Health Insurance - Private or Public (TK, AOK,...)

Your German Bank Account in English

July 5, 2018

How to get health insurance in Germany

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Public and Private Health Insurance in Germany

Health Insurance Germany

Two Types of Health Insurance Options in Germany

Health insurance in Germany is a complex topic and it’s also highly personal, so in this article I will discuss the difference between public and private options, and which ones are accepted by the Ausländerbehörde for freelance visa seekers (a caveat: the foreigners office can change things or make a different decision the day of an appointment). 

In Germany there are two types of insurance (private and public): the government-regulated public insurance (GKV) and the private insurance from a German or international insurance company (PKV). First I am going to give a rundown on these two and then I will discuss who qualifies for them. 

Insurance Germany

GKV (Gesetzliche Krankenversicherung) is the government-regulated health insurance, and if you are an employee then this is the insurance you qualify for, and your employer and you share the costs. Employees earning less than 59,400 EUR per year (gross) are usually obliged to take out public health insurance. If your income exceeds this amount, you can still join a public insurance fund but on a voluntary basis.

If you join the GKV you can choose to register with any of the 110 Krankenkassen, which are non-profit associations administering the government health scheme. I am not going to list all 110, I just know some of the bigger named ones are AOK, TK, DAK, SBK, Barmer; they all have to follow the government regulations and laws so all will be pretty similar. Just check which voluntary supplemental programs are offered, and also ask which ones offer English customer service. 

From my research I read that most German residents are members of the public health plans, and the 110 different Krankenkassen all charge the same basic rate of 14.6% plus a possible median supplemental rate from the health insurance fund (E.g. TK has a contribution rate of 15.5%, which consists of the general contribution rate of 14.6% and the fund’s supplemental rate of 0.9%).

German Insurance Card

June 13, 2018

Driver's License Information for US Expats in Germany

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Getting a German Driver's License

Driver's License Information for US Expats in Germany

Converting a US driver's license to a German one 

Driving is an important thing for many people; I remember the excitement I felt when I turned 16 and could start driver’s education classes! The thrill that came from getting your license and knowing you had the freedom to hop in a car and take off in any direction was a powerful one. 

When I moved abroad I didn’t think much about the entire license aspect of living in a foreign country; I also didn’t consider what I would do when my American license needed to be renewed and I wasn’t living or driving in the states anymore. In the Middle East, my American license granted me a license for the country I was a resident in without me needing to take any tests; I popped in to the Department of Vehicles, got my license, went and purchased a used car and I was good to go for my four years there. 

When I moved to Berlin though, things changed for a number of reasons: 
  1. While I was abroad my Washington state license expired- I applied for and received a one-year’s extension on it, but never did travel home within that year to get a new one,
  2. I moved to Berlin with only a valid Middle Eastern driver’s license and these countries aren’t on the reciprocity list for a German license. 
But before I jump into that deep end let me share the laws/rules regarding driver’s licenses for US expats in Germany. The laws regarding licenses are as follows: an American tourist can rent and drive a car in Germany using their American license for the length of their vacation. But, if you are staying in Germany for 6 months or longer you are required to get a German driver’s license.

There are 27 US states (plus Puerto Rico) that have full reciprocity with Germany for driver’s licenses: this means that they can walk into their local German Führerscheinstelle with their US license and some other documents and get a German license without any tests at all. 

June 7, 2018

How to get a Freelance Tax Number in Germany

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Applying for a Steuernummer

Your German Bank Account in English

Getting my Freelancer Tax Number

Once you have your freelance visa in hand, the next step in the process is to go to the appropriate Finanzamt (Tax Office) to fill out the paperwork required to obtain your "freelancer" tax ID. 

Paying taxes in Germany is compulsory for all residents, and you are unable to invoice for freelance work without the so-called Steuenummer. This Steuernummer is different to the tax ID you received in the mail within a week of registering; this registration tax ID, or Steuer-ID, is very important when you apply for the Tax number at the Finanzamt office, but they aren’t the same thing so don’t become confused with the two. Here is more info about the Steuer-ID.

There are a few steps to take to get the Steuernummer and I will list them here, then I will share my experiences at the Finanzamt this past week.  

First, you need to go to the following website, and enter your postal code to find the tax office specific to your address. Even though I live in Alt-Moabit area in Berlin, my tax office is the Mitte one located at Neue Jakobstrasse; just plug in your postal code and your office will pop up. 

You don’t need an appointment at the Finanzamt, but when you arrive you do take a number and have to wait your turn. On Friday at 10.15 am there were three other people in the office besides myself and the woman who assisted me with the visa, Johanna. We were finished by 11 am and I was home by 12 (god love the public transport here in Berlin but it isn’t always the fastest).  


