The Most Detailed (And Free!) Moving To Berlin Guide Out There – Some might consider me a pro, as I’ve moved to Berlin, not once but twice! I moved here in June 2011 and after a short 18 month stint, returned to Toronto where I stayed for two years. During that time, my heart ached for Berlin so badly that I soon found myself calling Berlin home again in 2014. I’ve happily been here ever since.
During all my years here, I’ve written a lot about living in Berlin including how to find a job, learn German, make friends, and more. But I’ve never put it all together into a single comprehensive guide. It’s been on my “to do” list for years and I hope this very very detailed, step by step, moving to Berlin guide will help you settle seamlessly into your new Berlin life.
Your Step By Step Moving To Berlin Guide
We know, this is a waaaaay long post, but there’s an abundance of things to think about when you’re planning your move to the German capital, and an even longer list of things to do once you’ve moved to Berlin.
Use the Table of Contents to jump to a relevant section:
Moving To Berlin Guide – Things To Do Even Before You’ve Arrived
We know there’s a fuzzy line between some of these items, but there are things that you can start doing long before you come to Germany and of course, continue once you’re here. So for the purpose of this moving to Berlin guide, items aren’t listed in chronological order or order of importance.
You’ve moved to Germany, so you should probably learn German right? But you’ve heard that everyone speaks English and you’re confused about whether or not it’s worth the effort. Should you learn German when you come to Berlin? The answer is a clear and resounding yes!
It’s a myth that everyone speaks English. Unless you live in an impenetrable bubble, you’re going to encounter people who can’t or even, won’t speak English. If you call up a customer service line, it’s quite likely you won’t be able to reach an English-speaking agent. If you go to a place like the Ausländerbehörde or the Bürgeramt, employees are required by law to speak with you only in German. If you go to restaurants, it’s possible that the menu will only be in German and the servers may not know English either. While startups and other companies looking to acquire skilled technology or marketing professionals might be lax on language requirements, most companies will require that you speak German in the workplace. In fact, 96% of all jobs in Germany require at least some level of German.
While Berlin is becoming more international and the country more welcoming to skilled workers, English as the spoken language in the workplace is not as commonplace as you may think. So why not learn the language of the country you’ve come to call home?
Our pro tip? Get a head start and begin mastering the language even before you move here. Use a company like Chatterbug – a new way to help you master language skills through adaptive courses and one-on-one video sessions with native speakers from around the world. With Chatterbug, you’ll have access to over 1,000 learning exercises, a digital classroom, and a record of your progress.
We’ve written a lot on this exact topic, so be sure to read more about why it’s essential to learn German when you’re in Berlin, and get the lowdown on the situation about whether or not there are English jobs in Berlin.
Become Gainfully Employed
Finding a job in Berlin is easy for a lucky few – like if you’re German, don’t need a visa because you’re from the EU, speak German fluently, are willing to work at a startup, and/or have career experience in tech, design, or marketing. People falling into these categories can often find jobs in a matter of days. Some companies even go out of their way to recruit talent from around the globe as they’re that desperate to get new UX designers, software engineers, or content writers in-house. On the other hand, finding a job in Berlin can be really difficult for others – those who are from outside of the EU and need a visa, don’t speak German, lack a university degree or relevant professional experience, are searching for work in a field that’s not in demand, and more.
I know people who’ve worked as chemical engineers in their home countries – well educated, qualified, smart people who would happily take a job in a German company. Yet, coming without a local education meant their associated degrees wasn’t recognized. Not speaking German fluently, meant that many companies wouldn’t even take a look at their CV. People of colour have also reported difficulties navigating the German job market. No one likes to acknowledge this, but it needs to be said as it’s an unfortunate factor that hinders some people’s ability to secure employment in Germany.
As mentioned earlier in the post, Germany made it law to welcome highly skilled migrants from abroad and Berlin in particular has a unique mix and high population of job seekers, refugees, students, IT workers, and creatives. With time, diligence, perseverance, and a dollop of good luck, finding a job in Berlin is not only possible, but likely.
Our pro tip? Reading these articles to help you find a job in Berlin:
- Companies In Berlin Hiring Right Now
- The Reality Of Finding Work In Berlin In 2021
- What Are The Best Berlin Job Search Websites?
- What Are The Most Highly Demanded Jobs In Germany?
Secure Your Visa
For our moving to Berlin guide, this is one of the most important things for anyone from outside of the EU to do, as they will need a visa to live and work in Germany.
Here are some of the different types of German visas you can consider:
- Tourist Visa – Depending on your passport, people can visit Germany and stay up to three months. You can use the time to look for a job and/or apply for a more permanent visa. Know that you are legally not allowed to work during this time.
- Working Holiday Visa/Youth Mobility Visa – Young people from a select group of countries like Canada and Australia aged 35 and under can come to Germany for up to a year to live, study, or work. Bonus is that you can usually renew for at least one more year. Unfortunately, Americans are not eligible for this visa. Find out more.
- Freelancer Visa – You can get a freelance visa if you’re able to prove that you have a steady and recurring income, as well as meet some other basic requirements including health insurance. I have friends who work independently as graphics designers, writers, photographers, and more. Your client base doesn’t even have to be located in Germany! Note, the authorities usually require that your income come from a varied number of sources and having local offers of work looks favourable. Visas usually expire after 2-3 years and you’ll be required to renew it before expiration. Find out more.
