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An Expats Guide: Moving to Berlin

An Expats Guide:

Moving to Berlin

Download our Berlin Expat Guide

A quick introduction

Orange Quarter are an eclectic bunch. We’ve come from different corners of the world before choosing to settle in Berlin or Amsterdam. Between the 10 odd consultants that work in our Berlin office, we’ve learnt a few things about packing our lives up and moving to Germany. We’ve made mistakes, discovered useful tips, found work and began building our new communities. And so we compile our collective knowledge here in this guide to do just that – guide you on the smoothest route to starting your new life in Berlin.

We break this comprehensive tech-expat guide up into three sections – Working, The Practicalities and Community & Lifestyle. We cover all of the important things from choosing the right recruiter to setting up your bank accounts and choosing the best bar for your Friday drinks. Scroll through or download the digital pdf to read later but beware, this guide has convincing powers, you may find yourself falling in love with Berlin.

 

We love living and working in Berlin because…

  • It is the fastest-growing tech city: Rated by Hubspot
  • Low comparative living costs to other major European tech cities
  • Germany’s most multicultural city: 190 different nationalities residing in Berlin
  • Incredible dining, cultural and music scenes

Working

If you’re thinking about moving to Berlin, you’ll want to know what it means for your career. Berlin’s tech and digital industries have undergone rapid growth over the last two years which puts expat job seekers in a good position.

The city is said to birth a new startup every 14 hours according to gruenderszene.de and larger names including many of the countries Fortune 500 brands have chosen to set up in their HQs in the city. Berlin is rich in culture, has a relatively good cost of living and it’s tech scene is becoming more international as top talent begin to migrate from the UK surrounding uncertainty on Brexit.

Below we go into detail about setting yourself up for success during your pre-arrival job hunt and explore the reasons our candidates love living and working in Germany. 

If you have already found a job and want to start planning your move – skip to ‘The Practicalities’ section of this guide.

Finding work

Talent demand often fluctuates across industries but one thing is for certain in Berlin – it is a great time to be working in the tech and digital space. To begin their search, most of our candidates start with scrolling through job listing sites like Glassdoor and Linkedin to gain an idea of the market and find that the challenge lies in scoping out the few jobs that perfectly fit their experience level, career goals and ideal culture. 

Here are our tips for setting yourself up for job search success.

Setting yourself up for success

  • Ensure you have the right to live and work in Germany. See below for information on residence permits and visas.
  • Start chatting with your network. Make sure they know you’re open to opportunities in Germany. Branch out to online forums – try XING (the local equivalent to Linkedin) and Facebook Groups as well as Reddit and Slack Communities.
  • Update your CV. Your recruiter will be able to give you specific advice on how to best appeal to your ideal employer. If you speak German, it is worth providing your CV in both languages. It is important to make sure the translation is perfect.
  • Update your XING and Linkedin profiles. Your profile will become vital for your application’s success. Make sure it is up-to-date and matches the experiences listed on your resume as potential employers will always check your online presence against your CV.
  • Shop around for specialist recruiters that operate in your local market and either submit your CV to them or connect via XING or Linkedin.

Choosing the right recruiter

Choose a Market Specialist

Tech and Digital environments each have their own set of challenges and niche skill-sets required for a specific role. It is important to choose a recruiter that speaks your language and has a solid understanding of the area you work in.

Service Matters

You should connect with a specialist recruiter that maintains positive client and candidate relationships as standard. A good recruiter will be high-touch. Meeting you in person and maintaining regular contact allows them to understand more about the specifics of what you’re looking for in your next role and ensures transparency in the process. Check your recruiters track record by  reviewing testimonials on their company page or Linkedin page.

Ask the right questions

A good recruiter is bound to ask a lot of questions, so it’s only fair that you do the same. Start with asking about their experience placing candidates in your area, ask specific questions about the companies that they are working with and don’t be afraid to throw some industry terminology around to test their knowledge.

