How to find a flat in Berlin

I moved to Berlin on 26th October 2013, and now, less than 3 months later, I am already living in my second flat. I’ve gathered an enormous amount of knowledge through the two flat searches, and this blog entry is a summary of my learning. Do comment below, or tweet me, if you have comments, corrections or amendments – this blog entry should become some sort of living guide.

Contents
1. Introduction
2. Mieten or untermieten, or a WG (Wohngemeinschaft)
3. Prerequisites for renting a flat
4. Searching for a flat – criteria
5. Searching for a flat – location
6. Searching for a flat – websites
7. Flat visits
8. Making an offer
9. Payments
10. Moving in, and afterwards
11. My own story

1. Introduction
I am a British citizen (i.e. also an EU citizen) in my early thirties, living on my own, and I was moving from outside Germany. I’d last lived in Germany more than 10 years previously, meaning there were no records of me, financial or otherwise, that anyone could find. It’s as if I was starting from scratch. I had no bank account nor address in Germany at the start, and am partner in a small IT company with its registered address in the UK.

This guide hence comes from the perspective of an EU citizen moving to Germany. Some points may be relevant for people moving within Germany, or with records here, but I cannot vouch for that.

(return to Contents menu)

2. Mieten or untermieten, or a WG (Wohngemeinschaft)
The very first German terms to learn. Mieten means to rent or to let, and untermieten means to sub-let. A WG (short for Wohngemeinschaft) is a flat share.

Anyway, this is your first choice when seeking to rent in Germany, and it is where the headaches can start. For me my first flat was through untermieten, and second time I have a proper contract (mieten).

Unless you are either extraordinarily rich, or extraordinarily lucky, do not try mieten at the start as a non-resident in Germany. When you rent this way you sign a contract directly with the landlord, and – under German law – this gives you strong rights. But if you want strong rights you also have hefty responsibilities, and this means the landlord is going to want to carefully check your reputation. As a non-German you are going to struggle to make it clear that you are reputable due to the documentation requirements (see below).

Untermietvertrag_11_2013_6s_pmUntermieten means that you are renting from the person that has the proper contract from the landlord. This tends to be for a shorter period of time, perhaps to fill in for a temporary absence from the country, or if the main tenant cannot leave their contract for some reason. Normally the documentation requirements are going to be less stringent, and such arrangements are struck between friends and acquaintances. I found my untermiete (my first Berlin flat) thanks to this blog entry and Twitter.

The problem with untermieten, and why you should not do it for too long, is that your rights are weaker and such arrangements are often struck without the express agreement of the main landlord. If something goes wrong (as I found to my cost – the main landlord wanted to sell up) you’re screwed.

An absolute pre-requisite of untermieten is that your name must be displayed on the doorbell and letterbox at the property, and this must be checked before any contract is signed. Without that you cannot complete any of the steps to getting a proper rental flat later (more on that below).

An alternative option is to move to live with others in a Wohngemeinschaft (WG). Here the same attention is needed as when sub-letting, although long term living in a WG is legally possible, but if your aim is to find your own place then again make sure your name is displayed on the doorbell and letter box.

(return to Contents menu)

3. Prerequisites for renting a flat
Before you will be able to sign a proper contract (mieten) you are going to need a bank account in Germany. Yes, theoretically you could make all the international transfers from somewhere else, but this is going to inconvenience either the agent or the landlord, and is going to put you at a disadvantage when dealing with agents (see below).

So get yourself a German bank account before you start your search in earnest. My own experience here was good. I managed to get an account with online bank DKB within about 10 days, and they also offer a Mietkautionskonto that will come in handy later. DKB, unlike ING-DiBa, has no required monthly stable earnings – handy for me personally as my income varies from month to month. Any account you open will however require you to have an address in Germany – hence the name on the letterbox thing stipulated above.

referenzen_schufaA German bank account, and a German address, are the two things you will need to get a SCHUFA Auskunft. This is a standardised credit check that is demanded by most agents and landlords in Berlin. What SCHUFA could possibly know about me after just 2 months in Germany when I demanded my SCHUFA Auskunft I have no idea, but the unblemished record helped reassure landlords (see below for full documentation requirements). You can demand a SCHUFA Auskunft here, and mine took 3 days to arrive in the post.

On this point, as in so many aspects of this search, do not ask about the logic behind the process and instead just focus on the outcome.

While not strictly necessary a German mobile phone will help. I’ve tried prepaid SIM cards with O2 and Congstar. O2 can be recharged with a non-German credit card, while Congstar requires a German bank account – not sure if Congstar’s better network coverage outweighs the inconvenience. But you are going to need to call and be called by agents, and hence a German number helps.

Lastly I found I was printing and scanning documents all the time. Yes, you might manage all of this with a mobile phone with a camera on it, but my printer-scanner was heavily used during my search.

(return to Contents menu)

4. Searching for a flat – criteria
Flats in Berlin are categorised by numbers of rooms, excluding kitchen and bathroom in this number. So “1 Zimmer” is a studio, plus kitchen and bathroom. “2 Zimmer” is a bedroom and sitting room and kitchen and bathroom. You will normally also get a surface area figure in square metres, and every flat I saw also had cellar storage space.

