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Thursday, September 29, 2016

Registering to Vote from Abroad & Requesting an Absentee Ballot

If you are an American living outside of the U.S., you need to request your ballot for the federal election by October 8, 2016 (in most states), even if you are already registered to vote. 

Do it. Now.

If you don't know how to register to vote or request a ballot from abroad, then read on.

How to vote in U.S. elections from abroad.

Earlier this year, when the U.S. presidential campaign was just starting to heat up, I started to feel quite guilty about the fact that I have never voted. Having moved so often since the age of 18, it just always seemed so complicated and difficult. I was also kind of lazy.

But now I have taken the first step to changing that: I registered to vote.

I always assumed registering from abroad would be complicated, but my home country pleasantly surprised me! Here is how I registered to vote from Germany:

1. Visit
 FVAP is the Federal Voter Assistance Program for service members and other overseas citizens. This is the first stop for any overseas citizens that want to vote, whether you are already registered or not. 

2. Choose Your State
Voting procedures vary by state, so you will need to choose your state from the drop-down menu on the website.

3. Follow the Directions
Yeah, it's that easy. Creating a numbered list probably wasn't necessary...

When I was registering to vote, I was worried that I would have to spend a lot of time and money mailing registration materials back and forth between the U.S. and Germany. However, Illinois actually has a website that allowed me to download the forms, fill them out electronically, and email them to my local county clerk.

The hardest part was having to answer this question:The hardest question for an expat.
Can any expat really answer this question with complete certainty? Anyways, your answer will only effect whether or not you can vote in local elections as well as federal elections.

After sending my voter registration and ballot request form by email, I then periodically checked the website to see if my application was approved. Once it was approved, I received my ballot shortly thereafter.

If you are already registered to vote, remember that you still need to request a ballot for this election. 

If you are still feeling confused, here are some other resources to help overseas American citizens vote:

Let me know if you are voting in the comments below!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

How We Met (His Side)

My German fiancé and I met five years ago in September of 2011 during my study abroad trip to Germany. Last week, I told my side of the story. As promised, this week is Marco's turn.

Without further ado, here is Marco's side of the story, written by the man himself:

The night I met Courtney started when I went to watch soccer at a sports bar with a few of my coworkers. VfB Stuttgart was playing SC Freiburg. I just looked it up online, and it looks like Stuttgart won (although I don’t actually remember the game).

After the game, we went back to my friend Jakob’s apartment for some drinks. Unmistakably loud party noises were coming from the parking lot behind my friend’s apartment building. We looked out the window and saw a crowd of American exchange students hanging out in the parking lot, playing beer pong and enjoying the freedom to drink in public. It looked like fun, so we decided to join their party.

When we went down to the parking lot, I was standing next to the beer pong table and of course I immediately noticed the pretty girl with the incredible beer pong skills. After a while, she asked me to be her teammate for the next round.

I don’t remember everything about the party, but I do remember Courtney getting the hiccups. Someone told her that you can get rid of them by doing a handstand, so I held her feet while she did a handstand against a wall.

Later, we went to an Irish pub. We had to walk through the city to get there, and Courtney offered to give me a piggyback ride. I was impressed that she was able to do it. I also carried her for a little while.

After leaving the bar, I walked her to her apartment, which was in the same building that Jakob lived in. When we got to the building, I asked for her number. She gave it to me, and I texted her the next morning – but I didn’t get an answer for a week!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Our 5th Anniversary | How We Met (Her Side)

I met my German fiancé five years ago, in September of 2011. In those five years, we survived a long distance relationship, moved in together, got engaged, and are now planning our wedding! The one thing that I have never talked about on this blog, though, is how we met.

Today, I will share my side of the story. Then, if you come back next week, you can read Marco's side. 

I came to Germany for a semester-long study abroad program on August 30, 2011. Although I was at a German university, all of the Americans took classes together. So, I spent all my free time with my fellow American study abroad students too.

As you can imagine, much of those first weeks in Germany revolved around partying. A few other American students and I lived in a residence hall near the city center, and there was a big parking lot in the back. So, on one particular Friday night, one of the students took his closet door off its hinges, set it up outside on some cases of beer, and we started playing beer pong. Below is a picture from early on that night. Yeah....

