Connecting to community during covid

Connecting to community during covid

Not only does being trapped at home mean that you’re staying safe and you’re helping save other people’s lives by not spreading the virus – it also means you have a new opportunity to reconnect with yourself, your friends and family, and your interests. -Nicole, The Expatcast

The 2020 pandemic has been a tough situation for all communities, and now that we are in 2021, it is still a part of our lives we are all adjusting to. But I find it to be not all bad, it is creating a new level of creativity.

Back in the summer my friend, fellow expat in Germany and dynamite podcast host, had a virtual quaratine sitdown to discuss our optimistic thoughts on the topic.

Have a listen and let me know what you think or if you prefer a visual option, check out the Youtube version ( kindly excuse the lazy lockdown video look) ⤵️


How to get Permanent Residency in Germany

How to get Permanent Residency in Germany

Endlich, after many years and exams I have finally received my Permanent Residency in Germany. So now I can (with confidence) break down the details for any of you who are also eager to secure your German home for the long run.

💡 What is a Permanent Residence permit?

A German Permanent Residence Permit, also referred to as a Settlement Permit, once received, allows its owner to stay in Germany indefinitely* and gain access to the labor market.

*with some conditions to keep in mind

  • If you leave Germany for more than a period of longer than six consecutive months, it will expire.
  • It’s not the same as having German citizenship, but it holds more security than having an Aufenthaltserlaubnis.

🤔 What are the Requirements for a permanent residence permit?

Non-EU and non-EEA citizens (as well as UK citizens) living in Germany are able to apply for permanent residency after a period of at least five years in the country (although there are the occasional circumstances that allows earlier qualifications, which I describe briefly below).

Fast-track permit cases

  • Sometimes it is possible to receive your Permanent Residence Permit in just two years. Usually this would apply to those who graduated from a German university and then lived and worked in Germany for two years after.
  • Individuals married to German citizens can also apply for a Permanent Residence Permit after three years.
  • Finally, another opportunity to receive a Permanent Residence Permit in under the normal five years is open to those who are highly qualified in a specific technical/research area.

Normal permit cases

The above exceptions are never 100% certain, unfortunately, so most often one will qualify after five years, as long as they are able to meet the following requirements:

  • You have held a Aufenthaltserlaubnis for a minimum of 5 years.
  • You are able to support yourself without benefit payments (your working contract and typically the last three months salary slips will be requested)
  • Proof of current and paid health insurance (and documentation showing at least 60 months of social security contributions)
  • You hold the proper permissions to gain employment in Germany
  • You have a completed B1 language exam and Einbürgerungstest (Kenntnisse über die Rechts- und Gesellschaftsordnung sowie die Lebensverhältnisse in Deutschland), which is an exam testing you on basic knowledge of common law and life in Germany.
  • You have sufficient living space for yourself and your family (a copy of your rental contract is requested)
  • You do not have a criminal record

I personally am an individual employed by a company, but in case you are self-employed, there’s a special case for you too. If you’re looking to dig up some tips on this, here are the details I’ve been able to confirm for you:

As a self-employed person, you can apply for permanent residency after three years.

In order to qualify, you must be able to provide a valid residence permit for self-employment, have already successfully set up your business and prove that you have the financial stability to support yourself indefinitely.

It is important to keep in mind that the German tax system does distinguish between Freelancers and Self-Employed persons (commercial activity). So if you are only freelancing, unfortunately you will not qualify for the reduced application period.

📝 The Application Process

It is important to know that this process is never exactly the same for every person, and once in a while individual circumstances can change things up a bit (speaking from personal experience…), but generally speaking, this is how it should go.

So once you have confirmed you meet all the previously mentioned bullet points, it’s time to go grab your application form, the Antrag auf Erteilung der Niederlassungserlaubnis, from the local immigration office and make an appointment.

Then make sure you have all the following required documents on hand before your appointment:

  • Completed application form
  • Proof of current and paid health Insurance
  • Valid Passport
  • B1 level German certificate and Integrations course / Einbürgerungstest certifcate
  • 1 x biometric photo
  • Certificate of German degree (if applying for a fast-tracked Permanent Residence Permit as a graduate of a German university)
  • Marriage Certificate (if applying for a fast-tracked Permanent Residence Permit due to marriage)
  • Proof of being financially secure (bank statements for employed individuals and tax returns for self-employed)
  • Employment contract
  • Proof of accommodation and registration
  • Professional license (if applying for fast-tracked Permanent Residence Permit as a result of being highly skilled in a field)
  • Money for your permit fee (The standard fee for a Permanent Residence Permit is about €135, for self-employed people, it is €200…prices do very, keep this in mind!)

