Relocation to Berlin
Du bist so wunderbar Berlin!
When I was moving to Germany, I didn’t know anyone here who could help me with the relocation process. It was very stressful but at the same time the very exciting period of my life. To make your experience more exciting and less stressful, I decided to collect all my notes and useful links here.
The first thing you need to understand and accept, you have to get over these difficulties and bureaucracy only once. Yes, it can a be a long and complex process, but after some time you will forget about it, as people forget nightmares in the morning.
People with an offer can make a slightly smiling face and continue reading :)
What is the EU Blue Card?
The EU Blue Card is a type of visa (since 2012), that is aimed to combat the shortage of skilled workers in Europe.
To apply for the EU Blue Card a candidate should have the university degree that is comparable to a German one (the university should have H+ in the anabin system) to prove that they are going to work in Germany according to their qualification.
A candidate also should have a signed working contract with a gross annual compensation of at least €52,000 (or a gross income of €4,333 each month). In certain shortage occupations, an annual gross income of €40,560 (or a gross income €3,380 each month) is sufficient (check up-to-date numbers here).
The EU Blue Card is issued for a period of four years if the employment contract is permanent or, in the case of a temporary employment contract, lasts for at least four years. In the case of shorter employment contracts, the EU Blue Card is issued for the duration of the employment plus three months.
For the first two years of the employment, approval from the Foreigners’ Registration Office must be obtained before any change of job. In a new company, you should have the same job title and equal or better working conditions.
The parties entering into the employment contract may agree upon a probation period of up to six months. During this time both the employee and the employer get to know one another and can determine the contract within two weeks notice period for no explicit reason. After 6 months the contact automatically becomes permanent, no extra work is required. Such kind of employee cannot be simply fired. It can happen only because of some serious behavior issues of the employee or because of business-related reasons. The employee can sue a company within three weeks after they have received a termination notice. If the employee wins, they keep the job or can request a severance payment instead. Usually, it is 0,5 monthly salaries for each year with the employer.
Any notice of termination, whether issued by the employer or by the employee, should be done according to a notice period specified in the contract, made in writing form and served to the other party.
If the employee didn’t have any conversation with his employer after a contract ending, this contract becomes permanent automatically.
Owners of the EU blue card can stay out of the EU for up to 12 months without losing the right of staying in Germany or the EU.
They have the right, after having stayed in Germany for 18 months, to move to another country of the EU.
It is not allowed to stay unemployed longer than half of the year, otherwise, the EU Blue Card may be withdrawn, as well as permission to stay in the hosting country.
Foreigners who own the EU Blue Card can apply for a permanent residence after 33 months. If they have German language knowledge at level B1 then they can apply earlier after 21 months.
To obtain German citizenship it is required to live in Germany for 8 years. Although it is possible to reduce the period to 6 years in case of successful integration into German society (strong knowledge of German language, having a good job and a permanent apartment, etc).
Spouses of owners of the EU Blue Card have the right to family reunion and relocation to Germany. Besides, they can work in Germany without any delay and limits, or stay unemployed if they want.
Before coming to Germany
Getting the EU Blue Card requires a personal interview in the city where you are going to live, therefore non-EU citizens should visit the embassy in their home country first and get the National Visa Type D. Only after arriving in Germany they can apply for the EU Blue Card.
It is not allowed to use the Schengen Visa instead, because the Schengen Visa doesn’t give foreigners the right to work in EU.
The National Visa
People from different countries need to provide a different set of documents for the German National Visa. You can find all necessary information about it on the website of the German embassy in your country. For sure you should provide your signed working contact and the information about your university degree. A translation of the diploma needs to be done to the embassy in accordance with ISO 9 standard. What matters is the name of the university and the specialty, to coincide with the anabin system.
If your university or specialty doesn’t have H+ status in the anabin system, you have to acknowledge your diploma by yourself. It will cost about €200 for one educational level (bachelor or master) and can take a month two.
If you apply for a visa together with your spouse, each of you should book a separate appointment at the embassy. It is important to make a note that you request the National Visa with intention later to get the EU Blue Card. Your spouse should request the Family Reunion Visa type. In the paragraph of the application about the length of staying in Germany both of you should write “permanent”.
Good to have at this point a rental contract. It will demonstrate to authorities the seriousness of your intentions to stay in Germany and the ability to take care of yourself in the new country.
There are two types of apartments in Germany: short-term and permanent. Before moving to Germany and working there for a while, it is impossible to rent a permanent one. So, before relocating you should find a place for temporary living.
Most often people look for apartments using the following websites:
Short-term apartments are usually furnished and a bit more expensive than permanent apartments. Signing contracts for this type of apartments are pretty fast and easy process which requires minimum documents to present. A landlord will tell you, what kind of documents they need, but usually, it is a working contact and a valid visa.