- Job Seeker Visa – Certain professionals with university degrees recognized by the ZAB and those with various vocational backgrounds can apply for a job seeker visa enabling them to come and stay in Germany for up to six months. Others already in Germany are also eligible for this visa if:
- You’ve completed academic studies, you can stay up to 18 months.
- You’ve done research work in Germany can remain up to 9 months.
- You’ve finished vocational training, you can look for work up to 12 months.
- You’ve achieved the German equivalent of a professional qualification, such as nursing, you can stay up to one year.
As with the tourist visa, it’s illegal to start work on this visa (including freelancing activities) and it cannot be extended. A small exception is that you’re allowed to work a maximum of 10 hours a week for trial purposes with a prospective employer. Find out more.
- Residence Permit (For Work) – If you’ve received an offer and signed a contract for a permanent position, your employer will usually help you through the process of obtaining a residence permit. This will permit you to live in Germany and work only for the listed company and the position specified. If you lose your job, you would need to apply for a new visa. These visas tend to expire after two – three years as well. Start the renewal process well before your visa expires. Find out more.
- Residence Permit (For Learning German) – If you would like to stay in Germany specifically for learning German, you can apply for a residence permit that lasts up to one year. The requirements for this one are steep – you’ll need health insurance, a minimum of €10,932 in a German bank account (Sperrkonto), proof of residence in Berlin, financial proof and backing from your parents, and enrollment in an intensive language course for 18 hours a week (evening & weekend courses do not count.) Find out more.
- Residence Permit (For Studying) – Germany encourages students from around the world to come here and complete their post secondary education. Like the residence permit for learning German, the requirements are much the same, you’ll need health insurance, €9,936 in a special German bank account (Sperrkonto), proof of residence in Berlin, income statements from your parents, and enrollment at a German university. Find out more.
- Blue Card – Certain qualified professionals can also apply for a Blue Card. It’s like a work permit but is more geared to skilled workers (i.e. software engineers) earning more than €56,800 annually (gross). Exceptions are made for those working for a profession where there’s a labor shortage and then you only need to earn €44,304 annually. Getting one of these visas is like winning the lottery – the path to permanent residency is not only easier but shortened. You can apply for permanent residency after 21 consecutive months of employment and knowledge of some basic German. Blue cards typically last around four years. Find out more.
- Residence Permit (For Spouses and Children) – Not all of us move to Berlin alone. Some people bring their spouse and children along for the adventure. This visa is also available for people married to a German or EU citizen or have a child with a German or EU citizen. Find out more.
Applying for a visa or permit on your own, with the help of an employer, or even with the help of a professional can be a stressful experience for the best of us. Filling out forms, collecting the necessary paperwork, and getting signatures is only the start of it all.
Depending on which visa or permit you’re applying for, you may need to make an appointment at the foreigner’s office (Ausländerbehörde) on your own. Start by searching for an appointment online. As these appointments in Berlin are notoriously hard to come by, we recommend booking as far ahead as possible – quite literally months ahead.
Locals recommend looking for an available appointment early in the morning when the system is refreshed with the latest cancellations. You can also show up to the foreigner’s office without an appointment and get in a queue. Some people arrive at 4 am! It’s still quite possible that you may queue and still not get an appointment, needing to return another day.
When you finally go to your appointment at the foreigner’s office in Berlin, the case worker is unlikely to speak to you in English or another language. Sometimes they do, but don’t expect this to be the case. If your German isn’t that great, bring along a German speaking friend or hire someone. This will help avoid misunderstandings or miscommunications and (hopefully) make your appointment successful.
To make things even easier, hire someone to help you through the process from start to finish. You can hire a Berlin-based immigration lawyer, or you can use services like Red Tape Translation or Expath. If you’re able to do so, definitely get the help of a professional. It will remove so much stress from your experience.
A word of caution about doing research for your visa – while it’s perfectly acceptable to ask questions in Facebook groups, find answers in blogs, or even information from local Youtubers/Instagrammers/Tiktokkers, it’s important to always go to the source of truth – berlin.de.
Another great resource is Because Berlin. A project sponsored by the Berlin senate, they offer free advice in English about moving to Berlin and finding a job. Their welcome team is also deeply knowledgeable about visas and can provide you with accurate and up to date advice.
Take anything you read or hear in Facebook groups, blogs, or social channels with a measure of skepticism, then double, and even triple check the facts. I’ve seen a lot of bad and even, contradicting advice doled out on all of these mediums. Getting a visa is often a time-critical situation and the last thing you want to do is to mess up the process. If you take anything from this article, let this be your most important lesson.
Figure Out How Much It Will Cost To Move To Berlin
There are numerous things to consider when you’re planning your move to Berlin and one of them is figuring out your budget. You don’t want to arrive in Germany and be short on cash.
Aside from the obvious expenses you’ll incur; like your flight, travel insurance, cost to ship your belongings, etc., there are also many other expenses that newbies to Germany may not know about. For example, the concept of “first and last months rent” doesn’t exist here, surprising many people when they’re asked to pay three months of cold rent in addition to their first month warm rent. That’s a whole lot of money to shell out upfront. And what is the difference between cold and warm rent anyway? Or how about the fact that flats often come without lightbulbs and entire kitchens? Having to buy the kitchen from the previous tenants or purchase one yourself is another big expense.
Recommended reading: Our guide to figuring out how much it will cost you to move to Germany. It even features a handy calculator to help you determine your budget.
Moving To Berlin Guide – The First Things To Do After You’ve Arrived
As with the previous section of our moving to Berlin guide, these items are not listed in chronological order or order of importance.
