“You need what?!” … “It will take how long?!”
I have uttered these two questions more than any others during my move to Frankfurt, Germany. It seems that everything has involved a considerable process –a rather slow and convoluted process at that. More often than not, the experience has been frustrating, comical, and largely absurd.
If there is a value to large swaths of the “required tasks” to come to the conclusion of any given process, it is lost on me.
But I always state, “If you find yourself saying that their must be a better way! – I can guarantee you there is.”
How to get a dog into Germany…
The German’s truly love their pets – especially their dogs. They are allowed almost everywhere it seems – in the malls and stores… even in restaurants. When people ask for a “doggie-bag” in Germany, they mean it. Which is a good thing, because I have a dog – and I am going to Germany.
So I began the process for bringing my dog into Germany – and I discover it is a rather daunting task. Fortunately, the German website is VERY helpful and really does a good job at explaining what needs to be done to bring a dog into Germany. The process is a bit easier if the dog travels with you on your flight.
According to the website, the first step is to have a healthy dog which is well maintained – current on all of its shots and the like. You will also have to have a “microchip” inserted into the dog so that it can be identified.
Next, you will have to have to have a completed “Bilingual Veterinary Certificate” which is signed by a certified Veterinarian and endorsed by the “USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service” (APHIS).
Most airlines also require an International Health Certificate – with the kicker being that this certificate must be completed within ten (10) days of your travel date and must also be endorsed by USDA-APHIS.
Lastly, you will need to find an airline that is “pet-friendly”.
As I had mentioned earlier in this article, the Germans love their dogs – and Lufthansa has the most pet-friendly service of which I am aware.
Most airlines will restrict the loading of a dog in cargo if the temperature at either the origination of the trip or the destination is out of spec (too hot or too cold). In fact, some will not transport dogs in either the Winter or Summer. For instance, Singapore Airlines had no provisions for pets at all.
Per Lufthansa, this is not a factor with Lufthansa as the cargo hold for animals is climate controlled as in the main cabin, they do not load the dog until just before the flight, and they are the first unloaded upon arrival. Of course, you have to make a reservation with Lufthansa Cargo well in advance and it will cost $300-$400 each way.
Can you imagine the irritation if I booked on a restrictive airline, and they couldn’t accept my dog (which must accompany me on the trip as that is how I set the paperwork up)? Remember, the USDA-APHIS document is only good for a maximum of ten (10) days. Quite irritating indeed – make sure to be informed and to be prepared.
So – here is how it went-down in real life… Ready, ACTION!
I did my research and prepared. This is most important. Remember, if someone later gives you an opinion that differs from your research, CHALLENGE THEM to convince you. They are NOT the experts.
The veterinary check-up went well enough – vaccines and paperwork was filled-out and the microchip installed. However, I noticed that the form used was not the form that was on the German website – and the date on the paperwork was twelve (12) days prior to the scheduled departure, not the required ten (10) days.
I brought this to the Veterinarian’s attention the next day and had the proper documents filled-out and dated within the ten (10) day window required – a minor inconvenience, but not a major issue.
My flight is on the Thursday after the July 4th holiday – meaning it is a short work-week. I am thinking that, with my luck, the ONE GUY and USDA-APHIS who can sign this paperwork will take the week as vacation and my paperwork will be sitting in an unopened FedEx envelope long after I am supposed to have flown to Germany. My solution to this potential problem is to have the documents driven by courier the 2.5 hours to Albany, New York (and back) on the Friday before the holiday weekend (after first having secured an appointment). This is successfully accomplished and the potential problem is averted.
The next challenge comes over the weekend. I see that the temperature at Newark Airport (EWR) is supposed to be close to 100F for the entire week – including my departure date. I call American Express (with whom I made the booking) on the Monday (a holiday) to have the reservation confirmed and to ensure the travel policy with regards to extreme heat on travel day. After much irritation, this is actually confirmed on Tuesday.
Tip: NEVER call an airline on a holiday to have anything confirmed as the laws of Darwinism rule the day, and only the weak and incapable are working on this day – having drawn the short straws from the stronger and capable.
So, I have my paperwork all in order and travel plans confirmed. It’s time to start the journey.
The drive from Binghamton, New York to Newark, New Jersey is uneventful. I arrive at the airport with plenty of time and begin the check-in process with everything going as advertised, as promised, as expected and according to plan.
Unexpectedly, nobody at Lufthansa looks at any of the paperwork – which I worked so hard to have properly sorted – nor even shows interest in it.
The flight is uneventful and I arrive at Frankfurt Airport as scheduled. All the bags make it – and the dog makes it too. She is seemingly befuddled, but none the worse for the wear. I inquire to a Lufthansa representative in the baggage area as to the process – for instance, to whom I show what – in order to claim my dog and leave.
