Getting Married in Germany: Practically Speaking

Whoops, it’s been nearly seven months since my last post. Didn’t really intend that, started a 2020 recap post somewhere along the way that I never finished, and though this feels a little bit like tonal whiplash if someone stumbled across this blog and just scrolled through, oh well, I’m going with it.

It’s been nearly a year since we got married and I thought if anyone else was looking to go through the process, I’d give a little bit of insight into how it looked for us, as well as how much it cost. As with any post here that has to deal with the oh-so-romantic aspects of German bureaucracy, it’s important for me to say this:

Via: https://giphy.com/gifs/theoffice-the-office-tv-secret-santa-BXOEmFSzNkOObZhIA3

Disclaimer: This is how it worked here, in our corner of Franconia, in the year of our Lord, 2020, for a German citizen and an American who’s been here 10 years (9 at the time), with a well-established working permit (now permanent resident), and depending on where you are, your mileage may vary. There are differences on what might be required depending on what German Bundesland you’re in, which district, which official you’re dealing with, what moon phase you might be in, and how quickly Germany gets knocked out of whatever football championship is currently ongoing. Also, pandemics are apparently a thing now so already-terrible government office hours are, surprise!, even worse than before.

Ahem. Moving on.

As I mentioned in the first wedding post, we started looking at planning in February, visited some locations, and were pretty darn close to putting down money. Thankfully we didn’t go through with it, and then the world shut down and we started to regroup. Given the fact that we had all these documents that needed renewing in October/November, we decided pretty quickly that either way we’d do the civil ceremony in 2020, and play it by ear with how we celebrated at the time.

In mid-April, BV reached out to the local registrar to see what documents we’d need, and what the process would be. Within a few days we had our list, and paid a small fee of €25 for the privilege of the information.

We needed:

  1. A certified copy of BV’s birth certificate (ordered from the city of Nürnberg for ca. €13)
  2. A long-form certified original of my birth certificate, which must be issued no more than 6 months out from filing date (ordered online from the state of Wisconsin with postage for $33)
  3. A German translation of said birth certificate from a certified translator (€35.04, and translator found via the official portal http://www.justiz-dolmetscher.de)
  4. Both of our current valid passports (or BV’s ID card would do)
  5. My current work/residence permit
  6. A sworn affidavit of my current marital status and allowance to marry (done in front of registrar in the office)
  7. Express declaration of both of our domiciles*
  8. Proof of income for both of us (i.e. pay slips for the last 3 months)

*The domicile thing had us both a bit confused, but basically what it broke down to was your birthplace and where you live now. For me it was fairly uncomplicated as the only place I lived in the U.S. was in Wisconsin, and they really don’t care how often you moved within the state or where your last address was. So when we had our appointment I said yes I was born in Wisconsin, that’s where I lived, now I live here, done.

Another thing to note: Bavaria is a bit different, in that they only require the affidavit that you are free to marry. As far as I know, in the other German states, you do need official documentation of this from the U.S. Not mad about missing out on that one.

Edited to add: upon publication I was informed that as of 2021, swearing an affidavit is allowed in all areas of Germany without documentation. Again, if it’s 2022, Venus is in retrograde, or you live in Landkreis OberUnterDorfau, they may do things their own way so always speak to your friendly local Beamter*innen.

So we gathered up our documents, I ordered my birth certificate at the beginning of May and that arrived in about three weeks, I had it translated, and we submitted everything first via email/pdf. Then, we waited.

A couple of weeks went by and we got a call from the registrar that everything looked good, so the next step was for us to come in and have an appointment to go through everything, me to swear the affidavit, etc. She was very adamant that if I was not a native German speaker, we MUST have a translator as we were doing a Very Legal Proceeding, and BV was not allowed to translate for me when necessary. I appreciate her commitment to her job and not getting accidentally sold for a small herd of cattle or something, but I know from other people that they have gotten away with less than perfect German and no translator so again… variance.

The gal who had translated my birth certificate was unable to join us, so it was back to the portal and I was lucky to find a lovely woman who was a dual citizen born in the U.S. and normally worked at conferences, etc., but was free to join us for several hours one afternoon in July at our appointment. We were there for nearly three hours going through all the paperwork, and reading in great detail, because both the laws of Germany and Wisconsin (that domicile again), the laws that apply to Wisconsin/Germany that would or would not preclude us from marrying.

Fun fact! In the state of Wisconsin, you can legally marry your cousin IF either the bride is old enough that children are no longer a possibility or the groom is proven to be impotent.

