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Moving to Berlin

Straddling the River Spree in the northeast of Germany, Berlin is blessed with an abundance of greenery. Nearly a third of Berlin is covered in parks, gardens, forests, canals, rivers and lakes, and the city is unquestionably one of Western Europe's most scenic cities.

Germany's capital and largest city has built itself up and reinvented itself after the end of the Cold War as a forward-thinking bohemian metro, attracting a variety of expats to a city that thrives on creative prowess.

Living in Berlin as an expat

Berlin is cosmopolitan and eclectic, and the city is attracting expats in their droves. The city's laid-back bohemian culture combined with characteristically German efficiency makes it a desired posting for many professionals. 

Unemployment rates are still relatively high, but those with the right skillsets are sure to secure employment in Berlin. More a creative hub than corporate, suits are relatively rare on Berlin's wide avenues and job opportunities for expats in the financial or other formal sectors can be limited. 

The city has plenty to keep its residents occupied. Berlin's streets are lined with trendy cafes, eateries, bars and clubs of nearly every persuasion, as well as interesting galleries, art studios and theatres. The city's rich history and prolonged division also mean there is a slew of museums, monuments and other fascinating attractions and reminders that are sure to tickle history buffs. 

Expat families and children

Berlin also benefits from excellent civic services, including an easy and efficient public transport system, effective healthcare and first-rate education opportunities, especially when it comes to higher learning.

The city is also dotted with an abundance of green spaces, perfect for active families or those who like a picnic. Though young professionals may want to live in the city centre among the action, Berlin also boasts several leafy and quiet neighbourhoods ideal for families to settle in. The city's position also makes it the perfect base from which to explore the rest of Germany, as well as Eastern and Western Europe.

Cost of living in Berlin

Many expats choose Berlin for its gentle cost of living. The cost of accommodation is more affordable than in most European capitals, and much cheaper than in the likes of Paris or London. As a result, artists, designers, musicians, writers and performers are increasingly deciding to call Berlin home.

Climate in Berlin

Berlin has a continental climate with biting winters, hot summers and mild autumn and spring seasons. The weather in summer (June to August) is mostly pleasant and sunny with temperatures averaging 73°F (23°C), while winters (December to February) can be bitterly cold and damp, with temperatures hovering around freezing. The weather in Berlin is exceptionally unpredictable, and an umbrella is always a good idea when leaving the house.

Though some native Berliners are abandoning the city for greener pastures of employment, there continues to be a massive influx of internationals, and expats who move to Berlin can certainly look forward to a healthy, diverse community that is imparting its own character on the German capital.

Weather in Berlin

Berlin has a continental climate with biting winters, hot summers and mild autumn and spring seasons. The weather in summer (June to August) is mostly pleasant and sunny, with long days and temperatures averaging 73°F (23°C), but Berlin's climate is unpredictable and the weather can change rapidly. 

Winters (December to February) can be bitterly cold and damp, with temperatures hovering around freezing. Snow often falls between December and March, but Berlin seldom stays covered in snow for long. Rain can fall all year round and it is always a good idea to have an umbrella in Berlin, no matter the season. The wettest months are June and August, and the driest months on average are October and February. 

Berlin is a year-round travel destination because so much of the city's appeal lies in its cultural and historical attractions, which are fabulous regardless of the weather, so expats can look forward to exploring their new city in all conditions. That said, newcomers to the city will likely most enjoy their new home in the summer months when sidewalk cafes, parks and gardens are brimming, and a number of summer events can be enjoyed.

 

Pros and Cons of Moving to Berlin

The decision to pack up and move abroad isn't always easy, even when moving to a buzzing and attractive European capital such as Berlin. While the city has plenty of positives, there are some negatives about life here, too. 

It's best to have some idea of what to expect before moving, so for a balanced presentation of the good, bad and ugly, here are some pros and cons of relocating to and living in Berlin.


Cost of living in Berlin

+ PRO: Something for everyone’s budget

Despite being the capital city, the cost of living in Berlin is slightly lower than in other German cities. Even a city-centre apartment is relatively affordable, especially when compared to those in other Western European capitals. And for more affordable accommodation options, expats can save by looking in the surrounding areas and suburbs. Public transport is also reasonably priced, while the low fees in public and bilingual schools attract expat families. While expats on a budget can enjoy live music in local bars, those who wish to splurge can dine in Berlin's Michelin star restaurants.

- CON: Unavoidable expenses

Having a relatively lower cost of living doesn’t mean Berlin is cheap. Things are still pretty pricey relative to average incomes, and some expenses, such as healthcare, are unavoidable. All residents – local or expat – in Germany must have health insurance, and expats typically also pay for private health cover.


Working in Berlin

- CON: Finding a job is hard

Berlin consistently proves a hard job market to enter, and those who do find a job may not always be rewarded with a lucrative salary and employment benefits. Career growth and promotions also remain a pipe dream for many Berlin residents. Unfortunately, the city struggles with the highest unemployment rate in Germany.

- CON: Taxes are high

German residents will face high taxes, and as the tax rate is progressive up to 45 percent, higher earners contribute more than lower earners. Be sure to confirm and calculate net earnings when receiving job offers and draw up budgets for life in Berlin.

+ PRO: Job prospects for the innovative and creative

Despite its drawbacks, Berlin continues to attract young expats, particularly the creatives and those with entrepreneurial minds working in the tech sector. Anyone from singers and performers to writers and painters find themselves in Berlin, contributing to the bohemian atmosphere, while start-ups in the IT and media sectors are also growing.


Lifestyle in Berlin

+ PRO: Never a dull moment

Berlin is a melting pot, reflected in its buzzing cosmopolitan lifestyle. The city offers everything from bohemian art galleries and cafes to outdoor festivals and wild nightclubs, and those who prefer time outdoors can enjoy the green spaces such as Tiergarten and Viktoriapark. There is so much to see and do, and expats who have an open mind will meet people from all over and experience a veritable smorgasbord of fun and exciting things.

