Just landed in Berlin: First Steps

You did it! You’re here! Herzlich willkommen and well done for making what we think is one of your finest decisions. Having read our introductory ode to Berlin, you’re aware of all the possibilities that lie ahead and are undoubtedly eager to get going.

An important first step is to use any free time you can spare to get to know the city. Walking or cycling around the Bezirke (districts) is the best way to get a feel for each area and the city as a whole, as well as start to find your bearings. The U-Bahn is great, and you’ll definitely see some of the city’s more colourful characters down there, but if the weather allows it get outside and walk down streets that have played a huge part in the world’s history. There’s so much to see that you’ll want to get started straight away.

Each area has its own distinct character, whether it’s the more polished pavements of Prenzlauer Berg or the rubbish strewn, über hipster streets of Neukölln, and knowing them is important not just so you can find your nearest supermarket or candlelit bar, but so that when the time comes to choose where to live, you will have found the area that suits you best. Your choice can and will influence your whole life in the city; will you be a stalwart of Mauerpark, champion of Bearpit Karaoke, or will you spend your sunny days exploring the expanses of Tiergarten? Will Maybachufer be your local market or Boxhagener Platz? It’s a serious business believe us; so much so that people often wear their Bezirk as a badge, like members of a tribe.

Okay, so you’ve done some exploring, picked up some of the city’s vibes, and are now thinking of getting down to the nitty-gritty of set-up administration. As always, the stuff that’s worth having is worth the effort it takes to get it, and therefore in order to be able to really enjoy that certain ich weiß es nicht of life in Berlin there are a few steps you need to take first.

Hands down the first and most important thing you need to do is your Anmeldung. If you’ve never heard of it then don’t worry, that’s what we’re here for. If you have and its reputation precedes it then don’t worry either. It is one of the most over-hyped processes in German administration. Clear your mind, start a fresh mental page, and let us guide you through the simple steps.

Anmeldung – Registering your address in Berlin

Put simply, Anmeldung is a compulsory registration of the address at which you are living. Every person living in Germany is obliged to do this within 14 days of moving into a new residence. Without it you basically do not officially exist; it is the foundation upon which all your other German life admin is built.

Of course, in order to be able to register at an address you need to actually find somewhere to live, which is a task in itself. Again, don’t worry. If you haven’t managed to do so yet you can register at a friend’s or wherever you are staying temporarily as long as you have a letter from them explaining that. Same goes for sublets. Beware though; some sublets will not let you register at the address, most likely because their landlord doesn’t know about it. If you can’t, then it’s probably not a good idea.

So, onto the actual process of registering. There was, in recent years, some hysteria about the wait time for appointments, and while it can be a few weeks before there’s a free spot it’s no reason to get stressed. Try to be organised and check out the city’s service portal in advance. You can search for appointments by specific Bürgeramt or by date.

The good thing about it is that you don’t have to register at the Bürgeramt in your area; you can go to any. That’s good? Yes; obviously central locations like Mitte or Kreuzberg are going to be fairly popular and therefore have a much longer wait for an appointment, but seeing as you’ve just arrived and (probably) have plenty of free time, you can travel further afield where fewer people go and, tadaaaa, there are more appointments available. If you started straight into work upon arrival don’t worry. Employers know that this is the most important piece of paperwork you need to get started, and so are usually pretty understanding and accommodating when it comes to helping you get it done.

If you’re more of a last minute kind of person then you can even go in the morning, take a ticket and wait around for your number to be called. See, that’s not all so bad now is it.

The key to success here is preparation. Just get your documents in order before you go and it should be smooth sailing.

You will need:

Be aware when filling out your registration form out that if you state that you are Catholic, Protestant or Jewish you will have to pay a ‘church tax’ which is a fairly steep 9% of your income tax. There is currently no such tax for Islam, although the possibility of creating one has been discussed by politicians in the last few years. If you would like to be exempt from this tax then be sure to check ‘Keine Religion’; don’t just leave it blank, as it is possible an assumption may be made based on your country of origin.

Another thing to note is that, as with all German bureaucratic processes, you are not guaranteed that the person you will be dealing with will speak English. In fact, legally, they’re not supposed to speak to you in anything other than German. It’s not the end of the world, just make sure you have all the required documentation with you and they’ll do the rest. If the thought of that fills you with dread then you can always bring a German-speaking friend along.

The whole process only actually takes about ten minutes, at the end of which you will be given your registration certificate and you can skip off into the sunset armed and ready for the next administrative steps.

Hold on tight to that piece of paper as you skip though because you need it for pretty much everything else, for example opening a bank account, renting an apartment and any other time or place that you need to identify yourself in German life. If you do lose it you can request a new copy but that requires going back to the Bürgeramt to request a copy and paying a €10 charge.

Approximately two weeks after your registration you will receive your permanent German tax ID number or Identifikationsnummer in the post which means you can now start work without needing to use an emergency tax number and get taxed up to your eyeballs! Great! So, you’ve accomplished the most important first steps! For more comprehensive guidelines about how to do everything else, read on!