Bureaucracy was dreamt up by Ancient Egyptians and coined by the French, but it was the Germans who refined it into a system that regulates every single detail of every single area of life.
Having recently relocated from London, to Munich, as an American citizen, I learned more about German protocol then I ever cared to know.
Let's begin with the residence permit (AKA visa). As a US citizen, I can visit Germany for up to 90-days, visa-free, but in order to live/work, a residence permit is required. I could have legally entered Germany as a tourist, and then gotten my visa after arrival, but I wouldn't be allowed to work until that visa paperwork was processed. Since I had no concept of how long that might take and I didn't want to contend with the language barrier, I decided the best course of action would be to get my visa from the German embassy, in London, ahead of time.
Back in May 2019, after I engineered a six-week period of time where I wouldn't need my passport, I booked a visa appointment for 8:15am on Monday 8th July. Bookings at the embassy were not plentiful, so it's good I arranged it a few months in advance.
Tracking down a list of required documents was my next undertaking. Blogs I read told me one thing, the 'Consular Services' section of the German embassy listed others, so I brought EVERYTHING I could think of (and most of it in duplicate):
A printout of the embassy appointment confirmation
My passport and copies of the picture page
My UK residence permit card and copies of it
A slew of various sized passport photos
Two completed and filled out applications
Two signed additional information sheets
Copies of my eDiploma from university (which was a whole other mission to obtain - anyone else out there still remember their university student ID number?)
Program management certification from the USA
The employment contract I received from the German office
An invitation letter from the MD of the German office
A “Vorabbestätigung” from the German “Agentur für Arbeit“ (a notarized document, with an original signature, that was entirely in German, so I'm not 100% certain what it was)
The final necessity, which was not listed on the embassy website, but turned out to be imperative (and luckily I had), was proof of healthcare. After a bit of investigation (and some dumb luck), I landed on TK's site, which looked sufficient. I decided on a state (versus private) policy because I didn't know what I was doing. I signed up (using a friend's local Munich address) and, low and behold, it worked! I was able to immediately print off a confirmation of my compulsory healthcare plan and bring that along with me to my visa appointment. FYI, in Germany, you also get your social security/insurance number through your healthcare provider.
The two things I neglected to bring to my embassy appointment, however, were proof of UK employment and cash. I thought my UK work visa would be sufficient as employment verification, but they also wanted other evidence, like pay stubs. I convinced them to move forward without this bit of information, with the promise to bring copies with me when I came back for visa collection (which I did bring, but nobody cared about/asked for/looked at).
I also was not prepared with the payment. I had read that all fees were to be made by credit card and that cash was not accepted, but it turned out the opposite was true. I needed the equivalent of €75, in GBP (at a fixed rate of £67.30). Luckily, I was able to walk a few blocks to an ATM, withdraw money and then go back into the embassy to submit the payment.
There was some ambiguity online, but, in the end, I was not required to hand over my passport to the embassy, which pleased me greatly. Although, it wouldn't really have mattered since just 24-hours later, I received the following email:
Back to embassy I went, first thing in the AM on Tuesday 9th July. After passing through security and storing my electronic devices in a locked cupboard, I patiently waited in the seating area until counter two became available. Once it did, I handed my passport to the clerk and sat back down. A few moments later my name was called and my passport was returned to me, with a shiny new German visa adhered to page 21. Easy peasy...Or so I thought.
Here's the twist - I was only granted a six-month entry clearance visa, rather than a full year residence permit. I was told that I'd have to extend the visa after I arrived in Germany, but that I should do so immediately as 'it could be hard to get an appointment and these things could take a lot of time'. They were unwilling (or unable) to give me any further information as to why I was only granted a six-month visa, where I needed to go in Munich for the extension and what sort of documentation I'd need to bring along with me.
The good news was, I could enter the country and begin working immediately, which was necessary because I was moving on Friday 30th August and beginning work on Monday 2nd September. What was annoying was that my post-arrival bureaucracy to do list kept growing.
A condensed list of other elements that I had to take care of, in London, before I moved included:
Booked this Airbnb, for my first two weeks in Munich.
Opened a bank account, potentially illegally, ahead of time, using a friend's local Munich address. I selected N26, an online only bank, because I knew they wouldn't require me to visit in person, and, it had good reviews. The initial sign-up was easy enough, but then I had to have a Skype interview to complete the process, which was a bit odd. It all worked out okay thought and I was able to provide my company with banking information ahead of time - both in the UK and in Germany.
