Germany may be famed for efficiency, but when it comes to bureaucracy, this couldn’t be further from the truth!
With that in mind, let’s tackle the basics of the dreaded bureaucracy, and arm you as best we can against this monumental and less-than-efficient administrative hassle.
Life in Germany for Newbie Expats: The Dreaded Bureaucracy
A word of warning: German bureaucrats in city hall or government departments don’t speak English. Not because they don’t want to, but because by law, Amtssprache (official civic language) is Deutsch.
If you have complex issues you need to solve, take a German speaker along with you. If you don’t need an expert and just need somebody who speaks the language to help translate for you, then Facebook Groups are a great place to look.
The list below is in rough chronological order (first to last) of when you need to tackle it. You should, however, try to do all of this during your first 100 days of your new life in Germany, if at all possible!
Note that we’ve covered the top 10 job portals, as well as specifics for Berlin and Munich, separately. That’s why we don’t have this info on here! But obviously this is going to be a priority too, right?!
Anmeldung should be the very first thing you should do upon moving into your new place. It’s a legal requirement to register your address within 14 days of moving into your new accommodation. More detailed info on Ameldung here.
This is done at your local Bürgerbüro / Bürgeramt – rough translation: residents’ office. In some areas, this may still be referred to as the Einwohnermeldeamt. In Bavaria, this is known as the Kreisverwaltungsrat or KWR for short.
You’ll need your registration certificate (Meldebescheinigung) from this process, along with your ID, to deal with pretty much all other aspects of officialdom, so make this your first task!
Registering is fairly simple if you’re an EU citizen, and shouldn’t take much over half an hour.
If you’re non-EU, you’ll have to visit the Ausländerbehörde (administrative office for foreigners) in your place of residence as well. They are also the office that deals with all things visa and residence permit related.
Either way, you’ll need to have your passport and proof of your new address with you.
Note that you still need to register, even if you’re living with a friend or family member who is already resident. The same goes for if you’re subletting.
For a hassle-free experience I would highly recommend MyGermanExpert.
Beware of Church Tax!
The Protestant and Catholic churches, as well as Jewish denominations, are still legally empowered to collect taxes from their members.
This tax is administered by the Finanzamt, which in turn takes a small administration fee from the sums collected. Payment is collected through the standard pay-as-you-earn income tax model.
Church tax is optional and you can opt out of paying as part of your registration (Anmeldung). Just declare that you do not belong to any religion.
If you missed this step, you can still opt out at a later date by rescinding your denomination. Be warned though that this will require another trip to whichever office you visited for your Anmeldung, and will also require a fair amount of additional admin legwork.
Germany operates on an insurance-based system.
Health insurance is obligatory, and Germany’s social system pays health insurance contributions for those who can’t afford to pay, or who don’t have a working spouse in the case of married couples.
Medical professionals work for private, for-profit companies. There are a myriad of health insurance providers (Krankenkassen) as well as private health insurers (Privater Krankenversicherer, or PKV for short). To a newbie, the healthcare system in Germany is confusing beyond belief.
You’ll probably want to familiarise yourself between the pros and cons of public vs. private insurance.
Your payroll department at work won’t be able to pay you without details of your insurance scheme. This is because your employer is obliged to pay contributions towards your statutory healthcare costs. This one catches expats out all the time because it’s one of the most complex topics to tackle. Nonetheless, it requires action as one of the first things you must accomplish upon securing a job.
If you’re self employed, it’s your choice whether to opt out and take a private health insurance policy, or pay into the public health system.
For employees, choosing private is only possible for those with a gross salary of over €62,550 per annum (2020). Private insurance premiums are based on risk, as opposed to a defined percentage of your salary.
Public insurance doesn’t cover non-essential medical requirements like dental care, cosmetic surgery or physiotherapy. It may come at a price, but in general the quality of healthcare in Germany is extremely high.
Opening a German Bank Account
In Germany, the banking system is very diverse and multi-faceted.
A regular current account (or checking account in American English) is known as a Girokonto. To open an account, you’ll usually need your passport and proof of address (so, you need to have done your Anmeldung).
Some banks will also request proof of regular income.
If you’re having issues proving your address or employment status, you may want to consider online banking or one of the new wave of app-based banks. The most well-known and popular with foreigners is N26, especially because their App interface is also in English.
Due to restrictive opening hours (lunchtime closing…are you serious?!), there is no advantage of branch-based banking in Germany, especially for anyone who works regular office hours.
Online and app-based banks will usually verify your identity via a video call where you scan your passport or ID card.
The Rundfunkbeitrag: Germany’s Most Hated “Tax”
The Rundfunkbeitrag is essentially a license fee for public service broadcasting. It covers the cost of producing radio, television and online content from a number of publicly-funded bodies.
It’s proved very controversial, because this fee is absolutely compulsory, regardless of whether you consume any of the content it goes towards producing.
