How To Prepare To Move To Berlin

the2017breakingoutguidetomovingtoberlinInterested in moving to Berlin?

You’re not the only one.

Some 50,000 people a year are now making the move to Berlin, from other regions of Germany – as well as from all parts of the world.

It’s not hard to see why.

Berlin is quite simply Germany’s biggest, most energetic, lively – and most happening city.

So how do you go about moving to Berlin and getting established in the city?

There’s a whole load of questions and problems you will have to tackle.

Visas, work and residence permits. Finding a place to live. Finding a job. Learning the language. Learning and understanding the culture.

Then there are the questions about tax, health insurance and all the issues of practical everyday life in a new city.

I’m an expat from London, England who’s spent a decade living in Berlin.

Like so many expats, when I moved to Berlin, there were a whole heap of things I didn’t know about.

It cost me a lot of time, overhead, frustration – and also money – to find all these things out for myself.

What I really needed at the time was someone with the inside knowledge who could show me the way as I went through the process of moving and getting established in the city.

So I’ve put together The BreakingOut Guide to Moving To Berlin.

The BreakingOut Guide to Moving To Berlin is a hands-on, how-to handbook based on my own experience and my years of living in Berlin about the practicalities of moving to Berlin.

My aim is to help you avoid the mistakes and help make your move to Berlin go as smoothly as possible. This is the handbook I wish I’d had to guide me when I moved to Berlin!

Click Here To Find Out More About The BreakingOut Guide to Moving To Berlin

Preparing To Move To Berlin

This post is an extract from my book The BreakingOut Guide to Moving To Berlin.

In this chapter I talk about how to move to Berlin. How to prepare for your move to Berlin. What to bring, getting a visa, finding a job – and a place to live.

Should You Take Your Stuff With You To Berlin?

In a word: no.

From personal experience it isn’t worth the cost of moving furniture, books, clothes, appliances, or most other possessions from one country to another. Nor is it worth putting things in storage.

Believe me, I’ve been there and done that. And it wasn’t cheap.

But I’ve since learned. When I move from one country to another I no longer cart all my stuff with me. I sell it and buy new at my new destination. And I use the opportunity to downsize.

One of our biggest problems and burdens is our obsession with buying and hoarding more and more consumer durables.  So anything you can do to reduce your mountain of stuff is well worth it.

Obviously you’ll want to take some clothes, and almost certainly your laptop, mobile, tablet, and some other things. Plus maybe even a few books.

But don’t go beyond that. Keep it to a minimum. It makes life much easier when you are setting up somewhere new.

When I first came to Berlin I made the mistake of putting most of my stuff into storage in London and then having it sent on to Berlin several months later when I found a permanent apartment.

When this stuff arrived in Berlin I was shocked by what a load of unnecessary junk it was. Whatever possessed me to pay to put all this stuff into storage in the first place – and then pay again to have it transported over here… Never again.

My advice: sell or dump your stuff and pocket the money. You’ll find the money far more useful than the stuff.

What About Bringing Electrical Devices to Berlin?

If you’re from the UK or Australia, then your electrical devices will work in Berlin straight away.  There’s no problem with the voltage. But – you’ll need to buy an adapter plug or two to convert your UK or Australian plugs to European power sockets.

However, if you’re coming from North America, then your appliances won’t work in Berlin because Europe uses 230 volts, whereas North America runs on 110 volts. The higher voltage used in Europe will fry them and that will be the end of them.

You can buy voltage transformers which will let you use your appliances in Europe, but they’re expensive, heavy, cumbersome, and most only supply a small amount of current.

You may be able to plug in your laptop – provided its power supply unit or the laptop itself has a switch to change voltages from 110 to 230 volts.

But be careful – make sure you check your laptop before you risk plugging it in. Don’t just plug in to try it out. You might not destroy your laptop – though you can’t rule this out – but you will risk destroying your laptop power supply unit.

