Living in Europe had crossed my mind plenty of times before, but I always struck it down as soon as it did. Without a Master of Engineering or a Swedish husband, I assumed that the paperwork would make moving to Berlin impossible. But, I have to say, there’s nothing like shit hitting the fan to make a girl chase down her wildest dreams.
Moving to Germany isn’t the same for all passports or professions, but as a [US] American in a creative field, I found the process quite easy. Ready to pack your bags, get your German Freelance Visa, and relocate to the very wurst country on earth? I promise you that you’re in for the time of your life. Here are practicalities you should know when moving to Berlin.
The First Steps of Moving to Berlin
Step 1 | Make Your Appointments (… way ahead of time)
Some nationalities need a visa before travel, while other nationalities can convert their permit in-country. If you’re eligible to apply upon arrival, here are a few things to consider before even moving to Berlin.
Book your Appointments at the Buergeramt and Ausländerbehörde: Within 14 days of arrival, you’re supposed to register your place of residence. Book an appointment at the buergeramt (citizen’s office) as early as you can because these can be booked out for months at a time.
Next, you’ll want to make an appointment for the ausländerbehörde (foreigner’s office) so you can change your status from a tourist visa to a freelancer, student, jobseeker etc. Your appointment at the Ausländerbehörde requires a lot of preparation before you turn up (details below). You’ll want book an appointment at the ausländerbehörde months in advance, but also allow yourself plenty of time to complete your anmeldung, set up your accounts, and find German clients.
Can’t make an appointment within 14 days or 3 months of arrival? The German government is well aware of the scheduling issues. If you can’t find an appointment, your best option is to get to the office early (around 5 am) and wait for one to open up.
You can also check appointment times online at 8 am as that’s when the system refreshes. If these options fail, it’s quite common for people to overstay their tourist visa with proof of appointment. This can make leaving the country difficult, and I’m not sure how legal it is, so this should be your last resort!
Step 2 | Finding a Flat in Berlin
Berlin’s housing market is awfully competitive. Since 2004, rent prices have increased by 115%. Even so, rents are far cheaper than other spots in Western Europe.
A room in a flatshare starts around €400 while private flats cost closer to €700+. Most of the young people live in Kreuzberg, Neukölln, Friedrichshain, but Mitte, Prenzlauer Berg, and Charlottenburg are probably the prettiest parts of town.
Before securing your spot in a flat, spend some time wandering and see which Berlin neighborhood really stands out to you.
What is a Wohngemeinschaften (WG)? The easiest way to find a flat when moving to Berlin is by landing a WG (flatshare) and subletting the room under someone else’s lease. Berlin isn’t much for Craigslist, so instead, you’ll turn to WG-Gesucht and Facebook groups like WG-Zimmer & Whnungen Berlin or Flats in Berlin. Housing scams in Berlin are rampant, so read the descriptions, and be careful with too good to be true offers. If you’re desperate to find a place, apply to 5-10 good enough flats every day until you hear back. Make your subject line catchy and share some memorable details about yourself.
What about Private Flats? Finding a private flat is kind of a chicken and egg situation – you can’t get the required documents without an apartment but you can’t get an apartment without the documents. If you want a private place, be prepared to navigate some paperwork and to go to a lot of showings.
Another option is to find temporary accommodation that includes Anmeldung through a relocation service like Nomaden Berlin. As you might expect, it’s more expensive than finding a flat on your own, but their Pro program ensures painless registration and a ready-to-move place to stay as soon as you arrive in Berlin.
What the hell is Anmeldung? As noted above, Anmeldung is the residence registration required of everyone living in Germany. Within 14 days of arriving in Berlin, you’ll need to register your place of residence.
After you’ve made your appointment, simply bring your passport, your lease, your completed registration, and confirmation of residence. Here’s some guidance on completing your anmeldung in English. Note: Germany charges residents a church tax. If you declare a religion on your anmeldung, you’ll pay an additional 8% tax.
Step 3 | Getting Around
Transportation in Berlin is kind of a dream. With incredible public transport and bike lanes everywhere, owning a car is wholly unnecessary.
Public Transport: Berlin has a U-Bahn, an S-Bahn, and busses that are all part of the same network. If you’re doing most of your travel within Zone AB, you can pick up a monthly pass for €81 (2017). It entitles you to unlimited, all-hours travel.
Berlin doesn’t require you to scan your ticket with each ride like other major cities. Instead, you’ll flash your card to bus drivers or expect sporadic checks by undercover officers on the trains. Fines are up to €60 and quite embarrassing to get. Download the FahrInfo App for bus and train routes.
