When I decided to move from Asia to Europe last Fall, I didn’t know where I would base myself. Most Working Holiday Visas (also called Youth Mobility Programs) for Canadians end at 30 years old, but a few European countries offer them for people aged up to 35. Upon doing some research, I found that my options were the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland or the Ukraine. I was pretty amazed when I realized the possibilities! I picked Germany based on the amount of people who had told me how much I would love Berlin and how easy it would be to find employment as a non-native German speaker. Want to test the water and visit Berlin first? Here’s how to spend 2 days in Berlin!
So, on a whim, Germany it was!
The other decision I had to make was between the two visa options: the Youth Mobility Visa or the Freelance Visa for Artists. I’d been a freelance blogger and graphic designer for over two years, and the thought of being an employee again gave me the heebie-jeebies a little, but I had to face the fact that what had allowed me to travel through Asia for this long was possibly not going to be sustainable to travel through Europe. Plus, the Working Holiday Visa would allow me to continue doing some freelance work while also having a regular source of income on the side.
Another factor I had to take into consideration was that the Working Holiday Visa has to be obtained in person in Canada – at the Toronto embassy to be more precise. It can also be done via mail from within Canada, but the visa will only be valid for three months and will require an extension pretty much upon arrival via one of the many confusing German government offices you will have the pleasure to experience once you get here. However, you can obtain the Freelance Visa from within Germany, and this was a selling point for me since I started researching this from Malaysia with absolutely no intention of commuting through Canada to obtain the visa first. But in the end, tails of white-knuckle expectation periods on impending expiring Schengen visas and the incertitude that freelance work would be enough income for me to live in Germany had me decide on the former. And the idea of surprising my family for Christmas after two years away sealed the deal. If you think the Freelance Visa is more suitable for you (it’s for any nationality), read this.
OBTAINING THE YOUTH MOBILITY VISA
The first step was to book an appointment at the German Embassy in Toronto for my application. Oddly, the system didn’t offer to book an appointment for the Youth Mobility Visa, and I remember something being said to the effect of having to go to the Austrian embassy in Ottawa or something random after I had booked my flight to Toronto. Fret not. That is just the beginning of a maze of incomprehensible twists and turns that should, in the end, take you where you want to go. Book an appointment for the “national visa – longer stay” category. With that done, I started preparing my paperwork.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- Your original valid Canadian passport (issued within the last ten years and with at least three months validity after leaving Germany with at least two empty pages). You will have to leave it with them, so don’t plan any travel outside of the country for at least a month, two to be safe.
- The visa application form, fully completed and signed
- The visa declaration form 1, fully completed and signed
- The visa declaration form 2, fully completed and signed
- The liability insurance declaration, fully completed and signed
- Passport size picture, not older than three months with a bright background and frontal view of the face
- Photocopy of your passport’s data page
- Proof of bonds to Canada (name, address, phone number of two relatives or friends in Canada, and relationship)
- Signed letter of motivation, travel plans, etc. See mine here
- Proof of first housing in Germany (a hostel booking reservation will do)
- Return flight to Germany even though you might be rejected (there is a way around this, contact me for more info)
- Proof of travel insurance valid for the entire duration of your stay even though a travel insurance is more than likely not going to be of any use once you’re settled as a working resident of Germany. Again, there is a way around this, contact me for more info.
- Prepaid Xpresspost envelope (Canada Post only), Regional Standard to Ontario or National Standard to all other provinces, shipment to a Canadian address only!
- Visa fee ($100) in CASH, unlike what you might have read elsewhere (aka the embassy’s own website). Bank drafts or money orders are not accepted.
Many countries will require seeing proof that you have sufficient funds to support yourself for the first three months, however, in my case it was not requested (thank goodness!) Always good to have this ready anyway. Better come over-prepared than under.
My interview was surprisingly as straightforward as the guy making sure all the papers were in order and duly signed and waving me off. This was probably the easiest step towards becoming a honorary Berliner. The most fun will be waiting on the other side of the ocean!
Two weeks later, low and behold, I received my shiny German visa in the mail! The funniest part in all this is that, six months along the line, no one has asked to see this damn visa.
ARRIVING IN GERMANY
Some of the first German words you will learn upon entering the country are Anmeldung and Bürgeramt. It’s just one of the many above-mentioned obscure government offices where you’ll find yourself shuffling stacks of unpronounceable forms in front of an aloof clerk. The Anmeldung is the act of registering yourself at a flat in the city and is a mandatory step for anyone staying longer than three months. The Anmeldung is necessary for getting a job and opening a bank account (although not with N26, which is the bank I use). A lot of information on this can be found online so I won’t lecture you on the subject, but make sure you find a German speaker to come along.
From my experience, it was not possible to book an appointment online, so I had to queue once to book the appointment and return a few weeks later to register myself. I went to the Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf Bürgeramt in Berlin, and it was surprisingly straightforward. I would recommend going to a Bürgeramt that is a little out of the city center. Most jobs will let you start even if you are not registered yet, a proof of Anmeldung appointment will do.
Once you get a job in Germany, you will have to opt into one of the painfully costly health insurance plans, making your other travel insurance completely unnecessary. Trust me when I say you don’t need it when you apply for your visa. I can help you with that.
Ok. Whew. Questions?