Today marks the start of my fourth year in this bureaucracy-crazed, rule-abiding, frankly-opinionated country. I’ve learned so much in my three years here—and, if the expat stats don’t lie, this year should kick off a phase of feeling more at home. I’ve collected the info I’m supposed to need, my language skills are strong(ish), my sense of orientation has strengthened…. and best of all, my settlement permit is processing, giving a real sense of stability to this volatile expat life. In honor of that three-year learning curve, and to help people who want to move to Germany get ahead, here are five of the things I wish I’d known before I moved to Germany.
Five Things to Know About Living in Germany
Registering in Germany
Any time you move in Germany—whether it’s the first time you’re setting up after your move, or you’re upgrading your apartment—you need to register. This basically alerts the local authorities (“Bürgeramt”) that you’ve set up residence in a new place. You can find which office corresponds to your address by searching here. It doesn’t matter if you’re a student or on a temporary contract. If you live in Germany for longer than three months, you have to do it. It’s not too tricky…often the most complicated thing is simply getting an appointment at your local Bürgeramt to take care of the necessary paperwork. Once you’ve registered, you’ll get something called a Meldebestätigung, which you will need to present to do lots of other things, like getting a bank account and a tax ID.
Warm rent versus cold rent
When searching for an apartment in Germany, you’ll see apartments with either “warm” (Warmmiete) and “cold” (Kaltmiete) rent. Cold rent is the basic rent you pay your landlord for the physical space. If you rent a cold apartment, you’re likely going to have to negotiate your own contracts for electricity, water, heat, etc. However, the apartment might also have a warm rent amount. Warm rent is an all-inclusive price that factors in water, electricity, and maintenance costs. Internet is not typically included in warm rent, but if you’re lucky, it might be. You might also see “Nebenkosten”, which are additional costs. These might cover your Hausmeister (the superintendent of the building, who takes care of the building and assists with any technical issues), Beleuchtung (cost of lighting in the common areas), or Gartenpflege (maintaining any gardens or green spaces).
It shouldn’t be too surprising that this risk-aversive culture has an extreme love affair with insurance. There is insurance for literally everything—and your insurance consultant will love selling you into each type. Whether you choose the extra options or not are up to you, but you will certainly need health insurance. Health coverage (“Krankenkasse”) is paid out of your paycheck already, but you’ll need to sign up with a provider. The most common public providers are Techniker Krankenkasse, AOK : Allgemeine Ortskrankenkasse, BKK: Betriebskrankenkasse, IKK : Innungskrankenkasse, LKK, and : Landwirtschaftliche Krankenkasse. You can also opt for private insurance, if your salary is large enough. Do note that it is technically illegal not to have health insurance in Germany, so don’t skip this step.
Keep your papers organized
Germans love paperwork. And because they also seem to hate digitization, you’re going to get a lot of that paperwork in hard copy, via the post. Make sure you’re prepared with a detailed filing system to process and log all the documents that arrive via mail for each member of your family. Our house uses a binder system: one for Tim, one for me, one for both of us (lease documents, contracts, etc), and one for Heidi…who is our dog. The more organized your system is, the easier it will be to navigate German life. Trust me on that.
Pets have paperwork too
Germans love animals, especially dogs. You’ll find that most of Germany is ridiculously dog-friendly and that German dogs tend to be immaculately well-behaved. If you are also thinking of bringing your pup along, keep in mind that, like any member of the family, you’ll need to register your pet, get the appropriate insurance, and pay dog taxes. Read my full post about moving with your dog here.