An Expat’s Guide to Getting an Engineering Job in Germany — Part 1

Luke Shaughnessy
4 min readDec 2, 2020

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Late 2016, I was on the bus, riding home from downtown Denver to my home in the north Front Range town of Longmont, Colorado, when an unusual notification chirped on my phone. It was from a Recruiter on LinkedIn, which wasn’t so unusual. As a working engineer in the Denver area, it’s pretty common to get hit up by headhunters looking to fill a position. However, this one caught my eye, as it had originated in Berlin. The one in Germany. The Berlin with The Wall and the techno and the hipsters. Bridge of Spies, Jason Bourne, currywurst, that Berlin.

This was something new, I thought.

I opened the message and saw that indeed, the headhunter was pitching me a job in Berlin.

I replied and asked the headhunter if he knew that I was located in Colorado, USA, which is like, really far from Germany. Within a minute, he replied that he did. He added that his company was looking for someone with knowledge of Kubernetes (still very new at the time) and would be willing to take a lead role in building out a new operations team. He said that the company would offer assistance with finding apartments and most importantly would guide us through the complex labyrinth of German work visas and residence permits.

The thing was, this didn’t actually sound so crazy. My wife and I had been looking for some way of working and living overseas for a while. We had both been foreign exchange students in high school, and we both loved to travel. We had already backpacked through Central America and Mexico together, so we had plenty of experience living in other cultures, and we felt that our two kids had become old enough to experience living abroad safely. I had even looked at government jobs to see if we could be deployed somewhere in the foreign service, but the rules for that were stringent and the odds of getting through the system were capricious.

I got home and asked my wife “How would you like to move to Berlin if I get a job there?” She said “Sure!”

Of course, it wasn’t quite so simple. Certain requirements had to be met before we could consider moving to another country. Most important, is there a school available for the kids, preferably in English? It turns out, after some thoughtful Google searches, that there are in fact a handful of Berlin schools, both Primary and High School, that serve international students in English. The benefit of being a world capital at the crossroads of the Cold War! Also, German public schools will accept all students, who would naturally need to learn German in short order.

There were some other boxes that Berlin would tick, it turns out. It’s quite affordable for a European capital city. Rents are on a par with what we were paying in Colorado. My wife, who is an elementary school teacher, would be eligible to work at an international school. Our Colorado driver’s licenses were directly transferable, and we were eligible for German driver’s licenses without costly tests and classes. Our beloved pug, Maximus, would be allowed to enter the country as well. Berlin has a reputation for being a safe, livable, family-friendly city with a wealth of cultural treasures to explore. So far, so good. We decided that, if the offer came, we would go.

The interviews came over the next six weeks, and each time, I firmly believed that this was all just for a lark, a long-shot that was certain to fail and would be a funny story to tell one day. But I kept getting called back for more interviews. Each time I advanced to the next round.

And then, finally, there was an offer. We want you to come to work in Berlin and build our new team. We’ll see you in three months.

Three months, we had three months to sell our cars, get rid of most of our belongings, find renters for our house, find a school for the kids, get the dog checked out by the USDA, and about 10 thousand other details to complete.

Well then, los gehts!

(In the next part, I’ll talk a bit about the active startup scene in Berlin, and why it’s so common to hire engineers from abroad, and what you need to know about getting work here.)

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