Berlin salary expectations

As market demand increases for tech professionals in the wake of Berlin’s startup revolution over the last 10 years, salaries have been rising in the tech and digital profession to accommodate. While the costs of living in Berlin are still lower than other major European cities (Amsterdam, London and Paris for example) rent prices have increased to reflect the boom and salaries naturally have followed in the tech sector. Salaries vary depending on years of experience, area of work and of course the size of the company that you’re looking to work in. When first meeting with your recruiter, they will gauge your salary expectations and during offer stages will negotiate on your behalf to achieve the best financial outcome.

German Residence Permits & Visas

If you’re an EU/EEA citizen…

You do not require a visa or residence permit. If you intend to stay in the country for more than three months you are required to register your address at your local citizens’ office (Bürgeramt). Swisse nationals should apply for a special declaratory residence permit at your local Foreigners’ Office (Ausländerbehörde).

If you’re from Australia, Israel, Japan, Canada, South Korea, New Zealand or the USA…

You can enter the country without a visa but must register immediately with the Ausländerbehörde or Foreigners’ Office to get a residence permit. People hailing from these countries do not require a job contract before entering.

If you’re from any other non-EU country…

You must have a visa before you enter Germany. Ensure to do your research and apply for the correct visa as some cannot be converted into long term visas after being approved. In order to apply for any visa, you’ll need to provide proof that a German company or institution has offered you a job.

EU Blue Card

The EU Blue card is for highly skilled professionals looking to move to Germany for work and is usually valid for four years. To be eligible for an EU Blue card, you must have a degree in higher education (e.g. bachelor’s) and you must be applying for work in your area of study. You must also have a high level of German proficiency and meet certain salary requirements. This visa will allow you to bring a spouse even if they do not meet the above conditions.

Spousal & Family Visas

If your partner and/or family will be migrating with you to the Netherlands and they are also a non-EU citizen, certain conditions are required to be met. View Make it in Germany for more information.

More information on visas through these websites:

To apply for a German visa you’ll need:

  • A valid passport from another country.
  • A clean criminal record.
  • Minimum B1 German language proficiency (for Blue Card and Permanent Residence Permit).
  • German health insurance.
  • A passed health check.
  • Financial stability.
  • If employed: a job offer from your employer.
  • If joining a spouse: your marriage certificate.
  • An appointment at the Ausländerbehörde.
  • A completed application form from the Ausländerbehörde website.

Social security ID (Sozialversicherungsausweis)

When your employer enrols you in the social security system, you will automatically be issued a social security ID (Sozialverischerungsausweis or Rentenversicherungsausweis). This is a compulsory document all Expats need to have and will be used for claiming health insurance benefits, payroll and more. The document will arrive by mail so ensure to check with your employer which address it will arrive to. If you urgently require your social security ID, your health insurance provider may be able to help you obtain a temporary document.

Berlin’s startup economy is booming

Berlin is the largest city in Europe’s biggest economy. According to Pitch Book, venture capitalists invested around EUR 1.07 billion in new businesses across Germany in 2016 and these numbers have been on a steady rise since. The strong tech scene and reasonable cost of living have attracted top tech talent from around the world contributing to a great expat friendly culture. The Deustche Startup Monitor survey found that around 40 percent of staff in Berlin startups in 2016 were foreign.

The Practicalities

You’ve decided that Germany is where you want to be, you’ve begun your job search and now you’re ready to think about the practicalities of shipping your life abroad. Read on to find the practical information you’ll need to ensure a smooth migration to the German capital.

Language

Because of the large number of Expats and student youth in Berlin, most people living in the city will at least speak a little bit of English. Finding an English speaking job in Berlin is not difficult however we do recommend beginning to learn the local language to help you integrate into local culture. A level of proficiency in German will also allow you to fill out government forms and will give you a better chance of visa approval in some cases.

Weather

If you’re coming from a tropical location, you’ll be confronted with four very distinct seasons. Winter is cold, dipping below freezing and the summer is warm with most locals heading out to parks and lakes to enjoy the water. Berlin weather is unpredictable, a beautiful sunny day can fast turn into a thunderstorm. Make sure to bring a rain jacket without abroad and check the weather before you leave the house.