- CON: Culture shock of the Berlin Schnauzer

Berlin has a bad reputation of its local people being unfriendly and impolite, so much so that this attitude has gained the name Berlin Schnauzer. Interactions with German locals may seem curt with cold replies. However, this attitude is not typically intentionally rude, but rather just a result of Germans being more socially reserved. Understanding the culture can help overcome the hurdles of making friends.

- CON: Learning German is a must

Although Berlin is a globalised city and is home to languages from all over the world, expats may face language barriers, and learning German is key to having an integrated expat experience. Understanding and being able to communicate in German is greatly beneficial in both workplace and social settings, but it often proves a difficult language and takes time, effort and practice.


Getting around in Berlin

+ PRO: Public transport is efficient

German culture is characteristically punctual and efficient, and this cuts across all spheres of life, including public transport. One of the quickest ways to get around the city is the U-Bahn, Berlin's metro system, while trams, buses and the S-Bahn also connect the central and surrounding areas and regions.

+ PRO: Great for cycling

With over 620 miles (1,000km) of bike lanes and combined foot and cycle paths across the city, cycling is one of the easiest and healthiest ways to get around. Be sure to follow the rules of the road and be aware of pedestrians and other vehicles. Expats should note that, as a pedestrian, they should not walk in the dedicated bicycle lanes.


Accommodation in Berlin

+ PRO: High standard of accommodation

Berlin hosts a range of accommodation options, most of which are neat, well maintained or recently modernised and refurbished.

- CON: Most rentals come unfurnished

Most expats in Berlin will rent accommodation, and of these properties very few will be fully or even semi-furnished. ‘Unfurnished’ in Berlin may also mean no large kitchen appliances or even light fittings. Expats staying long term may prefer this, as they have the freedom to decorate and furnish their property, making themselves feel at home.


Education and schools in Berlin

+ PRO: High standard of education

Berlin has an excellent standard of education. Whether expats opt for a public, private or international school, their children are likely to have well-trained and motivated teachers as well as access to multiple learning materials and resources. This includes special-needs education for students with disabilities – schools are inclusive, both in academic and vocational institutions, and provide specialised services.

- CON: Admission to international and bilingual schools is competitive

Expats with older kids who may struggle with the language barrier in public schools tend to prefer international or bilingual schools, but demand is high and space is limited. Admission is not guaranteed and parents are encouraged to start exploring their options as early as possible. What's more, while bilingual schools typically offer reasonable fees, international schools come with steep tuition, often charging extra for external exams, so parents must be able to budget for this.


Weather in Berlin

+ PRO: Summer fun

Summers are warm without being unpleasantly hot, and spring and autumn also boast comfortable and mild temperatures. While there are year-round annual events, Berlin comes to life in summer, with park-goers enjoying picnics, outdoor music festivals and parties. Expats should always be prepared for the chance of rain and pack an umbrella.

- CON: Winter is bitterly cold

Expats who struggle with cold temperatures likely won’t enjoy Berlin’s winter when they find themselves needing to leave the comfort of their heated apartment to go to work or do grocery shopping. Some expats may enjoy the cold weather as well as the snow that falls, typically between December and March, although the snow cover doesn't last long.

Working in Berlin

Expats looking to climb the corporate ladder and land themselves an astronomical salary might want to look elsewhere than Berlin, and may be better off in Germany's financial hub of Frankfurt. 

That said, each year, both foreigners and Germans working in the creative industries flock to Berlin to establish themselves. It is also a popular destination for entrepreneurs looking to set up their own businesses, especially in technological fields. 


Job market in Berlin

For many expats, finding work in Berlin can be quite difficult. Year upon year, Germany's capital claims the highest unemployment rate of any city in the country. Previously a divided city, for many years Berlin was forced to put economic growth on hold in order to rehabilitate or eradicate inefficient East German businesses, and to integrate the separate infrastructures of the formerly spliced metropolis.

The economic funk did little to dampen the spirits of Berliners though, and the city has beckoned a young, creative expat community interested in tapping into its culture of innovation, and living among its bohemian crowd. Studio space is cheap in the metropolis and collectives are abundant; thus artists, performers, writers and musicians will find plenty of opportunity to get involved and be inspired. 

Despite Berlin's relatively high rates of poverty and unemployment, it ranks near the top of German cities when it comes to job creation. Those with the right skills and the drive have the potential to find a professional niche for themselves.

Expats who prefer a more formal career path should look into one of the many internet and media start-ups that have popped up in Berlin. The city has also taken steps to establish itself as a global competitor poised to attract high-tech, modern service companies and those in the processing industry.

And, with dozens of universities, colleges and polytechnics, and more than 200 research institutes, Berlin has no shortage of job opportunities in research and development.

As a final alternative, English-speaking expats should consider teaching English or working part-time in the tourism and hospitality service industries, the city's largest source of employment. These professions pay little, but are often easier to come by than freelance work or a position in a more formal sector.


Finding a job in Berlin

Expats trying to find work in Berlin can start by using online sources for some useful insights into the types of jobs available in the city. Those looking for work in niche industries will benefit from networking and making contacts with those already in their field in Berlin. 

Speaking German is not a prerequisite for many jobs in Berlin, but some knowledge of the local language will certainly be beneficial to new arrivals hoping to pursue a successful career in this city. 

Expats moving to Berlin from outside the EU or newer EU-member states such as Bulgaria or Romania must ensure that they have the necessary work permit for Germany. Realistically speaking, without an EU passport or sought-after qualifications, expats are unlikely to find work in Berlin, more so than in any other German city.


Work culture in Berlin

The work culture in Germany's capital is rather conservative. Expats will need to understand and incorporate elements of German business culture into their practices if they wish to be successful and make a good impression in the local workplace. 

Business culture in Berlin and Germany in general is formal and efficiency in the workplace is paramount. Time is money – so being punctual is important. Once the meeting begins, Germans get straight down to business and there's little room for small talk.

