First steps after getting a job offer in Berlin and Germany

So you got a job offer in Berlin, perhaps in its sparkling tech startup sector, but you’re not sure what comes next. There is plenty of information online about all this, but here’s our take on things you might want to know, based on our own experience. VISA/working permit information is out of the scope of this article since that's different for each country of origin. If you are in the EU you can just come over though.

What would be your net salary?

You have an offer on the table to come to Berlin for XXX €/year but you have no idea how much would that be after taxes, social security, etc? In Germany the yearly salary is generally divided in 12 monthly payments, and some basic googling should lead you to site like this one, or like this one.

While you are responsible for calculating your own taxes. Here are some examples for a young single person in 2020.

salary net/year net/moth net %
20.000 € 14.611,40 € 1.217,63 € 73,05 %
30.000 € 20.098,07 € 1.674,84 € 66,99 %
40.000 € 25.280,31 € 2.106,69 € 63,20 %
50.000 € 30.128,86 € 2.510,74 € 60,25 %
60.000 € 34.850,69 € 2.904,23 € 58,08 %
70.000 € 39.533,09 € 3.294,42 € 56,47 %
80.000 € 44.071,35 € 3.672,62 € 55,08 %
90.000 € 49.109,09 € 4.092,43 € 54,56 %

What’s the cost of living?

Now you know how much money you’ll get, but you still wonder how much is that in beer. Berlin, despite being the capital of Germany, is cheaper than other more industrialized cities like Hamburg or Munich. Yet, whether it’s cheap or expensive, will depend on where you are coming from. Luckily there is a website for everything, Numbeo, Expatistan or easycalculation will give you the answer.

Finding a place to live

So you accepted the offer, congratulations! Now let’s go through the steps you should follow once you arrive.

Berlin is trendy and the demand for housing is high. This allows landlords and agencies to set a high bar on requirements to even be considered as a candidate. So getting a nice apartment as a newcomer can be a challenge. Your fate will be dictated by what you are looking for, your budget, and your luck. In any case as a start we recommend arranging some temporary accommodation, being a hotel, airbnb, 9flats, wimdu or the likes, since it can be quite a slow process. Let’s see some scenarios:

You want a room in a shared apartment

If you are looking for a room in a shared apartment, known as WG in Germany, you’ll have it relatively easy. It’s common practice and the offer is quite abundant in Berlin, although so is the demand. To search online, the most popular option among Berliners is WG-Gesucht.

While you might still be asked for some documents, the requirements will very likely be more lax than those to get your own apartment, and probably the most important factor will be that your future flatmates meet you and like you enough.

If you are willing to spend more to avoid obstacles, professional providers like Medici Living can provide quick solutions. These can be a good stepping stone until you get your own apartment.

You want your own apartment

Getting a nice and cheap apartment in Berlin is a difficult task for everyone, but if you are not already living in Germany it can be a real challenge at first. Most landlords, often before they agree to meet you, will ask you for your 3 last payslips and a credit report. Sometimes even for a document from your previous landlord stating that you have no outstanding debts, the Mietschuldenfreiheitsbescheinigung.

While you can bring your payslips from your home country, and ask your new employer to give you a hand and write a document confirming that not only they’ve hired you but also that they like you very much, the biggest problem is getting the credit report.

If you come from a country where credit reports are not that popular, let me explain you that a credit rating agency is a company that you have never heard of but somehow feels qualified to say how likely it is that you will pay your bills.

In Germany you need the services of a company called SCHUFA, you can order a report online (for free once a year) or you can go to any of the EasyCredit offices in Berlin. But here’s the problem, to get a credit report from Schufa you need a German bank account, and to get the bank account you need to be registered as German resident, and to register you need to have a place to live. It’s a chicken-and-egg problem.