Biking: Berlin isn’t as highly esteemed as Copenhagen when it comes to bike culture, but with 344 biking routes, it’s still an amazing place to ride. Traffic is relatively relaxed and much of the city can be reached in just 15-20 minutes.
To buy a bike in Berlin, use Facebook groups like Sell & Buy Your Bike Berlin or scout second-hand bikes at bike markets or weekend flea markets. There’s no need to get fancy when it comes to biking in Berlin — it will probably get stolen anyway.
Step 4 | Getting Connected
If you’re planning to move to Berlin long term (or short term for that matter) you should absolutely get a German SIM card. After you’ve unlocked your phone, you can choose between SIM cards that are pre-paid and on contract.
The most popular provider is Aldi Talk, but most companies charge similar rates for minutes and data. You can buy a SIM card at grocery stores and phone stores around the city. Download WhatsApp to stay in touch.
Step 5 | Learning German in Berlin
Berlin is an international city so English is widely spoken. I’ll admit you CAN absolutely survive living in Berlin without speaking German. But there are two compelling reasons to learn: you’ll find a better job and you’ll get more from your experience.
After a couple of shameful encounters at the grocery store (like setting off the store alarm over sour cream), I started classes. There are tons of language schools in Berlin, but I chose to study German in Friedrichshain at Speakeasy Berlin. Courses range from €115-€350 and it’s a completely worthwhile investment.
I came out of the A1.1 course able to speak some basic German and ready for more classes in the winter. Do yourself a favor and at least get a foundation in German so you can pick up more on your own!
Step 6 | Finding the Fun in Berlin
You’d be challenged to find a cooler city to live in than Berlin. It sometimes seems like everyone in Berlin is fascinating, single, attractive, creative, and just a little bit crazy. There are events happening at all hours (truly ALL hours).
Most of the best events in Berlin are pop-up, underground, or sporadically available, so unless you manage to find some extra in-the-know friends, you’ll have to do the research yourself.
Here are a few of my favorite resources for finding fun things to do in Berlin:
Facebook: A Facebook search for “events in Berlin” can yield hundreds of shows, food festivals, and gallery openings. Just tick that you’re “Interested”. When the event comes up, Facebook will shoot you a reminder about what’s on for the weekend. You can also join in expat groups like Berlin Expats or interest groups like Artists in Berlin to read and participate in the conversation.
Resident Advisor: Check out Resident Advisor for upcoming shows if you’re into music
Index Berlin: Index Berlin is your spot for discovering art gallery openings or art shows by neighborhood.
Meetup: Meetup is the preferred choice of the lonely and new in town. There are groups offering anything from dining out, to board games, to salsa classes.
Eventbrite: Eventbrite is a great place to find cool events or workshops happening in Berlin.
Tinder & Bumble: Love them or hate them, dating apps are an awesome way to meet new people when you move to Berlin alone.
GetYourGuide: When you move to a new city, it’s easy to figure you’ll do all the things you’re supposed to do eventually. But if you want to be sure you learn a bit about the city’s history, get a grasp on the street art scene, or taste some of Berlin’s best currywurst, once you arrive by booking a tour on GetYourGuide
Other: The list goes on and on and on, but other places you can check for ideas are Time Out Berlin, Visit Berlin, or plenty of Berlin-based blogs.
Step 7 | Setting Up your Accounts
If you’re planning to apply for a German Freelance Visa, there are a few things you need to take care of months ahead of time. You’ll need a small mountain of paperwork to apply, but first, you’ll want to take care of the simple things. Start by getting a bank account and German health insurance.
Banking in Berlin: Setting up a bank account in Berlin used to be a lot tougher, but N26 has completely flipped the process. Registration can be completed from your phone in 8 minutes and includes video verification.
You’ll receive a MasterCard that can be used at a huge network of partner ATMs. Deposits can be made by creating a voucher through the app and taking cash to partner locations (like grocery stores). Most every bill in Berlin is payable by direct deposit and requires an IBAN; the sooner you set up your account, the better. Learn more about N26 in a post by How I Travel.
Health Insurance in Berlin: Adequate health insurance is a key requirement for your visa application. The definition of adequate, however, varies depending on who actually processes your paperwork. Consider a policy from a German company or with a German underwriter for the best chance of approval.
There are tons of providers and strange caveats, so meet with a consultant or ask a company like Expath before committing to a two-year contract.
Step 8 | Getting a Job in Berlin
The tech and cultural scene in Berlin are booming, and there’s never really been a better time to move here for anyone moving to Berlin without a job.
There are a handful of English speaking jobs which you can find on the appropriately named Facebook group English Speaking Jobs in Berlin, though learning German will greatly improve your chances of getting a job. Before applying for your permit, you’ll need to show letters of intent from two German clients.