Two rental prices will be quoted. Kaltmiete (cold rent) is the price of the flat rent alone, with no extras. Warmmiete (warm rent) is not always so clearly defined, but normally includes any charges for communal spaces, janitors etc., and heating and warm and cold water. Electricity is normally not included within it. These numbers are important not only for your monthly calculation, but also for the amount you might have to pay an agent (see below).

A further vital criterion is the Einbauküche (built in kitchen). Outside Germany I have never encountered flats for rent without kitchens, but in Berlin this is normal. If you rent a place without an Einbauküche you will get a sink and the unit below it, and maybe a stove, but nothing else. With Einbauküche you will get kitchen units and possibly (although not necessarily) a fridge and dishwasher. In my experience about 40% of flats I was searching for (central east, 2 Zimmer) had an Einbauküche.

Lastly some places say “WBS erforderlich” – these are flats subsidised by the state. Unless you have a WBS certificate you cannot get one of these, and if you’re coming from outside Germany these flats should be avoided when searching.

(return to Contents menu)

5. Searching for a flat – location
Screen Shot 2014-01-09 at 10.42.19Location matters, and not always in a good way.

Firstly a little history. Everyone in Berlin still thinks in terms of the old Bezirke (boroughs if you like) – things like Kreuzberg and Prenzlauer Berg. You can find a map of these Bezirke here. These were then reformed into 12 larger Bezirke in 2001, and a map of these can be found here. Plus if that’s not enough Berlin is then sub-divided into 96 Ortsteile, also shown here. You will see that some of the former Bezirke are now classified as Ortsteile.

All of this matters because price of a flat depends on (old) Bezirk. I first lived in the north western part of Prenzlauer Berg, an area that in my subsequent search I would never be able to afford, but crossing the bridge to Wedding (Gesundbrunnen) reduced prices enormously, for rather similar flats.

Secondly, searching by Ortsteile might draw in areas that are cheaper, but still within areas that are accessible for where you want to be (I included Alt-Treptow and Plänterwald for example). Also do not let your search be distorted by the Berlin U- and S-Bahn Map for this bears almost as tenuous a resemblance to geographic reality as the London Underground map does.

Thirdly, some websites allow you to search using the old Bezirke and Ortsteile, so knowing what’s what is handy.

(return to Contents menu)

6. Searching for a flat – websites
Berlin is not a city (unlike Brussels, for example) where you can search for a flat to rent by walking the streets and looking for signs, or a city where you can wander into a rental agent’s office. Most flats for rent are not signposted, and very few agents have offices. So instead you need to search online, and organise visits. I used 5 websites for this purpose.

Screen Shot 2014-01-09 at 11.28.42ImmobilienScout24 is the most comprehensive website for proper rentals (mieten), and some untermieten is also available here. You can create an account on the site, make notes about what you find, and save your searches. These searches also sync with the site’s mobile phone app. The search functions can be refined quite precisely. The downside of ImmobilienScout24 is the sheer quantity of information (you find more here than anywhere else), and as the site is loved by the bigger agencies the same properties keep being posted and re-posted.

Immonet and Immowelt are two sites similar to ImmobilienScout24, but each delivered less than half the number of matches for my search criteria. Some, but not all, properties are posted on all three sites, and some of my most promising finds were through Immonet. So do not discount either of these.

Screen Shot 2014-01-09 at 11.28.06ebay Kleinanzeigen is a fast-moving location for untermieten and some proper rents too. The challenge here, unlike with the 3 main immo sites, is keeping on top of what is and is not available, and what is new, is a really hard task. Offers are put on Kleinanzeigen and withdrawn very fast, and I found no proper substitute for just hitting refresh on the page – not very efficient. But if you need untermieten you can’t avoid it.

WG Gesucht is, as the name suggests, the place to look for a flatshare, and it also offers complete flats available for untermieten. Again, like eBay, trying to make it work in a systematic way eluded me.

NEW, July 2014DreamFlat is a startup that is trying to streamline this whole process. They found this blog entry of mine, and e-mailed me, so I’ve added a link. The interface and idea look neat, with a good range of WG rooms for the moment.

NEW, July 2015 – the folks at Vergleich.org have e-mailed me, saying they have compared and rated the sites for finding a room in a WG in Berlin. Their review is here. DreamFlat and WG Gesucht come out on top at the time of writing.

NEW, July 2015 – Carsten Wagner, the founder of WG Suche, has also e-mailed me. The site looks smart, and an English version is also available. Do have a look!

(return to Contents menu)

7. Flat visits
Once you have found what looks like a suitable place, e-mail or phone the agency listed, and ask for a time to be able to visit the flat (a Besichtigungstermin). Normally agents will group interested people together, and show them all the flat at the same time. If this time is publicly listed on ImmobilienScout24, or on an agency’s website, then you can expect a dozen or more people to turn up. Not all appointments require you to confirm with the agent – those that do tend to have smaller groups, so should be prioritised.

All the dozen or so places I saw on my second flat search were already empty. Normal procedure is for a tenant to move out, and then for the flat to be re-let. This also means that normally there is no bell to ring, and groups of people gather in front of the property. Always make sure you have the telephone number of the agent for every visit – you’ll have to call them if you can’t find where they are in a property.