May 29, 2018

My Experience with the Ausländerbehörde

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My Experience at the German Foreigners Office (LABO) in Berlin


Getting my Residence Permit for Freelancing Purposes

The day of the residence permit appointment at the LABO office is definitely stressful, even with a visa specialist at your side, all documents in hand and a set appointment time and number. Without these things, it is even more stressful! I am going to relate what I experienced at my appointment last week in Berlin in the hopes of alleviating some of the unknowns, and thus, lowering the stress of your appointment day.  

When you made the Ausländerbehörde appointment online you received a confirmation email with essential info; this is an example of what the email looks like: 

Sehr geehrte/r Frau oder Herr xxx,

hiermit bestätigen wir Ihnen Ihren gebuchten Termin am 17.05.2018 um 16:00 Uhr.

Ort: Ausländerbehörde Berlin, Standort Friedrich-Krause-Ufer, Friedrich-Krause-Ufer 24, 13353 Berlin

Sachgebiet: Sachgebiet E 2 +++ Haus C, 2. Etage, Warteräume E 2.1 - E 2.4

Dienstleistung: Aufenthaltserlaubnis für Freiberufler und Selbständige - Erteilung (§ 21)
Wartenummer / Vorgangsnummer: 50122

Alle weiteren Informationen entnehmen Sie bitte der Anlage. Bitte drucken Sie sich diese aus und bringen Sie alle darin genannten Unterlagen, Formulare und Gebühren mit.

Sollten Sie den Termin nicht wahrnehmen können, sagen Sie ihn bitte ab:

Mit freundlichem Gruß
Ihre Ausländerbehörde Berlin

This email confirmation above contains all the important details you need: 
  1. Date and time: 17.05.2018 um 16:00 Uhr
  2. Address of the LABO your appointment is at: Friedrich-Krause-Ufer 24
  3. House and floor: Haus C, Etage 2
  4. Your specific appointment number (vorgangsnummer): 50122
This information is essential, but also extremely helpful, because when you arrive at the LABO, you will see a lot of individual buildings with different entrances, some with guards in front with long lines of people waiting to enter. That line of people, and where the guards are stationed at the door, is for those who didn’t make online appointments. Without a booked appointment, these people come at midnight or 1 am to spend the night waiting so they can get a number from the guards; this number allows them either to get inside the building in order to draw a waiting number from a ticket machine or to return at a later time that day with an appointment (last minute openings, cancellations,etc). I’ve never needed to go through that building in the three different times I’ve been at the LABO, so your best bet seems to be making an online appointment and skipping that insanity.  

Foto: BLZ/Markus Wächter

May 17, 2018

How to (not) get a visa for Germany

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Getting (or Not) a German Visa

A Series of Unfortunate Events
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A Series of (Un)fortunate Events *

Last week I mentioned I would share my personal experience as I applied for the freelance visa here in Germany (read it here); I am doing so in order to share what can and does happen with visa applications. 

The point of my sharing this story isn’t to scare people off but to get them to do their research when hiring a visa specialist. Make certain they are fully qualified and highly recommended from many different sources because so much can go wrong when it comes to visas and there is nothing to joke about when the immigration office decides you’ve done something wrong-they will not hesitate to send the police to your door to escort you to the airport and out of the country with minimal notice.

*** Disclaimer: This Guide is not a general recommendation or an advice. Everyone’s experience and situation is different. *** 
For legal reasons, the author and myGermanExpert aren't mentioning the name of the visa assistance company (P******.de) or the website recommending it (S*****.me).

German Visa

When I first learned that Germany offered a freelance visa and that Americans qualify for it, I started doing my research. I read through different blogs detailing what people did to get their visas and I made notes on the process, since I planned on doing this all by myself and knew that many had successfully done so with no assistance. But, once I was here in Berlin and learned that English isn’t spoken at the LABO immigration office by law, and with only having a beginner level in German, I decided that hiring a specialist would be the best move.

There were a few blogs I found that were better than most, detailing the many different steps needed to get your new life off the ground here in Berlin; one of these blogs included a “highly recommended visa assistance company” with the convenience of emailing through the blog. I used the form embedded in the blog and waited to be contacted; a few days later I received an email and learned that this woman has been working with visa assistance for years and would be happy to meet me to discuss things in depth. 

At the first meeting I was impressed by the office and the woman seemed quite confident, plus she was German and has been working in this field for years (according to her). I decided to pay the 400 Euro fee and hired her on the spot without doing more research or looking for other visa specialists; I informed her of the date my tourist visa ended and she assured me she would make all the appointments and “be on top of things.” She also informed me that I could cancel the LABO appointment I had made for later in August because she likes to “have the visa appointment at the very end of the tourist visa,” but she didn’t fully explain why and sadly, I didn’t ask for clarity on the subject. I left her office feeling confident that I would soon have my visa and I started emailing out my resume for jobs so that I could get things started early so I could start work immediately after receiving it.