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Ask Hans-Torsten: Extending visas and German decorum

Hans-Torsten Richter answers your questions about surviving and thriving in Berlin. Write to [email protected] with all your queries.

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Hallo Hans-Torsten:

I am from the US and I have currently overstayed my Schengen visa (two weeks now) and am trying to find which visa I should apply for to stay in Berlin longer. Ideally I’d like to be able to learn German, have the ability to work, and pursue my artistic career. It’s unclear which direction makes this transition easiest. I could enrol in a language course and pursue the Studienvorbereitung (preparation for university) visa, get German health insurance, and then have to show my income. Or a professional artist friend of mine here could take me on as an intern, or I could try for a visa as a self-employed freelancer/artist. Which option will be the most likely to guarantee my stay? The internship one seems to provide me a work permit, but it’s unclear what kinds of work this will permit me to do – just the internship? The same question applies for the Selbstständigkeit. My German boyfriend and I have already been to the dreaded Ausländerbehörde twice now, once to speak with the free lawyer service and second time to apply for an extension to my Schengen visa, which was unsuccessful. Please help!

– Siva

 Dear Siva:

The quickest solution is always the “residency permit to attend a languagecourse” (Aufenthaltserlaubnis zum Besucheines Sprachkurses – search for that phrase on berlin.de for all the requirements). These permits are valid for up to one year. The catch is that you’ll need to do an intensive – and potentially pricey – language course of at least 18 hours per week. You’ll also have to provide proof of health insurance (a cheap expat one should do) and that you have enough funds (€7608) to pay for your upkeep. A residency permit to do an internship (Aufenthaltserlaubnis zur Aufnahme eines Praktikums) isn’t that different. Cheaper, though, as you don’t have to pay to do an internship. Of course you’ll have to find accompany (or maybe your artist friend) willing to employ you as an intern.

Neither of these visas (that’s Aufenthaltserlaubnisin German – a Visum is for short-term stays) really solve the problem of actually being able to earn money here, so I recommend the residency permit for self-employed or freelancers (Aufenthaltserlaubnis zur selbstständigenoder freiberuflichen Tätigkeit). You need to show you are capable of supporting yourself from freelance work, preferably the kind a German couldn’t do for reasons of language: translator, interpreter, language teacher, etc. Here it’s important to show you have a few paying clients or at least a few potential paying clients (network like crazy; you’re going to need at least two letters of intent to hire you).

But you’re an artist! The Ausländerbehörde is pretty lax with artists from the US who show that they can earn an income from their art, or if they have significant savings or wealth to survive on. A documented gallery show or record deal doesn’t hurt, either. Once you have the Aufenthaltserlaubnis zur selbstständigen oderfreiberuflichen Tätigkeit as a writer or artist, the authorities are also going to probably turn a blind eye to that “freelance” waitressing gig.

The most stringent rules and requirements are for the permits for regular jobs (here you’ll be aiming for the Aufenthaltserlaubnis zur Aufnahmeeiner Beschäftigung). A start-up wants you for your exceptional coding skills, the Staatsballett requires your grace as a dancer, a language school needs a native speaker… if you can find an employer that wants you, they should be willing help out with the paperwork and provide letters of intent or a work contract to show the Ausländerbehörde. But you’ll also probably have to get the authorisation of the Bundesagentur für Arbeit– never fun.

Overwhelmed? A €25 “Getting started in Germany” workshop at Expath in Neukölln is worth it; it’s also available as a video at www.germanytime.com. Überlin does a “How to become a freelancer in Berlin” workshop for €35 (plus VAT). Or you can pay a hefty fee to an immigration lawyer to sort all this out for you in a jiffy. But all things considered… you have a German boyfriend? Why not just marry him? Pass the bureaucratic requirements and this could solve your problem, long term!

Dear Hans-Torsten:

Why do Germans knock on the table when leaving a group of friends in a pub or restaurant? It’s unnerving.


Dear Alex:

There’s a simple reason: efficiency. To shake hands, air-kiss and/or hug everyone in a large group at an informal night in the pub or in the office canteen is just too much for the German male (the knocker is almost always a guy). Yes it’s abrupt, but, if you think about it, the table-knock is an authoritative, economical yet considerate way of informing people that you’re leaving. Think that’s weird? If you ask me, it’s a lot less creepy than all that hugging of people you barely know – in America, for instance.

Originally published in issue #141, September 2015.