Saturday, July 12, 2014

Unemployed Abroad

Now what?

If you're like me and find yourself jobless in Germany, your natural reaction will most likely be to freak the f*uck out. So many questions will pop up, but the most pressing one will probably be will I get kicked out of the country. As a non-EU citizen, I was granted permission to stay in Germany on the basis that I would be able to support myself financially and not become a burden on the state. This is obviously rather difficult to do when your sole source of income is abruptly taken from you. 

But all hope is not lost, if you know how to navigate the system. So the first thing I would recommend is notifying immigration of your new, unemployed status. If your work permit is tied to your job, this is voided once employment with that company ends. I sort of hid from the authorities for about a month after my employment ended. But that was because it went into effect over the holiday season and no action would have been taken on my case until the new year. My residence permit was still valid until the end June, so I was able to stay in Munich while I figured out my next step. 

Don't cancel your health insurance

After speaking with the authorities, my next thought was how could I reduce my overhead. Certain items like rent will remain static and there's little you can do to reduce it that does not include moving or subletting your space. But other monthly expenses appeared to be more flexible, like my health insurance. However, I strongly advise against canceling it if you plan on staying in Germany. By law, everyone is required to have health insurance. So if you cancel your plan and stay in the country, you can, and most likely will, be hit with a massive bill totaling all of your missed payments. Instead, call your provider and inform them of your new employment status. My company, TK, reduced my payments to the minimum amount of 158 euros, which is one of the lowest rates you'll find. Plus, if you were able to enroll in a public health insurance company like TK during your initially period of employment and then cancel your membership, you will be unable to become a member again until you find another job. This is extremely important since your only other option will be the private insurers, which have rates of about 250 euros, regardless of your income (or lack there of). 

Get another work permit

So your original work permit is now null in void, which means that you cannot legally work until you receive another work permit. If you jumped through hoops to get the first one, you know how difficult and timely this can be. Employers are simply not excited about hiring someone that will require so much additional work. But again, all hope is not lost. Until you find that sweet staff position that will provide you with the financial security you crave, look for a freelance one. Now, you have to be careful with this option as you will be responsible for paying for your own health insurance as well as taxes by the end of the year. But the tax problem can be solved if you freelance for a short amount of time and keep your income below 8,000 euros. 

With these two cons, you may wonder what the pros are for a freelance visa. Well, the biggest one I can list is that it is significantly easier to obtain a freelance visa than a typical work visa. If you can provide letters of intent to hire from at least two companies stating that they would like to hire you AND you can prove that you're qualified to do that job, plus show that you have health insurance, you're golden. In Munich, they also required me to enroll in a pension plan, which was easily accomplished by speaking with some people at the bank, Sparkasse. In Berlin, this was not necessary. So the rules are not set in stone, and each city may require slightly different paperwork. But the goal remains the same: prove that you can support yourself for the duration of your permit (which is valid for a period of one or two years). 

Find another job

This obviously goes without saying, but it can be hard to know where to start when it feels like your whole world is falling apart and you're in the midst of a mental crisis (like I was). The goal is to simply stop the negative cash flow. So if you don't speak German and you don't have a work permit, you're going to have to look at unskilled/ semi-skilled positions that are open to people with little to no German language skills. Luckily for me, the summer tourist season was about to start and I was able to land a position with a tour company that caters to the English speaking market. It's temporary, but it helped me land a freelance visa since my previous employment as an event manager proved that I was qualified for the position. Other places to look would be hostels, hotels, and kiosks. Again, a great place to look is Toytown Germany. Smaller companies often post job listings in the forum when they're searching specifically for English speakers. 

Another option for some fast cash are online freelance sites like Odesk and Elance. If you have a skill that can be done electronically, you may be able to find some clients from all over the world to help fund your continued stay in Germany.  

Don't freak out

Easier said than done, I know. But it's really hard to think clearly and form a plan of action when your stress levels are through the roof. I actually stayed in bed for about a month in one of the worst depressive states I've ever dealt with. The prospect of going home was very real when one month I literally had enough cash to either pay for a one-way ticket or one more month of rent. 

But thankfully, I had some truly great people in my corner that helped to pull me up when I was down. And their struggles were my inspiration. Seeing how they were able to weather some of the worst storms let me know that I could too. I'm not sure what my next move will be, but I'm honestly so happy with where I landed. The new job is filled with great people, which helps in the whole "I'm alone in a foreign city and have no friends" department. Plus, I'm rewarded with this lovely view on an almost daily basis.

View from my office 

I swear, I'm like a cat and have somehow landed on my feet more times that I can remember. So for now, it looks like I have a few more lives left in my european adventure. I have no idea what my next move will be. But hopefully, it'll still be within Germany. 

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