I have been living in Berlin for nearly four years now. I came here on the back of an unpaid internship with three suitcases and four nights booked in a hotel and like many expats, not one word of German. To say aspects of integrating here have been a struggle is an understatement. It can be tough and very stressful. Now it is my time to give back to the people and offer my top tips for anyone planning on moving to Berlin and who are lucky enough to read this.
1. Book your Bürgeramt appointment online. When you arrive in Berlin, it is required that you register at your local Bürgeramt. The Bürgeramt is a sore point among foreigners as locals alike, as you can find yourself sitting in a waiting room for hours at a time waiting to register. Skip the queue by booking an appointment online (website in German).
2. Do your research before going to any Amt. There is no way of getting around going to the Bürgeramt in Berlin, and the Finanzamt if you plan on working in the city. There are forms to fill in and it is rare to find an employee who can speak good English, or wants to for that matter. Save yourself a lot of hassle by researching information online before your appointment. Most forms can be found online and websites like Toytown Germany often have step-by-step guidelines how to fill them in, as well as information on what you need to bring, on their forums. It also helps to smile and be polite and speak as much German as you possibly can. If they know you are trying, they will be more willing to help and may also share their sprinkling of English with you.
3. Be sure to have back up living arrangements. Unless you are lucky enough to have somewhere lined up to live in Berlin, be prepared for days, if not weeks, of apartment viewings. Apartments are rare these days in Berlin and viewings can often begin by waiting in a queue of thirty people to even get into the hallway. We were lucky enough to find somewhere in a couple of days of arrival but believe me, that is a rare occurrence. Book into a hostel or a short-term apartment while you look and have some money put aside in case you need to prolong your stay.
4. Research what you are looking for in a bank. There are many banks in Germany whom offer quite different perks and services. Before you sign up to one bank which you will then be unhappy with, shop around. For example, Sparkasse fees are only €3 per month, while Deutsche Bank fees are €5 per month. However, Deutsche Bank offer services in English.
5. Open an account, get a tax number etc. as soon as possible. This is particularly important if you are coming to Berlin to work. While the aforementioned activities are relatively simple, they can also take longer than expected. Plus, moving to a new country can be expensive. You do not want your first paycheck delayed because you do not have all the necessary information ready.
6. Book an internet provider as soon as possible. We live in a day and age where it is almost impossible to function without internet access. If you agree with that statement then make sure that you call up your chosen internet provider to set up a connection as soon as possible. If your apartment is already wired for an internet cable you should not have much of a problem and most likely will receive a box in under a week. If your apartment needs to be wired for internet, unfortunately you could book looking at a wait of up to a month.
7. Enroll in a German class. While it is possible to live in Berlin without knowing any German, if you plan on staying in Berlin long term, your life will be much easier if you at least have the basics. Something I wish somebody had told me was that free German classes are available for immigrants at the local Volkshochschulen. The course covers levels A1-B1 and a free final examination is provided at the end.
8. Don’t be afraid to ask. At the end of the day, you can do as much research as you want online, but it may not have the same value as asking somebody a simple questions. Berlin is filled with expats (many whom you will probably find at work) who have been through the same process and are happy to help. The Germans are also a pretty friendly bunch will be sure to assist you with any pesky German documents.