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Ask Hans-Torsten: Bills, bills, bills

What's with the tourist visa? Are you paying too much for gas? Germany is a country of rules – Hans-Torsten helps you through the system.

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

Q Dear Hans-Torsten: My partner is a US citizen and wants to stay here permanently, but he hasn’t yet sorted out his paperwork to apply for a visa. His 90-day tourist visa expires next week. Can he just travel get to a non-Schengen country and get his passport re-stamped for another 90-day stay? — Bibi

A Dear Bibi: Short answer: No! Mid-length answer: what the hell were you thinking? You can stay in the Schengen area for up to 90 days within a 180-day period. Taking a weekend trip to Istanbul (outside Schengen) for a stamp won’t fly at the Ausländerbehörde. Long answer: appreciate that your partner belongs to a very small, privileged part of the world population, i.e. citizens of Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea and the USA. These are the only non-European passport holders who are permitted to apply for a long-term study or work visa after they have arrived in Germany – with the exception of refugees and asylum seekers, of course. All other nationals must apply for their work or study permits from their home countries. So back to your partner: Achtung, on his 91st day in Germany, he’ll be an illegal alien! While Americans are treated much better than most others and will probably be given some leniency, depending on the mood and disposition of the German state official who finds out about his overstay, he could be fined several hundred euros and lose his chances of scoring a longer-term residency permit. So, don’t be stupid – get him to the Ausländerbehörde to apply for a German learning visa ASAP. Or if you can afford it, consult an immigration lawyer to review your options today.

Q Dear Hans-Torsten: I recently got my electric metre reading back and – praise Jesus! – I’m getting money back! A nice sum, actually. The problem is that the account is under my old flatmate’s name and they want to transfer the amount to a bank account she doesn’t have anymore instead of sending it in the form of Guthaben (credit). I’m afraid the money (which I paid entirely myself) is now being transferred into the ether and no one will see it. Do you have any advice on how to rectify this, and fast? — Joni

A Hey Joni: Your ex-flatmate needs to write a letter to the electricity provider instructing them to transfer the money to you under your IBAN number. Remember, this being Germany, an email probably isn’t going to cut it. A printed, signed, mailed letter should do the trick.

Q Dear Hans-Torsten: If you suspect your gas bill is too high, is there somewhere to check to see what the average bill is for a flat like yours? And if it’s extreme, do you have a claim to get your gas company (Gasag) to come look at the system? — Liza

A Dear Liza: There are two main reasons for an incorrect gas bill. First, they made a mistake when reading the metre. Go read it yourself and compare it to the amount of gas the bill claims you used. If this is the problem, it’s pretty easy to write to the gas company for a correction. Obviously several weeks will have passed since the metre was read, but you should be able to tell based on previous usage whether the bill is wildly off or not. Then there is the heating system itself. It sounds like you get your heat and hot water from Gasetagenheizung, which just heats your flat, and not central heating for the whole building. Gasag has an app on its site that estimates your gas consumption, but there are many variables – how many people live there, how many hot baths do you take, how warm and snug do you keep your place in winter? Instead of calling Gasag, ask your Hausverwaltung to come and check out your system. It’s their duty to keep it in good working order. Its settings might be off, or it might just need replacing. Send your landlord a (paper) letter requesting they deal with it. This won’t help you lower the current gas bill but will help you keep future costs under control. Or you could just start taking cold showers. Builds character! In this country, the word for “wimp” is Warmduscher.