Expat Life

Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of running “I Am Germany,” a Twitter  account that is curated by a new resident of Germany each week (if you are on Twitter and don’t follow the account yet, I highly suggest it!) — unfortunately, I also had the displeasure of having to deal with a load of German bureaucracy.

Right at the start of the week, I realized that it had been over 6 weeks since I had applied for my new residence permit (Aufenthaltstitel), and my caseworker had told me that I should contact him if I hadn’t received it by the 6-week mark. To make matters more desperate, I was getting ready to leave for an international vacation the following week. So, I called the foreigners’ office (Ausländerbehörde) to ask when my residence permit would be ready, and thus began my latest adventure with German bureaucracy.

Calling the Ausländerbehörde

After calling the Ausländerbehörde and getting passed around from one person to the next, I finally got some good news: my residence permit had been ready at the local office for a few weeks. The bad news: it has not yet been “processed.” Uh huh.

After a little begging and complaining on my end (and a sexist comment on his end), the man on the phone finally agreed to finish processing my residence permit that day. Good news, but the conversation still left a bad taste in my mouth. So, I tweeted this tongue-in-cheek comment, which attracted some amazing responses.

In case you don’t get the reference: The Killers – Human

Visiting the Bürgeramt

The following day, I headed to the Citizens’ Office (Bürgeramt) right when it opened at 8am — the exact time that the man on the phone had told me I should go in order to pick up my new residence permit. Check out my thread of tweets to see what a bumpy ride that turned out to be…

In review, my morning played out as follows:
– I arrived at the Bürgeramt at 8am
– I waited for 20 minutes to be seen by a Beamtin
– the Beamtin could not find my new residence permit but could see that it had been “processed”
– the Beamtin suggested that my residence permit was probably on the desk of the Beamter that had processed it the previous day
– aforementioned Beamter wasn’t answering his phone
– the Beamtin then suggested that my residence permit could be in the basement
– I was sent back to the waiting area while they looked in the basement
– 25 minutes later, the Beamtin called me back to her desk
I received my residence permit!!!

All is well that ends well, I suppose! Although I missed the last train that would have gotten me to work on time, they did finally find my residence permit in the basement (still don’t know why or what the hell that means), and I can continue to live and work in Germany, my Wahlheimat.

Busting Misconceptions

Many of the followers of “I Am Germany” seemed surprised by my tweets so far that day. German citizens in particular seemed to have thought that when someone marries a German, then they automatically get permanent residency (or maybe even citizenship?). Either way, that’s just not true.

After getting married, I immediately applied for a new visa/residence permit (Aufenthaltstitel für Familienangehörige). My caseworker gave me a visa for just 1 year, and my husband and I had to sign some documents that said we would inform the foreigners’ office if we were to end our marriage. After one year of marriage, I returned to apply for an extension of that same visa. This time, my caseworker gave me 3 years.

It is only after a full three years of marriage that I will be eligible to apply for permanent residency or German citizenship. However, both of these come with many other prerequisites and contingencies. Marrying a German citizen is not an easy shortcut to German citizenship. 

German Efficiency

My personal highlight from this entire residence permit adventure came 3 days after I had already received my new permit:

German efficiency certainly does not extend to the country’s bureaucratic system.

Expat Insider, Expat Life, Featured, Working in Germany

Germany Offers Expats the Best Work-Life Balance

Expats in Germany may be unhappy with their social life, but a well-paying job can make up for having no friends, right? RIGHT?!

Okay, maybe not. But after failing so badly at making expats feel welcome, Germany excelled in the “Jobs & Education” section of the Expat Insider survey by InterNations.

In fact, the survey found that what makes Germany so attractive to foreigners is its good career prospects and job security — Germany ranked #7 of 65 countries in the career section of the survey. Of expats working in Germany, 67% rate their job security positively and 52% consider the state of the German economy very good (in contrast to only 19% worldwide).

Here are all of Germany’s rankings within the “Jobs & Education” section of the InterNations survey (of 65 countries):

  • Work-Life Balance: #20
  • Job Security: #2
  • Job & Career: #21

The main points contributing to expats’ happiness in this area include personal safety, political stability (16 year of Angela!), quality of the environment, school education and leisure activities for children.

