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Are you moving to Germany? In this guide, you will find everything you need to know about moving to Germany, including how to plan your finance, sort out your visa, transport your belongings, move into your new apartment, adapt to your new life in Germany, and more.
Moving to Germany or new in Germany? Check out our Support Page for all the resources you need!
Moving to Germany – Plan your finance
1. Open a bank account in Germany
You will definitely need a bank account in Germany to receive your salary and make regular payments like taxes, insurance, rent, utility bills, phone charges, etc.
Opening a bank account can be challenging sometimes as not all the staff in the bank can speak English. Besides, all the official documents and bank letters are normally in German. One of my biggest fears after moving to Germany was to find a German bank letter in my post box as I had no ideas what it was about.
Fortunately, there are some English banking options in Germany nowadays so that you can open a bank account entirely in English. Some even allow you to open a bank account already before arriving in Germany. For more details, please check: Opening a Bank Account in Germany – Compare English Banking Options.
Transfer money internationally
After you have opened a bank account in Germany, you will most likely need to transfer some money there. To prove that I had sufficient money to support my living in Germany (for visa purpose), I transferred all my savings from my HKD account to my Euro account in Germany back then. Can you imagine how much money I lost due to bank fees and bad exchange rates from the bank?
If you need to transfer money internationally when moving to Germany, do not make the same mistake that I did. Fortunately, nowadays you can use money transfer services like CurrencyFair which can help you to save loads of money.
- You only pay 3 Euro fee no matter how much you transfer
- You can use a much more favorable exchange rate compared to traditional banks
- You can set a higher exchange rate and the transfer will only happen once this rate is reached
- You can have 3 free transfers if you want to try it out for free now
2. Plan your finance
If you are going to move to Germany, it is important to plan your finance, especially if you are a student as you may not earn any income in Germany. You can check my 9 ways to earn money in Germany as a student. If you prefer to make some money from home, here are my 20 Ideas to Make Money from Home that anyone can do.
The cost of living in Germany can vary a lot depending on which city you live in. For example, Munich is one of the most expensive cities to live in, while Belin has a relatively low cost of living despite being a big city. For more information about how much you need and how to save money, you can read this: Cost of Living in Germany – How to Save Money?
3. Work in Germany
If you are moving to Germany for a job, you need to know if your salary is adequate to cover your living expenses in Germany. You can refer to Salary in Germany – Are You Getting Paid Enough?
Looking for a job in Germany
If you need to find a job after moving to Germany, it can be quite difficult in case your German is insufficient. There are English speaking jobs in Germany. But they are very competitive. If you are in a technical field like engineering, programming, etc., you can probably find a job in Germany as there is a lack of skilled labor in those fields.
If you are in a general field like me (e.g. finance), then it can be very difficult to find a job, but not impossible. I did find my full-time permanent professional job here in Germany without the help of any agencies. To learn about how I found my job, you can check this out: How to Find English Speaking Jobs in Germany?
If you are lucky enough to have an interview in Germany, keep in mind that the interview process can be different than in your home countries. If you are interested, I wrote down my interview experiences here: Job interview in Germany: 6 tips to boost your chances of getting hired
Tax in Germany
You probably know that Germany has a high tax rate. Depending on your income, you may even need to pay more than 40% of your income as tax. Basically, the more you earn, the higher the tax rate you will have to pay. The tax will be deducted directly from your income. And you will have to file a tax return every year to get back some money.
Filing a tax return is very complicated for many foreigners in Germany as everything has to be done in German. We recommend using this website which allows you to file your tax in English. For more details about filing tax, you can refer to Tax Return in Germany – Guide for Expats
Benefits of working in Germany
The typical working hours in Germany are relatively short compared to other countries. Unpaid overtime work is not common and there are strong labor unions in Germany. Besides, employees in Germany have on average 29 days (!) annual paid leave on average. With another 10 – 13 public holidays on top every year, you can enjoy quite a good work-life balance in Germany.
