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?

Diabetes, Featured, Working in Germany

An American’s Experience with German Public Healthcare

When I began my master’s studies in Germany, I also enrolled in German public healthcare. At that time, I wrote a (somewhat naive) blog post about my first experience with German public healthcare. This is an update to that post.

Since I was a student at the time, I was only paying the student rate for public healthcare (about 80€ per month). Since I also have a chronic disease, I was taking much more out of the public healthcare system than I was putting in.

While most German-taxpayers were compassionate and understanding of my situation, I did piss a few readers off by cheerfully pointing out how the system worked in my favor. They complained that I was taking their money, draining the system, and that I wouldn’t be so happy once I had a full-time job.

Well, I am back to tell you that (1) I have a full-time job, (2) 15.6% of my income is paid into the German public healthcare system, (3) I am (usually) paying more into the healthcare system each month than I am taking out of it, and (4) I am okay with it.

First, a few facts about the German public healthcare system:

  • Everyone that makes less than approx. 57,000 EUR (63,000 USD) must enroll in public healthcare
    • If you make more, you can choose to become privately insured (price depends on level of coverage and pre-existing conditions) or continue paying into public healthcare
  • The system insured 71.6 million people in 2016, which is about 88% of the country’s population (source)
  • People earning over 850€ per month have to pay 15.5% of their income for public healthcare (8.2% is paid by employee, 7.3% by employer)
This system is widely accepted within Germany, and very few political leaders push for significant reforms. When I was a student in Germany, taking more from the system than I was putting in, I also never heard anything negative about my situation from the Germans that I would speak to about this topic. Germans would generally laugh as I spoke so highly of the public healthcare system, telling me that not paying extra for doctors appointments and prescription medication is how it’s supposed to be.

The entire premise of Breaking Bad is basically a mystery for Germans, and people would often ask me how a person in an industrialized country like the U.S. could go into bankruptcy just because he was diagnosed cancer or got into a car accident.

Solidarity
The principle at play in any publicly-funded healthcare system (whether it be German public healthcare or US Medicare) is solidarity. The healthy will end up paying for (at least some) of the health care services for the sick. The wealthier will pay for services used by the poor.

In the US, the prevailing mindset seems to be, “I don’t want to pay for somebody else.” For better or worse, people only want to be responsible for themselves and their families. The problem is, of course, that a serious illness or accident that often lead to financial hardship (at best) for middle- to low-income families.

Everyday, I see my American friends and family sharing fundraising pages on Facebook to help someone with their medical bills. Just the fact that this webpage exists is, in my opinion, a sign that the US medical system isn’t okay.

Such websites don’t exist in Germany because people don’t need them. Public healthcare in Germany covers everything*, so insured people would never be financially burdened by medical bills.

There is strength in numbers, and with over 70 million people belonging to (mainly) just a handful of public health insurance providers, healthcare and medication fees can be negotiated strongly. Thus, health spending per capita is significantly lower in Germany than the US.

If you have a solid income, never get seriously sick or injured in your entire life, and you never have any children, is this system benefiting you? No. But the problem is that you cannot predict when you are going to get sick or injured, and (in my experience) Germans are willing to pay for the safety of knowing that should something happen, they are covered.

If you are curious what your net salary would be if you lived in Germany, and how much of it would go towards public healthcare, check out this salary calculator:
http://www.brutto-netto-rechner.info/gehalt/gross_net_calculator_germany.php

*German public healthcare does not cover everything, there are required “co-pays” (e.g. 5€ for a prescriptions, 10€ per day at the hospital), but these are fairly insignificant and would not cause financial hardship.

Working in Germany

Hey guys, guess what….

I OFFICIALLY HAVE A BIG GIRL FULL-TIME POST-GRADUATION JOB!!! pic.twitter.com/F3eZAA0zJE

— Courtney (@courtneydmartin) March 24, 2017

That’s right, after graduating with my Master’s degree from a German university in December 2016, I finally found a full-time job in my field! In fact, today is my first day at my new job (wish me luck!).

Wanting to be as real with my readers as possible, this post will review my experience with applying to and interviewing for full-time jobs in Germany.

First, the hard facts:
Length of my job search: 3 months
Number of jobs I applied to: 24
Number of interviews: 8
Final job offers: 2

I applied to a few jobs while writing my Master’s thesis (Nov-Dec 2016), but I didn’t really start putting real effort into the job hunt until the new year. I was also very lucky to have a part-time job contract until March 31, 2016. This meant that I didn’t have the pressure of needing to find a job ASAP.

