There are six main steps when moving to Berlin. Here's the short version:
Read on for the all-in-one checklist you'll need to move to Berlin.
Note: I'm working on a more comprehensive version of this guide, 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.
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.
Three 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.
Most people moving to Berlin typically have one of three visas: the Working Holiday Visa, Freelance Visa, or Employment Visa. I've personally gone through 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.
A compulsory part of living in Germany - including the visa application process - is having health insurance. Regardless of whether you're on a Working Holiday Visa, Freelance Visa, or Working Visa, the team over at Feather Insurance will be able to answer all of your questions about health insurance.
Almost all insurance companies in Germany do not operate in English, and certain types of workers (e.g. freelancers) are even more restricted with their health insurance options. One freelancer-friendly option that operates in English is Ottonova (see: Ottonova review), but Feather Insurance has a partnership with them as well - so I'd suggest for most people to start by booking a free consultation with Feather first.
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 an 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 (2020) by a Berlin Expat & Ex-Banker
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.
For most people, winSIM represents the best value for money and has no minimum contract. In Berlin, winSIM'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.
Since Berlin is a 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:
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:
There are also dozens of Facebook groups, including:
For temporary stays, Airbnb is a good option:
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.