Moving to Germany – Sort out your visa
1. Different ways to move to Germany
Moving to Germany is relatively easy compared to immigrating to other countries. If you meet the requirement, you can get a temporary residence permit, which can turn into a permanent residence permit after a certain period. Having a permanent residence permit gives you similar rights like a German citizen, except that you cannot vote and do not have a German passport. However, you can stay in Germany for as long as you want.
Below are the main ways to move to Germany:
Moving to Germany for work
If you find a qualified job in Germany, you can move to Germany with a working visa. After working for some years, you may be able to apply for a permanent residence permit.
Moving to Germany for your studies
In my case, I came to Germany for my master’s degree with a study visa. If you study in Germany, you can stay in Germany for a limited period after your graduation to search for a job with a job seeking visa. Studying is actually a very popular way to move to Germany.
Moving to Germany by investing
If you have the required funds and can prove that your business can benefit the German economy, you can move to Germany with a self-employment visa. After certain years, you may be able to apply for a permanent residence permit.
Moving to Germany for a family reunion
If you live in Germany, your spouse and children (under 16) may be able to join you and move to Germany with a family reunion visa. They will have to prove their relationship with you, and may also need to prove that they achieve a certain level of German proficiency.
2. Sort out your visa
If you are from a non-EU country, you will have to apply for a proper resident visa when you move to Germany. In my case, I quit my job in Hong Kong and moved to Germany to study. I had to apply for a study visa at the German embassy in Hong Kong before flying to Germany. After I arrived in Germany, I had to apply for an extended residence permit at the foreign nationals office in Germany within three months.
To apply for the visa, you will need to show your health insurance and your financial proof, i.e. proof of income or sufficient initial funds that can cover your living expenses in Germany. If you are from certain countries, you may even need to have a blocked bank account to ensure you have sufficient money every month.
Depending on your situation, you will need different types of visas to move to Germany. For example, study visa, family reunion visa, work visa, business visa, etc. Besides, the visa requirements can be very different between countries. It is important that you consult the German embassy in your home country for any questions you have regarding your visa.
Check your passport validity
Besides, you should also make sure that your passport is valid not only during your assignment period in Germany, but also around 6 months after that time. Some countries have a six-month passport-validity rule, meaning that you may be denied boarding or entry upon arrival if your passport is not valid for six months beyond your intended return date. This is because some countries do not want to risk having travelers overstaying their passport validity.
To be safe, you should make sure that your passport is not expiring too early. It will also save you a lot of stress as you don’t have to worry about your expiring passport later on and can be flexible about changing your plans when staying in Germany.
3. Get valid health insurance in Germany
Germany has a universal healthcare system, meaning that everyone must have health insurance so that they can be treated when necessary, regardless of their financial status.
To apply for your visa, you will need to show your health insurance. In my case, I showed my Hong Kong travel insurance when I applied for my student visa at the German embassy in Hong Kong. After I moved to Germany, I was told that my Hong Kong insurance was not sufficient to get my residence permit and I was required to enroll in a health insurance program that was recognized in Germany.
Because of that, I had been double paying my insurances for some time, until I finally decided to cancel my Hong Kong health insurance a few years later. The fact is that your home insurance (even from big international insurance companies) is unlikely to be seen as valid health insurance for your visa purpose.
Applying for health insurance in Germany
Before you start, you should know that there are two main types of health insurance in Germany: Private health insurance and public health insurance. For employees, if you earn less than 62,550 Euros per year (2020), you must have public health insurance. If you earn over this income threshold, you have the choice to use private health insurance.
Besides, if you are a student, self-employed and freelancers, you can also choose to have private health insurance. For more details about the difference, please check: Private vs Public Health Insurance: What is Better for Expats in Germany?
Private and Public health insurance in Germany
For public health insurance, we recommend using the service from Feather (formerly Popsure) to sign up with TK insurance as the sign up is 100% in English. They also provide English support in case you have any questions.
If you want better coverage at a cheaper price, private health insurance can be a good option for you. We recommend using Ottonova if you decide to go for one.
Ottonova is very popular among expats. They have 24 hours of English support which makes your life easier. Besides, they have special rates for expats and they also fulfill all legal requirements for your visa. Some other cool functions include:
- English speaking Concierge team to schedule your doctor’s appointment for you
- English speaking doctor on a video call
- Fast reimbursement (within a few hours)
- No paperwork (send your document using their app)
You can check their plans here now.
