Relocation Logistics — SF to Munich

Our attempt to document some of the gotcha’s.

Your identity and stuff

Compared to the United States, if you are an educated working professional — it is pretty easy to get a VISA that allows your to work in Germany (especially if you are in technology or science, see the blue card). I’m told that even if you want to go for a year and learn the language, it’s pretty easy to do that too. However, not everything about the rest of the “getting established” process is trivial.

First off, when you arrive in Germany, you need to both apply for residency in the area you will be living as well as separately apply for your VISA and healthcare (you have 90 days). The expiration of your passport, will determine when you need to re-apply, even if thats shortly after arrival — so in order to avoid repeating paperwork, renew your passport before you go. If you forget, and can prove that you are flying within 2 weeks or need a work VISA within 4, you can go to the city/state passport offices to expedite the process (example for SF).

It’s probably also important to mention that we received a generous relocation assistance from my new company, and used it to hire a relocation agent (Swift Relocation Services) who simplified the paperwork challenges. They have been more helpful and supportive than we could have imagined — highly recommended.

Driving

When you arrive, your US drivers license allows you to drive for 364 days, but if you plan on staying, you will want to get a German drivers license. For this, the state that issued your US drivers license is very important — this is called “German Driver’s License Reciprocity”, as defined here. If you are unlucky (meaning, from a uncooperative state like California), you have to start from scratch taking both written and physical driving tests (both of which I’m told are not cheap, or easy). However other states, allow you to skip the driving test and require only the written.

Some lucky states (like Washington State) have an agreement allowing you to skip all testing and simply acquire a German drivers license. It turns out, if that license is relatively new, you just need proof of a previous drivers license showing that you aren’t a brand new driver (get the hint?).

Proving Marriage

It’s likely that if you or your partner got a job in Germany, one of you is going along for the ride and will “figure out your jam upon arrival”. In order to have all the benefits (health care, work permits etc) you will need to prove that you are married.

In the United States, when you need to prove marriage, you contact the state who issued the marriage license and request a copy (which is pretty close to the original with stamps and stickers and whatnot) for ~$25 dollars. It turns out that in Germany, this version is utterly useless.

Meet our friend, the Apostille Convention of 5 October 1961, Abolishing the Requirement of Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents. Which is basically a collaboration of nations from all over the world (and their states, provinces or territories) who have certified and prepared governments with the ability to issue a special version of the marriage license (and various other documents) which are accepted internationally. As far as I can tell, this is basically just like a global notary. You need to figure out where this office is in your state, and mail them a copy of your marriage certificate and the specific form they provide (defining the order), with a check for ~$30.00. In Washington State, the office is located in Olympia and you can see those instructions here.

Transporting your stuff

Moving ones stuff can require creativity.
  • Not all export/shipping companies are the same, many simply bait the internet and then sell their quote (when accepted by a customer) to the cheapest local export company and pocket the profit. Find someone local.
  • Your stuff won’t show up when they indicate that it will (I now have 3 data points). The shipper has little control over when the next ship is filled and ready to leave, and once your stuff has been picked up, it is subject to the hands of fate (so make sure it’s insured, and nonessential).
  • In order to actually receive your stuff when it does show up, you need an official residency certificate proving that you really live there.
  • They will give you a delivery date as part of your quote (probably over the phone so you can’t hold them to it), it is what they think you need to hear in order to get the bid. Get it in writing if you can, so that you can make demands later when they finally inform you that your stuff has shipped (with a predicted date of delivery roughly twice what you agreed upon).
  • Fedex is a reasonable option for shipping some “day one essentials”, that you don’t have room for. We paid ~$70 for 19lbs, but be prepared — they want a complete inventory of everything in the box before it will be accepted.
  • Your airline will have a max weight associated with your ticket, and a max for all bags period (usually different between coach and business). We flew Lufthansa who allows 50lbs in economy, and 70lbs in business/first. If you are flying in economy and bring a 70lb bag, you get nailed with a $150 excess baggage fee.
  • Update: We used http://www.arismoving.com, who we talked to first on August 1st and told us it would be 30–4o days between their pickup August 16 and delivery. We just received word that it will be here October 13th — more like 56 days since the physical pickup. In addition, there is a nearly 700 euro fee to actually acquire our things. The official German import fees (and “additional” transport fees) were 187 euros, the rest are fees for “things you could do yourself, but we’ve not seen anyone successfully complete on their own.” — I will outline this later. I was told on the phone from the import company, that it is very common that people call angrily, who were not informed of how the process works and costs involved. I’m told these high fees are due to the fact that our crate is full of “personal” items, as if that should be some kind of justification?

