So you want to move to Germany! A lot of people follow their desire of moving to Germany for different reasons, to follow love, to look for a place with a higher quality of life, to benefit from the amazing education system and study without paying thousands of euros in tuition fees, or just to enjoy beer and bratwurst and discover a new culture.
The very first question is always the same: ‘How can I actually make this happen?’
In this guide, I will share 19 steps that explain to you how to move to Germany as a foreigner. I will provide you with 8 things to take care of before moving to Germany and 11 crucial things to do during your first two weeks after your arrival.
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8 Things To Prepare Before Moving To Germany
1. Find A Job Or Get Enrolled At A German University
The easiest and most hassle-free way to prepare for your move to Germany is to find a job or get accepted to a university beforehand. Depending on your nationality, this is the only way for you to move and legally stay in Germany.
When moving to Germany from other EU countries, the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Israel, or the Republic of Korea, you may enter Germany as a tourist, start your job hunt and then apply for your work and residence permit from within Germany.
When you hold a different nationality than the ones listed above and fulfill other criteria in terms of education or work experience, you can apply for the so-called Job Seeker Visa, which allows you to stay up to six months in Germany with the purpose of finding a job.
2. Get Expat Health Insurance
One requirement to get a German visa is to provide health insurance that is accepted by the German government, which means that travel insurance usually doesn’t qualify. If you already got a job, you can already sign up with proper German health insurance. TK is a favorite public health insurer for expats and Ottonova is a favorite private health insurer with foreigners.
If your plan is to find a job once in Germany or if you are a freelancer, your best option of securing that health insurance for your visa is with expat insurance. It is temporary health insurance for the time you are looking for employment or until you have decided which health insurer to choose full-time.
Feather is an insurance broker specializing exclusively in expats in Germany and those wishing to come to Germany. So they speak your language and offer expat health insurance for which you can sign up in as little as two minutes online fully in English!
3. Apply For Your Visa In Time
Germany is a very bureaucratic country, and they love their processes. Depending on your home country and the type of visa you are applying for, your waiting time can range between one to four months.
For Jen, who is from Guatemala and my partner in crime, it took 2,5 months for the German embassy to issue her visa for work purposes before she could move to Germany. So be sure to check your visa requirements well in advance.
We recommend applying for your German visa at least three months before your planned departure date to receive your passport and visa back on time. You can find more information on the work visa, student visa, job seeker visa, and freelance visa websites.
For a student visa and job seeker visa, you will require to open a blocked account. You can find all the details in our guide below.
Related Guide: Which Is The Best Blocked Account In Germany?
4. Book Your Flight In Advance
Booking your flight for your big move is a fun and exciting step. Depending on what city you found a job or university in, or where you plan to job hunt, make sure to fly to the closest international airport. Each big city has its airport. The three largest ones are in Frankfurt, Munich and Berlin.
Take into account that most airlines these days allow you to just travel with one checked bag that weighs up to 23 kgs. If you are planning on taking an additional bag, book it in advance. Unless you are moving to Germany with your entire family, we would advise against a relocation service and paying for expensive air freight. You will have less hassle by just traveling with a bag or two.
5. Find A Place To Live In Germany
You can make your arrival in Germany so much easier by having found a place to stay beforehand. And with a place to stay, I do not mean a hostel, hotel, or Airbnb, but a real apartment.
Don’t worry, though, this does not mean your first apartment will be your permanent one. I recommend you search for a short-term apartment to stay in for just a few months.
This will allow you to register after your arrival (more below) and scout your new home to find out which neighborhood you want to settle in for good.
There are many furnished apartment rental websites, like Homelike. Depending on your home countries’ electricity, it doesn’t make much sense to ship your household goods, due to different voltages. Unless you want to directly buy a flat or house, there is no need to engage real estate agents.
Related Guide: Renting In Germany [A Detailed Guide For Expats]
6. Get An Appointment To Register (Anmeldung)
Yep, registering is a thing, if not the most important thing to do when moving to Germany. Most cities require you to do so within the first two weeks.