I’ve heard stories from friends of people trying to charm agents at these visits but in my experience I do not see the point of this – you would be spending your time charming a person who actually will not be taking the decision at the end of the day, and may just manage the process for the landlord who you may never meet personally.

(return to Contents menu)

8. Making an offer
If you like a place you will need to make an offer to rent it. At the visit you will normally be able to get a Bewerbungsbogen – essentially a form to fill out to register your interest. A selection of the forms I picked up can be downloaded here (PDF).

The form is normally filled in, scanned and e-mailed through to the agent. In addition some extra documentation is standard:

  • A copy of your passport or ID card
  • A copy of your SCHUFA Auskunft (see above)
  • Proof of earnings in the last 3 months (payslips), or a letter from your accountant / Steuerberater
  • A letter from your previous landlord confirming you have no debts to them

For me the third of these was the most complicated, as my company is registered in the UK. A letter from UK accountant, detailing my earnings for the past 3 years (more reassuring than 3 months!) proved to be adequate.

If you have an Anmeldebestätigung (registration of where you live in Germany), and Haftpflichtversicherung (personal liability insurance), it may well be worth additionally including these documents in the information you send to the agent.

The person doing the visit should be able to tell you when a decision is going to be taken as to who they choose. In my experience these deadlines often slip, but do make sure you know when a decision is going to be theoretically made.

(return to Contents menu)

9. Payments
To sign a contract (mieten) you are likely going to need a lot of cash up front, in two parts.

The first part is Kaution (deposit). This is normally 3 months of Kaltmiete (see above), and indeed cannot exceed this amount. This cash should be set aside in a blocked bank account that requires signatures of both tenant and landlord to unblock, and the tenant is entitled to the interest on this sum. One agent demanded this sum from me in cash up front – actually legal, but far from reassuring – while the landlord I eventually rented from was fine with doing this via standard Mietkautionskonto (also see above). By law it is possible to pay this Kaution in 3 equal instalments in the first three months, but the administration of doing so might mean the hassle is not worthwhile.

The second possible upfront charge is the Provision. This is the charge the agent or landlord levies on the tenant at the time of signing a contract. In the UK and Belgium this cost is borne by the landlord, while in Germany it is borne by the tenant. This charge can be as high as 2 x Kaltmiete, plus USt (VAT) at 19% – so 2.38 x the Kaltmiete. Some agents charge less than this, and if you somehow rent without an agent a flat can be Provisionsfrei (i.e. no up front charge).

(return to Contents menu)

10. Moving in, and afterwards
So your offer has been accepted, and you have paid your Kaution and hopefully no Provision, and you have your key. Normally if you have a proper mieten contract you will have to give three months of notice to leave the place, and if the rent is to increase at any point over the time you are resident this will be stipulated in the contract. You will have to take meter readings for gas and electricity, and sign up with companies for the provision of those. Most flats will also have telephone and cable tv sockets already fitted – it’s then a matter of choosing whether you want cable (with Kabel Deutschland or telecolumbus) or vDSL internet (many providers) and getting that fitted.

If you’re needing to move anything in Berlin and need a hire van don’t look any further than Robben & Wientjes – yes, their service is basic, and payment has to be done cash, but their prices are considerably lower than anything else I found.

Within 14 days of moving in you need to complete the Anmeldung einer Wohnung (registration of a flat) with the Berlin authorities. Details of the process for Berlin are here in German. You need to take along your rental contract and your passport or ID card, and the process is swift and easy as an EU citizen. You can book a time at the office nearest to you (bottom of the page here), ideally in the same Bezirk as your flat – although here the modern boundaries apply (see above). Once this is done you will receive letters in the post about the Rundfunkbeitrag (TV/radio license) and from the tax authorities.

(return to Contents menu)

11. My own story
I was searching for a 2 room flat to rent, ideally with a balcony and an Einbauküche, somewhere within about 20 minutes by bike from the political district of Berlin (Mitte / Friedrichstraße). I aimed to pay up to €700 / month Kaltmiete or €800 / month Warmmiete. I was not worried by the type of building the flat would be in – I was not necessarily seeking an Altbau (pre-WWII building).

I first sub-let a place on Schivelbeiner Str. in the northern part of Prenzlauer Berg. I signed for just over 2 months, with the idea that I would then sit down with the main landlord and take over the contract from the person from whom I was sub-letting.

In the end the main landlord decided to sell the place, rather than continuing to let it, and on 13th December 2013 I was told I had to move out by the end of December. However by this point I had an address and a bank account, and hence could also obtain a SCHUFA Auskunft.

So second time around I sought a proper rental contract (mieten). The criteria for my search were the same as previously. Over the course of the week 15th-22nd December I visited 13 flats, in Wedding, Moabit, Kreuzberg, Friedrichshain, Mitte, Treptow and Neukölln, haring around between all of them on my bicycle. I made offers for 5 – in Moabit (1st choice), Mitte (2nd), Kreuzberg (3rd), Neukölln (4th) and Wedding (5th). I was unsuccessful getting the Moabit place, the timetable was delayed for the Mitte place so I withdrew there, and I was successful with the three others. I signed for the Kreuzberg place (off Bergmannstraße) on 27th December, having only seen it on 22nd December, and moved in on 29th December.

