An American in Berlin, legally
November 1, 2009 5:22 AM   Subscribe

I'm a cartoonist working on a book for an American publisher and getting paid by them. Is there some sort of visa I can apply for to stay in Europe (specifically Germany) for longer than the 3 month tourist visa and still be legal?

Basically, I just want to be able to stay here for 3 to 5 months without being "illegal". I dont plan on working for any German companies or using any of their social services (I have US healthcare). So what could I do to be official?
posted by minicloud to Travel & Transportation around Berlin, Germany (18 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know if it would fit your particular circumstances, but the DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) has a Berlin Artists-in-Residence programme that supports creative work for a year while resident in Berlin.
posted by sueinnyc at 6:26 AM on November 1, 2009

This is a question for the Ausländerbehörde wherever you will be living. Or try the question on the forums over at

What you are looking for is called a Aufenthaltsgenehmigung, or residence permit. It can be issued or extended based on certain circumstances.

The best way to do this, from my experience, is to sign up for German language courses.

You can help your chances by proving that you have the financial resources to pay rent and feed yourself. Will you be staying with someone you know or renting an apartment? If the former, perhaps he or she can go to the Ausländerbehörde and vouch for you while inquiring about the details and requirements concerning your situation.
posted by chillmost at 6:29 AM on November 1, 2009

Well, Germany is, of course, a signatory to the Schengen Agreement which means as an American citizen you're legally allowed to stay for 90 days out of every six month period. That's the good news.

Bad news is you're probably not eligible for a Type C (long stay) Schengen visa as you are American.

You'll more than likely need a residency permit, or a Type D Schengen visa. Rules pertaining to these visas differ by country, so someone more knowledgeable wrt Germany will have to comment.

One complication that you'll have to be prepared to deal with should you go the visa route is your source of funds; if you're living in Germany and generating income - even if from a foreign source - you more than likely will be taxed in Germany on those funds. So can and are you willing to show source of income? Can and are you willing to pay taxes on those funds?

In any case, please don't overstay your visa. This not only may cause you problems when you exit (they might ask difficult questions or even stamp your passport accordingly) but you don't want to get caught and deported. Deportation would go on your permanent record, and cause problems for you in pretty much any other Schengen country you may want to visit, even years later

Because the economy is doing badly now there is a lot of resentment towards illegal aliens (uhmm, that would be you if you overstayed) in many European countries ; don't expect much sympathy if you don't follow the rules.
posted by Mutant at 6:32 AM on November 1, 2009

"... so someone more knowledgeable wrt Germany will have to comment." -- Hi chillmost!!
posted by Mutant at 6:34 AM on November 1, 2009

I never had the least bit of trouble as an American getting my residency permit first instated and then extended in Berlin by showing proof of foreign income, some savings, and private health insurance. It is also an option to have a financially stable citizen vouch for the fact that they will support you if you have trouble, though generally that tends to mean a shorter visa.

Gather your documentation, go to the Ausländerbehörde with a native German speaker so that you have someone who both understands bureaucratic German and the ways of German bureaucracy (this will keep things from going sideways if you randomly get an especially mean or overworked civil servant at the Ausländerbehörde), expect to kill a morning in their waiting room, and you'll probably come out with a 6-month-to-1-year extendable residency permit.

I'm trying to remember at what point in the process you'll need to register your place of residence...I think I had to go to my Bezirkamt and do that afterwards but ideally you'd get someone to phone them and ask what documentation you'll need to bring, since it probably changes from time to time in any case.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 8:41 AM on November 1, 2009

Please make sure that your U.S. health insurance is actually valid overseas. Unless it specifically includes travel health insurance, it quite possibly is useless for you in Germany.

If you can afford to wait and come back next year, I really second going the DAAD route. They can help you get through the visa crap and deal with health insurance.

The instructions for whatever form of Aufenthaltsgenehmigung you end up getting will probably tell you to bring photos along with your various forms of ID and other documentation. There are very strict rules that ID photos have to fulfill - far stricter rules than US driver's license photos - so make sure you get your photo taken by a German photographer, and make sure they understand this is a photo for official ID purposes. (I failed at this, and had to go get my photo taken and then head back to the Ausländerbehörde again. Ugh.) A small sounding detail, but you do not want to have to spend more time in the waiting room.
posted by ubersturm at 9:20 AM on November 1, 2009

I don't know enough about the technicalities to give advice, but I can say with some certainty that appearing well-dressed (think lawyer), well-informed and confident at places like the Auslaenderamt can help a lot, since Germans still respect a subtle air of authority. Don't overdo it though, i.e. don't show off or be arrogant, especially in Berlin.
posted by RabbitRun at 10:28 AM on November 1, 2009

You can get traveler's long-term private health insurance in Germany - it's very good and costs less than American or normal German health insurance (just don't let your US insurance lapse if you're only here for a bit). I used to use DKV and I think Axa is another brand. To get it, I had to fill in a form and mail it.

I don't understand the repeated DAAD suggestion. The artist-in-residence program is a grant that is given out to 20 people a year, but aside from the fact that it's competitive, visual artists can't apply for it - they are selected by the grant board. Furthermore, it wouldn't be possible for the OP to work on his or her current project because the program isn't designed for art which is already being paid for. Otherwise, the DAAD is for students, but the OP is a working artist who is already here and being paid and just needs a 6 month residency permit, which you are allowed to apply for during the initial visa waiver timeframe.