Moving to Germany – Transport your belongings
1. Transport your belongings to Germany
If you are a student or a single person, transporting your belongings is normally not so complicated. Just pack your luggage and you are good to go.
However, if you are moving to Germany with your whole family, you will probably have more belongings and will have to think about the best way of transporting them. One major decision is to consider if you want to use a moving company or not.
How to find the best moving company?
The easiest way to ensure you get the best deal and service is to get free moving quotes. Fill in the below form from Sirelo and you will get free quotes from up to five moving companies that are internationally recognized. You can then compare the different moving companies and choose one that best suits you.
Should you use a moving company?
There are different factors to consider: How far are you moving to? How much budget do you have? Do you have a lot of fragile valuables to transport? The question list goes on.
If you are moving to Germany from a neighboring country, you may consider renting a van and move by yourself. This is quite economical if your physical condition allows you to do all the move.
However, if you move from far away, using a moving company will probably be the best choice. For example, I used a moving company when I moved from Germany to the U.S and back. The nice thing is that the movers helped with all my packing and I was also insured in case something broke during the move.
If you decide to use a moving company, you should book it as soon as possible, at least a few months beforehand as they are normally fully booked.
For more information about moving companies and moving tips, check this out: 42 Moving Tips – Moving Locally or Internationally
Should you ship your furniture and your car to Germany?
Note that most flats in Germany are unfurnished when you move in. Some won’t even have a kitchen! So, you will have to consider if it is worthwhile to ship your own furniture or just buy everything new again in Germany. In case you decide to ship, you should study the floor plan of your new flat in Germany and make sure your furniture will fit there.
You should also know that Germany has a very good public transportation system. So, you don’t even need a car to live in Germany in most cases. But in case you want to ship your car to Germany as well, make sure to convert it to meet the German standards.
2. Check the voltage
Be aware that the voltage in Germany may be different from that of your home country. I didn’t have that problem as both Hong Kong and Germany has a voltage of 220 volts. However, if you are coming from the U.S. where the voltage is only 120 volts, you will not be able to use your big electronic appliances from home, e.g. hairdryer, washing machine, fridge, etc.
In that case, you should leave these appliances at home. It is better than wasting your shipping costs and find out that they cannot be used in Germany. You can buy new or second-hand ones when you are in Germany.
When I lived in the U.S., I bought an electronic piano that I really loved. I would have shipped it back to Germany if I didn’t find out that I couldn’t use it in Germany due to the different voltage. I sold it in the U.S. in the end and bought a new one after I moved back to Germany.
3. Medicines and doctor in Germany
Thanks to the universal healthcare system in Germany, most of the necessary medical costs are covered by your health insurance so that you don’t need to worry about them. Even if you need to stay in a hospital, the cost will be most likely covered by your health insurance. The coverage will depend on if you have public or private insurance. For more details, you can check this: Private vs Public Health Insurance – What is Better for Expats in Germany
Be aware that the same drug can have a different name in your home country and in Germany. On the other hand, medicines from your home country with the same name may not be the same drug in Germany. Therefore, if you need a certain medicine, it is better to first consult with a doctor in Germany. Besides, there are strict laws on prescriptions in Germany and it is unlikely that you can buy your medicines without a German doctor’s prescription. Foreign prescription is also not accepted in Germany.
Bring your medicines with you
When you travel to Germany, you are allowed to bring some medicines with you. Keep your medicines in their original packages in case they are checked by customs. It is better to have some supplies with you as you probably will need a German doctor’s prescription before you can buy any medicines in Germany. So, you may not be able to get your medicines immediately when you arrive in Germany if you need them.
Also, note that you are not allowed to ship any drugs to Germany. They will get stuck at customs and get thrown away. For more details about medicines and visiting doctors in Germany, read this: Pharmacies in Germany – Guide for Expats
Pregnancy and giving birth in Germany
If you are pregnant and plan to give birth in Germany, you need to read this: Having a Baby in Germany – From Pregnancy to Postnatal Care. Both my kids were born in Germany and the birth experiences I had couldn’t be better. So, I cannot recommend more to give birth in Germany. Besides, almost all costs will be covered by your health insurance!