Here are the overall stats for expat workers in Germany:

As I mentioned in the previous post, the US is the most represented nationality of expats in Germany. American expats working in Germany are particularly happy with their work-life balance, as German companies are required to offer at least 24 days of paid vacation per year and have significantly shorter working hours than US companies. In fact, employees in Germany only work an average of 1,371 hours per year compared to US employees’ 1,674 hours per year.

If you work in Germany, are you happy with your job? How does it compare to work life in your passport country?

Culture, Expat Insider, Expat Life, Featured

Expats Feel the Most Unwelcome in Germany

Germans are known for being cold and distant. And while stereotypes are unfair to the stereotyped, maybe – just maybe – they also sometimes hold a bit of truth.

Earlier this week, I introduced InterNation’s recent Expat Insider report, which analyzed the feelings of 12,500 expats around the world – nearly 800 of which were living in Germany.

If you believe the stereotype, then it should come as no surprise that Germany ranked particularly low in the section “Ease of Settling In” – just 10th from the bottom (#56) among the 65 most popular countries for expats. Other areas where Germany ranked quite low included:

  • Language: #56
  • Finding Friends: #59
  • Friendliness: #51
  • Feeling Welcome: #50

Language

If you’ve ever taken 5 minutes of a German class or spent 5 minutes in the country (or read one of the my Mistranslation Mondays), then you know that German isn’t an easy language.

Globally, half of all expats report that it’s overall not easy to learn the language of the country they live in, but this figure is almost 20 percentage points higher in Germany, with 69% saying they struggle to pick up German. Only 5% of expats strongly agree that it is easy to live in Germany without a grasp of the local language. Internationally that percentage is far higher at 18%.

While the language is difficult, I find Germans very accommodating to foreigners that struggle with the language. The overwhelming majority of Germans under 40 can and will speak English. And in my experience, anyone that can’t speak English is open to (and thankful for) foreigners that speak broken German with a bad accent. However, I do agree that at least a loose grasp on the language is required for living here.

Friendliness

In the Expat Insider survey, expats in Germany placed Germany far right on the scale of friendliness. The only countries that expats find more “reserved and calm” than Germany are Denmark, Switzerland, Japan, Finland, Norway, and Sweden.

Friendliness of Countries to Foreigners

Finding Friends & Feeling Welcome

Knowing that expats find the Germans so un-friendly, then it follows that these expats also find it difficult to find friends, causing Germany to be ranked at 59 of 65 countries. InterNations reported that many expats in Germany tend to stay in the “expat/foreigner bubble”, where they have a social circle solely comprised of fellow foreigners.

The metric of “feeling welcome” was visualized in the below graphic. Respondents placed Germany pretty central along the axis from “Constant & Traditional” to “Dynamic & Innovative.” However, Germany is at the far left end of the “Rational & Distant” to “Emotional & Welcoming” scale.

What do you think about these results? Do you agree? Disagree? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Expat Insider, Expat Life

Expats in Germany Are American, Female, & In a Relationship

Female? Check. In a relationship? Check. US-American? Check. Turns out, I am a completely average expat in Germany. Go figure.

InterNations, a popular expat network, recently released its annual Expat Insider report. Of the over 12,500 respondents, Germany was the most-represented nation – nearly 800 expats in Germany participated in the survey (I didn’t, in case you were curious). Survey participants were asked to rate up to 43 different factors concerning various aspects of life abroad on a scale of 1 to 7.

Demographics of Expats in Germany

The figure above shows the demographics of the expat respondents in Germany. Most of the expats in Germany came from the US, just like me. In fact, of all Americans that responded to the survey, 9% were living in Germany. The majority were also female and in a relationship. The only area where I don’t represent the average expat is age (whew!).

Life in Germany for Expats

Overall, Germany seems to be a pretty good place to live for expats – it ranked #10 in Quality of Life, which was driven by Germany’s economic security and stable job prospects. I definitely agree with the high ranking in this area. As many of you know, I just found a full-time job in Germany earlier this year. My workplace is very international, especially in the technical departments, where many German companies find the need to recruit international talent.

