By Gundula Schmidt-Graute. May 2010

We arrived August 2008 and as a “dependent spouse” I wanted to resume working as soon as possible. But: In Germany I had worked with the German language: journalism, copywriting, ghostwriting, editing, translating and proofreading. No way that I could write for money in English and even though I did some translation and proofreading jobs, I wasn’t satisfied. I met this lady who told me that she had worked as a sightseeing guide prior to 9/11 and I decided to give it a try. I can only write well in German but I can speak several languages and I’ve always been interested in local history and in the cities I live in.

To work as a tour guide, you have to pass an exam in order to get a NYC license or it is illegal. And of course you have to get your employment authorization. Studying for the exam was fun, I walked the city with books in my backpack and started unnerving my family with my new knowledge. Even my father, when he came visiting me, told me that he’d like to look at a building without being explained every single brick …

I passed the exam, applied at several companies and currently I work as a freelance guide for one of the companies that use the double-decker buses. As French speaking tour guides are in demand these days, I also work with groups from France and Québec. Giving a tour in my native German would be such a treat …

To work as a sightseeing guide, you must be service-oriented and also accept that you are part of the working class, no matter how educated you are. Having worked as a professional all my life, I still think it’s pretty weird, to make a “tip speech”. But as I split the tips with the bus driver, I have no choice – I owe him the attempt to generate generous tips.


Getting a job in New York can be challenging. You should give yourself time to get acquainted with the US job market and try to do first networking, extra studies and volunteering. If you have a story to tell, please send it to