In October 2019, I moved from Dublin to Berlin. As a Worrier In Residence employed at the Life Of Evan, I planned a lot around the move, the new culture, the new city and all the wonderful things that come with a new adventure. In doing that, I found a common theme: All the resources about moving to Germany are written either vaguely for Americans or ultra-specifically for The English and finding resources for Irish Emigration to Germany was nigh impossible. I made mistakes, learned some harsh lessons and experienced a lot of culture shock so hopefully you don’t have to (at least not the mistakes part).
The first thing you really need to learn about moving to Germany is that it is a wonderful country filled with systems, and that German Efficiency, at least when it comes to bureaucracy, is a myth. The systems are not always fast, and you cannot speed them up, but they will get you to the end as long as you start them. It feels a little zen to put that down in writing but if you can make peace with the fact that there will be waiting and there is nothing you can do about it, then you will be at peace in your journey.
Truth be told, there’s not much that can be done before moving that is specific to Germany. Do the general things like packing, planning and learning but try not to worry too much cause a lot of the actual work will be done in the first couple months over there.
If you can secure a job before you move over, that’s awesome but don’t worry if not.
Something that you’ll need when you start applying for apartments is a Mietschuldenfreiheit, which is a statement signed by your last landlord that says you don’t owe them any money and there are no outstanding debts.
It’s a little awkward to ask of your current landlord while you’re still in Ireland but it’s much easier to do it while you’re there than before you move over. In the end, you can fill it out 95% and just have them put their signature at the end, it’s not a binding legal document or anything - think of it more like a landlord’s reference.
For a template for this (warning: it’s in German), here’s a link to what I used.
When you arrive, you’re going to need somewhere to put your stuff and lay your head. There are really two big options here depending on your long-term plan and your appetite for risk/luck.
Ideally, you’re going to need somewhere to stay for at least ~3 months so that you can register (Anmeldung is the name of the system) in order to get things like your tax number, as well as get a job and set up a bank account so you can rent an apartment long-term.
If you’re aiming to stay in a House Share - called a Wohngemeinschaft, but more commonly abbreviated as WG (important) - then you could rent a bed in a hostel for a couple weeks and dedicate your time to visiting possible WGs that you could’ve set up the week before you moved.
WGs are generally more casual experiences than renting an apartment outright but the one question you care about answering is “is registration (Anmeldung) possible?”. The reason for this is that you will need a piece of paper with the landlord’s signature stating that you live at that address in order to register. If someone is subletting without the knowledge of the landlord, you can get that paper and kind of live in bureaucratic limbo while you’re there so it’s important to check if registration would be possible before you agree to anything.
Some sites for WG ads:
You might have been thinking to yourself that registering seemed like a bit of a catch-22, how do you register if you need an apartment but apartments need a job and a bank account but to get a job and a bank account, you need an apartment but to get and apartment, you— You get the idea.
Well, there is a solution: Paying above the market rate to rent a furnished apartment through specialized services.
These are collections of private lettings vetted by their particular company that you agree to rent sight-unseen for a fixed period before you move over. Due to the nature of these apartments, they cost quite a bit more than the market rate but if you want stability and have the money, renting one of these for ~3 months while you get up and running can be a great idea.
Some sites that offer these:
Personally, I took option 2. I had secured a job before moving over and they’d given me a small amount of money for relocating which made it easier to take this option. Although, I only rented the nose-bleedingly expensive city-centre apartment for 1 month because I already had a job and (with a hack I’ll reveal later) had set up a bank account so I was able to go apartment hunting from day 1(ish). The rental market in Berlin is fiercely competitive and giving myself only 1 month to find an apartment as well as settle into a new city was definitely a bad decision that I would not recommend. The first month was incredibly stressful, 0/10 would not do again.
Depending on who you are as a person, you may or may not need to move a whole bunch of personal stuff with you when you go.
Obviously, you’ve got the classic option of trying to cram your entire being into one or two suitcases and Marie Kondo-ing all the extra shite in your life.
