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.
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 »
Dog liability insurance View site »
Disability 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.
There's a great guide to how to get around Berlin by public transport here.
If you use a lot of public transport, you should consider a monthly ticket. The DeutschlandTicket offers free travel anywhere in the country (except on long distance express trains) for 49€ flat. More information here, or check with your employer.
Google or Apple Maps are perfectly good ways of navigating.
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.
Finding a doctor
Most health insurers have a facility on their website to assist with finding a doctor who speaks your language. You can select opening hours, specialisms, and language spoken. You can Google [your health insurer] arztsuche or Ärzteführer. For a regular family doctor, look for a Hausarzt or Allgemeinmedizin.
You don't have to register at a particular doctor, which means if you don't get along, or feel like a change, you can just go somewhere else. Prescriptions cost between 5€ and 10€. The cost is set by law, so you don't need to shop around.
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.
Finally, if you have WhatsApp, you can switch your number in the app, so that your contacts and chats will be informed, rather than you having to tell everyone. See their FAQ for information.
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.