Punctuality and appearance are important, so expats should dress well and arrive at meetings fully prepared and on time. It's best to avoid humour, especially at first, as it can be misconstrued. One should expect to be asked detailed questions and have facts and figures on hand to back up what is being presented.

Although most Germans speak good English, many prefer to speak their own language when it comes to business negotiations. Expats who don't speak German should consider hiring a translator for important meetings. Newcomers to Berlin will find that Germans are private and maintain a strict separation between their work and home life, so it will take some time to forge more personal relationships with colleagues.

Cost of Living in Berlin

As one would expect in any European capital city, the cost of living in Berlin is fairly high. Berlin was ranked 60th out of 209 cities surveyed in the 2021 Mercer Cost of Living Survey. According to the survey, living in Berlin is cheaper than in other major German cities such as Frankfurt (54th) and Munich (52nd), but more expensive than some European cities such as Madrid and even Stockholm.

Regardless, expats will find that certain things, such as the cost of rental accommodation, are just a fraction of what they would pay in other European cities, such as Paris or London.

Health insurance is an expense that no one moving to Germany can avoid, so expats are advised to negotiate for a provision for this within their employment contracts wherever possible.

While expat parents moving to Berlin will have a wide variety of choices when it comes to schooling, the cost of international school fees is steep. 


Cost of accommodation in Berlin 

As is the case throughout much of Germany, Berlin residents tend to rent rather than buy property. Expats who move to the city also generally rent accommodation in Berlin owing to the short-term nature of their assignments.

Rent in Berlin is generally lower than that in other German cities, and even more so if expats opt for accommodation further away from the city centre.


Cost of entertainment and eating out in Berlin

Naturally, the cost of entertainment and eating out will vary in accordance with an individual's tastes and preferences. But those moving to Germany will find there are opportunities to either save or splurge in accordance with most budgets.

When it comes to food, Berlin has everything from upscale bistros to street food stalls, so expats are sure to find good quality food to satisfy any craving and to fit any budget. While entrance to Berlin’s top nightclubs comes with a small fee, the city has lots of bars and eateries with live music at no cost. 

There are many free pursuits to enjoy too, such as savouring a summer's day in the park, visiting local markets or going for a cycle. So even those who want to save while living in Berlin can do so without missing out on a social life. 


Cost of transport in Berlin

Berlin has an excellent public transport network and it is generally more affordable than transportation in Frankfurt and Munich. It is not necessary to have a car in Berlin and most expats prefer to make use of buses, trams and the metro.

Expats who plan on utilising public transport to commute to and from work on a daily basis can save money by investing in a travel pass. This is valid on all modes of public transportation.

Cycling is popular with the local population in Berlin and is by far the most cost-effective way to get around the city. Berlin's infrastructure also caters well for cyclists with plenty of dedicated lanes and storage facilities for bicycles scattered throughout the city. 


Cost of healthcare in Berlin

Berlin is home to some excellent hospitals and new arrivals can be assured that they will be well taken care of if they were to fall ill during their stay in the city. It is compulsory for everyone in Germany to have some form of health insurance though, so this is something that expats moving to Berlin must factor in. 

Anyone who is employed by a company operating in Germany can take advantage of the state health insurance plan, which is well subsidised. Those earning above a certain income bracket will not qualify for public health insurance. In this case, private insurance becomes compulsory and expats are advised to try and negotiate a healthcare allowance within their contract of employment. 

Freelancers and those who are self-employed will also need to purchase private health insurance, which is significantly more expensive. Private insurance varies according to the age and health of a person, as well as the type of cover required. 


Cost of education in Berlin

While Berlin has a large number of international schools, expats will find that tuition fees are particularly high. Expats who are not lucky enough to be given an allowance for their children’s school fees should investigate the prospect of bilingual schools in Berlin. These are public schools where children are taught in both German and another language. Bilingual schools in Germany operate at little to no cost, which makes them far more affordable than international options. 


Cost of living in Berlin chart

Note that prices may vary depending on product and service provider and the list below shows average prices for June 2022.

Accommodation (monthly rent)

One-bedroom apartment in city centre

EUR 1,150

One-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

EUR 800

Three-bedroom apartment in city centre

EUR 2,000

Three-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

EUR 1,500

Food and drink

Milk (1 litre)

EUR 0.95

Eggs (dozen)

EUR 2.70

Loaf of bread (white)

EUR 1.30

Rice (1kg)

EUR 2

Chicken breasts (1kg)

EUR 7.65

Pack of Marlboro cigarettes

EUR 7.50

Utilities

Monthly internet (uncapped ADSL or cable)

EUR 37

Mobile-to-mobile call rate (per minute)

EUR 0.10

Basic utilities (per month for small apartment)

EUR 290

Hourly rate for a domestic cleaner

EUR 16

Eating out and entertainment

Three-course mid-range restaurant meal for two

EUR 50

Big Mac Meal

EUR 8.50

Cappuccino

EUR 3.10

Coca-Cola (330 ml)

EUR 2.10

Bottle of local beer

EUR 4

Transport

Taxi (per km)

EUR 2.15

City-centre bus or train ticket

EUR 3

Petrol per litre

EUR 2.15

Accommodation in Berlin

Expats looking for accommodation in Berlin have a wide variety of options, ranging from Cold War-era East German high rises to the sophisticated neoclassical buildings of Prenzlauer Berg and the experimental collectives of Kreuzberg; there is something to just about everyone's taste in Berlin.

The city has long been renowned for its reasonably-priced housing options, and foreign nationals looking to dive head first into Western Europe's coolest capital will find a real-estate market defined by relative oversupply and subsequent low costs.

For those fortunate enough to consider purchasing property, apartments in Berlin's cutting-edge central district of Mitte are quite affordable, especially in comparison to the exorbitant sums paid for precious space in the likes of London or Paris. That said, Berlin residents tend to rent property rather than buy. 


