Hans Torsten answers your questions on surviving and thriving in Berlin. Write to [email protected].
Dear Hans-Torsten: I’m a Canadian citizen who has lived in Germany for the past 20 years. Due to bad advice, I ended up signing up with DKV (a private health insurance company). I’m now 56 and recently lost my job, and I fi nd myself unable to change to public health insurance. I was told by a friend that if I worked and was insured in another EU country for one year, I could change to statutory health insurance upon returning back to Germany. Do you know whether that scenario is true? Or do you know of any easier option? —Maryam
Dear Maryam: Your case highlights a huge problem with Germany’s split private-public health insurance system. Young high earners and self-employed people are seduced into signing up to private insurance (PKV) by the promise of low premiums and VIP treatment. Rarely are they informed that things get pricier when they get older. Even fortysomethings pay upwards of €500/month, and this can rise to an astounding €1000/ month when you retire, a sum only wealthy pensioners can afford. According to the law, people over the age of 55 cannot switch back into Germany’s statutory health service (GKV). As you say, you may be able to do so by working in another country and returning to Germany. Another option would be to prove that you were insured in the GKV for a significant number of years before you switched to private. I recommend you go and see a lawyer specialising in “Sozialrecht”. If you can’t afford that, go to a local Sozialberatung office for some free advice. If you are currently unemployed, the Arbeitsamt may also be able to off er a solution.
Dear Hans-Torsten: I’m a US citizen who’s lived here for more than 10 years. I want to get eingebürgert (become a naturalised German citizen). What do I need to do? —Shirley
Dear Shirley: Since November 9, quite a few Americans have been asking this question. Normally, after having lived legally in Germany for eight years you can apply for German citizenship. There are a few preconditions: you have no criminal record; you haven’t received state welfare payments; you speak adequate German and you have passed the citizenship test. You should also be willing to give up your original nationality… but here there are many exceptions. The best English-language info source I have found on Einbürgerung is on the homepage of the State Department for Migration and Refugees: www.bamf.de. In Berlin, to get the actual paperwork going you’ll have to make an appointment at the Bezirksamt over the dreaded online appointment booking system. And at some point in the process you’ll be asked to pay a fee of €255. Good luck!
Dear Hans-Torsten: I’m a US expat here in Germany who really wants to support political organisations back home – Democracy Now, for example – by donating money. Is it possible for me to benefi t from tax write-off s the same way as I would if I were to donate to organisations here? Help me help others! —Confused Philanthropist
Dear CP: Unfortunately only donations to charities and non-profits that benefit the “common good” based in the EU are tax-deductible. Under German law you can donate up to 20 percent of your income tax-free. You might be interested to know that one US organisation you can support in Germany is the NPR Berlin public radio station, which is now registered as a German non-profit and therefore can issue the Zuwendungsbestätigung (donation receipt) the Finanzamt requires if you give them more than €200.