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

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Can I Get a Thumb Press?

Or a finger cross, or a knock-on-wood, or whatever you prefer?

As I wrote in my last post, I am eagerly awaiting a letter which will enable me to pick up my new residence permit. My last appointment was on December 12th, and the woman at the foreigner’s office said it should arrive in 2-3 weeks. Tomorrow is the absolute last possible day that the letter could arrive, we could go to the Amt, and we could still get away in time for the New Year. Did I mention that I’m dying for a vacation? Because I am.

Last night we were sitting here googling cheap flights and AirBNB possibilities, because we thought we could maybe even fly somewhere if the letter had arrived today. Which it didn’t. I’ve been creeping out the window watching for the mailman like a hawk. Or a dog. (Incidentally, the same way we lurked in the window while waiting 2+ hours for our pizza to be delivered on Saturday night.)

So tomorrow. Please, please, pretty please (or pretty bitte) let it get here tomorrow. 2014 was a good year, but it majorly lacked in the vacation department… and I need to see this…

santa lucia1 toscana…immediately if not sooner.

 

So virtual folks… press those thumbs, please. And if anyone happens to see a Deutsche Post person with a letter for me… tell them to get a move on!

Residence Permit Rodeo: “Uninsured”/Insured Edition

Getting German Insurance in just 287237 easy steps. Warning: bureaucratic frustration ahead.

Part of the reason for the radio silence over here lately has been my ongoing quest to renew my residence permission. As it turns out, deportation jokes are a lot less funny when it is an actual possibility, so I didn’t want to write anything about it until it was done and dealt with. I couldn’t bring myself to pretend that everything was a-okay, la la la, when there was a very real chance that I was going to be chased out of the country by faceless German bureaucrats carrying torches made of insurance contracts and syringes instead of pitchforks.

superstitious michael scott

My dreams lately have been delightful, let me tell you. So what exactly happened, you ask? Let’s back up a bit…

If you want to live in Germany, you need to have health insurance. As I planned to work freelance, I was told that I couldn’t get into the public system, and the private system was far too expensive for most people teaching English. Since I had to buy something, I decided to buy a policy aimed at travelers, or expats, that I knew of from my time in Prague. The TEFL course that I attended had recommended it as a good choice, as people coming to Prague should have insurance as well. While I lived there, I was insured through my job, so I let it lapse until I got here. It wasn’t terribly expensive, and could be done easily online, which were my main criteria at that point in time.

When I first applied for my residence permission/freelance work permit, all they required was a copy of my insurance card. The next year, it was the same. No fuss, no muss.

Fast forward two years to this September. When I lived in Nürnberg, a few weeks before my permit expired I received a letter that detailed what I needed to do to renew it, and had an appointment date. Because I moved, I didn’t know if it would be the same here. My permit was good until the end of September, and we ended up having to call them mid-month, to see what the deal was, and only after that did they send on the info for renewal.

I sent everything in as quickly as possible, but a 2-week turnaround wasn’t possible. That meant I ended up having to pay for a 3-month extension while they process my paperwork. Okay, that’s doable.

About a week or two later, I got an email from the foreigner’s office. There was a form attached, that needed to be filled out and signed by my insurance company. The form had a list, and the insurance company had to tick off what was covered. The list included general medical care, dental care, hospitalizations, medical equipment, prenatal care, and so on. I sent it to my insurance and they sent it back right away, but as my policy didn’t cover dental or prenatal care, they left those unchecked.

I sent the form back to the foreigner’s office, and they quickly replied that if not all of the items on the list were covered, then my new residence permit would be denied.

Shit.

Shit. Shit. Shit.

The next month was a flurry of phone calls and emails between us, various insurance companies, and insurance agents. One agent that I found through the Toy Town Germany forums responded to me very quickly, and basically told me that

1) he couldn’t believe I’d gotten away with the other policy for so long and

2) as an American, there was no way I could get onto a German policy.

Great.

The main problem was that I had already been here for three years, “without insurance,” which was insanely frustrating because I did have insurance, it just wasn’t the kind that they wanted. That agent wanted to sell me another expat policy out of the UK, but the reviews online weren’t great, and I wasn’t eager to get another foreign policy and run into this problem again in another two years.

We did look into putting me onto BV’s public insurance, but they said we would have to have been married/together for seven years, and even then there would be a massive penalty for not having a German insurance before.

I spoke to my current insurance company, and it would be possible to add on dental at any renewal point. Plus, since I’d been a continuous member for more than two years, I could actually add on prenatal care as well. Unfortunately, no changes to the policy could be made until it was up for renewal in February, which would be too late.

Finally we managed to find an agent who seemed determined to make something work for us. After a few attempts with different private insurance companies, he found us a loophole that would avoid our having to pay the penalty for being “uninsured” for three years.

The loophole is pretty much this… BV had to sign up for the policy, with me as the covered person. Since he’s obviously had insurance forever, this got us out of having to pay a penalty of upwards of €10,000. Yeah. you read that right.

Private insurance isn’t exactly cheap, and the price has gotten even higher since I don’t fall into the “normal” BMI range (this is what they call “adding insult to injury”), but after visits to the doctor to make sure I don’t have super-AIDS or any other horrible diseases, I am insured.

Moral of the story: if you are coming to Germany, get your ass insured in the German system as quickly as possible. It’s not easy, and it’s not cheap, but it will save you a lot of time and stress down the road. It’s a miracle that my blood pressure was normal when I saw the doctor the first time.

I wish I had known about this three years ago, but since the foreigner’s office didn’t question my insurance the first time around, I had no idea that my policy wasn’t good enough. There was no information I could find that listed what had to be covered. But now we know.

I really wanted to close this post with a triumphant picture of me skipping about with my new residence permit, but I don’t have it yet. I thought I would get it at my appointment last Friday, but it turns out that was just the appointment where I pay €120 to stay here for the next two years. Now I just have to wait for a letter from Berlin with a code that we need to pick up the actual permit.

My agent at the foreigner’s office said that it should come in the next two weeks, so we’re crossing fingers and pressing thumbs that it comes as soon as possible, and we can pick it up without too much trouble around the Christmas holidays. We’re dying to go somewhere over New Year’s, but I’m not leaving the country until I have that card in hand. Better safe than busted at the border!