Guest Post: How I Moved to Germany as a Singer

Rachel Tedder is an American freelance singer, writer, English teacher, and jack-of-all-trades living in Germany. Her favorite hobbies are arranging and singing a cappella mash-ups and plotting world domination. She is a classically trained singer and a passionate defender of belt singing technique, the propriety of verbing nouns, and the Oxford comma. Follow her progress in world domination at www.facebook.com/operacappella.

 

 

This is not a comprehensive guide. It can’t be. I don’t know everything that can happen or how it will work for you. But I thought it might be helpful for other singers if I shared how I moved to Germany, with the ultimate goal of working here as a singer. This is how I’m making it work—even though I haven’t landed any dream jobs yet.

 

As an American, you can come to Germany for three months on a tourist visa, and then, to stay longer, you need a work visa. My first visa was very specific: it was for one year and said specifically that I could work as an English teacher for Berlitz. When I renewed it a year later, I told them I was looking for work at other English schools, and then asked if they could expand my visa. They immediately changed it, no problems.

 

I decided to come first on a teaching visa because, even though I have a masters in vocal performance and have continued my technical work since I finished, I still didn’t feel ready to nail auditions. I also wanted to learn German first. But quite simply: I still had technical problems. And you won’t work here as a singer if you still have technical problems, even though there are a lot more theaters. There are still lots of good singers here. Plus, there are teachers and coaches here —I used to travel from Virginia to NYC to work with a really good coach, or some other great distance. Now I travel 10 minutes by bike to the Stadtheater in my town, where I have a wonderful coach. I can see her every week, not just once every two months. And I don’t want to say what I pay for her because, frankly, it’s embarrassingly low.

 

I decided to start teaching with Berlitz because they don’t require any previous training. Although I had quite a bit of teaching experience (mostly music, but a little language tutoring in college) and have studied a number of languages (my first degree was in linguistics), I didn’t have TESOL or TEFL certification. And those programs are quite expensive, so I didn’t want to do it if I didn’t have to!

 

So I visited the Berlitz website. From the drop-down menu, you can choose locations, and then you can see what positions that location is hiring for. I went through all of them. Literally all. And I sent my resume to every center that was hiring for English teachers. I see now they’re listing all job openings in one location.

That may or may not go away. But I didn’t find it three years ago. I used this website to create my CV in the preferred format and in English and German. I sent both languages to all the Berlitz schools.

 

Then I started getting responses. Some of them never responded. Some said, “Get back to us when you live in this city and have a work visa.” And some said, “We’d love to interview you once you arrive in Germany!” So I bought a one-way ticket.

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I did a summer program, which I had done previously, as a way to land softly. It was just three weeks long, but someone picked me up at the airport, and I had a place to stay and some singing to do when I first arrived.

 

Before the course even finished, I called some of the Berlitz schools and scheduled interviews. Berlitz has their own training, so they are looking for teachers who (1) are native speakers, (2) have a good personality for teaching, and (3) have a basic understanding of how languages and grammar work and can learn to teach with their system. I think pretty much all singers would qualify. For example, in my first interview, they showed me some pictures (in the picture book they use for beginner classes) and asked how I might use these pictures in a class. I said, “This is Mr. and Mrs. Smith. They live in New York City. They speak English. This is Mr. and Mrs. Munoz. They live in Madrid. They speak Spanish. This is Mr. and Mrs. Rousseau. They live in Paris. They speak French.” You can imagine what the pictures were.

Another sample interview question: “Explain the difference in meaning between ‘I read the newspaper’ and ‘I am reading the newspaper.’” (“There’s no difference” is the wrong answer.)

 

I ended up interviewing with several Berlitz schools and getting offers from all of them. So in one interview I asked them, “How much work will you have for me? Would I be able to work full-time (which for Berlitz freelancers means 100-120 45-minute teaching units per week)?” My interviewer looked me in the eyes and said, “Yes. We have a lot of work, and everyone who wants to works full-time, at least most months of the year.” They gave me a Letter of Intent to hire, listing how much work they expected to give me and what my approximate income would be.

 

So I started looking for apartments in Düsseldorf.

 

The next step was to get a work visa, but before I could do that, I had to have an address and register at that address. Some people register at a friend’s house or apartment. I registered at my boyfriend’s, where, conveniently, I was also staying. (Important: Your name must be on the mailbox. The Deutsche post will not deliver mail to you at an address that does not have your name on the mailbox.) Once you have an address where you can get mail, go to the Bürgeramt in that city. In American terms, it’s s combination of the city hall and the DMV. You have to legally register your address so they can find you. If you don’t speak German well, try to get a German-speaking friend to come with you to help. In German government offices, they usually can speak some English, but they won’t. It’s pretty straightforward though. You go in, look for the ticket machine, take a number, and wait for them to call your number. Then you tell them, “Ich möchte meine Adresse anmelden,” and they’ll give you the right forms and ask the right questions. Then, they’ll give you a piece of paper showing your registered address. Do not lose this!

