Moving to Germany

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  • Moving to Berlin for a year

    (3 replies)

    We are contemplating moving to Berlin for a year in a little over a year. Kids would be 5 and 10. Only one adult is a German speaker. All of us are European citizens. 

    - do you know of online expat communities that I can tap for resources (ideally not on facebook)

    - advice on finding a home/home swapping 

    - what can we do in advance to help the landing be as smooth as possible. How to establish credit,  arrange for health insurance, etc?

    Thank you! danke! 

    Hi! A friend in my writing group recently moved to Frankfurt (not Berlin) for a year. She has two young children and writes about her ex-pat experience here: She might be open to answering questions about credit/health insurance/expat questions in general!

    We lived in Berlin in 2016-17 for a year with our three kids who were 7, 9, and 11 at the start. It was such an amazing experience for all of them (and us). Only my husband is fluent in German though I can kind of sort of get by and it was enough for me though sometimes I ran into issues when just I traveled with the kids.

    For housing, we got a house off It was amazing! You can either rent or do a house swap and I think the houses have to be furnished. If you are going on sabbatical, you can also look into the IBZ apartments.

    Our kids went to the John F Kennedy School which we thought academics-wise was sort of meh but they all met friends who could speak English and there was a nice community. The school has half English speaking kids and half German speaking kids. If you are hoping they will learn German, it isn’t a great place for that. If you just want them to have fun in Berlin, we found it good for that. There are a couple of other similar schools which might be better for German or you could just send them to the local school. The grocery store across from the German embassy has (1) tons of American foods and (2) I generally heard some people speaking English at the cafe there. If you are brave you could try to introduce yourself. I just met people through the school though.
    At the time we found it was cheaper to just withdraw cash from our American accounts at ATMs than it would be to transfer money. Eventually my husband opened a German bank account with money he got from there. Lots of stores did not take American credit cards so I mostly paid in cash. You should look into whether you are entitled to Kindergeld. It was hard to find someone to do German taxes.

    We kept our American health insurance going while we were gone because otherwise it wasn’t clear if we would be able to restart it right when we got back or if we would have to wait until the January after we got back. The few times we had to go to the doctor we just paid cash and it was so cheap it wasn’t worth trying to get reimbursed. For example, my husband fell down the stairs and hurt his arm. Going to the doctor two or three times, getting x-rays, getting his arm wrapped and re-wrapped was like $100 total. Taking our son to urgent care for a dog bite was like $30.

    Spending a year in Berlin was such a great experience for all of us. The kids got so much more freedom and made friends and saw that other places were similar but different. They gained a ton of confidence and were sad to leave. We still go back.

    Have a fantastic trip!

    We are in the middle of doing this - our year in Berlin ends in July! Feel free to contact me for a conversation about how we set up in southwest Berlin. Short story is that finding a place (or neighborhood) so you can get a spot in school, and getting an appointment for Einmeldung, should be top priorities. We will be sad to leave!!

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Temporary stay in Berlin with kids

Jan 2015

We're considering spending six weeks abroad this summer, possibly in Berlin. I would appreciate any advice about finding programs for our five-year-old to spend time with other kids, have fun, and get language exposure. Either generic advice or Berlin-specific suggestions are very much appreciated!

Also, if you have stories about how your children found friends and activities during your time abroad, I'd love to hear them. Thanks so much!

We were recently in Berlin with our kids. We were staying in an apartment in Wannsee. (Absolutely beautiful.) The neighbors were so nice and friendly. Once they saw we had kids and were English speaking Americans it was easy for our kids to make friends. The problem we had was the kids wanted to speak in English and while our kids wanted to speak in German. My kids were outnumbered so there was more English being spoken than German.

While we were there we tried not to be tourists and did things Germans would with their kids. Go to parks, zoos, farmer markets, and church. We aren't religious but or speaking English trumped religious beliefs. Be sure to attend the small local community churches instead of the large churches especially ones in the former east.

Another thing we did, which was the best, was attend the town's annual fund raising breakfast at the local firehouse. While we ate the Blaues Licht Sonder our kids played with the local kids. It was great, they knew very little English.

You shouldn't have any trouble at all. Berlin is a wonderful city. ANON

Potential Move to Berlin

Sept 2011

Hi Folks. My husband is currently interviewing with a company in Berlin. We've never lived abroad, and while we love the Bay Area, the cost of living here is depressing with little hope of us ever affording a home in a strong school district. My husband is able to work remotely (few FT positions available in his market), but the thought of perhaps living overseas for some time is appealing. Long-term, we are thinking about living in a more rural area of CA, and so this move would definitely be a short-term thing (less than 5 years). Is that crazy making? Savings draining?