Detailed summary of fees from NVO Consolidation GmbH in Hamburg:

We would be glad to offer you customs processing as follows:
 
Local charges: EUR 184.37 (this is the base line additional port fee, that no one can explain to me).

Customs clearing: EUR 125.00
Kourier service to the customs office: EUR 40,00
Application for customs inspection: EUR 30,00
Customs inspection acc. Delivery (minimum): EUR 95,00
Handling in stock: EUR 75,00
Storage costs EUR: 53.00
 
Transport from CFS Munich 80796 Munich EUR 55,00

Totaling up to 657.37 euros, to get the things you already paid to ship.

They finally showed up and graciously dropped the massive wooden box on the sidewalk in front of our building and left.

Conclusion: Get rid of all your stuff, and just buy new things abroad later, what a scam.

Pets

I have a cat who I have grown fond of over the years, so naturally he was factored in the decision to move abroad. Having read a number of blogs and “informational sites”, I got the impression that bringing him could be slightly involved. Ultimately, it’s not that complicated — but it is hard to actually understand what needs to be done and in what order.

Kimta and his portrait.

Let’s get started

  • You need to know about the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), and specifically its sub organization Aphis (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service). They are responsible for all non-human living things crossing the borders of America. It’s also helpful to know that even though each European nation can have additional requirements for pets, many go with the recommended “minimum” requirements defined by the European Union legislation of non-commercial animal movement (No 998/2003).
  • You need a USDA certified veterinarian, whose certification is currently VALID with USDA/Aphis — they expire every few years and I’m told they don’t all promptly renew. This is very important, because if they are out of date, all of your paperwork and shots (very expensive) are worthless. Get your vets national accreditation number, and call Aphis to verify before you have your vet appointment.
  • Your animal can not leave the country unless it has been chipped and vaccinated for rabies for more than 21 days. Not just any chip, you need an ISO compliant international chip, which have only become the norm over the last couple years. If your animal has had a rabies vaccination (normally lasting between 1 and 4 years) but has expired, it is as if it never happened.
  • Note: When it says 21 days, that means — when you arrive at border control, that day minus 21 days comes AFTER the rabies shot (not inclusive of that day). If you are not in full compliance, your animal could go directly into German quarantine and you will be paying by the hour until it’s paperwork is sorted (and requirements reached). I was also told that Germany is one of the least flexible nations regarding adherence to these regulations.
  • Your nation of origin is very important. There are three categories of nations (low, middle and high/not listed regarding rabies concern). The USA is in category #2, meaning we have to do the microchip, rabies shot and 21 day wait period. If you are from category 3 (or unlisted) country, you have to wait 30 days and then do a rabies antibody test (RFFIT) before travel (and within 2 days after arrival).
  • If you are from a category 1 (Schengen, EU nation or specifically specified), there is an actual pet passport (with photos etc) that is defined in detail in the European legislation (no 577/2013, defined in Annex III). If you Google this whole thing, you will also wind up on web sites that will sell you what they call a “pet passport” for ~$20, which is actually just a slightly more organized print out of the requirements outlined in the EU legislation for your nation (mostly the legislation around Annex IV for the US). Instead of dealing with the forms defined in the EU legislation at all (most confusingly Annex IV and Annex I), you really just need a single two page bilingual form you can download in PDF form directly from the Aphis web site, read on.
  • This form which doesn’t really appear to have a name other than “Non-Commercial movement of five or less dogs, cats or ferrets”, is referred to as the “animal health certificate” and contains references all over the place to a “certification reference number” (with no indication as to where this number can be acquired). It turns out, USDA/Aphis has offices inconveniently placed somewhere in your state and provide the certification number through an in person consultation (or possible mail in). Apparently during the summer, it’s normal for the next available appointment to be more than than 6 weeks out (in San Francisco). I was also informed that I should instruct my vet to call them, so they can be educated on how things work…
  • One tip, if you find yourself running low on time, both your vet and Aphis can sign the paperwork 11 days after microchip and vaccination (needs to happen in that order, even if the same day) as long as you can prove that you won’t be traveling for another 10 days (airline tickets etc).
  • Flying with a pet in the cabin of the plane, requires that you meet weight and carrier dimension requirements that differ across the airlines (some of which don’t allow pets on flights longer than 10 hours). Flights also have a limit to the number of pets that can be on a plane at one time, so you need to find the seat that is pet compatible on a flight with an open pet slot.
  • There are about 6 different kinds of drugs one could use in order to sedate and or calm your animal. The only certain way to know which is best, is to spend 6 non-consecutive days testing each (at ~$40 a bottle) and then documenting the results (which you of course can’t count on being the same through the duration of your international flight). We found Trazodone to be the most effective for us. It’s only downfall is that it only lasts about 7 hours (and it takes many hours between leaving the house and being in the air), so your pet will probably realize whats going on and freak out with approximately 5 hours left in the flight..
  • We were told that additional sedative can be administered (of the same kind), but only 12+ hours after the first dose (for a 50mg dose of Trazodone). I would get vet specifics for other stuff.
  • For cats, returning to the United States there are no rabies shots, or chip requirements. The legislation states, that someone at border control “will inspect your animal and it may be turned away if it appears to have infectious diseases”.

