What should I consider before I move to Berlin?
January 30, 2008 1:11 PM   Subscribe

What should I consider before I move to Berlin?

I have the potential option of moving from New York to Berlin to continue in the same capacity with another branch of my company. They would handle the paperwork for me.

What should I consider before I say yes?

Are salaries lower in Berlin that New York? It seems living expenses are.

But the medical care is paid for, right?

Any Americans living in Germany can speak to taxes--both German and American? No idea on this front...

Vacation days? In France, it'd be like two months! But what's the norm in Germany?

Is it easy to meet people in Berlin like it is in NY?

And if I don't like my job, will I be forced to come back to the US right away? That is, what are the rules concerning the German work visa?

Any other legal/job/money details I should consider?

posted by beautiful to Work & Money (9 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I went to Berlin in a holiday capacity for a week and I got alot of very anti-American anger directed my way (Im English). This was three years ago however, but I was 18 at the time and it was just really unnecessary.

Just an FYI about the mean streets of Ber' things have probably changed.
posted by Neonshock at 1:50 PM on January 30, 2008

That's odd. I found Berlin to be a really friendly place when I visited about 5 years ago. I got lost several times but always got offers to help me find my way...but then again, I'm black and my reception in most European countries is often warmer than what I get in my own country.

If you want to private mail me, I can put you in touch with a friend of mine (white American guy who grew up in San Francisco) whose been living there for the past eight years. He's tired of the place but every time I talk to him (which is often) he is off to some great bar/party/restaurant.

He also tells me that Berlin is like the sixth borough now because there are so many New Yorkers moving there.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 2:27 PM on January 30, 2008

My experience with Berlin and really Germany in general is that yes, everything is expensive. However, they all make more money and generally get 6 weeks of paid vacation a year. That's a generalization of course. Berlin's got a happening social scene, and with the rail system it's very VERY easy and affordable to pop over to Prague or Paris or, if you really want to, Tibet. Although...that's more expensive.

Germany has very harsh restrictions about immigration placed on it by the UN---they have a huge issue with turkish and middle eastern people seeking asylum--they are barely allowed to turn them away. It's sort of a WWII holdover.

Good luck!
posted by TomMelee at 2:30 PM on January 30, 2008

OK, I'll give it a whack.

Salaries are much, much lower, but since you are working for the same company, you should be able to negotiate the middle ground (actually, I personally wouldn't take a pay cut for an overseas posting).

If your company's presence in Germany is a normal German company, they will most likely be paying for half of your healthcare and you'll be paying for the other half. The subsidized health care is only for people who can't afford to pay in. I think you will also have to pay into the pension system unless there is some kind of special situation that your company is operating under.

Germany and the US have a tax treaty to avoid double-taxation, and the US exempts the first $84,000 or so of salary earnings abroad from taxation in any case, so you'll just pay German taxes basically. You'll still need to file US federal taxes in order to tell them that you haven't had taxable earnings. You might need professional help with the details, at least the first time around.

In a jobby-job, vacation days should be about a month per year in the first year, then go up higher over time.

It's not super-easy to meet Berliners in Berlin, they're less into chatting and icebreaking and the like. But it is still possible. It's as easy to meet NYers in Berlin as it is to meet NYers in NY.

If you don't like your job, it's still pretty likely that you can go to the Auslanderbehörde and ask for a visitor's visa for as much as a year or sometimes even more if you're financially fit and can prove it (and you're from one of the various countries that Germany likes immigrants from). But, you'll want to get to know a German person who would be willing to help you deal with the bureaucrats, it goes way better that way (you want to be meeting Germans in any case, cause otherwise, why be in Germany?). As far as a work visa goes, that will be a lot harder to get without a job, and I doubt your original allowance to work for your company will be applicable to other jobs. There are special visas available here for people with skills which are in demand, but there aren't many jobs. A German company can apply for a work visa for you if they can prove that there are no qualified Germans for their needs, but that's not an easy thing to prove in a city with so many educated, certified, underemployed people running around.