My questions to the BPN community are as follows:

1. Salaries in Berlin are lower than the Bay Area, but we hear that purchasing (and we hope, savings) power is higher. Is it realistic to think we can actually save money living overseas for three years or so? Will our health care costs be lower than they are here? ($850/month with high deductibles)

2. We have a preschool aged child, and we're curious about the education system in Germany. I'm figuring that the cost of education is less, but I wonder if it's possible to have part-time schooling instead of full-time? Is it part of the culture to stay home with your children? When do children begin school?

3. How large is an average apartment in Berlin? Cost? Is it possible to find a three bedroom with a small patio or courtyard?

4. How about adding another family member while living there? Is prenatal care abundant and supportive of moms over age 40?

5. Is it easy to meet other ex-pats? Is there a friendly attitude toward Americans?

Lastly, if you have lived in Berlin with children, please let us know what you found to be lovely and what irked you to no end. We are in the beginning phases of the interview process, but want to have some amount of information before we say 'nay' or move forward. Possibly Berlin Bound

I have lived in Berlin with kids.

1. With regard to the money question, a lot depends on your earning power and where in Berlin you want to live, and how you live. Definitely you can find a spacious, nice apartment for less than a mortgage payment or similar rent here--but location and whether it has a yard or not will be decisive. One difference is that there is more 'hassle' in getting settled in. Apartments might not come with built-in kitchens, just a basic sink and possibly no appliances. Or you might need to renovate yourself before or while moving in. Taxes are higher, but you get more for them--e.g. we had no car because public transport was good.

2. Stay-at-home moms are very common, and there are definitely kindergartens and day cares that are only until 1pm. Even many public schools only go until 1pm. BTW what we call kindergarten, they call preschool and vice versa. 'REal' school starts with first grade. Spots can be hard to get in the preschool and school of your choice. Public schools are the norm, although some private schools exist. You will have a steep learning curve in dealing with getting set up with schools.

3. Prenatal care is abundant and supportive, yes. Families with 3 kids are common.

4. It is not hard to meet Americans, there are a lot of them around, there is also an American-German public school you should consider, the JFK school. Germans are fine with Americans, Berlin is full of interesting people. Germans and esp. Berliners might not have the warm personal style of Californians so you will get used to a different style of interaction.kf

We spent a year in Berlin when our child was in third grade and then again when she was ninth grade. In general the cost of living, especially rent, is much lower than the Bay Area. It's not hard to find very large and relatively inexpensive apartments. A car isn't necessary because public transportation is so good, so you can also save money that way. Compared to the Bay Area food, esp. fruit and veg., is expensive and not very good, but most other costs struck me as lower. I don't know much about preschool -- I hear that there's a shortage of places but I don't think that they're expensive. Most schools are public (including the main international school and the American school) so school fees aren't likely to be an issue. My daughter went to regular German school both years and enjoyed it, although the standard of the schools she went to was surprisingly low both times, well below that of her Oakland public school(s) here.

We found it a very friendly city, and there's also a large expatriate English-speaking community. I'm not sure about health insurance because we were covered by our U.S. health insurance, but I'm willing to bet that it's far cheaper than U.S. health insurance because the cost of a doctor's visit or hospital stay is so much less.

There is much more of an expectation of mothers' staying home with kids, and in most schools the school day ends at 1 p.m., although there are some so-called 'all day' schools that supposedly go until 3 or 4.

Mostly we all liked it a lot. Sure, a few things got on our nerves, but that was far outweighed by the combination of its being really interesting (historically, culturally) and also its being very easy and comfortable to live there. Berlin fan

Hi there, I lived in Berlin for five years and had my first baby there. Health care is excellent, I had a great OB-gyn and a midwife (Hebamme) who came to my house as often as I needed after the birth to help me with everything. The city itself is very kid friendly, there are tons of parks, playgrounds, water- parks in the summer and some beergardens also have play areas. There is also wonderful state-run preschool/daycare that is virtually free. You can do full or half days. It is also very much a part of the German culture for women(!) to stay home with the children. But in Berlin you see both women and men who stay home or work.

As for salaries and buying power, Berlin is a very cheap city and you can live simply and well. You can definitely find a 3 bedroom with a balcony or patio, there is tons of open housing in Berlin. Depending on your income and what kind of job you or your partner has will determine how much you pay for health care, but I think it will be cheaper than 850 a month. There are also tons of expat groups: mommy meetups, writing groups, dining clubs, folks learning german together. Berlin is an exciting, vibrant city. However there is a long dark winter and that can be a little depressing. Also people tend to smoke everywhere, which was bothersome with a baby. Lastly the bureaucracy is maddening. Find someone who speaks German to help you navigate all the places you'll need to go to get your papers in order. You can email me if you'd like to chat more. (just ask the moderator for my email address.) Meg

The best place to get answers to your question is on the forum of Toytowngermany there is a section just for Berlin here is the link and also a section for general life in germany questions. This is a very active forum and you can find almost everything there that you need.

