Practical information for living in Germany


As soon as you’ve found your way around the city and moved in to your accommodation, you’ll need to register the address with the Bürgeramt, or Registration Office. This is required by law if you:

  • Intend to stay and live in Germany for over three months.

  • Are working or studying in Germany.

  • Wish to open a bank account or sign any other contract in Germany.

Basically, you’ll have to do it. You can take up to two weeks to register in Berlin - if you’re struggling to find an apartment, just go online to arrange an appointment towards the end of that two week period, which should give you a little bit more time.

If you’re staying temporarily in a hostel or hotel, you do not need to register. This is another way to prolong your accommodation search. You’ll be required to bring your signed tenancy agreement to the appointment so the local authorities can verify your new address.

Everyone knows that the German registration offices are often busy, so it's normally no problem if you register a little late. Don't worry if you are having a hard time finding a permanent place to live. As long as you haven't officially moved into a place with a sublet or rental contract, you don't have to register. If you live at a hostel or in a hotel, you are not required to register.

Once you have finished registering, you’ll be issued a "registration confirmation" - check this thoroughly to ensure that every detail is correct.

Required documents

  • Registration form

  • Passport

  • Landlord confirmation form

  • Birth certificate (maybe)

  • Personal waiting number (if appointment booked online)

Make money by registering

It is not technically free to register - if you are a student you are entitled to €50 from the German government, as a little Welcome present! Whichever university you are attending, simply google their name plus “Begrüßungsgeld“ and you will find a form to fill out. Take this with you, alongside your other documents. Takes an edge off your cost of living for the first month if nothing else… ;)

Tax registration for workers

If you are completing an internship or working in Germany, you will need to obtain a personal Tax Identification Number (TIN). This should be sent to your registered address within two weeks of registration - do not lose it. You’ll have to quote that number from time to time, and it was cause undue hassle if you misplace it. Best to memorize or photocopy it to be safe.

Visas and permits

Student residency

There are two different types of student visa:

  • Student applicant visa

  • Full student visa

Basically, if you haven’t yet been formally accepted into your exchange university, you must apply for a student applicant visa, which can last for up to six months. Once the university gets in touch and you formally accept their offer, you can apply to convert this into a full student visa.

Do not come to Berlin as a tourist first. The German bureaucracy does not let you convert a tourist visa into a student one, so you need to watch out for that.

Of course, you’ll need to provide a few documents as part of your German visa application:

  • Confirmation of health insurance

  • Proof of means (earnings, savings, bursary)

  • Certificate of German language proficiency (or evidence that you intend to complete a course)

  • University Entrance Qualification (for a student applicant visa)

  • Confirmation of admission to university (for student visa)

Workers and interns

Depending on the type and duration of work undertaken, the requirements for your entry to the country may vary. The local foreign office will have all of the information you need, but be careful to check with them thoroughly and to plan ahead, as obtaining a visa can take weeks.

Opening a German bank account

Got some good news for you - opening a bank account in Germany is actually very easy! By getting a local account you’ll be able to withdraw cash, make card payments and handle your finances for free - you’d almost certainly be liable for extensive fees if you use your home account for more than a week or two in Germany. All you have to do is choose a bank and ask to arrange an appointment to set up a new account.

You’ll need the following documents with you on the day:

  • A valid passport or photo ID card

  • Your student ID, or other proof of enrollment on your course

  • Confirmation of registration

Probably the quickest and most convenient bank, if you enjoy managing your finances online, is DKB. There’s just a quick identity confirmation, and then set up the account and will be issued your bank cards. Job done.

Getting a SIM card in Germany

Usually your best option is to use a prepaid deal for the first week or so, as it takes the pressure off finding a good deal immediately, while also letting you call home or locally if you need to. Once you’re slightly more settled, just shop around online or on the high street to find a good deal. You’ll probably want a few GB of data per month, as well as international minutes if you plan to call home now and again. (I’m sure your parents would appreciate it!)

Side note: mobile phones are known as "Handys" in Germany. If this doesn’t make you giggle, you’re either surprisingly mature or your grasp of English is still quite polite. Anyway, there’s some slang for you!

The main providers are Vodafone, Telekom and O2, however some brands piggyback onto these primary networks and offer you a cheaper deal. These include Congstar, ALDItalk and Otello.

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