How to prioritize what to do when you arrive in a new country

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  Upon first arriving in your new city, you will be overcome by everything being totally new around you. It is therefore important to have at least a To-do list which helps you through the first weeks.  Obviously, there are endless reasons why you have chosen the life of an expatriate, so please only see it as a help. Feel free to add stuff in the comments section below if I have forgotten anything. 

Finding somewhere to live

Unless your new job is sorting out your accomodation (which is quite unusual), you will have to sort out somewhere where to live, even temporary at first. 

Two different options offer the best (and cheaper) chance of success:

Finding a flat as a temporary sublet. 

This is the best option if you are moving to big and expensive cities like Munich. Your chances are increased exponentionally if you search on the marketplace of expatriate communities. Have a look on the platform of International Friends if your new city is present or, even better, download the app (you can subscribe to housing push notifications to be kept up to date with the latest offers). It is important though to be aware that this may be the best and most comfortable interim solution but finding sublets is not that easy.

Getting a room/bed in a hostel

Even though a lot of people will not even consider this option, it is actually better than most people would imagine. I had to take this option for 3 months... The thing is that you do not have to choose the 6 or 10 people bedroom but you can choose the 3 people bedroom as well or even the single. During my stay at the hostel, I moved from a 40 people bedroom (that was dreadful), to an 8 people bedroom and finally to a 3 people bedroom. In the 40 people bedroom, I paid the equivalent of around 300 Euro per month, for the 8 people bedroom around 360 and for the 3 people bedroom around 420 Euro (a 30m2 flat cost me 560 Euro at this time).  I was about 30-50% of the time alone or with only one other person in the 3 people bedroom. It worked perfectly for the start of my job. I had somewhere where to stay relatively cheaply and could even sleep quite normally.

Getting a place in a hotel

By far the most expensive and most wasteful. If you have the impression though that you MUST stay in a hotel at first, then try to take one further outside of the city center as it may be cheaper. 

Getting your work sorted

This is quite an obvious point and hopefully you have signed your work contract already before leaving your home country. If you came/are coming on a work seeking visa, then please jump over the paragraph.

Each job here is different and it is up to you to make the right decision regarding what documents to provide etc... This point functions mostly as a reminder for you. 

Address registration

 Within a week of arriving in Munich, you are required to register your place of residence. It's called Anmeldung, it's easy and it's a key formality. It applies to everyone who lives in Germany, citizens and foreign residents alike. Without official registration of your local address you can't get a residence permit. Nor can you complete your enrollment at the university or do other official things that require proof of residence.

For Munich addresses, you register at the Kreisverwaltungsreferat (KVR) in its Einwohnermeldeamt (resident registration office). In other cities, you need to search for the Einwohnermeldeamt. Just try to ask at your job or ask in the main forum of your local International Friends community. Everyone knows where the registration office is.

Address registration checklist

You'll need:

Registration form, called a Meldeschein, available at Einwohnermeldeamt. TIP: Search if it is also available over the Internet for your city.

Valid passport (non-EU citizens) or ID card (EU/EEA citizens).

Visa if required for entry into Germany.

Rental agreement / lease

Important:

You also need to re-register if you change your address or name while you're here. When leaving Germany for good please notify the Einwohnermeldeamt as well (called Abmelden). The Abmeldung can be done in person or in writing. 

Get a mobile SIM card 

Easier said then done actually. In the past, pre-paid cards used to be unwieldy and  expensive. The only real alternative was getting a two year contract but without ever having lived in Germany, you will not have a SCHUFA entry (SCHUFA is like a credit rating agency, explained below), therefore will not be able to get a contract. Your only option is therefore the pre-paid cards. Luckily, the market for pre-paid plans have massively opened up. You can actually get really good stuff nowadays.

At first, I would just get a LIBARA mobile one  because you can fill it out online and it is in english. If you want to save money and/or want to change, you can compare a LOT of different pre-paid plans over Check24 (a German comparison site) but you will have to speak at least a little of German. 

The contract options are actually not as attractive anymore at any time, at least not as attractive as they used to be 5 years ago. 

