Paper Trails: Registering your Anmeldung in Hamburg

So this is another in an ongoing series where I try and break down some of the necessary steps for moving to Germany from the UK. I‘ve already set out the order in which you‘ll do things, and the messy business of renting a flat, so strap in as we get to the good stuff. Aw yeah, put on your sexy music, cos we‘re talking ADMINISTRATION. Mmmm-mmm. Come to mama.

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This is not only an awesome pic from the Duckstein festival currently under way in Hafencity (check out http://www.duckstein.de/festival-events/hamburg-hafencity/) but is also a very real embodiment of the administrative acrobatics you have to do to impress the council drones at the local Bezirksamt.

What the heckins is an Anmeldung and why does it matter?

This is job no.1 when moving to Germany, and if possible try to set up an appointment at your local Einwohnermeldeamt (“Registration office”) ahead of time. These are found at most council offices (Bezirksamt) – if you can, set up an appointment in advance or you risk quite a long wait for one. The Hamburg Welcome Centre Website has really good info on getting an appointment set up but crucially does NOT mention the dreaded Apostille (see below….). A pal‘s record was 5 hours, which just sounds PAINFUL. During the appointment your credentials and details will be checked and – once verified – you’ll be registered on the system and receive a natty lil’ certificate. In a few days, you’ll then receive your tax number and status. 

Check online as to what documents you need to take (usually your passport, proof of current address and marriage certificates if you’re a couple), and ensure you download and complete the required forms ahead of time. If they’re not complete you’ll be sent away and asked to come back when they are! 

It’s vital because the following will require an Anmeldung:

  • tax registration 
  • Civil registration
  • Getting your Schufa (credit check) completed
  • Headcount and census details 
  • Most job applications (especially as most employers need your tax numbers)
  • Some bank accounts/credit applications (especially the latter)
  • Driving licence 
  • Library cards
  • Certain travel cards 

This is NOT an optional extra – if you’re planning on living in Germany you must register within 2 weeks of your arrival, or you are in breach of German law and risk your residence rights, as well as a fine starting at EUR500. Not a good look. 

Okay. So I need one. How does it happen?

Registration is a bit of a PITA to be honest. First you need your passport, marriage licence (if relevant) and a completed form which sets out your details – and it’s easy to mess this bit up (see below!). You’ll also need your “landlord” to sign a document confirming where you live. In the early days this might be difficult, I’m not sure if hotels or hostels count, as such! However you’re likely to find your Airbnb host to be quite obliging and as long as you’re upfront about why you need it and make it easy for them to sign – i.e., print out the forms and be prepared to show them your credentials – they shouldn’t cause too much of an issue for you. Most established Airbnb hosts will have had to do this at least once, and it’s good for you to try and establish good relations as they’ll be your landlord reference for further attempts at house hunting later on, so use this as an opportunity to make friends! 

I’m reliably informed that a landlord can’t refuse to sign an Anmeldung application. However, that doesn’t stop people trying, especially if you’re doing a slightly-less-than-official sublet or staying in a temporary house share etc. Under these circumstances the advice is to go to the Bezirkamt and explain your situation so that they can assist in getting you registered, however, your landlord is likely to get some unpleasant correspondence in short order asking for their side of the story. 

What scotched us on our first visit was the blithe expectation that as fellow Europeans, the local government offices would happily believe that – given that we’d both got the same last names and they could read the marriage certificate – we were actually fucking married. Here’s how it went: 

Husband: [speaking german, gestures to papers]

Government Drone 1: [speaking german, picks up marriage certificate as if it were a leaf made of dog shit, waving it slightly] 

Pause, while GD1 peers at computer and clicks listlessly.

GD1: [calls over colleague. H’s brow knits] 

GD2 arrives, makes “oh yes, I’ve seen this bullshit before” noise [“o-HO!”] and speaks rapidly to H, gesturing to me repeatedly. I find this just a *smidge* INCREDIBLY RUDE. 

