Before moving to Germany, I read dozens and dozens of blogs on how American citizens obtained their freelance language visas while living in Germany. And as the other authors did, I will also begin my post with the disclaimer that this is simply MY story and not necessarily the standard. Actually, I don't think there really is any standard when applying for a freelance visa for teaching English - but reading blogs did give me a general idea of what I would need to do. The truth is, there is no St. Pauli girl holding your hand telling you how and where to begin your visa application.
The Prep Work
I began the process way back in October when I began an online TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language) certificate program. I researched health insurance companies since I knew I would need to provide my own German health insurance. In November, just before flying over to Europe, I contacted several language schools in Heidelberg introducing myself and asking for an interview. I mentioned that I was moving to the area in January and planned on completing my TESL certificate by then. I arranged one interview at Berlitz - a language school with locations worldwide. Later in December I also had one Skype interview with Educom, but since they didn't have any work at the time in Heidelberg, I didn't pursue it.
My Berlitz interview was on December 19th - a gray, cold and rainy day in Heidelberg. I got all dressed up and left a little early so I could make it to the office on time. Cut to 1.5 hours later, I'm looking like a drowned rat, huffing and puffing running to the Berlitz office after I had finally found its nearly impossible-to-find location. The interviewer was somewhat disappointed, but we continued the interview which seemed to go fairly well even though I was a bit rattled. After the interview I get the usual "we'll get back to you but since it's the holidays it may be a bit delayed." It took about two weeks to hear back that they wanted a second interview.
I went back to meet with the center director for a second interview. Several days later I get an email saying that Berlitz would like to proceed and send me to teacher training so I can freelance for them. I asked them for a letter that I can use in my application for a work visa...
Applying for the Visa (Resident/Work Permit)
Before I could apply for a work/residence permit I needed to purchase the health insurance plan I had done research on (about 100 euros a month). The following items is what I brought to the town hall, or Rathaus as it's called in Germany:
1 - letter of intention from Berlitz
2 - form stating that I had registered with the police (something you should do within two weeks of moving to Germany)
3 - proof of health insurance
4 - passport
5 - biometric photos (they have a photo booth at the Rathaus)
6 - some other form that describes my apartment and is validated by the Rathaus
7 - resident/work permit application
8 - letter stating that my partner is helping to support me until I get work
I went to my local Rathaus without an appointment. A woman there helped me complete the application, said she would submit my papers to the Heidelberg auslandermat and sent me on my way. She said it usually takes two-three weeks...
Four weeks go by and I dont hear a peep. I go directly to the auslandermat in Heidelberg and ask if everything is ok. The woman doesn't speak very fluent English but she seemed friendly and said they she had worked on my application and was waiting to hear back from another office.
A couple more weeks go by with no word so I call her up and ask about the status. She said she finally heard back from the other office and I should get a letter the following week.
I finally receive the letter a week and a half later listing the materials I still need to provide, even though they were already provided - I was a little peeved.
Enlisting the Help of a Native German Speaker
Up to this point, I had done all correspondences on my own, but with eight weeks having passed without much success I finally asked the help of my German neighbor. He went with me to the auslandermat to explain the Berlitz letter and that I have already provided the documents. Finally the woman made an appointment with me the following week for a temporary work permit (According to the work permit, I need to successfully complete the teacher training in order to get my full work permit).
Getting Your Work/residence Permit
The actual appointment to get the permit only took about 10 minutes. The woman handed me the permit, I paid for it at a payment kiosk and went on my way. As I mentioned, it is only a 90-day visa until I provide proof of completing the teacher training.
The Glass Half Full
This is a situation that I keep reminding myself to look at half full and not half empty. The visa process has taken longer than as expected and there are many more unknowns ahead, but I have the opportunity to do this. I can work and live in another country, explore a new continent and experience what it's like to be an immigrant. This is really the only way to truly appreciate what I have taken for granted when living in the U.S.