Open a bank account 

Lets face it, German banking is very bad. There are loads of aspects that are very bad, like money transfer taking up to 10 days to actually arrive in your account, or the coverage with ATMs in rural areas, but the one that beats them all is the hassle of opening a bank account. You need to provide tons of proof, it is a LOT of paperwork and a general headache.

Though, in the recent past, this has changed with the emergence of a bank called N26. It is a purely online bank, but most expatriates do not need anything else. You can sign up for a bank account in absolutely no time. Try it out. It is the most expatriate friendly, and you can change afterwards if you find some better offer and can speak the local language. 

From the "traditional" banks, I find the best one the DKB and the ING-Diba. They do not have a physical bank anymore but are online banks. They are much better than the physical building banks of Commerzbank, Deutsche Bank etc...

Sign up for Health insurance

In Germany, there is the so-called "Versicherungspflicht" (insurance obligation). 

There are two kinds of the insurance: the public insurance and the private insurance. 

Public insurance

A majority of employees are insured here. If you earn under 60.375 Euro (before taxes), you automatically have to choose this insurance. There are three main ones and whole host of other ones. These are AOK, Barmer GEK and TK. They all have very similar services but TK is the most expatriate friendly one. You can even sign up without much hassle for it online and in english

Please note: Since 2018, each insurance has slightly different fees (in the range of 10 to 15 Euro per month), and you can change insurance after 18 months. Unless you can speak German fluently, I would really suggest that you go for the first one available.

Private insurance

You can choose the private insurance if you earn over 60.375 Euro (before taxes) as an employee (or you can continue in the public insurance) or if you are a freelancer. These are usually costlier since the pricing for the insurance is based on a risk based system and not a percentage of your salary. The main advantage is that you get additional healthcare service that you may not get under public insurance.

It may be hard to switch back to public insurance at a later stage. There are loads of them and nearly all of them will have some information in english. Simply search for it on the internet.

The German system has been covered in another blog entry here if you want to read up on it beyond the summary presented above.

Getting your tax ID

 That is the actually the easiest stuff to do. Once you register for your address, you automatically get a tax ID sent to your address by the Federal Central Tax office. This tax ID will follow you around wherever you go in Germany and is a unique identifier for your person. It will take about two weeks for you to get your tax ID.

If you need your tax ID very urgently and you cannot wait until the Federal Central Tax Office sends it to you, or you have lived in Germany before, then this is another option:

About five working days after you have registered your residence, go to your local tax office (Finanzamt). By that time the tax office should be able to look you up in the central tax system and read out your tax ID to you directly. To do this you must bring your passport with you.

Please note that it is not possible to do this by phone, you need to go to your nearest local tax office in person. To find the tax office that is responsible for you, search on the internet for 'Finanzamt' + 'your city and district', e.g. 'Finanzamt Berlin Mitte'.

Getting your tax number (only for freelancers)

​You have to have a valid tax number if you want to accept freelancing work. The thing is that the tax number is dependent on your Federal Central Tax Office, so even if you move to another place within Germany, you have to get a new tax number. It can be a pain to do, especially if you cannot speak german.

So at first you need to find out which is the responsible office. You can do that here. After that you need to go IN PERSON to the relevant tax office, and take a number and wait in line. For actually getting your number, you will need the following documents: your passport and any additional visas, your proof of registration, the letter with your new tax ID (see above), your rental contract and the following application form that you can fill out online here

For those needing help for the filling out, here is some help in english.

In case you have children, getting school sorted

I must be clear here, I do not have children therefore cannot really write very much about it and am hoping that some kind soul will leave some comments below to help. I know though that there is the school obligation here in Germany. You cannot homeschool your children. 

SCHUFA-reference

In Germany, your credit-worthiness is likely tracked by SCHUFA Holding AG, the biggest (and as far as I know) only credit rating agency in Germany. If someone is talking about your SCHUFA-rating or your SCHUFA-score, they are talking about your creditworthiness as determined by the company SCHUFA.

