Whilst there are a multitude of Berlin Adventures that I cannot wait to share with you all on this blog, I thought it would be best to start with sharing some of the practical aspects that have made this move to Germany possible, so that any aspiring Deutsche out there can know what to expect.
First of all, you will need to find a place to live, which is best done as early as possible (whilst I’ve met many people who moved to Berlin without anywhere to live, and just stayed in hostels whilst house-hunting, they have all emphasized how stressful this can be when also trying to study, and would not recommend it). If you have been unable to secure accommodation through your host University (which is highly possible, given that many German universities prioritize German nationals over foreign students when it comes to halls of residence), then there are a wide variety of options still available. For example there are a number of so-called WG sites (which translates to shared apartments) which offer a host of private accommodation catered specifically to students, ranging from self-maintained flats, to bedrooms with shared kitchen and bathroom facilities. It should however be noted that competition for these rooms can be fierce at the start of the academic year, particularly in large cities such as Berlin and Frankfurt, so alternatively you can do what I did and sublet an apartment through paid membership sites such as ErasmusU. These sites are specifically catered to Erasmus students who are in need of accommodation for short periods of time (4 months-2 years) and the small membership fee (about 10 euros for 30 days) helps ensure that all the accommodation being advertised is legit, having been checked out by the company prior to being listed – it’s hard to overstate how valuable this feature is, given the vast ocean of apartment scams and crooks, who make a living relieving naive young students of their hard-earned deposit money. If the private rental market doesn’t appeal to you then I would highly suggest getting in touch with your host university at least several months in advance of your semester start date to see what they can do for you.
Once you’re in Germany you will need to sort out a variety of day-to-day things such as SIM cards, WiFi, documentation, and setting up a German bank account (although this last one isn’t entirely necessary, and I have not needed one during my time here). Shortly after arriving I realised a German SIM card was one of the most vital necessities, as going without one means severely restricted internet access (you won’t find much free WiFi in Berlin) and being unable to get in touch with people during this hectic time period. Whilst your University is likely to offer you a SIM upon enrollment, it is unlikely you will get a good (affordable) deal, therefore I would highly recommend the Turkish company Lebara for anyone moving to Germany, as their SIM deals are by far the best value for money I have encountered so far, offering great deals on texts, data and minutes for a fraction of the price of most German providers (you can purchase a SIM from virtually any kiosk or corner shop in Berlin). Once you’re moved into your new accommodation you will almost certainly need WiFi (many places I looked at did not offer free WiFi with the rent), and for this I would recommend O2, which not only offers the best deals on high speed, high allowance internet, but also allows you to pop into any O2 shop in Germany to pay your bills in cash (a lifesaver when you do not have a German bank account).
As I have already mentioned I have not needed a German bank account, as I transfer my rent money via online banking with my UK bank account (for a small fee of £3 per transaction) and you’ll find that Germany is very much a paper economy, with almost all transactions being paid in cash. You will however, need a travel card if you want to cheaply and easily withdraw money from your UK account, and for this I would wholeheartedly recommend the Travel Money Card Plus offered for free by the Post Office. This is the most efficient travel card service I have encountered so far, as you simply ‘top up’ the card with money from your account via the smartphone app, and then use it like a debit card to withdraw cash from any ATM machine in the country (the app also has map feature which displays all the ATM machines within your area) – it should be noted that you may be charged for your withdrawal, depending on which machine you use, and that charges range from about £1-3, so I would recommend withdrawing large amounts of cash each time (which you should be doing anyway as very few shops and restaurants in Germany accept card payments).
In terms of paperwork that you need upon arrival, being an EU citizen will exempt you from much of the more difficult and tedious stuff, but one thing you will absolutely need is a registration certificate from your local Bürgeramt (town hall) which allows you to live legally in Germany and to enroll at your University. You can make an appointment to receive one online and you will need to bring your EU passport and the necessary forms with you to the appointment (which can be found online). I should also warn you that there is a very high demand for these certificates in global cities like Berlin, Frankfurt, Hamburg and Dusseldorf, and the waiting list for appointments can be several months, so I would strongly urge you to book one several months prior to your arrival in Germany.
I’ve now covered most of the basics, but for more info on moving to Germany for study I would consult the website for The Humboldt University of Berlin which offers a more comprehensive guide for students. That’s all for now, auf wiedersehen!