If, however, the minimalist monk lifestyle isn’t for you, what you’re looking for is an International Mover / Removal company. I was moving from Dublin and got a couple quotes from different companies. These were the approximate details, just to give you an idea:
With that, I packed up all my stuff into several boxes and left them with family when I first moved over. Y’see, I knew I was going to move again soon after I arrived and I didn’t want to have to organise some way to move all of my stuff again so I left all my boxes in someone’s attic. Then, when I moved into my place a month later, I emailed the company, bank transferred the money and they arrived one day to pick up all the stuff and brought it to me in Berlin.
Some tips I’ve definitely since learned:
In Germany, apartments do not have numbers, they have names. That means, that if you want to receive post, your surname has to be on both the front door and the mailbox (or at the very least just the mailbox). You can ask your landlord or the maintenance person for the building to sort this out for you when you’re receiving your keys as usually you will also be given a key for your mailbox.
This process can take anywhere from an hour to a week or two depending on a lot of different factors from how busy the maintenance person is to how done with your shit they are.
However, what you can do in the meantime is buy a label or some paper and sellotape and stick your name under the buzzer for your apartment and on your mailbox. Be sure to confirm, when you’re getting the keys, which of both of those things are definitely for your apartment. I, uh, may have accidentally erased someone’s mailbox by accident (they don’t all have working locks, it was an easy mistake to make!)
Remember that hack I mentioned to get out of the infinite cycle of apartment requirements? Well it’s simple: buy a prepaid simcard and open an account with N26.
Go into a local supermarket and near the tills will be a tower of prepaid gift cards, with one side of it dedicated to phone credit and sim cards. Pick one that suits and buy it, be sure to keep the receipts they give you as these have a registration code on them that you’ll need to activate the sim.
In the process of activating the sim, you will have your first (and not final) encounter with the Post Ident (PostID) system. This is a system where you will video call someone from the post office and they will ask you to (1) confirm your details; (2) show them your passport/ID card and rotate it a lot so they can view the security features; and (3) take a picture of you to confirm you are who you say you are. I’d recommend doing this somewhere with a good wifi connection.
Normally, PostID also involves receiving a text message with a special code but I don’t think that’s part of the phone ID process - it’s been a while though, so do keep your phone on hand if you have to receive a text.
Finally, you can go through N26’s sign up process which will involve another PostID process (through their own service as far as I remember). Important things to note are: you will need a working phone number to receive a text and you will need a valid residence with your name on the mailbox to receive a letter with your card in it.
Once that’s all done though, you will have a German bank account with a German IBAN (important).
Getting a credit report is necessary for house-hunting as it’s part of the application process. Once you have a german bank account, you will also have a Schufa record setup. To request a copy of your Schufa, you should check out this guide on your options.
TLDR; there are two options: for free via post within a week; or immediately for 30 euro via email and via post.
Something you have probably never thought about before is: in situations like “I accidentally dropped my friend’s TV”, who pays? Do I?
In Germany, liability insurance pays for replacing the TV. The more practical example though is that you’ve lost the keys to your apartment. Except, it’s not just the keys to your apartment, you also have a key to the apartment building. Now, you may only have to replace a handful of locks but you’d have to make about 100 copies of the key for all the residents - that is expensive. And that’s where liability insurance comes in, it will cover that (either fully or partially depending on your plan).
Generally, liability insurance costs a few quid a month and you may never need it (like any insurance) but it gives you a certain piece of mind. Especially, cause people expect you to have it. It’s A Thing in Germany and you don’t wanna be caught in a situation where someone laughs, says “ah it’s grand, your insurance will cover it” and then you have to look away sheepishly.
This is probably the scariest part of moving: meeting the government. Trust me though, you’d be getting worked up about nothing - it’s grand!
Germany, unlike Ireland, requires you to register where you live. You will then get an Anmeldungbestatigung (registration statement) to prove you’re a resident and that will also kick off the other things you need like a Social Security Number from the Finanzamt (finance department) so that you can get paid.
