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Moving to Berlin

What to know if you're moving to Berlin

When you move to Berlin, you will soon find out that it is not just Germany’s historic capital, but also a vibrant city with a dynamic arts and music scene. The InterNations GO! guide on Berlin tells you all you need to know about expat life in the capital: accommodation, visa regulations, and more.

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All about Germany

From moving your household goods to obtaining a residence and work permit, this guide offers you a range of practical tips on the necessary steps to move to Germany. It outlines important factors, including healthcare, education, housing, and other essential requirements for moving to Germany.

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Relocating to Berlin

  • Berlin has had a turbulent past, but is now a modern city with a thriving arts scene.
  • Accommodation will likely be cheaper than in many other European capital cities, but depending on the area you choose, could still be quite pricey.
  • You are required to have health insurance when living in Germany, with public and private insurance at your disposal, dependent on your income and employment status.

If you are thinking of moving to Berlin, you are likely aware of at least some of the city’s tumultuous history. Nowadays, the capital of the Bundesrepublik is an international, artistic, and modern city — perhaps the perfect place for an expat. While the city is not as cheap as it was in the past, it still has a better cost of living compared to other European capital cities such as London and Paris.

The city truly offers a lot. From art galleries, to the UNESCO World Heritage Museum Island, to the remnants of the Berlin Wall, to tiny stalls with delicious food — Berlin will show you everything.

A Cosmopolitan Capital

When thinking of moving to Germany’s capital, you might want to know that among the 3.5 million Berliner, there are approximately 621,000 people who have moved to Berlin from a different country, as of 2015. This is part of the charm of Berlin — you will be surrounded by so many different cultures and backgrounds. Moving there may seem daunting at first, but there is a wide range of activities to participate in, which will keep your mind off your homesickness.

There is much on offer in Berlin, with buzzing streets full of cafes and green parks. There are many bars and restaurants for all tastes, and the local nightlife is a well-known draw for people from around the world.

A City with a Turbulent Past

The history of Berlin is long and full of ups and downs. Founded in 1237, the city was the capital of Prussia between 1701 and 1871, remaining the capital of unified Germany in 1871. During this time, the economy was strong. However, during the later times of the Weimar Republic, the economy was tumultuous, initially struggling due to reparations being paid to France, before becoming the largest industrial city on the continent thanks, in part, to support from America.

However, the fate of the city took another turn when Hitler rose to power in 1933. After the Second World War, up to a third of Berlin had been destroyed and many people had fled. In order to decrease Germany’s strength, the country was split between the allied forces into what would later become East and West Germany. The capital was similarly divided into four military zones, one for each allied force. As the Cold War developed, tensions between the East and West resulted in harsh conditions for those living in East Berlin. In the years to come, the Berlin Wall would be built, students would riot in the famous 1968 student movement, and the city would struggle economically after the reunification. However, despite these hard times, Berlin today is thriving as the capital of a unified Germany.

Staying Cultured in Berlin

There is much on offer to keep you entertained during your free time when you move to Berlin. As you can imagine, there is still a lot of evidence of the city’s past from the remaining sections of the Berlin Wall to Checkpoint Charlie, and many memorials and museums as well.

If you are less interested in history, there is also a thriving arts scene in the city. Creatives from around the world flood into the city, drawn by the variety on offer in the cultural landscape. There are many art galleries waiting to be discovered such as Galerie Crone, a contemporary art museum, which often offers different exhibitions. There is also the Berlin International Film Festival, held every February, one of the world’s leading film festivals.

Finding Your New Abode

As it is a very large city, you may wonder where exactly you should go when moving to Berlin. It is a city of contrasts, which may offer anything from an artsy loft to a fancy villa. Housing costs in Berlin are becoming increasingly more expensive, however, as a whole they are still lower than those in London or Paris.

You will have to be quick on choosing a place to live, though, as the housing market can be quite competitive. If you prefer not to stay in a hotel during your search, you can always fall back on more interim accommodation. On Wimdu.com, for instance, you can find various types of short-term properties in Berlin, all fully equipped and fully furnished.

The best way to go about finding long-term housing in Berlin is looking in the local newspapers. Websites such as immoscout24.de or immonet.de will also let you set preferences for your new domicile in Berlin.