Registering your address & Tax ID
(Anmeldung and (steuerliche Identifikationsnummer)

Registering to your address (anmelden) at your local citizens’ office (Bürgeramt) is compulsory for all residents in Germany. A successful registration means you will be provided with a registration certificate (Anmeldebescheinigung). It is the most important step in your move as you will need this registration certificate to apply for a residence permit, open a bank account and more.

When you register, you will also automatically receive your tax ID (steuerliche Identifikationsnummer). This separate document is a unique number provided to you by the Federal Central Tax Office. Your employer will use this number to decipher your tax bracket and you could also use this number to take out local health insurance.

The registration certificate does not automatically give non-EU citizens the right to work in Germany. You may also need to apply for a residence permit/visa.

Tips:

  • Registration application forms are constructed in German. Have a German speaking companion assist you in completing the form before the appointment. It is also safe to take a German speaking friend with you to the appointment as you may have a german speaking attendant.
  • There will be a line item about your religious affiliation on the form. Leave it blank if you don’t want to pay the church tax, which is around 8–9% of your income tax depending on your region.
  • Getting an appointment can take up to 2-3 weeks, make sure to book ahead. A handy tip is to re-check the online system at 8am and you’ll be the first to see appointments made available by cancellations.

To register your address (Anmeldung) at the Bürgeramt you’ll need:

SCHUFA: Your German credit rating

The “Schutzorganisation für Allgemeine Kreditsicherung” roughly translates to the ‘organisation for general credit safety protection’. This company keeps track of your German credit rating which locals refer to as SCHUFA Auskunft.

In a nutshell, schufa.de rates you on your ability to pay your bills. Your rating will be referenced by phone service providers, banks, real estate agencies and will help them decide whether you will be a reliable customer. For this reason, it’s very important to keep a positive rating.

As an Expat, your  SCHUFA Auskunft will be automatically created when you have completed your Anmeldung at the Bürgeramt, opened a bank account, and signed your first contract (e.g. internet provider).

Taxes

If you’re working and earning money in Germany, it will come of no surprise that you are required to pay taxes. Some taxes in Germany are more obvious than others and we go into detail on some of the types below.

Income Tax / Withholding Tax (Lohnsteuer)

The majority of expats will pay income tax through payroll deductions organised by their employer. Your employer will work out your tax rate and it will automatically be deducted from your monthly pay. If your salary is your only form of income, you will not be required to submit a tax declaration at the end of the financial year.

All citizens of Germany and expats alike are required to have a Tax ID which is issued by the Federal Central Tax Office. The ID consists of 11 numbers in the format 00 000 000 000. Your tax ID is automatically generated when you register your German address within 14 days of arriving.

For more detailed information on income tax and how it will affect your salary visit iamexpat.de.

Less Obvious Taxes

TV Tax (RUNDFUNKBEITRAG)

Each household in Germany is required to pay TV Tax through the rundfunkbeitrag.de. It is a standard monthly fee of 17,50 euro per month. You will receive a letter including your bill and instructions on how to pay online. When you leave Germany, it is important to notify both the Bürgeramt and Beitragsservice so that you don’t receive any further bills on TV taxes.

Church Tax

When you fill out your registration form, you will be asked to declare a religion. If you specify a religion, you will be required to pay church tax which ranges from 8-9% depending on location. If you do not resonate with a particular religion and do not specify one on your registration form, you will not pay church tax.

Dog Tax (Hundesteuer)

If your dog will be coming with you to Germany, you will be required to pay tax to keep it with you. You must register your dog at the local tax office.

German tax calculator

Like any tax system, the German system can be quite confusing. To assist in determining what your take home salary will be, you can use the German tax calculator online at bmf-steuerrechner.de. If you use the Google Chrome browser, you can translate the form into English.

