Saturday 3rd December 2011

In the latest installment in our expat interview series we meet Klaus Sonnenleiter, a German expatriate who initially came to the US to complete work on a short-term project and never left; in fact, he never plans to leave! Here Klaus shares his story and explains in no uncertain words why everyone should try living in the United States, at least once.

Where are you currently living?
I'm in Franklin Lakes, NJ, about 30 miles outside of Manhattan.

Where in the world were you born?
My birth certificate says that was in a town called Neustadt an der Aisch in Germany where I also spent my first 19 years before living in other cities in Germany and eventually moving to the US.

Why did you move overseas and why did you choose your host country?
I initially moved for a short-term project that was run by my employer at the time and I chose to stay after the project had run out, rather than move to Luxembourg where the resulting work would have been based.

How long have you been living in your host country?
Almost 16 years now.

Who did you relocate with?
Just myself and a container full of stuff that I brought.

Was it hard to get a visa for your host country that was appropriate to your circumstances?
I was lucky since I was working as a journalist at the time I moved so the paperwork was minimal. Later on I got married, which resulted in a steep increase in the amount of paperwork required, especially since the immigration service managed to lose various crucial copies.

What is the medical care like in your host country? Do you need medical insurance and, if so, how much is it?
Fortunately, I am very healthy and have not needed medical care. From what I understand the level of care is great here for people who work for large corporations or can otherwise afford it. The coverage for many others, however, seems more typical of a 3rd world country.

How do you make your living in your host country?
I run my own company, called Printed Art, that sells artwork and printing services. We use digital photography and manufacture it into ready-to-hang artwork mounted with acrylic and aluminum dibond to create a float-on-the-wall display.

Do you speak the local language and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
I do. And I think this is somewhat obvious for any place you'd move to. If you don't speak the local language, you would probably always consider yourself a temporary guest. And even then, I think it is really important to speak at least enough to get through everyday conversations and some minimal business talk.

Are there any local customs, laws or traditions that it is important for potential expatriates to be aware of and adhere to?
Plenty. This is the US after all, which despite its openness is probably very unique for both its legal system and how it facilitates local business.

Do you ever get homesick?
Hasn't happened in the last 16 years ;-)

How long do you plan to remain in your host country?
I'm staying. I have no plan to return.

Have you purchased a property in your host country or do you rent? What is the cost of housing like in your host country?
I own the home I live in and a vacation home. Housing prices in the US are far more widespread than in most countries in Europe and depend on location and the quality of local school systems. Single-family homes in communities that typical expatriates are gravitating to are probably starting in the 500,000 to 1,000,000 dollar range.

What is the cost of living like in your host country?
Very much comparable to Europe.

What do you think about the locals?
"The locals" is probably too large a group to have any uniform opinion about. After all, this is a country of 300 million people from all cultural backgrounds.

What are the three things you like the most about your host country?

  1. How simple it makes it for business to get started.
  2. How focused people are on getting business results.
  3. Generally, the sense of pragmatism and resiliency.

What are the three things you like the least?

  1. The horrendous shape of the media - there is no news to speak of and despite its great traditions, the news media has completely deteriorated into nothing but irrelevance (with very few exceptions - Bloomberg radio being the only one I can think of right now).
  2. The public school system. Local funding has created a very unfair system that dwells on inequality as its driving factor.
  3. Politics. What a bunch of rotten clowns are running this country! And how amazing is the resiliency built into the system that prevents the country from going to the dogs despite the unbelievable ineptitude at the helm.

Do you have any tips for our readers about living in your host country?
Just one: You absolutely have to try it for a while. But be ready for not wanting to leave ;-) >

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