Here is a timeline of all the jobs I applied to, and how far in the application process I made it with each position:

Overall, I was very lucky in my job search. I usually got a response (even if it was a rejection email), and I got quite a few interviews. To better visualize this, here is a pie chart of this data:

I got absolutely no response from 25% of the jobs I applied to. Shame on the businesses that do this! Even if it is just a form email, you should reply to all applicants! It’s just common decency!

Speaking of form emails, I got those from 42% of the jobs I replied to. Receiving a rejection email is not a great feeling, but it’s better than hanging on to hope for a position that already rejected you without you knowing.

For 33% of all the jobs I applied to, I got at least one interview (usually via phone or Skype). I really hate interviewing for jobs, and the first few interviews went quite horribly. However, I also think I got better at interviewing each time. Which ultimately led to…

…drum roll please…


via GIPHY

…two job offers!!!

My job search reached its peak when I scheduled two second-round interviews for the exact same day — the first for 1:00 pm and the second for 5:45 pm.

I got to the first interview about an hour early, so I stopped into a cafe next door and had an espresso. This probably wasn’t such a great idea, as I was nervous and hadn’t yet eaten anything that day. By the time I got to my interview, I was visibly shaking.

Of course I took an elevator selfie on my way up to the 19th floor office.

I was then placed in a beautiful conference room with one of the best views of Hamburg’s Altstadt that I had ever seen. They also made a nice first impression with a little spread on the table. Since I was already shaking from my espresso, though, I just stuck with water.

After this interview, which went until about 2 p.m., I then sat in a café for over three hours until it was time for my second interview. The second interview actually ended up being less of a job interview and more of an employment persuasion. I left with an unofficial job offer and the peace of mind of knowing that my job search was finally over!


via GIPHY

The following week, I got final job offers from both of the companies with which I had a second interview, and after a little bit of back and forth, I signed a job contract on March 25th to start on April 18th!

Let me know if you have any questions about finding a job in Germany in the comments below!

P.S. This post was chosen by followers of the Welcome to Germerica Facebook page. Make sure to like my page to stay up-to-date on all things Germerica!

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?
Studying in Germany, Working in Germany

Whether you are considering getting your degree in Germany, you are currently getting your degree in Germany, or you are just about to graduate, then you have probably wondered: What comes next?

German job search visa / Aufenthaltstitel zur Arbeitsplatzsuche


Good news! Foreigners who receive a degree from a German university are allowed to stay in the country after graduation in order to to work. However, if you are not lucky enough to have a job lined up directly after graduation, and your student visa is running out at the end of the semester, then you are eligible for the job search visa (Aufenthaltserlaubnich zur Arbeitsplatzsuche).

To understand the rules regarding German residency permits, it is best to refer to the Residence Act (Aufenthaltsgesetz). The job search visa is covered in §16(4):

Nach erfolgreichem Abschluss des Studiums kann die Aufenthaltserlaubnis bis zu 18 Monaten zur Suche eines diesem Abschluss angemessenen Arbeitsplatzes, sofern er nach den Bestimmungen der §§ 18, 19, 19a und 21 von Ausländern besetzt werden darf, verlängert werden. Die Aufenthaltserlaubnis berechtigt während dieses Zeitraums zur Ausübung einer Erwerbstätigkeit. § 9 findet keine Anwendung.

In case you can’t understand German law vocabulary, this says that foreign graduates can receive a residence permit for up to 18 months after graduation to look for a job. Not bad, huh? If this sounds like something for you, then take a look at the facts listed below.

HOW TO GET A GERMAN JOB SEARCH VISA: THE FACTS


Who the job search visa is for:
Foreigners who have successfully completed their Bachelor’s/ Master’s/PhD at a German university and want to stay in Germany to look for a job.

To apply for this permit, you need:
• University degree
• Proof of finances
• Health insurance


Things to consider:
• You may not have your official diploma before your student visa expires
I didn’t receive my official diploma until about three weeks after the oral defense of my thesis. So, if your student visa is expiring shortly after your final exam(s), then you may need to get a letter from the registrar’s office confirming that you have completed all of the necessary requirements for your degree.

• You won’t qualify for student health insurance anymore
You no longer qualify for the student rate for German public health insurance once you exmatriculate from your university after completion of your degree. So, make sure to consider your options before graduation.

• You can work while you search for a job
While you are looking for a job, you can work in a non-qualifying position (i.e. a position that wouldn’t qualify you for a work visa such as a mini- or midi-job). Thanks to Lynnae for this info!