Types of accommodation in Berlin

Few other European capitals have as much variety in terms of property. From old-world townhouses to Soviet-era apartment blocks, Berlin is home to a truly eclectic range of accommodation options. 

The standard of accommodation in Berlin is generally excellent. Even in buildings with a somewhat dated facade, one will find that the apartments themselves have either been superbly maintained or completely modernised. Refurbished buildings with beautiful amenities are also plentiful but are more expensive. 

Generally, accommodation in Berlin is spacious. In fact, apartments tend to be around 40 percent larger in Berlin than in other European capitals.

While expats may find furnished properties to rent in Berlin, these will mostly be holiday lets that are available for the short to medium-term and often cost quite a bit more than the average. Generally, property in Berlin will be unfurnished, and we recommend that expats consider investing in some basic items of furniture. It may come as a surprise to some that unfurnished properties in Berlin are typically empty, often without carpets, light fittings or large kitchen appliances. The advantage of this is that tenants are allowed more leeway in terms of decor. While many people do paint their apartments, tenants are required to repaint in white or neutral colours at the end of a lease. 


Finding accommodation in Berlin

There are a number of different ways to find a property to rent in Berlin. Expats who are relocated to Berlin via a company transfer may get assistance from their employer in securing suitable housing. For those without such luxury, the best place to start the search for a home in Berlin would be online. While some sites and accommodation portals may provide listings, it is always beneficial to have some knowledge of German terminology. 

But by far the most efficient and stress-free way of finding accommodation in Berlin is by using the services of an agency. Known as mitwohnzentrale or mitwohnagentur, these agencies have intimate knowledge of the city's property market and can assist new arrivals in finding a home that meets all their requirements. Of course, estate agents do charge a fee for their services. 


Renting accommodation in Berlin

Affordable real estate has attracted scores of young creative expats to both Berlin's centre and its outlying suburbs. That said, the face of the Berlin housing market is changing in small ways, and expats should take note. Rent has steadily increased in the city and average incomes in Berlin are still relatively low compared to other German cities.

Those arriving in Germany without a firm job offer in hand must have a substantial amount saved to cover the cost of accommodation while they search for employment.

Making an application

Once expats have found a property that meets their requirements, they will be expected to complete a detailed application form and provide evidence of their income and legal status in the country. In some cases, they may be asked for a reference from a previous landlord or a certificate (mietschuldenfreiheitsbescheinigung) indicating they have no outstanding rent due.

Leases and deposits

Most landlords in Berlin ask for up to three months' rent to cover the security deposit on a home. The deposit is refundable and is usually returned at the end of the tenancy provided there are no damages to the property. Otherwise, cleaning or repair costs will be taken out of the deposit before the balance is refunded.

Utilities

Utility bills are usually not included in the rental price and are payable by the tenant. These will commonly include electricity, water, gas and refuse.

Areas and suburbs in Berlin

The best places to live in Berlin

Berlin is a dynamic city in constant flux, and no other metropolis in Germany can match its storied history. Once divided into East and West Berlin, both halves had to reconnect after the fall of the Berlin Wall. As a result, elegant boulevards alternate with trendy and bohemian neighbourhoods. The futuristic architecture in the government district and at the Potsdamer Platz in Berlin-Mitte contrasts quite dramatically with the Wilhelminian-style architecture seen in Charlottenburg.

Accommodation options differ vastly in each of the city’s twelve districts, each of which consists of several neighbourhoods.

Certain districts are more popular than others. Expats will need to consider their priorities carefully before choosing an appropriate area of the city in which to settle, but whatever the demands, Berlin leaves no wish unfulfilled. In this multifaceted city, there will be something to suit every taste.


Popular districts in Berlin

Berlin Mitte

Berlin-Mitte

Berlin-Mitte is a worldly district; an eclectic mix of cultures and nations intersecting and co-existing. Residents live between world-famous sights, government quarters and cultural temples. Nowhere in the capital is reunification more evident than in Mitte. Here beats the heart of Berlin, and desired addresses abound, including Friedrich-Wilhelm-Stadt, Spandauer Vorstadt, Rosenthaler Vorstadt and the historic Nikolaiviertel.

The district also consists of the neighbourhoods of Tiergarten and Wedding, which are, in contrast to the exquisite Mitte, multicultural and perhaps less fashionable. Nevertheless, these districts attract plenty of expats. The Tiergarten in Berlin is what Hyde Park is to London and Central Park is to New York. This park, located in the Tiergarten district, is Berlin's largest and most beautiful and lifts the area's image accordingly. Even Wedding, despite its low-brow reputation, reveals its handsome side with imposing architectural facades.

Expats who choose to live in Mitte will quickly find that parking can be a problem. Spaces are rare, and the traffic can be nerve-wracking. That said, Berlin has an excellent public transport system by which one can reach almost any point in the city. 

Charlottenburg Wilmersdorf

For expats who prefer the quiet life, the district of Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf is a perfect choice. Residents are typically cosmopolitan, tradition-conscious and ambitious.

In addition to the upmarket neighbourhoods of Grunewald and Schmargendorf, Charlottenburg stands out for its solid middle-class respectability. Unlike in the student districts of Friedrichshain and Prenzlauer Berg, this neighbourhood is generally home to the affluent and those who value a certain quality of life.

Wilmersdorf is a cosy area to the west of the city. Also normally thought of as somwhat bourgeois, wealthy and conservative, the neighbourhood is evolving slightly thanks to the return of a younger, more vibrant crowd. Wilmersdorf offers an environment with lots of green space and a wide choice of schools, making it popular with families.

Although Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf is not a very trendy area overall, Savignyplatz, with its countless restaurants and bars, is one neighbourhood that’s become a magnet for the younger generation.

The main attraction in Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf is the Kurfurstendamm, Berlin's most popular boulevard and shopping mile. In the immediate vicinity lies the Zoological Garden, a must-see and the best-stocked zoo in the world. In the heart of this area lies the magnificent Schloss Charlottenburg, affectionately known as 'Little Versailles'. The famous Olympic Stadium built during the Third Reich is also worth a visit.

