Rachel’s Staying in Stuttgart!

It’s time for a long overdue update. Here’s the short version:
1. I received a one-year work visa/residence permit.
2. I love living in Stuttgart, in spite of the seemingly endless search for an apartment.

If you care to read more, the details follow.

Minutes after exiting the visa office with my work permit

I finally got my work visa!

I felt like I entered the visa application process with open eyes, but I really wasn’t prepared for the level of complexity I encountered. In essence, I wasted a lot of time and money (on a lawyer) trying to get a self-employment visa so I could do freelance language work and teach dance classes. What I realized only much later is that at least in this region of Germany, they can only grant you a self-employment visa if a single domain of your work will earn you more than the “basic existence” minimum.

As of July 1, that’s 1133 Euro per month AFTER taxes and medical insurance. The trouble with my application – which the visa office didn’t explain nor could my lawyer apparently figure out – was that my income is too split up among different kinds of work. Even though the combination of dance classes, private dance lessons, private language lessons, freelance writing, etc. was plenty enough, the state couldn’t issue me a visa for those activities collectively.

Thankfully, my German friends were tireless in helping me with my application. One in particular volunteered his time starting in May to actually call the visa office and attend meetings with me. Suddenly information started being offered up and doors started opening! One completely inexperienced nonprofessional got me through the whole process in a few weeks where my own efforts and those of my lawyer’s had failed for months.

Along the way, I took the route of accepting a part-time position in a German office. Which is to say, I made a very convincing case for them to move me from a freelance position to a salaried one with benefits. I’ve had to sacrifice some of my freelancer flexibility, but it felt pretty amazing to win the pitch on the strength of my spreadsheets and cost-benefit analysis.

That made my visa application much more straightforward, because the visa office much prefers straightforward employment visas. They even included a line on my work permit allowing me to work “no more than 20 hours per week” as a freelancer. And to be honest, I’m pretty happy to be part of the German system now. I’m ready to trade some freedom for some security.

Stuttgart is wonderful!

I feel like I do quite a bit of defending my decision to move here, or at least arguing with people’s negative perceptions of Stuttgart.

Yes, I was afraid Stuttgart would feel too small. After all, it’s a city of less than a million people! Only the 6th largest in Germany! However, there’s a huge diversity in the population – I’ve read statistics stating that 40% of residents are foreigners. There’s also more than enough activities and cultural opportunities that interest me, a variety of cuisines on offer at local restaurants, and fantastic public transportation. The extent of green spaces never ceases to amaze me. Plus larger cities are just a short jaunt away!

Sunset view from the TV tower that overlooks Stuttgart

No, Stuttgart is not so expensive. I’m not just talking about in comparison to New York, either! I would say prices are pretty similar to what I dealt with in Philadelphia. Food is affordable, transportation isn’t outrageous especially given the public system’s cleanliness and frequency of trains, and even rent is fine. It’s only when it comes to homeownership that the prices shock, and that’s not really a concern for me right now.

Yes, trying to find an apartment to rent is kind of ridiculous. There seems to be an amazing excess of demand relative to supply, and landlords definitely prefer to rent to Germans or people who are employed full time. I had to move out of my first apartment just three days after getting my visa, and had only secured a short-term rental because I wasn’t sure I was staying. I have been sending requests to all suitable listings on at least five platforms for more than a month now and have only got so far as viewing 2 apartments, neither livable. I’m starting to resign myself to another short-term rental just to give myself more time…and you know that’s hard for me since I have been feeling that nesting urge for months now!

No, Germans aren’t cold. Well, maybe I can’t state that so broadly just from my personal experience, but I wasn’t only warmly embraced by the amazing blues dance community here. I’ve also had success meeting people in local expat groups, other dance scenes, and even through Internet groups! I am really enjoying deepening my current friendships and feel no shortage of new connections.

I won’t bother listing any other protests here because I don’t want to give you any reason not to come visit. Come tour local vineyards, enjoy frequent street festivals, watch traditional ballet and modern theater, and connect with great local dancers. Who knows, maybe I’ll even have a couch for you to sleep on!