The employee motions for the Veterinarian – who comes over, looks at the dog, and verifies that the dog indeed has a chip. And sure enough, the chip is still there. She does not seem to care to compare the chip in the dog to the information on the paperwork I have – nor does she care to see any of the rest of the paperwork. In fact, she never bothers to collect any information on me or the dog – none whatsoever.
I am at the last stage – walking through Customs – and feeling a bit miffed. It seems that nobody wants to see this paperwork. I walk through the line that’s marked “Nothing to Declare” – there is a Guard there.
I stop (the guard does not stop me) and ask her if she wants to see the paperwork on the dog. She asks if the Veterinarian had seen the dog and I respond that she had. It’s obvious that she has no interest in this paperwork, and she actually says, “Sure, okay”. I pull out the papers, she acknowledges that they are, in fact, papers, and says, “Okay”. There could have been anything on those papers and I would have been passed.
I am almost begging her, “PLEASE look at these beautifully done documents!”
I feel cheated. I went through all that work and heavy effort to ensure the required paperwork is complete and in order and the implied or intended recipients simply do not care. What a waste of time and effort.
How to Open a Bank Account in Germany…
Not knowing German is a handicap. Being in an area and culture with which I am mostly unfamiliar is doubly-so. To help “ease the way”, I hired a Birgit Andrews from Reloop40innovation – my “Sherpa”, my “Kensing Norgay”. Birgit is – among other things – a “Relocation Consultant” located here in Frankfurt to assist in sorting many of the things we take for granted, but with which I am unfamiliar in a foreign land.
Hint: If you find yourself in similar circumstance as me – a stranger relocated to a strange or foreign land – do NOT hesitate to hire a competent relocation consultant. They will save your sanity. Believe it or not, I met Birgit through Linked-In.
The process for opening a bank account in the United States is pretty straight-forward, easy and quick.
You go to the bank (or online), fill-out an application, show some identification and fund the account. The bank will usually give you “temporary checks” (though nobody takes them) and you get your bank-card and checks in a couple of days. If you opened the account with cash or a bank check, you usually have access to your money (at least some of it) immediately at any walk-up window.
Much to my surprise, this is not the process in Germany. At this point, I don’t know why it was actually a surprise.
Given my circumstances – namely my being a citizen of the United States who is living in Germany and with international business needs – I decided that it would be best to do business with Deutsche Bank, which is arguably the most capable bank in Germany.
My Relocation Consultant set the meeting at the bank with the Branch Manager and also attended the meeting with me. Again, unless you are fluent in German and familiar with the German ways, I would strongly recommend that you take your Relocation Consultant with you.
The process went much as I expected. I filled-out a form and showed some identification (in this case, my US Passport).
We talked about the various account needs and options and made a selection (note: wiring money in or out of the EU is VERY expensive compared to the US).
They assigned an account number and filled out account cards.
But they could not take the money to actually open the account!
I was puzzled. I thought I had just opened and account; evidently not.
I was told by the Branch Manger that the process takes five (5) to ten (10) days to actually “open” the account. They can take my money, but it will be held in a “suspense” account (where I can’t access it) until the account is opened.
Once the account is opened, I can fund it.
I am left puzzled, “It takes five to ten days to open a bank account…and they won’t take my money to fund it?”
The Branch Manager just shrugs her shoulders. She does not know “why” it is the way it is, just that it is this way. The Relocation Consultant concurs, “This is the way it is done here in Germany.”
Welche Abenteuer in der Zukunft erfahren werden?
“What adventures are in store for me in the future?”
I am a stranger in a strange land – that is for sure…
I will certainly have a tendency to compare and contrast what I am experiencing in the present with what I have come to expect from my past – it is only human nature and natural.
This is not to say I believe my past experiences and the way I am used to things being done are any better or worse than what I am experiencing now – only that it is different and can be somewhat humorous or frustrating at times (glass half-full or half-empty).
I am sure that opportunities for improvement abound here in Germany. However, I am also sure that there are as many opportunities for improvement from where I came – for example, can anyone say “DMV”?
But change and improvement can only occur when the “need” for change turns into a “want” of change – otherwise, the status-quo will be maintained.
So I am sure that you will see more articles from me comparing and contrasting “here” with “there” (or elsewhere). After all, they will be about a customer’s experiences with “the process”.
Paris is the Founder and Chairman of the XONITEK Group of Companies; an international management consultancy firm specializing in all disciplines related to Operational Excellence, the continuous and deliberate improvement of company performance AND the circumstances of those who work there – to pursue “Operational Excellence by Design” and not by coincidence.
He is also the Founder of the Operational Excellence Society, with hundreds of members and several Chapters located around the world, as well as the Owner of the Operational Excellence Group on Linked-In, with over 25,000 members.
For more information on Paris, please check his Linked-In Profile at http://de.linkedin.com/in/josephparis