Same goes for charging devices for mobile phones and tablets. If they are US make, then they probably won’t work in Europe.

My advice: don’t waste time and money buying voltage transformers. Sell or dump your North American electrical devices before you leave for Berlin and buy new ones here when you arrive. That way you will have the correct voltage and the correct plug all in the one device.

Entering Germany – The Border Formalities

To enter Germany you must have a valid passport with at least 6 months validity remaining.

EU Nationals in Berlin

For EU nationals from countries which form the Schengen Area a national ID card is sufficient to enter the country.

The Schengen Area comprises countries which have abolished border controls between each other and who participate in maintaining a common computer database of migrant movements into the Area.

Once you’ve entered the Schengen area, there are no further border controls when you travel from one Schengen Area member country to another.

Non-EU citizens can remain for a maximum of 90 days in any one period of 180 days at a time within the Schengen Area.

How To Stay in Berlin For Longer Than 90 Days

EU Nationals in Berlin

If you’re from an EU member country, or a country of the EEA (the European Economic Area – a customs union of European countries which are not full EU members), then you are entitled to remain in Germany indefinitely – provided you have means of support.

This is interpreted as meaning you have recognized health insurance and sufficient funds – either savings or else regular income from employment or business.

If you are coming here to study then you’re also permitted to stay. Provided, once again, you can demonstrate means of financing your studies and your health insurance whilst you’re a student here. This could be from a student grant, a student loan, or a part time job if you have one, or alternatively your own savings, if they are considered adequate.

If you’re a citizen of a member EU state, then you no longer have to go and register with the immigration authority.

However, you still have to register in person at the registration office known as the Einwohnermeldeamt or Bürgerbüro of the borough in which you are living. Everyone has to do this, Germans included, whenever they change their address.

So what you’ll need to do is find a job within the 90 day period.

If you have the resources, you are permitted to stay beyond the 90 days. The crucial thing to satisfy the immigration department on is to show that you have recognized health insurance.

Non-EU Nationals in Berlin

For non-EU citizens who want to stay longer term in Berlin, things are a bit more complicated and there are a few more hoops to jump through.

Germany maintains a list of favoured nations for visa purposes whose citizens are given an easier time than those from countries which are not on this favoured list.

Australia, Israel, Japan, Canada, South Korea, New Zealand, and the USA are all currently on Germany’s favoured nation list for granting visas. So if you are a citizen of one of these countries and you want to move to Berlin, the good news is: you’re in luck.

What’s more, citizens of these countries who want to live and work in Germany do not have to leave Germany in order to obtain their visa, unlike the case with visas for some other countries. You can arrange all the formalities perfectly legally whilst already living in Berlin with no need to exit and re-entry the country.

There are however two things you need to get sorted out as a pre-requisite to applying for a visa.

The first is to register your address in Berlin with the local Bürgerbüro of the borough in which you live.

The second thing you will need is valid health insurance. Generally speaking this has to be with a German health insurance provider. This is something to which the German authorities place great importance so don’t underestimate it.

Getting German Health Insurance in Berlin

Normally when you find a job in Berlin, your employer will arrange your health insurance for you. This will normally be with one of the public health insurance funds called Krankenkassen.

There are a number of different Krankenkassen and you are legally free to choose which one you want to be insured with. They are all tightly regulated by law and so the coverage they offer, and the premiums they charge are all roughly the same. The biggest Krankenkasse are AOK, Barmer and Techniker.

Health insurance premiums with the Krankenkassen for employees are calculated on a percentage of income basis, with half of the amount paid by the employer and half by the employee. If you become unemployed and qualify for unemployment benefit, then the unemployment office (Agentur für Arbeit) pay your full Krankenkasse insurance whilst you are unemployed.

If you are self-employed or earn over a certain amount, you have the right to opt out of the Krankenkasse system and take private insurance (from a German-based provider).