All of this – the move and indeed this blog entry too – would not have been possible without the help of numerous blog readers and folks on Twitter. Particular thanks to @nonformality and @huettemann (who both even helped move furniture!) and @annelaumen, @La_Lynne, @melican, @sahlbln and @beatricemartini – your tips and suggestions made this whole thing work.

In conclusion: finding a good flat in Berlin, even at short notice, is possible. I hope this guide might help you find what you’re looking for and make the process a little simpler!

(return to Contents menu)

[UPDATE 2.12.2014]
Almost a year after moving to Kreuzberg, I am still there, and am very happy. In retrospect it is a better place to live than either the Moabit or Mitte places mentioned above would have been! This blog entry has also now been read by more than 10000 people, and has even been covered by BBC Radio 4. So enjoy Berlin, folks, and do comment below if you have questions or comments that could help others!

In this article


Join the Conversation

123 comments

  1. Calvin Holbrook

    Hey Jon,

    as a newbie in Berlin I really enjoyed your post but unfortunately I found it after searching for help with a problem!

    I just completed my first two-month sublet here in Berlin and made a contract from the girl I was renting from which I signed. She rents the flat from an agency. She is now saying I damaged an item (which I did not) and is now refusing to pay my deposit back… any tips on how to proceed? I’m not sure where I stand legally on this one.

    Cheers!
    Calvin

  2. apartment in Berlin - Europe - City-Data Forum

    […] that you have no rent arrears; an income tax statement in case you work as a freelancer (from How to find a flat in Berlin | Jon Worth) In addition, I have read that there are 70 people applying for each apartment, and it can take […]

  3. Trovare casa a Berlino è un’impresa! | italiansinfuga

    […] Vi suggerisco inoltre una lettura specifica sulle case a Berlino (in inglese) che a me ha aiutato molto:  http://www.jonworth.eu/how-to-find-a-flat-in-berlin/ […]

  4. Finding a Flat in Berlin | Gen Van Vee

    […] Jon Worth – How to find a flat in Berlin […]

  5. Paula

    just the infor we need! Thank you
    1. How do online lists work? I am about to come flat hunting to Berlin in 3 weeks time and monitoring online the agencys you list to see if the properties i would choose to see stay about for any time. i can already see that some properties are listed in many sites. If the property is still listed does that mean it is still to rent? or are they slow to take down once offers have been accepted?

    2.Going only for listed Provisionsfrei flats where the contact is direct to the landlord means that no pre-checks are done and one needs to start from base each time. Is there a system via registering online where one is vetted for all the relevant documents at the start of the search?

    3. Your experience of making 5 separate offers is a bit scary – in UK an offer and an acceptance = a contract; is this not the case in Germany? if 10 people attend a viewing and you want the flat and have the forms to hand can you make the offer there and then? Is there a first sound offer gets it system? are you sure that making numerous offers is not going to turn bad?
    So having made an offer it seems one should keep looking as it might not be accepted [sounds a bit Scottish!] is this really the way?
    4. Having made and offer and had it accepted when and how does it turn real?
    5. Are emails considered contracts?

  6. Martin Platt

    Jarek was right to ask a German speaker to check the emails he sent. Google Translate is useful, but don’t rely on it because it can produce some weird and often incomprehensible results. It is by no means the super translation tool it’s made out to be.

  7. Jarek

    I certainly have much to learn but I signed my first contract yesterday, direct with the landlord. Have a large family so we rented a 5 room “reinhaus” close to Grünau. We only looked south, south east of Berlin to cut down on commuting time. I’m the first tennant. Visited about 15 places, this is the third I actually wanted to rent.
    Having read lots of sites about moving to Berlin, I was somewhat freaked out about the process and came prepared with lots of documents. I had no Schufa however but all broakers and landlords seemed to understand that I reasonably could not have one. I the end, the landlord with whom I signed the contract wanted passports and contract of employment so that he could see that I could make the rent.
    The process took exactly 19 days, including the first two trips, two and three days long.
    And, BTW, I know practically no German but almost all Berliners seem to know enough English to make it work. Most of emails were translated with Google though. I noticed that trying to initiate contact with an email in English would render no response. A friend of mine who speaks German, or rather his Hamburg born mother provided a template for the letter I used to make first contact.

  8. Jon

    @Michele – you have 2 options: DSL or Cable. There are a bunch of DSL operators, and basically 2 for cable – Kabel Deutschland and TeleColumbus. Cable will offer higher connection speeds if the company has upgraded its infrastructure in your street. If they haven’t (like where I live in Kreuzberg) then you’ll need DSL instead. I went for Congstar – essentially the same as Telekom but without the extras and €5 / month cheaper, and with an excellent FritzBox router. So far it works very well.

  9. Michele M

    This site has helped me enormously! It’s well organized and presents the full picture of what moving here entails. Thank you so much. The deed is done (literally) and now I have to figure out how to get internet/DSL in the flat!

