Are you a new arrival who decided to wing your move to Berlin? Or have you spent several hours scouring the internet for a starting point for your move to Berlin with no luck? We’re here to help. You’ve read about the struggles of getting a visa but there’s so much more you’ll have to take care of in order to settle into life here. After a long process of trial and error, here are a few life hacks to make your transition to a Berliner(in) smoother.
Learn to love bureaucracy…
Berlin may be very ahead of the times on a lot of things but eliminating paperwork isn’t one of them. For everything in life, you will have to fill out a lot of forms (in German) and turn them in (in person). Electronic savviness is not a feature of government offices in Berlin. One of the most important forms is the Anmeldung – the registration of your apartment.
You’ll need it to do everything: open a bank account, get your visa, even to sign up for a contract with your local gym. Keep this in mind when you’re searching for a place to live. Many people here sublet their flats and aren’t able to provide you with the documents you need to get your Anmeldung. Keep an eye out in the listing for “registration available” or ask the person if you can register there before you commit to a lease.
Don’t stress over finding a place to live because it’s hard for everyone...
Over the last few years that has been an issue of high demand, low supply of places to live in Berlin. If you’re a member of the dozens of Facebook groups where locals post short and long term flats for rent you know that once a post goes up, there can be 30 comments expressing interest within as many minutes. Unless you’re lucky enough to know someone who knows someone renting out their place there may be a lot of leg work, flat visits, website refreshing, and disappointing “sorry it’s taken” messages.
Don’t let it discourage you! The room or flat for you is out there. While scouring WG-Gesucht expand your search to areas that aren’t your top picks and ask the people you meet (literally everyone you meet) if they know anyone offering a room or flat. When all else fails, post a short bio about yourself and the type of place you’re looking for in all of those Berlin Facebook groups. It may seem weird but many people have found great places to live using the tactic.
Save your mobile minutes…
Once you get settled into your place and start to feel like you’re getting the hang of things in Berlin, you’re bound to need help with something at some point. Your first instinct may be to call the number listed for customer service but keep in mind that support hotlines are notoriously unhelpful and generally stressful. Despite the international (and not always german speaking) makeup of Berlin, there’s a slim chance that the person who picks up the phone to assist you can (or will) speak in english.
If you think you can call and try to figure out what they’re saying – think again, they’ll continue to speak fast and in german, even if you say you don’t understand. When you need assistance because your internet stopped working, you have a question about your cellphone bill, or don’t understand a notification you’ve gotten in the mail, don’t spend those mobile minutes on the phone call unless you have someone with you who speaks fluent german. You may also have better luck visiting a store in person, if that’s an option.
Be prepared for even more bureaucracy…
Even if you can get by without registering your residence here, there’s one official office you won’t be able to escape: the Finanzamt. For those of you who have found full time employment, your taxes are paid automatically (yay for you!). For anyone working as a freelancer you are responsible for filing your own taxes. As soon you register with the Ausländerbehörde – even if you’re not currently working – you will be on the Finanzamt’s radar.
There is an official website named Elster (yes, it is as mundane as it sounds) where everyone can report or file their taxes. It works best on Google Chrome which is great because it translates the text for you. Once you register on the site you’ll receive a specific token that will be saved to your computer and get a code in the mail that you’ll need to log in for the first time.
Beware that if you don’t report any income, you’ll be automatically taxed based on the average income in Berlin – regardless of how much money you’re actually pulling in. You’ll receive notifications in the mail about the status of your taxes but if you choose to ignore them, that will result in your bank account being frozen. We don’t recommend this route as they are extremely slow to unfreeze your account even after you’re caught up on your taxes. If you’re exhausted already by reading this, you can simply hire a Steuerberatung to handle your taxes for you.
Feel free to tell us what other tips would you like to learn about or share some of your tips with us!