I’m just going to come out and say it. Moving to another country is nothing like the movies.
Sure, you can sell your things, pack your bags, and take off for that new life abroad, but generally speaking, you won’t be staying longer than 90 days or legally working without some sort of residence permit. Of course, all of this depends on which country you are trying to enter and which country you’re a citizen of.
We thought our most recent move (from the Netherlands to Germany) would be a piece of cake! I mean, the hard part is over right? We were already living in Europe – ironically, 40 minutes from the German border. Boy, were we wrong. So, in light of full expat-life transparency, I want to chronicle the time, energy, and frustrations it took to become legal & employable residents of Germany.
TLDR (this might get boring):
- Moving internationally isn’t as easy as it seems.
- Tip #1: Give yourself more time than you think for all the paperwork/permits. Check the consulate websites for specifics.
- Tip#2: Expect to wait. A lot. Send in the papers then try not to think about it.
- Tip #3: Save copies of your applications, confirmations, receipts – anything related to the process. You never know when you might need proof.
- Tip #4: Ask about an international liaison within your company/university.
- Tip #5: The Munich Foreigner’s Office is notoriously bad. I highly recommend this blog post for tips on getting an appointment.
- Tip #6: Don’t give up! Once you’re in your newly adopted country it’s worth it.
Let’s start at the beginning. Finding a job.
The easiest way to gain legal, long-term residency in another country is to line up a job or educational program ahead of time. In our case, Shane received job offers from the universities (NL & DE) before we moved, and this was our starting point.
Tip: Sometimes countries offer a ‘look for a job’ residence permit.
For example, the Netherlands has a zoekjaar (search year) permit, which allows recent graduates or scientific researchers to live in the Netherlands while applying for jobs in the Dutch labor market.
Now, this is where it might get a little boring, but I wanted to describe it in detail for full disclosure and our own posterity. No offense if you skimm. 😜
30 Oct 2019
Shane applied for the postdoc position.
19 Dec 2019
He’s got a Skype interview, baby!
13 Feb 2020
Munich bound for Shane’s in-person interview.
14 Feb 2020
Happy Valentine’s day to us because HE GOT THE JOB!
This is where things start to go sideways.
Our experience moving to Germany was impacted by the coronavirus restrictions put in place by both the Netherlands and Germany. Had these restrictions not been in place, then theoretically this process would have been a lot faster. I’ll try and make the distinction as I go.
12 Mar 2020
The Netherlands imposed the first round of coronavirus restrictions.
17 Mar 2020
Germany imposed a travel ban as part of their coronavirus restrictions, which includes the immigration of all ‘non-essential’ workers.
19 Mar 2020
The paperwork begins! 9 multi-page documents (in German) were sent to Shane via email to start the contract process. Yes, it took over a month for the university to make contact and start the hiring process. Intended start date: 01 May 2020.
23 Mar 2020
The paperwork was returned so the contract could be made and Shane was sent a letter of intent, which can be used to apply for a temporary work visa.
Tip: Apply for a temporary visa at your local consulate before you travel.
Under normal circumstances, Americans (among other non-EU countries) are allowed to enter Germany for 90 days visa-free, BUT this does not give you the right to employment.
Applying for a temporary visa at the consulate before moving is the easiest way to avoid employment delays. In our experience, the websites can be misleading especially regarding entry-visas vs work-visas. For us, the entry visa was not needed but the work visa was. The consulate website should have specific information for each country of origin. Our experience was similar in the Netherlands so I assume EU countries follow roughly the same rules.
Lucky for us, the German consulate in Amsterdam closed indefinitely once the travel restrictions were imposed. 😑 What should have been a relatively straight-forward process became exponentially more complicated. According to the consulate, our (Shane’s) only option would be to apply for a German residence permit (which automatically gives work privileges). This is handled at the local level.
aka We needed to move to Germany during a pandemic.
Shane updated the university – their response? New start date: 01 Jun.
A month later than originally planned (because of Covid-19 restrictions) we moved to Munich! New start date: 01 July.
28 May 2020
We’re here! In Munich, that is.