Moving to Germany – Move into your new apartment
1. Find a place to live in Germany
Finding a flat can be quite challenging in Germany. It was one of the most stressful things for me when I moved to Germany. The reason is that there is much more demand for flats than supply, especially in big cities like Berlin or Munich. That is why sometimes it is better to live in a small town in Germany.
Looking for a flat in Germany when you are still abroad is not totally impossible, but almost. There are also a lot of scams on the internet, where you are required to pay first when you are still abroad without seeing your flat physically. Be careful! It is easy to fall for these scams especially when you are very stressed about looking for a place.
In my opinion, the best is to first live in a hotel/ hostel in Germany for some days. This will allow you some time to look for your flat. You can then physically visit your flat, make sure you like the flat and the neighborhood, and pay after you are sure that the flat really exists.
Some other things to keep in mind when looking for your flat:
- Most flats are unfurnished in Germany, except for short temporary contracts
- You may need to pay a commission to the real estate agent if you use one
- A deposit is required upfront which can amount to one to three months’ rent
- Most of the time the rent in Germany is cold rent (Kaltmiete), where utility costs are not included in the rent and you have to pay them on top. If your contract states warm rent (Warmmiete), it means that utility costs are already included in the rental price.
For more tips, you can check this post: How to find a place to live in Germany?
In case you want to buy instead of rent, you can see more details here: Buying a house in Germany – As a Foreigner.
2. Register your address
One of the most important things you need to do after moving to Germany is to register your address at your local authority (Bürgeramt or Einwohnermeldeamt). You will need to take your identity document and your rental contract with you and register your address within two weeks after moving in.
The Germans take this very seriously. Your registration certificate (Anmeldebescheinigung) is a very important document. You will need it for almost any official things like opening a bank account, applying for a residence permit, looking for a job, etc.
Depending on your local authority, you may need to wait for a long time when registering your address. For example, I had to wait for three hours when I registered my address in Berlin. The local office in Berlin was always full. Later on, when I moved to a small town, I didn’t need to wait at all and could register my address immediately.
Registering address can be stressful sometimes
I remember that registering my address was one of the most stressful things for me when moving to Germany. When I was a student, it was hard enough to find a place to live. There were times that I found a temporary place to live but the landlord refused to let me register with the address officially (meaning that I actually could not choose to live there).
Another time I was offered by a Chinese student to live in a student dormitory for one month so that I could search for something more long term. However, I couldn’t register that address officially since the Chinese student has already flown to China on vacation. This caused me a big problem as I needed my registration certificate for my new employer and the tax office.
I have heard that one can “buy” an address somewhere in the Chinese forum. It means that some Chinese landlords let you register with their address (while you don’t actually live there) for money. I have never seen it by myself though.
3. Find an internet service provider
Unless you live in a shared flat where the warm rent already includes internet services, you will most likely need to take care of your own internet when you move to your new flat in Germany. Note that it can take many weeks until a German internet provider can provide you with an internet connection after you sign a contract. Therefore, you should choose an internet provider as soon as possible once you find a place to live.
Most German internet service providers offer both the internet and fixed phone line at the same time. You can also pay for extra to include television services. A contract usually goes for two years. So, you should choose a contract that is cancellable monthly if you want to be flexible. You can use this website to compare different internet, fixed phone line, or television package.
Note also that if you use the internet, radio, or television, you are required to pay a mandatory license fee for public service broadcasting in Germany called Rundfunkbeitrag. You must register with the GEZ (Gebühreneinzugszentrale) and pay a small fee monthly per household.
Another tip: In Germany, an internet contract is usually automatically renewed if you do not cancel it on time. Therefore, if you do not want to renew your service, it is better to give notice of cancellation as early as possible.
4. Find an energy supplier
Unless you have a “warm” rental contract, most of the time your rental contract in Germany will not include electricity or gas service. But don’t worry. If you don’t do anything, you will be automatically signed up with a default electricity service called “Grundversorgung”. This is to ensure that you have an uninterrupted electricity supply when you move in. However, the default electricity service is normally more expensive than other service providers.
