When the alarm went off at 4:00am that morning, I think I could have cried. My tears would have been filled with the sadness that wake-ups in the dark are made of, as well as a healthy dose of regret and yet another realisation that the infamous German bureaucracy had finally found us.
Before I continue, let me preface the rest by saying if you are going to relocate to Germany and you pretty much know that for sure, get your visa at home. No matter what the internet or friends will tell you, this is going to be your easiest and safest option. “But maybe I don’t know how I’ll feel after a couple of months”, you say. Okay, in that case, read on, for I will give you a step-by-step system for how to get your damn visa in Berlin.
Think to yourself about how simple and straightforward getting a visa in Berlin will be.
Get your apartment registration. You can’t get this without an actual apartment where the landlord approves of your residence. Good luck with that in Berlin.
You did it. You got your registration. Now look for an appointment at the foreigner’s office online. Don’t make our mistake and book for the wrong building and for the wrong type of visa. You will go to this building, and after some miscommunication (due to the fact that you speak different languages) they will tell you that you have completed the incorrect form and will need to apply for a ‘residence permit’, which you will, and then you will be rejected two weeks later — obviously. Don’t do that. Instead, book for a ‘working holiday visa’ and go to the right building.
By now you have about one month to get your visa before you’re an illegal immigrant. You’ve gone to the correct website, you’ve filled in the required details and you’ve clicked on the button ‘Book my appointment’. There aren’t any available appointments for the remainder of that month — or the next. You will continue clicking the ‘next month’ button until you find a number in blue, telling you that there’s an appointment available. You won’t find one until at least 2020. It’s not a mistake. There are literally no appointments.
Curse yourself again. Scour the internet for any information on how to get a visa without an appointment. Just make sure you don’t get any tears on your laptop. It’s not good with liquid.
Read two dozen blog posts about the process. It’s doable. You can get your visa without an appointment. All you have to do is arrive at the correct building at an ungodly hour, stand and wait until Heaven’s Gate opens and you are handed one of the coveted slips of paper with a number. You’re halfway done to getting your visa. Many of the blog posts had one thing in common: there are only about 100 appointments handed out every morning (sometimes less) at about 6am. If you arrive and there are more than 80 people already in line… you’d better cross everything that there is to cross.
Resolve to do this. You haven’t any other choice. Print out all of the documents you need and check that you haven’t lost all of your savings to exorbitant rent prices. You probably have. Ask mum and dad to transfer you some money so you can prove to the German government that ‘you have enough’, even though you’re still currently jobless and you definitely don’t. Print out your bank statement. Transfer their money back — you can’t keep that.
Choose your day to go, and your time. Some of the blogs say that they have arrived at 2:30am and there was already quite a lengthy line. Others say that they have arrived at 5:30am just as the doors were opening and there were no worries. I’d say it would depend on the time of year. Summer probably isn’t a good time to hedge your bets and go as the doors open. Nor is beginning of semester times.
Wait for some serious Siberian winter winds to arrive in your city, ensure that you have a well-developed flu and make a decision to go then. You think that you will likely never receive an opportunity to wait in -10 degree temperatures for a few hours ever again in your life and you’ve always wanted to experience that.
Get some damn sleep. I know your bedtime probably isn’t usually 7:30pm, but it is tonight. You’re waking up in Hell; you want to be prepared. Make sure you’ve already memorised the public transport journey that you will have to take.
Try not to cry when the alarm goes off. Put on your layers. I’m talking thermals, tights, jeans, thick socks, a turtleneck, a woolen jumper, a cardigan, your windbreaker jacket, a scarf (or two), your hat, your gloves, maybe take a blanket. You’re going to be standing around doing nothing for a while. This is all because if you’ve got the flu (which is likely), you don’t want pneumonia.
Get your public transport. Be on time. Don’t miss anything — or you might have to walk. Finally, you will arrive to quite a lengthy line. It’s 5am. After a quick headcount, you will realise that you’ve definitely got a ticket (if they’re feeling generous). Now just stand and shift your body weight from one foot to the other while you wait. Feel your feet freeze. Think about how you probably have frostbite now but in a few hours you might have the option of legally accessing one of the best healthcare systems in the world to resolve it. No worries.
Put on your biggest smile when you see that door open! Move with the line, greet the worker and hold out your hand for the golden ticket. Don’t wave it in the people’s faces behind you. Some of them might be going home empty-handed. You will be ushered into a waiting room. Get comfortable. You’ll probably be there for a while.
Make a decision to be the most annoying person there and every time someone comes in and calls out some numbers, ask the people around you about what was said. You don’t speak German and they don’t speak English. You might miss your call.
When your number is finally called, you will hand over all of your prepared documents and then you will be given another number.
Wait for hours. And hours. Bring a book, or your laptop. Maybe a friend, if they’re willing. Beat your high score on Solitaire; that’s always a good feeling. Don’t think too much about how your future is in the hands of some grouchy Foreigner Office workers and how maybe they don’t like you (they’re not always grouchy… but I can understand why you would be).
Finally, your number will show up on the screen. You will go to the room listed, hand over your ticket and they will hand over your papers and your passport with a stamped visa in it! Congratulations! You can now live in Germany for a whole year.
Get a job.