This is not a technical post: Many people have on various occasions asked how and when I managed to emigrate from Germany to the US After all, it turned out to happen alongside Brexit and also through the Covid-19 pandemic. This made it much more challenging than anticipated and led to lots of ups and downs, especially at the end of the process. Therefore, I thought I’d write it down, also for my own memory. There is always something to learn for life.
Immigration to UK
The process of moving to the US actually started with another move prior to that: On the day I joined Microsoft, I also immigrated to the UK. I left Germany and handed my (quite successful… as I can say) company Sarpedon Quality Lab® over to my business partner.
A “fresh start” or the “emigration-flight” turned into a scare
It so happened that all of my luggage, including one with all my personal documents (think birth certificates etc.) got lost at Amsterdam Schiphol airport – an airport known for such issues as I would find out again soon.
How could this happen? While boarding, at the gate we were asked to check in all large carry-ons since the airplane was crammed full. Stupid me, being caught by surprise and not thinking it through, agreed. Big mistake: Never put/leave important documents in checked luggage, always keep them in your reach!
So I arrived in England just with a small personal backpack with not much more than my laptop (without power-chord), passport and wallet. Yes, really. – And yes, I made the airline, KLM pay me the expenses for essential items that I needed for the next 24 hours.
(My family did not join me yet at this trip so I could prepare everything for them to be ready once they came.)
On the plus side, not having to take care of any luggage on the way from the Airport to the hotel was actually a plus. It was actually quite convenient that the 3 pieces were brought the next day by a special courier. So after all, I was lucky.
That was the first time I moved from one country and system to another (on my own – not counting childhood here). Thanks to the British bureaucracy being much more digital and much less bureaucratic and lengthy than the German one, I managed to prepare everything.
(I know that for many out there the British system is horribly bureaucratic, but you haven’t lived in Germany then 🙂
- Receive my Microsoft-badge
- Receive a Microsoft Laptop and have it set-up
- Apply for Residency (I am still holding a Pre-settled status in the UK to this day) which grants me the right to work in the UK
- Apply for a National Insurance Number – this would allow me to use the National Health Service (NHS) of the UK for free from day one
- Open local Bank account (first strategic decision that since then proved valuable: I chose HSBC over Lloyds bank, for its greater international presence, including US)
- Council tax registration
- Get key to new apartment (I just dropped half of my luggage there and left next morning to fly to Seattle)
- Apply for ESTA to travel to the US
- Book Flight and Hotels for 2 weeks in the US to attend a conference and work on site at the Microsoft headquarters in Redmond for another week.
I managed to prepare all that within 2 days so that on the 3rd day of my employment I was already on a flight to Seattle for the PASS conference as I had nothing else left to do. There I had my first talks on the very evening of that day, this time as a Microsoft employee. (List of my conference-attendances in 2018) That is, about 80 hours after arriving in the UK.
Arriving at Microsoft UK Headquarter on my first day of work.
short personal experience with the NHS
Imagine me coming from Germany where for every doctor appointment I would have to get a bill and find out what’s covered by the insurance later (perks of a private health insurance, to be precise). Specifically, I had to undergo a monthly injection, which cost me 200 Euros at that time in Germany.
When I showed up at the general surgery in my town, the nurse herself gave me the vaccination.
(in Germany only doctors are allowed to give injections! – fast forward to the COVID-Pandemic this would become a big issue and among other things led to the very slow vaccination rate in Germany)
Afterwards I walked down to the reception and out of custom of course I asked for the bill. They did not understand what I wanted. I was speechless and even a bit ashamed for not paying anything and no form of “checkout” was required. To me, the overall idea of the British healthcare system is simply amazing. Unfortunately, it has its issues, but those did not affect me in my short time there.
Why did I initially work for Microsoft UK and not start directly in the US?
The reason is that to get a work permit for the US, the L1B Visa requires to have been previously employed for 12 months with a company, and then one can do an intra-company transfer to the US (the L1B Visa is for Intracompany Transferees with Specialized Knowledge)
Could I have stayed in Germany and worked for Microsoft Germany?
Technically yes. But there are about a dozen reasons why that was absolutely no option for me.
Leaving Germany was a priority for me at that time. Microsoft was one option, the other one would have been to move my company to another country outside the EU. And the world events have exactly proven my point. But this is not the topic here. You may read things between the lines from time to time 🙂
One reason that probably makes sense for most people is, that psychologically, making the shift from being freelancer and then company owner for almost 2 decades to being employed, but not change anything about my surroundings, just would have felt odd. It’s a psychological trick to also move to a different place altogether when making big changes in life. I did the same when I moved from freelancer to start my own company by the way. And again when our child was going to be born.
I would give anyone this advice for life:
When you want to change something big in life, move to a new place physically as well.
The gist of this part: Moving to the UK turned out to be very easy and in addition to that, the location, Reading, with Microsoft UK’s Headquarter where I was seated, turned out to be the best decision ever till then (ok, after marrying and having a child of course). Reading is strategically located in good proximity to London Heathrow Airport, and being a frequent flyer, this really made life easier.
This move also already forced me to do a strong assessment already on to which furniture and other stuff I would keep, so I would not have to start with that when the move the US would be going to happen later.
Challenges on the moving process from Germany to England
Winter 2018/2019 was the time when the exact rules and timing of the Brexit (the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union) was continuously being shifted and changed. Results of negotiations kept being rejected if not by the European Union, then by the British House of Commons multiple times. It was just a mess, but these continuous postponements had the effect that during our time in the UK, Brexit did not have any real effect on us.
Except that, since everyone kept expecting the final agreement to be in place soon, or without any agreement a “hard Brexit,” it led to a scarcity of available movers, as all of them basically thought “this is going to be the last month we can travel freely.” Therefore, the last items arrived months later only.
How was working from UK for Microsoft in the US?
Here is another reason why I joined Microsoft: to work in a team. However, due to me having to work from UK, remotely from the team, so to say, this part would have to wait till the final move to the US a year later – or so I thought. (if you do the math, you know what became of that goal)
Of course, I made a couple of trips to Redmond. But I had to be mindful of how much time I spend in the US due to a specific rule for the L1 visa, that would then add all the days that I spent in the US prior to receiving the Visa to the waiting period for it.
However, I used my relatively central location between Redmond and other Microsoft offices in the world to visit our team in Israel and customers in Germany.
All in all, the time in the UK turned out to be an amazingly positive time in multiple ways.
But all things come to an end. The next step would be to prepare for the final move to the US.
How that went, I will explain in the next post
the_tags( ‘Tags: ‘ , ‘ – ‘ , ‘ ‘ );
echo’Categories: ‘; the_category( ‘ – ‘ );