Had my work iPhone XR unlocked so that I could get an eSIM in Germany, which, in theory, would allow me to keep my UK number and also add a local Bavarian number. More on this later.
Cancelled all my London bills and direct payment debits through my bank. I took pictures of my meters (just in case of any disagreements with the electric company down the line).
Changed my local London address on my bank account, credit cards, pension, private health care, etc. to a friend's in the UK, in case anything important needed to be sent my way. I decided against redirecting my post through Royal Mail, because it was costly and I usually only receive spam anyway.
Cleaned my flat and chased my deposit refund.
Sifted through every single one of my worldly possessions to decide if they were coming with me or going into one of my nine boxes that went into storage in London (which I paid, upfront, for 12-months). All 'coming with me' belongings were shoved into five suitcases and schlepped to Munich.
After a solid month of all the above listed admin, seemingly endless good byes and lots and lots of tears, the 30th of August rolled around. Just like that, my five years in London had come to an end and I moved to Munich.
The first few weeks in the Munich Airbnb were lovely, and a great way to ease into my new city. The property was a very modern, spacious flat, in a great area of town and the host was wonderful.
Luckily, I had a very gracious friend who invited me to come live with her, her boyfriend and their dog, for the rest of my time in Munich. I was eternally grateful because: 1) The local rental market is uber competitive and extremely expensive 2) I was a bit lonely in the Airbnb by myself and not speaking the language made things even more isolating and 3) I now get to live in a big girl, spacious house, on a giant plot of land, with a stream and a garden in the backyard, with friends who speak English!
My first order of business, as a new German taxpayer, was to register my address with the local authorities. Anyone and everyone living in Germany is required to register (and also re-register if they move/de-register when they leave the country). Registering is technically required to be done within two weeks, although it doesn't seem to be a heavily enforced rule. It was a priority for me however, because until registry took place, mail could not be delivered (who needs a healthcare/bank card), my Tax ID number could not be generated (who needs a paycheck), and I was unable to start the process of extending my visa (who needs to be legally able to reside somewhere).
BUT, before any of this registering malarkey could be dealt with, my new landlord needed to complete and autograph a mandatory form called Wohnungsgeberbestätigung. As it turned out, anyone could really have forged that signature, but I didn't know that at the time. Once I had that signed document in hand, I went online to make an appointment at one of the six Bürgerbüro in Munich. Once you get to the booking portion of the website, English translations cease, so I had to Google translate all the words. It became clear that I wanted the Meldeangelegenheiten appointment type. Most appointments were already booked up, for the next few months, so I selected the Bürgerbüro location, purely based on availability.
A few days later, I boarded the 53 bus to the Leonrodstraße Bürgerbüro, armed with a printout of my appointment confirmation, my passport, the Wohnungsgeberbestätigung and a completed application. *Fun (and weird) fact - If you indicate that you are any sort of religion on the application, your monthly income is taxed an additional 8-9%.
I sat in the waiting area of the small office until my appointment number, and corresponding counter where I was meant to go, were displayed on the screens.
The whole affair took about 30-mins. I immediately received an approved, written registration certificate (Anmeldebescheinigung). I was told my tax ID number would arrive in about six-weeks, by post. If that didn't work for me, I could come back, without an appointment, a few days later, and the person at the front desk would provide this information. I opted for the latter option and got my tax ID number in about five-minutes, a week later.
After registering, I added my name to the mailbox so that post would be delivered and called my healthcare provider to ask them to resend a copy of my healthcare policy and the social insurance information, which had not been able to previously be delivered.
Once the healthcare information arrived, I uploaded a passport photo to the TK site, using a one-time code that was provided in the letter. In another few weeks, I'm told my healthcare card will arrive and I will be in business.
The next amusing bureaucratic hurdle was trying to extend my visa. Heeding the warning of the German embassy in London, I began the process a mere three weeks after moving to Munich.
This mission started on the Munich Foreigners Office site. After clicking around a bit, I found an 'Online Appointments' section. I wasn't sure which of the categories I fell into, so I filled in the appointment contact form at the bottom of the page and asked for guidance.