You’re welcome for this knowledge. I paid the translator €271.44 to learn it. I accept both Paypal and snacks, if you’re so inclined. But again, the translator was really great, super helpful, and said afterwards that our registrar was, in her experience… unusually detailed.

At that point all the t’s were crossed, all the i’s were dotted, and our paperwork was sent off to the Oberlandesgericht Nürnberg, or the Nürnberg High Court. Three weeks later in mid-August, our registrar got the okay from them, we submitted the final fee of €185, and were free to set our date for our civil ceremony. And that was it.

All told from first contact with the registrar to ceremony date, the whole thing took 5 months and one day, with a cost of about €557, give or take a Euro for whatever the dollar exchange rate was in May last year.

As far as the ease of the process goes, for me after 10 years here and the wealth of bureaucratic hoops I’ve had to jump through due to my own error or just life, this was SHOCKINGLY EASY. I know people have gone abroad specifically to avoid the pain of marrying in Germany, but if you’re not under an enormous time crunch, I really can’t say that any part of this was problematic for us. I’ve also never longed for a big, fancy wedding with all the trimmings, so keeping it just us was actually kind of perfect. Yes we still do want to celebrate at some point in the future with other people, but as it’s (checks watch) a year and a half into the pandemic and it’s just now maybe? a little bit? getting better here, we have no idea when that will be. For now, we’re married, and that’s what we wanted.

Bonus pic from our honeymoon. 🙂

Sound like fun? Sound like a nightmare? Leave a comment and let me know where you stand… ’til the next time (hopefully sooner than six months from now…)

Residence Permit Rodeo: Wait, what?

Oh residence permits… I so missed writing about you. The drama, the intrigue, the will-they or won’t-they…

But here we are. It’s been about two and a half years since I wrote one of these posts and the time has come to once again partake in the joys and wonders of German bureaucracy. Here’s what we know so far…

The Players:

H: me, still in Germany, still wanting to be here, still paying taxes, still thinking someone knows what’s going on.

BV: still helping me navigate arenas of German bureaucracy that a normal German citizen never has to deal with, and therefore often as confuzzled as I am.

Fr. C: my former Beamter*, responsible for doing all my paperwork and issuing my visa in 2014. Now onto something else, presumably, which is probably best for her.

Shiny New Herr (SNH): my new Beamter, who I will saying nothing further about lest risking a karmic smackdown.

The Scene:

Landkreis Fürth, 2014

Fr. C (paraphrased): your new permit is good for two years. If you do anything different for work, you must let us know. Since you are now registered in our system, you’ll receive all your paperwork automatically next time you are ready to renew.**

H and BV: thank her profusely and skip out door to not worry about nonsense for two more years, confident in the fact that German efficiency would deliver the appropriate documents to our door in about one year and nine-ish months.

Landkreis Fürth, mid-2016

H: my permit is up in November, so we should get something in September or so, don’t you think?

BV: yeah that’s what she said last time.

Landkreis Fürth, October 2016

H: soooo, we still haven’t gotten anything… it’s up next month, and we’re supposed to go to the States in December. That seems really short. Maybe we should email Fr. C or call her?

BV: probably, let’s send her an email.

*crafts email and hits send*

H: uhoh… guess who just got a ‘this person doesn’t exist’ auto-reply?

*checks Landkreis  website*

H: ummm… Fr. C is no longer on here. And there’s no contact info for a new person. That seems… ominous.

*a flurry of phone attempts and emails to assorted addresses that WERE listed follows*

Landkreis Fürth, November 2016

SNH (via email): we don’t normally do this by email but I will give you an appointment in December and we can discuss your travel plans.

H: we’ve had tickets to Wisconsin booked since APRIL. If there’s a possibility that we can’t go, what are we going to do?

BV: I don’t know. I don’t get this.

Landkreis Fürth, December 2016

BV: Fr. C told us two years ago that the information would be sent automatically but we didn’t get anything.

SNH: well not yet, it would have come.

BV: but her permit was up last month?

SNH: yes. And it takes 6-8 weeks to process the new application.

BV and H: ????

SNH: so we’ll give you a temporary extension for four months, you can travel with that and we’ll start processing the new application. You’ll get information about your next appointment and what you need to bring with when it’s ready. That’ll be €30.

BV: is there anything that we can do to make this easier? I mean, it would be better if we didn’t have to do this so regularly every few years (nervous laughter).

SNH: sure. If she had a normal working contract, not a freelance contract. Or get married. I’ve never had a case like this.***

*BV and H leave office*

H: is that normal advice? Doesn’t seem like they should run around recommending marriage as a means to an end here.