  10. Finding a flat in Berlin | Teaching English in Berlin

    […] For more specific information on finding a flat, have a look at How to finding a flat in Berlin by Jon Worth. […]

  11. George K

    As most of the comments focused on finding the apartment, I’d like to ask how it went with renting the van?
    I’m in Brussels now… A bit too much to drive all the way to Berlin and load/unload a truck no? (I have a big bed, couch, dining table, library … )

    Would it be better to sell my furniture and start fresh in Berlin?

  12. Paul Lucas

    Thanks Jon , moving depends on employment. I am a Carpenter, English speaking ,but no German, can I live whilst learning German? I’m an EU Citizen, is it best to come for 2 weeks ,have a look and see what’s available ,workwise and for rent & how easy is it to rent an Untermieten or WG? what is the best area’s for rental’s in your opinion? Mr Lucas

  13. Jon

    @Martin Platt – not even guaranteed that something would be furnished if you’re untermieten. But there’s enough of a turnover of people in Berlin to mean you can get secondhand furniture easily and cheaply, and hire a van cheaply from Robben & Wientjes to shift it to where you need it.

  14. Martin Platt

    An excellent summary of the process Jon, thank you. I am hoping to move to Berlin this autumn or winter, depending on whether I land a particular job I have applied for.

    One thing you don’t mention is whether, as in the UK, apartments are let furnished or unfurnished. Are furnished apartments common or not? I guess untermieten may be furnished, but what about mieten?

    If I get the job, I will probably follow your advice and go for an untermiete at first, but I would prefer not to have to furnish the place because I will have plenty enough on my plate with starting a new job and getting used to living in a new city.

  15. Pablo Correcher

    Wow man!! This is great!! Helped a LOT!! Moving to Berlin this September!!

  16. Alice

    Hi Jon,

    Thank you for your swift reply! After finding housing, would I need to register myself at town hall prior to opening a bank account? Haha, unfortunately I am not in political science department and am currently not in Toronto – if only I found your blog sooner!

  17. Jon

    @Alice – without the visa you’re not going to be able to do anything really. So focus on that first. Then search for a WG online, and make some appointments for your first days in Berlin. You should be able to find something within a week if you’re not too fussy about the location. Then the process to get a bank account will follow after that – a bank that has branches (like Sparkasse for example) should be able to give you a basic account swiftly. Just make sure you have a backup plan to pay your rent for the first few weeks or a month in the WG – either with cash or a bank transfer.

    If you want your own flat, rather than a WG, it’ll be more complex.

    Also – I see your e-mail address is @utoronto. If you’re in the political science department speak to Prof Randall Hansen. He knows Berlin very well!

  18. Alice

    Hi Jon, this is a fantastic blog post and I’m so thankful I stumbled upon it! I have read the comments and still have some questions which I believe you have not touched upon (or relevant to my case).
    I would appreciate your help!

    I am a Canadian citizen moving to Berlin for an internship in September. I am in the process of getting my visa; however I am not too sure on what other documentation would be needed in terms of opening a bank account and renting. I don’t speak any German and am currently in the process of learning the basics.
    Do I open a bank account first upon arrival or search for a untermieten? Is it even possible to negotiate to rent a place when I am still overseas? I’m worried 2 weeks is not long enough for me to accomplish getting settled into Berlin, but that is the earliest I am able to fly over.

    Thank you for your response in advance!

  19. Jon

    @Abraham – what is your status in Israel? If you have a company or are self employed then you ought to get a letter from your accountant and/or your bank that confirms your financial status and try with this. Beware however that this might still not be enough – if there are 100 people trying to get the same flat the first ones that will be rejected will be the ones without all the papers, so if you have no Schufa then you will be out, pure and simple. Not just, probably, but that’s the reality as far as I can tell. So you might be better off sub-letting for a while first, getting a German bank account, and then hence a Schufa, and then be in the situation to be able to get a proper contract.

    @lou – as an EU citizen you have the right to live in Berlin, simple. So all the details above would apply to you. As a student you’d be best with a WG I think though.

  20. lou

    Hi, thanks for the info, i am hoping you can help me or point me in the right direction. I am living in Australia now (was born here) but have Irish (EU) citizenship as well. I am nearing the end of a degree in Brisbane Australia, and want to go to berlin to study. I have never lived in Ireland before and have no idea on what I would have to do. I might be able to get work there whilst studying,I do not know if I would be eligible for assisstance whilst studying etc… does anyone know the best place for me to start my investigation? thank you. I would love to go over seas!!!

  21. Abraham Levi

    Firstly, thank you so much for sharing this very useful information.
    My situation is a bit different. I’m a dual Israeli/ German citizen who has never set foot on German soil! I am a screenwriter who contemplates on moving to Berlin to rent a studio so I can sit down quietly and write a full feature film (a very big task in deed). I have no credit record in Germany because I have never lived there. My German is very basic. My German passport and ID card were issued in at the German Embassy in Tel-Aviv. I intend to register as a freelance screenwriter. I have more then enough funds in an overseas bank account that can carry me for a very, very long time with out an income.
    I am interested in a long term lease. How do I go about convincing a landlord on an agent that I have sufficient funds in my foreign account? Is it possible to get a Shurfa Auskfunft from outside Germany? Is it possible to get a local bank account without registration at city hall first?
    I plan on moving in September or October of this year, and I am a bit worried about the whole process of securing accommodation.
    Any advice will be greatly appreciated.
    AL

  22. Jon

    @Trevor – sorry for the slow reply. You would need to show you can cover the rent for the period of the contract. Most German contracts for miete I have encountered are unlimited, but signed on the basis of you staying there for 2 years. So get enough proofs in order and you should be OK.

