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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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!

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[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!

130 Comments

  1. Marcelo and carla

    Dear Everyone,

    My name is Marcelo. My girlfriend and I (both in our twenties) arrived yesterday in Berlin and we are looking for a decent place to stay until Sept 05, 2016.-

    We are new here, but we are in condition to afford the rent with no further issue, and always under a fair arrangement.

    If you have info about someone looking for a pair of honest, decent people under a legal working visa program, please let us know. My mail is marcelopineda94 {at} me(.)com.

    Thanks in advance.

  2. Daughter’s first rental-share was a disaster…guy smoked weed all the time, brought in girlfriend and baby. Girlfriend began to let others stay there and she never knew who would be there when she woke up, roomie becomes even more paranoid and everyone ate HER groceries. She had to get OUT for her own safety and sanity. She’s been subletting month-to-month ever since. The apartment situation is SO competitive there! It’s a mom’s nightmare! LONG term rental is needed desperately, preferably without a roommate at this point. She’s handling it but I always put out ‘feelers’ on the side. Again, I’m a MOM. 😉

  3. katherine

    Hi Nara,
    I am not an agent, I have an apartment in Berlin (my own) that I rent now when I leave in Australia for a period of time. I rent my flat (mostly to people I know & can trust) for up to 1 year period. 6 months could be fine too. The apartment will be available from 6 September, I am in Berlin now. It is 3 room (big living,open plan kitchen /dining, 2 bedrooms: one set up as bedroom, one as an office, 1 full bathroom and WC plus laudry) flat with all rooms fully and nicely equipped. In Niederbarnimstrasse, Friedrichshain. All bills and set up are included in the rent. If you are potentially interested, please contact m directly on kathernine at oneteam.com and I can provide more details (and learn more details about you). Best of luck, Katherine

  4. Juan J

    I was one of the ones who posted here a few months ago about looking for an apartment.

    In the end I found a fantastic penthouse in Friedrichshain, 240m2 with access to the decked room for another 240m2, for less than I was paying for a smaller apartment (non-penthouse) in Boston. The landlord is great, very laid back, lights on the penthouse next to me and I think we will have a great relatonship. The strategy I followed started four months earlier, mostly through immobilienscout24. I made three trips to Berlin, one to scout neighborhoods, then after I found apartments I wanted to see, scouting buildings and areas, then on the third trip, three weeks before I moved, I went to see specific apartments, selected one, and moved in 1 August.

    NOTE: Go see your areas of interest during the day AND AT NIGHT. Areas that may be nice and quiet may turn into rabid pits of wanton debauchery when the sun comes down. Of course, if that’s what you’re looking for, you may have hit the jackpot, but not being a bloodsucker, I prefer to work during the day and sleep comfortably at night.

    A few things to keep in mind — the deposits are set in stone, and there’s a good reason for them to be 3 months rent. Most landlords do not seem to know about deposit insurance and many won’t accept it, so be prepared to pay cash. I was lucky to negotiate one month’s deposit up front and the other two spread out over 12 months rent. My rent is guaranteed for three years so after a year the monthly outlay goes down. Also, if you say you will send money, do so exactly like you said. Germans appreciate punctuality and your first impression, if it’s a bad one, may be your last.

    There is one very good agency that works in the UK/US mode, with only one month’s deposit required. They do short and long term rentals and I found them to be very reliable and professional, http://www.berlin99.com. The only reason that I did not rent the beautiful apartment they found on the banks of the river Spee is that I found the penthouse that I wanted. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

    Your other friend for short term rentals is AirBNB, but pay ==very== close attention to the reviews from tenants. If necessary, make a trip to review areas and even see apts before making a commitment. I’ve used them twice, in Berlin and in Barcelona, and both were very positive experiences, but you need to do your homework.

