Moving to Germany? 9 tips for your first month

07.07.17
8 minute read
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Whether you’re moving for the growing startup scene, the bustling business, the perks for families, or the thriving techno scene, Germany has a lot to offer. What makes it so appealing is its lively, safe and - usually - clean cities. Once you get to know the culture, people are friendly. Not to mention, the economy is still one of the best in Europe. The fact that it’s relatively affordable to live compared to other major cities in the region has been a huge draw to outsiders. The expat population in the country has risen gradually throughout the years with an estimated 250,000 expats living in Germany today.

Despite this ever-growing number of expats making Germany their home, there’s not always a lot of information available in English. And some ways of doing things can feel much more formal and rigid than back at home. If you’ve packed your bags, or are planning to move to one of Deutschland’s exciting cities like Berlin or Munich, here’s a few things you’ll need to do once you arrive.

1. Learn the language

learn the local language

You don’t need to be fluent from day one, but knowing some German will help you to find jobs, get visas and deal with the bureaucracy of German life.

A large percentage of people living in Germany do speak English, especially in business and the startup scene. However, it’s a good idea to be able to understand and speak German in order to live and work effectively.

Before you arrive, learn some basic German and a few polite phrases to get you started. Duolingo and Babbel are great options. Once you’ve landed, book yourself into an intensive course or a regular class to further deepen your knowledge at one of the many private and public language schools like the Goethe Institute.

Some companies and startups will arrange classes for their staff, so be sure to ask when applying for jobs - especially if it’s already an English-speaking work environment. It’s a perk that you’ll definitely want to make use of.

2. Get a German visa

get a german visa

If you're heading to Germany from elsewhere in the EU or Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein or Switzerland, you don't need to get a visa to work in Germany. If you're coming from outside the EU, though, you'll need a valid work visa. The type of work visa will depend on whether you're sponsored, starting your own business, or working for yourself.

If you have a sponsored role, your German employer or company should assist you with the visa process. However, if you’re working for yourself, it’s vital that you take responsibility of this yourself. Some countries, like Australia and New Zealand, also meet the requirements for the working holiday visa. Unfortunately, the UK and the US aren’t on the list in the same form, but it’s best just to check with your local embassy before arriving anyhow.

There’s also the option of the freelance visa where you can work with startups, businesses and individuals on need-based and part-time contracts. This visa also allows for increased flexibility and independence while in Germany without having your visa tied to a specific company.

3. Register with the authorities

register with german authorities

To do just about anything in Germany, you’ll need to show proof of registration to an address.

Depending on which city you’ve moved to, you’ll need to find the Bürgeramt / Einwohnermeldeamt and let them know your new address. This will also be required for the visa application process.

Keep this piece of paper safe as you’ll be required to show it on numerous occasions. For example, when you visit a new doctor, you’ll need a proof of address in order for them to send you an invoice.

Authorities state it needs to be done within two weeks of moving. But if you live in Berlin, it’s likely you’re unable to get an appointment with the Bürgeramt that quickly. You usually can book your appointment online, just check with your local authorities.

4. Get health insurance

get german health insurance

Germans take their health very seriously and it’s vital you have adequate health insurance that meets German standards.

Whether you’re working or not, to get a residence visa for Germany you will need to have health insurance that is valid in Germany. Your health insurance from back home is usually not valid, and you’ll need to get a policy with a German insurance company or through your employer.

If you’re in a sponsored role, you’ll be lucky enough to the join German health system, which should be arranged as part of your work visa. You’ll be covered for most medical appointments, will have ease with seeing doctors, and support if you have children in Germany.

If you’re on the freelance visa, you will need a private health insurance provider to use (such as ALC Health)

5. Open a German bank account

open a german bank account

Banking in Germany might seem a little slower than you’re used to. And you’ll need to get comfortable using cash, rather than cards.

Once you have a visa and are registered, setting up a German bank account is needed for renting an apartment, setting up internet, organising a mobile phone plan, and more.

The German and European banking systems do things differently than what you may be used to. Online banking is available, but isn’t as efficient. Not to mention banks require a complicated amount of pins and passwords to use. Deutsche Bank, Sparkasse and Commerzbank are just a few of the major players that have some English via their online platforms.

N26 has recently broken into the market to support freelancers and small businesses, so they’ve made sure to have less hurdles to cross. Unless you can verify a solid income, you may have trouble securing a credit card from the traditional banks, so N26 is a great option.

Germany is a very cash-heavy society - many restaurants, ticket machines, and shops won’t take cards, especially credit cards or international cards. This is slowly changing, but you do need to remember to have cash on you always.

For moving money between accounts, TransferWise is a faster option than using German banks. Even moving money between German accounts can take up to several days. Not to mention, TransferWise has something called a Borderless account where you can hold your money in up to 15 different currencies, and can get local bank details in several markets. Come the fall of 2017, there will be consumer debit cards attached to the accounts, too. Doesn’t hurt to give it a try.

