How difficult was it to enter Germany and were you able to extend your stay with a work visa?
You can only stay for 90 days without a longer-term visa. Initially, I signed up for an internship program that gave me a student visa, even though I had already graduated from college. That gave me the chance to find a job, from inside the country, that would offer me an employment visa. After working and paying into the German system for 60 months, I was able to acquire the equivalent of a green card.
Which parts of Germany have you lived?
I have only lived in Bonn – and would recommend it!
In what ways have you found life there to be different than life in America?
This is a question I explore with humor, irony – and sometimes frustration in my #thoseGermans videos on YouTube.
Two things that come to mind first: Americans tend to want to have the best options available to them, even if it means being wasteful or inefficient. U.S. supermarkets are full of choices, and it boasts a world-class but hard-to-afford university system, for example. In Germany, in my opinion, people tend to be more quickly satisfied with the practical option, which may be less luxurious but more economical or ecological. Garbage disposals, air conditioning or ice cubes in drinks, for example, are considered extravagant.
The second point is space. In the US, everything is XXL and far apart. That impacts our perspective on our surroundings and our relationship to them. Here in Europe, things are much more compact. Homes tend to be smaller, things are more accessible even without a car (though Germans love their cars!), and I believe that supports a mentality that is more oriented toward the collective than the individual – at least compared to the U.S.
In what ways are they similar?
The more you travel, the more you realize how we humans are in essence all the same. We all want to find meaning in life, provide for our families, invest in relationships, find a good job and enjoy our free time.
Germany is one of the more stable economies in Europe. Are many job/business opportunities available there for foreigners?
Yes! However, keep in mind that EU citizens from other countries do not need a visa to work in Germany. Americans do. Your ability to stay in the country is dependent on your employer and you will have to compete with both Germans and EU citizens who don’t require visa help. The more unique your skill set, the better your chances of finding a German employer that is able to support your (German) visa process. Otherwise you can also work for an American or international company with offices in Germany.
How important is it for someone moving there to know how to speak German?
Many Germans do speak English and most large and even mid-sized cities have extensive English-speaking communities. However, you will never truly get to know Germans or their culture without mastering their language. In my experience, it is crucial to come to the country with at least basic skills – and force yourself to use them. If not, people will start speaking English with you from the start and it will be much harder to learn German and switch later on. Learning German may be a lot of work – but it’s worth the investment!
If you had a friend planning to spend only 24 hours in Germany, what would you suggest that he or she see or do?
Get to know as many Germans as you can in 24 hours by spending the day in cafes and beer gardens and the evening and night in bars and clubs. You can buy postcards with pictures of the sites, but you’ll never forget the personal encounters you’ll have.
About Kate Muser
Kate Müser has lived in Germany for 14 years. She is the creator of the successful YouTube series #thoseGermans and the portrait series #germany24. Visit Kate’s YouTube channel and her website, justkate.de.
For over a decade, Kate has been a TV, radio and online journalist at Deutsche Welle, where she hosts the web-video series Meet the Germans with Kate and the pop music TV show PopXport in German and English. She was also the on-camera reporter of DW’s 2014 bilingual feature film “Gutenberg in the Cyberstorm: The Value of the Book in the Digital Age”.
Kate grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. She studied Piano Performance at Indiana University Bloomington and Modern European Studies at Columbia University in New York City.