You’ve made it to Germany as an international student or expat, congrats! Let’s see what are the first things to do in Germany after your arrival. The sequence of doing these things might be slightly different than the one mentioned in this post depending on the city/state. So, please double-check with your university/employer before you make your “To Do” list and prioritize it.
In case you’ve arranged temporary accommodation at a friend’s place or a hotel, you need to find accommodation. As a student, you can check with the student union (Studierendenwerk) of your city but you might have to wait for some weeks/months to get a room.
Another option is to find a room in a shared apartment (Wohngemeinschaft or commonly known as WG). Usually, wg-gesucht is used to find a room (WG-Zimmer) or a one-bedroom apartment. Most of the rooms/apartments on wg-gesucht are furnished. You can also try to find Facebook groups using keywords such as “wg gesucht”, “wg zimmer”, “wg und wohnung”, etc. Make sure you write your city’s name before or after these keywords.
You can also rent an apartment yourself and make WG out of it. You can use websites such as immowelt and immoscout24 to find an apartment. Usually, apartments found on this website are unfurnished. Make sure you inform your landlord that you’d like to make a WG, in case it’s not stated in the apartment description that it can be used as a WG.
Register your address (Anmeldung)
If you move somewhere in Germany, you usually have to register your address at the resident’s registration office (einwohnermeldeamt) of your city within the first 2 weeks of moving there. That’s why it’s one of the most important things to do after arriving in Germany. You might need the rental contract for the registration but usually, the confirmation of residence (Wohnungsgeberbestätigung) from your landlord is required.
Please check the website of the registration office for the exact list of documents. You might have to make an appointment anyway, so it’s a good idea to inform yourself by visiting their website or calling them.
Put your name on doorbell and post box
Talking of things to do in your first week in Germany, try to put your name on the doorbell and the post box as soon as possible. Many offices communicate via letters in Germany unless you explicitly opt for online communication. Even if you manage to get most of your documents online from banks, companies providing utilities, insurance companies, etc. important documents are still sent via post. Moreover, most public offices communicate via post anyway, that’s why it’s important to have your name on the doorbell and the post box.
In case you’re staying at somebody’s place and would like to receive a letter or package there, remember to mention c/o (care of) followed by the person’s name, the one written on their doorbell and letterbox.
Get utility contracts
Usually, water and heating are included in the side costs (Nebenkosten) of the rental contract in Germany but you’ve to arrange electricity and internet by yourself. You can get internet service in Germany either from major providers such as O2 and Vodafone, or you can compare different utility providers at check24 and choose the one that suits you the best.
For electricity, some suppliers operate throughout Germany for example Ostrom while some of them are more local (city/state wide supply). It’s recommended to have a look at the local as well as big suppliers and then choose one that meets your needs. Make sure you understand the terms and conditions of the contracts, especially the contract termination conditions.
Open a bank account
This is an important point because it deals with financial matters, so we’ll look at this point in detail. There are different options when it comes to opening a bank account in Germany as an international student or expat. Many banks offer a free account if you’re a student and are younger than a certain age (usually around 27 years). There are also free bank accounts for those who don’t fulfill these criteria but transfer a certain amount (usually around 700 euros) to the bank account every month.
You can opt for a private commercial bank like Commerzbank, Deutsche Bank, Post Bank, or Hypovereinsbank. If you’ve got an account at one of these banks, you can withdraw money from the other three for free. You can also withdraw money from some supermarkets and gas stations. These banks usually don’t have branches in small towns but most of the banking nowadays is done online anyway, so that shouldn’t be a problem unless you prefer going to the bank. These banks operate Germany-wide and some of them operate around the world. So if you move from one city to another in Germany, you just make a branch in the new city your main branch, which will be responsible for your account-related matters.
Alternatively, you can open an account at a public savings bank like Sparkasse or a cooperative bank like Volksbank or Raiffeisenbank. These banks have a lot more branches (even in small towns) than the ones mentioned above but they’re more local for example Berliner Sparkasse, Frankfurter Sparkasse and so on. In case you change your city, the banking experience won’t be that smooth anymore. You can withdraw money from any Sparkasse in Germany but if you’ve to deposit money or need something else like a new online banking PIN, then you’ll have to go to the region of that Sparkasse, where it operates. Otherwise, you’ll have to close the account from the old city for example from Berliner Sparkasse, and then open a new one in the new city, for example in Frankfurter Sparkasse.
Because most of the banking experience is online (through a website or mobile app) nowadays, you can also opt for free online banks in Germany. Also known as direct banks, these banks don’t have any branches and offer their services via online banking and/or mobile banking. Not having branches helps them to offer free bank accounts but it doesn’t mean that they’re not credible. For example, Comdirect is a direct bank (online bank), but the parent bank behind it is Commerzbank, which is one of the largest banks in Germany. In addition to Comdirect, you can check DKB, Santander, N26 and bunq. In case of Comdirect, you can deposit money through Commerzbank. For some online banks, you can’t deposit money. You’ll have to transfer it from another bank account.