BV: yeah but a working contract would be nice.

H: true. And why don’t they send the stuff in advance if they know it takes that long to process? Shouldn’t it go out in advance?

BV: that made no sense.

Which brings us to…

Landkreis Fürth, April 2017 (I think you know where this is going)

H: okay, now my extension is up at the end of this month and we still haven’t gotten any new information.

BV: I’ll give them a call

*BV calls at the beginning of the month. SNH is on vacation (naturally) for Easter and won’t be back until the 18th. His colleague however, digs out my file.*

SNH’s colleague: I have her file but it doesn’t say anything. But I’ll send you an email with the usual documents that are needed for the next appointment. You can gather them and then get in touch with SNH when he’s back.

Landkreis Fürth, April 18th, 2017

BV: hi I’m calling about Frau H’s application… the extension is almost up and we still haven’t… uhuh…. uhuh…. super…. uhuh….. okay, yes let’s do that.

*BV gets off phone*

BV: okay… we have an appointment next week and we can bring all the things that were in that email. But SNH applied for the longer-term permit this time and he hasn’t gotten it back yet.

H: longer-term? Like… the permanent residence one?

BV: I think so.

H: well that explains the thing about the retirement insurance. But…

BV: permanent would be great, right?

H: yeeeeees. Yes it would. But I didn’t even really think that was an option.

BV: why not?

H: because I haven’t looked into it in ages, and it seems like every time I read the account of someone else getting it, it was like… a THING. Yeah I’ve been here more than five years but there were interviews. Copious paperwork, language tests… I don’t have any of that stuff. There’s no way he could just request it, and ta-da! That’s way too easy. I was planning on another 2-year extension and then see what happens. Plus, I’m freelance and that further complicates things. And what happens when that gets rejected? Can we just get a 2-year one instead? Or do you get one application at a shot and then I have to go?

BV: I have no idea, but we’ll see what he says.

Fin.

So that’s where we are at the moment. Would I be goddamned delighted to have an unlimited residence permit? You bet your sweet ass I would. But my pessimistic side thinks that there is no way in God’s green earth that this could possibly happen nearly completely by accident. Even writing this feels slightly like tempting fate but this is how it goes sometimes… and that’s what blogs are for. Which means that I’m just sitting over here pressing my thumbs, and waiting.

If you made it through all of that, I commend you, you trooper. And for that, you shall be richly rewarded with a picture of Marry die Katze enjoying the spring air on her personal balcony.

Marry says, “don’t deport the Bringer of the Noms!”

Disclaimer: this is merely my experience. I have never met two foreigners here that have had the same (or even close-ish) experience when dealing with this nonsense. The only other non-married, non-contracted Americans I’ve run across have had EU passports, which I only resent slightly, the lucky bastards. You can ask me for advice on these things but as you can read above, it’s basically the blind leading the blind, stubborn persistence, and a dash of dumb luck.

*Beamter = public official

**Because my previous residence permit had been issued by the city of Nürnberg, we were mistaken in thinking that my registering a new address in a new city would be relayed to the foreigner’s office. We had to call them to get my renewal started, whereas in Nbg my renewal information had come automatically after the first year. See more on that whole friggin’ circus here.

***I’m hoping that this statement was due more to his relatively young age than anything else. I’m hardly the only freelance foreigner in this country.

Save

Save

Now For The Next Plans…

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my latest visit to the Foreigner‘s Office here in Germany. I’m happy to report that this year’s application was successful, and yesterday I picked up my fancy new residence permit. Previously all my visas/res. permits were stickers that were put into my passport, but Germany has switched over to these more credit card-esque ones….

Via

They’re biometric cards now, so they’ve got your fingerprints and all that fun stuff stored on them as well. My picture is truly frightening, so you don’t get to see my real one. Plus you know, personal information and stuff. 

The pick-up process was pretty easy again, I had an appointment time, and was in and out within 10 minutes. That’s not bad, especially as I did go to the wrong floor, and was only saved by the guy who gave me my number passing through the room and telling me I was in the wrong place. To be fair, last year I did have to go to the third floor, but now you stay in the main floor and wait for your number when picking up. Some times it would be helpful to understand more when people speak to you very quickly in German. I should probably do something about that. 

But the main thing that I’m excited about, is that my permit is for two years this time, which is great. As always, I have no idea how long I plan on staying here, but for now things are going pretty well. The question is: what can I do in the next two years here? So I’ll pose this question to you all….