Sign-up For Health Insurance
The reason for us writing this moving to Berlin guide is because of our friends at ottonova, a private German health insurance company and the very first one that’s completely digital. They’re here with us to help take the mystery out of healthcare for newly arrived foreigners.
The German healthcare system is one of the best ones out there and everyone in the country contributes (with some minor exceptions for those employed for example). That said, anyone who moves to Germany must also have health insurance as it’s a legal requirement. While many newbies to Germany love nothing more than to complain about the high costs of healthcare or claim that it doesn’t offer much, consider that you’re covered for some medical prescriptions, doctor’s visits, operations, hospital stays, unemployment, sick days, and more. Your family is covered under your insurance as well, at no additional cost. There are a number of other services covered like basic dental (more extensive dental services can be purchased for an extra premium), massages, and even yoga classes.
The vast majority of people in Germany are covered by public health insurance, a statutory insurance where providers are legally bound to insure everyone regardless of their health, age, employment status etc. You can choose from any number of public health insurance providers, such as TK or AOK. If you have a permanent position or a mini-job, your employer will pay half of your total contribution, leaving you to pay the rest – equaling around 14.6 % of your gross income. Insurance companies also usually charge another premium on top of this, at around 1.1% on average.
Other people also opt to go with private insurance, also called voluntary insurance. If your income exceeds €64,350 per annum, you can apply to become a member of a private health insurance company to receive even better services than you would under statutory insurance. Many freelancers, even those with a lower annual income, are also accepted by private health insurance companies. The improved level of services and lower monthly fees are especially appealing for young people who might not be staying in Germany for the long term. If you think there’s a chance you’ll stay in Germany long term (i.e. the rest of your life), be aware that premiums can rise over time and become more costly than public insurance.
This is where ottonova private health insurance comes into play for foreigners in Germany. They are a fully digital company with an app that allows you to get recommendations for doctors, book appointments, track all of your documents in a centralized place, take video calls from German doctors, and more. You can even sign-up online and not bother sending in any paperwork, almost unheard of in Germany. They also offer 24/7 customer service in English(!), quick reimbursement on your healthcare expenses (also via the app), and personalized concierge services.
Sign-up for health insurance with Ottonova.
Choose A Neighbourhood
As you’re looking for a flat, you’ll need to think about just where exactly in Berlin you want to live. There are many things to consider when choosing a neighbourhood such as proximity to public transit, potential noise levels, convenient access to basic amenities like supermarkets, Apothekes, and post offices, how expensive the rent will be, and more.
In East Berlin, you can choose from these main areas:
- Prenzlauer Berg – A very beautiful area filled with dreamy Altbaus and tree-lined cobblestoned streets. It’s full of trendy bars and restaurants, yet also has its quiet places. It’s an area loved by families and English-speaking foreigners. However, it’s one of the most pricey areas in the city and unaffordable for the average person.
- Mitte – Mitte is one Berlin’s most beautiful areas, and like Prenzlauer Berg full of cool places to eat and drink, but it’s also expensive and overrun with tourists. It’s also become so gentrified that many residential buildings have more holidays flats than local residents. Regardless, it’s not the worst area to live being in the center of the city and really well connected with transit.
- Friedrichshain – Some streets in Friedrichshain are very nice and filled with lovely Altbaus, but unless you want to live in the middle of a noisy block party filled with drunk tourists and locals, avoid living too close to Boxhagener Platz or Revalerstr (close to the Urban Spree and RAW-Gelände). It tends to be an area favoured by younger people who are into the bar and club scene of the area. In recent years, a lot of new property developments have been springing up, further gentrifying the area. This has brought more restaurants, cafés, and the like, and depending on who you ask – has made the district more desirable.
- Lichtenberg – This area of Berlin is completely underrated. While it’s located outside of the Ring, there are several good transit connections that bring you to most other parts of the city in less than 30 minutes. While some parts of the district aren’t so nice, there are really pretty pockets like Rummelsburg and Nöldnerplatz. It’s also likely you’ll end up living in a tall Soviet-style Plattenbau and lucky for you, rents in Lichtenberg are much cheaper than the rest of Berlin.
- Kreuzberg – It’s gritty in the sense that it’s filled with street art, home to Myfest celebrations, and plenty of cheap places to grab a Döner. Some areas along the canal are especially beautiful. It’s party central and like Friedrichshain, filled with tons of cool bars, decent restaurants, and clubs. At the same time, it’s just another expensive that caters more to foreigners than locals these days.
- Schöneberg – It’s an absolutely area filled many peaceful residential streets and not completely gentrified. Nicer parts can be found close to Kleistpark and Akazienstraße.
- Charlottenburg & Wilmersdorf – These areas are especially gorgeous and in parts, also very fancy, especially around Savignyplatz and Kurfürstendamm. There’s a plethora of great restaurants and bars too. Perhaps avoid living close to the Zoo, but definitely head there to hang out at Monkey Bar or the rooftop bar at Motel One Upper West.
- Neukölln – A cool area that’s becoming more like Kreuzberg by the day. It’s packed with restaurants, bars, and clubs, but is sadly getting more expensive and crowded. Nicer spots to live are near the canal and Richardplatz /Rixdorf. Some areas are actually also quiet, but you have search them out. Neukölln is actually a pretty awesome place to live if you’re lucky enough to find an affordable apartment.
- Wedding – Wedding has been getting nicer over the years and it’s another area that hasn’t been completely transformed by gentrification … yet. While craft beer breweries and tech hubs are popping up, it’s actually possible to find affordable housing here.
