Monday, January 14, 2013

German Bureaucracy: The good and the bad

The first few weeks of 2013 have flown by in a whirl and I'm only just getting back into the swing of things after the Christmas holidays. A bad case of the winter flu delayed my return to work and led to me spending a week sweating, shivering and coughing in bed, lovely!

We also discovered that the paperwork we have for my husbands residence in Germany was actually incorrect so he had the joy of various unsuccessful trips to the "Ausländerbehörde" (Foreigners Office). 

I also became the sheepish owner of my first BVG transport fine as I got caught on the S-Bahn for not having a valid ticket :(      

In all, January 2013 has opened my eyes up to some of the good and the bad of German bureaucracy. I'm quite impatient to start my rant so let's get the bad out of the way first.

I've lived in Spain and suffered the disorganised and extremely unhelpful bureaucratic process there.  I've had so many disappointing and frustrating experiences so I don't think it can get much worse anywhere else. For a little insight into what it's like trying to get anything sorted in Spain, check out this great fictional short film which, although exaggerated for dramatic purposes, sums it up quite nicely! 

Bureaucracy is far better in Germany but there are still some loopholes and unnecessary processes that we've experienced. For example, in order for us to register as a resident (Anmeldebestätigung) we needed to show a contract for a house BUT in order to get a contract for a house we needed to show our Anmeldebestätigung form...humm. That was a tricky one to start off with back in April 2012.

Last year my husband was mistakenly given a form that said he was European and had the right to live and work in Germany. So, we spend months thinking we had everything sorted (we didn't find out because he was doing freelance work and didn't need any docs). We found out when confused immigration officers delayed us leaving Germany for a trip to England as they were holding his Mexican passport in one hand and the form in the other and pondering how it was possible. After a long wait and lots of phone calls, they told us we needed to get the correct papers and sent us on our way. To their credit they were very nice and apologised for making us wait whilst they sorted out the issue.

So, the beef I have with the Ausländerbehörde office is the unnecessary waiting around we had to do and the unclear instructions as to what you actually need to take with you. In fact, I'm quite disappointed with the general attitude of staff towards foreigners in all the official offices we've been to. Most people reluctantly speak English (even though most of them can) and you have to bully them into helping you. I understand the idea that you are in Germany so you should make an effort to speak German but they should give people a chance before passing judgement and putting up their barriers. Loose the attitude people!  

It is possible to book an appointment at the Ausländerbehörde but the earliest one you could book now is April 2013! The only other option is to arrive at the crack of dawn to line up, get a ticket and then wait hours to speak to someone. You'd think that in a country as organised as Germany, they would have a better system.

The first time hubbie went, it was closed (his fault as he didn't check the holiday schedule even after I warned him!). The second time, he arrived too late (even though he arrived early) and there were no more tickets left for that day! The third time was looking good. He got his ticket but was told that I had to be there as well to sign the forms. Luckily I was off work but unluckily I was shivering in bed with the flu!

So, I had to drag myself out of bed and head on over to meet him. I was so out of it and drugged up on flu medicine, that I didn't pay attention to the date. I was stopped by ticket checkers on the S-Bahn who informed me that my transport pass was two days out of date. No sympathy for my plague-like appearance, Bam there's your 40 Euro fine madam. Damn it!

The waiting room was not the nicest experience (no one wants to sit there for hours normally, let alone while you're running a fever). The worst thing of all was that when we eventually got to speak to someone they told us that we needed our marriage certificate translated! Aggghhhh. So we went home with our tail between our legs. What a waste of time!

A week later, armed with our translated certificate and all the other numerous forms we had been told to bring, we went back (woke up at 5am) and 6 hours later walked out of there with a permit number for an impressive 5 years, woo hoo (even though we only asked for two)! It only cost about 30 euros which is incredible considering that for two years in the UK he would need to pay over 800 pounds and for two years in Spain about 200 Euros. Success!

The experience that really impressed me about Germany though was my visit to the doctors. It was extremely easy and efficient. I felt like a celebrity in the posh doctors office that had fresh fruit and drinks as well as very comfy leather chairs in the designer waiting room. I didn't get chance to wait there though as not a moment after my bum touched the seat, I was called by the doctor who examined me and prescribed my medicine and the doctors note for work. I was in, out and back in bed within a hour. That's what you get when you have a functioning private healthcare system I suppose and not the grotty, plastic, over-crowded waiting rooms I'm used to.    



  1. The waiting is the worst part - I had to switch visas to switch jobs, but I couldn't switch jobs until my new visa came through, which took nearly 4 months. I started my new job anyway and so far there hasn't been a problem, but we were all pretty nervous about it.

    I also get frustrated with the language barrier there sometimes. I am trying to learn German BUT out of ALL places in Germany, people should be willing to speak English at hte FOREIGNER's office.

  2. Eesh what a story.
    We have had some surprises with the Ausländerbehörde. Keep getting told of new tests to take which mean delays and such. Arguing with the woman in fluent German for half an hour about whether the piece of paper that explicitly says I can speak German is good or not.

    The doctors are nice because the rest of the population uses them A LOT. Only foreigners use the Ausländerbehörde and noone would care (or notice) if we all just disappeared. Oh well, I hope you guys got what you needed. I expect only a few more weeks for my permanent status. Then hopefully not have to deal with them again for a while.

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  5. I completely agree with the Ausländebehörde part. Every time I was bullied and harrassed into unreasonable waiting times. Of all foreigners in Germany, they have least respect for educated people who come here, work pay taxes and be a part of german economy. I was harrassed 3 times in Munich when I wanted to apply for Niederlassungserlaubnis(Permanant stay), the women at the sevice desk in Munich ABH was justlooking for lame excuses to indefintely postpone even accepting my application, completely ignoring the fact I had all papers with me. The excuse Becuase I moved from Berlin to Munich 2 years ago "My papers need to be sent over from Berlin to Munich" 3 Months have gone by the papers are still not there and when I asked them when the papers would be there, they give ridiculous waiting times of 1 year or 9 months. My life is very restricted with my time limited work permit, I can't ger a car or any other loan till I have unlimited staying permit. I am software engineer and planning to write up my own blog about it.