Lewishambles: Sorry, is there a problem? Look, my passport has been changed. 

GD2: Ah, your authorities may accept this, but you see, I do not have evidence that it is a real licence and so…[starts explaining some Dutch convention to me]

My eyes fill with tears

GD2: …so you see it is not a thing I can accept. 

GD1: [continues talking to husband rapidly in German, words like “British Consulate” and “Apostille” used repeatedly]

L: But there is no consulate in Hamburg!

GD1: [ignores me, keeps gesturing at me, talking to husband]

Fin. 

Whoa! Choppy waters there Lewishambles! How did you fix it? 

The upshot of this interaction is that we had to to apply to either the consulate which doesn’t currently exist in Hamburg (necessitating an unexpected trip to Berlin which is what has happened to some people I know), or apply to the UK government website for an “Apostille” or a legalisation certificate which proves that the marriage certificate we already have is not fake. 

Apparently, we could have registered as two separate individuals and then apply for regularisation at a later date, but it would have messed up our tax status and mean that we pay even more tax than expected. 

Fortunately, we didn’t have to restart everything from scratch. We instead sent our offending marriage certification certificate to the UK for fresh regularisation, and on receipt it we could go straight to the local offices and get an instant appointment to complete our registration. This process took a few weeks, which caused me much worry and concern as I had visions of being banged up in the slammer or fined thousands of Euros for stepping outside our two-week window – I am exceptionally good at catatrophising. 

However, when we sat down two days after our two-week window ended to beg forgiveness and explain our Apostille was delayed, the kind Drone said “of course the rule is two weeks but once you have come here you can take three months to finish.” I’m not sure this is an actual rule or a practical approach based on the fact that I’m sure a lot of people have this situation. Either way, the more you talk to your Bezirkamt about what you need, the likelier you are to get a happy outcome, it seems. 

The arrival of the Apostille was one of the more underwhelming moments in my life. I mean. 

11A5CBC2-B7C6-4BEC-A1AF-1088E5C1B50CThis is a piece of paper GLUED to another. I‘m guesssing it could be quite easily faked [Lawyers take note:  I think it is a stupid idea to do this. DO NOT DO THIS] and was easily the worst value I ever got for over 50 quid in processing and postage fees. 

Add to this that on our third and final visit, the Drone barely looked at it, I felt easily angry enough to flip the table. However, I held it together for the sake of my shattered dignity and my desire to get useful things like… I dunno. A JOB. A TAX CODE. A FRICKIN LIBRARY CARD. 

A belated happy ending

So, the moral of this story is not to be discouraged, but be prepared for anything and make sure you keep your cool with the Council Drones (also don’t be married, apparently). And eventually, in a mere five weeks, you too could finally register to live in Germany. 

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YOU SWEET, NECCESSARY BASTARD OF A CERTIFICATE! (Censored for what I hope are self-evident reasons)

BONUS SNARK: seriously, anyone with half an understanding of lean processes and methodology would be horrified by the workflow in these places. We had to:

  1. Fill out a form online;
  2. print it;
  3. sign it;
  4. print another form for the landlord to sign;
  5. Take both forms and all of our supporting documents to the Council Offices, where we then watched the Drone RE-ENTER ALL THE INFORMATION ON THE FORM onto a NEW form, which she then: 
  6. printed;
  7. asked us to check and sign AGAIN;
  8. Pause while she scanned in the two forms we’d brought along with us;
  9. She then FINALLY printed out our certificate and then;
  10. put in a request for new forms to be issued to generate our updated tax codes, which we will be sent in a few days once someone else enters information onto the system. 

I can only put this ridiculously Byzantine process down to outdated and outmoded ways of working, an older computer system and (presumably) a hardcore form fetish that someone in power still possesses. This fetish for forms, btw, is something I’ve seen in much of Hamburg so far. I am DREADING applying for that damn library card. 

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