When being an expat sucks

I love living in the UK, I rarely feel homesick for Germany and generally feel very comfortable and at home here. But there is one thing I hate about living abroad: the bureaucracy. Not on the UK side but on the German side. Luckily as a German, I don’t have to jump through a lot of bureaucratic hoops here, I can live and work here without a visa, and most things work the same way for me as they would for a British citizen. It’s possible that there would be differences if I had to claim benefits but I never had to and I hope I never do.

When N. and I gave notice to get married, we had to get all the paperwork together, and because I had lived here for more than two years at that point, I didn’t need any extra paperwork like a certificate of no impediment. So we got married and all was well. I wanted to take N.’s last name after the wedding and I knew I had to do some extra paperwork for this. If we had gotten married in Germany, declaring my married name would have been part of the wedding ceremony and I could have applied for a new passport in my married name a few weeks before the wedding so it would be ready for me to pick up straight after the wedding, and if I was British, I could have just applied for a new passport in my married name. But I don’t and I am not.

So being a German citizen who got married in the UK, I had to do a married name declaration at the German consulate. Luckily we have one in Edinburgh – there are only two in the whole of the UK so for Germans who live elsewhere, any dealings with the consulate could involve taking time off work, travel and hotel cost. Luckily, all I have to do is hop on a bus and spare the time I need for the appointment. So that is lucky.

I planned for it and prepared everything, and made an appointment for 1 September at the German consulate, just 8 days after our wedding. I had picked up our marriage certificate 2 days after our wedding rather than waiting to receive it in the post and I ignored the advice on the German consulate website that they want all documents by email 2 weeks before the appointment. I figured it was fairly straightforward in our case (all documents were in English or German and neither of us had been married before) so 6 days would have to do (it was fine by the way, no one complained) – I was really eager to get everything done asap.

I was told the name declaration would take about 2-3 months to process – kind of outrageous when you consider it is 2015 and I live in the UK, which isn’t really all that far from Germany. But I was okay with that. We had booked our honeymoon in my married name but we weren’t flying until the end of January which gave me 5 months to do the name declaration (2-3 months) and apply for an express passport (2-3 weeks). Plenty of time, right? Oh, and don’t get me started on how an “express” passport takes 2-3 weeks to process when it is 72 hours for anyone living in Germany. The reason is that they only receive documents by courier every two weeks. In 2015. In the UK. Yup.

Anyway, a little over two months into waiting for my married name certificate, I did start getting nervous. All of a sudden it occurred to me that we might have a problem if something gets delayed or lost and I don’t get my passport on time. For some reason I had assumed we’d just be able to change the last name on my ticket but our travel agent confirmed that this was not the case. If I needed to fly with my maiden name, we’d have to cancel and re-book the tickets. Just as a precaution, he reserved tickets in my maiden name in addition to the ones we already had in my married name.

I called the consulate and was basically told to call them again if I haven’t got anything two weeks later. I did but the person I spoke to the next time wasn’t really very helpful, and I was told they can’t really do much, just wait. So I gave it another two weeks, knowing that they only receive document deliveries every two weeks. Until Wednesday. Wednesday I called them again (of course there is only a one-hour window every day when you can even call them), and I was told that they still hadn’t got it, but that I should get in touch with the authority in Berlin that processes all of these applications for all Germans living outside of Germany. Oh and by the way, next Wednesday they would be expecting the last document delivery before Christmas (on the 9th! And here was I thinking the 17th was kind of early for finishing work before Christmas). At this point I got a little nervous because if I can’t apply for my passport before Christmas, I cannot be sure that I will get it in time so I would have to confirm the tickets in my maiden name (which would cost us an extra £350!) because we couldn’t take the risk of me not being able to go at all. She said she’d check with her colleague and get back in touch with me and she gave me a number in Berlin for me to call. She was actually incredibly helpful and saw that I was under a bit of pressure due to our upcoming honeymoon.

I called Berlin the next day (as it was too late to call them on Wednesday – of course), and again, the person I spoke to was super helpful (somehow I am always surprised when German beamte are helpful and nice). I was told that my name change had been processed and that I could just request the married name certificate at any time – I could do this directly (not through the consulate) – and I should just send them an email. I did that straight away and got a response within a couple of hours.

Later in the day, they even sent me a scanned copy by email! I also heard from the helpful woman at the consulate who told me she had herself got in touch with Berlin now. I told her that I was told my application had been processed and that I received a copy of the document by email already. And just because I thought it couldn’t hurt, I also asked whether the copy would be enough for them to apply for my new passport. I didn’t really expect them to say yes, as German bureaucracy isn’t exactly known for its flexibility, but she emailed me this morning and said that the copy would be fine.

Hallelujah! I made an appointment to apply for my passport for Monday (3 days from now!) so it looks like everything will be okay after all. I should be able to get my passport in time for our honeymoon without a problem now (if they do indeed accept the copy on Monday) and we won’t have to pay an extra £350 for our flights. I was even considering whether flying to Germany in January to apply for my passport would be easier. What a nightmare! Both N. and I had been so stressed about this over the past few weeks.

I am kind of hoping I’ll receive my new passport before Christmas, but even if I don’t, it should definitely arrive no later than the beginning of January. Once all this is dealt with, hopefully I won’t be in such a stressful situation again any time soon. We will have to do similar paperwork once we have children to get them German birth certificates as they will be dual citizens but at least getting them their British passports will be easy. And hopefully, I won’t need another new passport for 10 years!

It’s been so stressful dealing with this in the past few weeks – I cannot believe how long everything to do with German bureaucracy takes for expat Germans even though it is 2015! I will be so relieved once I actually hold my passport in my hands.

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5 thoughts on “When being an expat sucks

  1. Oh je was für ein Stress! Ich bin froh, erst wieder in 10 Jahren einen neuen Ausweis beantragen und zur Botschaft zu müssen. Wegen dem riesen Aufwand und Papierkram werde ich wohl keine deutsche Staatsbürgerschaft für unser Kind beantragen.

    • Extra beantragen musst du die auch nicht. Wenn du Deutsche bist und auch in Dtl. geboren wurdest, haben alle eure Kinder automatisch die dt. Staatsbürgerschaft. Nur die Namenserklärung muss man für ein Kind machen, um für das Kind einen dt. Pass zu beantragen und man kann auch eine Geburtsanzeige machen, wonach eine dt. Geburtsurkunde ausgestellt wird. Wir werden das auf jeden Fall für unsere Kinder machen. So viele Kinder werden wir nicht haben, 1-2x kann man sich das schon antun, finde ich, da es ja für das Kind auch ein Vorteil ist.

  2. I can only imagine the suspense, so glad it all seems to be resolved now and you’ll be able to enjoy the rest of the holiday season without the extra stress.
    But you’re right, I’m also always surprised when German “beamte” are nice and helpful :-)

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