Moving to Germany: A Step-By-Step Guide
Woman looking over Dresden

Moving to Germany: A Step-By-Step Guide

Have you recently been hired by a German company? Or are you getting started with your freelance residence permit application process? No matter what your situation is, there are certain things that all newcomers in Germany need to do to start getting settled.

1. Find a Place to Live

Depending where in Germany you’ve moved to, the apartment hunt may be a cinch or a total nightmare (we’re looking at you, Berlin!). But finding a place to call home is an important first step to getting settled in other aspects of your life. If you’re looking for a room in a flatshare, check out the options on WG-Gesucht (and post a Gesuch, or search profile, yourself so people can find you!).

If you want to get your own place, though, things are a bit more complicated. Whether you’re going through an agent or searching on your own, you’ll generally need the following things to secure an apartment:

  • Your SCHUFA-Auskunft, which is basically a German credit score. (If you haven’t been in Germany long, then this won’t contain much information and should be positive.)
  • Proof of income, often through a work contract, pay stubs or savings.
  • Renter’s insurance. (See what’s available!)
  • A Mietschuldenfreiheitsbescheinigung (yes, that is a real word). This is a confirmation from your previous landlord that you’ve been paying your rent.

2. Register Your Address

You’ll need your Anmeldung, or residence registration, to do pretty much everything else in Germany—get paid by your employer, get your tax number, get a work permit, change jobs, register businesses….the list goes on. 

But once you’ve secured a place to live, getting your Anmeldung is easy. You’ll just need to get your landlord to sign a few forms, make an appointment at your local Bürgeramt (residential administration office), and get your official Anmeldung document. All the necessary forms are listed on the Bürgeramt website—in Berlin, the site is only in German, so you might want to get a German speaker to help you.

3. Get Your Tax ID Number

You’ll need a Steueridentifikationsnummer, or tax ID number, for anything involving the Finanzamt, or tax office. Getting your tax ID number is pretty easy—usually, it automatically comes in the post after you complete the Anmeldung process. But if it doesn’t show up in your mailbox within four weeks, you can go to your local tax office with your Anmeldung document and they’ll find it for you.

4. Enroll in Health Insurance

Enrollment in a health insurance policy is absolutely necessary for all residents in Germany. Depending on your situation, you might opt for a comprehensive public or private insurance plan, or you might get a short-term expat insurance plan to get yourself started. 

5. Apply for Your Residence Permit

Most people moving to Germany for work or study will have to get a residence permit before entering Germany. But in certain cases—like if you’re applying to live and work in Germany as a freelancer—you can apply at the Ausländerbehörde (Immigration Office) once you’re already in the country.

In larger cities, residence permit appointments may be booked months in advance. We suggest booking an appointment ASAP (this can usually be done online) and carefully reviewing the list of necessary documents for your application.

6. Register your business

If you’re freelancing or starting a new business, you’ll have to register with the Finanzamt to start working legally. If you’ve just arrived, the quickest way to do this is usually to fill out the necessary form(s) and bring them in person to your local Finanzamt. (While registering online is an option, you’ll have to get a code for ELSTER, the online tax management system. This can take awhile as it can only be sent by post.) 

The key form you’ll need is the Fragebogen zur steuerlichen Erfassung, but you may be required to provide additional documentation depending on your situation. We recommend checking out your city’s Finanzamt website to get PDFs of the forms. (Click here for Berlin.) 

7. Get personal liability coverage

Around 85% of Germans have Privathaftpflichtversicherung, or personal liability insurance—and you should too! 

We all know that accidents happen, but in Germany, they can come at a major cost. German law requires you to provide compensation for any damages you cause to others. That means if you bump into someone and they break their arm, you’re responsible for their medical costs. Or let’s say you accidentally spill your beer on someone’s cell phone and they miss a video conference with a freelance client. Now you don’t only have to buy them a new phone; you also have to pay them back for those billable hours they missed. Liability insurance has you covered in the case of these kinds of unpredictable unfortunate events. 

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