    Other notes… the resident registration queues are gigantic. Upwards of a month to be able to register. That will hold up everything else, including opening a bank account, getting internet, etc. The only way to get in sooner is to claim an emergency situation, which is essentially that you will be traveling again soon and need to get it done quickly. If so, they may give you an appointment the next day! Don’t forget to bring your lease contract, in German, your passport, that if your spouse or anyone else who will be living with you, and if your spouse chooses not to use your last name, bring a marriage certificate, translated to GERMAN (unless it is in English).

    Best internet provider is 1&1, but it takes them 3 weeks to install. You can get a USB data stick for about €50 for 5GB from Vodafone or other suppliers. THAT WILL NOT WORK WITH A 3G ROUTER, it will only work on your computer. Only the monthly contract sticks will work with a 3G router.

    Also note that Kabel Deutchsland does not offer service in all of Berlin. You may have to get a satellite dish or do internet TV to get television. Note as well that is is illegal for a landlord to prohibit the installation of a satellite dish because German law guarantees the right of tenants to get TV service in their native language.

    One very useful piece of info I found out after hiring an immigration lawyer… IF YOU ARE A US CITIZEN and have an employment contract for your US company (in GERMAN, or at least BOTH GERMAN AND ENGLISH) that guarantees you will have sufficient income to support yourself, you can take that to immigration with your passport and resident registration and get resident and work visas. This is because Germany enjoys very good relations with the US at the moment. Your contract must say that the term of employment is indefinite, for work in Germany, and state your GROSS AND NET income (brutto and netto). This is different than the blue card visa, which is when you have an employment offer from a German employer.

    And I have to admit that so far, I LOVE it here in Berlin. I am Puerto Rican, a US citizen and a former Marine. This place is fantastic! The food is great, always fresh, plentiful and CHEAP. The beer flows like water for as little as €0.69 per half liter bottle. The German language sounds rough but the people are just like everywhere else, good, decent, nice people who will appreciate your making the slightest effort to learn their language. Don’t behave like the legendary ugly American, keep an open mind, and you will enjoy this city and country tremendously, because in the end, EVERYONE ON THE PLANET LAUGHS THE SAME WAY! 🙂

  5. Hi Jon,

    I’m moving from NYC to Berlin for a new job but on a 6 month contract.
    Any recommendations on sites to find a fully furnished, short term rental?

    Thanks

  6. katherine

    Rachel and Aygul – if you need to chat or need first hand info – email me, perhaps we (me and my husband Robert who also speaks good German) can help out 🙂

  7. katherine

    Great post Jon!

    And congrats, your blog is getting larger and larger (very interesting to see how it all grows)…

    As I lived in Berlin for few years, I learned ‘the hard way’ about all of the stuff you write about here, so this is really good summary for everyone that wants to live in Berlin 🙂

    I have an apartment in Berlin that I am currently renting out (as I moved to Sydney for a while), my flat (2 bedroom, fully furnished, high end, in Friedrichshain, with car park if needed, all utilities set up & included) will be available for rent from September – if anyone here is interested – please let me know (katherine at oneteam dot com). I will be in Berlin from 25 August (couple of weeks only but can help if anyone needs bit a guidance). :).

    Good luck and enjoy Berlin!

  8. Rafique Memon

    Hi Jon!
    Your article is really a productive paper for new comers to Berlin.
    I intend to move to Berlin in 2016 for my Phd studies all the way from Pakistan. I need long term accommodation for a family of 4 people. Myself, spouse and two kids. The institution is situated in Friedrichstraße. What would you suggest as regards letting not really cheap but affordable apartment, a house between 800 to 1100 euros. Are there any international schools nearby?

    Best regards
    Rafique

  9. Hi,
    I am going to move to Berlin in September 2015.The information you shared is great! it did helped me allot.Thank you very much.
    Kind regards
    Aygul

  10. Rachel

    Martin, can you tell me your email? I’m moving to Berlin in november with my husband and we are having trouble understanding all the process (opening a bank account, finding a place to rent). It would be really helpfull to talk to someone who have been through it all. Thanks.

