These tips are for those who are moving, or just have moved, to Germany. Turns out most of them are about German bureaucracy and avoiding fines. But what can I say, they’re the things you need to know most urgently – even before finding where the closest Biergarten is. So let’s start getting used to the German dos and don’ts:
1. You have to register your address at the citizen’s office
Once you have your fixed address in your new German home, you have to get an appointment (Termin) at a citizen’s office (Bürgeramt) of the city where you’ve started to live to make the registration (Anmeldung) of your address. Take your passport and your rental contract with you. This way, the German government knows where you and all the other citizens live. The registration is free of charge, and failure or delay to do it might get you fined. Officially, it should be done in your first couple of weeks in Germany.
If you move to a new address, you have to re-register (Ummeldung) and if you move out of Germany, you have to unregister (Abmeldung).
Just type in on Google: Anmeldung + name of the German city where you now live, and you will find the official website to get the appointment and further information.
2. Health insurance is mandatory
Meaning: even if it’s expensive, there’s no way around it. You will need to present your health insurance number to be able to sign a job contract, for example. The good news is that by law the employer pays half of the cost. There are two types of health insurance in Germany: public and private. And there are several companies which offer different deals at different prices. The vast majority of Germans have a public insurance which covers everything. Some foreigners prefer having a private insurance if they are not staying for a long period of time, as these can sometimes be cheaper. Search online, talk to people and compare the different options to make the best choice for you.
3. Having a German bank account is not officially mandatory, but in practice it is
You will need a German bank account to pay for your rent and health insurance, to receive your salary or any kind of payments, to get a German phone plan or internet for your home. So even if there is no law saying that everyone who lives in Germany needs to have a German bank account, chances are you won’t be able to manage without one.
4. You must stamp your ticket when using the public transport
This sounds obvious to most people who are used to European culture, but it might be confusing for people coming to Germany from further away. Contrary to other countries in Europe, the public transport in German cities usually doesn’t have turnstiles where you clearly have to insert your ticket to be able to enter. It’s all based on trust. You should always carry a valid, stamped ticket when riding the subway, trains, trams or buses in Germany. Ticket controllers might appear anytime (undercover, wearing no special uniforms) and ask you to present your ticket. If it’s not stamped and valid, you will get a fine (currently €60 in Berlin).
5. Downloading pirate music and media will get you fined
Whatever you do, DO NOT download songs, movies or TV shows from the internet. That includes torrent: never use torrent in Germany. Better to even delete any torrent programs you might have on your computer. They know how to find you (remember the Anmeldung?) even through your computer ID, and people, usually foreigners, get fined quite frequently for this reason. I’ve heard real-life examples of foreigners who didn’t know about this rule and received an over €800 fine. So better not risk it. The solution: online streaming won’t get you into trouble, or actually paying for the media you are getting (through Netflix, Apple store, Spotify, etc).
6. There is a tax for TV and radio
Every German home pays a tax for the use of TV and radio (Rundfunkbeitrag) – even if you don’t own any TV or radio. It’s a fixed rate of €17.50 per month – per household, not per person. This money goes to support the public broadcasting channels in Germany. After registering your address (see #1), you’ll get a letter asking you to pay the compulsory monthly fee.
To me as a foreigner, this rule doesn’t make much sense, as TV and radio channels still run commercials – which in theory exist to support the channels financially. But all expats agree that there is no way around it, and even if you try to ignore the tax, the system will win in the end and you will just have to pay an even higher amount.
7. You can get some tax money back
Let’s end this list with some good news: if you’re staying in Germany for a while, you might be eligible to get tax refund (Steuererklärung) once a year. If your income comes from a scholarship, it’s tax-free, so you will probably not be entitled to receive it. But if you’re working under a job contract, you can apply for it. You can either search online and figure out all the documents you need for it by yourself (although that might be tricky for non-Germans), or hire a consultant (Steuerberater) who will advise you what to do to get the highest amount possible.
I hope these tips will clarify some doubts and make your new life in Germany a little bit easier. After the initial settling-in phase, everything becomes lighter. Willkommen! 🙂