In conversation with Renjith: Moving to Germany from India

Find out what it’s like to live in Berlin as an Indian and the things you need to know before moving.


9 minute read
Updated on 7 Jul 2023

“Here I don't find much difficulty in adapting to the changes, but, yeah, there are a few things that are different when compared to India.”

Our fresh HomeAbroad podcast is for anyone who aspires to move abroad or already lives across the border. I’m Angelina, the host of the show, a Ukrainian who’s been living in the Netherlands since I was 17. In each episode, I invite an international guest to share their story about living in a different country, challenges they faced when moving and tips they have for our listeners.

In the third episode, I talked to Renjith, who moved to Germany from India with his family to live out his dream of working abroad. He works as a senior system administrator for Delivery Hero in Berlin and is having a great time doing so!

Over the 40-minute interview, he told me why he enjoys living in Berlin, his motivations to move and things that took some getting used to in these past 3 months.

So if you’re keen on finding out everything you need to know before moving to Germany from India, read our key takeaways below or listen to the whole story on Spotify, Apple or Google.

1. It’s very calm in Berlin compared to India

India is one of the most densely-populated countries in the world. Compared to that, Berlin, with its 3.6 million inhabitants, feels like a calm, peaceful oasis. That's one of the things Renjith loves the most about living in Berlin.

At the same time, Berlin has a unique buzz that makes living here enjoyable and exciting. The city offers limitless possibilities, from the remarkable historical sights and vibrant nightlife to the many exhibitions or concerts happening almost any day of the week.

“Berlin is a nice city … there are lots of things we can see … and also their culture — there are lots of things we can learn from a new country… And, the thing is that once you get a European residence permit, you can explore all other EU countries that are part of the Union without needing a visa.”

2. Do your research before getting on the plane

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably got this one figured out.

If you’re moving abroad, it’s pretty much a must to learn as much as possible about the country to avoid unwanted surprises. Renjith says,

“I did some research by myself from YouTube channels and blog. So, I read all these things and … we got some basic idea about what we have to face in Germany or Berlin. So this is how we prepared.”

So before you pick the best German city to live in as an expat, do your research — read blogs and watch YouTube videos about living in Germany or listen to podcasts like HomeAbroad.

If you have friends in Germany, don’t shy away from asking questions.

"I have 4 friends in Germany and I learnt a lot about work and life here from them,” Renjith says.

3. Learn at least the basics of German

Can you get by in Berlin with just English? You generally can, according to Renjith. But when you go to smaller shops like Späti, the vendors might have a hard time understanding you. And while in the IT field you don’t necessarily need to know German, most marketing and communication jobs will require you to have a certain level of German.

Though many of his friends have been putting it on hold, Renjith himself is determined to learn the language and has been making progress with his Deutsch thanks to Duolingo.

4. Adapting isn’t as hard as you might read on the internet

Looking up ‘moving to Germany from India’ online, one might get overwhelmed with all things you’re not used to. Of course, German and Indian cultures couldn’t be more different from each other!

Luckily, according to Renjith, “It wasn’t as difficult as they mention on blogs. There’re a few things that are different from India. But it was quite easy to adapt to the change.”

5. Berlin has a more pleasant climate compared to South India

Coming from Chennai, where temperatures reach 40 degrees, Rejith knows all too well about hot summers. Even the hottest days in Berlin are a walk in the park for him: “It's much better here because it's less humid compared to Chennai. You won't feel that sweaty. So that's why most German houses don’t have a fan or air conditioner. But people say that winters are harsh, so I might need a heater!”

6. You can buy most of the necessities in a German supermarket

“People usually mention that it’s difficult to get Indian products here and you have to adjust a lot,” says Renjith. “But what I’ve seen is that at a German supermarket, you can buy all the basic stuff that you can at an Indian supermarket. Of course, there are a few things that aren’t available, like ghee, beetroot, okra and some spices. But you can buy most of those at an Indian store in Berlin.”

7. Carry some Indian spices or get used to shopping at 2 or more grocery stores

“From a cost perspective, it's better to go to a German supermarket and buy stuff from there”, says Renjith. Unfortunately, not all Indian products, like atta or paneer, are available at German grocery stores. The products at Indian stores in Germany are also on the expensive side

Renjith’s tip is to shop for regular items like vegetables or cleaning items from German grocery stores and buy specific Indian products from the Indian stores.

“So for that only we are going to two supermarkets. Otherwise, we buy everything from the German supermarket nearby”

“If we feel like having some Indian food, we’d go to an Indian restaurant,” says Renjith. So far his experience with Indian food in Berlin has been positive. The place he’s visited is Saravanaa Bhavan at Potsdamer Platz and it tasted just like home.

But do your research before going to a new place to prevent disappointment. According to Renjith, “some Indian restaurants here change the recipe to adjust to the German taste. Germans aren’t used to food that spicy.”

Learn a few tricks to save money in Germany.

8. Get familiar with Berlin public transportation system

Getting a 9-Euro-Ticket is one of the biggest tips of Renjith for those going to Germany during the summer months.

This ticket allows you to travel throughout Germany by local and regional transport for the whole months of June, July or August. You purchase it through the BVG app or a ticket vending machine.

For Renjith, it’s not only cheaper but also way more convenient: “There’re all these different types of zones in Berlin, like AB, BC, and ABC. So, you need to know which ticket you need. I still haven’t figured that out.” So we advise you to get familiar with the Berlin public transport and available subscriptions before moving to Berlin!

9. Prepare to get a lot of mail

Once you’ve registered at your new address in Berlin, get ready for a flooding mailbox. Most governmental services are done by post in Germany.