  11. HI, maybe a difficult Q to ask, but about to buy a flat in Berlin and wonder from the units that are available what would you consider a better buy. A one bed room or a studio? As you say a 1 Zimmer or a 2 Zimmer?
    Location Charlotten Burg Wilmersdorf, Berlin. It’s a Refurbishment of existing mixed-use building.

    Thanks very much for any info.

    R PETER

  12. Martin

    Four months after arriving in Berlin, I recently moved into my own furnished apartment (just one bedroom and a living room for the time being, but I hope for something bigger when the sums add up) and I thought I would offer some general advice about starting up in Berlin. Actually, most of it probably applies to any city in any country. See also my three previous contributions to this comment section.

    1. Don’t try to do everything at once. Your priorities for accommodation should look something like this:
    a) Stay in short-term accommodation at first (easier to find and book before you arrive)
    b) Register your address at the local municipal offices (your Anmeldebestätigung)
    c) Open a bank account
    d) Get your SCHUFA Auskunft (credit rating)
    e) Armed with all the above, find longer-term accommodation

    2. Your Anmeldebestätigung is the document that will unlock everything else. Without it, you can’t open a bank account, get a SCHUFA Auskunft, start paying income tax or join a health and social security fund (Krankenkasse). Don‘t be frightened of the Anmeldebestätigung. All it means is registering your address. Some websites say that, as well as your passport, you must show evidence of where you live, such as a rental contract. But in my experience, that is not true. All you have to do is give your postal address; no proof of residence required.

    3. Your employer will need these things before he can pay you: your Anmeldebestätigung, your income tax number, your Krankenkasse number, your bank account details. If there is a delay in obtaining any of these things, it will take longer for you to be paid. When you get your Anmeldebestätigung, the tax office should then automatically write to you with your income tax number.

    You have to join a Krankenkasse. There are around 120 of them, and they are non-profit associations that administer the state health and social security schemes. They all charge the same and offer much the same service. Ask your colleagues about the Krankenkassen they are members of, then choose one.

    4. From all the above, it should be clear that you will need to finance yourself through your first six to eight weeks as there will be no money coming in (and your first pay cheque will probably be paid in arrears), yet you will still have living expenses. You may also need cash to put down as a deposit on longer–term accommodation, plus the first month’s rent.

    5. German law (I understand) says that you must register your address within two weeks of finding permanent accommodation. It’s up to you what you consider to be permanent accommodation, but you don’t want to leave it too long before registering, for the reasons given above. On the other hand, remember that you (and Germans as well) have to register your address every time you move, so if you move around a lot, you may find yourself yo-yoing back and forth to the town hall.

    You will find many people (such as work colleagues) are happy to “lend” you their address to help you obtain your Anmeldebestätigung. You could also try asking the person you’re staying with temporarily (in a B&B or a shared apartment perhaps), but remember that they may have reasons for not letting you use their address (such as not wanting the tax man to find out that they are receiving tax-free rent from you). Always ask first. And remember that certain organisations (such as the tax office) will write to you at your registered address, so it should be somewhere you can get to easily to pick up mail, or where the resident is prepared to forward it to you.

  13. Some updates about the renters situation in Berlin:

    All Easy Credit stores have been shut down (they’re bankrupt) even though this is not clear from their website!! Reddit has a good thread on the situation. http://www.reddit.com/r/berlin/comments/3dlsew/easycredit_doesnt_offer_schufa_reports_anymore/

    Postbank Filiale at Schönhauser Allee 79 offers instant Schufa Reports. It is currently THE ONLY place in Berlin that does, and they are having constant technical problems. Be prepared to wait a long time. It is very hard to get a flat without a Schufa, even though it seems ridiculous to have a credit report from a country you’ve just arrived in. But since the German credit system is the reverse of the US, i.e. you start with a perfect score and it goes down if you miss payments, it’s nothing to fear.

  14. For anyone looking for short term rentals in Berlin I recommend
    http://www.wg-gesucht.de
    https://www.nestpick.com

    As they let you specify the dates you want to move in with some leeway, really good!

