Practical tips for foreign
7 February 2024
Recent changes to the immigration and nationality rules have made Germany even more attractive for non-EU nationals seeking to relocate.
Changes to the Skilled Immigration Act will make it easier for qualified professionals to find work in Germany, whilst relaxed rules on naturalisation pathways and dual citizenship will enable more people to obtain German citizenship.
Whether you are moving to Germany for work, study or family purposes, relocating to a new country is an exciting journey but it requires a great deal of forward planning and organisation.
Once you have obtained your visa or immigration permission to enter Germany, you can begin planning other important parts of your move such as searching for accommodation and arranging transportation for your family and your belongings.
In this article we share some practical tips to help you navigate three commonly queried aspects of international relocation: finding an apartment, obtaining a driving licence and moving your pets to Germany.
Finding an apartment in Germany
A major step in your relocation journey is finding accommodation in Germany. To obtain a German residence permit, you must be able to show that you have a fixed address in Germany.
Most foreign nationals looking for an apartment in Germany will begin their search online, visiting popular real estate listing websites to browse available properties and arranging viewings via email or social media.
However, fake real estate advertisements are common in Germany, and it is important to be aware of the warning signs in order to avoid becoming a victim of fraud.
Criminals often use popular online portals to advertise dream properties at comparatively low prices. In cities or regions where the property shortage is particularly bad, fraudsters may request payments in advance to falsely arrange viewings or take deposits for properties that do not exist, or they have no intention of supplying a rental agreement for.
During your property search, you are therefore advised to take reasonable precautions to protect yourself from fraud, such as:
- Check property listings carefully for signs of fake advertisements. Warning signs include contradictions between images and text, attractive real estate pictures taken from the internet and a lack of information on ‘warm and cold rent’, energy certificates etc.
- Never pay in advance for property viewings, deposits or distance furniture payments. Make sure you have at least viewed the property and you are sure the landlord is legitimate before transferring any money for rental agreements.
- Be aware of phishing emails, as fraudsters often use this method to illegally obtain personal data from their victims.
- Do not provide a copy of your ID as some fraudsters may use their victims’ identities for illegal transactions.
- Be aware of advance payment requests, apartment viewings or key handovers processed via platforms such as Airbnb, eBay or booking.com, as these platforms do not offer services for managing and viewing rental properties.
- If you think you have become a victim of real estate fraud, you should contact your bank immediately to reverse any payments made and file a criminal complaint with the police.
During your property search, you are advised to proceed with caution if something looks too good to be true.
Transferring your foreign driving licence
If you hold a foreign driving licence from a third country and you wish to drive in Germany, you may need to exchange your current licence for a German driving licence.
Since Brexit, British nationals who acquired their driving licence in the UK must exchange it for a German licence if they wish to drive in Germany for longer than 6 months, even if they were already resident in Germany at the time of Brexit.
6 months after establishing your normal residence in Germany, your foreign driving licence will expire and will no longer be recognised. This applies to driving licenses from all third countries (i.e. countries that do not belong to the EU or the EEA).
If you do not intend to live in Germany for longer than 12 months and you can prove this to the authorities, it is possible to get a one-off extension of the 6-month period by a further 6 months.
Otherwise, you must obtain a German driving licence to continue driving a car in Germany after this deadline. The requirements to obtain a German driving licence will depend on the country in which your foreign licence was acquired.
Drivers should be aware of the following:
- If you do not have an international driving licence or your licence is not issued in German, you may need to carry a translation with you for the first 6 months. English language driving licences generally do not require a translation.
- You will not usually need to take a theory or practical driving test to exchange your licence if the foreign issuing country has a mutual recognition agreement with Germany to show that the EU minimum standards for the test are guaranteed. You can find out if your country is included in the list of states here.
- Licence holders from third countries that are not included in the above list must pass a theoretical and practical driving test.
- The legal driving age in Germany is 18. You are not permitted to drive if you are below this age, even if the legal driving age in your home country is lower.
