Expats in Berlin meet your new best friend: Expath
I hate paperwork, but then again who doesn’t? Council tax, national insurance, phone bills, electricity forms, the list goes on. I hate this paperwork with such a passion I can hardly accurately describe it, other than saying that the mere thought of Student Finance brings me out in a cold sweat. Moving country, therefore, was in this respect maybe not the best move. Then again, I figured a load of paperwork would be coming my way post graduation anyway, so I shouldn’t let that stop me cutting loose and moving to my favourite European city of Berlin.
Then I arrived. I had done some research before coming (naturlich) but was still a little hazy on the particulars of health insurance and tax, amongst other things. I started checking various German websites, clicking on the ‘English’ option and finding either little changed except the headings or that the whole content was rendered unusable. I was starting to panic but help was close at hand in the form of integration service Expath.
The initiative was set up just over a month ago in July 2012 by Stephan Brenner and Tia Robinson, who although having made the leap to Berlin themselves saw plenty of friends struggling with the process. Tia explains, “Stephan and I have been colleagues for the last 5 and half years managing a language school and we’ve been dealing with people in this situation so we know a lot about it. A lot of our friends are freelance English teachers or other international people so we’ve been around a lot of other people going through the transition of moving here.”
Stephan agrees, “A lot of people who are already established say ‘We wish you’d been around when we first got here!’ In our old job we really noticed there was a lack of resources and any real information or even encouragement for people moving.”
Tia moved to Berlin six years ago with her husband and says, “We were so nervous and in retrospect it was unnecessary. For me I really would just have liked someone to tell me it’s possible and although it’s a lot of hard work it’ll be ok, don’t give up, come here and try.”
This is just the sort of encouragement that Expath provides, offering services including ‘Getting Started Workshops’, German lessons and individual coaching. I opted for a Getting Started workshop, which is a two hour session covering the basics of moving costing only €20. Before the session you’re emailed a list of questions so that Tia is aware of everyone’s situation and what needs to be covered, and goes through issues such as opening a bank account, obtaining a visa and finding work step by step.
Groups are small and any questions you might have are answered, as well as Tia kindly providing translations of all those annoying really long German words for the simplest of things – you know, like going to the Burgeramt (government office) with your untermietvertrag (sub lease certificate) to get your Anmeldbestatigung (important piece of paper registering your address).
Despite there being a lot to do, having it all listed and explained is enormously helpful, and has saved me hours of frustration with Google translate and angry looking German government officials/bankers/people in general. Tia even gave us a list of recommended English speaking doctors, a true gift!
Before setting off to complete my (slightly less daunting) to do list, I asked Stephan and Tia their top 3 tips on moving. They agreed the top three things were:
- Come prepared and with money.
- Do as much research as possible beforehand (NB: Expath offer Skype sessions for the super prepared).
- Come with a good attitude and patience – you have to come knowing it will be hard but this is normal and you have to be persistent.
So what are you waiting for? Make the leap!