Moving to Germany – 2020 Guide
Last updated: 05 April 2020 / by Sam Williams
A note about COVID-19: This guide is based on the general rules, but there may be some temporary restrictions in place due to the presence of the COVID-19 virus. Please contact your local German embassy for the latest information. You can find a list of global German embassies here. We are keeping the situation under close review and will update our guidance as necessary.
So, you are planning on moving to Germany – how exciting! Wherever you are relocating from, moving to another country is a big step and needs careful planning to make sure it’s a success.
From the moment you decide to make the switch to when you start your new job, there will be lots of information to absorb. But where do you start and what should you consider? Our 2020 guide for moving to Germany will walk you through each step.
Research, Research, Research
Every country has a reputation, but before you decide to move, it is essential to investigate whether the reality will live up to the fantasy. Germany is a country that thrives on structure and regulation and if you are coming from a society that is a little more laidback, it can be quite a cultural shock.
The north and the south of the country have different features, just like the rural areas differ from the cities. There are advantages to living in both, and the best place to settle depends on what you are looking for from your new life.
Research what it is like to live in Germany by talking to real people that live there. Debunk the myths and discover the Germany of today, in all its beauty.
It is not just about the gorgeous countryside and rich cultural heritage, though; you’ll also need to check the cost of living. Your potential earnings combined with your outgoings may be quite different from your home country, so do not dive in until you have a financially affordable plan.
Get Your Visa Organized
Not everyone will need a visa to live and work in Germany, but it’s essential to check at an early stage.
If you do need a visa to work in Germany, it can take a while to process, so it’s essential to get your application in early.
Members of the EU plus Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein can all live and work in Germany for as long as they want, without the need to obtain a visa. Regardless of the intended duration, no visa is required.
For other, non-EU nations, the rules can differ. Traveling to Germany for a short holiday may not require a visa, but a longer trip, or a trip, which includes studying or working, will require a visa.
Some nationals will require a visa even for a short trip. It’s essential to check the rules which apply to your own country. Applying for a visa can take several weeks, so it’s recommended to apply in advance.
Taking Your Pets
As part of the process, you may be considering taking a four-legged friend with you. Germany is a country that is very welcoming to animals, but regulations apply.
Even if you’re traveling from inside the EU, there are steps you will need to follow to ensure your pet is allowed to enter Germany without restriction.
There are also limits on how many pets a person can bring to Germany, and in some cases, there are specific limits too.
The pet passport scheme within the EU makes traveling with dogs and cats much easier. Pets who have a passport will be able to enter Germany without the need for quarantine.
Anyone traveling from further afield will need to ensure their animals comply with the rules, which may include being vaccinated against rabies.
The blood tests and vaccinations have to be carried out several months in advance of travel to ensure they have worked. If your pet hasn’t already had their rabies vaccinations, you will need to plan these significantly ahead of your moving date.
After you arrive, there are places to adopt pets in Germany; these are known as “tierheim“. Vets are known as “tierarzt“. When you arrive in Germany, it’s recommended to register your pet with a tierarzt as soon as possible and ideally book an introductory appointment too.
Learning the Language
It is possible to get by in Germany if you don’t speak the language, especially if you’re moving to one of the big cities. However, you’ll find life is much easier if you speak German, and you’ll have many more options if you’re planning to work.
You will probably pick up German more quickly after you arrive as being immersed in the language helps. However, making a start before you arrive is a good idea and means you’ll at least have the basics to get by.
There are many language schools in Germany, and it’s easy to enroll for courses at all different levels.
Finding Somewhere to Live
When you first move to Germany, you will almost certainly be searching for somewhere to rent.
Although numbers vary depending on the exact location, renting is very popular in Germany, even with German nationals.
In cities such as Berlin, around 80% of people rent their home rather than buy.
Tenants have a lot of rights in Germany and cannot be easily evicted by a landlord.
Rental contracts are often unlimited, which means there is much higher security about having a long-term home. There are only very selected circumstances where a landlord is allowed to terminate a contract, and even this can be challenged in court by the tenant.
Unfurnished accommodation is the norm in Germany, no matter where you plan on living. This means you’ll need to buy everything you need for your apartment, including light fittings and carpets.
In Germany, unfurnished means the apartment will be completely empty.
Although unfurnished apartments are the most common on the market, it is also possible to find furnished apartments.
These are typically all-inclusive and the monthly cost includes all bills. This is known as warm rent. By contrast, unfurnished apartments do not usually include the cost of any utilities in the monthly sum; this is known as cold rent.
A third option is flat-sharing. This is more common in Germany than elsewhere in Europe and can be an economical choice. As well as being cheaper, flatsharing can be a good way to meet people and make new friends.
Many online portals advertise local accommodation and this can often be the easiest way to find what you want. You will notice that there are strange abbreviations used in many adverts, which may seem confusing at first.