To save money, you should actively choose your energy supplier. Once your contract is over, you can also switch to another energy supplier as many offer a signup bonus or bonus for new customers. Depending on the supplier, each bonus can amount 100-200 Euros. You can use portals like Verivox or Check24 to compare different energy suppliers in order to get the best deal.
5. Put your last name on your mailbox
The posting system I was used to
The posting system is very different in Germany compared to what I was used to in Hong Kong. In Hong Kong, the postmen will deliver the letter based on our room number. It means that we can still mail to an address without writing down the name of the receiver. As long as it is a full address with a room number, there is a designated postbox for each flat.
Similarly, when I lived in the U.S, no name should be put on the mailbox for security reasons. Actually, I was told to stick my name inside my postbox so that no one except the postman can see it.
How it works in Germany
It does not work like this in Germany, especially if you live in a building. Your address may only include your street number. It means that everyone who lives in your building can have the same address (there is no room number for each household). The postmen will search for your last name on the mailbox and deliver the letters based on the last name. So, if the postmen cannot find your last name on your mailbox, your mail cannot be delivered and will be returned.
That is why it is important to put your last name on your mailbox once you move in your new flat to receive letters. A simple paper sticker with your last name will work.
I actually find this system pretty strange as the postmen will have to spend time searching for names on the mailbox. Sometimes there can be many last names at one address and it is not easy for one to spot a name very quickly. Well, it is how it is here in Germany. Just make sure your last name is on your mailbox, and the same applies to your doorbell! Otherwise, people do not know which doorbell belongs to your flat.
Moving to Germany – Adapt to your new life
1. Get a German mobile contract
It is important to have a German phone number after you move to Germany. Luckily, it is quite affordable nowadays to get a mobile or SIM package in Germany. A German mobile contract usually goes for two years. Similar to the internet contract, your contract will be automatically renewed if you do not cancel it. So, pay attention when you sign your contract or find one that you can cancel monthly.
Another alternative is to go SIM-only. It means that you only pay per minute or per MB used. If you are not a heavy user, it is a good option and can help you to save some money. You can compare different German mobile phone or SIM packages here.
2. Transportation in Germany
If you plan to drive in Germany, you are allowed to drive with an international license for up to six months without a German driving license. Afterward, you will need to get a German driving license. You may be able to exchange your home driving license if your country has reciprocity with Germany. Otherwise, you will need to take the German driving exam. Before you start driving in Germany, make sure to read this: Driving in Germany – German driving license and driving rules
If you do not want to drive, it is totally possible in Germany. Germany has an excellent public transportation network with buses, metros, trains, etc. You can almost get anywhere with public transportation or by bicycle. Check out this post for more about getting around in Germany: Germany Travel Tips: Getting Around
3. Learn the language
It is true that you can probably get around in Germany with English. However, if you plan to stay in Germany for a longer time, learning German is a must. Even though many German people can speak English, you will need to use German in many official occasions like dealing with the government, banks, insurances, etc.
My advice is to learn German as much as you can before moving to Germany and keep learning it when you live in Germany. English is not a widely-spoken language in the country and you will feel very frustrated if you do not know German. I wrote about how I felt like a person with disabilities when I couldn’t speak German in Germany here: What is it like living in Germany without speaking German?
Once in Germany, you can take German classes and just use all your opportunities to talk to other people in German. Unfortunately, for many people, German is not an easy language to learn. I summarized my 10 fun ways to learn German here based on my painful learning experiences.
4. Learn the German culture
Before moving to Germany, make sure to do some research to learn something about German culture. This can help to avoid any misunderstanding when you live in Germany.
The German people
German people are in general direct, punctual, and they do not like small talk so much. Instead, they prefer to discuss political or current affairs (more meaningful topics).
Compared to many other countries, German people are quite disciplined and they like to obey rules in general. They also love paperwork. So, make sure you keep all your papers (e.g. contracts, invoices) systematically so that you don’t lose them.