Print out the Anmeldung (registration) form and fill it out. For a helpfully translated version of the form for Berlin, check out this page.
One thing that was missing from that when I filled it out is that if your family status is Single, you should use “Ledig” and not “Einzel”.
First, it all starts with convincing your landlord to give you a statement that says you live in your apartment. Remember when I said that if you were getting a houseshare, asking if registration was possible was important, well this piece of paper is why. It’s essentially the landlord vouching for your residency in the apartment.
Generally, you can do this online. Again, if you want advice All About Berlin is great for Berlin. Getting an appointment may be easy or difficult depending on where you move and availability but the most important things to note are:
Okay, so now you’re ready to attend your Termin (Appointment), make sure you have:
When you arrive, try to be a little early as the government buildings are not the friendliest places to navigate if your german is poor or rusty. Eventually, you’ll find yourself in a waiting room with a big screen at the front, it’ll display a number and which desk to go to.
Bear in mind that this number is your appointment number and they’re not done in numerical order so if you arrive and a number higher than yours is on the board, it doesn’t mean you’ve missed your appointment. In fact, I arrived 10 mins early and was waiting about 40 mins before I was called - I’d advise you bring a book or something.
I won’t talk too much about this because you’ll receive a letter a couple days after you register with details about how to pay this. You generally pay it every 3 months and it’s required by law, you can’t opt out of it - TV or not.
Typically, when you start a job they will have advice on setting up public health insurance but if you have to do it on your own, it’s quite simple and a lot of companies will offer help.
Personally, I went with Techniker Krankenkasse in Berlin because they offer an English-language service and were super helpful when I was signing up.
Your health insurance contribution is based on how much gross salary you earn and is automatically deducted from your paycheck so you don’t have to worry about setting up a direct debit or whatever.
That, is all of the factual stuff you need to know about moving to Germany (or Berlin in particular) but the rest of this post is just going to be lessons I’ve learned since moving here. Mostly, it’s stuff I worried about that I didn’t need to worry about, or stuff I really wish I’d known when I received a scary looking letter in German (that happens a lot actually).
Like I mentioned above, in Berlin, you only have to make the appointment within you first 14 days, you don’t have to be registered by then but something I was worrying about was “How do I get paid without a tax number?!” and thought I wouldn’t be paid at all until I was registered.
Well, I didn’t have to worry at all because your company can pay you and deduct the estimated tax based in your info for upto 3 months before they have to have a tax number for you. You can get paid if you don’t have the number yet, there’s no rush on registering.
A couple months after I arrived, I quit my job and got a position at a different company. I’d planned a week off in between the jobs as a small holiday to decompress and wallow. All was well and good until 2 months into my new job, I get a Scary German Letter from my health insurance demanding to know where I was for that one week and saying that I may have to pay 500 euro if I don’t tell them!
Yeah, so turns out that when you leave a job, you’re meant to go on the unemployment benefit from your health insurance, no matter how short the gap. Because I didn’t, I had to pay 50 euro for that week’s worth of health insurance because I wasn’t technically contributing via my tax for that period.
Also, that process seems scary but just fill out the attached form as best you can (stating you made 0 income during that week) and translate some german on the back to say you were just moving jobs, that seemed to work fine for me.
You’re probably used to cancelling a contract for a phone, internet, whatever that’s been going on a year at least 1 month in advice - seems reasonable right? Well, in Germany, the general minimum time in advance you need to give is 3 months. Just bear that in mind as you get to the mid-way point of your internet or phone bill. If you wanna switch, you need to plan quite far in advance.
Check out this encyclopedic reference for all of the information you could possibly want on moving to Germany: https://marlonbernardes.github.io/awesome-berlin/en/pages/renting-an-apartment.html#renting-an-apartment
If you’re moving to Berlin, All About Berlin is a wonderful resource that has taught me so much https://allaboutberlin.com/
Similarly, if moving to Berlin, also check out Berlin Briefing as they’re a daily news podcast in English https://www.berlinbriefing.de/
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