Relocating to Berlin

So you’re ready to start thinking about moving? You have two options, manage the move yourself or hire a specialist to help you do it. Below we give you some tips to help work out which is the best option for you.

Option A – Relocation Services

Companies who hire from outside of Germany will typically offer some type of relocation budget as part of your job offer. This will range from covering the costs of your flights for you and your family, or they might offer to cover your entire relocation for you including all paperwork, appointments with the German Immigration office and the move or shipping of your household goods. If not, you can always get in touch with a relocation service provider to make your move carefree and smoothe.

We’ve tried and tested working with next-step-berlin-relocation.de.

Option B – DIY Relocation

Some Expats choose to manage the move themselves which includes arranging your own accomodation. We go into detail about where to stay in Berlin below.

Where to live in Berlin

Below is a list of our favourite neighbourhoods for Expats in Berlin. All of the areas are easily navigable with public transport, however, you may also choose to live outside of the city centre.

 

a. Mitte – “Mitte” translates to “Center” in English and it’s the closest thing Berlin has to a downtown area.
b. Neukölln – Young and international feel with great markets and cafes.
c. Prenzlauer Berg – Upmarket yet urban, perfect for families and young professionals.
d. Kreuzberg – Best described as the creative center of the city.
e. Charlottenburg – Wilmersdorf: Chic pre-war buildings, landscaped gardens and a vibrant dining scene, great for families.
f. Moabit – Multicultural residential neighborhood close to train stations and eclectic markets.
g. Friedrichshain – A charming district with lots of cafés, restaurants, flea markets, and an alternative scene.
h. Wedding – Berlin’s less touristy up-and-coming neighborhood.

Finding a Rental

When relocating some of our own team to Berlin, we learnt a few things about Berlin’s competitive rental market. We recommend beginning your rental search before you arrive and ideally locking in a rental before landing in Berlin. This can be difficult without a viewing in person however most agents are happy to video conference for a virtual tour.

Before applying for a rental you will need:

  • Your passport or equivalent identification.
  • Latest bank statements.
  • A Mietschuldenfreiheitsbescheinigung that proves you do not owe money to previous landlords. However, if you have never lived in Germany, it is unlikely any landlord will expect this from you.
  • Three recent salary slips (payslips) or proof of sufficient savings.
  • SCHUFA-Auskunft (credit report). However, if you have just moved to Berlin, data for this report will be unavailable, so you will have to show bank statements instead.
  • Mieterselbstauskunft form which gives the landlord information about you, such as what you do for a job.

Depending on your situation, you should start with the online platforms listed below.

  • facebook.com/groups – ‘Berlin Wg Zimmer Wohnung Room Flat Apartment for Rent’, ‘Rent a flat in Berlin’ and ‘Berlin Apartments’ are the most popular.
  • Wunderflats.com –  One of the most visited websites in Berlin for furnished apartments. They offer services in English and often do not require a SCHUFA record (or credit record).
  • Uniplaces caters more for students and young working adults. 
  • Urbanground.de – For long term rentals and they offer contracts in dual languages. 
  • Wgsuche.de – Ideal for rooms, flats or student apartments.

 

Tips and Mistakes to Avoid When Buying or Renting a Property in Berlin

  • If dealing with a private landlord (i.e. not through an estate agency) always ask for a viewing. If they say they are abroad, make sure that the landlord’s contact details and address match the country of their bank account when you are asked to pay a deposit.
  • To ensure you understand how utilities costs work in Germany, read the utilities section below.
  • Make sure you are clear about all fees associated with employing a German real estate agent (Makler) to help with your search. This will typically be an agent fee (Provision) and a security deposit (Kaution) for the property which can be two or three months’ rent.
  • Always check your contact with your landlord for hidden costs like removing snow, cleaning public spaces, heating and internet.
  • Do not pay your deposit in cash. This is not the norm in Berlin and you will have no proof of having made the transfer if something goes wrong.
  • If you aren’t able to view the rental, consider signing up for a short term rental first. The demand for affordable apartments in Berlin’s popular areas is much higher than the supply. 
  • If the contract is provided to you in German, ask for an English version or use Google Translate to a language you are most comfortable with.
  • Be on the lookout for any scam emails requesting transfers and do not trust anyone you have not met face to face, even if they share their identification documents with you prior.