This is a complex issue and I’ll discuss the whole subject of German health insurance in detail in a later chapter.

The European Health Insurance Card for UK Citizens

The EHIC or European Health Insurance Card entitles UK citizens to free medical treatment in Germany for up to 90 days from arrival – provided that you are only staying in Germany for that time as a tourist or visitor and are not intending to live, work, or study in the country.

Officially the EHIC is only meant for tourists or short stay visitors, and not for people planning to stay longer term in Germany. But that aside, it can be a useful stopgap during the first few months of your arrival while you get your health insurance sorted out.

Visit for more info. This is the official government NHS link.

Be aware there are a number of privately run sites who offer to arrange the EHIC for you for a fee.  There is no need to use any of these sites. The EHIC is issued free of charge to UK citizens.

My advice: if you’re a UK citizen, order the EHIC European Health Insurance Card in the UK before you leave for Germany.

Getting a Visa To Stay in Berlin

Once you have your health insurance confirmation (Krankenversicherungsschein) and your residence registration certificate (Annmeldebestätigung) you can then apply for your visa.

As mentioned earlier, EU Nationals do not need a visa. So the information below is specifically for US, Canadian, Australian, Japanese and other nationals on Germany’s “favoured nation” list.

There are two main types of visa available for these groups of non-EU nationals in Germany:

  • the freelance or self-employment visa, and

  • the language student visa.

What is the Freelancer Visa?

The freelancer or self-employment visa (sometimes known as the “artist visa”)  is a work permit which isn’t tied to a particular employer or employment contract.

This is a VERY useful thing to have as it is more generous than many other visas. You might complain about the bureaucracy involved in applying for it, but it’s not something that is granted to every non-EU migrant to Germany.

So if your nationality is on the favoured nation list, then you can be truly thankful that you have this option available to you.

These are the main pre-requisites for being granted a freelance visa in Berlin:

  • Residence registration (your Anmeldebestätigung)

  • Proof of German health insurance

  • Proof of sufficient funds to cover the duration of your language course

  • Proof of registration with a recognized language school in Berlin

  • Your CV and a copy of your higher education diploma or degree certificate

  • Proof of at least 3 freelance contracts for future projects

My advice: check out for the precise details and requirements for the freelancer visa program.

What is the Language Student Visa?

An alternative to the artist visa is the simple language student visa. This is for non-EU citizens who want to spend time in Germany for the purpose of attending a German language course.

To be granted a language student visa in Berlin the main pre-requisites are:

  • Residence registration (your Anmeldebestätigung)

  • German health insurance

  • Proof of registration with a recognized language school in Berlin

  • Proof of sufficient funds to cover the duration of your language course

For both the freelancer visa and the language student visa you have to make an appointment with the Berlin Ausländerbehörde (Foreigner’s Office) for an interview in person as part of the application process for the granting of the visa.

According to the Foreigners Office there is a waiting list for appointments of at least 4 to 6 weeks.

You’ll need to make sure all your paperwork is in order and ensure that you bring it all with you for the interview. If you don’t speak any German, then it’s also best to have a German-speaking friend accompany you to the office as this will help make things go more smoothly.

My advice: check out for the precise details and requirements for the language student visa program.

Do You Need to Speak German To Live in Berlin?

Basically yes.

This is one area where it really does pay to be prepared in advance.

German is of course the native language in Berlin. Many Berliners have at least some knowledge of English, but it varies from person to person. Younger people generally speak good English. With older people there tends to be less knowledge or ability with English.

In the eastern part of Berlin knowledge of English among older people is definitely weaker. This is due to the fact that in the Communist GDR days Russian rather than English was the first foreign language taught in schools.

Bank ATM machines, public transport ticket machines, public phones and so on can usually be switched to display English.

But for job seeking in Berlin, despite what some people might tell you, the fact is you’ll need to speak German to even to a chance to be considered as a potential candidate for many positions.

