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Moving countries can be daunting and confusing. But no fear! Here are some helpful tips to help you move to the best city in the world, Berlin.
In recent years Berlin has welcomed the best and brightest from all four corners of the globe. From world-class education to a thriving tech start-up scene, Berlin is a Mecca for young professionals looking to embark on an exciting new chapter. However, although Berlin is a vibrant cosmopolitan metropolis that revels in its multicultural identity, navigating the city as a new arrival can be tricky. Here are some tips to keep you on the right track.
1. How to find an apartment or flat share
Finding a flat in Berlin is notoriously difficult, but with a little patience it’s not impossible to find suitable accommodation. For long-term rentals and flat shares, some useful sites include:
Another option are temporary furnished apartments. These are usually intended for short-term rentals and normally come at a premium compared to unfurnished properties, but some can be rented long-term. Sites to find furnished apartments include:
2. Register in Berlin
New residents must register their place of residence in Germany; this is the most important administrative step to take when you first arrive. You will need to register before opening a bank account or getting health insurance.
To register you will need to go to a Bürgeramt to receive your ‘Meldebescheinigung’, or registration certificate. You should get your registration certificate within 14 days of moving into a new residence. Make an appointment online or via phone. You can book your appointment online and find a list of required documents HERE.
3. Health Insurance
Health insurance is mandatory in Germany, and you can choose between a public and a private system. In short, private insurance premiums are based on your health risks, and public insurance is based on your income. If you are a full-time or part-time employee your employer will directly transfer your health insurance fee from your payslip to the public health insurance company of your choice. Find more information HERE.
4. Tax-ID number
Now that you have a job and have sorted out accommodation and registration, it’s time to set up a bank account and get your Tax-ID. You can get your Tax-ID number from any finance office (Finanzamt) in Berlin, although you can find the finance office in your district by typing your postcode HERE. You should get your Tax-ID as soon as possible to avoid being automatically placed in the highest tax bracket.
5. German bank account
You will need a German bank account to receive your salary, and it is also a requirement for certain visas. Some basic bank accounts come with an EC card rather than a standard credit card - EC is widely used throughout Germany, but may be less commonly accepted in other EU countries or online. Find more information on opening your German bank account HERE. There are also online banks which are quick and easy to open, like N26, bunq, or ING DiBa. Even if you end up moving banks later, these online banks are a helpful way to get started.
6. Finding a doctor who speaks your language
You can find a doctor who speaks your language on a database called Ärtze Berlin, link HERE, where you can search by district, medical specialization, and language.
7. Learning German
If Mark Twain is to be believed, there is nothing ‘in the whole earth that you can’t learn in Berlin except the German language.’ Learning German in Berlin is indeed trickier than one might think. Most people speak English, which means that you often don’t need to speak German at all. English is also the lingua franca of many industries in Europe, including Berlin’s tech start-up scene. However, it is still worth learning some German, as it is important to immerse yourself in this wonderful city. Many Berlin workplaces and educational institutions offer free German classes, but there are also dedicated language institutes for adults such as Volkshochschule and the Goethe Institut. At keylight, we offer free German lessons to all our employees who are interested in learning the language.
8. Public transport
Berlin’s public transport network is excellent, and many Berliners find that a car is not really necessary for the daily commute. The four major forms of public transport in and around Berlin are the U-bahn (underground trains), S-bahn (overground trains), buses, and trams; there are also ferries and regional trains. For each journey a ticket must be purchased and validated at machines located at every train station; but it is generally much more convenient to purchase a monthly or yearly pass, which allows you to travel freely on all forms of public transport within Berlin. Berlin’s ticket and ticket validation system can be confusing and expensive, but the barrier-free system is policed by plain clothed inspectors who are infamously strict and do not make exceptions for foreigners or tourists. Dogs and other pets are allowed and quite common on Berlin trains and buses.
10. Phone contracts
Prepaid cards for your phone can be bought in supermarkets, as well as from online providers. You can find a comparison of price and services HERE.
11. Drinking water
The tap water in Berlin is perfectly safe to drink! However, Berlin water tends to be a bit hard, and your skin and hair may take some time to adjust if you are coming from a place with softer water. Also, don’t panic if your kettle starts to fossilize - a box of citric acid (Citronensäure) from the drugstore will sort it out!
Although tap water is perfectly drinkable, bottled water consumption is very high and when dining out it is usual to order bottled water rather than tap water for the table. When choosing bottled water, you can choose from still (naturell, stilles wasser, or ohne Kohlensäure), lightly carbonated (medium), or fully carbonated (classic). Don’t forget to return your bottles to get your bottle deposit (Pfand) back!
12. Explore Berlin
Berlin is the capital of European art, culture, and nightlife, with a rich and fascinating history. Berlin may be best known for its thriving club culture, but you’ll really be missing out on the genuine Berlin experience if you don’t get down with Berlin’s lesser known but equally important passion: lakes. There are plenty of lakes in Berlin and Brandenburg to explore, and several of them are only a train ride away from the city centre. Berlin may be landlocked, but that’s no reason not to while away lazy summer days in fresh pine-scented breeze and crystal clear water.
Confused? Lost? Drowning in paperwork? Not to worry - there’s always someone around to lend a hand. Here at keylight several keylighters are native Berliners and are always happy to help translate a form or point you in the right direction. If you need more help navigating bureaucracy, our wonderful HR team is always willing to go above and beyond to support new recruits and international keylighters sort out paperwork, work out insurance, leave, and social security, and deal with German-only customer service. Here at keylight we are firm believers in flexible work arrangements and a supportive environment; so when you come work for us, we’re here to help get you on your feet in our wonderful hometown, Berlin.