Essential information about living in Berlin
Once you’ve moved to Berlin, there’s some essential information you’ll need to know if you want to get along with the bureaucrats. We’ve summarised some of the most important tips here.
If you put no religion on your Anmeldung form but were baptised in your home country, beware the tax office (Finanzamt) can and does exchange information with other countries, especially Catholic countries. If they found out you were ever a member of the church, they can write to you to ask when you left; if you never left, then you can get a bill up to 4 years backdated. More information on the excellent All About Berlin website. You can leave the church by going to a court in Berlin and requesting a document from them.
Germans love insurance; most have both household and public liability insurance. The first covers the contents of your home from theft; the second covers any loss or damage you might cause to someone else’s property.
For example, a friend of ours, when she first arrived in Berlin, crashed her bike into the side of a car. She got a bill for 2000€ to fix the car, which the insurance would have paid, if she’d had it. Another example is if you lose your house front door key. Because everyone in the house has the same front door key, the owner might say that you have to pay to replace the lock and give everyone a new key; again, the insurance would pay for this.
Household insurance (Hausratversicherung) View site »
Public liability insurance (Haftpflichtversicherung) View site »
Public health insurance View site »
Private health insurance View site »
Expat health insurance View site »
Dental insurance View site »
Legal insurance View site »
Life insurance View site »
Bicycle insurance View site »
Job insurance View site »
Finally, many people who rent here are members of the Berliner Mieterverein. This is a type of union, which can advise and help you if you ever have legal questions about your tenancy. You can join when you first need to use them (about 100€ per year), but if you do that, you’ll only have access to advice; they won't pay for a lawyer for you. You have to join in advance if you want access to lawyers and the option of going to court. You will need to go with a German speaker to any meetings.
Every household in Germany has to pay the TV tax, even if they don’t have a TV or any intention of getting one. When you registered, your details are shared with the licensing office (GEZ), and you’ll get a letter from them asking you to register. Even if you don’t, you still have to pay. Please look out for the letter.
If you use public transport, you may want to use an app to buy tickets. BVG Tickets is a good app, but slow, and beware that the ticket is not valid for the first 2 minutes after you buy it. This is to stop people only buying the ticket when they see an inspector on the train! To avoid this time restriction, the VBB Bus & Bahn app sells the same tickets, but with a much worse interface!
Once you get your new bank account, it’s not ideal to make international transfers directly into it, as it’s expensive and many will not accept non-€ payments. For this, you can use an intermediary such as Wise or Revolut, which has lower fees and will likely be faster.
Paperwork and bureaucracy
Germans are only very slowly taking on the idea of paperless bureaucracy, and you’ll receive more letters than you may have done back home. Don’t throw anything away, because you might need it later – and sometimes only the original is accepted!
In particular, any barcodes which the bank sends you to set up online banking or their mobile app are not single use. You’ll be asked to scan the code again if you get a new device, so make sure you keep that one safe.
Please note that links provided should not be taken as recommendations, because only authorised brokers can provide recommendations; we have had good service from these companies before, but of course other companies and providers are available.