Monday, June 11, 2012

Six things to do before moving to Berlin to live and work as a freelancer!

Being a freelancer is great because you are your own boss but it can also be complicated to move to a different country and find work. Here is a list of six things that, in hindsight, would have helped us out!

Do your Market research

This may seem obvious but we made the mistake of arriving and assuming that German companies wanted to hire us even though we didn’t speak German. Just because you are a successful freelancer in your own country, it doesn’t mean that this will necessarily be the case in Berlin. Do some research into your field and Berlin. Is there a healthy industry? Do you need to speak German to do your job? Do you need any German qualifications or licences before-hand? It’s a good idea to do as much research as possible and even contact other people who have moved to Berlin. You can do this by searching for internet forums related to your profession to see what others are talking about. If you make contacts before you arrive, it will help you smooth the transition. Some great English language forums about all things in Berlin can be found on ExBerliner and ToyTown.

Make friends with a German!

This has to be the most useful advise we can give you. If you don’t speak a word of German when you arrive, you will be at a huge disadvantage when you have to sort out all your paperwork (and there is a lot to fill in!). In general, Germans speak marvellous English but if you turn up at a government office and expect everyone to just communicate in English, you will be surprised at the reluctance of the officials there to utter even one word. Going through the bureaucratic process with your German friend by your side will make things a lot smoother and less stressful. There are many language exchange evenings in Berlin (a good page to start your search) so head along to one of those as soon as you arrive and start making friends! If you don’t know any Germans, make an effort to learn a few key phrases and niceties beforehand. Even trying to apologise for not speaking German, in German, will get you that little bit further!

Make plans for health insurance.

Health care insurance contributions are obligatory here in Germany and your employer normally pays on your behalf whilst deducting it from your salary every month. However, if you are a freelancer, public health care insurance is your responsibility and it can be very expensive. A cheaper option is to opt for private health care insurance. There are some international insurance policies that cover you in Germany and they can be cheaper than German companies. Find an English-speaking insurance brooker (Optimum Captial helped us out) to find you the best deals but be prepared to pay at least 150-200 euros a month in health care.

Find a short-term place to live before you arrive.

If you are lucky enough to know people that you can stay with when you arrive then well done! If you are not, then read on. Finding a permenant place to live in Berlin these days is extremely difficult if you are not already settled here due to the high rate of immigration. Many landlords expect you to provide a list of papers as evidence that you are responsible enough and rich enough to live in their house. If you are new to Berlin, chances are you will probably not have any of these papers yet! Most places also ask to see a job contract too and for freelancers this can prove difficult! Make sure you plan ahead and also arrive with enough money to support yourself for at least a month or two. Consider short-term subletting, couch-surfing or flat shares before finding your own place. A good place to start a sublet search is WG-Gesucht. It has a lot of options for customising your search and there is an option to translate the page and its contents into English. 

Learn German!

In day-to-day activities, you can “get by” speaking English in Berlin. However, depending on your field, if you want to be considered as an employable freelance worker in Berlin, learning German will help you a lot. It will also help you thorough the initial paperwork process as mentioned above. For me, German seems like a very difficult language to learn, and I haven’t put aside enough time to practice although I should. I speak Spanish fluently which is causing problems inside my brain as it pops out as my default language when I speak to Germans. At least I’m trying! So, do as in point one and make friends with a German and get them to help you practice! Also, there are many online resources and mobile apps that can help you with the basics. We'll leave them up to you to find.

Find out what paperwork you need to complete when you arrive (and in which order!)

Depending on your situation you will need to fill in and apply for a number of things before being allowed to work. For instance one of the first papers you need to get is the residence certificate. You need this paper before you can rent a flat or open a bank account, for example. However, you need to have a rental contract before being able to get the residence certificate! We solved this paradox (eventually) by finding a temporary place to live and getting a sublet contract. Always ask the person you want to sublet from if they can actually give you a contract before you decide to sublet as many people sublet ‘illegally’ and will be reluctant to give you written proof. You will also need to register as a freelancer and apply for a tax number (which you have to wait two weeks for).  Check out this useful guide to Freelancing in Germany for more info. 

Good Luck!

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