Located in the heart of Europe, Germany would require more than a lifetime to discover all it has to offer. With its multicultural character and emerging alternative scene, Germany is the ideal place to settle down for a year. Canadians ages 18–35 can travel here legally and work for one year thanks to the Working Holiday Visa (WHV). Take the opportunity to go for a beer (or a few) at Munich’s Oktoberfest, explore the medieval castles in Bavaria or discover Berlin’s cultural and artistic scene! Settled for the last two years in Germany, Marie-Louise from Québec shares her experience to inspire you to embark on this unforgettable adventure.
- Name of the WHV country: Germany
- Name: Marie-Louise
- Last Name: Desbiens
- Age: 30 years old
- Hometown: Québec
- Period of the WHV: July 2017 to July 2018
- Instagram handle: @marielouise_desbiens
What Drove You to Apply for a Working Holiday Visa in Germany?
During my very first Oktoberfest in Munich in 2016, I met two Australians who’d left on a six-month road trip across Europe. I felt really inspired by their journey.
I finished my first solo trip and dreamed of doing the same: taking the time to travel for a longer time across all of Europe. I asked them, “Seriously, how did you do it?” Laughing, they replied:
We just dropped everything: the apartment, the boyfriend, the job, and then we bought a plane ticket. Simple like that, with a WHV.
I told them that one day in the not-too-distant future, I would do it, too!
Back home, I decided to use the year ahead to prepare for this European experience and a departure the following summer.
How Did Your Family and Friends React to Your Decision to Work and Travel in Germany?
I began discussing my decision with those close to me only once I had the WHV in hand, which was in January 2017. I had about every kind of reaction: surprise and admiration—but also fear and worry.
“What happens if it doesn’t go well? You’ll be all alone there!” my father worried. I replied that I had a return ticket.
“How am I going to know where you’ll be?” my mother asked. I calmed her and told her that I would inform her of all my travels.
I tried to reassure them without knowing for myself what was awaiting me on the other side!
Why Did You Choose Germany as a Destination for Your WHV?
I was looking for a well-located country where it would be easy to travel, where I would have the opportunity to learn a third language, and where the general economy of the country was stable enough to allow me to find a job.
Did You Save Some Money Before Leaving? How Much?
Yes, I left with $10,000.
What Are the First Things You Did When You Arrived in Germany?
From Québec, Berlin is a hell of a journey: there’s no direct flight! The first thing I did when I arrived at my hostel in Berlin was to try to sleep while I shared a room with eight other party-loving roommates.
What Steps Did You Take to Find a Job?
I spent more than six months travelling before I was able to use my WHV to work.
After a few months of full-time travel, I realized that I was tired and needed to settle down. That’s when I started my job hunt.
I first contacted Agentur für Arbeit, a government agency that helps foreigners wanting to live and work in Germany to find a job. Ironically, once I arrived, they told me that without a good enough level of German, I couldn’t benefit from their services.
So, I started school at the twice-weekly Volkhochschule, but I quickly realized that reaching the level I needed would take me at least three years.
As I didn’t have three years in front of me, but rather six months, I translated and reworked my resume, and then applied for jobs online. After two months of intensive research, I signed my first work contract!
What Work Experience Did You Have During Your WHV?
I had just one work experience in Germany during my WHV. Thanks to my past sales experience and my mother tongue, a conveyor-belt company hired me to develop the French market. This work gave me a rewarding experience in the industrial world and allowed me to travel even more!
Would You Say That the Money Earned During Your WHV Was Enough to Cover Your Cost of Living?
With my savings, I could have easily not worked this year and gone home without debts. So yes, the income I earned was more than enough for me.
Where Did You Travel in Germany During Your Working Holiday Visa and What Was Your Favourite Place?
My first destination was the beautiful capital of Berlin. I then made a short film as part of a Kino Kabaret in Hamburg. I took holidays on the island of Sylt, in Leipzig, Dresden and Saxon Switzerland. I visited the magnificent Schwerin Castle and the Christmas markets of Luneburg, Lübeck and Stralsund. My favourite place is Hamburg. This city has so much to offer—something for all!
Share an Anecdote or Travel Story From Your Experience in Germany:
Even though I had learned a lot about how to immigrate to Germany and the steps to follow… I swear, I was never ready to face that.
Meldebestätigung is one of the first things you’ll need to take care of once you arrive in Germany. What is it? It’s a proof of residency, without which it’s simply impossible to open a bank account and find a job! As a young woman from Québec, I naively asked myself if there was a way to handle that online. They answered, “Where do you think you are, young lady? We are in Germany here: get up tomorrow morning and stand in line like everyone else!” I confess that I was not ready for that, especially in a country that claims to be exceptional in terms of efficiency.
What Was the Most Rewarding Part of Your Stay Abroad?
Once away from home, I realized that elsewhere, everything becomes a source of excitement and pride.
I couldn’t speak a word of German when I arrived, but I still managed to order a meal at the restaurant! Even though sometimes I did not really know what kind of dish I would get, I still managed to string two or three words to make myself understood.
Just a few days after my arrival, I was walking in the city and already able to provide information to other tourists easily.
When my only pair of jeans tore after three months of wandering around, I was faced with two choices: buy a new pair or sew on a patch. I chose to patch my jeans myself, and today, I look at it and laugh when I think of all the memories I associate with it.
It’s hard to explain, but I caught on to the basics fairly quickly, and I enjoyed all the experiences as if they were a matter of survival.
Did You Visit Other Countries During Your WHV?
I was also able to visit Austria, Switzerland and France. In those countries, for which I did not have a work permit, I used the Workaway platform to work in exchange for food and accommodation.
Did You Return Home With Savings or Debts?
After my initial year with my WHV, I began the process to stay in Germany for an extended period of time! But if I had returned to Québec after my experience, it would have been with savings!
What Advice Would You Give to Someone Who Would Like to Get a Working Holiday Visa for Germany?
Start learning German as soon as possible! And before leaving, make sure you have all your important papers and documents with you!
You may also like: Working and Travelling in London: Stories From a Canadian on a Working Holiday Visa (WHV)