I will waste no time in exploring why you should be moving to Berlin. There are plenty of excellent resources out there looking at pros & cons. If you are reading those lines, you probably already took that decision.
This guide is more about helping you on this journey. It’s an overview of all steps to take on the way, backed by personal experience and thorough research.
At the end of this guide, you will have a much better idea what to do, whether you are moving to Berlin as a student, young professional, family, retiree or for a sabbatical.
Feel free to skip through parts and leave a comment if you have any questions.
Budget your move to Berlin
Moving to Berlin will occur some serious costs. There are costs that you already know about such as flight tickets or university fees. You need to plan for these as well:
Until you get paid in Germany, you will need to have enough savings to face those upfront expenses as well:
- 3 months of rent for deposit. The amount is based on the rent without utilities, otherwise known as cold rent in Germany.
- 1 month of rent before you move in. Landlords will ask for the first month of rent before you move in, although some show more flexibility.
- Short-term accomodation costs. It’s quite likely you will stay in a hotel, short-term rental or holiday apartment in Berlin. Depending on the time it takes to find something long-term, that can amount to a lot.
- Visa application fees (if applicable). If you need a visa to stay in Germany, be prepare to caugh up between 25€ to 150€ for an application.
- Kitchen & furniture. It’s often one of the underestimated expense. Flats & houses sometimes come without kitchens in Germany, as tenants take it with them at the end of the contract! That still happens and can be a few thousand euros. Even if you move with your furniture, you will have in the inevitable IKEA run or appliance shopping spree too.
Day to day expenses
Germany is relatively cheap when it comes to food and Berlin in particular still leans of the cheaper side of things for entertainment & activities.
Day to day expenses are also hard to predict, but you can get a relatively accurate estimation looking at this costs of living in Berlin guide.
Apply for a residence permit
Unless you are an EU citizen, you will a need residence permit to move to Berlin.
- Citizens of the following countries enter Germany & stay in the country for 90 days without any visa. Beyond that, they will need to apply for a long-term visa. You can do the application from your home country or in Germany. Those countries are: USA, UK, Australia, Israel, Japan, Canada, South Korea, New Zealand.
- Citizens from any other country need to apply for a visa from home. Even short stays require a tourist visa.
Those are the different kind of German visa you can apply for:
- Student visa when you are admitted at a German university or a language course. You are able to work part-time during your studies. Full student visa guide here.
- Job seeker visa when you have yet to find a job. You are granted an initial 6 months to find an opportunity. You will need to apply for a work visa or EU blue card if successful. Full job seeker visa guide here.
- Work visa when you have already found a job opportunity. The permit is tied to your job/employer. Full work visa guide here.
- EU blue card when you are a skilled worker with sought-after skills in Germany. It’s usually a faster process and grants you more than the work visa. Full blue card guide here.
- Freelance visa when you want to start as a freelancer in Germany. You will need to prove you are relevant to the German economy with local clients. Full freelance visa guide here.
- Family reunion visa when you have spouses or relatives already in Germany. It grants you the right to work and study.
- Retirees, au pair, researchers/guest scientists, interns have their own kind of visa. More info on other types of visa here.
Find a job
There are plenty of opportunities awaiting in Berlin. Its economy has been consistently growing and it continues to create jobs. Almost all sectors are growing: tech, construction, hospitality, tourism, health, heavy industry, etc.
The main challenge will be to find a fulfilling career instead of a “just-a-job” that puts money on the table. Having a good job is often the differentiator between people moving to Berlin and people settling in Berlin.
Full guide on the reality of finding a job in Berlin (tips & resources included.)
Find a place to live
Reality check: it’s not 2005 anymore. Rents have increased a lot and competition has become incredibly fierce. But again: would you expect anything different in European capital? Relocating to Berlin is not a part-time job affair anymore.
It can take weeks, it can take months depending on your criteria, budget & luck. A lot of people first get a temporary solution to sort out the initial steps (bureaucracy, jobs, get a visa, bank account, etc). They do that with holiday apartments, short-term sublets, serviced apartments, etc. This makes finding a long-term home much easier. You will find tips to increases your chances in the following guides:
Some general remarks:
- Landlords often asks a local credit score (known as SCHUFA in Germany). This is only possible if you already a resident, which becomes a vicious circle. This is also why people turn to temporary solutions which are more flexible on that front.
- Make sure to ask if you can register your address there. This is essential for the next steps.
- If you don’t know German, some landlords will play dirty tricks on you, especially with furnished rentals. Know your rights as a tenant in Germany and enforce them when necessary.
- Pay attention during flat handover. Make sure to document everything that is wrong with the place to avoid paying for it when moving out. This is all explained here.
- If you are subletting, make sure to have a contract that protects you both.