“We used to get a lot of letters in the 90s. Now, things are more digitalised in India,” says Renjith. A bit of research tells us that Germany is still quite behind in terms of digitalisation, mostly due to its approach to innovation and conservatism.

10. Have some cash on you

The same goes for the digitalization of payments. Due to the conservatism of the older German population, cash is still king.

Many smaller stores, restaurants and most nightclubs don’t accept cards or mobile payments. So wherever you go in Germany, make sure to withdraw enough cash. And beware that most of the ATMs will charge you a service fee, so use a bank-owned ATM like Sparkasse.

11. Apply for your German work visa on time

To enter Germany from India for work, you need to meet certain conditions of the work visa that suits your profession.

In Renjith’s case, he needed to apply for a EU blue card visa since he has a job in the IT field and meets the minimum salary criteria. And since this is a specialised job, he was eligible for a fast-track process as well.

In India, you can apply for the visa via VFS Global, an organisation which acts as a bridge between you and the German embassy.

Renjit says, “if you're applying from India, you'll not get the work permit directly. Instead, you'll get a national visa, which is also known as the D-visa. And it is valid for only 6 months. So in that 6 months, you have to come to Germany and apply for our residence permit.”

Renjith advices to be patient during this whole visa application process. “One month time is required to get an appointment … And in between, you'll not get any information like when you can expect the appointment.”

But once he got the appointment, it only took 1 week to have the visas processed for him and his family.

12. Have some patience with your residence permit

Once you’ve registered your address in Germany, applied for health insurance and opened a German bank account, your company will apply for a residence and work permit on your behalf. But it’s going to take some time before the Foreigners’ Office reviews your case!

After living in Berlin for 3 months, Renjith only applied for his residence permit last week. He was told it would take around 8 weeks to get an appointment and 8 more weeks to get his EU Blue Card. During this time he can't travel outside Germany as they might need to come in for an appointment at a short notice. So, buckle up and stay patient!

13. Look for housing in advance

The housing market in Berlin is competitive, “even for short-term accommodation it is very difficult”, says Renjith. For now, Renjith has found short-term accommodation in the lovely neighbourhood of Pankow using HousingAnywhere.

But even after 3 months of living in Berlin, he found it tough to find rental homes in Berlin with long-term leases. Without a permanent address, he cannot enroll his 3-year old daughter in Kita (Kindertagesstätte), the German kindergarten. So if there’s one lesson to learn, it’s to start your accommodation search early!

14. Get used to the bike culture

Cycling is very popular in Germany. But the cycling lanes and flows of bikes around the city might take some getting used to.

“Germans are generally very friendly”, Renjith says. “There was only one time when we were walking through the cycling lane, the passing cyclists got angry and shouted at us. But now I know what the cycle lane is and where we can walk!”

15. You’re in for a great work-life balance

From Renjith’s experience, Germany is a great place to work, where you’re never put under as much pressure as you’d be in India: “In India, my boss asked me to work on the weekends and during my off-hours. I'd often get a call in the early morning if there was an urgent issue. But here, I work 9 to 5 and I never get any calls or emails from work outside of my working hours.”

He also states that his company, Delivery Hero, is very international, with people from more than 108 countries, and they always have something to celebrate. Sounds like fun!

16. Get used to quiet Sundays

If you’re used to spending your weekend shopping, make sure that you plan that on Saturdays. You won’t find many stores open on a Sunday in Germany. Sunday is the rest day dictated by German law!

17. You’ll have to pay a broadcast fee in Germany

No matter how unfair you think it is, every household must pay the TV tax of €18.36.

“My landlord said that if you prove that you don't have a TV, you might get an exception. But more than 90% of people are paying the broadcast fee here,” says Renjith. So it’s a long shot!

18. Insurance is a big deal in Germany

Germans are very precise people, also when it comes to insurance coverage. Most Germans have at least 3 different insurance coverages: compulsory health insurance, liability insurance and household insurance.

Renjith is particularly impressed by the coverage of health insurance: “In India, you'll get your cost covered only if you’re admitted to the hospital as an inpatient. Though, even as an inpatient, you still have to pay for the disposal items like a syringe. Here in Germany, you don't have to pay a single penny unless you are going for some expensive dental treatment or something.”

19. Germans take recycling to a whole new level

Have we already mentioned that Germans are precise? That also applies to recycling! Their system uses 6 different recycling bins categorised by colour. So, blue is for paper and cardboard, yellow is for plastic and aluminium, brown or green is for organic waste, black or grey is for ‘rest’ and then you have bottle banks split into 3 more colours: green for green glass, brown for coloured glass and white for clear glass.

Is your head spinning yet? Well, Renjith has a trick about how to get a hang of it: “My landlord said it's easy if you just open the bin and look what’s in there. But sometimes people get it wrong and that makes it complicated!”

Categorising can also get a tad complex with items like used cardboard pizza boxes. Disclaimer: you don’t put those in the blue bin but in the one for ‘rest.’ It’s not recyclable if it’s dirty!

When you buy a bottled drink in a supermarket, you’ll usually pay a certain deposit fee. Once you return your bottle to a receiving machine in the supermarket, you get that fee back in form of a receipt. You can then use it to purchase something there.

And if you have hazardous waste like light bulbs or batteries, you should bring them to an electronics store where they have special recycling points.

There you have it! Once you’re familiar with these 19 items, moving to Germany from India shouldn’t be scary at all! If you want to hear more about Renjith’s experiences in Berlin, listen to the full interview on your favourite podcast platform.

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