- Moabit & Tiergarten – Moabit is another area that’s just starting to gentrify, so as with Wedding, rents are also more affordable here. There is plenty of green space, nice Altbaus, and a quiet vibe. Living close to Potsdamer Platz is not advisable as it’s very busy and commercial, but there are some nice, albeit expensive rental flats to be found around Gleisdreieck (and hello BRLO!).
Find A Flat
Truth be told, finding a flat will probably be the single most difficult thing once you move to Berlin. The competition for getting a flat is high and much to the dismay of locals, the rents are going up each year. Unless you’re prepared to shell out a lot of dough, scoring a flat with the amenities you like in a desirable neighborhood is probably going to take you a long time – anywhere around one to even several months.
Our pro tip? Consider using a relocation specialist company like Nomaden to make things easier and help you with a myriad of things like support in getting your visa, access to a community of locals with various social events, and even 30 days of accommodation (including registration of your address).
When searching for a flat in Berlin, consider the local perspective. While you may come from a notoriously expensive city like New York and find Berlin “cheap” – know that cheap is a fairly subjective term. When you close a contract on a new place for an exorbitant amount of rent, you contribute to making that the new norm across the city’s rental landscape. Use this rent calculator to determine if the rent being asked for is fair. Be sure to join the Berliner Mieterverien, the local tenants association who can give legal advice and help resolve any disputes with landlords.
So, what do you do while you’re looking for that perfect flat? Live in a shared flat, take out a temporary sublet, rent a holiday flat, or pay way too much to live in a “co-living” space. Use websites like WG-Gesucht.de to find a flat with roommates, peruse various local Facebook groups or classifieds like eBay Kleinanzeigen to find sublets, and/or use Airbnb, Wunderflats, Nestpick, Flatio, Crocodilian, Homelike to find a short-term rental place. If you have friends here already, don’t be hesitant to tap into your existing network.
For something more long term, you can still use the above websites, but also try Immowelt, Immobilien Scout, and Immonet. One tip for success is scouring the sites daily and responding very quickly to new listings. You can also setup email alerts to get notified whenever new ones are posted. Another success tip is be relentlessly persistent – for example, a colleague of mine spent hours sending out hundreds of emails out daily. Another essential tip is to have all of the relevant paperwork together when you go to viewings (SCHUFA, bank account, bank statements, copy of your passport etc.).
A viable option to increase your chances of scoring a Berlin flat is to be willing to go outside of the Ring – you’d be surprised how many lovely areas are outside of the city center. Not only this, the chance of finding a reasonably priced flat goes way up. I used to live in Lichtenberg and some of my favourite areas of Berlin can be reached within 30 minutes on transit. My cold rent for a 55 square meter apartment was way lower than what many of my friends were paying to live in hot spots like Kreuzberg and Prenzlauer Berg.
Some other things to help you with your Berlin flat search? Make yourself familiar with how apartments are advertised here and adjust your expectations (we touched upon this briefly above). Apartments often come without kitchen appliances and even cabinets, which is shocking for some newcomers. As it the amount of money you need to budget for a kitchen purchase. A one room apartment in Germany is not a one-bedroom apartment as it is in the US or Canada. Know the difference between warm and cold rent. Find out what’s included in your rental contract, what you need to pay monthly, and what bills you might get at the end of the year. Lastly, watch out for scams as they are rampant. For example, a landlord is legally not allowed to ask you to pay for more than three months’ of cold rent as your Kaution (deposit). Never pay a deposit without seeing a place and signing a lease.
Searching for a flat in Berlin is a daunting experience for the best of us and it may even feel hopeless at times. It’s not uncommon for people to move around a lot during their first months here because of limited term sublets or brief forays at holiday that flats leaving you feeling perpetually unsettled. You can go to a viewing and find hundreds of others waiting in line and the likelihood of you scoring a flat over all of them will not be high. If you’re a foreigner – especially a person of colour, you could be passed over time and time again. Same as if they see you are still on probation with a company or a freelancer with a meagre income. It’s tough but stay as positive as possible and keep it up. At some point, you’ll find something.
If you want help with your Berlin flat search process, consider hiring a realtor. They’ll do all of the work for you – the only downside is their fees are quite high. Considering that you’re going to need up to a three-month deposit, assume moving fees, and possibly buying an entire new kitchen, it’s a lot of extra money to dole out.
Another pro tip? After you found your perfect new apartment, before moving in, consider using this move-in cleaning service in Berlin.
We could go on more and more about flat hunting in Berlin, but we’ll save that for another post. In the meantime, we hope that we’ve provided enough basic tips and information to get your started.
Register Your New Address
Once you’ve moved into your new room or flat, you’ll need to register your new address at any Bürgeramt in Berlin. You have up to 14 days after moving in to complete the process.
Bring valid identification (your passport or work permit will be sufficient), your previous Anmeldung (if applicable), your new lease, this form filled out and signed by your landlord, and this form filled out by you. If you don’t want to start paying church taxes, be sure to not tick off your specific religion when filling out your form, as it can start getting quite costly.
Unfortunately, it can be difficult to score an appointment at a Bürgeramt. You can quite easily reserve a spot online but you may not be able to find an appointment anytime soon or at a location near your home. Note, you cannot go to the Bürgeramt to register until after your official move-in date. You can also visit any Bürgeramt in the city – you’re not limited to the one for your district.