It’s usually recommended to have two bank accounts, one main account, and one backup account. Perhaps you could open one account in a bank with branches and one account in a direct (online) bank. Alternatively, you can also open an account in Wise (previously known as Transferwise) or Revolut. These are more like electronic money accounts and not proper bank accounts but you can transfer money to these accounts from another account. These accounts are especially useful when you’re traveling in other countries and have to pay/withdraw money in different currencies. Moreover, these accounts are usually cheaper to transfer money internationally.
Usually, you get an EC card or a debit card when you open a bank account. If you’d like to have a credit card, then you can either check with your bank (this option might cost you a monthly/annual fee) or get a free credit card from Barclays, gebührenfrei, or some other provider.
Get a sim card
You can get a sim card in Germany either online by comparing different providers at check24 or you can visit offices of different sim card providers such as O2 or Vodafone. Some supermarkets also sell their own sim cards such as Lidl, Aldi, etc. You can either get a pre-paid sim card such as netzclub or Lebara, which you can just recharge and use, or a contract-based sim card such as PremiumSIM, where money is deducted from your bank account every month.
You can also get a phone+sim contract from a provider like DEINHANDY, FYVE, Smartphonemittarif, Sparhandy, etc. Make sure you read the terms and conditions of these contracts, especially the termination conditions.
Enroll at the university
As an international student in Germany, you usually have to do university enrollment at the international office of your university. They will inform you about the whole process and the documents required for enrollment. Once your enrollment is complete, you’ll get your university card, with which you can access different areas for example your faculty building and the university library. Moreover, you can usually pay with your student card at the library and student cafeteria (mensa).
Complete job-related formalities
If you’ve come to Germany to work, check with your employer and complete the job-related formalities that need to be taken care of in the first few days.
Get a health insurance
Having health insurance (Krankenversicherung) is compulsory in Germany, so it’s one of the first things you’ve to do after arriving in Germany. You can get public or private insurance. The majority of people in Germany have public health insurance. Benefits of public health insurance include better coverage (compared to average private insurances) in case of big medical bills, no payments (on your part) associated with doctor’s visits, and no/minimal payment (on your part) for medication. That’s why it’s usually recommended to have public health insurance. Major public health insurance companies in Germany are TK and AOK. Most of my friends have got public health insurance from TK. In case you opt for TK, it would be nice of you if you could mention “adil” or “adifiles” in the field “referred by”.
Private health insurance might be cheaper than public health insurance in Germany and some doctors have shorter (appointment) waiting times for patients having private insurance. But, you usually have to pay the cost upfront and then you can get a full/partial refund from your insurance provider in a few days/weeks depending upon your insurance plan. Moreover, you might have to inform/ask your insurance provider before going for certain treatments.
Depending upon your particular case and the amount of money you’re willing to pay, private health insurance is not always bad and it might actually be better for you. You can check out companies providing private health insurance in Germany such as Ottonova, CLARK, mawista, etc., or use check24 to compare different insurance providers. By the way, it’s not that easy/cheap to change from private insurance to public insurance, especially when you’re not young and healthy anymore. So do your homework and decide what suits you best.
Get a liability insurance
Besides health insurance, there are a lot of insurances you can get voluntarily that concern different aspects of your life. But, if you want to stay with the bare minimum, then the liability insurance (Privathaftpflichtversicherung) makes sense. It usually protects against damages caused by you to others or their belongings. You never know when you might unintentionally damage something, which may result in a lawsuit claiming a huge sum of money. As liability insurance normally costs less than 50 euros a year, it might be a good idea to get one.
Apply for a residence permit
Initially, a Schengen visa for studies or work is allotted for 3 months and then you’ve to apply for a visa extension/residence permit. Once you’re done with address registration, university enrollment/job-related formalities, and getting health insurance, you can apply for a residence permit (Aufenthaltstitel). For this, please check with the foreigners office (Ausländerbehörde) of your city. The list of required documents can usually be seen on their website and you will be able to book an appointment online or by calling/emailing them.
Although this is not one of the things to do in your very first week in Germany, we recommend doing it as soon as you’ve all the required documents. This is because usually there is a waiting period of a few weeks before you can get an appointment.
Enroll in a language course
Enrolling in a language course might not be one of the most important things to take care of during your first week in Germany. But we highly recommend you start learning German language as soon as possible. The language will help you a lot with cultural integration and career opportunities. You can either enroll yourself in a German language course at your university or one of the institutes e.g. Volkshochschule (VHS) in your city. Alternatively, you can opt for an online German course.
We hope this post helps you settle down in Germany and wish you all the best with your adventure of studying or working in Germany.
If you’ve come to Germany as an international student, we offer career counseling services. Check them out to plan your things accordingly during your studies, so that you can land good career opportunities after your graduation.