The city isn’t as accommodating of English speakers as for example the Netherlands, where it’s possible to find a decent job without having to speak Dutch. Beyond simple tourist trade interaction, people in Berlin aren’t so willing to speak English all the time with newcomers.

There are some exceptions, such as the IT and Web start-up sector. But generally speaking, you’ll be placed at a disadvantage in the job market in Berlin if you don’t speak German.

You also need to know German for your interactions with the public authorities, such as for visa permits and the like.

Government officials in Berlin are officially required to speak German in their dealings with the public. This they say (ironic as it sounds) is to avoid the potential for mistakes in understanding.

Being able to speak German will also be to your advantage when viewing and renting apartments.  Not to mention day to day living and socializing in Berlin.

My advice: start learning German before you arrive in Berlin.

I’ll talk about the best ways to learn German and advice and tips on learning the language in a later chapter.

Finding Accommodation in Berlin

Should you find accommodation before you arrive?

In practice it’s hard to organize permanent accommodation in Berlin before you arrive. Most landlords and real estate and lettings agencies will want to interview you in person before deciding whether to let to you.

In any case it’s also better from your point of view for you to be present in the city so you can visit places and meet landlords yourself before making a decision.

Another good reason to wait until you arrive in Berlin before looking for accommodation is that there are a number of online scams targeted at people looking to rent in Berlin. If you’re trying to do your accommodation search “remote” then you will be an easy target for these scammers. I was – almost – taken in by one of these scammers, and it was an annoying waste of time.

What you can do is to fix up some temporary or short-term accommodation before you arrive.

For example for the first few nights or a little longer, in a pension, youth hostel, or maybe an airbnb room. This is the way I always do my moves abroad and it’s the way I moved to Berlin.

It’s a good idea to approach the accommodation searching task in stages: initial few nights -> first month -> long-term.

My advice: book yourself some tourist or visitor type accommodation for the first few nights.

During this time, you can then fix up a short-term sublet of a room for the first month or two.

This gives you much more time to get to know the city, sort yourself out, get to know people – and get to hear of potential apartments of the type and in areas which will suit you best.

And from there, you can then move on to rent a long-term permanent apartment.

This takes the stress and the pressure off your accommodation search and you’ll be less likely to accept something which isn’t what you really want.

My advice: check out airbnb in Berlin:

How Easy is it to Find Accommodation in Berlin?

Vacant visitor accommodation in Berlin can be hard to find at short notice. There is big demand for pension and hotel rooms and hostel places can also fill up fast. Berlin has been seeing both a big growth in tourism and in the number of migrants to the city.

That’s why I strongly recommend you pre-book your first few nights or preferably longer, at the very least.

Short-term accommodation can also be hard to find. However, there are always plenty of sub-lets available in Berlin for short periods. Short meaning anything from a few days or a week or two to several months or more.

Unlike permanent long-term apartment lets, sub-lets in Berlin are usually furnished or semi-furnished. They can be a good way to get a foothold in the city. They tend to be easier to fix up than long-term permanent lettings and there’s usually less formality and bureaucracy involved.

See the separate chapters about finding visitor accommodation and short-term accommodation where I talk about this process in more detail.

Longer term or permanent accommodation is a different matter. Landlords are very choosy in Berlin and they think differently from many in the UK. They tend to take a long term view in which stability, security and reliability are everything.

This means that for renting permanent unfurnished accommodation it’s important to appear to be stable, have a regular income, and be committed to staying in the apartment long term. Landlords in Berlin don’t generally want tenants who are likely to terminate the contract after several months or even a few years.

Strangely enough, there’s also a certain prejudice against self-employed people and freelancers. This is because their income and circumstances are considered to be less stable than those of regular employees.

Finding a permanent apartment in Berlin is a whole subject in itself. I’ll discuss the business of finding an apartment in Berlin in a later chapter.

How Much Money to Bring to Berlin?

