German bureaucracy: short manual for foreigners

Germany is a great country to live in and to study, but there are certain obstacles every foreigner has to deal with. One of the biggest of them is German bureaucracy and the main organization dealing with foreigners – Ausländerbehörde. They can actually be nice and helpful so that you might never encounter problems, but it mostly happens if you live in small cities like Erfurt with not that many foreign invaders. Bigger and more popular cities like Berlin or Frankfurt am Main normally have just one office of this wonderful organization and therefore it is not all so easy and nice there. So, here are some rules every foreigner has to know in order to be able to get and extend residence permit:

1)Don’t break the law. Never ever break the law. For example, there is a rule that to have to get registered as soon as you move to another city, you have one week to do so – never forget to do it. Never forget to get your residence permit extended, go there at least one week before the old one expires – but  also don’t go too early, it makes them angry as well.  In big cities you get a new sticker in your passport on the same day, in small ones you might have to wait for one week.

2)Be perfectly prepared. Look up on the website what kind of documents you need to show them, get everything ready in advance, triple-check the forms you need to fill. They might ask you for something nearly impossible to get – like to show them that you have money for the whole next year of Germany on your account (about 8000 euro) – and that is really tricky if your last name is not Hilton, but there is a way to get even that, just follow the Russian proverb “having 100 friends is better than having 100 rubles”.  In every city the list of the documents you have to provide is a bit different, so be ready for some changes every time you move. Most of my friends had Fikttionsbescheinigung instead of usual Aufenthaltserlaubnis at some point of time – it is an extra paper, not a sticker in your passport, which is valid for three months and means almost the same as the normal residence permit. They give it to you in case one of the less important documents from the list is missing – for example, rent contract. Try to avoid getting it though – you will have to pay extra for it and most of the people like airport personnel do not know it exists.

3)Don’t try to escape the official way. If you come from a country like Russia you know that there are several ways to deal with state officials: 1)official way – long, painful, full of waiting in lines and ridiculous amount of paperwork. 2)not very official, but legal way to do everything with a private company – you have to pay more, but save incredible amount of time and nerves. 3)and unofficial one – everybody knows that policemen has a small salary and three kids to feed and that a secretary in this department likes good expensive alcohol, so greasing the wheel will make your life easier. Forget it. In Germany there is only one way of getting things done – the long, painful and official one, so don’t ever try to bribe anyone in order to make it easier.

4)Know your rights. The funny thing about the officials of Ausländerbehörde is that almost none of them have any clue about the law – I already experienced the situation, in which only one of the four women issuing residence permits for students knew which paragraph of the law they have to refer to. It could mean both for you: that you get extra rights you were not supposed to get or that they would try to trick you and make you fetch additional documents  or don’t give you anything at all. You have to be the one who knows everything – so, read the law and comments on it, be ready to argue and refer to a certain paragraph in order to get certain privileges. It is really not that much –just §16 if you are student, but it is good to print a copy of it just in case. Some friends of mine used a lawyer in order to solve the problems, but I could never afford one and always dealt with everything myself – it is a difficult, but still manageable path.

5)Be ready for surprises. If you are dealing with Ausländerbehörde, surprises await you everywhere. Be ready to fetch additional paperwork, borrow large sums of money, study laws or just wait. For example, I once moved from one city to the other and immediately got registered on the new place. They were supposed to send my file with visa history from one city to the other, but two months later, then I needed to extend my residence permit, they were still not here. It took them another three weeks to finally get my files – they use special kind of post (probably, pigeons) , and so I was a kind of illegal immigrant for two weeks – going around and even working without any kind of visa, always alert of policemen and expecting a deportation helicopter trip to St. Petersburg. Once I had to prove officially that my studies are important career move for me, another time – describe what exactly I am doing during my internship – in details, week per week. So, just be ready.

6)Cooperate with your colleagues.  Talk with other foreign students, listen to their stories, share your experience, support each other.

7)Don’t expect nice treatment. If you come from a nice, service-oriented country – then you probably expect state officials to respect you. Here it is not the case – you may be smart, have a good job, obey the laws and live in this country for years, but a state official in Ausländerbehörde might still treat you as a last drunkard asking for welfare. Here it is like with security in the airport – they are just trying to protect their country from foreigners and being nice is not a part of their job description.

8)Stay calm and polite. Try to stay calm, self-confident and don’t loose your temper whatever they are trying to tell you. Desperate crying in front of the official might help in solving some of the issues, but better try not to do it – most of them won’t care anyway.

9)Don’t get scared from reading all this and try to enjoy it as much as possible. Just be prepared for the worst and expect the best. Life in Germany is worth it in any case.

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