The 5 golden steps to getting started in Berlin


Berlin has become a city of opportunity for many a wide-eyed hopeful. A massively creative atmosphere, cheap rents and a burgeoning startup scene means that every year more and more internationals are making their way to the German capital. 

But moving to Berlin is not without its challenges to the uninitiated – the language, the bureaucracy, the hunt for those golden startup positions. Here, Tia Robinson of relocation service Expath explains the opening moves you should make on coming to Berlin… 

And special thanks to Josh Bauman of Caffeinated Toothpaste for creating the awesome illustrations to match…

Make yourself a game plan

In Berlin, bureaucratic decisions about what you can and can’t do often seem to be made on a whim, depending on which side of the bed the bureaucrat woke up on. That means you need to prepare for possible setbacks. Make yourself a plan. And then a back-up plan. You may not always be able to get your dream job or start your amazing startup right off the bat. That’s OK – the way to find that dream job or angel investor is to be here in Berlin and to grab the opportunities when they come around. Take whatever job you can find or get a work permit for, if it lets you stay here or pays the bills, which also means you have to…

Be willing to do whatever it takes to get started at first (but keep your eye on the prize!)

berlin dj

Seriously. Working at a call center or teaching English to five-year-olds may not be your dream job, but if that’s your first step towards making money or getting your visa, you’ve bought yourself the time you need to stick around and put your game plan into action.

Use that time to get a lay of the land, meet people, and feel out Berlin’s opportunities and options. It may take six months or a year to develop the relationships and resources to make your Berlin dreams come true – just keep reminding yourself that even the longest journey begins with the first step.

Take the bureaucracy very seriously… and be patient

be nice

No, you can’t work under the table. Yes, you need health insurance that covers you in Germany. No, you can’t just spontaneously start a bar overnight from your friend’s street-level apartment (true story). There are very few rules you can ignore with impunity in Germany, and you’ll do yourself a big favor by accepting that up front.

Part of what makes Berlin so attractive is the excellent social system – and the flipside of that is that you need to pay to play. Take care of all legal paperwork as soon as you can, pay your taxes, and always be very, very nice to bureaucrats no matter how much “Berliner Schnauze” they show you (because they have 100 per cent of the power and you have zero per cent). If they tell you no one day, say thank you, go back the next day and hope for a different answer (or at least a different bureaucrat).

Network anywhere and everywhere you can

The single best way to find your dream job in Berlin. Print some business cards with your contact information, go to international networking events and find out where “your crowd” hangs out. We promise it works – not only for finding work or business partners, but also for making new friends. Try also to add some Germans to your circle of friends – they can reveal insights about their country and language and help you figure out how to do things the right way, and you’ll avoid ending up in an “expat bubble.” Some good, international places to start networking are:

Etsy Labs
Start-up Berlin Meetups
Berlin Geekettes
And, of course, our very own Spätschicht

Learn German

learn german

Is it necessary? No, you can be one of the thousands of Berlin expats bumbling around not knowing their Nachtschwimmen from their Nacktschwimmen. But why not take advantage of being immersed in German language and culture?

German has an undeserved bad rap as a language with mile-long words and serious gender issues. But German is a truly fascinating language, with romantic words like “Gemütlichkeit,” unique ideas like “Feierabend,” and funny insults like “Warmduscher.” You’ll also be able to use your English to help you, with such nice new German words as “chillen,” “smalltalken” & “downloaden”.

And just think of how proud you’ll be once you are really able to say “Ich bin ein Berliner” – and not just another expat stopping through…

Byline pic credit: Marie J. Burrows

For related articles, check out:

7 Cool New Ways to Learn German
9 Signs You’ve become a Startup Hipster