Moving To Germany: Tips To Help You Start Your Life As An Expat
#1 Health Insurance
Health insurance (Krankenversicherung) is mandatory, and without it, you will not be able to get your residence permit. Consequently, that also means you will not be able to live, work, or study in Germany. Now that we have cleared that up, there are two types of health insurance Germany options you can choose from- public health insurance and private health insurance. The majority of people opt for state cover; however, choosing depends on your employment status and salary. If you are coming to Germany for a job, keep in mind that your employer will automatically sign you up for the public one, and the fees will be deducted from your salaries.
#2 Renting a Place and Registering
Affordable and reasonable housing is in high demand in Germany, especially in cities. However, there are many options. You can rent a fully furnished apartment/house (which is a more expensive option), an unfurnished apartment/house, or a shared apartment/house (the more reasonable option and may come furnished or not). The best way to find it is by using one of many search engines like Immobilienscout24, Immowelt, or eBay Kleinanzeigen (the Craigslist of Germany). If you are looking for a shared apartment or house, you can also find many options on WG-Gesucht.
Once you have found a place to live, sign your rental contract and get a proof of residence certificate from your landlord, you will need to register at your address within 14 days at your local citizens’ office. That office can be the Einwohnermeldeamt/Registration Office (often in southern states) or a Bürgerbüro/Civil Office (often in northern states). If you can’t find either of these, then you are probably moving to a smaller town, in which case, you would be registering at the Rathaus (city hall). Regardless of where you need to go, they will all process the same paperwork and get you registered in the city.
#3 Opening a Bank Account
Setting up a German bank account is very important since you will need to receive your salary, take out health insurance, and pay taxes. There are many bank options in Germany, and your choice will depend on which bank account you prefer. However, in most cases, you can either make an appointment online or visit your local branch in-person to open an account. You will need a form of identification, your certificate of registration, and your residence permit if you are not an EU citizen. Once your account is ready, you will receive your debit card and PIN in the post.
#4 Get Your Residence Permit
Your residence permit is different from your visa, so you require a residence permit to live and work in Germany. Referred to as an Aufenthaltserlaubnis, it is in the form of a plastic card with a biometric chip. To obtain your residence permit from the immigration office (Ausländeramt), you will need to finish the previously mentioned steps, fill out the application for the immigration office, and, most importantly, book an appointment to submit the required documents.
#5 Choose a Phone Plan
There are three networks in Germany and hundreds of mobile plan providers. Each mobile plan provider is a part of one of these three networks. In general, all of them are just as good and offer three different types of phone deals:
- Pay-As-You-Go: Calling and texting billed per minute/SMS
- Prepaid Packages: Monthly packages including calling, texting, and data (free cancellation each month and does not include a phone)
- Contract: Annual contracts including calling, texting, and data (often include a phone, too) but are notoriously inflexible.
#6 Getting Connected at Home
When it comes to getting an internet connection for your home, the sooner you sort that out, the better, as it can be a painfully slow process. As a start, you must figure out if your apartment/house has: DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) or Cable. DSL runs through the telephone line, whereas cable internet runs through the TV connection.
If you are renting, you may be able to take over the old tenant’s contract. Otherwise, you will need to get a new internet connection, which means having a router installed, which can take three to six weeks.
#7 Get Electricity Contract
The critical thing to know about electricity in Germany is that if you don’t choose a provider on your own, you will automatically be signed up for the Grundversorgung (Basic Supply) tariff from the local electricity company. That tariff is usually one of the most expensive on the market. So, on the one hand, it saves you the hassle of setting up electricity on your own, but on the other hand, you are paying a lot more than you need to be paying. Our advice is to do a bit of research (though most information is in German), compare options, and decide. The good thing is- the prices should not differ drastically.
#8 Plan Your Transport
Germany is a great country to be living in when it comes to transportation. They have a massive network of train lines, ample cheap bus options, and great websites to find the right deals. That said, you should figure out what option suits your needs the most: buying a public transit pass or buying/leasing a vehicle, which is also quite affordable. Yet, keep in mind that the cheapest transport mode will be by bike, so use this in Germany a lot. Almost all roads have a specially designed lane for bikes, and you will see cyclists everywhere.
#9 Learn About the Taxes
Since you will stay for a while, it is advisable to learn about Germany’s taxation system. In Germany, income tax is progressive, starting at 1% and rising incrementally to 42% or 45% for very high incomes. As well as income, everyone has to pay a solidarity tax, which is 5.5% of income tax. In addition to this, individuals and households are required to pay some special taxes, like the household GEZ or Rundfunkbeitrag, which finances public broadcasting. If you decide to join a congregation, expect to pay around 8-9% of your income towards the Church.
#10 Sign up for a German Course
Depending on where you will live, you may (or may not) be able to get by speaking only English. However, the truth is that knowing a little bit of the local language will make your time in Germany easier and enable you to integrate into the local community. And when it comes to choosing German courses, the possibilities are endless- from intensive to weekend classes, all depending on your available time.