Beyond Here Travel Tips
Tips we feature in this article:
1) Applying for a Working Holiday Visa
2) Registering in Berlin
3) Moving in the First Month
4) Learning German
5) Finding a Job
6) Finding an Apartment
Settling into a new country can be a tortuous task, especially when you don’t speak the language, or are unfamiliar with how the country’s system functions. In 2016 we decided to move to a different country and live there for a change of scenery. Once the idea of Berlin came up, both of us solidified the destination since we had heard great things about the city.
Berlin is a maddeningly creative and artistic city. The crowd is young, vibrant, diverse, and progressive. However, the city is not known for being German. In fact, it is the least German city in the country. Berlin is incredibly multicultural, home to the largest Turkish community outside of Turkey; progressive in its acceptance of the LGBTQ+; and a city where many embrace a healthy, cruelty-free, and environmentally-friendly diet.
In order to begin our travels, Chris had to acquire his Irish passport through his father, and I applied for a visa.
Applying for a Working Holiday Visa
As part of the Youth Mobility Program, I could apply for a Working Holiday Visa for 1 year. Canadians can apply for this visa from the ages of 18-35 for up to two years. If you spend one year in Germany, in order to apply for the second year, you have to return to your homeland for at least 6 months and apply again.
The Working Holiday Visa is relatively inexpensive, especially compared to the UK one. The visa fee is 120 CAD. The forms you need to apply for the Working Holiday Visa can be found here.
The two most important things you will need (apart from the forms and passport), is a set amount of money in your bank account, and travel insurance.
Germany requires the visa applicant to have 3,000 CAD in their bank account before moving. You will need to show proof of this through either a print-out of your bank statement, or a letter from your bank confirming the amount saved.
In addition, you will need travel health insurance for the entire year your visa is valid, either through a Canadian or German company. The insurance company needs to provide a minimum coverage of 50,000 CAD.
I chose to go with World Nomads. They were able to cover everything under one plan for a reasonable price: medical emergencies, flight or travel accidents, delays, cancellations, loss of items, and they even cover adventure and sport activities during your travels.
When you apply for the visa, the German Consulate will only issue you a 3-month visa allowance. This follows the usual 90 day stay agreement for Canadians in the Schengen Zone.
Once you arrive in Germany, it is your responsibility to go to the Foreigner’s Office (aliens authority) in the city of your choice, and extend that visa an extra 9 months. In Germany, the Foreigner’s Office is called the Ausländerbehörde. This will cost you an additional 100 EUR (145 CAD).
Here is a checklist of everything you need for the application.
Registering in Berlin
In Berlin, you need to complete an Anmeldung when you first move. Anmeldung means Registration, a form which details your personal information, and most importantly your address and date of move. Every single time you move into a new residence in Berlin, you need to complete a new Anmeldung.
The Anmeldung requires a confirmation from your landlord of your actual existence in that particular residence. You cannot simply write down a random address, someone has to verify it. During our time in Berlin we did not have contact with any landlords, so our subletter and Airbnb host signed in the place of a landlord. This did not seem to be an issue when we submitted the application, but it is risky in case they find out. The Anmeldung needs to be submitted to the Bürgeramt in Berlin. They are available in different neighborhoods.
The Bürgeramt’s in Berlin can be busy most days since people are moving in, within, and out of the city frequently. We always went to the Bürgeramt Sonnenallee in Neukölln and the line was not too long, especially if you avoid going really early in the morning. We noticed most people line up outside before opening hours.
If you do not submit your Anmeldung within a couple of weeks of moving into your new residence, you may be fined. Before you leave Berlin, you will also need to complete an Abmeldung, meaning Deregistration. It includes the same process, only a different form.
Here you can find all the info you need for completing an Anmeldung correctly, including the various locations of the offices. (It is in German, but you can Google translate it to English). Also, here is a very detailed process of how Anmeldungs work in the city.
Moving in the First Month
When we moved to Berlin we rented a room through Airbnb for the first month. We believe this is a strategic move when you are trying to settle yourself into a new place. It gives you time to familiarize yourself with the city and its neighborhoods, find an apartment, and look for a job. Our Airbnb flat was near Alexanderplatz on Friedenstrasse, across from Volkspark in Friedrichshain. Apart from living with an irresponsible roommate, the place was spacious, comfortable, in a great area, and near our German language school.
Germany has made it illegal to rent out entire apartment suites on Airbnb, so in Berlin you will only find single rooms available.