If you’ve never been to Germany, what would you want to see? (Don’t say Neuschwanstein, I’ve been there three times. But thanks!)
And fellow German expats/actual Germans, what do you recommend??

 

Foreign Police Party!

I’ve wanted to write this for quite some time, but in my usual lazy fashion, it just kept falling to the wayside. But yesterday morning I got to make my second visit to the Ausländeramt – aka foreigner’s office – here in Nürnberg, and that reminded me to get back on this one. 

I would like to stress that this has only been my experience, so if you’ve had a ‘sunshine and daisies’ experience at the Czech Foreign Police, that’s lovely. Well done. For me, and for most of my friends, it was pretty much a miserable experience, and this is how it went. 

Some of my friends were lucky, and had a family friend, or someone from their school who went along with them and helped them deal with things. My school took care of my work permit for me, but I had to go and apply for my 1st visa and subsequent residence permits on my own.

HOWEVER, having someone along for the ride does not mean that it actually helped my friends. For example: one guy applied for his renewal residence permit last year in May (he’s been in the Czech Republic for *I think* 3.5-4 years now), and he actually was just there yesterday as well, trying to pick it up. AFTER A YEAR AND FOUR MONTHS. It’s not ready yet. He keeps getting extensions, and they keep saying it’s not ready. Basically last year they reorganized how they processed things, and they’re now backed up by over a year. It’s laughable, it really is. I’m not saying we make things easy for people to move/live in the U.S., but this is really impressive. 

In that spirit, let me present my experiences at the Czech Foreign Police vs. the German Ausländeramt. Enjoy. 

 The Czech Republic

1) Notice that you have 2-3 months left on your current visa and/or residence permit.
2) Decide on a day to go to the Foreign Police (F.P.) and try to renew; request off of work for said day.
3) Talk to friends and compile a list of what documents they needed on their most recent visit to the F.P., and gather said documents. 
4) Talk to receptionist at work whose job it is to help with this nonsense, and discuss what could possibly be needed.
5) Try to go to bed early the night before, but inevitably get kept awake somehow.
6) Wake up far too early and yet later than you planned.
7) Get to scary F.P. office in the middle-of-nowhere Prague 10 at 6am, and find yourself to be about the 50th person in line.
8) Wait until 8am, getting more and more annoyed as the 49 people ahead of you are joined by 1-5 of their closest friends. Think that placeholding should really not be allowed.
9) Wait patiently as they start letting people in the building by groups of about 25.
10) Get very pissed when you realize that they’ve stopped doing that, and people are just walking up and passing everyone still waiting in line.
11) Go in and join the inside line. Wait another 1-2 hours.
12) Get to window and give them the printout in Czech saying that you’re there to renew your residence permit.
13) They give you a number and you find a seat. Ideally the seat is not near any kids, anyone smelly, or the door. This is also known as the Holy Grail Seat. Because it doesn’t exist. 
14) Check the status of your number on the electronic board. Note that of the 12 counters, only 4-6 are manned. 3-5 are doing one set of numbers (for example: 100s), and one is doing something in the 600s. Your number is 954. Decide that this does not bode well.
15) Wait.
16) Wait.
17) Still waiting. Be thankful at least that smoking isn’t allowed inside. Enough gets in through the open door. 
18) Get slightly murderous while watching people not work. Wonder why they chose to have the counters behind a big glass wall. Sadists.
19) It’s 3pm, aka closing time. Because they’re working so hard. They aren’t to your number yet either. Awesome. Go home, because you get to do this again.
20) Repeat steps 7-19 on another day, preferably one when they’re open until 5.
21) Finally get called in after 2 days and 15+ hours of your life are gone.
22) Go in, hand over papers.
23) Get a stamp and told to come back in 60 days.
24) Get no indication if you have everything necessary, but get scorned for not speaking Czech. Pointing at calendars to tell you when to come back will probably be involved.
25) Leave after your 2-5 minute exchange.
26) Wait 60 days.
27) Cancel another days worth of lessons to go back.
28) Repeat steps 5-11.
29) Get to window and give them printout in Czech saying that you’re there to pick up your new permit.
30) Woo! A 100s number this time!
31) Wait 1-2 hours.
32) Get called in, get stamped, good to go for another year.
33) Go home and take a nap. 

I had to do that three times, as my passport expired and I needed to get a new permit for my new passport. It was just as delightful every time. EVERY TIME.

