What to know if you're moving to Berlin, Germany
Moving to Berlin? Or considering a move to Berlin?
It’s a popular choice, with 800,00 expats already living life – and loving life – in the city.
Bohemian, bustling and endlessly exciting, it’s one of the coolest cities on the planet. With a hugely unique counterculture, incredible places to eat and drink and one of the most diverse populations of any city in Europe, there’s plenty here to love.
Berlin is one of the most fun cities on the planet, it’s incredibly friendly, and it welcomes newcomers from across the globe every single day. In short, if you’re looking to relocate anywhere, Berlin is an incredible option.
But although moving to Berlin is popular and pretty simple, there are a small number of things you need to know before you take the leap.
And we’ve assembled a list of them all. Want to know how to find an apartment in Berlin? Or how to get a SIM card in Berlin? Or how to open a bank account in Berlin? We’ve covered it all!
Things to consider while moving to Berlin
- Where to live in Berlin: Berlin’s best neigbourhoods for students, expats and families
- Finding an apartment in Berlin: How to find a furnished, serviced or unfurnished apartment in Berlin
- Anmeldung: How to register your address in Germany
- Bank account: How to open a bank account in Germany
- Visa requirements to live in Berlin
- Using public transportation in Berlin.
- Health insurance in Berlin: How to get health insurance
- Sim card in Berlin: How to get a Sim card
- Learning German: . Do I need to learn German to live in Berlin?
- Cost of living in Berlin. Is Berlin an expensive place to live
1. Where to live in Berlin
Before you move to Berlin, decide on where you want to be living in Berlin. You should absolutely do some research before you arrive, even if you don’t reach an ultimate decision.
All big cities have vastly varying neighborhoods – but that’s especially the case in Berlin. While some parts of Berlin offer huge swathes of family-friendly green spaces, others are hipster havens with a party on every corner.
While the city is officially made up of 12 districts, even these districts themselves have smaller pockets of unique subcultures, making for a city with countless different atmospheres and areas. Before you move to Berlin, you should decide what type of life you want, and choose an area accordingly.
While, for example, Kreuzberg and Neukölln are packed with alternative parties and an assorted cast of barmy bohemians, Marzahn-Hellersdorf and Prenzlauer Berg are leafy suburb-style areas perfect for families. Other Berlin districts are perfect for entrepreneurs, while some are affluent and opulent. In short, Berlin offers endless different types of existences.
Whatever type of life you want in Berlin, the city can give you it – but it’s best to familiarize yourself with Berlin’s areas before you secure a long-term place to live. Do some research, get a feel for the city, and move to a short-term apartment for a little while before you sign a long-term contract.
For more information on Berlin’s neighborhoods, check out our extensive guide to Berlin’s neighborhoods.
2. How to find an apartment in Berlin
Finding an apartment in Berlin has a reputation for being an impossible and insurmountable task. But it’s not quite that hard.
Yes, finding a good apartment in Berlin can be pretty difficult. Moving to Berlin has become an increasingly popular choice over the last few years, and so too has finding a good apartment, but it’s absolutely possible when you know how.
Here’s what we recommend as your first port of all: considering furnished apartments and serviced apartments in Berlin. And here’s why:
Furnished Apartments in Berlin and Serviced Apartments in Berlin
If you’re only moving to Berlin for a short amount of time (for anywhere from 1 to 6 months), you should simply move into one of the many good quality serviced apartments available in Berlin.
If you do that, you won’t have to deal with landlords, you won’t have to endure countless house-hunting trips and you won’t be in the perilous position of moving into somewhere which isn’t quite what you wanted it to be. Yes, it’s slightly more expensive, but it’s completely fuss-free.
If you’re moving to Berlin long-term, you should move into a serviced apartment for a month or two while you find somewhere more appropriate for a long-term stay. If you don’t, you’ll likely end up signing a long-term contract for a place which isn’t perfect for you.
In short, whether you’re moving to Berlin short-term or long-term, we highly recommend booking yourself into a serviced apartment for a little while.
What’s the best website to find an apartment in Berlin?
In our opinion, the best website for finding an apartment in Berlin is… our website!
We offer top-quality serviced apartments in Berlin and furnished apartments in Berlin.
They’re all an excellent option for anyone seeking short-term accommodation in the city. If you’re sticking around for only a short few months, our apartments are ideal for your entire stay. But if you’re staying for longer, they’re a great place to live while you find a long-term solution.
It will likely take you somewhere between 4 weeks and 8 weeks to find a long-term place to live which you’ll love. So it’s a good idea to have a nice place to live while you find your next place to live.
Should I live in a hostel in Berlin while I find an apartment?
Many would-be long-term Berlin residents book themselves into a hostel for a week or so, using this hostel as a place to stay while they find a long-term apartment.
We don’t recommend this approach.
Finding an apartment in Berlin can often take longer than you’d expect, as waiting lists are lengthy and house viewings are attended by many prospective residents at one time. Finding an apartment will likely take way longer than a week, and you don’t want to be living in a hostel for several weeks while you’re finding a place to live long-term.