Unfortunately, expats in Germany do not feel very welcome by the locals, causing Germany to be ranked in the bottom 10 of countries in the area of “ease of settling in.” I will look more into why this is in the coming days in a mini Expat Insider Series. So check back soon!

If you are an expat (or any “person living abroad” as I don’t love the “expat” label), how would you rate your quality of life? Is it higher than it would be in your home country?

Expat Life

Four years ago today, I flew to Germany on a one-way ticket and haven’t left (for more than two weeks) ever since. And this past year of my expat life has been the biggest one yet!

Four years living in Germany

When I first came to Germany in July 2013, my main motivation was to pursue my Master’s degree. Well (spoiler alert!), I accomplished that at the end of 2016, which meant that I had to decide whether I would go back to my home country or stay in my adoptive one. If you know anything about me, then you know this decision wasn’t very difficult. I chose to stay in Germany, and search for a full-time job.

To find out more about everything I’ve accomplished during my fourth year in Germany, read on!

JULY 2016

  • After submitting the registration, we were also able to officially set our wedding date and location: December 30, 2016 in the Lüneburg Water Tower.
  • Otherwise, I was deep in the process of writing my Master’s thesis during this month, and I didn’t have much time or brain capacity for much else.

AUGUST 2016

  • After devoting a few months to my Master’s thesis, the end of my degree was in sight, and I began to panic. As usual, the Germans have a word for that: Torschlusspanik.
  • I also ran into some new permit problems and had to spend way too much time at the Ausländerbehörde

SEPTEMBER 2016

  • I voted! At 26 years old, this was actually my first time ever voting. Although shameful, I hope that I can inspire a few of my fellow expats to also register and vote from abroad.


OCTOBER 2016

  • I picked up my Master’s thesis from the printer (do you like how they spelled my name?) and turned it in to the university!

NOVEMBER 2016

  • I finally got to know my neighbor of 3 years, Mrs. Nobody.
  • I celebrated my FIFTH Thanksgiving in Germany with the lovely Jordan Wagner

DECEMBER 2016

  • I GRADUATED WITH MY MASTER’S DEGREE!

JANUARY 2017

  • I started searching for a full-time job in Germany.
  • My husband and I got the keys to our new apartment!
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FEBRUARY 2017

MARCH 2017

  • As the winter semester came to an end, so did my time as a student. This also meant that I could no longer hold my student job, and finding a full-time job became more critical than ever…
  • In the meantime, I took a short trip to visit grandma in sunny Florida!

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APRIL 2017

  • 24 applications, 8 interviews, and 2 job offers later – I began working a big-girl full-time job! Read more about my job search in Germany.

MAY 2017

  • I was working a lot and not doing much else. Well, nothing besides eating a disgusting pizza

JUNE 2017

  • After spending the week working in the big city of Hamburg, I spent my weekends rediscovering my beautiful little city of Lüneburg.
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JULY 2017

  • I spent 2 weeks in my favorite city, Chicago! It was also my first time spending the 4th of July in the US since 2013.
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Now I am back in Germany, and even after four years of living in this country, I am still loving my life here! If you are wondering what I did during my first 3 years in Germany, check out the links below:

Here’s to another great year!
Expat Life, Working in Germany

Rain is wet. Fire is hot. Passports expire. 

I had to renew my American passport this year, and since I live in Germany, I had the option of traveling to one of the three locations in Germany: the U.S. Embassy in Berlin, the Consulate General in Frankfurt, the Consulate General in Munich, or the Consular Agency in Bremen.

[Note: US citizens over 16 years old with an undamaged passport that was issued within the last 15 years are able to renew their US passports via mail. However, you have to pay the fee via check in USD or the credit card payment authorization form. Since I didn’t have a checkbook and didn’t want to fill out this form, I chose to do this process in person.]

I live near Hamburg, the second largest city in Germany. However, there are no U.S. citizen services offered in Hamburg, so I set an entire day aside to take the trip to Bremen, which is 2 hours away by train.

Before I ramble on about my trip to the U.S. Consulate in Bremen, however, let’s start with facts of how to renew an American passport in Germany.