Friedrichshain

Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg

Young expats who want to live in amongst the action, as opposed to just nearby, should seek housing in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg. Though this area used to be a predominately working-class district, it has evolved into a fashionable area that captures the attention of young international expats, students and artists.

Both Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg are among Berlin’s trendiest neighbourhoods; countless bars, clubs and pubs can be found on every corner. Because of the cheap rent and lively nightlife, Friedrichshain has become the student quarter of the city. Expats will find a buzzing scene around Simon-Dach Strasse and Boxhagener Strasse, in particular.

In Kreuzberg, a great diversity of cultures coexist, and residents have an easy-going approach to everyday life. Kreuzberg, together with Wedding, is home to the largest contingent of Turkish residents in the city.

The Berlin Wall used to run between Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg, and though the feeling of division is still present in many minds, residents add a lighter spin to the location by organising a water fight each year at the Oberbaumbrücke, which connects the two parts of the district. Other attractions in this quarter include the East Side Gallery, with remnants of the Berlin Wall, and the former prestige boulevard of the East, the Karl-Marx-Allee.

Pankow - Prenzlauer Berg

Expats with more refined tastes may want to move into the densely populated and trendy Prenzlauer Berg. In addition to actors, designers and artists, this area also attracts foreign academics and a large contingency of families, hence its nickname, 'Pregnant Hill'.

With its countless bars, clubs, theatres and clothing stores, Prenzlauer Berg is one of the most modern districts of Berlin. It is also home to the famous Kulturbrauerei, a former brewery.

Healthcare in Berlin

Expats can expect not only a high standard of healthcare in Berlin, but also a culture created around the idea of healthy living.

The city is considered a leading health region in Europe and forms Germany's largest centre of medical activity. Expats will find a range of services available, from basic care and high-end medicine to prevention and rehabilitation.

Berlin has a rich history steeped in scientific research, and pharmaceutical brands such as Bayer, Pfizer and Berlin-Chemie have labs and production facilities in the area. More than 150 companies based in Berlin manufacture cutting-edge medical equipment such as CT scanners, X-ray and laser machines.

As a result, local hospitals certainly appease international standards and, in many cases, set the precedent themselves. Expats with specific concerns will be relieved to know that there are numerous hospitals in Berlin available for specialised treatment.

The Charité Hospital has an exemplary reputation, as does the Max Delbrück Centrum and the German Heart Centre. Sankt Gertrauden Hospital is well known for its focus as an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) and Breast Centre; Waldfriede Hospital for its gynaecology, obstetrics and diabetology; and the Westend Klinik of the German Red Cross for paediatric, neurology and radial therapy services.


Hospitals in Berlin

Below is a list of some of the most prominent hospitals in Berlin. Expats should receive a high standard of treatment and have access to English-speaking medical staff at these hospitals.

Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin

www.charite.de
Address: Luisenstrasse 65, Berlin

Martin Luther Krakenhaus

www.pgfiakonie.de
Address: Caspar-Theyß-Strasse 27-31, Berlin

Park Klinik Weißensee

www.park-klinik.com
Address: Schönstrasse 80, Berlin

Sana Klinikum Lichtenberg Krankenhaus

www.sana.kl.de
Address: Fanningerstrasse 32, Berlin

Vivantes Klinikum Am Urban

www.vivantes.de
Address: Dieffenbachstrasse 1, Berlin

Education and Schools in Berlin

As in the rest of Germany, education is highly valued in Berlin. Teachers are paid decent salaries, while university staff are held is particularly high esteem. Berlin has a pointed emphasis on higher education and boasts numerous universities, colleges and polytechnics, and more than 200 research institutes.

Unlike many countries, Germany's education system gives a good deal of independent power to individual states (lander); the federal government mainly retains responsibility for university and post-secondary education. So not only expats, but also Germans relocating to Berlin from other parts of the country will need to acquaint themselves with the ins and outs of the system.


Public schools in Berlin

Expats who have children young enough to pick up the local language quickly or who foresee themselves relocating to Berlin on a long-term basis will certainly want to consider standard German public schools. There are no tuition fees attached to these institutions, but there may be registration or minimal extras that will need to be financed.

In Berlin, students (and their parents) are free to choose which school they attend, as there are no catchment areas and children aren't 'zoned' to a particular place of learning. It is therefore necessary to do adequate research about which institutions best align with a particular child's needs and priorities.

Children attend kindergarten at the age of three, and start grundschulle (primary school) at age six. From this age, students learn a standard set curriculum, which lasts six grades in Berlin. After this point they attend one of three types of secondary schools: hauptschulerealschule or gymnasium. German education is not divided according to age from this point forward, but rather according to what direction a student chooses to take their education.

A child's academic ability usually determines which school they attend, but the final decision also often rests with the parents. Bear in mind, though, regardless of which school a child attends, all students are required to complete at least nine years of education. Also, as schooling is usually conducted during the morning, students often receive a lot of homework and are unable to involve themselves in too many extra-curricular activities.

Hauptschule, while offering the same subjects as realschule and gymnasium, teaches children at a slower pace and includes vocational courses. During grade 10, students study at a vocational training school, and then attend berufsschule, where they receive further education and apprenticeship training up until grade 12.

Realschule, on the other hand, is attended up until and including grade 10, after which students go straight to berufsschule. Depending on their academic progress, realschule students can go to a gymnasium upon graduation.

Gymnasium is generally accepted as the type of school for top students. Subjects covered include mathematics and natural science, as well as classic and modern language studies. The grades range from 5 to 13 and successful scholars receive a degree called an Abitur, which offers university and college preparatory classes, or combined academic and vocational training.


International and bilingual schools in Berlin

Berlin has a few private international schools and public bilingual schools. These are often the best options for expats as they eliminate concerns around the language barrier.

Private international schools catering to a variety of nationalities can be found in the city. Expats can choose the school that offers their preferred language of learning and the curriculum of their home country.