Pro tips? If you know the date of when you’re moving, book your appointment well in advance. I moved to Mitte in January 2022 and booked my Bürgeramt appointment back in mid-November 2021. I ended up having to cancel my appointment at the last moment when I came down with COVID-19 but I was able to snap up another appointment really quickly. Simply visit the Bürgeramt website multiple times per day and check back for available appointments – new appointments are released frequently throughout the day.
Open Up A Bank Account
One of the most critical things you need to do after you’ve moved to Berlin is to open up a bank account. You’ll need an account as soon as possible in order to pay your rent, receive your salary, signup for a mobile phone plan, and more. A standard checking account, called a Girokonto, is what most people start our with.
Opening up a bank account in Berlin can be more difficult than you think as banks are often not as open to foreigners as they could be and at times, even go so far as to refuse your request to do business with them. However, if you come armed with your passport, Anmeldung, visa papers, employment contract, and recent bank statements from home, you shouldn’t have any problem getting an account.
Some of the big banks in Germany include Sparkasse, Postbank, Commerzbank, Deutsche Bank, and Volksbank. Know that bank employees often don’t speak English and may require you to make an appointment for a later date when an English speaking employee is available. Whenever possible, always try to use an ATM (Geldautomat) linked to your German bank account as the processing fees are unusually high in Germany if you use another’s banks ATM. You can pay upwards of €5 for a single transaction! One of the things I like about being a customer of Sparkasse is they have ATMs and branches all around Berlin. Most bank accounts will have a low monthly fee associated with them as well. For example, I pay a meager €3 per month.
More modern banks without physical offices and way more sophisticated tech include N26, DKB, Vivid, and ING. In particular, N26 offers an easy signup process, will let you open an account without having an address registered, and employs English-speaking customer service staff. Many of my colleagues and friends are big fans of the company.
Most banks will also offer the possibility of opening a savings account (Sparbuch), running an overdraft (Disposition Kredit), getting a credit card, and other loans like a Mietkautionskonto which will cover your deposit costs for renting a new apartment.
If you need to transfer money from your bank account in your home country to your German bank account, consider using Wise. Their fees are quite cheap and the transfers are usually done within 1-2 business days. Alternatively, you can use Paysend.
Ensure You’ve Received Your Tax ID
Other items for our moving to Berlin guide? After you’ve registered your address at the Bürgeramt, the Federal Central Tax Office (Finanzamt) will send your tax ID visa post. This tax identification number (Identifikationsnummer) is an 11-digit number that will serve as your tax ID for the duration of your time in Germany. It typically arrives within a couple of weeks. It’s something your employer will ask for when you start work.
Your identification number may also be referred to as a Steueridentifikationsnummer or Steuer-ID. Note, this is different than getting a tax number (Steuernummer) that’s needed to work as a freelancer.
Get A Transit Pass
While walking or cycling is our most highly recommended form of moving around, Berlin’s an expansive city spanning almost 900 square kilometers. This makes the (mostly) efficient public transportation system the easiest, cheapest, and quickest way to get to different areas. So you’re going to need a transit pass to move around Berlin.
Recommended reading: Where To Get Bike Insurance In Germany
If you’re infrequent user, buying a ticket in a station, onboard a vehicle, or via the BVG app is sufficient. If you’re a heavy user, buying a monthly or annual pass will save you a lot of money. An annual pass for the AB zone will cost you about €64 per month. If you’re unable to commit to purchasing an annual pass because you travel out of the city or country a lot, you can purchase a monthly pass for the AB zone for around €81 per month.
Find A Mobile Phone Provider
One perk of moving to Berlin is that you can get a cheap mobile phone plan from a number of different providers. To get started, make sure you’ve registered your address at a Bürgeramt. Typically, you won’t be able to get a plan or contract without having done this. Your phone will also need to be unlocked in order to work with your new German telephone number. Next, choose between having a prepaid plan or a contract. Regardless of which option you choose, you’ll also be required to buy a new SIM card.
For those who are averse to long term contracts with telecom companies, prepaid plans are the obvious choice. Popular mobile phone plans in Germany include Aldi Talk, Blau, Congstar Prepaid, Lidl Connect, Edeka Mobile, Otelo, and Tchibo Mobile. I personally use Aldi Talk and spend €10 monthly for 5 GB of data and another €5 for calling and texting.
If you’re open to a contract with a bigger company, especially worthwhile if you’re looking to purchase a new phone or get another service like home internet, consider Vodafone, T-Mobile, O2, 1&1, and Base. Note, most of these German telecoms may lock you into a minimum one-year contract that will require at least 30 days notice should you wish to terminate. You can also opt to only buy a SIM card from Simply, Whatsapp Sim, and Fyve.
One cool thing about getting a new German phone number is that under most providers, you don’t have to pay roaming fees when you’re travelling within the European Union (EU)! Just don’t forget to turn off roaming when you visit countries like Switzerland or Ukraine who aren’t in the EU.
Get On The Internet
Continuing with our moving to Berlin guide, you’re also going to need to get online and for that you need to get an internet connection. For some unfathomable reason, getting an internet connection installed in your new Berlin flat might be one of the more difficult things to get once you move here. It’s a process that’s going to require an extreme amount of patience and perseverance on your part. First, you may have to wait for your modem to arrive by mail and then later, for a technician to do their thing in your building. This is where it can get really challenging – you or your landlord might have to be there to let them in, sometimes the technicians don’t show up and you have to arrange for a new appointment, and other times the setup fails for technical reasons. I’ve known some people who’ve waited up to three months to have their internet installed.