In Germany, the registration process is called Anmeldung. This means that you present yourself to a government office and register your address. This will let them know that there is a new resident in the hood.
The Anmeldung takes roughly 15 minutes. After the process is completed, you will receive a very important piece of paper. This paper will help you get some German services like a bank account or getting an internet contract for your flat.
To save you some time and long queues, you can get an appointment online for your local Bürgeramt or Bürgerbüro.
Related Guide: How to do the Anmeldung in Germany.
7. Look Into Which Bank You Want To Use
To save time after your arrival, do some research in advance on which bank you want to use once in Germany.
Your employer will require you to have a German bank account to pay your salary. So this is a crucial thing to do!
The majority of banks will require you to show your Anmeldung (city registration) and sometimes even your residence permit to be able to open your bank account.
A lot of internationals choose to open a bank account with the financial service called Wise. When you open a bank account with Wise, you will automatically have different currencies available, for example: USD, EUR, GBP. You can also use Wise to cheaply transfer funds from your home country bank account to your European account.
Once you have your Anmeldung, then you can consider using the services of a traditional private German bank like Commerzbank.
Related Guide: Best German Bank for English Speakers
8. Start Learning The Basics Of German
First things first, you do not need to speak German in order to move, live, and work in Germany. However, you will of course have benefits by speaking and understanding German.
The German language is tough! If you are new in this beautiful country, don’t pressure yourself to speak fluently during your first months, heck even years!
If you have the time, we recommend you to learn some basic German words and sayings before moving to Germany. In our experience, Germans don’t mind speaking English as long as you have shown some effort to speak German beforehand.
Nowadays, there are a lot of resources to learn the basics of German. However, one of the best ways is by actively using the language and getting direct feedback from a professional teacher. Lingoda is our favorite online language school, as they have small classes and great flexibility.
Related Guide: Lingoda Review: My Honest Experience Learning German
The basic German phrases we would recommend for you to learn are:
- ‘Guten Tag’: Good day
- ‘Sprechen Sie Englisch?’: Do you speak English?
- ‘Ich verstehe kein Deutsch’: I don’t understand German
- ‘Schönen Tag noch’: Have a good day
- ‘Tschüß!’: Bye!
- ‘Bitte’: Please and you are welcome. Yup, it’s the same word for both
- ‘Danke’: Thank you
- ‘Können Sie mir bitte helfen?’: Could you please help me?
- ‘Prost!’: Cheers!
Jen’s favorite one is a long ‘Tschüüüüüüüüüß’ 👋 .
Bonus: Get Your Pet Ready To Travel (If Applicable)
You may have a furry friend who you would like to take to Germany with you. Depending on whether you own a dog or cat, there are certain rules you need to follow. We have dedicated an entire section to helping you move with your pets.
Related Guide: Pets In Germany
11 Things To Do In Your First Two Weeks, After Moving To Germany
Although you might feel tempted to go to a beer garden and enjoy the beautiful things Germany has to offer after your arrival, there are a few bureaucratic things you will need to take care of for a smooth start in your new life. Ideally, follow the order of the list below, as many things build upon each other.
1. Mandatory Registration With The Local German Authorities
If you have followed the advice of number 5 above, you have already made your appointment online to register at the local city office right after moving to Germany.
Remember, this is one of, if not the most important steps you need to do. Without the piece of paper this office gives to you, you will not be able to get most other German services (like opening a bank account, getting a residence permit, etc).
The documents you will need to take with you for the Anmeldung are your passport and the Anmeldung form. Additionally, you will also need a special slip signed by your landlord, proving that you actually live there. This is why you should not stay in an Airbnb or hostel.
Also only after registering, you will receive your tax ID via postal mail, which you should give to your employer. This will make sure that you pay the correct taxes. Without it, you might overpay on taxes and only get it back at the end of the year, through your tax declaration.
