In the first article I talked about the importance of making long-term plans and pre-departure research. In the second part I listed some concrete tips for budget planning, language learning and accommodation research. Now let's see what you need to do once you're in Germany, to ensure a smooth arrival and a stress-free settling in.
Step Seven: Pack up and Move!
Now it’s time to finalize your checklist of the steps you’ll need to do in your first months in Germany. Roughly in order, this may include:
Register your address as a resident of Germany, using your temporary furnished apartment
Find a job or register for school
Get health insurance
Open a bank account
Get a German SIM card
Apply for a work or student residency permit
Find a long-term place to stay
Figure out taxes
Time to give away your stuff and say goodbye to your friends and family! Don’t forget to bring your original university degrees (yes, the originals), transcripts, certificates for computer or language courses, letters of reference from past jobs, your birth and marriage certificates, and a passport that’s valid for at least 6 months. Hop on that plane and…
Oh my! You are in Germany!
Day 1: Have a beer and a bratwurst, and take a deep breath. You made it!
Day 2: Time to start working through that checklist you made.
Step Eight: Make Friends and a Support Network
Having people and places where you can ask your questions and get advice is essential to help you make it through the toughest times. Living in Germany as a foreigner can be intimidating at first, but having a community makes a difference. Networking is also an excellent way to find out about companies that are hiring, hear about a newly-available apartment, and meet potential business partners, roommate, best friends and spouses. For a start, try the many expat groups on facebook, or Meetup events.
Try to interact with non-expats as much as you can — volunteering is a great way to meet some Germans, practice the language, and make ties to your local community. Give Something Back to Berlin is a great local group for Berlin expats — for other cities try searching ‘Ehrenamt + city.’
Join a Group German Class and Meet Like-Minded People.
Step Nine: Stick Around and Make Long-Term Plans
In your first six months in Germany you may bounce between giddy exhilaration and frustrated homesickness — try to stick it out at least this long before you vow, ‘I hate this, I’m leaving!’ If you’re feeling like giving up, set a deadline for yourself — ‘I’m going to give it one more month and I’ll decide on day X.’
Once you’ve decided you do want to stay, it’s time to think long-term — taxes, pension planning, etc. One reason why this matters is that you may need to prove a certain number of years of German public pension payments to one day obtain permanent residency.
One last tip — keep insanely organized. It’s Germany. You need to keep all your important paperwork (bank statements, tax documents, your company’s invoices, etc.) for 10 years. It’s best to just save every shred of paper that could possibly be important, as you never know when someone will ask for proof of something from 5 years ago. Write down deadlines carefully and set yourself a reminder for a month or two beforehand — for example, you’ll want to start collecting paperwork and schedule an appointment for your residency permit renewal several months before the expiration date is up.
Finally, don’t worry. You will mess up — maybe a lot — but Germans are usually forgiving if it was an honest mistake and you attempt to fix the problem asap. Remember — there are well over 250,000 expats living in Germany. If they figured it out, you can too!