Seconding RabbitRun's suggestion to spruce up for the Ausländerbehörde, never hurts.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 10:50 AM on November 1, 2009

By the way, to address Mutant's tax concerns, Germany and the US have a tax treaty to avoid double taxation, so I'm not sure if there is a scenario under which you could end up owing tax as a result of getting a residence permit that you wouldn't have owed otherwise due to being an American who is employed by a US company. I guess if you end up owing in Germany and you are in a tax bracket that is taxed higher than in the US, you could end up owing a bit more tax, but in the most common tax brackets the income tax rates are more similar than you'd expect between the two countries.

There might be a danger of annoying tax paperwork either to be filed with the German Finanzamt or the IRS or both, and questions about who should be paid. That is a different and deep question that I would not ask here, but either at Toytown Germany with an enormous pinch of salt or by calling an accountant here in Berlin who specializes in American/German taxes (which you can get leads on at Toytown Germany, memail me for more details on the accountants there). In my experience, you can have a free brief phone consultation with an accountant and it should be sufficient to figure out whether your case is going to need filing or not if they know their stuff.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 12:18 PM on November 1, 2009

I suggested taking a look at the DAAD in the context of chillmost's suggestion to take language courses as a means of more easily getting a residence permit. The DAAD doesn't just offer their own academically focused scholarships (though I was thinking of their more rare non-academic programs, primarily the Berlin artist program linked to upthread as well; I wasn't aware they were no longer accepting visual arts applicants.) They also have a database of other funding sources and general information for foreigners in Germany on a school-based residence permit (which I found helpful, despite not being in a DAAD program.)

Anecdotally, my impression was that it can be harder to get a residence permit when you don't have a position at a German school or business to back up your permit request; I suspect details regarding savings, income, etc. make a big difference. Depending on the details of the poster's situation & employment, it might be easier to take classes to get a 2-3 month residence permit after the 3 month visa waiver period runs out. This is particularly the case if the poster might have been considering language classes anyway. Or hey, it might not be easier: either way, minicloud needs to check with an accountant to figure out the tax issues, and a consulate (if he or she is still in the US) or the Ausländerbehörde (if he or she is already in Germany) to figure out the residence permit issues.
posted by ubersturm at 2:08 PM on November 1, 2009

chillmost, what is the connection between taking language courses and applying for an Aufenthaltserlaubnis? Do they assist with the visa application, or is there a test which leads to an Aufenthaltserlaubnis?
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 2:52 PM on November 1, 2009

My suggestion is to consider leaving the EU for a day or weekend getaway (UK maybe). As long as you have your passport stamped and are out of the country for 24 hours, your 3 month timeframe should reset.

DISCLAIMER - i know for sure this works in many countries - and is perfectly legal, so, it if this is something worth considering, just check the rules in Germany ahead of time.
posted by walleeguy at 3:07 PM on November 1, 2009

That's incorrect.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 3:18 PM on November 1, 2009

Walleeguy is incorrect. You CANNOT reset your 90-days-in-six-months limit with a weekend trip outside Schengen, the EU, or anywhere else.
posted by mdonley at 4:02 PM on November 1, 2009

There isn't any need to over-complicate this. European borders are... fluid. If you're physically located in Germany right now, here are your easiest options:

A) Apply for a visa extension
B) Drive to another country, fly back, and get a new visa on the way back in
C) Just over-stay your visa. They are not going to deport you on your way out.
D) Over-stay your visa, drive to Switzerland, and depart for the US from Zurich.

B, C and D are not legal but this is pretty much how it's done for short-term overstays. When Germany gets in a tizz about illegal immigrants, for better or worse they do not mean you*.

*Assuming you are white and from a first-world English-speaking country.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:11 PM on November 1, 2009

DarlingBri's advice is bad, for two reasons:

1) Switzerland is part of the border-free Schengen area, so flying to the US from Zurich is as "bad" as flying home from Berlin after overstaying a visa; there are no border controls/stamps/etc anymore. I know Americans who have done this, and they tell me you should expect a brow-beating, at least, when you leave, as well as expect the risk of being flagged every time you attempt to enter the Schengen area through the visa-free tourist visa scheme. Unless you want to have the possibility of having to apply for a visa just to visit Europe for years in the future, I would highly recommend you not do this.

2) The practicalities of life are way easier with legal status. Having a legal visa means it will be easier to find an apartment, get a phone, set up internet, and have a legal address. Good luck trying to, say, set up a library card for research, or get a supermarket discount card, or buy a car without one. Or perhaps you'd want a bank account with a local debit card here - forget about that without the right visa.

Go to the German Embassy's website here, look at the type of visas available, and just apply for one that meets your needs. Depending on the visa, you'll need your company, at the least, to state that they're compensating you while you're over there. You could also just call them.
posted by mdonley at 11:48 PM on November 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

chillmost, what is the connection between taking language courses and applying for an Aufenthaltserlaubnis?

This will qualify you as a student and will maybe help in your application. If you go to the Ausländerbehörde, try to get a native German speaker you know to go with you.
posted by chillmost at 12:56 PM on November 2, 2009

Is it possible you're confusing the Aufenthaltserlaubnis with the Sprachkursvisum? Or did you personally start with a tourist visa, weren't able to convert it into a short Aufenthaltserlaubnis, and then taking a language course was the thing that helped? My experience was that I showed them proof of income and insurance and they put a piece of paper in my passport, it wasn't difficult or rarified. Any time or money I spent trying to convince them I'm a student would have been wasted.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 2:48 AM on November 3, 2009

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