These schools tend to uphold high standards of learning, boast smaller class sizes, have first-rate facilities, and generally offer a larger variety of extra-curricular activities than bilingual schools or German public schools. Students find their comfort zone easily in these spaces, but it does tend to slow local integration and hinders the multi-cultural experience somewhat. These schools also come with a hefty price tag, depending on age and institution.

As an alternative, public bilingual schools come with no fees attached and act as a good middle ground, allowing for integration and cultivating a comfort zone for kids. The Nelson Mandela School and the JFK School are two examples that are well respected by the expat community.

In these state-sponsored schools there are usually two streams of curricula based on a child's mother tongue, the difference being the language of teaching.

Spaces fill up quickly at popular bilingual schools in Berlin, so expats preparing for a move to the city would do well to start making arrangements as far in advance as possible.

In the case of both school types, preference may be given to students based on nationality; this does not apply at all institutions though, and does not guarantee entrance. Admission and enrolment procedures vary from school to school.


Special-needs education in Berlin

Children in Germany, regardless of disability, have the right, according to the Basic Law (Grundgesetz), to early childhood education, primary, secondary and tertiary schooling. Children with disabilities are supported as far as possible in mainstream schools and there have been recommendations for increasingly inclusive educational practice in general education and vocational schools.

The goal is to enable children to be educated together regardless of ability and to guarantee and develop the standards achieved in special-education teaching, advising and support services. Ultimately, the government tries to ensure that those with special needs can comfortably attend their nearest school, have access to the same standard of education as their peers, learn and play in a safe environment and are able to make good academic and social progress.


Tutoring in Berlin

Education is extremely highly valued in Berlin, and Germany in general, and tutors are widely used to improve and assist children's schooling. Tutors might be employed to assist in specific subjects such as maths or science, or expat parents will often hire a tutor to improve their child's German language proficiency. Tutors are further used in preparation for important exams or for university entrance exams.

Newcomers to Germany might also find that their child may benefit from having a guiding hand in navigating a new school system or just to build some confidence. Top private tuition companies include Lernwerk and Teachers24 Network.

International Schools in Berlin

There are a number of international schools in Berlin that cater to the needs of the city's expat population. These schools follow various curricula and help students to make a smooth transition into life in Germany.

Most expats living in Berlin opt to send their children to international schools. While fees can be high, international schools offer the option with the least disruption to a child's education.

For those who can't afford to send their child to an international school in Germany, the option of a bilingual school is also worth exploring.


International schools in Berlin 

Berlin Bilingual School (Formerly Berlin Kids International School)

www.berlin-bilingual-school.de
Curriculum: German/IB
Gender: Co-educational
Ages: 4 to 18

Berlin British School

www.berlinbritishschool.de
Curriculum: British/IB
Gender: Co-educational
Ages: 3 to 18

Berlin Cosmopolitan School

www.cosmopolitanschool.de
Curriculum: IB
Gender: Co-educational
Ages: 3 to 18

Berlin International School

www.berlin-international-school.de
Curriculum: British/IB
Gender: Co-educational
Ages: 4 to 18

Berlin Metropolitan School

www.metropolitanschool.com
Curriculum: IB/IGCSE
Gender: Co-educational 
Ages: 3 to 18

John F Kennedy School Berlin

www.jfks.de
Curriculum: American/German 
Gender: Co-educational
Ages: 3 to 18

Lifestyle in Berlin

Berlin has been compared to Paris in the 1920s and New York City in the 1970s; it is modest yet inviting, attracting the young and the restless from all corners of the world. Lifestyle in Berlin is a lesson in bohemian living, and expats moving to the once-divided German capital should be prepared to immerse themselves in the alternative.

Berlin's fashion, design, music, nightlife, art and architecture attract expats from all over who dream of working and playing in Germany's buzzing capital. 

Internationally acclaimed outdoor festivals grace the city during summertime, galleries of every description abound, and the fashion district is bursting at the seams. Berlin is a city to be explored with an open mind, and a bohemian mentality. 


Nightlife in Berlin

Berlin's nightlife is second to none; boasting full-throttle clubs, intimate cafes and even opportunities to enjoy a night as an opera-goer. Specifically, the districts of Mitte, Prenzlauer Berg, Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg are saturated and any space is likely to become a venue for young Berliners to dance the night away.

Those who enjoy anything with an intellectual edge will find a fertile nesting ground in Berlin. Art galleries and live music venues are often open till late.


Shopping in Berlin

In a city as innovative as Berlin, lifestyle and fashion go hand in hand, and shopping here is an experience defined by both style and originality. While each area in Berlin has its own commercial hub, the two most well known in West and East Berlin are Ku'damm (Kurfurstendamm) and Mitte, respectively. 

Ku'damm is a two-mile (4km) stretch of avenue in Charlottenburg where everything from department stores to designer outlets can be found. This area is akin to New York's Fifth Avenue and can seem a bit claustrophobic with both locals and tourists flocking here during peak shopping season. Alternatively, Unter den Linden and Friedrichstrasse in East Berlin are beginning to rival Ku'damm as the city's premier shopping mile. Once host to a bevy of tacky souvenir shops, these areas are now home to a number of well-known and luxurious fashion houses in recent years.

Mitte, on the other hand, is full of funky finds for those more artistically inclined. In contrast to West Berlin's tradition of mainstream megastores, this East Berlin area boasts an array of second-hand shops and flea markets.


Eating out in Berlin

Expats living in Berlin will find that the food in the German capital is fuss-free and delicious. Much of the local cuisine in Berlin has been influenced by immigrants from neighbouring countries and ingredients such as pork, goose, fish, cabbage, turnips, pickles and potatoes commonly feature in the city's cuisine.

If German fare doesn’t suit expats' tastes, there are plenty of international options to be had in cosmopolitan Berlin. The city is home to a whole host of top-quality restaurants featuring cuisine from across the globe, including Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian, Italian, French, Turkish and Spanish.


