Moving to Berlin was something of a leap of faith for us. Having spent the last 4 years in Thailand, we had experience with living abroad, but didn’t know too much about Berlin or Germany as a place to live. But with a good opportunity and feeling right for a change, we decided to take the plunge on a relocation to Germany’s capital.
While relocating between countries is never an easy task, moving to Berlin was relatively smooth for us – with the strong caveat that Brexit has made it harder for Brits to make this kind of move. Pre-Brexit, we could have just turned up. Post-Brexit, it’s multiple embassy trips, fraught visa applications and many a hurdle to clear – thanks Boris and friends!
Moving to Berlin from UK
A quick side note for Brits, since moving to Berlin has become somewhat more difficult recently. For sure, the process is more complex, but it’s still possible. Assuming you don’t speak fluent German, the main challenge is to find a job, since your best shot of a residence permit is tied to your employment.
If you work in tech, you could be in luck; there are many big companies with significant English-speaking hubs in Berlin. HelloFresh are a big employer here, equally transport apps like Bolt and fintechs like N26, and Amazon are building a big office here too. These kind of companies seem to hire regularly from overseas and support in Berlin relocation. This will help with your visa application – outside of studying, it’s probably the easiest route for Brits interested in moving to Berlin.
While relocating to Berlin has been easier than settling into life in Bangkok, there are still plenty of things we wish we had known before arriving. Overall though, moving to Germany is relatively easy – I’ll post more of a guide about it soon!
Luckily, there are plenty of good guides for newcomers what to expect and what to prepare for in Berlin. We found All About Berlin particularly useful for plenty of topics ranging from housing to paperwork.
So, while this isn’t a comprehensive guide to moving to Berlin, here are 5 things that confused, bemused or amused us when relocating to Berlin.
Prepare for paperwork right away
Germany wastes no time in beckoning new arrivals into a labyrinth of bureaucracy, and you’ll learn fun new words at the same time. Within two weeks of arriving, you’ll need to register your address with any Bürgeramt (district office) in Berlin. This is the Anmeldung (or Anmeldung einer Wohnung, register an apartment).
High on your list of what to do before moving to Germany should be getting an Anmeldung appointment – you have more choice of time and location if you can book a couple of months ahead.
Although we’ve heard that the two week rule isn’t particularly enforced in Berlin, for newcomers to Germany you need to register to get your tax ID (Steuer ID), which unlocks some pretty fundamental needs like opening a bank account and getting paid.
For the appointment, your landlord will need to furnish you with confirmation that you live at the property and some other documentation will be required – there is a comprehensive guide on the excellent All About Berlin.
How to get an Anmeldung appointment online
The hardest part of the Berlin Anmeldung is getting an appointment. The first time I opened the booking portal, I was greeted by a sea of fully booked dates with nothing available for almost two months, and this was the case every time we logged in.
The tricks with getting an Anmeldung appointment in Berlin are patience and timing. Plenty of appointments are released each day, you just need to be a bit spry about getting them.
First tip: I found that appointments were more likely to come up between around 8.30-9.30am Berlin time. As the offices start work they seem to update the appointment availability. Most slots will be for that day, or in a few days’ time.
Second tip: go through the Captcha process – find a date in a couple of months, and click on it. You have to fill in a number and letter code. Do that, then return to the calendar.
Third tip: refresh the page every couple of minutes if possible. Don’t spam the refresh button or else you’ll get locked out for trying too many times!
Fourth tip: don’t hesitate. If a date comes up and a timeslot is free, grab it or somebody else will. You can worry about getting to the Bürgeramt later, unless you know it’s extremely far away already!
There are some exceptions – I once saw a free appointment that was 8 minutes from the current time. That seemed…unrealistic.
I found that by going through the above process, I could always find appointments for the same day and almost always for later in the week, within around 15 minutes. There were also regularly appointments popping up for a few weeks later, so we were eventually able to book one for the day after we arrived.
We did have to trek about 40 minutes to the Pankow Bürgeramt for the appointment, but at least it got done. The Anmeldung appointment system was quite tricky to navigate, so hopefully sharing the above helps you to get an appointment sooner!
A digital bank account is a good starting point
Something we found useful before moving to Berlin was setting up a digital bank account, in our case with Revolut. Many German banks require your Steuer ID to open an account, which can be a fair while after arrival if you have trouble with the Anmeldung process.
Banks like Revolut, N26 and Bunq allow you to open accounts from outside Germany, making it much easier to get paid, pay bills and generally handle money when you first get to Berlin. We used Revolut and still do, it’s easy to set up and has most things we need to get by.
In the longer term, you will probably want a German bank account, as many companies require them when setting up accounts.
The glass and plastic bottle recycling merry-go-round
Wine in Thailand was a heady combination of expensive and crap, so moving to a country where 4 Euro gets you a decent drop led to a worryingly large pile of beer and wine bottles piling up in the apartment, plus the occasional plastic bottle. But where does it all go? Well, it depends.