I have lived in Berlin for 10 years, I am from Calif but this is the third country I have lived in & now feel that there is a 2 year adjustment - at least for me. You know the first 2 years you miss everything and are annoyed by many new things. So I both loved and hated it the first 2 years. Such as I hated the dog poop that one has to constantly watch out for, or that people feel free to tell you that your child should wear a hat if they think it is cold. But I now love it here.

Rents are pretty cheap but I hear rising. A friend just took a 4 room apt (rms as you want, basically 1LR, 3BR, 1.5BA, 1Kit) 110 sq meter apartment for 1100E in a highly desireable area in a nice old building, nice remodel but not super high end. She also considered another one very similar location & condition for same price so it seems that 10euro per sm for a good location old building still holds - there are certainly cheaper areas that are also very nice. Best source for apartments used to be you need a little german navigate it. Search for places within 1 kilometer of these locations Helmholtzplatz, kollwitzplatz (hip yuppie), boxhagnerplatz (hip alternative),Savignyplatz (hip west) that's just to start, there are really too many nice areas to name.

Don't worry about getting a place w/private garden, that's very hard to do - there are playgrounds everywhere - we have about 8 within 3 blocks of our house. But it IS very nice if your building has put a play area in their central courtyard, ours doesn't have but I see from friends how handy it is just to have your child play downstairs w/friends in building.

Re kita (preschool) health care etc kids go to kita usually from 9-2 or 4, our daughter started at age 18mo, both parents have to work or be in a language class. If you don't know german you will be require to take 6 months of german. You'll need a relocation co (or hire someone off of toytown) to help you register, set up bank accts. There is a lot of stress with a move. My husband is german so I am not sure of a complete expat experience. Health care is great but we buy 'private' I think we pay 300E p/mo for 3 but not sure what your co will do, private is beyond the standard basic insurance which is still quite good from what i hear. Another great resource is a womens club,not what you think, these are interesting educated friendly women different ages all over world. There are a ton of expats here, on the west you get more of the embassy crowd, nice but they leave after 2-5 years, on east a mix. The west will have more choices for english speakers, many people on the east barely speak any english, like the teachers at my daughters kita and the other parents, if they grew up under communist then didn't learn english. But some areas in east better if foreigner because everyone is a transplant whereas on the west it is more established neighborhoods.

GOOD - safe, great inexpensive cafes, grt public trans, lots of kids, tons of playgrounds, lots of cute neighborhds to choose from, easy to live, can travel to many places in europe, artsy, tolerant. BAD - chilly even in summer, not a medieval town, long gray winters where all the ugliness shows.

Know I didn't answer all questions but go to toytown, better. Good luck! anon

How to find a sublet in Berlin

Jan 2009

My older sister will be in Berlin from February through May and is looking for a sublet, preferrably in Prenzlauer-berg. She is in her 60's, a progressive world traveler, returned recently from a stint with the Peace Corps in Armenia. She is super tidy and has great references (she owns a home here in San Jose). Any leads (other than craigslist or vrbo)?

The biggest site for real estate - rentals, buying etc is I've never looked for furnished rentals/sublets so I don't know if this is the absolutely best place to look for this type of housing. It's in German so you have to know some words to search although it's pretty easy.

I also came across, again sorry, don't know if this is the best site or not.

You didn't mention if your Mom is familiar with the P'berg neighborhood but like most Berlin neighborhoods, it's larger than typical SF or Berkeley neighborhoods (the neighborhood alone has 150,000 people) so the section within the neighborhood is also important. Although it is hard to go wrong, as on the whole it's an artsy, cafe packed area with lots of interesting shops but the areas within P'berg that I'd recommend is Kollwitzplatz area, the Helmholtz platz area, and the Zionkirchplatz area. If you want to be right in the center of it all, I wouldn't go south of Metzer Str or north of the Ring S-bahn, nor east of Greifswalderstr, but west is fine.

The other website I'd really recommend is - they have a chat/forum section just on living in Berlin where your Mom could also post her question. I think this is the most active site for expats living in Berlin and/or germany, it's quite helpful. anon 

Moving to Cologne Germany

Jan 2009

We are moving to Cologne, Germany in January. I am a non German and I was raised in the Bay Area. My husband is German and our son speaks German, and I am just beginning to learn German (Ich heisse Shohreh :)). Is there any one that has already lived what I am about to begin (living in Cologne with a child and with little German)?? I would love recommendations for International Preschools (my son prefers an English speaking school, especially initially) in Cologne (including registration, contact info, etc.), US groups, schools for me, activities/classes for either of us, and any tips you can give me.. Websites, contacts, orientation guides...i could go on and on... Thanks in advance!