WHAT YOU NEED:

• Passport

• Renewal form (DS-81 or DS-11)
• Passport photo (5 cm x 5 cm)
• Application fee payment
• Return envelope for within Germany
• [If you need to change your name due to marriage] International marriage certificate
Note that if you are going to the the U.S. Embassy in Berlin, the Consulate General in Frankfurt, or the Consulate General in Munich, you will need an appointment. The Consular Agency in Bremen, only takes walk-ins (which is where I went).
For specific information, visit the U.S. Embassy website.
Now that the formalities are over with, here is my experience with renewing my passport at the U.S. consulate in Germany.

HOW I DID IT:

To give you a proper idea of what a trek it was for me to renew my U.S. passport in Germany, I let’s move through my day by time (and please excuse my potato-quality pictures – I don’t have a very nice phone).

8:06
To get to Bremen for free with my student ID (all regional transportation in Lower Saxony is free with my German student ID), I would have to take two trains. To make my first train at 8:32, I got on a bus from my apartment at 8:06.
8:20
I arrived at the train station around 8:20 and walked to the platform. Less than five minutes later, I hear an announcement over the speakers:

“The train you are waiting for is delayed 22 minutes, and since your layover was only 12 minutes, this means you are also going to miss your connecting train to Bremen. Your day is doomed.”

Okay, maybe the announcement wasn’t that dramatic, but it was not a good start to my day. The train to Bremen ran every hour, but it was January, and I wasn’t very keen on waiting outside at a crappy train station for an 52 minutes. After a frantic search on my phone, I found a train that would decrease my layover to 30 minutes.

8:54
The train that was supposed to arrive at 8:32 arrives at 8:54, and I am annoyed.

9:45
I make it to my half-way destination and have to wait for a half hour for my train to Bremen. Still annoyed.

11:05
I get to Bremen 35 minutes later than originally planned, but it’s okay. The consulate was open that day until 1:00 p.m. So, everything would be okay. Next step of the plan was to get on a tram that would take me to the Bremen airport (the U.S. consulate is across the street from the airport).

11:30
It takes another 20 minutes to actually get to the consulate from the train station. I was super nervous and also too scared to take a selfie before going in (especially since there was a camera on the doorbell).

Note that it is just a consular agency in Bremen, which means they just offer very limited services for U.S. citizens – basically just passport applications and renewals. When I walked into the office, which is on the fourth floor of the building, there were two armed German police officers waiting to greet me. They asked me why I was there, and I immediately felt like I was doing something illegal and totally stuttered, “I would like to renew my passport…” They then searched my bag (remarking that I had a lot of food with me, hahah), and told me to take a seat.

The U.S. Consular Agency in Bremen is literally just a waiting room with 20 chairs and a single woman sitting behind a bullet-proof glass window. The only other person there was sitting in front of the woman behind the window when I walked in, so I took my seat and waited for my turn.

11:45
When it’s my turn, I tell the woman what I need and hand her all of my documents. I hadn’t printed/filled out the renewal form ahead of time, so she printed one for me (which I found incredibly considerate after my horrible experiences with German bureaucracy lately). Since some other people were waiting, I filled out the form back in the waiting area while some other people took their turn at the window.

12:30
I finally leave the consulate around 12:30. My meeting was overall pretty successful, except that I made the dumb mistake of bringing what the Germans call a “biometric photo.” This is smaller than the passport photos used in American passports, so she couldn’t accept it. Luckily, she still took my other documents and agreed to hold on to them until I could mail in a new picture. Here’s me looking pleased with the whole experience after leaving:

13:00
I make it back to Bremen’s city center and walk around for a bit while I wait for the next train back to Hamburg. If you live somewhere between Bremen and one of the consulates (i.e. Frankfurt or Berlin), then I highly suggest choosing the Bremen consulate for renewing your license. You don’t have to make an appointment, it is a (if you ignore the armed German police officers) relaxed environment, and the woman that works there is very sweet.

Bremen is also a beautiful city.

13:30
I’m back on the train with another two-hour trip in front of me. You can tell from the state of my hair that it had been a very long day.

Since my new passport will arrive by mail, the woman at the consulate also invalidated my old passport by punching a bunch of holes in it.
This was actually the first passport I ever had. It accompanied on my first trip outside of the U.S., my semester abroad, and my move to Germany. But with four two-page visas and dozens of stamps, it was getting quite full.
Now I just have to sit back, relax, and wait for my new passport to come in the mail. I was told it would take about three weeks.
Have you kept your expired passports?
Expat Life

My thesis defense will take place exactly one week from today. As soon as that day is over, there is no longer anything requiring me to stay in this country. Still, I am not moving back to the U.S. and I don’t have plans to do in the future.

