7 things you need to know when moving to Germany


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! 🙂


Fun facts about Germany (part 1)

There are so many facts and habits in Germany that are funny/odd for a foreigner that this will have to be a series of posts, rather than just one! lol

For those who have lived here for a while, like me, these things have already become completely normal and nowadays go unnoticed. But those who are not so familiar with the German culture usually find these facts quite confusing or weird.

Let’s start with 5 of them:

1) At the cinema, you’ll find sweet popcorn

They do have salty popcorn here, but the ‘standard’ popcorn, the one you can usually buy in stalls, is usually sweet. Going to the movies and not even having the option of eating some salty popcorn? How come?


2) Academic scores are from 1 to 6 (1 being the highest)

In Germany, the grading system doesn’t range from zero to 10, or from zero to 100. They don’t use the A-B-C-D system either. It works like this:

1 = very good
2 = good
3 = satisfactory
4 = sufficient
5 = insufficient
6 = very insufficient / zero

You need to get at least a 4 to pass an exam or course. Universities often don’t even mention grade 6, as any number higher than 4 already means ‘failed’. The grades also have one decimal place, usually with odd numbers. For example: 1.3 – 1.5 – 1.7 (1.3 being a higher score than 1.7). For Germans, a grade ‘2’ is better than a grade ‘3’. Totally counter-intuitive.

The first time I received a grade in my Master’s, the email said ‘1.0’. I almost had a mini heart attack. 😀

3) The second floor is the first one

In Brazil, the ground floor is usually considered the first floor, the floor above is the second, and so on. But in Germany, the ground floor is ‘floor zero’. And the first floor (number 1) is the one that comes above the ground floor. This causes newcomers a lot of confusion. ‘Meet me on the first floor’ – in the beginning my brain was trained to automatically think of the ground floor, which is the first floor on which you step. In many elevators or in the large department stores here, you can see the digit ‘zero’ on the screen referring to the ground floor (and sometimes -1 and -2 for underground floors).

4) When entering a German house/apartment, you must take off your shoes

This is perhaps the most typically German habit of all. Each and every German person takes off their shoes as soon as they step inside the house, still by the door, and puts on a pair of ‘house shoes’, or walks around in socks. They do the same when they go visit someone, and expect it from you when you visit them. Since I’m not a huge fan of walking barefoot, I have to remember to check that my socks don’t have any holes before I go visit a friend around here! lol

The goal of this habit is to preserve hygiene and to avoid bringing dirt from the outside into the house – which is quite understandable. But this habit is so embedded in the DNA of Germans that they follow it strictly even when it doesn’t make any sense. Like in the case of house parties, for example. Parties always cause a bit of a mess, and the apartment will have to be cleaned later anyway. What difference will it make if the guests take off their shoes? 😛

“Shoes off” = how to get a German house party started (note: there were a lot more shoes that didn’t fit in the picture)

5) Germans love fizzy drinks

Did I say ‘love’? I meant CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT. In Germany there are not two, but three options of mineral water: Still, Medium e Classic. Imagine a tourist or newcomer in the country who just wants to quench his/her thirst and finds 3 types of bottled water for sale. Which of them should be the one without gas? The one that says ‘Classic’, right? WRONG. Classic in Germany is fizzy water. Go figure… Still is without gas, and Medium with a bit of gas (as you can see, they take this very seriously).

Tap water is safe to drink around here – and still, some Germans prefer to buy sparkling water in the supermarket (even having to carry all that weight home). You can even get a ‘sparkling water maker’ appliance for your home to transform normal water into fizzy water yourself! The addiction is real.

How the German school system works


The German school system is quite different and curious.

The first level, equivalent to pre-school, is Kindergarten – a famous German word that is also used in English. It is not mandatory in Germany; parents decide whether or not to enroll their children. Then comes Grundschule, the elementary or primary school. It lasts 4 years, usually from ages 6 to 10. Starting from Grundschule on, education is mandatory (and free!) for everyone.

Until that point it is quite similar to other countries. It starts to look different at the end of Grundschule.

When the child is almost finishing Grundschule, around the age of 10, a decision needs to be made: which of the 3 types of school he/she will pursue. This is usually decided by the teachers and advised to the parents, based on the child’s school transcripts.

Now let’s go through the different types of schools: Hauptschule, Realschule and Gymnasium.

Putting euphemisms aside and explaining it in a clear, straightforward way (as the Germans do): the difference between these 3 schools is the level of difficulty and demand on the students.

Hauptschule is the easiest school out of the three, demanding less from the students. Realschule is the one with intermediate level of difficulty and demand. Gymnasium is the hardest one, where the intellectual demand is the highest of the three and the student has to dedicate more time and effort to the studies. At the end of Gymnasium the students take an exam called Abitur (also referred to as Abi), which is somehow similar to the SAT in the U.S. or the Baccalauréat in France. The student who does not have high enough grades to pursue the Gymnasium straight after primary school can still (given that his/her performance improves) attend Realschule first and then Gymnasium, or even take a longer path of Hauptschule, then Realschule and then Gymnasium.