Luckily Berlin is not an expensive city as big Western European cities go, but I would say the absolute minimum you should budget for in Berlin is 1000 Euros a month.

You might be able to get by initially at least on a little less by being extremely frugal – and depending of course on how much rent you are paying, but life will not be much fun.

In fact, it’s better to budget for a little more to cover unexpected and irregular expenses and items, plus nights out, meals out, entertainment, etc.

You’ll need to have enough money saved to finance yourself while you look for a job, and to pay for rent, deposits on rooms and apartment, as well as to pay for health insurance while you are searching for a job.

As always, it’s better to have more money saved for your Berlin move than you think you will need rather than less.

The Official Berlin City Website

The official Berlin city website is at They have versions in several languages as well as German, although only some parts of the site are translated.

This address is for the English language version. The site is rather glossy PR in style and the emphasis may seem more on tourism than residents, but it’s the official main portal site for the Berlin city authorities. If you’re looking for definitive info about a public service in Berlin, then the site is the best place to turn to.

When is the Best Time to Move to Berlin?

As the saying goes, there’s no time like the present.

You probably have to tie up loose ends at home, gather resources and do a little prep first (the fact that you’re reading this article is also a good sign).

My advice: move as soon as you can. Put things off and you can put them off continually. The time is never perfect and you can always find some excuse not to take action.

If I had only one thing to say about when to arrive in Berlin, it would be: try to avoid arriving in the winter.

Berlin in winter is grey, cold, overcast, and often icy. It depresses the spirit and makes some Berliners even more bad-tempered than usual. Berlin in winter can feel the opposite of upbeat and you may find yourself wondering why you came if this happens to be your first experience of the city.

By the way, in Berlin “winter” effectively means the period from November to the end of March. So we’re talking about 5 months or so of “winter”, even if officially winter doesn’t start until the end of December. “Unofficially” as far as I’m concerned, in Berlin winter starts in November.

Much better to wait until April at the earliest.

My advice: April through October are the best times to arrive in Berlin. Though bear in mind that Berlin summers get hot and muggy and this can make apartment and job-hunting extra hard work.

Start Learning German BEFORE Your Move to Berlin

One of the best things you can do to prepare for your move to Berlin is to get started learning German.

And an excellent way to get started is to use an MP3-based audio course. This is what I did prior to moving to Berlin and it was by far the best investment in learning German I ever made.

One such course that I can recommend is the excellent GermanPod audio language course. This extremely popular and successful course will give you a head start in becoming able to understand and speak German.

I’ll talk about GermanPod, language classes and other advice and tips for learning German in the separate chapter on learning German in Berlin.

Preparing To Find a Job in Berlin

Finding a job in Berlin can be hard work. Berlin has high unemployment and strong competition for what jobs are available. Needless to say, German speakers tend to get priority over other candidates.

Bring your higher education, technical or professional training certificates. Or at least copies of them.

Don’t forget you can put also scanned copies of your certificates and CV in the cloud for safekeeping.

I’ll talk in more detail in later chapters about finding a job in Berlin and how best to market yourself to potential employers.

The BreakingOut Guide to Moving To Berlin – Available Now!

the2017breakingoutguidetomovingtoberlinThe BreakingOut Guide to Moving To Berlin is a hands-on, how-to handbook based on my own experience and my years of living in Berlin about the practicalities of moving to Berlin.

Like so many expats, when I moved to Berlin, there were a whole heap of things I didn’t know about.

It cost me a lot of time, overhead, frustration – and also money – to find all these things out for myself.

What I really needed at the time was someone with the inside knowledge who could show me the way as I went through the process of moving and getting established in the city.

So I’ve sat down and put together this handbook.

The BreakingOut Guide to Moving To Berlin contains over 260 pages packed with practical know-how for newcomers to Berlin.

This book is a MUST HAVE if you are interested in moving to Berlin!

Click Here To Find Out More About The BreakingOut Guide to Moving To Berlin