Other people secure a long-term apartment before they arrive in Berlin, but we don’t recommend this either. Not only is it almost impossible, but you may end up living somewhere which is nowhere near what it promised to be. Unless you’ve viewed an apartment in-person, don’t move there long-term.
In short, you’re best off finding a serviced apartment for a month or two, then planning your next steps from the comfort of its confines.
3. How to register your address in Berlin (the infamous anmeldung!)
It’s essential you register your address when you move to Berlin.
And here’s where we introduce you to the word which strikes fear into the hearts of so many would-be Berliners: anmeldung.
But don’t fret – this anmeldung absolutely isn’t the intimidating prospect that people like to imagine it is.
It’s a legal requirement, but it’s actually a pretty simple thing – the anmeldung process is simply the process of registering your address in Germany. And though it’s an essential step for foreigners moving to Germany, all native Germans need to do it too, so it’s nothing difficult or arduous.
You begin the anmeldung process by booking an appointment at a Bürgeramt (citizens’ office), where you need to take your required documents. Though you should try to do this within 14 days of entering Berlin, don’t worry if you can’t get an appointment right away. In Berlin, delays and queues are expected.
This anmeldung is an essential part of Berlin life, and you’ll need it for most bureaucratic things you plan to do. Want to open a bank account in Berlin? Or get a job in Berlin? Or get health insurance in Berlin? You’ll need your anmeldung, making it an essential step towards all other bureaucratic processes you’ll go through while you’re in the city.
All of that said, getting an anmeldung may not be a necessary step if you’re going to be living in Berlin for less than three months. If that’s the case, registering your address in Berlin isn’t mandatory.
If you stay in Berlin for three months or less, you’ll be considered a long-term tourist rather than a resident, so you won’t need to register your address. But, of course, since you haven’t registered, you won’t be able to take out contracts for internet, electricity, bank accounts or anything else.
For more extensive information about your anmeldung – along with a list of handy FAQs – here’s an excellent resource.
4. How to open a bank account in Berlin
First of all, you’ll need that anmeldung!
As we’ve said, you won’t be able to do most bureaucratic things – and that includes getting a bank account – without first having the all-important anmeldung. Though this poses a slightly irritating dilemma for short-term Berlin residents, it makes things way easier for anyone settling down in Berlin for any lengthy period of time.
Once you have an anmeldung, it’s pretty easy to open a bank account in Berlin. But make sure you open an account at a bank which offers English-speaking staff and English language support.
We recommend opening an account with N26, which is absolutely the best option for expats who don’t speak German. They have excellent English-speaking customer support, they’re exclusively online (so you never need to visit a branch, even for opening your account), their fees are very low and their app is fantastic.
Whoever you open a bank account with in Berlin, it’s pretty simple – all you usually need is an anmeldung, your passport and a resident permit. But check with your chosen bank to see if they require any further documents or information.
5. Do I need a visa to live in Berlin?
That depends who you are – but you should always assume that you might. If you need a visa, you won’t get very far into your Berlin adventure without one.
But there are exceptions.
If, for example, you’re an EU citizen, you can live, work and study in Germany without a visa. You simply enter, start a new life and fall in love with the city!
Other countries have a 90-day rule, under which you can visit Germany for 90 days without a visa. During this 90-day period, you can apply for a visa while you’re in Germany. This currently applies to nationals from Australia, Israel, Japan, Canada, South Korea, New Zealand and the USA.
Most other nationals other than those outlined above will need a visa, but different visas apply according to your nationality. Different visas are also available for different purposes – visas are available for working, studying, living, freelancing, job seeking and more.
Overall, it’s often pretty easy to get a visa for Germany, and therefore pretty easy for lots of different people to live and work in Berlin.
The most important thing to consider is this: the visa regulations which apply to you will be very specific to you, your situation, your intentions and your nationality. So while we can’t offer specific advice for every single person reading this guide, we absolutely can recommend this: check the details offered by your embassy and your government, and you’ll then have a way better idea of the visa rules which apply to you.
But as a general rule, Berlin is very open and accessible for many people in many different situations – and that’s one of the reasons that moving to Berlin is so popular.
6. How to use public transport in Berlin
Public transport in Berlin is brilliant. It’s extensive, it’s affordable, and it’ll shuttle you around the entirety of the city’s sprawl.
Typically, you can get a general public transport day ticket (or another type of time-limited ticket), and use that ticket to travel on any and all modes of public transport within that period. In a city which offers an endless abundance of undergrounds, trains, buses, trams and even ferries, it’s an incredible bargain.
Berlin has over 170 underground stations, almost 170 train stations, more than 2,500 bus stops and almost 400 tram stops. In short, Berlin’s public transport system is huge!
It can take a little while to learn how to use public transport in Berlin, but once you’ve mastered it, you’ll quickly learn that it’s one of the best public transport networks on the planet.
