Thanks to its vibrant arts culture and its thriving start-up scene, Berlin has quickly become a hotspot for expats from all around the world. Like many, I moved to Berlin in 2017 with the intention of enjoying the summer and considering my next steps in my new, temporary home base.
Two years later, I’m still here. And during these two years, I’ve made a whole heap of mistakes and have helped dozens, if not hundreds of people with their own moving process – all based on my own mistakes and experimentation.
Read on for the all-in-one checklist you’ll need to move to Berlin. I will be adding to this as time goes on.
Note: I’m working on a more comprehensive version of this guide that should be ready by early to mid 2020, so be sure to come back and have a look! I’ll be covering topics around all of the problems that expats typically face when they first move to Berlin.
Getting a Visa
Most people moving to Berlin typically have one of three visas: the Working Holiday Visa, Freelance Visa, or Employment Visa. I’ve personally gone though and written extensively about the Working Holiday Visa and Freelance Visa, but you can find the official information about visas at the Foreigner’s Registration Office website (Ausländerbehörde).
Depending on your passport, visa applications can be made after arriving in Germany. If you have a passport from a particular set of countries, you can also get a visa waiver with 90 days of free movement on arrival within the Schengen Zone (which includes Germany). This gets you some time to get your documents together.
If you don’t have this visa waiver, you might have to do your own research on how the visa application process will work for you. The most likely scenario is that you’ll have to apply at your local German embassy.
Getting Health Insurance
A compulsory part of living in Germany – including the visa application process – is having health insurance. For the Working Holiday Visa, travel insurance such as World Nomads is typically fine, but the Freelance and Employment visas have stricter rules and require a local health insurance provider.
The problem here is that most insurance companies don’t operate in English, and if you’re a freelancer, you’re restricted even more with your options.
Ottonova is a digital health insurance provider that is an exception to the rule – everything is in English, and the terms are transparent and 100% online. They even have a expat-specific insurance policy.
Opening a Bank Account
Here’s your first Catch-22. You’ll need a bank account to get an apartment, but you can’t get an apartment without a bank account. This is because most banks will require a Anmeldebestätigung and/or Meldebescheinigung – basically, a certificate of registration to a permanent address.
Also see: How to Open a Bank Account in Berlin
Fortunately N26 does not require these documents and they also happen to be the only fully English-speaking bank in Germany. Their basic account also has no account fees or ATM fees – but this can be upgraded to their premium cards that include travel insurance, free ATM withdrawals worldwide and other exclusive discounts.
Also see: Long-Term N26 Review (3+ Years)
Need Euros? Use TransferWise to convert the currency of your choice and send it to your brand new N26 account. They offer rates that are much, much cheaper than any bank or foreign exchange service can offer, and the conversion is quick and 100% online through their website.
Getting a SIM Card
For most people, Aldi Talk represents the best value for money and has no minimum contract. In Berlin, Aldi Talk’s network has the added bonus of working inside the U-Bahn as well – no other network has this functionality.
For more information, I’ve written a more comprehensive guide for getting a sim card in Germany.
Finding a Job
Since Berlin is very international city, it’s very possible to find jobs that only require you to speak English (though it’s always a good idea to learn German, especially if you’ll be staying for a while).
Here are the best places to begin your search:
- Indeed.com: Job search engine with alerts feature.
- LinkedIn: Use the filter function to search by city and job title.
- Xing: The German equivalent to LinkedIn.
- Glassdoor: Job boards and company reviews.
- AngelList: Start-up jobs portal, very active in Berlin.
- Berlin Startup Jobs: Berlin-specific start-up jobs.
- English Jobs in Berlin: Facebook group for English job seekers.
- Berlin Freelancers: Advice sharing and job postings for freelancers.
- Berlin Food Stories: Food blog with hospitality job postings.
- Huntler: Bar, cafe and other hospitality jobs in Berlin.
Finding a Flat
The housing shortage in Berlin is a topic that is commonly discussed amongst Berliners, and rising rent prices are a hot topic in any conversation. That being said, Berlin is still significantly cheaper than London or Paris, and is even cheaper still than most of its other German sister cities.
Here are the best places to begin your search:
- eBay-Kleinanzeigen: Classifieds ads for finding housing.
- WG-Gesucht: Classified ads for housing and shared flats.
There are also dozens of Facebook groups, including:
- WG-Zimmer & Wohnungen Berlin: 153,000+ members.
- WG, Zimmer und Wohnung in Berlin: 82,000+ members.
- Berlin Apartments: 81,000+ members.
- Apartments/roommates in Berlin: 17,000+ members.
- WG Zimmer Wohnung in Berlin: 26,000+ members.
For temporary stays, Airbnb is a good option:
- Airbnb: new members get 38€ credit with this link.
It’s not uncommon for people to move around a few times before finding a permanent home, and don’t let the high demand in areas such as Kreuzberg, Neukölln and Friedrichshain discourage you – a lot of it comes down to luck.