These are standard codes used across the industry and once you know what they are, it’s quite straightforward. You can find some of the most commonly used abbreviations here.
Most landlords in Germany will want to vet new tenants, including a credit check. This is done by providing what’s known as your SCHUFA record.
SCHUFA is a credit score record, held on everyone who lives in Germany, carrying details of all their credit transactions.
Income and wealth are not included in a SCHUFA record, only transactions that would affect a credit score. This means that in the early weeks after you arrive, your SCHUFA record will be virtually empty.
Not having a proven SCHUFA is a problem, as it means that it will be difficult for a new landlord to assess the risk. It’s much easier to get a flatshare or rent a furnished apartment without a SCHUFA, so new arrivals often opt for one of these temporarily.
It’s normal to have a shorter-term lease for a furnished apartment; this means you can move on to an unfurnished apartment once you’ve built up your SCHUFA.
Registering Your Address
Every citizen in Germany is required to register their address and to keep this registration updated each time they move.
This is done at the local Bürgeramt where an appointment is necessary. You could book it online, but there can be a long queue for appointments, sometimes for several months.
In theory, you should be registering an address within 14 days, but this can be difficult because of the queue.
This registration is known as anmeldung, and it’s essential for many reasons, not just to comply with the law.
During your anmeldung you’ll receive your registration details that future landlords may request. It can be challenging to get unfurnished accommodation without this registration, another reason why many people start with a flatshare or a furnished home.
The anmeldung is also needed to be able to open a bank account.
Attending the anmeldung automatically generates your SCHUFA record and a tax code identifier. If you’re planning on working, having a tax code will be essential to pay the right rate of tax.
If you are going to work on a freelance basis, you’ll need to contact your local tax office to get a second type of code. It isn’t generated automatically. You can read more about the German tax system here.
If you don’t already have a job to start, there are many places you can find work in Germany.
If you speak German, you will have more options, but some industries offer jobs for English-speaking candidates.
Social media is becoming an increasingly popular way to find work; some large companies like to reach out to candidates more directly.
However, you’ll still find many jobs advertised on online portals and in some cases, it’s possible to apply electronically.
Many major English-speaking companies are based in Germany and these can be worth approaching directly. Many are always on the lookout for talent, even if there are no advertised vacancies. A speculative letter and application may, therefore, be successful.
Every element of German life is structured and well-ordered, and that includes provisions for insurance. Some types of insurance are legally required, but even when they are not, most Germans choose to be covered.
Private liability insurance is something that new arrivals to Germany may be unaware of. Almost everyone in Germany opts to take out personal liability insurance as it’s considered to be proper social etiquette.
Dog liability insurance is another new concept for many arriving in Germany for the first time. It’s illegal to keep a dog without insurance in some states, while in others, it’s highly recommended. Certain breeds must be insured, regardless of where you are living. This insurance covers any potential mishaps which can occur even with the best-behaved dog.
It also protects you against a hefty bill as in Germany, any damage or injuries caused are your responsibility. The financial compensation you will be expected to pay could run into thousands of euros, even for an unintentional accident. Personal liability insurance will protect you against this cost.
Home contents insurance is a more familiar type of cover, but in Germany, it’s taken particularly seriously. Some landlords won’t be willing to allow you to move in until you prove you have home contents insurance.
With Coya, you could arrange any of these insurances in a matter of minutes, completely online and in English.
If you have a driving license, it may be possible to convert to a German driving license without the need for any new tests. However, this is not a universal agreement as it depends on the country you’re coming from.
Germany has what’s known as a “reciprocity agreement” with certain non-EU countries. This means if you are arriving from one of these, you won’t need to take your test and can simply convert your license.
If your country isn’t named on the reciprocity agreement, you will need to re-take a test to receive a German driving license.
It’s only legal for non-EU nationals to drive on their own license in Germany for up to 6 months. If your total stay is expected to be less than 12 months, you may be able to get the 6-month period extended, but you’ll need special permission.
EU nationals do not need to convert a full driving license on arrival in Germany. It’s perfectly legal to continue driving on a license issued by another EU country, but it’s possible to exchange it for a German license if you want to.
If you don’t have a car, you’ll find it’s still effortless to get around in Germany. A substantial proportion of Germans have a bike (don’t forget the bike theft insurance!). There is an excellent infrastructure for bike travel in Germany with a network of well-used cycle routes.
Public transport is also popular. It’s clean, punctual and considered to be very safe. You can even take a well-behaved dog along with you on a train or a bus!
Enjoy Your New Life
Although there can seem to be a lot to consider when you are moving to Germany, when you break it down step by step, it’s not as difficult as you may have first thought.
We have more in-depth guides to help with all the areas mentioned above, ensuring you’ll soon be ready to focus on enjoying your new life!