  15. Meredith

    Hi Jon!

    I cannot begin to tell you how helpful this article is! Thank you so much for writing it. I am a 25 year old American who is moving to Berlin in a little over a month. I will be studying September 2015 – July 2016 at a photography school located in Mitte. I just received word I’ve been accepted to the school and am now scrambling to make accommodations.

    I’m looking for a 2 bedroom (so 3 rooms including living area) flat with my other friend who will also be studying at the photography school. We really would love a nice, safe (we’re both 25 year old females) flat in a quaint area like Prenzlauer Berg. After reading this, I definitely think we need to sub-let/untermieten (is that possible to do for almost a whole year?). Our maximum budget is 1,000 Euros/month.

    I looked online at many sites and could only find things that were far out of our price range. We’ve recently been searching/emailing people on Craigslist and have found many more suitable deals. How reputable is Craigslist for sub-letting flats in Berlin? I’ve never used it in the US. Some of the offers almost seem too good to be true, makes me think some of the information is not true.

    I truly hope you can find time to respond (or anyone else on here, please let me know if you have any information), any knowledge will be helpful to us at this point as we’re feeling very overwhelmed with the whole process.

    Thanks so much,
    Meredith

  16. Maclellan

    Hey, Great write up, Jon! Seriously helpful for me.

    I am moving to Berlin in September with my wife and we are looking for a place. This guide was very helpful!

    Any updates about AirBnB? Has anyone here done the move from an AirBnB sublet to an apartment successfully?

    Katherine, is the apartment still available?

  17. Tazmin

    Hi, thanks for the article! I tried opening an account with DKB but I don’t have a German address yet so it didn’t let me. How did you manage it? Thanks!

  18. Hi Jon-

    Do you know of any services in Berlin where I can PAY to have an agent/broker find an apartment for me?

    Thanks!

  19. Henrik

    First of all, thank you so much for your very informative and useful post Jon.
    Katherine, we are a couple, currently living near London, but due to plans of doing research in Berlin, we are moving to Berlin this September. We would be very interested in renting your flat if it is still available.
    We would be super-thankful to receive your reply.
    Thank you,
    Henrik

  20. Katherine, I am interested in more info about the flat you are renting, but I see no way to contact you. My email is bd5 a-t bd5 d-o-t c-o-m. Can you pls send me info on it?

    Juan

  21. katherine

    Great post Jon!

    I actually lived in Berlin for few years and learned ‘the hard way’ about all of the stuff you write about here, so this is really good summary for everyone that wants to live in Berlin 🙂

    I have an apartment in Berlin that I am currently renting out (as I moved to Sydney for a while), my flat (2 bedroom, fully furnished, high end, in Friedrichshain) will be available for rent from September – if anyone here is interested – please let me know.

    Good luck and enjoy Berlin!

  22. I’m curious about a few things. I can afford a high end apartment, but I can’t find any web sites for agencies willing to help find what I am looking for. I am also interested in the concept of Kautions­bürg­schaft or deposit insurance. Apparently this is a way to pay a premium for an insurance policy that guarantees the deposit amount to the landlord. Is this commonly accepted? If so, it would seem to be a great way to not have to shell out a huge amount of cash for the deposit. ??

  23. Martin

    In response to Filip Rukovina, you may find it easier and less stressful to stay in a bed and breakfast, pension or other cheap tourist accommodation for the first couple of weeks. The reason is that it can be quite difficult to arrange WG accommodation from abroad because:
    1. People offering a sub-let often ignore applicants from outside Berlin (they want someone in quickly, and an out-of-towner would take too long)
    2. You need to visit the places that interest you to check whether they are suitable
    3. People offering a sub-let usually want to meet their likely house-mates
    4. Even if you find a place, you may well have to pay in advance in cash, and you can’t easily do that from abroad
    5. Even if you pay your rent by online banking, it will be from a non-German bank account, and many sub-letters may be uncomfortable about that.

