Mastering German Bureaucracy 101.1: To the Internationals Among Us

“Will you please put a accreditation stamp on a copy for me?”

“The document is a German one, yes?”

“No, it is an American…Saudi-ish… one.”

“Sorry, I can’t do that. You’ll have to go to the consulate of wherever you got this from.”

Back to the Saudi embassy, I thought to myself. Wow…can this day get any better? I tried to get out of the tiny room in the red hall of Spandau district while at the same time keeping my emotions together.

Have you ever felt so miserable, you just HAD to go and buy a new book to read? If you haven’t and you happen to be a bibliophile, then Germany and its rules and regulations will certainly get you there one day.

Actually, all I wanted to do was to apply to university. As opposed to the United States, in Germany there is usually no need to write essays or create some sort of presentations as in why you are so special. In Germany, all you have to do is just send in your report cards to this nice, little institution called Uni- Assist.

BUT you can’t send your original documents which means you have to go and get your copy of that document certified and this is where all the trouble starts if you are an international student. Under these circumstances, most of you would rather type college essays.

Dear international students, if you want to study in Germany but your documents are not German, forget about the citizen center when it comes to getting any type of accreditation. From there you will be sent to the embassy of your country of origin but guess what…you won’t have any success there either!

Yes sure, if you go to the home page of the ministry of foreign affairs of Germany, you will be told that all sorts of verification of your documents can be done at your embassy.

Remember when you were a kid and all the adults around you told you not to believe in everything the internet says? Remember that? Good. Because this is where this warning comes true.

Chances are that the embassy will tell you that you have to fly back to wherever you came from and get this taken care of there.

I was given the same sweet, sweet news when I opened my E-Mail account a few days ago and read the response from the Saudi Embassy in Berlin.

It should be legalized by the German embassy in Riyadh, it said.

Well, okay. Great, but how about you can’t just fly over to Saudi Arabia like that?

So, feeling like Cervantes’ Don Quijote de la Mancha I continued my journey, “fighting” not some windmills but German bureaucracy.

In conclusion, dear students, I can say that the best thing to do if you need some sort of copy certified, is to go to a notary right away. That will cost you a small fortune (aprox. € 10 per document) but at least you won’t be sent away and get what you need.

The main thing with all official business in this country is that you should never give up. You will find yourself in front of frustrated civil servants that, in the heat of the moment, will tell you how difficult it is to be a single father and get up at 4 a.m. every morning. Or you may find yourself in situations where nobody will listen to you and send you somewhere else just for the hell of it.

Nevertheless, you will have to keep going and keep making phone calls and show up personally. Bureaucratic systems it seems, serve the purpose of eliminating the weak and the “not so smart” people.

If you are at a job interview or you are filling in some sort of form, beware of questions that you may omit and do not have to answer. That may be a question like “How many times a month does your child get sick?”. If your child is actually sick a lot and you, as a single mother, admit that, chances are you are out as a potential candidate.

I have previously lived in Kosovo and in Saudi Arabia. In both places I heard (expat) people say: “If you don’t have connections, you won’t achieve anything here.”

See, it is not only the “bad” countries like Saudi Arabia or any other “not so western” place in the world where this applies. Even in Europe you will need to have connections if you want to get something done efficiently.

Democracy or not, those of you who choose to live or study here, get ready for some paper work and some annoying questions.

But no worries. The longer you live here, the easier you will handle this and the more tricks you’ll learn.

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