Depending on the grounds of your application, next to having your documents will be checked, you may be interviewed about your application and intention for long term residency. (This was a bit intimidating in my interview but in the end, it worked out great.)

One of the reasons why I adore Germany so much is down to the basic fact that, if you have all the correct paperwork, you are 9 times out of 10 guaranteed to receive what you want. And this fact has always played out for the best in my experience.

And finally, the big question to sum up all the excitement: how long does it take to get a residence permit in Germany?

To which this answer is, of course… it ALWAYS varies. 😛

In my experience, this particular Amt does like to take its precious time getting my documents and permits to me, so it’s tough to say precisely how long yours will take.

They do say that on average, from the time of your interview appointment it will be around 2-3 weeks for your Permanent Residence Permit to be processed and provided (but I’ve got my fingers crossed it will be nice and schnell).

So there you go. That was my 411 on the German permanent residency process. In all honesty, my situation was not one of the standard ones outlined and was a bit more fast-tracked (but still a bit tedious, as bureaucracy always is).

However, I hope those details were helpful to you all…and best wishes my little long-term Deutsch fishes!



Moving Abroad or Running Away?

Moving to a new country also means leaving another country behind. What if the situation you’re leaving behind is messy, full of problems and stress? Is your choice to move abroad a healthy way to improve your surroundings for a better future, or is it in some way a very elaborate method of running away from your problems? And what happens when certain problems sneak back up on you, because the baggage comes with you, even if you thought you left it behind?” –Nicole, The Expatcast

A while back I sat down with my friend and fellow Expat content creator Nicole of The Expatcast, to discuss the topic of moving abroad. This comes up often in questions, not just from other people but now and then in my own thoughts.

We all have our own reasons for leaving a place, but not too often do we acknowledge the full spectrum of factors that led to our initial decision. For me, I have come to accept it was a mixture of running from my past and running towards a different future… but I may still be on the fence.

Feel free to have a listen to the episode for the full details and let me know what you think

or if you want more of a visual, have a look at my Freiburg visit here ⤵️


Filing taxes as an American abroad

Filing taxes as an American abroad

Being an American abroad comes with a lot of responsibilities and challenges that you will face in your new country. And often times as we get wrapped up in those, we start to forget certain responsibilities that still exist back in our home country…or at least I did. And that responsibility happened to be filing my US taxes.

All in all it was a prett big suprise to me when I learned that even though I have no ties with the US ( nor have I for the past decade), and I keep all my work and earnings abroad, I still was required to file my annual American taxes based on my work abroad.

It was a pretty stressful situation, but through the help of a good friend of mine I was put in contact with the wonderful team at My Expat Taxes who not only helped me get my taxes filed but even made it possible that I recieved the 2020 US stimulus check.

*If you don’t feel like reading at the moment, head to the bottom of the page for a quick & easy video option*

US Tax Filing basics

Regardless of where you live, where you work or where you keep your income, US citizens are required to annually file a US tax return. First it’s important to know that there Is always a change in threshold requirement for tax filing, so make sure to stay up to date. So for this article I will be giving the details on last years. The current threshold at this time is $12,200 in gross income.

Who is required to file US taxes abroad?

As a single person, you will need to file a US tax return if you are:

  • Under 65 years old and have a gross income of at least $12,200
  • Over 65 years old and have a gross income of at least $13,850

As a legally married person and your spouse is a US citizen or Green card holder, you both need to file a US tax return if you:

  • Are both under 65 years old with a combined gross income of at least  $24,400
  • One spouse is 65 or older, and the combined gross income is at least  $25,700
  • Both spouses are 65 and older, with a combined gross income of at least  $27,000

As an American citizen living abroad who is married to a non-US spouse, or someone who does not want to be included on your tax return, you will need to file a US tax return:

  • At any age, if gross income is at least $5 or more

Self-Employed Individuals

If you are a self-employed person, you have a separate eligibility requirement.
For self-employed individuals, the threshold is typically much lower. Currently, if you are a self-employed US citizen abroad you will need to file your US taxes if your worldwide income net earnings are a minimum of $400.
*Net earnings are the total amount of sales revenues after operating/business expenses, interest, tax, etc…

Who is not required to file US taxes abroad? ( Non-Filer)

If you are a person who has no income or your income falls below the annual threshold, you are not required to file for the year. However, it is good to know, even if you did not earn the eligible amount there are still some potential benefits that can be received if you file regularly ( I.e in 2020 the stimulus check).