Several days later, an ever-so-helpful lady named Marian emailed me and informed me that a short-appointment was not possible, but that I could come in to the Kreisverwaltungsreferat (KVR) office, between 8:30am and 12:00pm on Tuesdays or Thursdays and stand in the queue at the SCIF (Service-Center für internationale Fachkräfte/Service Center for International Professionals). Sidebar, if you visit the site for SCIF, it clearly states, very largely, at the top, that 'You need an appointment to visit us'.
I went back to Marian and explained that my visa didn't expire until 29th February 2020, so I was hopeful that she could find me an appointment some time before that (being only September 2019 and because her job was answering people who specifically utilized the appointment contact form).
She responded that I should come in to the office, have my documents checked and talk about possibilities for a further extension. When I asked what documents I'd need, she replied that she did not know.
After several more pointless email exchanges, it was clear that she was not going to help me book an appointment - Especially, as her last sentence in her final email was 'I would recommend you book an appointment online here.' Back to square one, thank you very much, Marian!!
On Tuesday 24th September, I physically made my way to the KVR. I stood in a line for about an hour, before I was called into a room by a clerk. I explained my situation and she said she'd take a look at my file. Her system then crashed. After a bit more time had passed, she got things working and she told me that she thought I needed an 'EU Blue Card'. She walked me over to another area of the building and left me in yet another queue.
I stood in that line for a short while. Once I got to the front (it was about 9:50am), the security guard informed me that they had already seen all the people they would be seeing that morning. I noted the time and pointed to the sign on the door with the posted hours (8:30am until noon). He then said that those hours were just a suggestion, and that they only see 60 people each morning.
On Thursday 26th September, I woke up super early and got down to the KVR for about 7:30am (a full hour before the office opened). The queue was already long. The moment the clock struck 8:30am, everyone rushed the doors. There was literally no point in the line at all. It was chaos, people were pushing and shoving. By the time I got to where I needed to go, at 8:33am, the first 60 people had already been let in and the rest of us were turned away, but not before I got a sheet of paper from the security guard with instructions for how to make an online appointment, for the EU Blue Card.
On my train journey back home, I went online to book. There were zero available appointments between that current day and the end of January 2020. Apparently, they opened 'day of' appointments at 7am on Mondays and Fridays and at 8am on Tuesdays and Thursdays. At this point in time, I still have had no luck with my visa extension and I'm losing patience. I'm going to look into the option of hiring an agency to handle this for me. Stay tuned as the saga continues...
Post-entering Bavaria, I also had to handle the following:
As previously mentioned, I attempted to get a dual SIM and eSIM card with my current UK iPhone XR, through the local Vodafone provider. My intention was to keep my UK number via the physical nano SIM card and add a German number via eSIM. This is technically possible, per the Apple website, but in order to do so Vodafone required that I sign no less than a two-year contract and then utilize a German physical SIM card, which completely negated the whole point. The staff were rude and I got frustrated, gave up and decided I'd just keep using my UK number.
Researched German language lessons. I wanted to attend classes in the evenings, in-person, but the programs were all six-weeks in duration and I didn't have six consecutive weeks where I'd be around. I ultimately landed on Lingoda, as it was a more flexible, online option.
Set up EasyPass for use of ePassport gates in German airports. To enroll in this program I followed signs for ‘Service Point Federal Police’ at Terminal 2 of the Munich airport. I handed the policeman my passport, completed a three-page form and was approved in less than 20-mins. It was free and immediately activated.
Updated my current city on LinkedIn and Facebook.
Joined Pro Health Club (PHC) gym. The annual membership had to be paid in cash, which was a hassle as I had a maximum transaction withdraw amount as well as a cap on how much I could take out each day AND a limit on the amount of free withdrawals I could make a in month.
Figured out public transit. It worked out best, financially, to buy a monthly IsarCard (rings 1-4 costs €79.10/month). IsarCards must be bought at ticket machines, and cannot be purchased through the MVV nor MCG apps. Ticket machines can be operated in English though. You must validate the paper ticket before you travel. I will touch more on public transportation in my next post.
Got a new travel insurance policy, with a healthcare package, through a company called HanseMerkur.
Applied for a UK tax refund.
I have now been in Munich exactly one month, but done enough admin for a lifetime. Yet, I fear, it's only just beginning...