Even worse, once you finally get online, you won’t find top notch high speeds either. The infrastructure is dated and most Internet connections are slow in Germany. There are even dead areas in some parts of Berlin.
Most internet packages will run you around €20 – €50 per month and on average be around 16 megabits per second. It’s not fabulous, but if Netflix works or you can handle high intensity Zoom calls, what more do you need? Most telecoms will also charge you a one-time setup fee so be sure to budget for that too.
Some of the main providers in Berlin include 1&1, PYUR, o2, Vodafone, and Deutsche Telekom. You can also look for special offers on Check24. Know that not all providers cover all areas of Berlin. For example, my former building was serviced by a single provider (PYUR) and I was stuck with them whether I liked it or not.
Get Your Child Into A Kita
Not everyone arrives in Berlin single and ready to mingle. Many newbies start a new life in Berlin alongside their children.
If your kids are not yet of school age (usually under six years old) and you need someone to take care of your children while you work, you’ll likely want to put them into daycare, otherwise known as Kita (short for Kindertagesstätte). The good news is that Kitas in Berlin are fully funded by the state and you’ll only need to pay expenses for food, language instruction, and other special activities. This tends to never be more than €100 per month, way more affordable than what full-time daycare tends to cost abroad in places like Canada or the US. Parents are also allowed to opt out of these costs.
Some basic guidelines about Kitas – children under one year can attend Kita for 4-5 hours per day. These half days (halbtags) can be a blessing to any new mother who needs to get back to work. You’ll need to prove this to receive the care and can be easily done by showing work contracts. Kids over one year old are eligible to receive 5 – 7 hours of free care per day (teilzeit) and kids over 3 are entitled to 7 – 9 hours per day (ganztags). You can also get more hours if both parents need to work full-time.
Now time for the bad news, it’s notoriously difficult to find a Kita for your children in Berlin (Notice the trend of everything being difficult in Berlin?). Many Kitas have waiting lists of one year or more! Start your search using this directory of Kitas on Berlin.de, Kita.de, and Kita Suche. Next, start contacting and visiting Kitas in your neighbourhood or somewhere close to your work. The wider you’re able to expand your search radius, the greater your chances of finding a Kita with an opening for your child. Like searching for an apartment, you need to be persistent and keep on with this process until you start getting responses. When you start getting appointments, ask lots of questions, and don’t feel forced to sign a contract. Later, you can make an informed decision which Kita is best for your family.
Note, all Kitas will need a Kitagutschein from you, a voucher that enables your kid to free daycare. You’ll need to apply for this beforehand at your Jugendamt.
When your child starts Kita, they will spend anywhere from two to five weeks going through an adjustment phase, known as Eingewohnung. At the start, you’ll need to stay there with your child and then slowly begin to leave the Kita for short periods of time until your child has become fully adjusted to you not being them.
You’re not required to put your child into daycare. It’s simply a very convenient option for families living in Berlin. Many families also opt to hire au pairs or Tagesmutters.
Moving To Berlin Guide – Other Things To Do After You’ve Arrived
As with the previous sections of this (very amazing) moving to Berlin guide, items aren’t listed in chronological order or order of importance.
Select An Electricity Provider
Unless the cost of electricity is included in the cost of your rent (normal for holiday and other types of serviced flats), you’ll need to select an electricity provider in Berlin.
Shop around and compare the costs of electricity providers in Berlin by taking a look on websites like Check24, VERIVOX, and Preisvergleich. They consolidate all the latest offerings from the numerous electricity companies and present you with the best offers. As the market is so competitive, many electricity providers even provide signup and loyalty bonuses as an incentive, with some offering long term price guarantees as well.
Be careful and do your research, as several German electricity providers have filed for bankruptcy in 2021 and 2022, including Stromio, Grünwelt, Otima Energie, Dreischtrom, and more. Be sure to get a contract that gets you a reasonable price – Germany’s well known for having some of the highest electricity costs in the world, but world events have pushed it up even more with people paying 52% more than they did one year ago. So expect to pay a lot regardless of the deal you may get.
Signing up is pretty straightforward. Know that most companies will run a credit check on you and if you’ve had any bad financial experiences here, your application will be rejected. You need to have a clean SCHUFA record! If they turn you down, fear not as there’s always companies like Vattenfall, who by law aren’t allowed to reject you. However, Vattenfall tends to be expensive, so look elsewhere as you can literally save hundreds of euros per year. Most electricity companies will also request the current meter reading – if you don’t have access to your meter, contact your Hausmeister for that information.
When you move into your new flat, you may notice that the electricity is already switched on. When the previous tenants move out of a flat in Germany, they don’t automatically turn off the electricity. Although this gives you a grace period, don’t take it for granted that the free light will last forever. Signup with a provider and get a contract right away. They’ll then charge you for your past consumption based on your move in date.
Your initial monthly fee is typically calculated based on the electricity consumption habits of the previous tenant. When I moved into my last flat, Vattenfall charged me just over €50 per month. However, at the end of the year, my monthly fee was reduced to €25 per month because I used way less electricity than the last tenant and I even received a €150 refund. After I started working from home full-time and energy costs rose, my rate went back to €50 per month.
Whatever the case, you can expect your monthly fee to be adjusted yearly based on your consumption over the previous year. As the costs have risen so dramatically, you may also want to be prepared and have some savings to cushion a possible financial blow if you end up owing at the end of the year.