But what about those who attended Hauptschule and/or Realschule, without having finished Gymnasium and Abitur? They pursue vocational training, or technical courses.

Something one should know about German society:

In Germany, a university diploma is not a necessary requirement to land a good job with a good salary. That’s because there are hundreds of vocational training courses (Ausbildung), which are schools that prepare people for all the non-academic professions. For example: retailer, mechanic, hair dresser, product designer, dental assistant, among many others. And all professions are relatively well-paid. Of course some get better salaries than others, but the discrepancy is not as big as in my home country Brazil, for example. This results in a society with skilled workers in all areas, of both manual and intellectual labor. Each technical course lasts at least 3 years, and the apprentice has to go through theoretical and practical training and evaluations to be able to practice the profession. While in Brazil it’s very common to hire an electrician, for example, only based on referral, in Germany one can, in theory, trust any professional electrician, as they are all equally well-qualified.

Therefore, it is natural that not all Germans decide to go to university – since there are other attractive options where one can start working and earn money sooner. Some people also say that those who go to university spend years learning many things in theory but, at the end of the day, have no work experience and don’t know how the profession works in “real life”.

Indeed, a store salesperson probably does not earn the same amount as a medical doctor – but he/she earns enough to live well. In Germany each person has the opportunity to make the professional choice they consider best for themselves.

Pros and cons of the German education system:

  • CONS:

It is quite segregationist, since students are divided into schools of different difficulty levels.

It is a way of labeling students by their potential, and judge them for their school grades.

Kids are forced to decide on their future at only 10 years of age. They are too young to know what they will want to do afterwards.

If the children from Hauptschule were surrounded by dedicated classmates during high school, as the ones from Gymnasium, maybe that would motivate them to study more.

  • PROS:

This system is already so embedded in the German culture that they don’t see it as segregationist. Children grow up knowing this is how it works, and nobody thinks of it as ‘perverse’.

Different people have different rhythms and interests. Not everyone is meant for university. Not everyone is willing to study really hard at school.

A society is not and shouldn’t be made of only intellectuals, but also of skilled workers from all areas.

Placing all students in one single type of school would mean to slow down the ones who are willing to study harder because of those who prefer to pursue the path of technical training.

The decision is not irreversible. There is mobility and the students can change their minds and swap their school type if they want to and show interest for it.

This is a basic summary of the main points of the school system in Germany. It varies a bit from state to state and there are some exceptions, such as the school that integrates the Hauptschule and Realschule (Integrierte Sekundarschule) and the Gesamtschule.

I find some points very interesting, but disagree with others. But in general, this curious school system seems to work, and is strongly related to the job market and to the German society.

What it is like to live in Berlin

Photo by Mari Cerdeira

Berlin is a big, cosmopolitan, young, alternative, lively, laid-back, cool city.

It has people from all tribes. On the subway you will see a blue-haired girl sitting next to a white blond child, next to a rastafari guy, next to a Turkish family, next to Spanish tourists. Berlin is diversity!

Berlin has even been elected the most fun city in the world.

Living in Berlin means always having something to do. Every weekend you can find out a new nice place that you didn’t know before.

It means living in an inexpensive city! – With a law that limits rent prices.

Germany is an affordable country, by Western European standards. And, within Germany, the cost of living in Berlin is way lower than those of other cities, such as Munich or Hamburg, for example.

“Berlin is not Germany.”

Berlin is very different from Southern Germany. It is not conservative, and not as flawless. And not as wealthy either.

It’s a city that is booming and transforming itself at this very moment. It’s very different from what it used to be 20 years ago, and will be very different 20 years from now.

It has a very strong urban and artistic culture. And restaurants from all countries. And very well-known nightclubs – especially famous for their electronic music.

It’s living in a multifaceted city. Some neighborhoods are very residencial, others very touristic, others very hipster, others super fancy. Berlin is the result of an amazing mixture of several elements.

“Berlin is the New York of Europe.”

It’s a city with a very efficient public transportation system that covers all places. And that has no turnstiles for control.

Living in Berlin is being able to go back home from the bar or club by subway. That’s because public transportation runs 24 hours the whole weekend. (!!!!) And on week days? The subway closes at around 1 am, but there are still buses running all night long. You don’t really need to take taxis.

It’s a flat city, great to move around on a bike too.

In general it’s very safe but, being a big city, it DOES have pickpockets, and one should keep an eye on their belongings.

It’s a very green city, with many parks and lakes (40% of the total city area!).

The outskirts of Berlin, not too far, already feel like a different world. One can live very close to the excitement of the city and still have a house with a backyard like in the movies.

It’s a city that exhales history.

Many people speak English here, but not everyone.

It’s a city where temperatures range from -7 to 37 degrees Celsius.

A city with many train stations, a gigantic central station, and 2 airports (because the airport that is going to replace the 2 existing ones is taking forever to open).

It’s living in a city that changes when spring and summer arrive. The sunshine and heat modify the city’s vibe completely. Everyone goes outside, the sun sets a lot later, there are festivals and open-air events everywhere…

Is it too obvious that I like living in Berlin? =)