As you might expect, Germany is big on recycling, and in your apartment block you will likely find a range of bins for your household waste. In ours, there are separate ones for plastic, paper, general waste and food. Bottles are a whole separate ecosystem that deserve a flow chart, but aren’t going to get one because I’m rubbish at drawing.
The glass bins are sometimes conspicuously absent from households though – our second apartment had glass bins, but our first didn’t – but quite visible on the street in the form of glass igloos.
There’s a separate bin for green, white and brown glass, but you’ll want to check what you’ve got before chucking your glass into the bins.
That’s because a lot of glassware in Germany comes with a deposit (Pfand). When you buy a beer in a glass bottle, some of that is a deposit for the bottle, which can be exchanged back for cash. This is typically true for beer and soft drink bottles, but not for wine bottles and jars.
A common practice is to leave the refundable bottles next to bins, as there are plenty of people who collect and return the bottles as an income source.
Glass bottles can also be returned to shop where they were bought and larger supermarkets. Plastic bottles can also be returned to the shop they were bought from, and many supermarkets have a special bottle machine for just this purpose. The machine will gobble up your bottles and spit out a voucher which can be cashed at the till or taken off your shopping. Or, if you put them in the bins, they’ll usually be collected by someone else pretty quickly.
The green man is sacrosanct
This was quite the Berlin culture shock for us, coming from Bangkok where traffic lights of all hues are advisory at best. What use is a green man when there’s a motorbike on the pavement.
In Berlin, the green man rules supreme – whether the more international version or the chipper, hat-wearing Ampelmann.
In short, cars in Germany can turn right even when the pedestrian light is green, but they have to yield to people crossing the road. If they turn right and the pedestrian light is red, but you’re on the crossing, expect a blast of the horn and/or a hospital visit.
The thing that threw us a bit in Berlin is that a lot of the bigger crossings aren’t synchronised – so half the light can be red while the other half is green. That took some getting used to, a few horns but thankfully no hospital visits so far!
Also, keep an eye out for bike lanes and bikes in general. There are bikes aplenty in Berlin, and often the cycle lanes are a red lane next to or on the pavement. Be careful not to wander into the bike lanes – it’s easy to do – to avoid any run ins.
Get your door labels right
In many countries, apartments have these crazy things called ‘numbers’ which identify them – they come in all shapes and sizes, we’ve lived in a 205, a 3a and a B2807 in recent years.
Not so in Berlin. The building has a number, but in general the apartments carry the occupants name rather than a number. So your surname goes on the outside buzzer, the post box and the front door.
One very obvious downside of the name system is that if your name isn’t on the door, you don’t get your post. As we have different surnames, and our landlord only put my name on the door, we had a couple of weeks where Frankie’s post just disappeared into the ether.
There are two simple fixes for this. First is to address everything to c/o [name on door], second is to just tape a bit of paper with the actual name(s) over the existing labels, or ask your landlord to change the labels for you.
Supermarkets and shops are closed on Sundays
This was a surprise! Supermarkets and general shops are closed on Sundays and public holidays, so get your shopping for Sunday done on Friday and Saturday!
We’ve found this to be quite nice vs the 24/7 culture of Thailand and increasingly the UK. It’s noticeably quiet on a Sunday here and it has certainly encouraged us to get out and about more and do activities on Sundays.
Most restaurants and cafes do open on a Sunday, so it’s a good day for a meal out. If you’re desperate for groceries, supermarkets in major train stations and airports do open on a Sunday, or you can raid the local Spati for milk (and beer) if you’re completely desperate.
And finally…There’s so much to see and do!
A general point here, but my word there’s a lot to see in Berlin. The cool side of the city is well-documented, but having not spent too much time here before moving to Berlin, we’ve been really surprised by how big and spacious the city feels.
We may have been a bit biased by urban jungle of Bangkok, but Berlin seems to be packed with green spaces, pretty squares, nice areas for food and cool buildings and art – plus it’s very easy to get around on public transport.
Whilst we miss many aspects about Bangkok – who doesn’t love permanent warmth, incredible, cheap food and paradise islands on the doorstep – moving to Berlin has been a pleasant surprise in discovering the city itself.
There are plenty of good places to eat, from a strip of excellent Asian restaurants on Kantstrasse, through the ubiquitous (and excellent) doner kebab restaurants, via hearty German fayre all over the place, to homemade goodies from the many weekend markets around town.
We also enjoy the outdoors, and there’s a lot here for active people. There are big lakes dotted all over Berlin, and out to the west is the huge Grunewald forest, maybe 20mins on the S-bahn from Mitte and only 10 from areas like Charlottenburg. Grunewald is a perfect place for some fresh air and peace. It’s incredibly popular at the weekends, but it’s so big that you can easily get lost on the trails and not see another soul for a long time. In the summertime there are also numerous big lakes and even beaches out this way – you can feel a million miles from a city in no time at all.
Moving to Berlin was a little confusing for us at first, but we have settled in quickly and it feels like a good place to live. So if you’re thinking of moving to Berlin, hopefully these things are useful to know!