Expat Guide to German Bureaucracy: A “To Do” List for Newcomers
Let’s assume you have found somewhere to live already. If you don’t, then I would first read this article about housing in general in Germany and this article for some tips when hunting for apartments.
German bureaucracy is a frustrating aspect of life here. There is no getting around it and some aspects of dealing with officialdom here are not as efficient as you may expect for a world-leading economic powerhouse, renowned for engineering excellence and flawless planning. Rather than complain about it, which I readily admit that I also have been known to do from time-to-time, it is better to be prepared for what is needed and to take the necessary steps in order to have everything done in time. It won’t make the system any more efficient but it will hopefully avoid any nasty, unexpected surprises for you.
This should be the absolute first thing you do after moving into your apartment and taking a trip to the famous blue and yellow Swedish furniture store! Registering with the local municipality’s citizens’ office is not only a legal requirement but also gives you the piece of paperwork which you need to fulfil most of the subsequent points in this article. Anmeldung (registration) is a relatively straightforward process for EU citizens, which can usually be completed in 30 minutes if you have made an appointment online prior to your visit to avoid waiting times. Non-EU citizens (assuming you have a visa and/or a work permit) will also require a trip to the Ausländerbehörde (administrative body for foreign nationals in your place of residence). The addresses of both of these offices can be found on your municipality’s website.
Anmeldung is a legal requirement for everybody and must be completed within 14 days of moving into your new accommodation, although in reality it is difficult for the authorities to check this. Incidentally, this also applies if you are living with your partner or a subletting a room from a friend, not just for those of you who have a rental contract in your own name.
For a hassle-free experience I would highly recommend MyGermanExpert who offer forms translated into English and instructions on how to complete them. This service from them is now available for all German cities.
To successfully complete your Anmeldung you will need your passport and proof of address. This in most cases would be your rental contract but could also include a letter from your sublet or landlord, or a confirmation letter from your partner that you are living with him/her and their proof of Anmeldung. If you have moved to Germany to be with your husband, wife or child, then you will additionally need to provide your marriage certificate or child’s birth certificate.
So, now that’s taken care of and you have your bit of paper called a Meldebescheinigung (confirmation of registration), you can now attempt the other multiple wonders of German bureaucracy. Onwards…
Get health insurance
This one is probably the trickiest of all of these and requires some research ahead of the game. If you are a regular employee, then your payroll department cannot pay you without you having enrolled in a valid health insurance scheme. Unlike in the U.K., it is not a single-payer system which is automatically deducted from your salary. There is no German NHS. For Americans, the thought of “free” healthcare seems at first sight like some kind of nirvana. You have a choice regarding provider, and, depending on what you earn, also the opportunity to opt out of the public system and to take private health insurance. My previous article goes into more details around the German health system to give you a more solid understanding of how to go about this. In terms of searching, there are plenty of websites out there, one of the best I find is Check 24. It is user-friendly and allows you to filter the search easily based on what you want. Even using Google Translate or an online dictionary, you should be able to navigate it.
Find a Doctor
Now that you have health insurance, you’re ready to take a visit to the Doc. Germans use the term “Hausarzt”, literally translated as house doctor, to mean their regular General Practitioner (GP) as we would say in the U.K.. Some doctors may want to do a basic medical examination before accepting you. Whilst it doesn’t generally matter which doctor you go to for a consultation (the system is set up so as your insurance will cover you whichever doctor you visit), most Germans tend to stick with one doctor so as he/she is aware of their medical needs and can build up a rapport over time. Doctors’ surgeries in Germany are often on a floor of a normal looking house or apartment building and is not as common to find them in specialist clinics.
Open a Bank Account
DKB Bank has received a lot of good reviews, as have ING-DiBa, Comdirect and N26. If you have your heart set on a branch-based account, then Commerzbank is the most cost-effective i.e. it is free. Most, if not all, of the other brick-and-mortar banks will charge you for a regular current (U.S. checking) account, known here as a Girokonto.
You will need your passport and proof of address to open an account, and some banks will also request proof that you have a regular income, especially if it is an account which has as a prerequisite that your salary must be paid in there in order to benefit from some of the account’s perks i.e. no monthly charges. Proof of address will be your Meldebescheinigung, so it will be tricky to open a bank account if you don’t have a permanent residence in Germany or this piece of paper
Buy a German SIM card
Assuming you have brought your smartphone from your home country, all you will need is a German SIM card. Another strange and frustrating aspect of German bureaucracy is that you need to have proof of address to obtain a German SIM. Therefore without having completed your Anmeldung, the only way to obtain a SIM is to ask a friend to buy one on your behalf. There are 3 major networks in Germany: T-Mobile, Vodafone and E-Plus (now part of Telefonica, including O2). There are hundreds of operators which use these networks to offer differing packages. T-Mobile has the best overall coverage and E-Plus the worst.
Set Up Direct Debits For Rent
Many landlords will demand this and may even write it into your contract, to ensure the risk of them not getting paid on time is as low as it can be. Without a bank account, and ergo, without a valid Anmeldung, you will not be able to do this. Don’t worry too much though because if it takes a few weeks, it’s not the end of the world. You can always make a manual or cash payment until you have got this set up if it takes a while for you to get your bank account up and running.
Get Contents Insurance for your Apartment
Not an absolute must-have and I have to admit it took me over a year to sort this out! Good job I didn’t have much valuable in my apartment at the time. Hausratsversicherung is nonetheless recommended, especially if you live in a dodgier part of town or have a ground floor apartment. You can get this through your bank but are better off looking online through a broker such as Check 24.