Outdoor activities in Berlin

Active expats will find plenty to keep themselves busy in the city. While football (soccer) is probably the most popular sport in the capital, expats can also take part in a number of different outdoor activities such as horse riding or hiking. Cycling is also a favourite pastime of Berlin residents and there are many great biking trails which will allow new arrivals to explore the city and its surrounds on two wheels. Those who enjoy a round of golf will find some excellent and scenic golf courses dotted around Berlin. 

Fresh air is in abundance as there are more than 2,500 parks and green spaces in the German capital. Expats should certainly take the time to visit one of the city's greatest green assets such as Tiergarten or Viktoriapark. These parks offer a great environment for runners, walkers and cyclists, but even those who would prefer to enjoy a good book or have a picnic in the sunshine will enjoy these spaces.


See and do in Berlin

Berlin boasts a multitude of exciting and interesting attractions, from museums and galleries to amusement parks, restaurants and bistros. The Berlin Welcome Card offers discounts on most of Berlin's major attractions, as well as free travel on public transport within the city for one adult and up to three children aged six to 13.

Below are a few sights worth checking out while in Berlin.

Brandenburg Gate

This massive sandstone gate was once inaccessible and unusable, abandoned in the 'no man's land' behind the Berlin Wall. It has since been renovated and these days is a popular attraction and a testament to some of the beautiful architecture found in the German capital.

Checkpoint Charlie

Checkpoint Charlie was the notorious border crossing marking the division between East and West Berlin for nearly 30 years. No longer functional, a museum has been constructed as a testament to the many brave attempts to go over, under or across the wall undetected. While the original metal shed is now on display elsewhere, the soldier's post can be visited, and tourists can be photographed under the border sign.

East Side Gallery

What is left of the infamous Berlin Wall has been transformed into the largest open-air alternative art gallery in the world. Graffiti artists have used the space to showcase their skill on the longest section of the wall, which stretches from Ostbahnhof station to the Oberbaumbrucke. The collection has since become a tourist attraction and is recognised as a memorial to freedom.

Jewish Museum

The Jewish Museum has gained international acclaim for its unique exhibition space and dynamic architecture. Visitors enter the Jewish Museum through the Berlin Museum to explore the exhibition rooms, which are clustered around the main axis void, designed to signify the invisible aspects of Jewish history.

Potsdamer Platz

Potsdamer Platz was originally one of the busiest junctions in Europe, but the damage done during World War II left the vibrant square in a state of decay. Now, years later, large-scale efforts have been made to revitalise the wasted space, and today the square once more boasts an eclectic mix of restaurants, cafes, cinemas, shopping centres and theatres. Expats, locals and tourists alike will find something to enjoy, whether it's the Sony Centre, the Imax Cinema or Berlin's popular Film Museum.

Reichstag

The Reichstag has been the seat of the German parliament since 1894 and is undoubtedly one of Berlin's most famous buildings. Damaged in the carnage of World War II, the structure was famously wrapped in white fabric in the late 1990s by the well-known conceptual artist, Christo.

Charlottenburg Palace

Schloss Charlottenburg was built in the baroque style in 18th-century Berlin. The structure is the largest palace in Berlin and was constructed as a summer home for Sophie Charlotte, the wife of Elector Frederick III, the Prussian king.


What's on in Berlin

Regardless of whether expats enjoy culture, film, music or sport, there is sure to be something on Berlin’s busy calendar to entertain them.

Below is a list of our favourite events and festivals that take place each year in Berlin.

Berlinale Film Festival (February)

This is Berlin’s major international film festival and takes place each year in February. It is one of the largest film festivals and most reputable movie events on the German calendar. Moviegoers can choose from up to 400 films shown at cinemas across the city, and people flock from all over Europe to attend.

Carnival of Cultures (June)

This annual event is a celebration of Berlin’s ethnic diversity. It is definitely one of the city’s most colourful and vivacious festivals. Here one will find thousands of representatives from more than 70 different cultures who get dressed in the national costumes and take to the streets of Kreuzberg. With a number of purpose-built stages playing host to all sorts of performances, this is an event not be missed.

Berlin Marathon (September)

Each year in September, around 30,000 runners from across the globe gather at the Schloss Charlottenburg to take part in one of the world’s most prestigious marathon events. Participants run through 10 different districts of Berlin covering the 26-mile (42.2km) distance before crossing the finish line through the historic Brandenburg Gate. Those less enthused about long distance running can cheer on the competitors from the side, perhaps with a cold German brew in hand.

Berlin Oktoberfest (October)

Speaking of beer... This event really requires no introduction. The Berlin version of the Oktoberfest is a celebration of beer and German culture. While Berlin’s Oktoberfest, held at Zentral Festplatz am Kurt-Schumacher-Damm, can’t be compared with the main party in Munich, it's still a fun-filled event and something that expats living in Berlin shouldn't miss.

Jazz Festival Berlin (October)

Since 1964, Jazz Fest Berlin has brought jazz musicians from across the globe to the city. The swinging concerts and great atmosphere across the city are a real treat every October, and for expats partial to jazz, this is unmissable.

Christmas Markets (late November/December)

A German tradition that should not be missed by expats living in Berlin, the Christmas markets are held throughout the city and bustle with locals and tourists, who indulge in all manner of Christmas cheer, Glühwein, roasted chestnuts and gingerbread. Eager shoppers will find plenty of traditional decorations and Christmas paraphernalia on sale. The biggest Christmas markets in Berlin are held on Alexanderplatz, Unter den Linden and at Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. 


Where to meet people and make friends in Berlin

Making friends in a new city can be intimidating. One of the best ways to start meeting likeminded people is to join a local club or meet-up group. Here are a few suggestions.

The Booker Tea Reading Group

The ideal group for bibliophiles looking to make friend in Berlin. The Booker Tea group was initially focused on titles awarded or shortlisted for the Booker Prize, but is broader in nature nowadays. Discussions are casual rather than academic in nature. It's free and fun, and meetings are held at the residences of members. 