    The benefit of staying in a B&B, a pension or some other tourist accom initially is that it is easy to find, book and pay before you arrive through online agencies such as Air B&B or Budget Places. Once in Berlin, you can visit the WGs that seem to offer the right accom for you and, more importantly, sell yourself to the sub-letters and prospective house-mates face to face.

  24. Filip Rukavina

    Hi Jon, the blog is great and I learnd a lot. Like everyone else, I have a problem with subleting. I am moving to Berlin with my girlfriend on the beginning of July and we are staying for 3 months. We looked on a lot of websites for a room or a small flat, but everybody is searching for 1 person only. Do you know how to find a room (WG) or a small flat for 2 people? It would be much easier for us and would cost a lot less.
    Best regards

  25. I’m going to be in a similar position to you in about a year’s time, moving from the UK. This blog entry will be extremely useful then. Many thanks!

  26. Jon, we are so grateful for your wonderful help on this scary subject. I wrote you over a year ago when we decided to move here and you were very kind.

    My tech-worker husband and I are now here in Berlin, in Stage 2 of reputation-building- a short-term rental from coming-home.de, where they put our name on the mailbox and gave us a limited lease. I just wanted to say to Ana that we paid our first month’s rent and first half of our Kaution in cash to the real estate agent, and while it felt dicey and drug-deal-like to me, he didn’t blink an eye. We didn’t have a German bank account yet; cash it had to be. Perfectly normal for a reputable real estate manager to walk away with a stack of bills. Of course, caution is advised and YMMV.

  27. I have a question and I haven’t found a quick answer for it yet: is it normal to ask for the payment of the provision in cash?
    One of the places to which I sent an application accepted me on the next day but the real estate agent told me I had to pay the provision in cash. I don’t know what to think of this, it doesn’t seem legit…

  28. Martin

    I have discovered an even faster way of getting a SCHUFA Auskunft. Go to an Easy Credit shop (visit http://www.easycredit.de to find the nearest branch) and you get your SCHUFA there and then (assuming you are considered credit-worthy, of course). SCHUFA has a partnership deal with Easy Credit, and each of the latter’s shops has a SCHUFA desk and computer terminals.

    What you do is:
    * Go to the desk with your passport, Anmeldebestätigung and bank account details.
    * The assistant enters all the details in the computer (in my case, the lady took a lot of trouble to explain things to a dumb Brit).
    * The assistant gives you a Bestellungsnummer (order number) and you also create your own six-digit ID number on a special keypad.
    * Go away for ten minutes and have a cup of coffee.
    * Return to the shop, input the two numbers at one of the computer terminals.
    * Your Auskunft is printed out there and then. SCHUFA will already have deducted the 24.95 euro fee from your bank account (you have to pay the fee no matter how you obtain your Auskunft).

    I had trouble with your link to the Immobilien Scout 24 online SCHUFA application form, Jon. When I contacted SCHUFA about this, I was told that it was often the case, and the helpful man at the SCHUFA end of the line suggested (in English) either visiting an Easy Credit shop or going direct to the SCHUFA website (www.meineschufa.de). In the latter case, although you complete the form online, you still have to wait a few days for the Auskunft to arrive in the post.

    Like you Jon, it’s a mystery to me how SCHUFA was able to judge my creditworthiness when I had only been in Berlin for a couple of months. Perhaps it helps to have a decent sum of money in your bank account (1,000 euros rather than 100 euros), but I’m just guessing.

  29. Akshay

    Hey Jon,

    The information provided is really helpful. I too, will soon be moving to Berlin in a couple of months. I may require your help/guidance if I do get stuck up with any process. Hope you can show me the right way 😉

    Have a great day!

    Best,

    Akshay

  30. Anyssa

    Hey Jon,
    Thank you for the post. I didn’t realize how much I would need to do to find a place to live. What should I do if I am a student without a real source of income?