 

You might see a pattern here: paperwork. If I’ve learned one thing about bureaucracy in Germany, it’s that they really love paperwork. If you go into a government office and you’re polite and friendly but not over-the-top (by German standards, all Americans are very charming, warm, and friendly. But we can also come across like a toothpaste commercial at Disneyworld. Don’t be that person.), you’re early, and you are prepared to politely overwhelm them with paperwork, you are more likely to get what you want. If you can think of any papers that might be in any way related to your request or situation, bring them, preferably neatly organized in a folder. I believe this makes German bureaucrats feel, even subconsciously, that you are responsible and trustworthy.

 

The next piece of paper you will need is proof of insurance. My first insurance here was something I found online from some company in the UK offering insurance for expats. It was cheap, but I can’t recommend it because it didn’t cover regular doctor’s visits, or emergencies, or… pretty much anything. Instead, I recommend getting an English-speaking German insurance agent. I found one through Google, and she signed me up for a private plan (also with a UK company, so I can talk to them in English) that covers more but still isn’t too expensive. (A note: for Germans, there are two types of insurance: public and private. Private is supposed to be more expensive and get you more personal care. However, I have yet to sign up for German public insurance and have no idea how it works.)

 

So, once I had my Letter of Intent, Proof of Insurance, Proof of Address Registration, and Proof of Qualifications, such as a university diploma, other training documents, and/or resume, I was ready to visit the Ausländerbehörde, the Foreigner’s Office. The first time I applied for a visa, I had to go back a few times to get all the paperwork collected. Once I finally got all my paperwork in order, I got a visa and could start working for Berlitz.

 

I started working 30 hours/week immediately in Düsseldorf, which was great because by that time, I was out of money. Why, you ask? Well, one reason is my apartment. It’s often very hard to find an apartment in Germany, especially in bigger cities. It’s nothing like NYC, but it’s hard. I tried this site and this site at first, but as my work starting date got closer and I hadn’t found anything, I finally gave in and decided to work with an agent. This is a problem because they are expensive. I finally found a very small, furnished studio room in Düsseldorf. The rent was manageable, but the down payment was three month’s rent and the agent’s commission. So I had saved some money for the move, but that, plus three months of living here before I got my visa, pretty much demolished it.

 

Plus, in order to pay all these things, I had to have a German bank account! I actually had no problem opening one, but I know some people have had problems opening accounts. But all I needed was an address and some cash to deposit (like in the US). One thing to know: you have basically two choices: Sparkasse or any of the other banks, which are all in a cash group together (which means you can use any of those ATMs fee-free). If you have a Sparkasse account, you will pay a fee to use the ATM of any of the other banks, but they are everywhere in Germany. If you plan to travel only within Germany, Sparkasse might be best. But if you plan to travel throughout Europe, go with the cash group, or get an online bank that lets you use all ATMs without a fee.

 

As I said at the start, this is just my story, not a comprehensive guide. But a nota bene: It’s also possible to get an artist visa for one year if you have training and qualifications as a singer, have worked as a singer in the US, and have enough money to support yourself for an entire year. I know people who have gotten visas this way, but it’s not the only way. If you don’t have rich parents or patrons, and you didn’t spend the last two years working on a cruise ship saving all your money, it’s still possible to get a visa without a huge amount of cash. In this case, you need the letter of intent to hire, like I got through Berlitz.

 

What questions, thoughts, hopes, or fears do you have about moving abroad a singer? Have any other singers out there moved to Germany on a teaching visa? How about on an artist’s visa? Please feel free to share your experiences in the comments as well!

 

Rachel Tedder is an American freelance singer, writer, English teacher, and jack-of-all-trades living in Germany. Her favorite hobbies are arranging and singing a cappella mash-ups and plotting world domination. She is a classically trained singer and a passionate defender of belt singing technique, the propriety of verbing nouns, and the Oxford comma. Follow her progress in world domination at www.facebook.com/operacappella.

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  • Kathryn Wieckhorst

    This is really helpful Rachel. Thank you so much for posting this! I’m lucky in that my husband is a German citizen, but I went right ahead and checked out Berlitz. I sent them an email and hopefully will hear back! I hope you’re having fun and great success over there 🙂

  • Sydney

    Hi Rachel- Great blog post- I was wondering how’d you make the decision to move? I am torn because I am starting to gain traction in a US city, but I have always wanted to try to move to Germany and work in the European system, would love any insight!

    • Rachel Tedder

      It was pretty simple, actually. I had always wanted to live in Europe for a time–even before I became a singer. I was just ready to change everything in my life–not only for my singing career but just in general.

  • Melissa Young

    Thanks for sharing your experience Rachel! I am considering moving with my family over to Germany because of the increased opportunity to perform. Do you find it hard to make a living over there and to be able to pay for living expenses? I’m currently finishing up a degree and debating whether to get my masters first then move to Germany or to just head over after my degree.

  • Kayla Hill

    This article was so incredibly helpful. I’m about to start my time in Germany and this article provides clear advice and I loved the links attached. I am also an opera singer with a blog! Check it out at divaredefined.com Thanks for the written clarity and advice

  • Anna

    Hi Rachel,
    I am planning to move to Germany next year (Fall 2018) How early did you send out your resume and CV before you moved over there? Was it before or after your program?