There are ways around the problem:

  • You have an EU passport and a friend living in Berlin who can help you with his/her address to open a bank account and get a Schufa report. But beware that you might need to find a helpful bank employee willing to open an account without proof of residence.
  • You could try to open a non-resident online bank account and get a Schufa report with your home country address, which despite what you might read online we know is possible, but you need again the right helpful employee in the credit agency’s office.
  • Or you could find a room in a shared apartment for a limited time, get all your documents ready and then start the quest for your private nest.

If money is not an issue and you don't want the hustle, or if you just don't manage to get your Schufa report, there are still options albeit more limited, since real-estate agencies like Akelius, Crocodilian and many others, will sometimes ease their requirements at the expense of higher prices.

Searching for an apartment online

To look for a apartment online, there is an uncountable number of real-estate search engines. Which one to use is a matter of what you want and personal taste.

The most popular search engine in Germany is immobilienscout24, and other big players are immonet, immowelt or immobilo. You will notice there are several prices advertised for a single flat, the one you care about is Warmmiete which is the rent + the running costs (which costs are included varies from apartment to apartment). Caution with Provision! It’s not a deposit but the broker’s commission, you have to pay it once and say goodbye to your money. Stick to provisionsfrei places if you have a limited budget.

Keep also in mind that in Germany, unlike some other countries, the number of rooms or Zimmer represents the living room(s) plus the number of bedrooms combined.

If you want some more detailed information and tips take a look at Jon Worth's how to find a flat in Berlin.

Registering at the Bürgeramt

So now that you’ve found shelter, it’s time to become a proper Berliner and proceed with your registration in the city, the “Anmeldung” in Germany. The good news is that this should be a pretty straight forward process. In order to register you must go to your borough’s Bürgeramt (citizen center). You can make an appointment online, just go to this site, scroll down until you find your borough’s Bürgeramt (Mitte, Prenzlauer Berg, Kreuzberg, Neukölln, etc.) and follow the right link “Termin buchen”.

A while after you’ve registered you are supposed to receive a letter with your German tax ID number or Steuernummer. If after some time you still have not received it you probably need to drop by the tax office (Finanzamt) and ask for it. You can find your assigned Finanzamt here.

Getting a bank account

To get a regular bank account in Germany, like in most countries, the options are endless. Most people go for the big names like Deutsche Bank, Sparkasse, Commerzbank, etc. They have all similar offers, it’s up to you to find the most appealing one, but what you really need to know is that the bank you choose will condition which ATMs you should use.

German banks are associated in ATM networks and will charge fees of 4-5 EUR for every withdrawal at an ATM from another network. So watch out! Sparkasse and other saving banks have the biggest network in Germany, and in Berlin they have ATMs in most metro stations. Deutsche Bank, Commerzbank and the other big banks are associated in the Cash Group, check on that website if they have a handy ATM in front of your new office.

Quite often the branch employees will have problems communicating with you in English, so arm yourself with your passport, Google Translate in your smartphone, patience and a big smile.

This are getting easier though. By far the fastest and more expat friendly way to open a bank account is via the new digital-only bank N26, signing up simple using only their mobile app, very fast and completely in English.

Expatica and banks germany could be good places to go if you need more information about bank accounts.

Health insurance

Whether or not you are one of those people who claim to never get sick, to work in Germany you need to sign up for a health insurance. There are multiple German health insurance companies or Krankenkassen. Generally public corporations. The 2 bigger ones, TK and GEK have English documents and information available online.

If your salary is more than 62.550 €/year, and therefore eligible for private health insurance. Ottonova specializes in health insurance for expats, with a mobile app and English customer support. This option is particularly interesting if you are only planning to stay in Germany for a couple of years.

Here’s a video explaining how the German healthcare system works.

More information

Looks like you made it all the way to the end of the article, that means you find it useful and that makes us very happy! Now, we’d be double happy if you could post this on Facebook, Twitter, etc. so more people can find it.

Back to the point, still need more information? Here are some more links:

  1. BVG: Berlin public transport company
  2. Reddit’s /r/berlin FAQ
  3. Official information site for working in Germany
  4. More official information

Originally posted in 2014. Last update March 2020.