Purchase All Of The Insurances
Another (not so fun) part of our moving to Berlin guide is insurance. Germans are super big fans of having insurance. Outside of health insurance, many people opt to have a number of other types of insurance like home insurance, life insurance, personal liability insurance, legal insurance, accident insurance, and more. Best of all, the cost of insurance in Germany is usually pretty affordable.
Here are some of the main types of insurance you should think about after you move to Berlin:
- Home Insurance (Hausratversicherung) – this form of insurance covers any items you own in your flat from your big screen TV, to laptop, furniture, rare book collections etc. in the event of theft, fire, or water damage. Note that Hausratversicherung doesn’t cover damages to your home itself like roofs, balconies, walls, floors, etc.
- Life Insurance (Lebensversicherung) – a typical insurance that pays out money to your loved ones in the event of your death.
- Personal Liability Insurance (Haftpflichtversicherung) – everyone in Germany has this insurance – well almost everyone, with 85% of residents having personal liability insurance. If you tell a German person you don’t have it, they’ll look at you like you’re crazy, and they’ll be right. Personal liability covers your liability in the event of an accident. For example, you could be on your way to work via the S-Bahn and accidentally spill your morning coffee on someone’s laptop, not only damaging their laptop but also preventing them from working and making a living. Perhaps you’re riding your bike and crash into another cyclist, damaging their bicycle. In either of those cases, you would be held liable for the costs of replacing a laptop, the person’s lost wages, and fixing their bicycle. Failing to have this insurance could end up costing you a whole lot of money, so be sure to purchase personal liability insurance after you’ve moved to Berlin.
- Legal Insurance (Rechtsschutzversicherung) – legal insurance covers any legal costs you would assume if you sue someone (like your employer or landlord) or if someone sues you. It covers your lawyer’s fees, court fees, and even the legal costs of the opposing side should you lose your battle. Note that it doesn’t cover damages to be paid if you lose your court case.
- Accident Insurance (Unfallversicherung) – accident insurance that will be paid out should you become severely injured or handicapped after a serious accident.
Believe it or not, there are many more types of insurance available in Germany and these are just some! What type of insurance you need is up to you, it all depends on your situation, how much risk your willing to assume, and more. I personally have accident insurance, personal liability insurance, and home insurance with Berliner Sparkasse.
Other insurance companies like Coya, getsafe, Haftpflichthelden, Allianz, and DA Direkt are recommended to get started. Again, use sites like Check24 to compare costs and find deals or even better, hire an insurance broker to help you through the process.
Get Your Driver’s License
Whether you don’t have your driver’s license yet or you need to transfer your driver’s license from your home country, the process of getting a German driver’s license takes some serious time and money.
If you already have a driver’s license from another country within the EU, you can continue using it until its expiration. If you have a driver’s licence from somewhere else in the world, you’re allowed to use it for up to six months after your arrival in Germany. At some point though, you’ll need to get a German driver’s licence and depending on where you’re from, you can convert it and not have to complete all the steps outlined below.
To qualify for a driver’s license, you need to be 18 years old – or 17 years old if accompanied by a guardian. Most people get a category B driver’s license (Personenkraftwagen, also known as PKW), which will enable you to drive both automatic and manual cars.
Next is making an appointment to apply for a driver’s license at the local office, the Berlin Fahrerlaubnisbehörde. Whether you’re applying for the first time or converting your license, it will take around 4 – 6 weeks for your application to be processed. Things you’ll need for the application include photo ID, a first-aid course certificate, vision test certificate, cash (between €35 – €48), registration in a local driving school, and more. Get more detailed information for first time applicants and those converting their license.
After your application is processed, you’ll need to pass the German driver’s license tests. First up is completing a written test within 12 months of submitting your application and after that, is completing a practical test within 12 months of passing your theoretical exam. You can usually take both tests in English. The written test is comprised of 30 questions, drawn from a pool of 1000. The failure rate for this test is astoundingly high – we advise you to study hard to ensure you don’t have to pay and go through the process more than once. The practical test involves around one hour with an instructor who’ll ask you questions about how your car works, followed by a normal driver’s test that will have you driving through the city doing things like parallel parking and then speeding along the Autobahn doing things like properly changing lanes.
After you have done both tests, you’ll be awarded with a temporary license. Then you can pick up your real license at the Farherlaubnisbehörde. Note, they don’t allow you to make appointments there and the lineups can be long.
Budget anywhere from €1000 – €2000 to cover the entire process from start to finish, including lessons, the exams, and other miscellaneous fees.
Pay The TV “Tax” (Rundfunkbeitrag)
Not long after you’ve registered your address, you’ll get a letter in the mail asking you to start paying for public broadcasting fees. This Rundfunkbeitrag (or GEZ fee as it’s locally known) is a tax that all households in Germany must pay regardless of whether or not you own a TV or radio, whether or not you know German, or how long you plan to stay. The cash they collect is used to finance the production and broadcasting of content on public channels like Deutsche Welle.
Let’s not waste time debating the value of this fee or whether or not you should have to pay – kindly spare us the rants in the local Facebook groups where people complain about it ad nauseam. Consider it a cost of living in Germany and pay up. After all, it’s not that much at €17.50 monthly (usually billed in quarterly installments). Register with the ARD ZDF Deutschlandradio Beitragservice (a joint organization of public broadcasting institutions and other public law affiliates).
If you live in a WG (a shared flat with roommates) and someone else in your household is already paying, there’s no need for you to pay too. Just get in touch with the ARD ZDF Deutschlandradio Beitragservice to find out how you can avoid paying double. Exceptions are also made to people who are unemployed, live on a low income, have health issues or a form of disability, or are in Germany with asylum status.