6. Find somewhere to live

find an apartment in germany

While moving to Germany itself is often a relatively straight forward process, finding a new home, on the other hand, is highly competitive and can be quite a slow process.

Finding a rental property is the best way to start your time in Germany. This will give you time to find a more permanent home, as the property market can be challenging, especially if you’re looking for a larger place. There are several good sites such as WG-Gesucht or Immobilien Scout, or you can even seek out local real estate agents to find a more permanent place. Expect to pay a deposit for the apartment, and potentially a commission that’s non-refundable in some cases.

Accommodation is advertised in number of rooms and square meters. So three rooms means the apartment is two bedrooms with a lounge room/kitchen area. If renting, you can choose from kalt, which means Kaltmiete or cold rent, where you pay for your own utilities. Or the other option is warm, Warmmiete or warm rent, where utilities are included in the rental payment. Make sure you verify this before you sign a German rental or lease agreement.

However, you’ll want to follow a word of warning - don’t ever lose your keys. Many apartment buildings have a secure key system that require you to replace all of the locks, which is why some Germans have insurance for their keys. Lastly, whether or not you have cable or satellite, every German household has to pay a radio-TV-internet fee known as the Rundfunkbeitrag.

7. Get a job

get a job in germany

Germany has a vibrant job market for a wide range of skills, but if you can also speak German or another European language, you’ll definitely have more roles to choose from.

Upload your CV and start browsing jobs on online sites, called Jobbörsen, like Landing.Jobs, Jobspotting, Honeypot, Monster and Jobbatical. LinkedIn is also great for English speaking roles. And, if you’re already here, be sure to get out networking to hear about potential opportunities.

If finding a job in Berlin is your goal, the startup scene may be a good area to focus on. There are many sites to use here, such as Berlin Startup Jobs, AngelList, Germany Startup Jobs and Gruenderszene.de.

You can also visit local recruitment agencies who can help connect you with an employer. Most specialise in a specific industry or type of job, with some specialising in English-speaking talent.

Finally, many companies list jobs on their own websites, like these Soundcloud jobs. If you really love a particular company and can convince them that you’d add value, you can always make a speculative application, too.

High demand jobs may differ from city to city, so best to research this before arriving. For example in Berlin thanks to the startup scene, the hot jobs are any type of software development - front-end, full stack, and mobile - followed by UX/UI and other designers.

In Germany there are often many steps to take between application and contract, so be prepared for a lengthy interview process. Keep in mind that salaries in Berlin are usually significantly lower than places like New York or London. But so is the cost of living.

8. Find schools and nurseries

find german schools and nurseries

The standard of schooling and education in Germany is high. Most German schools are run by the state, however there are also private and international schools available as well.

Children start out in a preschool before starting school at six years old which is called Grundschule. Once they reach secondary school, there are some five different school types, based on a student's academic performance, and these can vary from State to State in Germany:

  • Gymnasium – for academic students
  • Realschule – for intermediary students
  • Hauptschule – for less academic students
  • Gesamtschule – a comprehensive school combining all education types
  • Schools where the Hauptschule and Realschule curricula are combined.

It’s a good idea to take a look at a few schools to find the best one for your child. Each State will have their own listing on their website, such those in Berlin and Munich - often only in German. If your children aren’t yet fluent in German, make sure the school offers German classes. Learn more about education in Germany.

9. Start your own business

start your own german business

Berlin is a great city for starting your own business - solopreneur or startup, working remotely, or becoming a freelancer, thanks to the Berlin freelance visa.

With a visa specifically designed for freelancers, creatives, entrepreneurs, and the self-employed, this poor but sexy city is a much easier location to launch your solo or freelance business from within Europe. Learn more about the freelance visa.

Germany also encourages all types of businesses, regardless if you’re German or a foreigner. The most common are the small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) of the Mittelstand. You will run into red tape while setting up your business, as you would anywhere, but your effort will certainly pay off.

Before you start your own business, you’ll need to register your business with the Gewerbeamt (trade office) or the Finanzamt (tax office), depending on whether you intend to work on a gewerblich (self-employed basis) or as a freiberuflich (freelancer). It’s also highly recommended to see a local accountant who is familiar with expats and speaks English to ensure you meet all of the bureaucratic requirements as there are quite a few.

Several communities can also provide guidance here, with members sharing from their own personal experiences.

For example, for Australians there’s Aussie.EU and German Australian Business Council, or AmCham for Americans. Check out local communities as well, such as Berlin Startup Slack Group and various niche Facebook Groups.

Kat Loughrey lives and freelances in Berlin, Germany. Check out Kat’s website or follow her on Twitter.

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