So where do you actually find clients? The best way I found is to join a language school or coworking space. Finding a spot like betahaus, Factory, or Ahoy! will give you the chance to meet other businesses, find freelancer events, and maybe make some friends.
While these letters don’t need to be formal contracts, you improve your chances by getting letters that specific and specify a pay rate and going concern. If you’re struggling to find work locally, Upwork and People Per Hour are good freelancer marketplaces to keep you afloat.
Step 9 | Getting your German Freelance Visa
Getting the German Freelance Visa isn’t inherently complicated, but it does require attention to detail (folders, folders, folders!). It also requires loads of paperwork.
Most basically, you’ll need the following: an application form (Antrag auf Erteilung eines Aufenthaltstitels), proof of residence (Anmeldung), your rental contract, health insurance, letters of intent from clients, recent bank statements with sufficient funds, a revenue forecast, a finance plan, a resumé, diplomas and certifications, letters of recommendation, a printed portfolio, a biometric photo, and 50-110€.
There are tons of dirty details on the actual application process I won’t go into here, but check out this article on How to Get the German Freelance Visa written by one of my pals. If you’re applying for another type of visa (ie. language learning, study prep visa) Speakeasy Berlin might be able to help.
Need some help navigating all this? Here are a few of the most useful services for relocation.
Expath | Expath can help you find a flat, register your address, or shape up your visa application. They offer everything from one-off consulting to intensive German classes, and if they don’t have the answers, they’ll find you someone who does. Check out Expath.
Nomaden Berlin | Nomaden Berlin is the most comprehensive relocation service I’ve come across, taking care of everything from appointment booking to short term accommodation. They specialize in full-service relocation, but some of the most unexpectedly useful parts of their offer are an online relocation platform and ongoing administrative support (for the times when you’re panicking over unread mail or finding an English speaking doctor). Their community consistently raves about how helpful and attentive the founders are, and it helps to know someone like that when you’re new in town. Check out Nomaden.
Coworking Spaces | Coworking spaces are the best place in the city to meet new people. There are plenty of expats who can point you in the right direction.
German Schools | German schools are also a good place to turn as (perhaps obviously) they are full of lots of people who are also new in town. Many language schools offer accommodation and specialty visas and can be a generally good resource during your move.
LanaNovember 27, 2017 at 3:16 pm
Great post, very informative for those moving to Berlin. I run a relocation program in Berlin which includes visa support, accommodation, job placement advice, admin support & German courses which covers a lot of the points you mentioned above.
Taylor RecordNovember 27, 2017 at 7:24 pm
Thanks for the resource, Lena!
Kelley BloodworthJanuary 9, 2018 at 7:04 pm
Lana, I need help moving to Berlin, Germany. How can I contact you? My email is email@example.com. Thank you, KG
Taylor RecordJanuary 15, 2018 at 7:19 pm
Welcome to Berlin, Kelley! Lana shared her company Nomaden Berlin (https://www.nomadenberlin.com/) or you can check out Expath (https://www.expath.de/) for help with relocation. Best of luck!
The Electric SoulJanuary 10, 2018 at 1:32 am
We love this post! Berlin is on our list. We plan to go this year. The vegan options are supposed to be stellar!
Taylor RecordJanuary 15, 2018 at 7:17 pm
Glad you guys found it helpful! There are vegan options absolutely everywhere in Berlin. Let me know when you’re coming and we can go for a coffee!
Armand AufdenblattenJanuary 30, 2018 at 3:21 pm
Thanks Taylor for the content haha love the title! We are also trying to help people that wanna move here, in a casual way: On top of online research we think it’s useful to connect you with a local. You will meet in person and discuss your uncertainties about moving here. Moving to a new place is always more fun when you already know that you will meet someone 🙂 It’s called http://www.settleme.co
Taylor RecordFebruary 2, 2018 at 2:08 pm
Hi Armand. Always nice to get some local help! Best of luck with your business, I know there are plenty of people who could use it!
EmmaMay 14, 2018 at 11:27 am
Hi Taylor, thanks for the helpful info!
I’m trying to find information regarding German documentation, specifically, do we need to have our CV, references etc. translated to German for the interview?
TaylorMay 14, 2018 at 5:30 pm
Hi Emma. For the visa application, not necessarily. I was told that my intent to hire letters needed to be in German, but the rest was in English! Let me know if you have any other questions, and good luck!
DVJune 13, 2018 at 2:02 pm
Hi Emma! I’m planning on moving to Berlin in late July without a job lined up. I have an IT background and 24 years of experience but only an Associates Degree. I’m 45 days out from moving permanently and afraid my free 3 months in Berlin will end without a job.