In Germany, people address others with their last name, unless they know each other personally. Making friends in Germany can seem tough at the beginning as German people can appear to be quite cold. However, once you break the ice and make friends with them, the friendship can last for long and they will see you as true friends. If you are interested, you can also learn about the German dating etiquette here: Dating in Germany – Dating a German Guy
Recycling in Germany
German people take recycling very seriously. It is a good thing as Germany is a very environmentally friendly country, compared to many others. You are required to sort your rubbish at home, e.g. organic, plastic, paper, glass, etc. For glass, paper, batteries, and certain other rubbish, you need to bring them to specific collection points called “Wertstoffhof”, or throw them into the designated recycling bins.
Besides, you have to pay for a deposit (Pfand) for plastic/ glass bottles, and cans when you buy your drinks from the supermarkets. There are recycling machines in the supermarkets where you can return your bottles later on and get back your deposit. Don’t crush the cans. Otherwise, the recycling machines can’t recognize them.
Measurement unit in Germany
In Germany, people use measurement units like kilogram, gram, centimeters, kilometer, and degree Celsius. If you are not familiar with these units, you can download a conversion app in your phone to help you
Eating out in Germany
Sunday and public holidays in Germany
Note that almost all shops are closed on Sundays and public holidays, including supermarkets. So, you should always do your groceries beforehand. Even visiting a supermarket in Germany may give you a cultural shock: Supermarkets in Germany: What to expect and how to save money on groceries
Besides, Sunday is a day that everyone should rest. It also means that no loud noise is allowed, including drilling or mowing your lawn.
Some other things you should know about Germany
If you move to Germany to study, check out how it is to study at a German university.
Do you know that you are not allowed to wear your swimsuit in a sauna in Germany? Check out: Why are German people naked in the sauna?
If you are a man, make sure you sit down to pee if you visit your German friends at home. See here for why: Do German Men Sit Down to Pee?
When I first moved to Germany, I even got a cultural shock about how to celebrate birthdays. Do you know that you should never say happy birthday to a German person before his actual birthday? Check out here about what to expect when having your birthday in Germany.
5. The weather in Germany
In my home town Hong Kong, we have a very mild winter. So, the weather is almost always very warm in all seasons. When I moved to Germany, I was impressed by its distinctive four seasons.
Depending on when you move to Germany, you should pack proper clothing according to the weather. If you are staying for longer, you can always purchase clothing in Germany. You can also get cheap clothes in flea markets if you want to save money. For more details, please check: Cost of Living in Germany – How to Save Money
Spring – from March to May
Weather is getting warmer in spring but it is not too hot yet like the summer. You will mostly still need a jacket during springtime.
Summer – from June to August
Summer can get really hot (over 30 degrees Celsius). The day is long, with sunset after 9pm. It is a nice time for all the outdoor activities like going to the lake, hiking, BBQ, etc. You may need a thin jacket in the evening as the temperature difference can be quite huge between the day and night.
Autumns – from September to November
Autumns can be rainy and windy. You will need a jacket outside, preferably a waterproof one.
Winter – from December to February
Very cold and it usually snows. It is a perfect time for skiing. You will need a good jacket, scarf, hat, shoes to keep yourself warm outside. Sunlight is short and it can be dark around 4pm already.
6. Find childcare in Germany
If you are moving to Germany with your kids, you may need to find childcare services for your kids when you go to work. For small kids, you will need a place in the nursery or kindergarten. Note that most schools in Germany finish at around noontime. It means that if you have school kids, you may also need after-school care.
It is especially challenging for full-time working parents in Germany because it may not be easy to get a place for these childcare options. Therefore, you should start to look for a place as soon as possible, especially if you plan to work full-time in Germany. It is not uncommon to be put on a waiting list and wait for years until one gets a spot, especially if you live in a big city.
Be aware that many of the nurseries and kindergartens only accept kids starting in September. It means that if you move to Germany in other months, you may need to wait until September for your kids to attend them.
For more details and other childcare options, check this: Childcare in Germany – Kita and Other Options
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Are you moving to Germany? If you live in Germany already, do you have tips for the others who are planning to move? Share your experience by leaving a comment below!
Moving to Germany or new in Germany? Check out our Support Page for all the resources you need!