This guide shows you how to relocate to Berlin, step by step. It shows you how to find a job, get a residence permit, find a place to live, and more.

Get a residence permit

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

  • If you are a citizen of the European Union, Iceland, Liechtenstein or Norway, you can live, work and study in Germany1. You do not need a residence permit.
  • If you are a citizen of Switzerland, you need a residence permit to live in Germany. This residence permit is very easy to get1, 2. More information here.
  • 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 visit in Germany for up to 90 days without a visa1. If you want to stay longer, or if you want to work, study or freelance in Germany, you need a residence permit. You can apply for a residence permit in Germany, or in your home country.
  • 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 visa1. If you want to visit Germany, you need a tourist visa. You can't convert a tourist visa to a residence permit1, 2, 3, 4.

Types of residence permits

Use this list to know if you need a visa to enter Germany. Use this tool to know which residence permit you need to stay in Germany. You can apply for a residence permit at the German embassy or consulate in your country, or at an Ausländerbehörde in Germany.

Residence permits to work in Germany ➞

Residence permits to start a business in Germany ➞

Two ways to apply

You can apply for a residence permit in your home country, or in Germany.

  • At the Ausländerbehörde in Germany
    If you apply in Germany, you get a residence permit. Usually, it takes 2 to 3 months to get the residence permit1, 2, 3. During that time, you can't work or study, so you must have enough savings to survive. Only citizens of Australia, Israel, Japan, Canada, South Korea, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States can apply in Germany. Everyone else must apply in their home country.
  • At the German embassy or consulate in your country
    If you apply in your country, you get a National Visa. As soon as you get the visa, you can move to Germany and start working or studying. When you arrive in Germany, you have 3 months to convert your National Visa to a residence permit. You do this at the Ausländerbehörde.

It's better if you apply in your home country. You can start working as soon as you arrive in Germany. This will save you a lot of money.

Need help?

    Where to get help ➞ Immigration questions

    Find a job

    How to find a job in Berlin ➞

    If you need a residence permit, you must have a job offer before you apply for the residence permit.

    It's better if you find a job and get a residence permit before you arrive to Berlin. When you arrive in Berlin, you can focus on other things, like finding an apartment. It's much easier to find an apartment if you have a job and a residence permit.

    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 it after you register your address, so you must find an apartment as soon as possible.

    During the first 6 months at work, 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.

      Save money and make a budget

      Save money

      When you move to Germany, you need enough money to live until you get paid. You get your first paycheck 1 month after you start working.

      You need enough savings to pay for these things:

      • The apartment deposit (Kaution)
        The deposit is usually 3 times the cold rent (Kaltmiete). You must pay 1/3 of the Kaution before you move in. You will probably move in before you get your first paycheck.
      • The first month of rent
        You must pay the rent before you move in. You will probably move in before you get your first paycheck. You will need a bank account to pay the rent.
      • Living expenses
        You need to buy food and things for your apartment. If you rent an empty apartment, you also need to buy furniture and appliances. If you live in a WG, you don't need to buy as many things.
      • Relocation expenses
        If you come from another country, you might need to buy plane tickets, or stay in a hotel for a few days. Keep the receipts, because these expenses are tax-deductible.

      If you apply for a residence permit in Germany, you must also wait 2-3 months for your residence permit. You can't work during that time, so you need more savings. It's better if you get a residence permit before you move to Germany. This lets you start working as soon as you arrive in Germany.

      Make a budget

      You must know how much it costs to live in Berlin. It helps you make a budget and negotiate a better salary. After you make a budget, look for ways to save money in Germany.

      Cost of living in Berlin ➞

      Open a bank account

      You need a bank account to pay your rent, pay for your health insurance, receive your paycheck, and many other things. You do not need a German bank account, but you need a bank account that allows SEPA transfers. Any bank in the European Union should work.

      How to choose a German bank ➞

      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.

      Banks that don't require a registered address ➞

      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 you can choose.

      My review of N26 ➞

      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.

      Find a place to live

      It's really hard to find an apartment in Berlin. It can take weeks, or even months.

      Most people get a temporary apartment, because they are easier to get. When you have a place to live, it gives them more time to find the perfect apartment. It's easier to find a good apartment if you already live in Germany.

      How to find an apartment in Berlin ➞

      If you need a residence permit, start looking for an apartment as soon as possible. You need a rent contract to apply for a residence permit.

      After you find an apartment, you must register your address. When you register your address, you get a tax ID and a registration certificate (Meldebestätigung). Your employer needs your tax ID to pay you correctly. You also need a tax ID to start a business, get Kindergeld, send your child to the Kita, and many other things.

      How to register your address in Berlin

      Some places 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 lets you register. HomeLike, HousingAnywhere and Wunderflats tell you if the apartment lets you register. Their apartments are very 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 lets you talk to a lawyer for free when you have problems with your landlord. If you want to sue your landlord, your legal insurance pays for all the legal costs.

      How to check if your rent is too high ➞

      Where to find help ➞ Apartment problems

      Get health insurance

      If you live in Germany, you must have health insurance. If you want to save money, choose the right type of health insurance.

      There is no good reason to pick health insurance yourself. Don't let your employer choose your health insurance. They will choose what is the easiest for them, not what is the best for you. Talk to a health insurance broker. They will help you pick the best health insurance. Their help is completely free.

      I work with two health insurance brokers: B-Protected and Feather. I know them personally, and I work with them since a few years. They are honest, they speak English, and they have a lot of experience with visas and immigration. Feather also helped me save over 400€ a month on health insurance.

      You can use Tarifcheck to compare private health insurance prices. Tarifcheck doesn't help you pick the best insurance for your situation; it just shows 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.

      Related guides:

      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, your 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. When you don't have insurance, these small mistakes can be extremely expensive.

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

      What is liability insurance? ➞

      Legal insurance can also be useful, but it's a lot less important. It gives you free access to lawyers. If you have problems with your landlord or anyone else, it's very useful.

      What is legal insurance? ➞

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

      Other types of insurance in Germany ➞

      Check if your devices work in Germany

      Germany has Type F power outlets. They have a voltage of 230V, and a frequency of 50Hz. Before you move to Germany, check if your devices will work there.

      Power sockets in Germany ➞

      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.

      You can buy a SIM card at Vodafone, Telekom and O2 stores. Saturn and MediaMarkt also sell and activate SIM cards. You must show your passport and a registration certificate to activate the SIM card1, 2, but some store employees will just use your temporary address1, 2, 3.

      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 use Vodafone CallYa since 2015.

      Get a bicycle or a car

      You don't need to buy a car in Berlin. They are expensive, and not that useful.

      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. I have a car, and I still prefer to use my bicycle or public transit.

      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 or EEA country, it's valid until it expires1, 2. You can usually exchange your foreign driving licence for a German one. If you don't have a driving licence, you can take driving lessons.

      How to get a motorcycle licence in Germany ➞

      How to get an International Driving Permit in Berlin ➞

      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 is very hard. You must start looking as soon as possible.

        How to find a Kita in Berlin ➞

        How to get a Kitagutschein ➞

        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.

        How to get a dog in Germany ➞

        Get help in English

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

        Where to find help in English ➞

        English-speaking businesses

        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.

        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. I have written many guides that can help you.

        See all guides ➞