There are many Germans who protest this fee and refuse to pay, but this isn’t recommended or if you do follow this route, it’s done at your own risk. Skipping out on payments is against the law. If you haven’t paid what’s owed, they’ll start sending warning letters and charging interest. With time, they can take stronger action including seizing your bank account.
If you’re leaving Germany permanently, be sure to not only de-register with the Bürgeramt, but directly with the ARD ZDF Deutschlandradio Beitragservice as well.
Hire A German Accountant
Another key item for our moving to Berlin guide is to talk about how important an accountant can be in your life.
If you work in a permanent position, filing your taxes isn’t something you need to be in a rush to do. It’s also fairly easy to do so with user friendly online tools like SteuerGo and Wundertax available in English. You likely won’t even require the service of an accountant.
But if you work as a freelancer, you’ll most likely need help navigating the complexities of the German tax system – one of the most complex tax laws in the world. Most Germans don’t understand the tax systems themselves and hire accountants to help them along the way. An accountant can assist with getting your Steuernummer for example – to apply for one you need to fill out an eight-page form called the “Fragebogen zur steuerlichen Erfassung”. They can also help you learn how to create invoices, how to deduct expenses, when to start charging VAT, submit VAT payments to the Finanzamt, as well as filing your annual income taxes and in some cases, paying income taxes in advance.
Hiring and then retaining an accountant in Berlin will make your life here way easier. The costs of their services are usually high but are usually well worth the expense. If that’s too much money for you, consider using Sorted. I personally use them to create invoices for my side business (this website) and report my income.
Get A Doctor & A Dentist
While ottonova can help you can any kind of doctor that you need in Berlin, there are other places to find them as well. Check any of the Berlin Facebook groups for firsthand recommendations. You can also find search for doctors close to where you live and work and who speak your language, be it English, Spanish, or even Chinese at aerzte-berlin.de, jameda, Doctolib, and Kassenärztliche Vereinigung Berlin.
Make Friends In Berlin
Many people find Berlin’s a lonely city and say it’s tough to make quality friends here due to the population being a rather transient one. People certainly do come and go, with some here on a limited work contract, others on a one year working holiday visa, some to earn their degree, and many, simply to “find themselves” (whatever that means). On the other hand, there’s also a massive number of us who are here for the long-term and like you, want to make friends.
Berlin’s an international city with people from the world over, all with different backgrounds, experiences, and interests. Almost everyone is looking to connect with others be it for someone to jog with in the mornings, have coffee with, meet for a playdate with your kids, and even partake in epic long nights of clubbing. With the massive number of meetups, Facebook groups, and other private communities that have sprung up on Slack, Whatsapp etc., it’s almost impossible not to meet new people and make one or more long term connections.
If you’re open to it, making friends in Berlin can be done rather easily. To meet people, we recommend doing things like take a language class, do volunteer work, join a meetup, and even go to a bar by yourself. There’s something to do each and every day in the city, plenty of people to do it with, and this is what makes Berlin an exciting place to make friends.
Hit The Gym
Continuing with our moving to Berlin guide, let’s talk about gym memberships. Are you looking to get into shape and detox after all those nights out clubbing? You’ll be happy to know that costs for a membership here are much cheaper than they are in places like the US, Canada, or Australia. You can often find gyms offering contracts for as little as €10 – €20 a month.
You can also signup with companies like Urban Sports Club and Gympass. With their various monthly plans, you can access gyms, pools, and other facilities across the city. Some of the premium plans include classes and even massages.
Outside of gym membership, I often find my bliss at at Vabali Spa.
Search For A Hair Stylist
So who’s going to cut and colour your hair in Berlin? I’m very particular about who I let touch my hair – for either a cut or colour. I admit to being spoiled by a very talented hair stylist in Toronto who I was a loyal client to for several years. Finding someone equal to her in Berlin was very difficult and I had one horrible experience after another. If you’re a man looking for a basic shave, trim, or cut, almost any place will do. Likewise, if you’re a woman with long locks that you don’t colour often or only desire a basic haircut, any hair stylist will suffice. But if you’re looking for a more complex style and colour – say balayage or highlights, the process to find a stylist who will do right by you is tough.
I personally recommend Icono or Lars Cordes Hair Design in Berlin. I’ve frequented both places over the years and now work with a senior hair stylist at Lara Cordes Hair Design. It’s pricey, but for me, worth the expense three to four times per year.
Have we missed anything with our moving to Berlin guide? Do you have any personal recommendations for doctors, dentists, or hair stylists? Do you have any other general advice for fellow Berlin newbies? Drop us a line in the comments below.
How The Berlin Life Can Help You
1) If you like this post, check out some of our other free guides about moving to Berlin:
- How Much Does It Cost To Move To Germany? Use Our Calculator! – How much money do you need to move to relocate to Germany? Use our calculator to find how much it will cost to move to Germany.
- Top Relocation Companies In Berlin Germany – Planning a move abroad can be an overwhelming experience. Use this list of top relocation companies in Berlin to make your move stress free.
2) Get support from our growing community on Facebook – connect with other job seekers, be invited to career workshops, ask questions, be alerted to new job opportunities, and more.
3) Start building your professional network in Berlin by connecting with others in our community of job seekers and add yourself to our connection list.
4) Check our detailed career guides, like our recent, Step-By-Step Guide To Crafting A Cover Letter To Help You Get Noticed By German Employers.
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