    Also, I live in America and I don’t think I will be able to visit before moving to the country, what do you suggest I do? Should I wait until I am in Germany and crash somewhere in the meantime or try communicating from far away?

  31. I have a daughter in Berlin with the same situation in that the sublet is up VERY soon and needs a place. She’s looking and this is the most complicated route to a home I’ve ever seen! Thanks for the info…passing it on to her!

  32. Martin

    @Jon @Pat
    I have found that getting post delivered is no hassle. I am staying with someone in Berlin for a few weeks and I simply give my address as c/o my host (or you can use the German ‘bei’). The post gets here every time (even from the bank where I have recently opened an account). After all, it’s a perfectly normal thing to do – post is delivered ‘c/o John Smith’ the world over.

    Until I started living in Berlin, I hadn’t realised how important a person’s name is on the envelope. It’s because, while the buildings are numbered, the flats in them are often not numbered, so the name of the resident on the envelope is the only way the postman can tell who should receive it. The building where I am staying contains 12 un-numbered flats, so the postman goes to a bank of post boxes on the ground floor, each with a resident’s name on it. That’s how the post gets to the right person. As Jon says, for the postman, it’s the name on the post box that is important, not the name on the bell. (And by the way, the postman gets into the building by using a key to a special lock next to the front door.)

    If you’re staying in a B&B, the only questions are whether you will want post delivered to a place where you may only be staying for a week or two, and whether your host will let you have post delivered c/o them. He or she may be concerned that they will end up forwarding mail to you long after you have left, or get involved in other complications. And whether you find the B&B through AirB&B or some other agency is surely irrelevant. I found http://www.budgetplaces.com useful.

    Re opening a bank account, yes, you need your Anmeldebestätigung from the local town hall confirming your residency, but the address does not need to be permanent. At the town hall, I simply gave the address of the person I am staying with, no proof needed. So don’t be put off by websites or anyone else telling you that you have to give proof of residence, such as a rental contract.

    However, do bear in mind that, whenever you change your address, you have to let the local town hall know (this is not just for foreigners; Germans have to do it as well). So if you move frequently during your first few months in Germany, you will find yourself getting better acquainted with dingy municipal offices than you might wish.

  33. Hi
    I really nee help. I need to see a specialist dentist in Berlin . I am on diability pension so I am not so rich. I cannot walk stairs max two floors. I have to take my dog and cats with me. I do not need to live in the middle of the city but somewhere so I can get to the city easily. Animals are difficult in every country but how should I do it when I need to maybe sublet first ? Should one month subleting give me enough time to fix things? ( so then the animals could stay that time at home) I need to be in Berlin at least one year.
    Also what about the bankaccount? Can i do it from Sweden or should I have a GErman address to it?
    Thank You for Your time and help
    Lena

  34. joe bentley

    My bank statement is over 10 grand. Im self employed working this is the second land lord that has flaked out on me.It seems Germans are fine taking money subletting but the rent contract is hassle for them. Im baffled any hints apart from pretending to be German.I have references doesnt make any difference.Im party putting this up for people to see what the situation is really like here not the media spin on it.

  35. Hej Jon,
    Thanks a lot for the post. Very informative.

    I am moving in September to Berlin to study for 3 years. I am not sure how to solve the problem of bank account and address as you need on to get the other!
    Also, being a student, how am i expected to provide a statement of account?

    Thanks in advance!