    This relates to your point about sub-letting – you could theoretically do it for a year or two, but finding a sub-let that worked that long would be rather rare. In your case why not come to Berlin for a month or two, sub let, and then use that time to get the admin in order, get a bank account, and then you could sign a proper contract?

    @Ticoda – I was sub letting initially, and once I did that, I could then establish a bank account at that address. It should be the same in a WG – just check you can pay the first month in cash or with a bank transfer, get your name listed on the doorbell, and then open a bank account.

  23. Ticoda

    Thank you for sharing this valuable information, Jon!

    I am also an EU citizen and I am flying to Berlin mid-August to search for a WG-Zimmer. Could you help me with the following query please:

    How did you manage to open a German bank account at the beginning of your search before having an address? Or did you open one in parallel to the rental contract?

    Thank you for your time.

  24. Trevor

    @Jon: Many thanks, this is really useful information. I am in the process of getting redundancy and am looking to move to Berlin to get back in to writing music. While I will be getting a substantial redundancy package which will enable me to not worry about earning money for 2 years or so (not that I won’t be trying!), will the fact I am not earning a consistent wage count against me? Or will I get the option at some stage to explain my situation – i.e. that I have finances to last a couple of years that I will be drip feeding to myself? I’m getting the impression that if a landlord looked at my situation against conventional earners, I would be seen as more risky and I wouldn’t really stand a chance.

    Also, by the sounds of things, I’ll have to look into the sub-let option first. I have a small studio of music gear and don’t want to have to move it more than the journey over to Berlin (from Ireland) if possible, though I would initially be going over without it. Having said that, I would like to get it over as soon as possible. You kinda advise against long term sub-letting, but do you think that is based on your unfortunate situation, or do you think this would generally be a viable option (if not a little riskier) for letting somewhere for at least 1 or 2 years? Waiting several months for a long term lease before bringing my gear over would leave me with little to do in Berlin – other than spend my redundancy going out which I would like to avoid!! Cheers

  25. Jon

    @blaise – depends what you’re looking for. If you’re untermieten it can be anything from super quick to very long, depending what the main mieter wants. If you want proper mieten you need to count 2-4 weeks , as getting the paperwork in order will be at least a week.

  26. blaise

    Hello I was wondering if you could tell me how long should it take for me to get a flat/apartment in Berlin? I’m moving on the 25th on June and haven’t a clue what to do and I don’t speak German! Can you give me any tips?

  27. Jon

    @James – yes, you should then be able to get a Schufa report, and also if you have a work contract with McKinsey or someone like that, you should be OK.

    Yes, a landlord will rent to a non-German speaker, but you might just struggle to make yourself understood at some points. Any German friends you could bring along to viewings? But basically if you’re financially legitimate you should be OK.

    Berlin is a very dog friendly city, and most apartments I saw just said that you had to tell them if you have an animal. It might restrict the range of places you can rent a little, but it shouldn’t be significant.

  28. James

    great blog thanks for taking the time to write all of the details out

    I’m thinking about moving to Berlin.

    I moved to europe 1 year ago from Los Angeles but i had friends in Barcelona and Hamburg, the two places i stayed for 6 months each, so i didn’t have to deal with any landlords or anything.

    I’m not an EU citizen but i have a 2 year freelance consulting Visa. I’m thinking of going to work at McKinsey or another consulting firm in Berlin so they would help set up my new visa.

    However, they don’t help much with apartments.

    I can prove income, and i have technically been “registered” as a resident in hamburg, DE for 1 year. And i believe i would have a clean Schuft** report.

    However, in your experience, do you think that a landlord would rent a non-sublet (mieten i think you said) to an American that doesn’t speak German.

    Also do you know anything about any special paperwork or rules if you have a dog?

    Any information is greatly appreciated, thanks for your time

  29. Jon

    @Adam – I am keeping my UK LLP (to all intents and purposes the same as the situation with your Ltd company), and VAT and corporation tax will still be paid to HMRC in the UK. I will then transfer the earnings from this to Germany, and then pay income tax in Germany on this income. I have established myself as a self employed person (Selbständiger) in Germany, and will also pay into a Krankenkasse for healthcare.

    Don’t however yet ask me how all this will be done in terms of paperwork because I haven’t had to submit anything yet! 🙂

  30. Adam Foster

    Jon, this is a very interesting read, thanks for sharing!

    My situation seems very similar to your own. I am a partner in a small IT company registered in the UK, and am moving back to Germany having lived previously in Berlin during 2010/11 – eerily in Schivelbeiner Straße!

