Setting up in Berlin: All the Red Tape (2023)

Here’s a checklist for setting up in Berlin with the authorities.

**Ensure you check all this information in advance in case things have changed, this advice serves only as a rough guide. I welcome community updates!

Non-EU Citizens, especially from the USA and Canada, can set up permanently here, but it requires some leg work. An artist visa is a popular way to do this. If you are from Australia, Israel, Japan, Canada, New Zealand, South Korea, the United Kingdom and the USA, you also don’t need to get this visa before arrival but organise things instead on-the-spot. Americans can check out this page from their embassy for more information.

There are a few things EU citizens must do when they arrive if they intend to live in Berlin (if you are simply making a short-term stay of less than 90 in 180 days, then you will not want to go to the trouble). I mention which documents you need to bring to each place. Once you do all these things, the authorities should leave you quite alone (except for taxes)!

Remember, Google Translate or Deepl is your friend for translating many of the following webpages. Getting someone who speaks English in a government office is more likely than not, but it’s also quite possible you will get someone unhelpful and monolingual. Steel yourself and do your best, and remain polite and apologetic if you don’t speak German.

1. Register at a Bürgeramt, to get an Anmeldung Bestätigung (or registration confirmation). You need this document as proof of your residence and to work. These appointments are frustratingly hard to come by. You should already start trying to get an appointment before you arrive. Make sure you search for appointments ‘Berlin-wide’ to cast the widest possible net.
-bring passport and proof of your health insurance (such as a European Health Insurance Card). Often proof of emergency health coverage is all you need to start. Do not declare a religion unless you want to risk paying Church Tax.

2. Bank account. You need the Anmeldung Bestätigung and Passport for this. I go to the Berliner Sparkasse, with locations and ATM’s everywhere, but there are plenty of banks to choose from. Note that it is expensive to use other banks’ ATM’s in Germany. Because an Anmeldung appointment is so hard to come by, many new arrivals in Berlin find themselves without a bank account, which means it’s hard for them to do other necessary things in Berlin. All I can say is that tens of thousands of people move here every year and they somehow manage. Patience, patience… and maybe some private screaming fits are necessary…

3. Mobile phone. You need a bank account and Anmeldung Bestätigung to get a long-term contract. But for pay-as-you-go, you will just need your passport and an identity verification using an app / platform. I use the BLAU network and pay-as-you-go, which is cheap and can be bought at Media Markt and Saturn (note you will want to set up automatic credit online so you don’t have to return to these stores every time you want credit). With BLAU calls are 9 cents a minute and it’s cheaper to set up monthly plans with them (you can cancel at any time). Companies with better coverage are: Vodaphone, T Mobile…You can buy an unblocked phone cheaply at Media Markt and Saturn (at Alexanderplatz).

4. If you are an EU citizen and have a foreign/non-EU partner and you wish for that person (same sex or opposite sex) to be able to work and live in Germany, you both need to go to the Auslanderbehörder, or Foreigners’ Office. Fill out the application online, print it, bring two passport photos (must conform to German size regulations), your marriage certificate (or partnership certificate, even if it is from abroad), proof you both have health care, and that the primary applicant has enough funds to support the other. You both need the Anmeldung Bestätigung. Go early to the office (lines form up before it opens) and go directly on the EU section. Getting appointments here is very difficult. More specific advice can be found here.

5. Health Care: You will need proof of health care to register in Germany, and emergency health coverage will do the trick, usually for the first three months.

Eventually you will need German health care (which is good and also pays all your drugs and often lots of extras like dental). But, remember, it’s expensive, and a surprise for people arriving from single payer systems like the UK, Italy or Canada where it’s mostly paid out of general taxation.

Your employer will arrange your health care normally and pay half of the premiums. If you are self- employed, there has been a fortunate change in the law.  Premiums in the public health care system used to start around 400 Euros /month for freelancers,  but have since 2019 been reduced about half that amount in the interest of fairness. You can get a rough calculation from one of the public insurers (the TK) but using their tool here.

Should you go public or private? You will usually get public health insurance (as opposed to private) if you have an employer and make under a certain amount per month. Also, you will get it if you are an artist and apply for it through the Künstlersozialkasse (KSK)… a long and difficult process for which I’d recommend an agent. Your monthly payments can be very reasonable if you are on the KSK.

But getting on public health care can be tricky unless you are moving to Germany from another public system within the EU.

Going private has the advantage of getting more services and being seen sooner by doctors and specialists (you tell them you have private insurance when you make an appointment). This option is actually cheaper than public insurance if you are young and healthy (but expect to pay a lot more if you have pre-existing conditions that they can prove, and when you get older. There are often minimum income levels required as well).

You can choose either an ex-pat plan or a German plan. Ex-pat plans are for people who want flexibility and will eventually return to their home countries and don’t need to be fully integrated into the German health care system. Allianz’s ALC costs approximately €330 a month for a male 35 year-old, for the ‘platinum’ plan. You can contact Mike Woodiwiss (Tel: 02432-80365, e-mail: ). Not everyone loves this plan, so please check online what people say.

The normal German private insurance scheme is the long-term option. There are many companies. DKV is one (in German, but there are plenty of agents around Berlin you can talk to). The cheapest plan is around €183 / month for a male 35-year old freelancer with a a €1200 deductible (up to €450 / month for their best plan with no deductible). Try calling under “contact” and asking if they speak English. Another private company is Debeka. Try calling.

6. If you work freelance, you will need to apply for a Tax Number and have this number before you start writing invoices (you need to provide an invoice for every job you do). Fill out a Fragebogen zur steuerlichen Erfassung (find one online by searching for it and “Berlin”) and send it to your nearest Finanzamt. You might want a Steuerberater (or tax advisor) to help you fill out this form and your declarations. You can write off a huge amount in Germany: many people use these advisors to sort out their business expenses (you can save restaurant receipts, for example, provided you discussed business and at least two people were there). Also be aware that if you make under about €22 000 a year then you can choose not to charge your clients VAT (you also avoid monthly forms about VAT to the tax office this way).

Here’s the index to the Moving to Berlin Guide, click on what you want to read next!

-Introduction to the Guide

-Why Berlin?


-Looking for an Apartment

-Property Prices and Rents

-Monthly Costs


-Setting-up Checklist

-Getting Around Berlin

-Where to Learn German?

-Staying Fit

-Media, Films, and Books about Berlin

This is an independent guide to Berlin, with no ghostwritten content and no sponsored links or tips, from The Needle

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For a history and portrait of Berlin, do check out my book!

(the author asserts his right to copyright, revised 07/2023)