Sadly though, if you are new in Germany, you do not have a SCHUFA rating as the SCHUFA does not have any data on you yet. It takes 3 to 6 months of living in Germany before you get officially registered and get a SCHUFA score. There is absolutely nothing you can do about it.

So if you are starting new here in Germany, best forget about it in the first months. You will not be able to get an internet contract and you will very likely have problems getting a flat, though there are ways around it. I have described above how to deal with the mobile Internet problem. How to get around the SCHUFA rating has been dealth with here.  

Start searching for long-term appartment/house 

Yep, now you have hit the worst part about being an expatriate. The house-hunting...

It is very difficult to find housing in a lot of different cities, especially in Munich and even more so if you are an expatriate. There are though ways to increase your chances and that is by searching it using the apps of International Friends and as well in various expatriate forums on Facebook. Here is the Link to the Android app and  Link to iOS app of International Friends.

The house hunting and the different tips you can do to maximise your chances have all been covered here. A MUST-read if you are an expat house hunting.

Paying the "Rundfunkgebühr"

The "Rundfunkgebühr" is something that each household (ie appartment or house) has to pay monthly (17,50 per month). It is for the public TV station, radio and internet presence of the public TV stations. There is no way out (even if you have not got any TV) and you cannot do anything else but smile, nod and pay. There are some exceptions but they are far and few. You can read up on the whole thing here (in english). I will not cover more here as it is a pain in the a** that we just have to take like the men or women we are.

IMPORTANT: You only have to pay it once per household, that means that for a  shared appartment, you only need to pay one fee. Also, students are excempt from it.

Getting your social life organised 

​One of the main drawbacks at being an expatriate is that you are, without doubt, seen as an outsider of society at first. The same happened to me, back when I arrived in Munich. I can remember a time when it was really hot outside, lovely sunshine, weekend... inviting for doing something. And what did I do? I played computers indoors, not because I really wanted to but because I was bored. Integrations with the locals did not work...

​After that fateful day spent in front of my computer while the sun was shining outside and everyone else was outside by the river, I decided to do something. I started travelling around the countryside, and it was fun. Yes, you can have fun travelling alone. Although...

I got to be honest. I was used to travelling alone and meeting new people on the way and spending my time shooting awesome photos... I had just come back from travelling solo for 14 months and meeting new people on the way (that was an awesome life! Wish I could do it again...). I was used to doing stuff on my own, meeting new people and simply enjoying the experience of seeing new stuff. I understand that this would not be possible for the big majority of people out there.

Neither would it be for me anymore, as I am living the happy married life now :)

International Friends is a local social network for expatriates. That means that each city has its own social network for expatriates where the expatriates congregate and go on events together. That is the perfect opportunity for you to a) meet new friends and b) go to events together.

Sure there are events created often but, honestly, you became an expatriate because you wanted to explore and have awesome experience.

The easiest is to create an event. You do NOT have to be a professional organiser or anything. All you are doing is indicating that you are yourself going and therefore would like to find other people to join you. Everytime you create an event, you are inviting everybody so the chances are good that you will find someone to come and travel with you (you can also set a maximum amount of people that you want to go travel with).

From experience, I can tell you that the easiest way to get settled in your new country is to organise events. The more you organise, the more people you will get to know.

So don't be passive, but organise events and let your active expat life be the adventure that it is! 

Do not use Torrent here in Germany

Maybe you are used to from your own country to download movies etc... from a P2P sharing service like Pirate Bay. If you do this, you will most likely get a nice formulated letter from a lawyer company called "Waldorf & Frommer" and asking you to pay a 1000 euro and to sign a Stop and Desist form. 

You can read up more about what other people have done in those circumstances here (that comes from the main forum in International Friends Munich).

Conclusion

 When you first arrive in Germany, the amount of stuff you have to do is staggering. A lot of it involves administrative paperwork, for which the Germans are known and feared. Though with the above list, the managing of the administrative tasks should be quite easy. 

Did I forget anything? If so, please leave a comment below. Other expats will greatly appreciate your help!

 

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Wednesday, 19 January 2022

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