Our number one transport recommendation for Berlin is… you’ve guessed it: buying a bicycle!
One of the most bike-friendly cities in the world, Berlin is packed with millions of cyclists. And because it’s such a flat city with endless amounts of bicycle lanes, it’s easy to get around by bike quickly and conveniently.
You really don’t need a car to live in Berlin. Public transport is incredible and the city’s bike-friendly system is incredible. Together, these two factors make buying a car in Berlin pointless and unnecessary.
7. How to get health insurance in Berlin
It’s always good to have health insurance wherever you are in the world. But if you’re staying long-term, it’s a legal requirement to get health insurance in Berlin.
You have two choices: public health insurance and private health insurance.
For working out which health insurance policy you should get while you’re in Berlin, you should talk to a broker. Though you can use an online comparison tool, it’s best to speak to a broker so you can get personalized advice – you don’t want to spend money on a policy which you later realize isn’t valid for you and your needs.
If you’re an EU citizen, you don’t need health insurance in Berlin until you have a job. Until you do, your EHIC card will cover you. But once you get a job (even as an EU citizen), German health insurance becomes mandatory.
Depending on how long you’re going to be living in Berlin, you could also consider long-term travel insurance as an alternative to health insurance. If you’re not going to be registering as a resident (due to a stay of 90 days or less), you could simply get a good long-term travel insurance policy instead, with a reputable company such as World Nomads.
For a more extensive introduction to getting health insurance in Berlin, this is a fantastic guide.
8. How to get a SIM card in Berlin
Getting a SIM card in Berlin is very simple. If you only want a SIM, you’ll probably be able to get it with a passport. If you want a contract, you’ll need that same passport along with the anmeldung that we’ve talked so much about.
Cell phone costs in Germany are pretty low, and you might be surprised by just how affordable a cell phone payment plan can be in Berlin. To compare the plans open to you, use Verivox.
But remember, if you’re from the EU, you probably won’t need a new SIM card, as most EU packages cover all calls, messages and data across the EU.
9. Do I need to learn German to live in Berlin?
If you’re planning on spending a lot of time in Berlin, you should learn German.
Though there are a huge number of English speakers in Berlin, and though there are many jobs you can pick up in Berlin without speaking any German at all, learning the language can be a fantastic route to a better, more interesting life in the city.
If you’re only going to be living in Berlin short-term, there’s no need for you to learn the language in any detail (or at all), but if you’re moving to Berlin for 3-6 months or more, you should learn some German. If you do, you’ll have a much better time, you’ll make more friends, you’ll have more fun, you’ll feel more at home and you’ll open up many more opportunities. It’s also very useful for bureaucratic purposes.
For learning the fundamentals, we recommend Duolingo. It’s an excellent introduction to any language, and its German courses are fantastic.
For further language learning, you should take German classes while you’re in Berlin. There are a huge number of them across the city, they’re pretty affordable and they’re packed with other expats just like you, making them a great way to make fellow foreign friends.
You can get a private teacher, or you can go to classroom-style classes, but the latter is of course better for making friends. For classroom-style classes, The Goethe Institute is one of our top picks.
10. Is Berlin an expensive place to live?
It’s nowhere near as expensive as people think.
Rent can be a little more expensive than some other German cities, but everything else is surprisingly affordable. As far as western European capital cities go, Berlin is one of the most affordable, making it a great choice for relocation.
Compared to Amsterdam, Paris and London, your money will go pretty far in Berlin. Groceries are affordable, there’s plenty of street food, and alcohol (especially in stores) is jaw-droppingly cheap. You’ll also find lots of excellent free events throughout the year.
Food in particular is very affordable in Berlin. Supermarkets and grocery stores have pretty low prices, restaurants are some of the most affordable in the whole of western Europe, and it’s possible to get an on-street kebab for around $4 (and thanks to Berlin’s huge Turkish population, it’ll likely be the best kebab you’ve ever had!).
Because Berlin is so cyclable, and because you don’t need a car, you’ll save a huge amount of money on transport costs – and buying a second hand bicycle in Berlin is a very inexpensive venture.
One of the most affordable big cities in the whole of Europe, Berlin is a surprisingly brilliant place for saving money. Though marginally more expensive than it once was, it’s still a very affordable place to live.
And that’s Berlin!
There you have it – everything you need to know about living in Berlin.
One of the world’s best cities for a relocation, almost one million expats live in the city. And it’s becoming a more popular choice every day, as people from around the world flock to start a new life in Germany’s capital.
Though Berlin is famous for being a hipster paradise packed with quirky hangouts and a unique counterculture (and though you can get hearty doses of exactly that), that’s not all that Berlin has to offer. Whoever you are, the city has plenty of appeal, from great green spaces to kooky venues to some of the best food and drink on the planet.
It’s welcoming, friendly and surprisingly affordable, and it’s one of the best possible choices for a relocation.
If you’re considering moving to Berlin, we absolutely recommend it. You’ll have a great new life and you’ll have a great old time!