That's me on the left (i.e. the only girl in the picture)

The Germans are fascinated with red solo cups, as they don't really exist in Europe outside of Hollywood college movies. So, this party was basically a magnet for any German college students passing by. And Marco was one of those Germans that happened to pass by.

A new game of beer pong was starting, and I was standing at my side of the table alone. I turned around, saw Marco, pointed at him, and yelled, "You're on my team!"

So, we started playing beer pong. I don't remember much of the game. The only part of our conversation I can remember is when I said to him, "Guess where I am from!" To which he replied, "Chicago!" And I totally flipped out at the fact that he guessed right.

A little while later, we all decided to go to the local Irish pub that us study abroad students frequented. Marco came with, but I don't remember paying much attention to him at the bar. However, I do remember walking with him on the way back to the residence hall at the end of the night.

Our conversation mostly revolved around the word Einhörnchen, until I asked him what his last name was. "It's the German word meaning 'rich,'" he replied. My German was so bad at the time, I honestly did not know what the German word for "rich" was. So, he told me I'd just have to look it up later.

Once we were back at my dorm, he asked to exchange phone numbers. We did. I think he even texted me that night to let me know he got home safely. I had a prepay phone, and I didn't know how/where to buy more credit, so I didn't reply until over a week later... Oops!

Make sure to check back in next week to hear Marco's side of the story!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Getting Married in Germany: Costs and Fees for Foreigners

How much does it cost for a foreigner to get married in Germany?

I searched this exact question quite a lot after my German fiancé popped the question back in November. And although this question depends on your citizenship and the German city you are in, I still struggled to find any answers.

So, now that I have registered my marriage and payed all the fees, I will tell you how much it cost for me, a US-American, to marry a German in Germany.

Here is a breakdown of all the necessary costs and fees my fiancé and I had to pay in order to legally register our marriage at the German registry office (Standesamt):

1. Document Fees: 78€
As a US-American, I needed a new copy of my birth certificate with apostille. This cost about $25, and getting them mailed to Germany via certified mail was $30.

My German fiancé needed a new copy of his birth registration (Abschrift aus dem Geburtenregister), which cost 12€.

We also each had to get new copies of our registration certificates from the city (Meldebescheinigung), which cost 9€ each.

2. Translation of Documents: 50€
My birth certificate had to be translated by a certified translator in Germany. Although it was just a single sheet of paper with about 50 words on it, it still cost 50€. Note that translations cost exponentially more if there are more lines/words on your birth certificate or if you have to get additional documents translated.

3. Registration Fee: 80€
This is the normal marriage registration fee that the registry office charges every couple. In my city, the fee for two German citizens to marry is 40€, and a marriage with at least one foreign citizen is 80€. Don't ask why, it will just make you crazy.

Documents required to marry in Germany

4. Oath of No Impediment: 25€
The Germans have this thing called an Ehefähigkeitszeugnis (certificate of no impediment to marriage). If that doesn't exist in the country you are from, you need to take an oath that you are able to get married. Since the U.S. doesn't issue such documents, I had to take an oath at the registry office, which cost 25€.

If you are really unlucky, your Standesamt may require you to take this oath at your country's consulate. This costs more, and you will have to travel to the consulate (for Americans, this means Bremen, Frankfurt, or Berlin). Luckily, I didn't have to do this.

5. Court Fee: 95€
After all the documents are turned in and the forms are signed, everything gets sent to the higher regional court (Oberlandesgericht) for approval. The fee for this is calculated according to your salary, and (according to our registry office) can be up to 500€.

My fiancé turned in his most recent pay stub (he works full-time at a public university, so you can probably guess his salary by looking up wages online if you really want), and since I am a student (and had no job nor scholarship at the time of registration), I just turned in proof of my full-time university enrollment.

Luckily (hahahah), we don't make very much money collectively, so we didn't come close to the maximum possible fee. Rather, we were pleasantly surprised when it was only 91€. We also had to pay 4€ in postage fees.

Total: 328€

There you have it. In total, my German fiancé and I have paid 328€ in order to legally marry in Germany. If I were German, it would have only been about 60€, but it is what it is.

For more information on the marriage process in Germany, check out the following posts:
- Required documents for getting married in Germany
- Registering a marriage in Germany
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