So it's official, you're moving to Berlin! This guide shows how to do it: your first apartment, your first job, your first bank account, health insurance, and all the paperwork.

Get a residence permit

If you want to move to Germany, you might need a residence permit:

  • If you are a citizen or permanent resident of the European Union, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland, you can live, work and study in Germany1. You do not need a residence permit.
  • If you are a citizen of Australia, Israel, Japan, Canada, South Korea, New Zealand, the United Kingdom or the United States, you need a residence permit to work, study or freelance in Germany. You can come to Germany for up to 90 days without any visa1, but you need a residence permit to stay in Germany, or to start working.
  • If you are a citizen of any other country, you need a residence permit to work, study or freelance in Germany. If you want to look for work in Germany, you need a job seeker visa. You can't come to Germany to look for work without a visa1.

There are many types of German residence permits:

  • Work visa
    For skilled workers who live and work in Germany. You need a job offer to get a work visa. More information in this guide.
  • Blue Card
    For skilled workers who live and work in Germany. It's a little better than the work visa. You need a job offer and a university degree to get a Blue Card. More information in this guide.
  • Working holiday visa and Youth mobility visa
    For young people who want to explore Germany and work at the same time. It's only for young citizens of certain countries. It's easier to get than a work visa or a Blue Card, but it's only valid for 1 year1.
  • Freelance visa
    For freelancers and self-employed people who want to live in Germany. You must have clients in Germany. More information in this guide.
  • Student visa
    For people who want to study in Germany. You can work during your studies.
  • Internship visa
    For university students1. This residence permit lets you do an internship in Germany. It's valid for 6 to 12 months1. More information here.
  • Au pair visa
    For people who want to be a helper for a host family in Germany.
  • Family reunion visa
    For spouses and family members of German residents. The family reunion visa allows you to work or study in Germany.
  • And many others...

Use this tool to know which residence permit you need. You can apply for a residence permit at the German embassy or consulate in your country. You can also apply from Germany, but you might need a job seeker visa to enter Germany; it depends on your citizenship.

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Find a job

It's better to find a job before you move to Berlin. When you arrive in Berlin, you can focus on finding an apartment, registering your address and getting health insurance. It's easier to find an apartment when you already have a job offer.

You can also start your own business in Germany. Many people move to Germany to become a freelancer.

If you need a residence permit to work in Germany, you need a job offer before you apply for the permit. You can't work before you get your residence permit. You might wait 8 to 12 weeks to get the residence permit1, 2, 3. If you want to be self-employed, you will need a freelance visa.

When you start working, you need a bank account, health insurance and a tax ID. Your employer needs your tax ID to calculate your income tax. You get a tax ID after you register your address, so you must find an apartment as soon as possible.

During the first 6 months, you are in your probation period. It's harder to get a loan or find an apartment during your probation period, because you can lose your job more easily.

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    Open a bank account

    You need a bank account to pay your rent, pay for your health insurance, receive your pay cheque, and many other things. You do not need a German bank account; any account that supports SEPA transfers is okay.

    Many banks require a registration certificate (Meldebestätigung) to open an account. You get a registration certificate when you register your address. If you don't have a registered address, you can still open an account with one of these banks.

    I use N26 since 2016. It's a good bank if you just moved to Germany. They speak English, they have low fees, and they let you open an account without a registration certificate. You can open an account online, even before you arrive in Berlin. There are many other banks to choose from.

    If you are a student, and you need a blocking account (Sperrkonto) for your student visa, you don't have many options: Deutsche Bank, Fintiba or X-patrio. Most students choose Deutsche Bank for their blocking account.

    If you need to transfer money from your home country to your German bank account, use Wise (TransferWise) or XE.com. They have better exchange rates and lower fees than banks or wire transfers. I used Wise to transfer all my money from Canada to Germany.

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    Find a place to live

    It's hard to find an apartment in Berlin. If you have a low budget, it can take weeks, and even months.

    If you need a residence permit to live in Germany, you must find an apartment as soon as possible. You usually need a rent contract to apply for a residence permit.

    After you find an apartment, you must register your address. This is very important. When you register your address, you get a tax ID, and a registration certificate (Meldebestätigung). Your employer needs your tax ID to calculate your taxes correctly. You also need a tax ID to start a business.

    Some temporary apartments don't let you register your address. This will be a big problem for you: if you can't register, you won't get a tax ID. Look for a place that allows you to register. For example, Wunderflats apartments always let you register. HousingAnywhere has a filter for apartments that let you register. These furnished apartments are more expensive, but they let you find a place quickly. Once you have a temporary place to live, you have more time to look for a good apartment.