    My question, though somewhat unrelated to the topic of this post, is something I think you can help me with. I am technically an employee of my LTD company which is registered in the UK, and am curious how the whole Income Tax/National Insurance situation works. Should I be paying income tax to the UK or German government? I assume since I am an employee of a UK company I will be liable to pay tax to the UK government, but it seems a little odd that I wouldn’t have to pay anything to the German government despite the fact I’m living in their country.

    I appreciate you’re not an accountant, though I imagine you had similar questions prior to your move and thus thought it might be worth picking your brains.

  31. Jon

    @Christo – yes, I speak quite fluent German, so have no problem there. I’d worry more about the comms with landlords and trying that in English than I would about the forms. Especially older people do not always have an excellent knowledge of English, and you’re going to have to be telephoning people to confirm appointments…

  32. Christo Skelton @christoskelton

    I’m contemplating on making the move to Berlin next year and find your information most useful. Thanks for that.
    What are your German language skills like? All the paperwork must be daunting. I expect it’s best to have a fluent German speaker aid you.

  33. Jon

    @Ignazio – yes, untermieten should work from Italy. But you might need to come briefly to find a place, and then actually move a few weeks later with your things. I would not try to do it all in one go.

  34. Ignazio

    Do you think is it possible to rent a flat (untermieten ) from italy? Or I have to schedule a month in a normal B&B?

  35. Jon

    @Suzanne – what a brilliant question. Short answer: I have no idea! I suspect the pattern is mixed here, because there is no automatic association here that works in tech = earns a decent wage, and in the end its the proof of the latter that landlords want.

  36. Suzanne Forbes

    Thank you so much for this exceedingly helpful post, Jon. My bf and I are looking at moving to Berlin within a year or so and I’m researching like crazy; yours is definitely the most helpful apartment-seeking guide I’ve found.

    A weird question: we live in Oakland and work in tech, and here, tech workers are once again being treated like goldmines by landlords. Do you have a sense of a positive or negative bias towards renting to tech workers?

  37. Olof Ahlén

    Just excellent blog post! Thanks for telling us so many relevant things about getting apartments in Berlin. I’m moving there in early July to start a PhD in Potsdam (I will be commuting). My plan now thanks to your post is to look for an untermiete for maybe 3 months and search for a proper miete while in Berlin.
    Anyway, cheers!

  38. Kriszta

    Hi Jon, thx for your reply.
    I also don’t understand what might the problem be… I’ve been working here almost two years, my finances are ok, I earn enough money, my boyfriend does too, and we can proove it. I pay taxes, insurance etc… I have no ideas what else cld I do… All the paperworks are in order too all the time… I try to make the best impression too, but it’s a bit hard since I have to charm a person who finaly has nothing to do with the decision… I understand also them of couse. How cld I possibly showing them more that my stay in Berlin is not temporary?

  39. Jon

    @Kriszta – I don’t know your precise case, and I hope it’s not pure prejudice that is being shown towards you. All I tried to do was to put myself in the shoes of the landlord, and make things as easy as possible for them – I went out of my way to prove my finances were OK, and that I was not going to mess them around. I tried to make the best possible impression, and to show my stay in Berlin would not just be temporary. I also made sure all my paperwork was in order.

  40. Kriszta

    Hey Guys,
    Nice to read some useful informations about renting apartments in Berlin. But unfortunatly I’m not so lucky finding any apartment… I’m searching in the South-East area, Köpenick, Schöneweide, Fridrichshagen, since I’m working in this area. But so far nothing (I’ve been searching over a year now) Personal experience that however Germans say they like “auslanders” I really don’t feel myself welcomed at all… Any tips maybe?

  41. Jon

    @Sjors – thanks for adding things about Nachmiete! One question – I assume you need the agreement of the landlord to do that? And then you get your name on the bell too? And I assume the landlord can refuse it to the current person renting?

    @Patrick – I’ve never done it any way other than renting a van and moving things. But do check both sides – might be cheaper to go to Berlin, rent there, and then drive to and from Brussels. Also in Berlin you can rent people to help you shift things very cheaply – loads of firms do that. You might also find some groups on Facebook that facilitate putting people together to save costs when one is moving one way, and one the other – such a group exists for Berlin-København at least.

    And both @Patrick and @Sjors – welcome (back) to Berlin!

  42. Patrick

    Hi Jon. Thanks for this interesting and genuinely useful post. As I will be making more or less the same move in the coming weeks (ie Brussels to Berlin) I hope that your advice will save me from a few headaches.

    One question, any insighs/tips on how to best move belongings from Belgium to Berlin in an economical manner? Have already looked at self-hire van options, but wondering if I am missing a trick somewhere.

  43. Sjors

    Thanks so much for all the tips, Jon. I lived in Berlin for over half a year in 2013, came back to the Netherlands, and am now searching for an apartment in Berlin again. I did know most of what you mention here, but the having a German address & phone number part had eluded me. Nobody tells you. I also experienced how difficult it is to get something when you’re not a resident, even with a Dutch version of the SCHUFA-auskunft. Found an Untermiete through a friend, and am confident now that we’ll find something good in a few months.