Rotary Club

Berlin's Rotary Club is perfect for the city's international community looking to meet up and make friends. Meetings are held in English, and the club represents dozens of nationalities. 

Midnight Runners

Midnight Runners is a volunteer-led run crew that meets up for late-night runs of varying distances. It's fun, friendly and the perfect place for active expats to meet likeminded fitness buffs. 

Frequently Asked Questions about Berlin

Before moving there, expats are bound to wonder about the ins and outs of living and working in Berlin. Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about Germany's capital city:

Do you need to know German to find a job in Berlin?

Finding a job in Berlin is difficult enough in itself without a working knowledge of German. The city suffers from a high rate of unemployment, and foreigners moving to the city without a job organised prior to arrival will most likely find that opportunities are few and far between. It is therefore advised to learn conversational German in order to gain an advantage in the job market.

Expats who do not speak German will want to consider teaching English, or approaching multinational companies headquartered in Berlin that may be in the market for foreign employees.

Is it better to live in East or West Berlin?

Although the city is no longer divided, many locals and expats still see a clear schism in the greater cosmopolitan character. Neither side is necessarily better than the other, but both do have their pros and cons.

Both luxurious and cost-effective accommodation options exist on each side; though the drawcard of Berlin's hip, young counterculture mainly makes its home in the East. This area is also subject to more construction and is associated with certain areas that are considered unsafe at night.

The West had the benefit of receiving funds from the Allies post World War II, and therefore is more developed, notably so in architecture and infrastructure.

But the fantastic public transportation in Berlin makes getting from A to B fairly easy, so access to all there is to see and do in Berlin is efficient and convenient no matter which side an expat chooses to live.

Getting Around in Berlin

Berlin is a sprawling, cosmopolitan city with excellent roads and public transport networks. Expats will find that they can get just about anywhere relatively quickly and efficiently, although they should be prepared to get caught in traffic and crowds at peak times.

Most Berlin residents do not find it necessary to own a car. Traffic can be terrible during peak times and parking is expensive and extremely difficult to find. Even those who own a vehicle often choose to use public transport to commute to and from work. 


Public transport in Berlin

All modes of public transport in Berlin are interconnected and use a common ticket, with prices varying according to how many zones the rider travels through. There are a number of ticket options for tourists and commuters, all of which are reasonably priced.

Commuters can buy tickets from vending machines at U and S-Bahn stations, and then validate the tickets once they board a bus or train.

Buses

The bus system is extensive, and making use of buses is a good way to travel to any part in the city that is not close to an S-Bahn or U-Bahn station.

Expats can use the same tickets bought at S-Bahn or U-Bahn stations on the trains as long as they are valid within the zone they are travelling in. Simply validate the ticket at the machine inside the doors of the bus (or train).

U-Bahn (underground trains)

The U-Bahn is Berlin’s underground metro system, which functions with characteristic German precision. Commuters can get detailed maps and tickets at all U-Bahn stations (marked by a big blue “U” symbol).

The frequency of U-Bahn services depends on the time of day and the line. Expats are advised to consult a schedule when planning their journey.

S-Bahn (suburban trains)

The S-Bahn is the quickest way to get to an entirely different area of the city. Lines run in a mostly east-to-west direction in the city centre, and there is another line that circles the whole city. Expats can find maps on the S-Bahn website or at stations.

Trams

The tram system is the third largest in the world and offers a fun and novel way to get around the city. Tram maps can be found in S-Bahn and U-Bahn stations, and passengers can buy tickets on the tram.


Taxis in Berlin

Taxis are plentiful in Berlin and they are cheaper than in many other large European capitals. Most drivers speak English and are generally helpful. 

Expats can either flag one down in the street or find a taxistand (taxi rank). While taxis are easy to find in Berlin's city centre, if travelling to or from the suburbs it is best to pre-book a vehicle ahead of time.

Travelling by taxi can be useful late at night, and it becomes a cost-effective method of transport if a single vehicle is shared by a group of people travelling in the same direction. 

Ride-hailing services such as Uber and Free Now are also a super convenient way to get around. Expats can simply download the app, link their credit card and start riding.


Cycling in Berlin

There are over 620 miles (1,000km) of bike paths, dedicated bike lanes and combination foot/cycle paths across Berlin, and many locals find that getting around Berlin by bicycle is a cheap, healthy and feasible way to travel.

Berlin is largely flat and cycling is a pleasant experience, as most drivers are aware of the large numbers of cyclists on the roads and are therefore cautious and courteous.

Expats who wish to cycle in Berlin will have a range of bike-hiring options to choose from. Alternatively, it is also possible to buy a second-hand bicycle quite cheaply. 


Walking in Berlin

Often the best way to explore the centre of Berlin is on foot, and walking is sometimes the simplest way to travel short distances in the city.

While there are plenty of pavements available for pedestrians, newcomers should be careful not to mistake them for the red-brick cycling paths, which are for cyclists only.

Jaywalking is illegal and most pedestrians in Berlin stick to the rules.


Driving in Berlin

As in any large, bustling city, driving in Berlin can be more trouble than it is worth at peak times or through busy areas where parking is scarce. That said, the road networks have been expanded and streamlined in recent years and driving is for the most part a straightforward experience.

Drivers in Berlin tend to obey traffic laws and give way to pedestrians and cyclists, although in peak times the sheer number of cars and traffic light intersections in the city will inevitably cause congestion. That said, expats should be prepared for the Germans’ famous love of speed on motorways.

Expats moving into inner-city areas or areas with metered parking on the streets can apply for a resident's permit to be exempt from the fees.

All expats can drive in Germany for six months after relocating. Thereafter, it depends on a person's nationality: EU licences are valid in Germany, while American, Canadian and South African expats will need to exchange their licence for a German one. Expats from other countries will need to apply for a licence from scratch and take both written and practical tests.