Expat Guide to German Bureaucracy: A “To Do” List for Newcomers
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.
Let's assume you have found somewhere to live already. If this is still on your “to do” list, then I would first read our indispensable article which explains everything you need to know about finding an apartment.
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 less than 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 UK, there is not a single-payer health service 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.
We go into much more detail around the German health system to give you a more solid understanding of how to go about this. In terms of searching for a solution, look no further than KL For Expats if you need a free consultation in English for a comprehensive, private healthcare policy.
Grab our FREE DOWNLOAD on the German healthcare system to read up more on this topic at your own convenience!
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 UK. 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
Comdirect is an online bank which offers all of the banking products you would expect from a standard bank account, such as mortgages, stock trading, loans etc. It is completely free and unlike many other banks, they don't insist that your monthly salary is paid in as a condition of it being free of charge.
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.
N26 is an App-based online bank. They are somewhat more relaxed about requirements for a proof of address in the form of a Meldebescheinigung. They offer the possibility of a video-identity service as a means of verifying who you are. The best thing about N26 though is their interface is 100% in English if you so wish, which is particularly helpful if you've just arrived and speak little or no German.
I have accounts with both of the above and am happy with the service they both offer. I've been with comdirect since 2008!
For more tips and advice around German bank accounts, you can download this Live Work Germany Guide To German Bank Accounts.
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.
We recommend Freenet Mobile because it runs off the Vodafone network and still offers great prices for both month-to-month deals as well as longer term contracts. Their website may be in German but it is very easy to navigate because each subcategory has just 3 packages, so it's easy to compare.
We cover mobile phone packages in more detail if you wish to understand more about the German marketplace.
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.