I have a girlfriend in Berlin that has helped getting my resume formatted correctly and I’ve only just submitted applications for Berlin jobs this past week. I’m looking for English-only speaking jobs but am determined to learn German. Am I totally crazy to leave a decent job in Chicago and take a risk to find work on another continent? Thank you for your advice.
HeidiJune 27, 2018 at 8:01 am
I’m not sure if you’ll see this comment but this makes me a little less stressed! Do you know is it best to get the visa first before the apartment?
For peopleperhour and upwork clients do I just submit the accepted proposals in place of the two German clients?
TaylorJune 29, 2018 at 2:02 pm
Hi Heidi. You’ll need to get your apartment first as an Anmeldung is an essential part of your visa application. As for proposals, you’ll need two clients working in Germany. If they are on peopleperhour or upwork, they should still write you a letter (in German) saying that if you were to get a visa, they would hire you and pay you approximately _€. Hope this helps?
AmberJuly 31, 2018 at 6:28 am
I am planning on trying to move to Berlin from New Zealand in April next year (2019), mostly to partake in the dance scene there + have a bit more time in Europe. At this point, I’m thinking I’d only be in germany for a short stay (3 months) and see how I go. I was just wondering – roughly how much do you spend per month? And do you think it would be possible for me to set up visas + accomodation itinerantly or do I need to be there to sort everything out? Do I need to set up a visa if I’m staying there for 3 months?
TaylorAugust 5, 2018 at 8:38 pm
Hey Amber! Sure you’re going to love it here. The cost of living in Berlin is much lower than most other major cities. If you’re comfortable sharing a flat, riding your bike, etc. you could easily spend less than 1,000€/month. I’m not sure what the visa requirements are for Kiwis, but I’d guess you can stay 90 days on a tourist visa (which will be sufficient so long as you don’t work). As for accommodation, the market moves FAST. You’ll be best off staying with a friend or renting an apartment for a week when you arrive, and applying to 5-10 places on WG Gesucht every day.
Hope this helps a bit, but feel free to check back in if you have more questions!
Trey OteiAugust 4, 2018 at 9:56 am
Hi, thanks for the heads up on relocating to this amazing city.
TaylorAugust 5, 2018 at 8:34 pm
Hey, Trey! Happy you found it helpful.
Nicolas BoulianeSeptember 8, 2018 at 11:11 am
Hi Taylor! Great guide! It matches my experience when I settled in Berlin 3 years ago. Exciting times, aren’t they?
Now, I’m going freelance and it feels like starting over again with the visas, taxes and paperwork. I wrote an extremely detailed guide about applying for the German freelance visa, and I think it could also be a useful addition to your article. It’s right here: https://allaboutberlin.com/guides/how-to-get-a-german-freelance-visa
I also wrote a superguide for moving to Berlin that lists everything I wrote on the topic. Again, you might find something useful in there 🙂 https://allaboutberlin.com/guides/moving-to-berlin
TaylorSeptember 13, 2018 at 12:05 pm
Good overview of the process, Nicolas! And you’re right. A lot of work, but definitely worth it!
AvaJanuary 24, 2019 at 5:47 pm
I visited Berlin during my study abroad in Copenhagen and fell totally in love with the arts scene, vegan foods, and overall awesomeness of the city. I hope to move there after my undergraduate degree (this is my last year!) within the next ~5-6 years!! I’m a bit worried about finding any sort of job in the states, let alone Germany, but I’ve been studying German every day and am so excited to adventure out there. 🙂
TaylorFebruary 2, 2019 at 3:34 am
Hey Ava. Must have been so fun to study in Copenhagen, too! Berlin really is such a cool city. Good luck with your move over and finding a job! The tech scene is growing fast, so there will probably be more jobs than ever when you’re ready to move.
James SecordOctober 14, 2019 at 5:07 pm
Hallo, I am James and interested in moving to Berlin the end of the year. From U.S. and have not learned German, yet. Could you help me find a job enough to pay rent, food, insurance? Even in a restaurant or pizza joint! Thanks!
Taylor RecordOctober 15, 2019 at 10:56 pm
Hey James. Congrats on your move! Berlin is a very international city. While it’s easier to get a job if you speak German, you should be able to find something while you learn. Probably the best way to find something is to go shop-by-shop when you get there. I’d also recommend joining a coworking space or other network where you can quickly meet people to help you in your search. Last but not least, Expath offers job seeker assistance that could help you in your search. Best of luck and hope you love it as much as I do.
Smith GeorgeFebruary 1, 2020 at 10:24 am
Hey Taylor, I just wanna say, you’re really amazing writer this is really helpful, thanks for sharing amazing stuff with us.
Taylor RecordFebruary 13, 2020 at 10:19 pm
Hey, thanks for that! And so glad you found it helpful.