While the quality of German public service programming is poor, it’s nonetheless as a great tool for learning German.
You will receive a payment notice for this shortly after you do your Anmeldung. The administrative body behind this has access to records of all individuals who register their address in Germany, so they know who you are and where you live.
The Rundfunkbeitrag costs €17.50 per month, per household. Non-payment leads to warnings, late fees, bailiffs, and all sorts of other hassles, so this is really not one to take a stand over, even if you disagree with having to pay.
Also, ensure that you de-register with this service the before you leave Germany.
Choosing a SIM card
You’ll need proof of address to buy a SIM card. But you can always ask a friend to buy one on your behalf if that’s a big obstacle for you.
There are 3 networks in Germany: T-Mobile, Vodafone and O2. All third-party resellers rent their airtime from one of these three. T-Mobile has the best overall coverage and O2 the worst. However, O2 does have the fastest data speeds and also by far the cheapest plans.
German mobile phone plans are generally more expensive than other EU countries, especially when it comes to data bundles. Compared to the US and Canada though you’ll find them cheap!
Contracts are usually for a minimum of 24 months with very little flexibility, so prepaid month-to-month plans are definitely highly recommended, even if that means paying a little more.
For best value for money and ease of signing up, we recommend winSIM which runs off the O2 network, or if you require better network coverage nationwide then go for Freenet, which runs off the Vodafone network.
Personal Liability Insurance
It’s highly recommended to take out personal liability insurance. It costs less than €40 per year and through our partners at Coya, you can get full cover in a few minutes, with the entire application process in English.
In Germany there is a culture of sueing for minor damages. Coupled with this, because many Germans have legal insurance, it’s relatively easy to sue someone without the risk of being put off by prohibitively high legal costs.
We cover the background of why this insurance is important and why it’s really not worth skimping on this. It’s cheap and affordable, and not having it could make you end up regretting it.
Registering with a Doctor
It’s not a necessity to register with a German doctor, but it is highly advisable.
If you go to see a specialist or are admitted to hospital, the first question you will usually be asked is who is your Hausarzt (General Practitioner, or GP).
Some GP surgeries require an appointment to be made in advance, whereas others have a “walk-in” policy but these can mean long waits in busy urban areas. Most GP surgeries are open Monday to Friday but close for at least one afternoon a week (usually Wednesdays).
You will need to present your health insurance card to the receptionist. If you’re seeing the doctor for the first time, you may have to fill out a questionnaire detailing your medical history.
Publicly insured patients won’t receive a bill. This is instead invoiced to your insurance company. You’ll also have to pay a fee of €10 for your first doctor’s visit each quarter.
On the other hand, privately insured patients are expected to settle their bills directly with the surgery and then have your insurance company reimburse you.
Home Contents Insurance for your Apartment
I have to admit it took me almost a year to sort this out! But it needn’t.
Hausratsversicherung is definitely recommended as something to arrange soon after you move in, especially if you live in a less affluent area of a major city, and definitely if you live on the ground floor (which is more susceptible to break-ins).
You can now get home contents insurance which can be cancelled with a month’s notice, and with all of the sign-up process in English, 100% online through our partners at Coya. Back in the day when I arranged mine, this was unheard of!
Obtaining a German Driving License
Regardless of where you’re from, the basic application process to change your license to a German one is much the same:
For non-EU citizens, your license is valid during the first 6 months of your residence in Germany, although some countries may require an international driving permit as well. After 6 months, to continue driving legally you’ll need to visit your local driving license office, or Führerscheinstelle in German, to get a German license. It costs EUR 40 and is a fairly straightforward, albeit bureaucratic process.
The exact details of the application process will differ, depending on your country of origin.
Once you’ve gathered the required materials and made your application you should expect to wait at least three to six weeks for your license to arrive.
Now we’ve navigated the gauntlet of German bureaucracy, it’s time for the final hurdle: Learning German.
And in case you were wondering, YES, you DO need to, despite some of the rubbish spouted to the contrary by some bloggers and YouTubers.
Between Apps, Podcasts, and YouTube creators, there’s a wealth of resources out there for absolutely free that will get you speaking German to a decent, basic standard without having to spend much money.
To step up a notch and go for personal 1-on-1 tuition, the tutoring marketplace italki is a fantastic place to start.
If you’re serious and want to learn fast, effective and in a fun way, then the courses from smarterGerman are the premium solution to get you where you need to be, fast.
Our YouTube channel has videos which walk through all these options.
Both of the above are cheaper and, in my opinion, much more effective than classes at your local adult education centre (Volkshochschule in German). These typically cost around €100 – €150 per semester.
So, there you have it!
Everything you need to get done during your first few months in Germany. If there’s anything you think is also a must-have that we’ve not included, we’d love to hear your suggestions.
If you’re looking for some more professional (virtual) support with your relocation and settling in, then we’re ready and able to help you with your move and guide you through some of the administrative headaches of relocating to a new country.
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