  36. Do you know if landlords in Berlin would take payment up front. My idea is to use my savings to rent for 3 months. If I enjoy the experience I’ll look into moving permanantly from the UK

  37. MPurcell

    MPurcell | February 21st, 2015

    Proposed Rent BRAKE…. to restrict increases on renewals to 10% and landlords to pay agents:

    http://www.out-law.com/en/articles/2014/october/germanys-cabinet-proposes-rent-brake-law-to-ease-housing-market-pressures/

    Enjoying Sat morning spent reading your excellent IT blogs. Thanks again.(apologies ……this URL intended for here but post mistakenly under Jon’s IT/Google article)

  38. MPurcell

    Jon, a superb blog. You might consider referring readers or including a lint to German Tenancy Law – types of contract (Limited/Unlimited) with landlord/management company; tenant’s obligations; duration of notice period for dismissal for breach of contract, etc., .CP

  39. Sorry for the slow replies from me here.

    @KMaria – I think you need to put yourself in the shoes of the landlord. Can s/he trust that you have enough money to pay the rent, medium term? If you can’t show that adequately then you’re going to struggle, not least because most rental contracts are unlimited length, and once a contract is signed a landlord cannot easily turn you out. So you might be better sub-letting first of all.

    @Liza – no I don’t think there’s an English version of ImmobilenScout. But it has *masses* more properties than anything else. So maybe try your best there with Google translate? In Chrome you can set preferences to auto-translate pages, so that might help.

    @Taija – thanks for the link! Your line “For some, it just seems to work” is very true! 🙂

    @Pat – hmm, this is a bit complex. First of all you need an address not really on the doorbell but on the postbox, so you can receive post there. If your name’s not there documents for setting up a bank account will not arrive. For that part putting your name on the doorbell of an AirBnB place would work just as well as a sub-let place. BUT – and this is where it gets complicated – you need to ALSO register that you live at a given address with the town hall of the Bezirk that you are living in, and there the owner of a AirBnB place might not be too keen to let you do that, as AirBnB exists in a grey zone in Berlin, legally. If you rent the place on AirBnB direct from the person who owns the property then fine, but if the person who puts a place on AirBnB is themselves renting the place then s/he is legally in a questionable position. So – in short – it might work with AirBnB, but don’t count on it I think. Do you, as an alternative, have friends in Berlin? Could you make your legal address with them, use that as a kind of postbox, but actually live at a AirBnB place? That might be easier.

  40. Patrick S

    Great stuff! thanks for the well detailed info.

    Question/s though:

    Me and my girlfriend move to Berlin this June. I understand the first breakthrough hurdle is getting a bank account, easy enough but getting the address part seems to be what confuses me.

    We are going to look at getting an Air Bnb for the 1st month, what’s to say we put our names on the letterbox and names on the door bell, would that suffice, who checks to see how legitimate this name on letterbox/door thing is?

    Or is it best to get sub-let like you did then put the names on, how do they know what the difference between it being a friends place or air bnb? I mean could we even be in a hostel and put the names on a friends place door/letterbox do they come and take a photo or do a check on something? please help.

    Thanks in advance

    Pat

  41. Wow, very comprehensive guide, I hope this would have existed in June 2012 when I was looking for my first flat in Berlin!

    I actually just wrote about the same topic, but maybe more on a very “young person’s perspective”. I had very same remarks though, especially, that it is worth being prepare to build up your reputation first and trying to get a permanent residency first after that.

    What I especially would like to point out, that competition even from the WG rooms can be quite harsh, and it is worth investing to even to the process to getting to an interview/viewing!

    You can find the complete story at https://fitterforlife.wordpress.com/2015/01/28/the-ultimate-honest-guide-to-find-an-apartment-in-berlin/

  42. Hi Jon , Thank you for your blog. We are moving to Berlin for 6 months in 2015 and your blog is indeed very helpful. Question : With reference to the links that you provided for e.g ImmobilienScout24 , there does not seem to be an “English” version of it. Would you be any chance be able to give us an English version of it? We found an apartment via http://www.urban-apartments.com/berlin/. Have you had any prior experience with them?
    Much Appreciated,
    Liza

  43. KMaria

    Hey! Thaaaaank you so much for posting this! It’s so helpful!

    I’m looking for places to rent in Berlin, found myself a handful of apartments and such, but never got around to actually rent one since I currently live in another country (been checking through the app you mentioned earlier in this post). Now, since I want to quit my job to move to Berlin and get myself a job there, how’s that possible if the landlord wants to check if I can afford renting an apartment? I mean, I have plenty of money saved up, but can I rent an apartment before actually having a job? Wouldn’t it be easier if I got a job first and then an apartment? Lol, sorry for my confusing question.