Which I guess is one detail to consider in general. The unemployment rate here is about 14%, which is hugely improved from a couple years ago, but there are some industries which are just not happening here these days and depending on what you do, you might find that you can't do it here, or not with job terms that you find respectable, and don't forget the language disadvantage. It's very different from NY in that sense: this is not a dynamic economy. So if your idea is to come over, check it out, and maybe change jobs but stay in the same field, understand that it is unlikely to be that straightforward.

Other things to think about: if you're American, prepare to be bitched at. Berliners used to like Yanks pretty well for a number of reasons, but we've kind of lost them at this point. Weather: there is a glorious long summer where the sun goes down at 9 or later and everyone is sitting out in cafés and smiling, and then there is the other season, in which the sky is white and about 20 feet overhead, and the sun sets at 4pm, and then the freezing rains come. Language: Berlin is not one of those places in Europe where everyone speaks English. In some circles everyone will, in other circles nobody will. The plumber will most likely not. The bureaucrat might, secretly, but she won't speak it with you. Some people think they can speak English but can't. Learning some German will be the difference between a pretty hemmed-in life and a broader one. I say that as someone who isn't good at languages and wishes she was more fluent (though my German is up to the bureaucrat challenge, finally).

Upsides: cheap rents, great food if you know where to go, progressive politics, it's far more tolerant than NY in certain areas (less in others), nightlife, art, the possibilities which come with an affordable city, very high quality of life compared to NY, interesting nature nearby, multiple layers of history which are still unfolding, pleasingly weird wildlife in town (you might watch a fox run across the street when you're coming home at 4am), great public facilities like public pools, ice rinks, parks, (artifical) beaches, et cetera. Feel free to send me mefimail if you want! I think Berlin is great even though, like every other city, it isn't perfect.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 2:31 PM on January 30, 2008 [4 favorites]

TomMelee: the cost of living here is low and so are the salaries. Cities like Munich and Düsseldorf are more like what you've described. And I wouldn't really describe Paris as cheap or close by train :) . But yes, I've visited Prague a bunch of times since moving here, Poland is about an hour away and everyone says it's great, and Copenhagen is about a 6-hour train ride, which isn't bad. Cologne is about 4 hours away and Amsterdam a little more than 6 on the fast trains.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 2:48 PM on January 30, 2008

Apologies, TomMelee: my spouse just told me that at the moment you can go to Paris in 8 1/2 hours and for only €39, so that's pretty damned close and cheap.
And we just decided to go there over Easter.
Carry on!
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 2:55 PM on January 30, 2008

I've lived in Berlin for 3 years, as a Canadian (with an American spouse) and loved every minute of it. I think YTMS is spot on many issues. Cost of living (back in 2003) was much lower than other German cities. Berlin is a sprawling, very green city, with tons of different n'hoods that are fun to discover and explore. Public transportation is great (especially these trains you can hop on easily with your bikes for a bit of countryside cycling) . It's very cosmopolitan (at least by German standards). And a little bit of German will take you along way. I found people in Berlin to be extremely patient with us as foreign speakers. And YTMS hasn't mentioned the multiple FKK beaches (which we've also enjoyed)....
posted by bluefrog at 4:47 PM on January 30, 2008

No worries. I've spent most of my time in Bavaria, which is fairly different than a lot of the rest of Germany. There are so many fantastically amazing places you can visit for $50 and a days travel, and you don't need a car and the food is great and, usually, they are pedestrian friendly. Of course, I also haven't been there for a long time, and the German economy hasn't exactly been swimming. Where I was, it seemed that the standard of living was almost exactly the same as my own town, but everything just cost more...but everyone had more money.
posted by TomMelee at 8:56 PM on January 30, 2008

It's basically just an East-West question. Reunification for Berlin meant that (economically at least), the West half became part of the Former East, not vice versa, and current city planning policies actively further that.

FKK beaches: ha! It's certainly a bracing experience when you're minding your own business kayaking on the Havel and encounter a pensioner sailing his sailboat without a stitch on. Berlin: Humans May Be Naked.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 5:24 AM on January 31, 2008

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