Yeesh. I can feel my blood pressure rising just thinking about it. Okay, so on to…
Germany

1) Get a letter notifying you that your residence permit is up in 90 days. It asks that if you do/don’t want to renew, to notify them via email, and has the necessary application for the new permit enclosed.
2) Send email/application back, stating that you do want to renew, and would like an appointment, but please be aware that you are on vacation from August 10-30.
3) Return from vacation to find that your appointment is next week on Monday – or – your first real day back to work.
4) Cancel Monday’s classes. 
5) Gather items on the list that they provided in the appointment notification letter, which tells you exactly what you need to bring with.
6) Arrive 10 minutes before your 9:40 appointment, get a number and instructions to go to the 3rd floor.
7) Get in elevator with a family. Elevator goes down to basement level, the family exits. The elevator goes up, stopping at floors 0 and 1 for no apparent reason.
8) Reach 3rd floor, where your number is already up, run down the hall to the correct office.
9) Hand over all documents.
10) Attempt bad German. Girl takes pity on you and explains the parts you don’t understand in equally bad English.
11) Learn that your ‘biometric’ passport photo (what you asked for), is not biometric. It’s a bit small, but the girl thinks it will be okay.
12) Pull out two other photo options, which are also too small.
13) Get told that you can go take another photo, or try with this one. Decide to try it. May or may not be a bad idea.
14) All documents are copied and returned to you.
15) Get another sheet with a new appointment in six weeks, where hopefully you can pick up the new permit. 
16) Leave after 20 total minutes. 
17) Hit Starbucks on the way home.

Now, because I’m writing this, and because I’m basically in awe of how much more organized/civilized the whole process is here, I think it’s safe to assume that my photo won’t be okay and I’ll get kicked out of the country.

Meh. It’s my own fault for signing that two-year cell phone contract. 

And in case you’re thinking that I’m exaggerating about the F.P. in Prague… have a look….
 

They opened a second office to try and help this situation. As a resident of Prague 2, I went to the new office, and let me assure you that it was no better.
 

My Official "Ugly American" Post

So I didn’t intend for this posting to be of this nature, but it happened and I feel like this was such a ridiculous experience that it would be a disservice to myself not to post it. And writing it was pretty therapeutic when I had nothing else to do for 7 hours. So here goes, the complete version of my meandering thoughts whilst trapped at the foreign police….

A true rarity today: a situation where Americans are lumped in with Russians, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Indonesians, etc. Needless to say, something we aren’t used to. My head theme all day has alternated between “what I wouldn’t give for EU/dual citizenship,” (Ok), and “I am American, and this is bullshit” (Not Ok). I admit that once again my sense of entitlement reared it’s ugly head. But, this is ridiculous. In line for 1.5 hours (which should have been longer, I accidentally skipped), only to sit here and wait. And the numbers I need to move are changing maybe every 20 minutes. At this rate, being that we are at numbers 30/33 at 12:30, there is no way they’re getting to me at number 63 before they close at 3. I want to shoot myself. All I need to do is hand them papers, this cannot be this hard. Really.

I’ve also spent the last 3 hours trying to identify the smell in here. Mostly I’m just happy it’s non-smoking because otherwise we would have been fogged out by now. Enough smoke drifts in from the open door to make it have that delightfully ashy scent. Also, I don’t even know if I’m waiting for the right thing. I google translated “I need to renew my visa,” showed it to the policewoman at the information window, she gave me a number, and here I am.

It would have been nice to have someone with me as I sit here for hours contemplating why people insist on wearing nylons with open-toed shoes. Or someone who spoke Czech. Or someone who would do this for me in general. But can’t have it all. Really, I would have even rather (cost aside) gone to Germany to apply again. To have an appointment and be in and out in 10 minutes would be amazing. Why isn’t this by appointment too? I mean, really? Because I love having to take a whole day off in my current financial state to sit in a smelly room all day. Grumble.

…. Sounds like fun, right? In follow-up, I did get to apply, but I didn’t end up leaving the FoPo until 3:45 that day. Had to cancel one private lesson and fly to my second. Good times. In addition, despite my friends being under the impression that a renewal only takes 2 weeks, I was told to come back in 60 days to pick it up. Which means there will be a lapse of a little over a month in between my old one and new one. Supposedly we get another 90 days as tourists when they expire, but I haven’t verified this anywhere and am a little nervous about wanting to travel anywhere. I was also hoping this would be good until next May, but I’m thinking it will only be good until January as my passport expires. Annoying. But I guess these are the prices you have to play when you’re trying to play the living abroad game. Which overall, I’ve been winning at. So shush.