Once you do find a job that (1) aligns with your degree qualifications and (2) pays enough to support you (as calculated by your local foreigner’s office), you will then have to get a new residency permit – either a German residency permit or an EU Blue Card. But more about that later! Good luck!

P.S. I am currently on the job search myself, so wish me luck as I look for a job that aligns with my new qualifications and pays enough to support me in the comments below! 😉

Moving to Germany, Studying in Germany, Working in Germany

I had four appointments at the Bürgeramt in the month of September. Yes, you read that correctly: four appointments in four weeks.

Here’s a review of each of those appointments, just to give you an idea of how amazingly thorough (and sometimes redundant) German bureaucracy is for us foreigners.

Appointment #1: Ausländerbehörde

https://www.facebook.com/welcometogermerica/photos/a.501304819992555.1073741828.485254714930899/932785913511108/?type=3&theater
My student visa was going to run out on September 30th. However, due to other bureaucratic circumstances, I had to enroll for another semester at my university. So, I needed to renew my student visa for at least 6 more months. When I made this appointment per email, I was told all I need is a new biometric photo, proof of enrollment, my passport, and 80€. However, when I got to the appointment, my case worker spontaneously decided that my Verpflichtungserklärung (which Marco signed 3 years ago saying he is financially responsible for me) is too old. So, I needed to get a new one.
Unfortunately, my case worker doesn’t issue Verpflichtungserkläungen. Turns out, filling out these forms is a full time job for someone else on a different floor of the building. But I couldn’t just go over to her office today. Come on, that would be too convenient! No, I needed to make an appointment, and the earliest available was in two weeks.
Beyonce understands how I felt (source).

Oh, to top things off, my case workers informed me at the end of the appointment that he was going on vacation for the next three weeks. So, my new appointment to renew my visa (that was going to expire on September 20th) was scheduled for September 21st. Perfect.
Appointment #2: Standesamt

This is the only appointment I had during this month that wasn’t at the foreigner’s office. Instead, it was across the hall at the registry office.
After paying the court fees for our marriage, we had to go back to the registry office one last time (this was time #3) to sign some official-looking papers. Unfortunately, our regular case worker called in sick that morning, so everyone was scrambling to find someone we could meet with. 
Suddenly, we were asked to come upstairs. Until then, we had always gone to an office across the hall from the foreigner’s office – an area of the Bürgeramt (citizen’s office) that I have become quite familiar with. In fact, sitting in the waiting room with its dirty white walls and crying babies has started to feel like home. After ascending the staircase and opening the big metal door to the third floor, however, I gasped in awe of what we had been missing out on.
The walls were painted a happy yellow. There were large wooden chairs in the hallway that looked more fit for a throne room than a waiting room. We went into the office of our fill-in case worker, and she had a full wall covered in photos and letters of happy German couples that she had married over the years.
I basically felt like confused John Travolta in the TARDIS (source).

“This is the VIP floor for German couples!” I remarked to Marco. I had never realized that until then, my non-Germanness had gotten us shafted to the foreigner’s floor.
The rest of the appointment really wasn’t all that eventful. The woman said that all of our documents were in order, we signed some papers, and we set another appointment to plan to the ceremony in early December.
Appointment #3: Verflichtungserklärung

Back to the Ausländerbehörde for Marco to take financial responsibility for me. It sounds dramatic, but it’s really not (unless I smash a bunch of car windows with a baseball bat just before jumping on a plane to the U.S.). 
To fill out the Verpflichtungserklärung, Marco had to show his pay stubs from the last three months, his work contract, and our lease for the apartment. The woman then subtracted the rent from his monthly salary to figure out if he has enough money to “support” me.
After some arithmetic, we both signed a few forms, and I got to take a copy of my brand new Verpflichtungserklärung with me for my fourth and final appointment the following week.
Appointment #4: Ausländerbehörde (Again)
This was it: the last appointment. I went alone, and seeing as it was only one week before my residence permit expired, I was a little nervous. Luckily, everything went as it should. I handed my case worker all the necessary documents, and he made a lot of copies and fattened up the file they are keeping on me. 
The interesting part came when he asked me how long I need a visa for. Technically, I am only enrolled for one more semester at my university, which is 6 months. After that, I will probably just switch to a spouse visa, since I am getting married in December. I told him this, and he told me the best news I had gotten all month:
If I take a visa for just six months, I only have to pay 30€ instead of the standard 80€. Not bad! I also just get a sticker in my passport instead of a plastic ID card, which is nice. Now I just have to make sure I have all my documents together by the beginning of March to get my fifth (and final?) type of residence permit…
Culture, Expat Life, Working in Germany

No matter how long you live abroad, you still come across little everyday things that will surprise you. Things that you know would be so simple in your home country, but are confusing, over-complicated, or even archaic in our host country.