The registration itself is relatively easy; however, if you do not speak any German, I recommend taking someone with you who does (a colleague or friend).
Related Guide: How to do the Anmeldung in Germany.
2. Change Your Temporary Visa To A German Residence Permit
I also recommend that you take a German speaker with you to change your visa into your residence permit.
You need to make an appointment at the Ausländerbehörde, the office for foreigners. Although this authority exclusively works with foreigners, they only speak German – duh! 🙄
Usually, your residence permit will be valid for two years. You will have to renew it twice before you can receive a permanent residence permit.
Related Guide: How To Achieve Permanent Residence In Germany
3. Sign Up For German Health Insurance
Germany is known worldwide for its comprehensive healthcare system.
If you are moving to Germany with expat health insurance you should change and sign up for long-term health insurance, as soon as you start your job or your studies. To understand the German healthcare system and to know whether public or private health insurance is right for you, you can read our guide below.
Related Guide: Private vs Public Health Insurance In Germany
4. Solve Banking Matters
If you haven’t already opened your German bank account with N26, you can do so now. Remember that if you are from a Non-EU country, you will need to have completed your Anmeldung, before you are able to open a German bank account. For banking options beyond N26, read our guide below.
Related Guide: Best German Banks for English Speakers.
5. Get Some Essential Insurances
On top of your health insurance, you should consider a few other insurances after moving to Germany. You might have heard before that Germany is the land of insurances. I have written an entire article about which insurance is necessary and which insurance is nice to have.
Related Guide: Insurance In Germany – Must-Haves For Expats
The two insurances I truly recommend you to get are:
Personal Liability Insurance (Haftpflichtversicherung)
You will not encounter a German without this one, and it is a must-have in Germany. It covers you from accidentally harming someone else or their belongings.
This insurance is not that expensive, less than 10 euros per month. It definitely is an important insurance to have! For more details, read our guide 5 Best Liability Insurances in Germany.
Home Contents Insurance (Hausratversicherung)
This insurance is worth it if you have more than just a few clothes in your flat. It protects the value of your belongings against theft, vandalism, water, fire, and storm damages. Some home contents insurances also include bicycle insurance, which I absolutely recommend, should you plan on having a proper bike.
For more details, read our guide 4 Best Home Contents Insurances in Germany.
Word of advice: In case you are traveling with your dog, be sure to also get liability and health insurance for your pet.
6. Get Settled At Your New German Home
You should look into hooking your new home up with an internet contract. Keep in mind that it could take between one to four weeks to get your internet connection installed!
The two big internet service providers are Telekom and Vodafone; however, you can find many other providers who use their lines and cables for a lower price.
Related Guide: Best Internet Provider in Germany
Most rental contracts do not have electricity included, and you need to register with an energy supplier yourself. Each city has a local provider; however, with a little bit of research, you will be able to find more affordable or green energy providers online.
Related Guide: Best Electricity Provider in Germany
In today’s world, this is probably the most important service for you to navigate your home easier and faster. You can choose between two different plans:
- a mobile contract that usually ties you for 24 months and you have the option to pay a new phone with it as well on your monthly bill.
- a prepaid sim only plan, which offers a lot more flexibility but no option to pay for a brand new phone in installments.
7. Determine Your Means Of Transportation
After you have gotten acquainted a little bit with your new surroundings and checked out your commute to work, it is time to decide your primary means of transportation: bicycle, public transit, or a car.
Most German cities have designated cycling lanes, allowing the bicycle to be a great way to get around. You can either buy a used bike at a flea market or a new bike from one of the many bike stores in your city.
Public transportation is big in Germany. Within a city but also across the country. You will find a wide network of buses, subways, and trains. If you plan to use public transit daily, I recommend getting a monthly pass rather than paying for each ride individually.
Despite the great public transportation network, cars are very popular in Germany. Depending on where you live and how long your commute is, you might need to opt for a vehicle. If you need to use a car every once in a while, I recommend signing up for a car-sharing platform like ShareNow or renting a car for the weekends when you need it.