Bringing pets to Germany
If you will be moving to Germany with animals, there are certain requirements that must be met before your pet can make the journey with you.
A non-EU individual moving to Germany is allowed to bring a maximum of five animals, but only as family pets, not for commercial purposes.
In Germany, only certain animals are approved as pets by the German Customs Office (Zollamt). These include cats, dogs, ferrets, rabbits, guinea pigs and other rodents, horses, turtles or tortoises (if not belonging to a rare species), ornamental fish, parrots, parakeets, carrier pigeons and other kinds of birds.
Bringing pets to Germany from inside the EU
For owners of cats, dogs and ferrets that are relocating to Germany from inside the EU the following requirements apply:
- Your pet needs an identification document known as the EU “pet passport” (providing information of the pet and owner, confirmation of rabies vaccination and details of their microchip).
- Your pet must be immunised for rabies (with the vaccination having taken place in the last 12 months but more than 30 days before the entry into Germany).
- Your pet must bear an identifier, such as a microchip or tattoo ID.
Extra requirements for pets from outside the EU
- Blood test proving efficiency of rabies vaccination (taken at least three months before entry and 30 days after immunisation).
- Certificate of health issued by your veterinarian.
- Note that the blood test is not required if you are coming to Germany from one of the following countries: Argentina, Australia, Bahrain, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Canada, Chile, Croatia, Hong Kong, Iceland, Japan, Mauritius, Malaysia, Norway, Russia, Singapore, Switzerland, Taiwan, UAE, US.
Pet owners should also be aware of the following:
- Certain breeds of dog (including crossbreeds) are banned from Germany and cannot be brought into the country, including American Staffordshire Terriers, Bull Terriers, Pit Bull Terriers and Staffordshire Bull Terriers.
- Puppies and kittens may only be brought to Germany if they have been vaccinated against rabies. As the earliest time this vaccine can be administered is at 12 weeks of age, as well as that it takes a further 21 days to develop effective immunity, puppies and kittens may only enter Germany at the age of 15 weeks at the earliest.
- Other types of pets (for example hamsters, rabbits and guinea pigs) can enter Germany without any problems. Pet birds need to be vaccinated against Avian Influenza (AI). Alternatively they will be quarantined for at least 10 days upon arrival. Find more information on the web page of the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture’s.
Owning a pet in Germany
Once your pet has safely arrived in Germany, there are further rules and regulations you must abide by, including:
- Dog tax and registration – Dogs in Germany need to be licensed. You need to register your dog at your local citizens’ office within two weeks after arrival in Germany. This can be done at the registration office of the city of living and in some cities online. Please always remember that you as well as your dog need to re-register at local authority when you change your address. The authority will issue a dog tag and this must be worn by the dog. Based on the registration the dog owner will receive an invoice for the dog tax (Hundesteuer). The amount varies in all cities in Germany and the amount of dogs you have. Guide dogs are exempt from dog tax.
- Insurance – It is recommended to purchase cover for your four-legged friend. If your pet becomes ill or has an accident, veterinary bills can be very high. Furthermore, the German civil code stipulates that if your pet harms anyone or anything, you as owner are liable. For this reason, we strongly advise taking out some form of insurance that covers any damage caused by your pet.
- Travelling with your pet – Pets are allowed on most forms of public transport in Germany, although you may need to pay a (discounted) fare for them to travel with you on the train. Guide dogs are usually exempt. When travelling with your pet within Germany or Europe please carry your pet’s passport with you.
German immigration support
If you have any questions about relocating to Germany, Smith Stone Walters can help.
Our Frankfurt based team can provide support in assessing your current circumstances and eligibility for a future visa application and support you throughout the entire process. To speak to a qualified immigration advisor, please contact us today.
Disclaimer: In accordance with the German law governing legal advice and services (RDG, section 2 subsection 1) our services do not include any legal advice.