Register at the local town hall
Registering at the town hall is known as doing the Anmeldung. This is compulsory and will grant you access to the rest of the German system. This residence certificate is necessary to get a tax ID, get a long-term visa, get welfare benefits, etc. This is a must do after moving to Berlin.
It’s a simple process but it might be difficult to book an appointment for it. If you come here to work, this is also where you request a tax ID.
This is all explained on this guide about the Anmeldung in Germany.
Open a bank account
A local bank account is necessary once you start signing up for utilities or mobile phone service. This is where you employer will transfer you your wage.
There are lot of digital English-speaking friendly options nowadays. It’s all down to your preference. Thankfully, there is a guide for that too:
- If you need a blocked bank account for your student visa application when moving to Berlin, they are completely different beasts. More info here.
- If you are wondering, you don’t necessarily get better mortgage conditions by having a bank account with a well-known established bank.
- Credit cards are not really a thing in Germany, only a very few have a use for it.
Get health insurance
Health insurance is compulsory in Germany. Broadly speaking, the system is handled by public & private insurance companies. 90% of German residents have public insurance. It’s also the right option for most when moving to Berlin.
Here is a full guide to understand and pick the right health insurance in Germany.
- If you start as an employee, your employer can pick the health insurance company for you. You can also pick yourself if you think it’s more beneficial to you.
- When you are in the process of settling down, you can use travel insurance to cover the weeks & months in between. EU citizens can use their EHIC cards.
- Visa applicants have the options to use temporary specialy tailored policies and then switch to local providers. That can be cheaper but also has some risks.
Get liability & home contents insurance
Liability insurance and contents insurance are no brainers in Germany. Those policies are relatively easy to understand, offer a lot of protection and they cost fairly little.
Liability insurance protects you against damages you do to 3rd party property, people or assets if you are involved in an accident. Really just get it, even before moving to Berlin. Detailed guide on liability insurance in Germany.
Home contents insurance protects your property at home against damages & theft. Sometimes it can also include your bikes. Detailed guide on home contents insurance in Germany.
Mobile phone contract
You will probably be able to use your mobile phone for some weeks without too much extra cost. Once you have the basics to have a local provider, you are presented with different options:
- SIM card – prepaid: order online or buy at a local supermarket. Load the sim card with credit for phone calls, SMS or data. This is a good way to start if you won’t commit to a contract.
- SIM card contract: sign up for a plan online and commit to a 12 or 24 months contract. A cost-savy option that balances flexibility, service & costs.
- A SIM card + device plan: this is offered by the big operators (o2, Vodafone, Telekom, 1&1). You sign-up for a plan & get a device as a part of a plan. Unless you really need a phone, this is usually not the cheapest option.
Full guide on mobile phone plans in Germany here.
Setup internet at home
As essential as electricity & heating, internet service is key to your move to Berlin.
- As in many other countries, Germany is split in a small oligopoly with Telekom, Vodafone, o2 & 1&1 leading the charge.
- The infrastructure still relies on copper lines in large parts of Berlin. Fiber glass is not all a given here. Service is slow & relatively expensive.
- Getting a contract is easy, it’s the activation of the line that takes a long time: a technician needs to physically come into your building to do so.
- You can use “data-only” plans, supercharged 5G connection available with a SIM card in the meantime.
Full guide on picking an ISP provider in Germany and setting up service.
Learn German after moving to Berlin
You’ve probably heard it before: “you don’t need to speak German to move to Berlin”. After 11 years in the German capital, I can confidently say this is utterly true. However, I cannot encourage you enough to learn the language:
- It gives you better prospects in your work life.
- It grants you access to local life.
- It simplifies all steps related to bureaucracy.
- It increases your chances to find a flat & make friends.
- It’s key to a happy life.
Learn here 5 ways to learn German in Berlin and stay motivated to do so.
Find school & daycare for your kids
Berlin is definitely a kid-friendly city. As a father of 3, I’m can really state that.
As in any other big city, access to daycare is difficult and competitive. It’s free for Berlin residents. Full guide on how to get a KiTa spot in Berlin.
Unless you send your kids to private schools, you will be assigned a school depending on your address. There are international schools in Berlin, but they are in high-demand and can be expensive.
Furnish your house
Making a home is a big dent in your budget. There are plenty of options to get started with the basic kit and build up on it.
Public transportation, cars & bicycles
You don’t need car in Berlin. Here is why:
- Public transportation options are plentiful, reliable and relatively cheap.
- Car-sharing, bike-sharing, scooter-sharing services are all over the map. You can use those instead of using a car, also for week-end trips.
- It’s almost always as fast (or faster) to use a bicycle for inner-city travels.
- The bike lane network is growing everyday.
Read to buy a bike in Berlin here (and how to maintain it on the cheap)
I hope this guide covering the different aspects of moving to Berlin has been useful to you. Feel free to ask questions and suggest improvements in the comments.Bastien, SiB Editor