02 Jun 2020
The registration paperwork was sent to the local authorities. This is step 1 to obtaining a residence permit. Due to the coronavirus backlog, there was a 4 to 6 week waiting period for confirmation.
Munich Tip: Registration is not generally completed via mail. Normally, you would make an appointment at the District Administration Office (also known as KVR).
Due to coronavirus, this wasn’t available at the time. We were also unaware the Munich KVR is notoriously bad. Like, worse than DMV bad.
Anyway, why do we even need to register?
First, it’s illegal not to. If you move you also have to report your change of address.
Second, as a new resident of Germany, you get your tax identification number after you register. You also can’t apply for your residence permit, open a bank account, start a cell phone contract, etc. until you can supply proof of registration. So we applied and we waited! New start date: 15 July
25 Jun 2020
The “Whights” receive proof of registration via snail-mail! Bittersweet, since they spelled our name wrong. Regardless, Shane applied for the residence permit online (normally an in-person appointment) via the KVR contact form and immediately received an email confirmation with a Fiktionsbescheinigung, which implied we can legally stay in the country and Shane could start working.
At this point, he’s also been put in contact with a person from the university who can act as a liaison. They can’t legally speak for you, but can provide guidance and make phone calls on your behalf (in German).
26 Jun 2020
HR rejects the Fiktionsbescheinigung as proof of legal working status. Turns out, the email confirmation only lets us stay in Germany past our 90 days without penalty as part of the coronavirus measures. New start date: 01 Aug.
07 Jul 2020
After an update with the liaison (who has been beyond helpful!), there’s more bad news. It can take up to 8 weeks for the Foreigner’s Office branch of KVR (the Ausländerbehörde) to receive your online application and invite you for an in-person application appointment. During this appointment, they take biometrics and issue the paper (& official version) of the Fiktionsbescheinigung. Until the paper Fiktionsbescheinigung has been issued, there is no legal right to work.
The application was submitted on 25 Jun 2020, putting the 8-week mark at 20 Aug 2020. New start date: 01 Sep.
20 Aug 2020
Can you guess? No word from KVR, so Shane contacted his liaison again.
The week of 24 Aug 2020
After 3 days of trying to call the Foreigner’s Office on behalf of Shane, the liaison got through. Turns out, all KVR contact is should go through the contact form – where Shane originally submitted the application – but it seems that the contact form submissions are not (or very infrequently) checked.
Essentially, we waited 8 weeks for nothing.
Over the course of the week, after multiple phone calls, a few emails, and a letter from Shane’s boss essentially pleading for someone to take his application, Shane’s application was in the hands of an actual human being. They would be in contact soon with an appointment date. And, no. You definitely don’t get a choice in your appointment day and time.
Munich Tip: Call! Call! Call! Call!
*September 2020* Expect to get an automated messaging (in German) that will hang up on you regardless of what number you press, but hang in there! Eventually, the line will open up. You’ll get a different automated message (still in German), but this time when you press a number you’ll be put through to a person.
01 Sep 2020
Shane’s appointment was scheduled! … for 2 weeks later.
15 Sep 2020
After the longest 2 weeks of waiting EVER, Shane’s KVR appointment was a success! He has a Fiktionsbescheinigung and can legally work!
21 Sep 2020
327 days after he applied and 143 days later than expected, Shane is officially a postdoctoral researcher!
Unfortunately, the story isn’t quite finished. I’ve now applied for my own residence permit (as family), but that’s the thing. We’ve waited this long just to APPLY. We’re still waiting on a decision which can take up to 12 weeks. We don’t expect any issues, but in the meantime, we can’t make any definite plans to visit home or move to Ecuador until we have fully established residency in Germany.
Regardless, we’re both *temporary* temporary residents of Germany, Shane’s back to work, and we couldn’t be more relieved!
Living abroad has it’s upsides – the job, the lifestyle, the experiences – but it’s certainly not as easy as it may sometimes seem. It it worth is? Absolutely. Are there struggles? Definitely, and I think it’s good to be honest about it.
To anyone going through residency struggles, hang in there and may the force be with you. 🤪🤞