  44. Sorry for the slow replies here – it’s been a bit slow for me over the holidays!

    @Julián – no Berlin landlord is going to give a damn about what your living arrangements are. This is a liberal city in that respect! But the problem you’re going to face is how you prove you have enough money to pay the rent. At the start you’ll probably have to sub-let, and then get a bank account (or an account for each of you), and then get a Schufa-Auskunft, and then you’d be able to get a proper rental contract. In short: paperwork is going to be your headache, not your living arrangements!

    @Joseph – my letter from my accountant stated the earnings I had from my company for each of the past three years, until April 2012 and I needed to rent in December 2013. It stated simply how much I had earned, before tax, in each of those years. The letter was in English, on the headed paper from my accountants in London. One potential landlord wanted to see this letter on paper, for the rest a scan of it sent as a PDF was fine.

    @Laura – some questions above look at that. Your UK passports are going to be handy, as being EU citizens give you some more rights (although this doesn’t help much in the case of banking – see the main blog entry). You’re going to have to make do with Google Translate (for websites) and hope the landlords you find can speak English. Try “Ich spreche kein deutsch. Sprechen Sie englisch?” 🙂

  45. Hi,

    Thank you for all that information. My boyfriend and i are both packing up our things and moving to Berlin. We are australian however both have a UK passport. How will we do renting without knowing German?

  46. Joseph

    Hey Jon, thanks for laying out all the apartment search details, it’s extremely helpful. Like you, my business comes from outside of Germany, in my case the USA. I was going to get a proof of earnings letter from my accountant for the whole 2014 year so I can give adequate assurance about my ability to pay my rent. My questions was what did you actually provide with respect to this item? Did you just give the proof of earnings letter? Or did you include other items as well, say invoices or a bank statement that shows deposits of said earnings?

    Also, is there any way you could direct me to an example of the proof of earnings letter you received from your accountant? I just want to make sure I have everything in proper order so I have the best possible shot of getting a decent flat. Thanks again for all of your help!

  47. Julián Pozzo

    Hey Jon, i have some questions about finding a flat in berlin. Really good content in your post and was very helpfull in understanding everything about it but i still have a question or two!

    So me and my girlfriend want to move to germany for study purposes from a south american country, but as we do not know about living in germany it kinda scares us, anyhow we’d like (obviously) living together in our stay in berlin, is it “easy” to find a flat we could share with 2 rooms(not really neceasary though) bathroom, kitchen etc.?

    And do landlords accept 2 people(couple, my girlfriend and me) living in their flat(if flat can be shared)?

  48. @Calvin – I’m sorry but I can’t really help you with that one. Unless there was something in your sub-let contract about damage then I think you’re going to struggle.

    @Claudio – you are going to be in the same situation I was in when I came to Berlin first – I had no credit record, so there was no easy way to rent a flat in the proper way (mieten). You will have to sub-let, or go into a flat share, for a while at least – and make sure that you can then open up a bank account and get a Schufa Auskunft. Proof of wealth should be a decent substitute for proof of earnings though – at least when sub-letting.

  49. Claudio

    Hi Jon,

    I lived in the USA for the past 13 years but I am Italian. I will be moving to Berlin at the end of February 2015. I have a job here in NY but I’ll quit it before moving. So basically I’ll have no record, bank account, job or anything. (I will go to school full time to learn German before I start looking for anything serious). By the way, I am not a teenager anymore, I am 40 (but NY kept me young!)
    I guess the best solution will be to look for roommates? Or I can even aim to sublet a flat? I can prove that I can pay rent for a while, money is not the problem. Can you move into apartments at any time or is customary the 1st of the month like here in NYC? How soon do you think I need to start looking?
    Thank you so much for any suggestion you might have for me.

    Claudio

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