Today, I am talking about cashing and depositing checks in Germany versus the USA.

Checks in Germany vs. USA
As I already bragged about multiple times on my blog, I won an academic prize from the DAAD in July, and this prize included a check for 1,000€. Desperately needing the money to pay for my upcoming semester, I took it to the bank the next day to deposit it in my bank account.
To deposit checks in Germany, you (at least at my bank, Postbank) have to bring it to a teller, who will write down the check number and your account number on a little slip of paper, which you will receive a carbon copy of. Then, you wait for the money to appear in your account 3-5 business days later.
Although you can still deposit checks like this in the U.S., it feels quite archaic for me. In fact, just one week after depositing my prize money, I flew to the U.S., where my wonderful grandmother gave me a check for my birthday. 
To deposit the check, I simply drove to the ATM, feed my check into the machine, and made sure that it read the amount correctly. I could see the pending amount in my account almost immediately.
But who cares? If you have been to Germany, then you know that it’s not the most technologically-advanced country in the world. But as long as the system works, it’s fine. Right?
Well, after spending 2 weeks in the U.S., I came back to Germany and checked my bank account to see if my 1,000€ check was ever deposited. It wasn’t. Cue panic.
I searched for my little carbon copy stub that the bank teller gave me, but I couldn’t find it. I stashed it away god-knows-where when I was cleaning out my wallet before traveling to the U.S. Luckily, my proud fiancé had taken pictures of my check on the day of the award ceremony. [Note: I later found the receipt, and all the numbers on it are correctly written.]
So, I called Postbank.
“It’s been over 2 weeks and my check still hasn’t been deposited.”
“Yeah…That’s not normal.”

I gave the customer service woman the check number and date of deposit. It wasn’t in the system. “Just wait for a letter in the mail with more information.”
Yeah. I couldn’t wait. So, I complained via Twitter.
Die @Postbank hat mein Scheck mit meinem Preisgeld vom @DAAD_Germany verloren. Kein Scherz. pic.twitter.com/uLCDr9RfOI

— Courtney Martin (@courtneydmartin) August 1, 2016

The next day, Postbank calls me to tell me that if the money still isn’t on my account. The check disappeared. Of course they don’t outright say that they lost it.
Now I have to ask my university if the check was cashed (Postbank did mention that it was possible that the check was stolen or deposited into the wrong account). If it wasn’t cashed, then I have to ask them to cancel the original check and issue another one. Too bad I already tried contacting my university, and  they said it would be too difficult for them to do that. It’s Postbank’s fault, so they have to fix it.
So, here I am stuck in the middle with no money and no idea who to contact at this point.
Moral of the story? Avoiding using checks in Germany. And maybe bank somewhere else than with Postbank.
Germany, this is an area where you can learn a thing or two from the U.S.
Have you experienced any differences when banking in different countries?
Culture, Expat Life, Working in Germany

Unfortunately, my contract for the part-time job I have had for the past year came to an end. In fact, today was my very last day. I’m not too sad, though, because I will still be paid until the end of September. How? Germany!

I have been working a part-time job at my university since October 2014. The job is great, the pay is great, everything is great. Learning that I had paid vacation days made it even more great.

At just 15 hours per week, I never expected I would have any kind of benefits. Heck, I worked full-time jobs in the U.S., but since I was paid hourly, I never received any vacation days (unless I just wanted to take unpaid time off). So, when I first approached my boss about taking vacation for Christmas 2014, I explained to him that I would work extra hours the weeks prior to and after my time off to make up for the lost hours.

“You could also just use some vacation days,” he explained.

“I have vacation days?!” I asked, confused as to how a part-time student worker could possibly have earned vacation days.

“Welcome to Germany, where workers actually have rights,” he replied with a smile.

Calling HR that afternoon, I was shocked to find out that I had 6 vacation days to use during my first 6 months at my job. After my 6-month probation period, I would earn 24 more days to use within the next year.

Yep, that’s right, 30 paid vacation days!!! Since my time off is calculated at 6 days per week, that is 5 weeks of paid time off! Working 15 hours per week, that’s 75 paid hours!

Unfortunately, my job contract ends on September 30th. However, I won’t be working a day of September. Why? Because I still have 24 days of vacation to use! So, I will be sitting back and sipping mojitos at home as the paychecks continue to roll in for one more month (in reality I will be crying at the computer as I write term papers, but whatever).

How many paid vacation days do you receive per year?