If you really want to learn German then Berlin is not the best city to travel to. Almost all Berliners speak English and are fine with using English to communicate. At least the younger generation is. It is harder for the older generation to submit to the usage of the ubiquitous language of English. We realized that certain institutions were stubborn about remaining monolingual, especially the post office, even though they might know some English.
We worked on our German a year before arriving by using Duolingo. In Berlin we enrolled into an intensive German A1.2 level course, which ran for a month in Friedrichshain. The course was held at the Speakeasy Sprachschule on Boxhagener Straße. We recommend this school because it is affordable and the classes are small. Furthermore, our instructor communicated the language well, fully immersing us in German by choosing to speak little English.
After the course finished, we did not continue further. Once we found jobs we had limited time, and German fluency did not seem necessary. Looking back, I think it would’ve been smart to continue because we could have had more job opportunities. Our advise, continue taking German classes while you are there, even if it’s just one day a week.
Finding a Job
In Vancouver, Craigslist is a legitimate resource for finding housing or jobs, however in Berlin most people use the site for solicting sex. Instead, Berliners use Ebay Kleinanzeigen, a local Ebay site similar to Craigslist, advertising jobs, housing, furniture, and many more.
Although, we did manage to find jobs through Berlin’s Craigslist. Chris found a job one week into our stay in Berlin as a stagehand for Art Logic. It took me a couple of weeks until I landed a call-centre job with BeField. I surveyed businesses in Canada to rate the German heating brand, Viessman. After the call-centre closed down I had multiple jobs until I found a steady shift at the Hard Rock retail store.
Although it is not impossible to find a job in Berlin only as an English speaker, there are limited options. As more and more people move to Berlin, the competition for housing and jobs rise. So, even though jobs were sometimes available, it was competitive.
In Berlin, you are paid monthly, not bi-weekly like in Canada. This can be quite an adjustment when you consider how much one spends in a month on rent, groceries, and a social life.
On a cautionary note, beware of job postings on Craigslist. Chris was almost scammed, and met friends who were scammed into working jobs which they were not paid for. Do not sign any working contracts without reading it first, even if it is in German. Have a friend translate for you or use Google translate.
Finding an Apartment
One of the best ways to find a place in Berlin is to use WG-Gesucht, a local online site for advertising housing. In Germany there is a difference between hot and cold rent. Cold rent refers to the price of the room itself, or the unit. The warm rent refers to the rent price which includes electricity and plumbing. You can’t just pay for the cold rent, the landlord will charge you the warm rent. Certain apartments you view may not have appliances fixed in the kitchen, such as a stove or fridge. This is common in Germany. In this case you will need to purchase a new or used appliance.
As mentioned earlier, the competition for housing is fierce. During one of our apartment viewings in Mitte the entire flat was packed with people. When we say packed, we mean wall-to-wall full of potential renters. A line of people extended a block from the house, waiting to view the place. We thought the apartment was overpriced, but the neighborhood was desirable.
We found an apartment in Lichtenberg, near Ostkreuz (East Berlin), using WG-Gesucht. Apparently we were lucky. Most newcomers don’t find their own place for a while since they have no credit history in the country. We managed to get our own apartment without any roommates. The only catch was the apartment did not belong to us. Our names were not on the lease. We were actually subletting for 1 year from the renter who was moving to Cologne for a new job and didn’t want to pay the extra fees involved in breaking his lease 1 year too early. He did not inform his landlord about this sublet so we had to stay alert at any instance or possibility of the landlord finding out.
Most people who look on the WG-Gesucht site find only rooms for rent. In hindsight, I think we should have rented out a room instead. This is only because living in Lichtenberg alone, away from a more central area, prevented us from meeting a lot of people in the city. Meeting people would be easier if we lived with other people. So, if you are staying in Berlin for a short time, even if you are a couple, stay in a flat which is more central, with roommates. This not only allows you to be a part of a community, but also guarantees more friendly meet-ups and gatherings, which means you will get to know the city more.
The only nice thing about living by ourselves in an apartment was that it was private. Although, in a new country private is not always the best way to soak up the surroundings of the city, or its culture of people. It comes down to your preference, do what makes you comfortable.
In our upcoming articles we will discuss opening up a bank account, the different neighborhoods in Berlin, transit rules, grocery stores, and typical Berlin food on a budget.
Copyright © Beyond Here 2020
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