The most active site I know of for living in Germany is Go to the chat area. Stuff specifically for Cologne is in the NRW section (includes Bonn etc) but there are also lots of other sections that might be helpful such as Family Life in Germany etc. It's well organized and easy to use. I've found this site really useful. anon

Relocation to Bonn Germany

Sept 2004

My husband is considering a job opportunity in Bonn, Germany. Neither of us has ever visited so have little to base a decision as to whether he should pursue the opportunity. My husband is a UK citizen and I am an American. We have 2 young children under the age of 5. Any ideas for how we might find out more information about the area, real estate market, schools, lifestyle with kids, etc. would be greatly appreciated. anon

If the job opportunity for your husband is a good enough one that you can quit working for a few years, and if you're up for an adventure, GO!!!!

I did Google searches on ''American Women's Club of Bonn,'' ''Bonn International School,'' etc. and the infromation is definitely available on-line. You could probably Google ''English Bonn'' and get a huge number of resources for native English speakers. Your husband's company should be helpful too.

With kids as small as yours, the opportunity to live in another culture is an unmitigated joy.

We lived 3 1/2 years in France, near Geneva Switzerland and I can tell you that the luxury of living in a clean, safe place where the food is good, weather happens and many expatriate moms are not employed full-time -- plus the fact that my husband liked his job and appreciated my ''giving him the chance'' to take it, made for a really wonderful few years.

Now that my older kids are in high school it would be a much more complicated adventure, but I'd at least consider doing it again. If you speak German it helps, but if you don't you will learn all you need to know quickly. Heather J

Moving to Germany for a year with a toddler

Feb 2004

In July of this year my husband son (now 9mos.)and I are moving to Germany on a scholarship for about 14mos. We are starting out in Bonn then Berlin and finally Munich. Does anyone have advise about living in Germany-with a small child? I know that housing is expensive and hard to find in Munich does anyone have any suggestions? I will also be needing part-time child care in Bonn does anyone know how this can be arranged and who I would contact? I tried searching the internet but could only find hotels that offered child care for their guests. My husband and I are seeking language help/practice now but cannot afford pricey classes can anyone suggest a conversation group or know of someone who can help with this? We are located in the University Village and would love to meet some German speaking nieghbors. Thanks for your suggestions. nervous about moving

For accomodation you may want to give a the ''Mitwohnzentrale'' a try. This sounds like it's about roommates, but often it's people subletting their appartment while they are abroad.

I didn't have a child when I was still in Germany, but I lived in both Bonn and Berlin for several years. Here some thoughts:

Summer in Bonn is really nice, people hang out a lot outside, on weekends, evenings and whenever possible. Lots of festivals (''Rhein in Flammen'', vine/harvest festivals, Music festivals). ''Rheinauen'' is a huge park, your baby - then a toddler - can run around and explore. A big part of downtown is free of cars, so you can walk around with your child rather than strapping him/her in the stroller all day. Farmer's marked daily downtown.

Berlin has ''Tiergarten'', and many local parks and places with cafes to hang out. For a big city, the neighborhoods can be quite cozy.

Childcare situation is probably the easiest in Berlin, as they traditionally have lots of daycare centers ''Kindertagesstaetten'' (short: ''Kita'') in both East and West part of the city. ''Tagesmutter'' is some sort of little familiy daycare. You can find them via the ''Jugendamt'' (cityhall).

As to getting in touch with Germans in Berkeley you may consider joining the ''Krabbelgruppe'' of BAK (Bay Area Kinderstube) in Albany, Key route off Solano: Kids 0-2 and parents meet every Thursday 3:30-5:30 for play and chat.

I can forward your message to the email list of the East Bay German Moms if you send me an email address to get back to.

Good luck - Julia

What fun! I would suggest checking the US consulate website in Munich (lots of good web links to help you out with stuff like housing and finding an English speaking doctor). Also, you may want to try to find out if there is an American Women's Club in any of the cities that you are looking to live -- they are usually also a good source of information. If there isn't an American's Club, start trying to find a Commonwealth County Women's Club (they are usually willing to help out another English speaking Expat). Another option is to contact the US Embassy in Germany and just ask those questions that you posted. They can probably refer you to an English speaking social services agency that can help you with referals.

I lived in Holland for three years and found that child care isn't normal...that may be something that they have in common with Germany. Even with the insane housing costs (not too out of line with the Bay Area) people find a way to make do on one income (thank you social service system). My friends found nannies or creches for their children anyway. Postings at International Schools is a good source for that.

I am sure that you will find a German speaker to help guide you a bit, but try working the web a bit more. Expat organizations & publications, the Embassy & international schools are a good place to start. Wish I could move back to Europe

Hy, I am from Germany. We are inBerkeley for 18 months with a scholarship . So, I know your situation. Actually, I´m not from Bonn but I think, I can help you to find a child care for your son and to give some suggestions for living in Germany. If you are interested please feel free to contact me per email. Marta