As anyone that knows me (or reads this blog) would guess, I have long-term plans to stay in Germany. Although I miss my family and friends every day, I truly believe that my quality of life is much higher in Germany than it is in the U.S.

Why? Well, let me list a few reasons!

Employment
Germany’s unemployment rate recently hit a record low, and while such figures are difficult to compare internationally, most sources agree that the U.S. market is not doing quite as well. I believe that this is especially true for university graduates.

I have previously written about how too many Americans go to college and how the U.S. could benefit by adopting a more comprehensive apprenticeship system. This is still something I strongly believe in, especially when I see so many of my college-educated friends doing administrative work that shouldn’t require a college degree.

In Germany, on the other hand, less people choose to study. This means that the job market is less saturated with college graduates searching for the same kinds of jobs. This also means that I actually stand a chance at finding a job where I will use my Master’s-level education and be compensated fairly for my educational background – something I do not think would happen if I were to move back to the U.S.

Health Care
Ever since moving to Germany, I have praised the country’s public healthcare system. As a student, I only had to pay about 80€ a month for health insurance with less out-of-pocket fees than any American health insurance I have ever heard of.

When I start a full-time job, my health insurance fee will increase considerably, as it is calculated as a percentage of income. Currently this percentage is around 15% – half of which is paid by the employer and the other half by the employee.

Paid Vacation & Sick Leave
Americans work longer hours, get less paid vacation time, and retire later than Germans. Even though I have only worked part-time jobs in Germany so far, I have received at least 24 days of paid vacation per year at each of my jobs (24 is the legal minimum) and paid sick time (I just had to show a doctor’s note if I am sick for over 3 days in a row).

The other important aspect to consider here is that German employers also expect their employees to take all of their vacation time. Nobody gets a bad reputation with the boss for taking a couple weeks off at a time because everyone does it! Meanwhile, due to the work culture in the U.S., over half of Americans don’t use all of their vacation time (which is typically only 10 days per year to begin with). Yikes.

Parental Leave
The U.S. has no law guarantees full-time workers paid parental leave. Although I’m not planning on taking advantage of this anytime soon, I am happy knowing that I will never have to make the hard decision between family and career in the future as long as I stay in Germany.

Germany currently provides 12 months of paid parental leave (during which the parent receives about two-thirds of their total income) and this is increased to 14 months if each parent takes at least 2 months. Pretty nice, right?

Politics, public transportation, university tuition, recycling… this list could go on and on. But basically, it all comes down to the fact that I believe my quality of life will be higher in Germany than in the U.S. Will this change in the future? Maybe. But for now, I am very happy with where I am and where my future in Germany is headed.

Expat Life

Back in June, there was so much going on that I decided to write a post about the State of Germerica – that is, the general state of what’s going on in my life. Well, a lot has gone on since then, and I am not sure how to organize that all into a sensible blog post, so here we go again.

Today’s post will proceed by topic. First up on the docket is…

Apartment Hunting
I want to move! As of November 1st, Marco and I have been living in our current apartment for exactly 3 years. That’s a long time! Although we do plan on staying in Lüneburg for the foreseeable future, we are ready for a change.

Our current apartment has is on the 3rd floor with one bedroom, 59 m² (635 sq ft), and is located near the university. We are looking for a ground floor apartment with a small yard, at least 70 m² (750 sq ft), possibly a second bedroom, and a more central location near the city center and train station.

Here is a picture of an apartment we looked at yesterday, which had an amazing location and was very pretty, but the heating system looked too inefficient (and expensive) and it was on the 3rd floor:

Wish us luck as we continue with the hunt!

Master’s Thesis

I turned in my Master’s thesis on Thursday, October 28! Since then, I have been trying to relax a bit and not think about it anymore. Although, I should actually be contacting my supervisors to plan my presentation and defense. I will get to that soon.