Cost of living
One of the most popular questions before relocation is how expensive is living in Berlin. Well, it depends on the cost of living in your home city. You can use Numbeo service that is basically the world’s largest database of user contributed data about cities and countries worldwide. It provides actual and timely information on world living conditions including the cost of living, housing indicators, health care, traffic, crime, and pollution. You can compare your city with Berlin and get a quite good understanding of the current situation.
Do you have to speak German?
If you don’t speak German and your employer okay with that, you can focus on the relocation process and start learning the language after moving to Berlin. There are not some many cases when you actually need it. However, you have to use it when dealing with authorities or a landlord. It makes you feel very uncomfortable when you can’t express yourself, or when someone appeals to you with a question, which you don’t understand.
Arriving in Germany
After arriving in Germany you will have lots of things to deal with. Some of them are more important than other:
- Sign up for a contract with a local mobile and internet providers.
- Register for health insurance.
- Open a German bank account.
- Register a living address with the authorities.
- Get a National Visa converted into a residence permit.
There are lots of different mobile telecommunication providers in Germany. You can compare them using check24 service. I use ALDI Talk provider which is owned by ALDI supermarket chain. It uses O2 and E-Plus networks, has various internet data plans and offers affordable prices, especially for mobile data. A starter-set can be bought right in a supermarket and only a passport is required for that. With ALDI Talk you can terminate a contract any time you want. Not every provider allows it.
Usually, it takes a month to get access to the internet after opening a contract with a German internet provider. It can be 24 months contract (which will be cheaper but not flexible in case you want to move to another apartment) or a contract that can be canceled by the end of each month. There is a list of some providers you can choose: 1&1, o2, Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone. 1&1 and o2 offer contracts which you can terminate any time you want (eg. problems with the network, relocation to another country). In case of moving to another apartment, you can keep the current contract.
As a resident of Germany, you are obligated to have public (Techniker Krankenkasse, AOK, Barmer GEK) or private health insurance. You are free to choose your health insurance company by yourself but to register for a private one your gross income should exceed €54,900.
It sounds a bit weird, but you will pay less for a private insurance than for public one, and what is obvious you will have better treatment. At the same time, a private insurance also has some disadvantages. The most important one is a difficulty of switching to a public insurance. It might be a case if your family will become bigger and you will need to pay for all your children separately. With a public insurance, all unemployed members of the family (children and non-working spouse) are insured for free.
After retirement, you should continue making contributions. It can be difficult with a private insurance because you have to pay the same amount of money as you were paying as an active employee. Since your income will be not the same anymore, it can be hard to afford. Amount of monthly contributions with a public insurance depends on your income. If you earn less money, you pay less for an insurance.
This is why you should think about an insurance company very carefully. If you are planning to stay in Germany for a short period of time, you may benefit from a private health insurance. But in a longer perspective, the option sponsored by the government is often the better choice.
After registering for a health insurance you will receive Sozialversicherungsnummer (a social security number). You should provide this information to your employer because employee and employer each pay half of the general contribution rate.
Health care in Germany is mainly provided by self-employed doctors who work in their own practices. Most doctors have a statutory health insurance accreditation and can treat anyone with a statutory health insurance.
When people are ill or have other health problems, they usually go to see Hausarzt (a family doctor). These doctors can refer you to the right kind of specialist according to your problem. It is also possible to go straight to specialists without a referral.
A health insurance covers the cost of medical treatment what also includes some basic dental routine. But for lots of dental services you need to pay yourself what can be very expensive and not always has good quality.
If a doctor prescribes medications, it can be covered partially by your insurance company. Some medications you cannot buy without a prescription. What I personally like, if some pharmacy doesn’t have what you need, they can simply order it for you and usually, you can pick up it the next day at the same pharmacy.
The moment I don’t like is a situation with appointments in clinics. To visit some specific specialist you have to wait for a couple of months, because no appointment slots are available at the moment. If you have an emergency case you can come without an appointment, but in this case, you have to wait for 2–3 hours in line before a doctor can examine you.
The same situation with sick lists. If you get sick, usually you can inform your manager and stay at home for one day without any paperwork to be done. If you are not superman and the next day you are still sick, you have to go to the doctor to get a sick list. As I mentioned before, 98% of chance that a doctor doesn’t have any available appointments today. It means you have to wait in the line for a couple of hours despite your sickness. It can be very exhausting and you cannot avoid it.
One of the most important things you need to do right after your relocation is to open a German bank account. Without this account, you won’t be able to get your salary, rent an apartment, or even get a gym membership. There are plenty of choices, but you should remember, that a lot of places where you want to pay by card require a special German EC-card. So, it might be useful to have an account which includes it.