Related Guide: Buying A Car In Germany [How-To English Guide]
8. Get To Know Your Neighbors And Neighborhood
Now that you have finished all the bureaucratic paperwork, it is time to embrace your new home and its culture.
If you are brave enough, I encourage you to ring the doorbell of your neighbors and introduce yourself. It might sound somewhat traditional, but it’s a thing most Germans do and appreciate. You might get lucky, and your neighbors turn into your first friends.
Make sure you take the time to stroll around your neighborhood to discover its little shops and cafes, the closest supermarket, your new favorite pizzeria and gelateria, the nearest park and bar, and whatever else you fancy.
9. Take An Integration Or German Language Course
An integration course is a mix of a language and culture course offered by the German government to immigrants who don’t speak adequate German. Depending on your nationality, level of German and work status, you might have to take an integration course.
Ultimately, your case worker at the immigration office will decide whether you need to attend an immigration course or not when applying for your residence permit. But even if you are not obliged to, you can still apply to get admitted to an official integration course, as it is a heavily government-subsidized course for which you only pay 2,20 euros per teaching unit.
Another benefit of attending an integration course is that you may shorten the time from 8 to 7 years to be eligible to apply for naturalization and get German citizenship.
If an integration course is not suited for you, consider enrolling in a language course. Many Germans speak English; however, especially in the simplest of situations, German will get you further. Also what fun is it to live in and discover a new country, without understanding its people and culture. Improving your German step by step will help you integrate better tremendously.
10. Get To Know The Germans
Jen describes Germans as coconuts 🥥.
They are very hard and serious on the outside. It takes a long time, persistence, and hard work to break through the shell. But once you reach the soft inside, you have found a friend for life. Germans prefer genuine and honest people. Exaggeration and fluff and too much small talk will not get you many German friends.
Your best bet at meeting Germans is through clubs and sports. Depending on the region you live in, you will encounter Germans who chat you up at a bar or restaurant. This encounter is more likely in the Rheinland around the cities of Bonn, Cologne, and Dusseldorf. Whereas in the north and south, Germans are usually less chatty and a bit stiffer.
Related Guide: How To Make Friends In Germany Like A Local [9 Useful Tips]
11. Enjoy The Benefits Of Life In Germany
Wow, you have made it this far! Congratulations! It is time for you to start enjoying the benefits of life in Germany. Did anyone say 20-30 paid vacation days per year? Paid sick days? Unpaid doctor visits? Paid parental leave? Well, this is your new home and a healthy work-life balance comes with it!
Here are some of the perks you will have while living in Germany:
- A minimum of 20 paid vacation days a year. Some companies even offer 30 or more!
- You will be able to enjoy ten or more public holidays!
- If you are ever sick, you will be able to stay at home and recover while still being paid.
- If you have kids, and they are sick, you have a different allowance of sick days that you can also use to take care of your kids.
- Parental leave allows parents to take care of their kids for up to 3 years.
- Depending on your industry, extra hours might be paid out or exchanged for more vacation days.
- You are allowed to drink alcohol in public. So don’t be surprised if you see a group of friends having a BBQ and some drinks publicly at a park.
- You can easily travel to other countries. From Dusseldorf, where we currently live, it is a 30-minute drive to the Netherlands and Belgium. It’s a two-hour drive to Luxembourg, a three-hour drive to France, and a four-hour drive to Switzerland! Weekend trip anyone? 🏔
How to move to Germany should be clearer now. The remaining question is, will you take those steps and make it happen?
Moving to Germany might seem like a long and complicated process at first. But trust me, these processes work! So don’t be intimidated, you will get through it.
On the other side of all the steps you need to take to settle into this great country, you will find the freedom to enjoy one of the countries with a super high quality of life.
Do you need more convincing? We put together 38 Pros and Cons of Living in Germany. And yes, the Pros outweigh the Cons!
To celebrate your move, grab a German beer and enjoy German life! Tschüüüüüß!👋