If you have the financial means, it may be easiest to let a real estate agent do all the work for you. Be aware, though, that they are relatively expensive and will take about three months’ rent plus VAT from you as commission. You can read more about the different neighborhoods in our guide to living in Berlin.

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Expat Info Berlin: Visa Types

Visa Requirements for Short Visits

Before moving to Berlin, please consider your visa requirements. Make sure that your passport is valid for six months past the date you plan to leave Germany. As the list is very long, check which countries require a tourist visa for a stay in Berlin of less than 90 days.

The business visa, like the tourist visa, is only valid for 90 days. It can similarly be used to move about freely in the EU/Schengen countries. Submit a copy of your hotel reservation(s) and return ticket with the application. Often, you will also be asked for bank statements, health insurance cover, and business references.

Foreign nationals from EU member states and the Schengen area countries, as well as Switzerland, do not require an entry visa to visit Germany. If you are not hailing from one of these or from one of the few other countries whose citizens can enter without a visa after arrival (cf. list above), make sure to apply for whichever visa pertains to you before you move to Berlin.

Types of Visa

The following are mostly types of visas for people planning on moving to Berlin for over three months. Keep in mind that the application process can take up to three months.

  • If you intend to work in Germany, you will most likely need to apply for an employment visa. These are obligatory for all non-EEA citizens with the exception of Swiss people. To apply for this visa, you will need to have an offer of employment, as you will need to present a copy of your work agreement. Please bear in mind that nationals of certain countries are allowed to enter Germany in order to search for a job, provided they have sufficient funds to support themselves.
  • Perhaps you have just graduated at a German university, or have obtained a degree comparable to a German one? Then you can apply for a jobseeker’s visa, which will allow you to remain in Germany for six months searching for employment, as long as you can prove that you will be able to support yourself in this time period. Please note, you are not allowed to, for example, do freelance work while looking for employment.
  • If you wish to study in Germany, you will need a study visa. To receive this visa, you will need an acceptance letter for the university, institution, or program you wish to attend. You will also need to prove that you can support yourself monetarily in this time and that you have health insurance. Once you successfully complete your studies in Germany, you will be given the option to extend your residence permit for up to 18 months while looking for a job there.
  • The family reunion visa is for non-Germans who wish to join their spouse or parent in Germany. Depending on the nationality (German, EEA-citizen, or other) and legal residence status of your spouse/parent, requirements and the chance of success may differ.

Registration and Residence Permits

Once you arrive in Berlin, no matter your country of origin, you need to register your address at the Bürgeramt. This office will be an important place for you when living in Germany — much of the important paperwork for your life here will be done there. If you needed a visa to live in Berlin, you will also need to get a residence permit from the Foreigners’ Office (Ausländerbehörde) once you are in Germany. For more information on registration and residency permits, please see our in-depth article on German residency.

Healthcare in Berlin

Public Health Insurance

Germany’s universal healthcare system is one of the oldest in the world. Everyone legally residing in Germany is entitled to healthcare. In fact, they are even required by law to have health insurance.

There are two types of health insurance in Germany, public and private. Public health insurance is more widespread, as there are certain criteria one must fulfill for receiving private insurance. Most salaried workers are automatically registered for public health insurance, with contributions taken out of their monthly paycheck.

Private Health Insurance

If you earn over 4,687.50 EUR per year (as of 2016), are self-employed, or are a German civil servant, you can opt for private health insurance. The application process for private care is not as simple as it is for public health insurance, though. You may have to go through medical tests, fill out a questionnaire about your medical history, and provide proof of your income. When applying for private health insurance, you will typically also have to go through this application process without the help of your company’s HR department.

The main benefit for those with private health insurance is that you will not have such long waiting times. Some doctors also only accept patients with private health insurance.

Medical Facilities

Medical care in Germany is absolutely top of the line, and people have even been traveling there for treatment. As a major metropolitan city, Berlin has many hospitals from specialist clinics to general care.

One of the best general hospitals in Berlin is the university clinic Charité in Berlin Mitte, which is renowned for its medical research. The Berlin municipal office also offers you a (German-language) list of all hospitals in Berlin with detailed contact information.

Updated on: December 06, 2018

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