Buying a Property in Berlin and getting a mortgage

As daunting as it may seem to buy a property in a foreign country, the good news is that house prices in Berlin are still fairly moderate compared to other economic hotspots.

Mortgages in Germany

The first thing to keep in mind is that German lenders think slightly differently about the criteria they set for mortgage takers. Typically financial institutions will not only assess the value of the property, but also the ”value” of the mortgage taker.

A lender will cover the typical metrics like your income, employment, age, tax statements if you own a business, any running debts, and your positive financial assets.

Typically, lenders will expect you to cover 20% of the purchase out of your own pocket (Excluding closing costs), however 50% plus loans are obtainable under the right circumstances for international buyers. Additional fees like notary costs, land registry office fees, property transfer taxes and agent fees usually make up for at least 15% of the purchase price.

If you would like to get a quick idea of what you’d be able to afford, a nifty platform like hypofriend.de can do a no-strings attached calculation of the properties you can afford or mortgages within reach.

If you have an understanding of what you’d be able to afford, this article goes into more detail about what properties cost in Germany’s cities. 

Getting Around

Public transport in Germany is reliable, comfortable and for the most part, fast. Typically commuters can choose between these means of transport depending on where you’re heading.

U-Bahn/Underground: Most of Germany’s metropolitan areas are connected with underground train lines organised by means of a code for each line starting with a U followed by a corresponding number. These operate quite frequently, usually every 5 to 15 minutes.

S-Bahn (suburban commuter rail): If you are travelling between suburbs or nearby towns. These travel every 20 – 30 minutes. The train will make a few stops in the centre and then travels to the surrounding suburbs. The S-Bahn can get very busy over weekends and holidays, so make sure to travel early to avoid any discomfort.

Bus: Berlin has several bus systems and also offers night bus services.

Straßenbahn/Trambahn (Streetcar/Trams): Trams are typically suited for navigating shorter journeys throughout the city. Remember to check out as you exit.

Stadtbahn (light rail): The Stadtbahn is similar to U-Bahn but operates only in suburban areas. They typically travel faster than trams because of their exclusive routes.

Navigating the City:

Navigate the city, plan your trips and view timetables using the following apps and websites.

Healthcare System

The German Government requires everyone living in Germany to be insured for at least hospital and out-patient medical treatment. Your German employer will typically register you with a German health insurance company but in case you want to choose your own, they will ask for your medical insurance information beforehand.

You will typically have three options for health insurance while living in Germany.

  • Government-regulated public health insurance scheme (GKV). Most German residents are members of the government health system.
  • Private health insurance which you can obtain from a German or international insurance provider (PKV)
  • A combination of both GKV and supplemental PKV.

Which are the Best Public Health Insurance Schemes (GKV’s)?

There are more than 100 health insurance companies in Germany, the biggest are aok.de, signuptk.de, and barmer.de. The average cost varies considerably and depends on the health insurance coverage, and whether you’re using the state system or private insurance.

If you’re wanting to get a good overview of available packages and their pricing, use a comparison platform like tarifcheck.de or preisvergleich.de.

Bank Account

If you are entering Germany from outside the European Union to study or look for a job. you must prove that you have sufficient funds to cover your living expenses. This is an essential condition for obtaining a visa or residence permit. Opening a blocked bank account (Sperrkonto) is one of the most common ways people provide proof of sufficient financial resources.

What is a blocked account (Sperrkonto) in Germany?

A blocked account is a bank account that serves as proof of financial funds when applying for a German visa. It is called a ‘blocked account’ because it requires the account owner to deposit a predetermined sum of money, in advance of arriving in Germany. This lump sum can then only be withdrawn in monthly pay-outs. As of January 1, 2020, the annual requirement is 10.236 euros and the maximum you can withdraw each month (for students) is 853 euros. 