You can have several bank accounts at the same time. Comdirect that is the Internet subsidiary of Commerzbank provides an EC-card, but they don’t support contactless payments, don’t have an English speaking support team and their online service is ridiculously complicated. So, you can open another bank account, which is more comfortable for everyday usage, and keep Comdirect account just for these special cases with an EC-card.
N26 is Europe’s first completely mobile bank that provides a free basic current account for their customers. The account opening process can be completed via a video chat and takes about 10 minutes.
Only holders of certain passports and ID cards can verify their identity online; others will have to visit a German post office and verify their passport there.
N26 provides lots of benefits:
- Registration process online and in English.
- A user-friendly mobile application which gets you total control over your account.
- Fast response times of customer support.
- Free of charge MasterCard and Maestro card.
- Contactless payments.
- Free ATM withdrawals in euros.
- Free payments in any currency.
N26 is the most popular banks for foreigners because it is the only one German bank that officially works in English.
The address registration
You must register at Bürgeramt (the local municipality) within first two weeks after arriving in Germany. It may be difficult to get an appoint, therefore, in reality, it can take about one month to finish the registration process. But don’t worry, you will not be fined, because they know about the existing problem and understand, that it is not your fault.
The registration must be done in person and requires a presence of all members of a family who want to be registered.
You should bring with you completed and signed Anmeldung (a registration form), a passport, a visa, a marriage certificate (if you have relocated with a spouse) and Wohnungsgeberbestätigung. It is a special document from a landlord, which proofs, that you are allowed and actually living in the rented apartment. It is not required, but good having with you a rental contract, just to be on the safer side.
A landlord may be unfamiliar with this requirement and may sometimes refuse to issue such a document, or issue it only for one person, but not for all members of a family. You should persuade them because by law they are obligated to provide this document if you have requested it.
At Bürgeramt you will receive a confirmation of the registration called Anmeldebestätigung or Meldebestätigung. Keep it safe! It is a very important document, which serves as proof of your address and is needed for many official matters, such as setting up a bank account or obtaining a health insurance.
Check the official website to get more information about the registration process, book an appointment or download a registration form.
TV and radio fee
After you registered your apartment you have to pay TV and radio fee. The fee is not dependent on actual TV or radio usage. Rather, every household must pay one flat fee, even if they don’t own a TV or radio.
After you have registered in Bürgeramt, the tax office (Finanzamt) will receive all the necessary information about you automatically and you will get your Tax-ID number (Steueridentifikationsnummer). Note that you keep the same Tax-ID number your entire life, but you can change a tax class according to financial changes in your family. There are 4 different tax classes in Germany, read on for more details here. Your tax class depends on your income, marital status, and other aspects and is deducted directly from your salary.
You can use German Wage Tax Calculator to calculate how much money will be left after paying taxes and social contributions which are obligatory for an employee working in Germany.
After getting a health insurance and an address registration done, you can apply for the EU Blue Card. The list of required documents is almost the same as you had for the National Visa.
LABO or Ausländerbehörde is the local municipality responsible for immigration-related questions. To get there you should make an appointment. In theory, there is a way how to visit LABO without an appointment. But in reality, they can forbid you to enter the building without confirmation of an appointment.
Make sure that your application forms are complete. Expect delays and back and forth postal correspondence if you forget to sign it for example.
You will receive a special paper stating that you have applied for a Blue Card. The application process can take two to three months.
The following complications also could happen:
- They can speak English there, but they don’t do it during your appointment. If you can’t understand German, make sure you have a translator with you or German-speaking friend. It will make the whole process much easier for you.
- Sometimes they want to see an extra document which is not listed anywhere and you don’t have it with you. Don’t be distraught, you can make a new appointment and bring rest of required documents or send them by email.
- The rules can be changed. Be patient and flexible, just follow new rules, there is nothing you can do about it.
Once your visa has been approved, you have to pay for it using an automated payment machine in LABO, which usually only accepts cash or German EC-cards.
At this point, you are fully set up for living in Berlin!
If you have decided to move to Berlin or any other German city there are some general steps that have to been taken:
- Get The National Visa (or any other document that allows to work or looking for a job in Germany).
- Find a short-term apartment, where you can live the first year or so. It will provide you a renting history, which is necessary to get a permanent apartment.
- Sign up for a contract with a local mobile and internet providers.
- Register for health insurance.
- Open a German bank account.
- Register a living address with the authorities.
- Get a residence permit.
This article is based on my personal experience, nonprofit and aimed to shed light on the relocation process to Germany. From time to time people ask me the same questions about visas, accommodation, registration, etc. With this article, it will be much easier for me to store and share this knowledge. It is not an ultimate guide. You should double check all rules and required documents before dealing with authorities because I am not responsible for the relevance of the data. Use it just as a starting point for your further investigation of this subject.