There are a ridiculous number of people (especially from the Commonwealth countries) travelling around the world on working holiday visas. The visas tend to have different names—mine for Germany is a “youth mobility” visa.
These visas allow you to do certain things, but primarily they let young people travel in a country for up to two years while working to supplement their income. That’s what all them Aussies are doing out on the chairlifts in Whistler. God bless ‘em.
I chose Germany, so I’m only speaking from my personal experience. The experience tends to differ per country. Typically the application process is not much work.
But I ran into more problems than I expected, exacerbated by the fact that I’m living in Berlin where bureaucracy is so backlogged it’s kinda like the city has given up altogether.
Neither Canada nor Germany made the process clear for me. So this is what happened during the whole visa process (from a Canadian perspective).
Applying for the German youth mobility visa
There are two ways to apply for the visa:
- You can show up at the German consulate in Toronto
- You can mail in all your stuff and hope you didn’t forget anything
The former process is the best, but weirdly enough, the world doesn’t revolve around Toronto. Shocking! Reminder: I live in Newfoundland. That’s a solid four-hour flight.
If you show up at the consulate with all your stuff, you’re usually approved for a visa within a few weeks and then you’re on your way. If you mail in your application, you get a temporary visa for 90 days (a Schengen, basically) and then you have to report to the Auslanderbehorde (alien affairs) in Germany to “extend” the visa once you arrive.
Sigh, extra work. We’ll get to that.
The Canadian government website has a really good checklist of everything you need, but sometimes the instructions just aren’t clear.
- Visa photos
- Confirmation of where you’ll be staying initially (even if it’s one night at a hotel)
- A letter of intent
- Confirmation of flight booking (even though you may still get rejected)
- Proof of travel insurance for the full year
- Bank statement saying you have at least 2000 EUR in your account (not necessary for the mail-in application until you actually get to Germany)
- Prepaid Xpresspost envelope
- $95 to cover the processing fee
- A letter saying your signature has been certified by a notary consulate
Once you have your visa, you’re off!
Travel health insurance
It was harder than I thought it would be to find insurance to cover me for a full year. World Nomads is my usual go to, but my dates muddled things a little.
I probably could have phoned in to arrange something, but I found a cheaper rate with Merit Travel anyway. It tends to be the go-to insurance for Canadians doing the SWAP program abroad. A full year cost me nearly $800.
Another excellent option: Safety Wing. This travel insurance company will cover you for a year for nearly half the price of what I paid. You can get a quote for free — just make sure it covers the requirements for your visa.
Arriving in Germany
But here’s what happens when you arrive in Germany with only the 90-day pass.
You need to register for two things:
- Visa extension via the Auslanderbehorde (you can book this appointment online)
- Residency via the Burgeramt (you can book this appointment online as well)
THIS IS WHERE I SCREWED UP.
Nobody tells you that you need to show up at your visa appointment with your residency certificate already acquired. You will NOT be accepted without this.
First of all: It’s really hard to find apartments in Berlin when you’re new and you don’t know anyone. My initial plan before I lucked into my place was to rent an Airbnb for a month while searching for a room.
I moved into my apartment when I arrived on August 3rd. Legally, you’re supposed to register as a resident WITHIN TWO WEEKS. But Berlin is so insanely backlogged with appointments (especially now with the refugee situation), I couldn’t get an appointment until THREE MONTHS LATER.
My residence appointment as November 4th. My visa appointment was October 30th.
(Keep in mind that most of what I’m saying only applies to Berlin. I have no idea how to the process works in other cities.)
Some people say that you can show up at certain Burgeramt offices at 7AM without having an appointment and although you might weasel your way in, it could take hours. And I’m like, fuck that.
Other people say you can’t do this anymore. I’m not sure what is true. Despite Germany’s incredible efficiency, the bureaucracy is the biggest shitstorm I’ve ever encountered. And everyone agrees.
So it’s a bit screwy. I mean, if you’re only in one apartment for a month, you’re required to register within two weeks, and then if you move again, you have to de-register and register at your new place. Oh my gawd.
I hired a German-English translator from Expath.de for 40EUR to assist me at the Auslanderbehorde. Jon was well worth the money – I would have been clueless otherwise. Germans working in the government are in no way required to speak English, and since I’m terrified of authority, I figured it was a good investment. It was.
But then I got rejected, because I wasn’t registered as a residence. I explained the situation and was told to come back on November 6th. They were kind about it. Perhaps because they could sense my discomfort, and even though I have zero criminal record I still always feel like a drug smuggler or something whenever I’m in the presence of government officials.
Anyway. 40EUR down the drain.
Changes in bureaucracy
I also hired a translator to assist me at the Burgeramt. This process went much smoother, EXCEPT it almost didn’t.
Expath.de informed me a few days before my appointment that a new law was instated in Germany requiring written consent from a landlord when moving into an apartment, or when subletting. This keeps apartments from being overcrowded.
How was I to know??!!!!!!! I literally had no idea.
I panicked, sent several crazy texts to my roommate Christoph, and waited. Christoph came home and calmly sat down and said: “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it.” He did. It wasn’t all that hard.
But the point is that it could’ve cost me another 40EUR, or my visa.
I actually don’t know how to find this form to tell you more about it. Sorry.
So I went back to the Burgeramt and then the Auslanderbehorde and had to pay something like 50EUR to complete the visa process (which now takes up three whole pages of my bloody passport) plus 120EUR for translators.
But it’s done.
I was so overwhelmed for awhile there that I did consider giving up. But I’m happily settled in my Berlin life, and the whole process was most definitely worth it.
If you’d like to take the hassle out of the moving process, I highly recommend hiring a company like Nomaden Berlin to help you get settled in. They’ll give you tons of visa support and will also help with finding a place to live (which is probably the hardest part of moving to Berlin).