    A few tips about WG-Gesucht, because that has worked great for me, and rather consistently too. WG-gesucht is mostly for Germans by Germans, but there are exceptions. These apartments are not just WGs or Untermiete, but also “Nachmiete”, which is something you haven’t covered here. Nachmiete is where you take on an existing rent contract, also allowing you to rent after that period. Most German rent contracts have a minimum period of 2 years, which can be unfortunate, and Nachmiete solves this problem. Look for apartments with all the perks you want, and then send them a personal email. Tell something about yourself as a person, preferably in German, and make an appointment. The people putting up the ad are mostly the current tenants, and they will show you around. They will forward your stuff to the Hausverwaltung, who make a decision based on your records and possibly the preference of the current tenants.

  44. Brusselsblogger

    @Jon I find it especially surprising in Brussels, where you have a very dynamic and competitive rental market yet there is only one really relevant, but hardly innovative website (immoweb) and all the agencies seem to do fine without providing any serious customer service (at least this was my experience).

    Most problematic for the person who looks for an apartment is in my view the lack of information / good photos etc of the properties. So often you visit something only to realise 2 seconds after entering the apartment that this is obviously nothing for you.

    But my feeling is that this market is a bit like the job market where the most interesting things are anyway never public and only go by word of mouth.

  45. Jon

    @Oliver H – yes, re. Provision. But there is a big grey area between what is clearly an agency, and what is a simple landlord (i.e. one person renting something). I encountered all sorts of Verwaltungsfirmen, and some of these demanded Provision.

    On untermieten – yes, in theory. But when I asked about the name on doorbell thing when seeing a few places to sub-let the folks recoiled, and one said it was absolutely not possible.

    @Hans – no idea. And no idea if they ever check names on doors. The Belgian police do systematically still do checks (or did in 2007 the last time I moved to Belgium!)

    @Matt – a few points of clarification. The ‘buy your kitchen’ thing is not so bad if you want to rent long term, and part of the reason the German system is commended is that it does give longer term stability for people renting. There is also a sort of system where you buy the kitchen off the previous tenant, although how you estimate the value of a 5 year old kitchen I have no idea. This issue also varies between regions of Germany as far as I know.

    Ejected with 2 weeks’ notice. Yes, I was not at fault, in the sense that I had done nothing wrong. But I only had a contract to the end of December, and only had a verbal agreement that it could be continued. I should have got something in writing sooner, and that’s my fault. Can’t blame Germany or legal thing for that.

    Comparing UK and DE experience is quite hard, because in the UK I am an insider – I can take along 10 years of bank statements from a UK bank and show what I earned. I think the major difference is that in the UK you see a place and make an offer – it’s a first come, first served situation. Same in Belgium mainly. You get your offer in, and the place is yours. In Berlin that is generally not the case – a whole group of people submit their documents, and then a decision is made from among those people. That puts the landlord in a stronger position (although it may of course take longer, and needs a longer time before a place is eventually let), and those renting – especially those from outside Germany – are in a weaker situation, as they have to essentially compete with others to demonstrate they are legitimate.

    @Brusselsblogger – I agree 100%! And I am having a cup of coffee on Sunday in Berlin with a friend whose girlfriend works in this area, and that’s exactly what we will discuss. ImmobilienScout24 is essentially like a speeded up version of newspaper ads – it has not changed the information dynamics of the rental process. There could be a good startup business in trying to do that.

  46. Brusselsblogger

    Jon, I am wondering if, after all this experiences, you have any ideas on how the whole system of finding an apartment could be made easier, with the help off the internet. I often think that the online search engines are not much better than what we had in newspaper listing for many years.

  47. Matt Wardman

    That’s all interesting, Jon.

    Memo to self: buy a filing cabinet on wheels before moving to Germany.

    The “buy your own kitchen” and the 5-6 months rent equivalent upfront expenditure are points UK commentators explaining how brilliant the German renting system is all seem to miss.

    I’m interested that you could be ejected at 2 weeks notice when you were not at fault. Is that usual, or just an artefact of subletting?

    I’d be really interested to see a comparison between your London experience and your Berlin experience before you forget the former.

    Best of luck in Berlin.

  48. Hans

    The name on the letterbox and doorbell is a speciality of Germany (or Berlin). In Austria flats are numbered and the postman will put the letters in to the letterboxes according to the flat number. Usually, the name is written on the letterbox and doorbell as well.

    I always wondered how German police finds the people they’re looking for in large houses if the doors are not numbered and if there is no name on it either.

  49. Oliver H

    One clarification, Jon: The provision is a charge ONLY levied by agents. In fact, a landlord offering their own property is forbidden to charge provision. The provision is for the services rendered by the agent. As the expenses an agent incurs would be tax-deductible for the landlord anyway, since they contribute to finding a renter and thus making money with his property, there’s be no point in charging provision.

    This is why a lot of people search first for flats directly offered by the owner, which is especially common with big housing companies, but also with some smaller owners: It’s MUCH less money to pay up front.

    Incidentally, there’s been a lot of discussion on who pays the provision of late and there might be well legislation forthcoming putting it flat on the owner.

    Also, in theory, when subletting, you DO need an express permission of the landlord. Or rather, the person holding the main contract does. This can be done by simply talking with him or her, but of course, when push comes to shove, it’s much better to have something in writing – especially since subletting without permission of the landlord can be grounds for getting kicked out AND being liable for any damages.