In short

  • Start way ahead of time so all requirements are met before departure.
  • Know whether your nation requires a rabies antibody test after 30 days (otherwise get the microchip and rabies vaccine).
  • Get the right form for your country from Aphis signed by a legit vet, and get an appointment for Aphis to validate it.
  • Decide how and if you want to take your pet in the cabin, or under the plane and sort out the correct drugs.
  • Don’t spent a lot of time reading European Legislation, it is wordy, boring and confusing.

It is possible (if the animal flies with you in the cabin) that if you go through passport control with a carrier covered with a small blanket, that they may not even ask you about the animal. In which case you will be both relieved, and simultaneously irritated that you put so much effort into any of the above.

I hope your furry friend appreciates your efforts.

The apartment

We were alerted that finding a place to live in Munich could be a pretty involved and challenging process (as it is a desirable place to be). Our two big concerns were; pets are commonly not allowed, and many apartments come with no kitchen.

You will probably walk into the apartment void of light fixtures with literally an empty room exposing hookups where the kitchen might go. You are expected to go to Ikea or similar, and spend $3,000+ to bring in everything you may want to complete this kitchen (fridge, sink, cabinets, stove, etc). It appears to be a big business here, as most websites and apps for finding apartments advertise various kitchen vendors.

I’m unaware of anywhere else in the world where this is the case, and no one can quite explain to me why this is other than “Germans don’t want a used kitchen”. It’s not unusual for the previous tenant to offer to sell you their kitchen, so that they can purchase a new one in their new place.

We got lucky and found a place that did pets and had a kitchen, in about 4 hours.

Additionally, rental agreements are month to month, with a two or three month notice period — so no worries about signing then getting smashed with fees for breaking your lease.

Miscellaneous observations

Food

  • The big American Breakfast isn’t really a thing, if you want a giant eggs, bacon and toast situation — it looks like your better off doing it at home.
  • Steakhouses don’t appear to be a thing (at least not in the form I’ve become accustomed). If you want that $50 bone-in ribeye with béarnaise sauce, cream of spinach, and a manhattan, buy a grill and some liquor and do it at home. Please correct me if I’m wrong!
  • Wine is awesomely cheap, a top shelf Primitivo at the grocery store down the block was €7.99.
  • Avocado’s exist, but compared to a California Haas are essentially flavorless.
  • A good size scoop of Gelato costs €1 — German’s love their sweets.

Transportation

  • One way international flights are bullshit, always book with a return, even if its 6 or 11 months from now or you miss your return all together. Otherwise you pay twice the cost, for half the flight.
  • Car sharing (lyft/uber) is not a thing, there is an app called MyTaxi which has a similar feeling (book and pay via an app), except a taxi shows up. Uber does have some kind of a setup with black cars, but based on the regulations I’m told it doesn’t make a lot of practical sense.
  • Public transportation is great, and services like DriveNow appear to work really well if you need a car for the afternoon. DriveNow appears to work like GetAround, but the cars are provided by Sixt/BMW and not private individuals.
  • Bike lanes are a thing. Stay on the pedestrian part of the sidewalk or you will get aggressively dinged at or run over, this is very serious business.

Day-to-Day

  • Cell phones and internet service basically require you to lock yourself in for two years. As a reward for your commitment, you will probably get moderately discounted service for the first 6 or 7 months.
  • Regarding cigarettes and smoking, it feels a lot like the early 2000's on the west coast of the US, not much indoors — but outside all over the place. It seems strange after being in SF, people still go outside in the freezing cold to smoke?
  • To make big purchases (furniture at Ikea), you will need a German bank account and a debit card, or cash. My US cards worked for some online purchases and Amazon.de, but not in the store. If you open a German bank account (and put money in it), while you wait for your cards/pins, you can withdraw money by bringing your account number and passport to the bank.
  • Garbage and recycling is a big deal, especially in Bavaria. We received an introductory pamphlet explaining it all, don’t mess that up. Also, bottles (especially for beer) is an institution — organize your life so you can get those returned properly.

Best of luck.

I hope we were able to save you some time and heartache, fingers crossed that it was all worth it.

Cheers!