What follows is a brief practical guide for expatriate researchers in Berlin. While this guide specifically refers to French expatriates, the information therein contained applies to citizens of every EU nation, and we would advise them to consult with their local authorities (consular consular, services health/car insurance etc.) before moving to Berlin.
I/ Where to Stay?
While it may be easier to find accommodation in the German capital than in many other European capitals, it would nonetheless be prudent and advisable to arrange accommodation before your arrival, given how access to the residential market is recently becoming increasingly competitive. Here is a sample of the most useful websites for searching for all types of accommodation:
House/apartment share is highly popular among Berliners – and not just the younger ones. Here are several websites that offer this service:
II/ Administrative Formalities:
1) Moving to Berlin:
If your residence permit is no longer up-to-date, you need to take the following steps: the first and most important, is registration – or Anmeldung - at the Bürgeramt or Meldebehörde) of the Rathaus (city-hall) in your district or any district of the city of Berlin (Online appointment available). Exemptions for this first step are available to those whose stay does not exceed two months, as well as for those whose registration in a German municipality has been updated and whose stay must not exceed six months. All others must register within fourteen days after moving in. It is advisable to retain photocopies of your registration certificate Meldebescheinigung, for these are usually required for opening a bank account or enrollment at the library. Salaried persons in Germany who have registered will receive their Lohnsteuerauszug or Lohnsteurkarte, that is to say the official copy of their income tax card indicating their registration as a potential future worker. Should you not receive this card, you should contact your local tax office, the Finanzamt. Expatriate French state officials can continue to declare their taxes in France.
The necessary documents are the registration form – the Anmeldungsformular - downloadable Online. Members of the same family and domiciled at the same location only need to fill out a single form for everybody); the Beiblatt zur Anmeldung for those with an apartment registered in Berlin and wishing to register in a separate domicile; ID, namely, a passport for each registered person (including children), as well as a marriage certificate and a birth certificate for the initial registration.
–– the PACS (French Civil Solidarity Pact) is not recognized in Germany between partners of different sexes. Should this be your situation, you will be registered as “single” (ledig).
–– If you reside in Germany for more than six months, we advise you to register at the Consulate / Embassy of your State of origin. This avoids difficulties in case of theft of your identity papers for example.
–– Certain administrative procedures, for example, enrollment at a German language course (Integrationskurs) at the Volkshochschule [Adult Education Classes] may require a Freizügigkeitsbescheinigung [Freedom of Movement Permit].
To open a bank account in Germany you just have to present your ID and the Meldebescheinigung (see-above). Upon opening an account you will be given an EC-Karte, i.e. a withdrawal and payment card enabling you to shop in most retail stores. Please note that cash remains a common way to pay for purchases in Germany – even when large sums are involved – and that payment by credit card is not always possible. As a citizen of the European Union, you can pay at shops accepting payment by credit card without charge. Ask your bank about withdrawing cash automated teller machines (ATM) abroad.
Researchers and employees of the French State working in Germany remain subject to (mandatory) social security contributions in France. There are three options for healthcare and reimbursement depending on the steps you follow:
A) No steps, i.e., pay doctor’s bills and medication in Germany and get subsequently reimbursed in France, or in your country of origin:
In procedural terms, this option is the simplest: all one needs to do during a visit to a doctor or a hospital is to pay the bill on the spot and then send it to your social security centre in France or your native country to be reimbursed; reimbursement rates vary from one social or mutual health insurance to the next. Repayment can take time, however, and medical classifications between Germany and other EU Nations differ substantially, so the reimbursement route is often not optimal.
B) Have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC):
To obtain a EHIC (free of charge), contact your French or your national health insurance company by giving them your name and telephone number. The German health insurance regime will take care of all the expenses, aside from “treatment costs” (Praxisgebühr) amounting to ten euros per three months – your designated health insurance company will then pay the referring doctor, the hospital, and the dentist, respectively, and possibly a part of the costs related to the purchase of prescribed medication.
C) Choose a German Health Insurance Company as a substitute:
If you consider opting for this approach, you will need to choose a substitute German health insurance company that will cover the costs related to your illness and hospitalization for the duration of your stay in Germany. It is then up to the German doctor or the German hospital to apply to your chosen substitute health insurance company, which will be reimbursed by the French health insurance company.
Hence, your place of residence must be on German soil, and that you, as the person concerned and potentially ill, is in possession of an EHIC, and that you keep your French or national health insurance company, whichever appropriate, informed concerning the substitute health insurance company you have chosen in Germany. In France, all you need to is to fill out the S1 form and send it to your French health insurance companies. For all other EU citizens, please contact your local health insurance company before travelling to Germany.
You will receive a German health insurance card, by means of which all medical procedures will be facilitated and transparent.
IV/ Taxes and Social Insurance Contributions
The PAYE pay-as-you-earn system, whereby one is taxed at source, is applied in Germany. This includes mandatory contributions (unemployment, pension, and health insurance), the so-called solidarity tax (5.5%) as well as income taxes. To avoid double taxation, Germany has signed agreements with approx. a hundred countries.
1) Car and Driving Licence
In order to travel freely around Germany, all that is required is a valid national driving license from any European Union nation. It is, however, useful to have your French, or your private vehicle if you are from another EU nation, as the case may be, insured in Germany if you plan to travel with it often.
2) Public Transport
The city of Berlin is divided into three zones: A, B, and C. It is possible to purchase a monthly pass for AB, BC, or ABC zones, depending on where you live. The U-Bahn, the S-Bahn, the Strassenbahn, and buses run continuously from Monday morning to Sunday evening. Tickets and passes can be bought at vending machines (often on the platforms). In order to benefit from the discount card (student tariff), student interns must present a document certifying their status at an agency of the Berliner Verkehrsgemeinschaft (BVG). One can transport one’s bike in the S Bahn, the U Bahn, and the Strassenbahnen, though you must purchase a Fahrradkarte, a ticket to transport your bike on public transport. A 12-month pass is available, payable in the form of direct debit: www.bvg.de. Note that some tickets for theatrical performances, concerts, exhibitions, or festivals may include the cost of public transport to the venue.
“Mitnahme”: Persons with disabilities and those holding a permit – Schwerbehindertenausweis mit Beiblatt und gültiger Wertmarke – have free access to public transport, as well as for the person accompanying them and for children under six years-old.
For further information: www.bvg.de/de
The most popular means of transport for Berliners, you can buy a bike at the various flea markets throughout the city (Mauerpark, Boxhagener Platz and Treptow, etc.), and also in specialized stores, such as:
VI/ General Information and other remarks
1) Useful Addresses
French Embassy in Berlin :
Address: Pariser Platz 5 - 10117 Berlin
Tel: 49 (30) 590 03 90 00
Fax: 49 (30) 590 03 91 10
French Consulate in Berlin :
Address: Pariser Platz 5 -10117 Berlin
(public accesss: Wilhelmstrasse 69)
Tel: 49 (30) 590 03 90 00
Fax: 49 (30) 590 03 90 67
Website web: www.consulfrance-berlin.org
– Given that the service charge is not included in the bill, it is customary to leave a tip of around 10% in restaurants, cafés and bars, particularly seeing the waiters’ salaries are not high.
– Ticket controllers on Berlin's public transport dress in civilian clothes: do not be surprised if you are asked with insistence “Fahrscheine Bitte!” Controllers will identify themselves with their identity card during the ticket control.
– Berlin is in the hands of cyclists. Vigilance is called for and move out from the designated bike lanes - often clearly demarcated, but sometimes sadly only marked with red - if a furious bike-rider authoritatively yells “Fahrradweg!”