Opening a bank account in Germany is often the first step to setting up your new life. You need to arrange utilities for your new home, arrange telephone and internet services, and get German insurance coverage as required by law – and this all relies on having money in the bank. 

What you’ll need to open a bank account

Opening a bank account will vary bank to bank, but in general, you will need the following to open up a bank account in Germany:

  • Passport or ID Card
  • Registration Document (Meldebescheinigung)
  • Tax Id Number (Sometimes needed)
  • Monthly Income (Sometimes needed)

Our favourite German banks for Expats

  • N26 – Great for expats because N26 don’t insist on a Meldebescheinigung as a condition of opening an account. For newcomers without a permanent address, this is your best course of action, even if it’s just for the first few months. This bank is Digital only so you will have the option to visit a physical branch.  
  • Bunq – Another popular mobile bank in Germany in Bunq. The app allows you to spend, save and invest freely and the interface is available in English. 
  • comdirect bank – Easily apply for an account online through the comdirect website. their website and banking interface is all in German.
  • ING DiBa – Easily apply for an account online and do your identity verification via video chat or through PostIdent at any Deutsche Post office
  • DKB – The big advantage of DKB is for frequent travellers. Their Visa credit card gives you free withdrawals from any ATM worldwide

Getting Connected 

Mobile Phone

To be able to receive a mobile sim card, you will first need to have a valid proof of ID (not a drivers licence) and proof of address (your address registration certificate Anmeldebescheinigung).

Once you have these things, you’ll need to decide whether purchasing a prepaid sim or entering a long term contract (Handyvertrag) is the right option for you. Prepaid sims are much more flexible where German phone contracts are quite rigid. Contracts normally require you to enter an agreement of 24 months which high exit fees if you decide to leave the contract early. A good way to choose which phone plan or sim is right for you is through using a comparison tool like deinhandy.de.

Note: First check with your new employer if they provide you with a connected phone which will save you having to complete the steps above yourself.

We recommend the providers below.

Internet & TV

Despite Germany being one of the world’s tech and economic superpowers, the internet infrastructure is fairly poor. When you negotiate your home rental agreement, ensure to check if internet is included in your monthly rental price. If your internet is not included in your rent, you can easily find a provider online and check speeds in your area by entering your address. When you sign up to a contract online, you’ll wait for contract confirmation, receive the modems/routers to your home address and wait for a technician to open your line.

We recommend the providers below.

Utilities

How utilities are connected and billed in Germany is very different from most EU-countries and can become confusing for expats entering rental agreements for the first time. Before signing a rental agreement, we recommend reading this in depth explanation on Nebenkosten (additional rental costs) in Germany.

Community and Lifestyle

Your new city won’t feel like a home until you start building your social circle. Many find that the best way to start building theirs is within the office. When you’re ready to branch out and start exploring the city, read below for our tips on building your community and beginning to enjoying the local lifestyle.

Meetups, groups and clubs

Berlin is a city with a vibrant international cultural scene. With this, you’ll find local meetups that come in all shapes and sizes where you can begin building your community of friends.

  • Meetup.com –  Tech relevant meetups and events where you can learn new skills while getting social.
  • facebook.com/groups – Local groups on Facebook often host monthly meetups.
  • Sporting Clubs – Fast way to become social in Berlin.
  • bumble.com/bff – Meet like-minded friends in your area.

Berlin Tech Events

There is an overwhelming amount of quality tech events scheduled throughout the year from AI conferences to coding camps. You can use the below websites to search tech Networking events near you.

Breakfast & Brunch

Father Carpenter

Fine Bagels

hallmann & Klee

Silo Coffee

Lunch

Häppies

Schwarzwaldstuben

Malakeh Restaurant

Isla Coffee

Dinner

Khwan

Pauly Saal

Cookies Cream

Kanaan

Drinks

Madame Claude

Clärchens Ballhaus

Geist im Glass

Klunkerkranich

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