In the meantime…

Job Hunting
I am slowly beginning the job search! I am feeling pretty optimistic about finding a fitting position at a digital media company in Hamburg.

Luckily, I’m not under any pressure to take the first thing that comes along because I already have a part-time job at the university. Which brings us to…

Working
After agreeing to be in a video for my university in September, the university’s communications department spontaneously offered me a part-time job to begin the very next week. My contract lasts through the end of March, which means I can take my time finding the right job for after graduation. After all, this will be my first big-girl full-time job in Germany!

Wedding Planning
As if all of that wasn’t enough, Marco and I are still planning our wedding! I have written two posts about this process so far (wedding planning pt. 1wedding planning pt. 2), but we still have a few things to do before December 30th…

And that’s it! Lots of changes going on right now in Germerica, and I am excited to see how different the state of things will be in 2017.

P.S. this post is participating in Gretch and Kristen‘s“What’s new with you?” link-up for November.

Expat Life, Voting from Abroad

If you are an American living outside of the U.S., you need to request your ballot for the federal election by October 8, 2016 (in most states), even if you are already registered to vote. 

Do it. Now.
If you don’t know how to register to vote or request a ballot from abroad, then read on.
How to vote in U.S. elections from abroad.

Earlier this year, when the U.S. presidential campaign was just starting to heat up, I started to feel quite guilty about the fact that I have never voted. Having moved so often since the age of 18, it just always seemed so complicated and difficult. I was also kind of lazy.

But now I have taken the first step to changing that: I registered to vote.

I always assumed registering from abroad would be complicated, but my home country pleasantly surprised me! Here is how I registered to vote from Germany:
1. Visit FVAP.gov
 FVAP is the Federal Voter Assistance Program for service members and other overseas citizens. This is the first stop for any overseas citizens that want to vote, whether you are already registered or not. 
2. Choose Your State
Voting procedures vary by state, so you will need to choose your state from the drop-down menu on the website.
3. Follow the Directions
Yeah, it’s that easy. Creating a numbered list probably wasn’t necessary…
When I was registering to vote, I was worried that I would have to spend a lot of time and money mailing registration materials back and forth between the U.S. and Germany. However, Illinois actually has a website that allowed me to download the forms, fill them out electronically, and email them to my local county clerk.
The hardest part was having to answer this question:The hardest question for an expat.
Can any expat really answer this question with complete certainty? Anyways, your answer will only effect whether or not you can vote in local elections as well as federal elections.
After sending my voter registration and ballot request form by email, I then periodically checked the website to see if my application was approved. Once it was approved, I received my ballot shortly thereafter.
If you are already registered to vote, remember that you still need to request a ballot for this election. 

If you are still feeling confused, here are some other resources to help overseas American citizens vote:
Let me know if you are voting in the comments below!
Expat Life, Studying in Germany

I am graduating. Soon. So, I am panicking. Now.

In German, the panic as something is coming to an end is known as Torschlusspanik, which translates literally to gate-closing panic. The castle’s gates are closing, the enemies are encroaching, and you need to get through those gates ASAP. But you still have to herd your sheep, pack up your belongings, gather your wife and children. There’s not enough time. AHHH!!!

I have been writing my thesis since about mid-May, and it is just about done. Still, I am terrified to turn it in. Even more terrified to get feedback on it. And most terrified to defend it.

Then there is also the bureaucratic side of graduating as a foreign student. Luckily, Germany allows foreigners that graduate from German universities to get a job-search permit for up to 18 months. This is what I was hoping to get when my student visa becomes invalid on September 30th.

Just one problem: I won’t be turning in my thesis and other term papers until the end of September.

For “normal” students, you can already move on to the next stage of your life (job search, phD, whatever) as you wait for your official diploma. I distinctly remember going through the official graduation ceremony for my bachelor’s degree in the U.S. and not getting my official diploma until over a month later. Unfortunately, foreign students don’t receive this luxury. Through recent correspondence with my local foreigners’ office, they told me that I will not be able to get my job-search permit until I have my official diploma in my hand.

Until then, I need to enroll in the next semester (that’s 350€ in fees) and extend my student visa (~80€). A waste of my money and my time.

So, that’s where I’m at. Wrapping up my studies yet extending my student visa as I long for the day that I can move on with my life.