    Some landlords take advantage of foreigners who don't know their rights. After you move in, you should join a tenant's association (Mieterverein). It costs around 10€ per month. They can check your lease and tell you if you pay too much rent. If you have problems with your landlord, they can give you legal assistance. Legal insurance also gives you access to a lawyer if you have landlord problems. It costs around 15€ per month.

    You should also check if Conny/Wenigermiete can reduce your rent. My friend saves 324€ per month thanks to them. Read my review of Conny to learn more about them.

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    Get health insurance

    If you live in Germany, you must have health insurance. Choosing the right type of health insurance can save you a lot of money. An independent health insurance broker can help you choose the right health insurance. Their help is free.

      I work with two health insurance brokers: B-Protected and Feather. I know them personally, and met them dozens of times. They are honest, they speak English, and they have a lot of experience with visas and immigration. They helped me write my introduction to German health insurance. Feather also helped me save over 400€ a month on health insurance.

      You can use websites like Tarifcheck to compare health insurance prices. They don't help you pick the best insurance for your situation; they just show you the prices. The cheapest option is not always the best option for you.

      If you are an EU citizen, you are covered by your EHIC card until you start working. Once you start working, you must have German health insurance. If you are a student, you can use your EHIC card while you study. If health insurance is free in your home country, your EHIC card can save you a lot of money.

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      Get liability insurance

      There are two types of insurance you really need in Germany: health insurance (Krankenversicherung), and liability insurance (Haftpflichtversicherung). Liability insurance is not mandatory, but most Germans have it.

      Liability insurance protects you from damage claims. For example, if your washing machine breaks and floods your neighbour's apartment, the insurance company will pay for the repairs. If you accidentally send someone a virus that breaks their computer, they can sue you for damages. Liability insurance will pay for your lawyer, and for computer repairs.

      Liability insurance is very cheap, usually less than 5€ per month. Use Tarifcheck to compare liability insurance options. If you don't speak German, use Feather or GetSafe. They both speak English.

      I also recommend legal insurance, but it's less important. It gives you free access to lawyers. If you have problems with your landlord or anyone else, it's very useful.

      Other types of insurance can also be useful: Hausratversicherung for the contents of your house, Fahrradversicherung for your bicycle, and many others.

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      Get a SIM card or mobile phone contract

      If you come from another EU country, you can keep using your mobile phone contract. You make calls, send SMS and use mobile data without any extra fees. After some time, you must switch to a German mobile plan. Your foreign plan will stop working, unless you return to that country1.

      When you get a German cellphone contract or prepaid SIM card, you must show a valid ID, and sometimes an Anmeldebestätigung1, 2.

      The European Union uses different cellphone bands as the United States and Canada. Your phone must support the 900MHz and 1800MHz bands. CDMA phones do not work in Germany1. Your phone must be unlocked, or it will not work with German SIM cards.

      Use Verivox to compare cellphone plans. Aldi Talk is a cheap, popular prepaid option. Vodafone CallYa is also a good option, because you can get help in Vodafone shops. I have Vodafone CallYa since 2015.

      Get a bicycle or a car

      You don't need to buy a car in Berlin. They are expensive, and they are not useful in the city. I have a car, and I never use it in the city. Instead, you can use car sharing services. They let you rent a car only when you need it.

      It's better to buy a bicycle, or use public transportation. Berlin has very good public transportation. It's also a very flat city with many bicycle paths.

      If you have a driving licence from a non-EU country, it's only valid for 6 months after you move to Germany. If you have a driving licence from another EU country, it is valid until it expires1. You can usually trade your foreign driving licence for a German one. If you don't have a driving licence, you can take driving lessons.

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      Make a budget

      Understand the cost of living in Berlin. A part of your income goes to taxes, insurance and pension payments. You must also pay rent, internet, electricity and a few other things. If you buy a car, you must think about vehicle tax, car insurance and maintenance.

      Once you have a budget, there are ways to save money in Germany.

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      Send your children to the Kita

        The Kita or Kindertagesstätte is a type of preschool or daycare centre for children under 6 years old. Finding a Kita for your child is very hard. You must start looking as soon as possible.

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        Bring your dog with you

        If you bring your dog to Berlin, you must microchip, insure and register your dog. You must also learn a few things about having a dog in Germany.

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        Get help in English

        These lists of English-speaking businesses let you find the help you need.

        Learn German

        You don't need to speak German to move to Berlin, but it's very useful. You always need to write emails, read letters and make phone calls in German. If you don't speak German, you always depend on someone else to help you. If you speak German, it's easier to find an apartment, find a job and make friends.

        Related guide: How to learn German in Berlin

        Get used to life in Berlin

        There are many little things you must understand after you move to Berlin.

        Daily life:

        Paperwork and bureaucracy:

        Where to find...