There is much more information to learn about the US tax regulations for those of us abroad. For more specific questions, I would definitly urge you to check out the super helpful blog at My Expat Taxes.

But if you are interested in my personal experience, go have a look at the video I created

( Currently in process to file a decade of back taxes 😰 )

Best of luck and happy filing


How to handle culture shock

How to handle culture shock

What is it

Culture shock is one major aspect of moving abroad that not alot of people go too much in detail to. It is “the anxiety and feelings (of surprise, disorientation, uncertainty, confusion, etc.) felt when people have to operate within a different and unknown culture such as one may encounter in a foreign country.” ( as defined by Wikipedia) However I would say it is referring to really anything new that puts us outside of our bubble. Whether you take it as good or bad, it occurs and on occasion can be overwhelming. So here are my tips on how to remain content in your transitioning.

What it feels like

Culture shock can result in feelings similar to a mild depression. Many people experience this after the initial excitement of moving abroad has calmed down and the reality of their situation hits. You start off excited and giddy for all the new experiences and ways of life but then once you realize the work involved you begin to become rather pessimistic. I find this to be quite true for Americans moving to Germany. With such a stark contrast in cultural and social atmosphere, many people experience this aspect of culture shock.

It’s phases

Culture Shock is experienced in a series of four phases:

  1. Honeymoon: Hurray! youve done it! youve managed to move somewhere new and the novelty of it all has come and swept you away. Everything is darling and glorious in your new home!
  2. Frustration: oh hey, wait. What is this? why are people like this? how come things work this way? ohhhh what I would give to have things back like they were in my country…all of a sudden the novelty is gone and reality of change sets in.
  3. Adjustment: Alas, this is the way life is. You realize now your choices and begin to figure out how to settle and live life in a different way. Usually filled with a feeling of neutralism.
  4. Adaption: Youve figured out a routine. Set up shop now are confident in your abilities to navigate and manage your new life and home. Things are looking up and you are prepared for new challeneges.

How to manage Culture Shock

Going abroad is not at all easy. Moving out of your comfort zone, or bubble of security is always so uncomfortable. However, you’ve got two options now; run and hide or toughen up and put your best foot forward. If your interested in the latter then check out these following tips to help you succeed in your conquest.

  1. First off, boost up your self esteem. Look at you, you did it. You made a huge step forward in the world. Youve done something most people dream of but are never brave enough to attempt. You should be proud of your new accomplishment
  2. Remind yourself these feelings are only temporary. Everything new can be uncomfortable at first, but this duration of feeling is oh so short lived.
  3. Try and avoid excessive communication with aquaintences back home. As helpful as it can be, it prevents you from living in the present and being engaged in your new surroundings.
  4. Sit down and make  list of all the tasks you want to accomplish. Whether it is learning the local language or visiting that one super cool cafe. Find what interests you and make a plan on how to experience it.
  5. Get involved with the locals. The best way to adjust to your new surroundings is by socializing. Join a club, do some sports, connect! It helps you feel more in place and naturally learn about your new home easily and quickly.

How to help manage your friend’s culture shock

Culture shock isnt just a pain first hand, but can second hand put a damper on ones spirits. You may have found out how to adjust, but once a friend or expat newbie comes to you at the start of the phase, there are many ways you can help them reach your new found level of exceptional expat transition.

  1. Help them find a purpose. One aspect of culture shock is the lonelieness and feeling out of place. So if one feels as if they have a real role to embody, this is easily remedied.
  2. Get them out! the best way to do this is not by asking if they want to but give them choices that dont include the option of not coming along. AKA instead of saying wanna go out tonight? say, would you like to go here or there tonight.
  3. Be a good listener. Sometimes the simplest things help. If they need to rant about all their frusterations or upset feelings ( even if you knowwww and have been there) step down a moment and give them the attention they need.

Yes, there can also be many other things you can do to help out with culture shock, but it is imporant to keep in mind the basics of the situation. It is a temporary phase, and the initial joy and excitement you experience when you first came will resurface eventually. Change is an important part of life and once you learn to embrace it and live off of it, there is no limit to the adventures you can have abroad.