The decision to pack up and move abroad isn't always easy, even when moving to a buzzing and attractive European capital such as Berlin. While the city has plenty of positives, there are some negatives about life here, too.
It's best to have some idea of what to expect before moving, so for a balanced presentation of the good, bad and ugly, here are some pros and cons of relocating to and living in Berlin.
Cost of living in Berlin
+ PRO: Something for everyone’s budget
Despite being the capital city, the cost of living in Berlin is slightly lower than in other German cities. Even a city-centre apartment is relatively affordable, especially when compared to those in other Western European capitals. And for more affordable accommodation options, expats can save by looking in the surrounding areas and suburbs. Public transport is also reasonably priced, while the low fees in public and bilingual schools attract expat families. While expats on a budget can enjoy live music in local bars, those who wish to splurge can dine in Berlin's Michelin star restaurants.
- CON: Unavoidable expenses
Having a relatively lower cost of living doesn’t mean Berlin is cheap. Things are still pretty pricey relative to average incomes, and some expenses, such as healthcare, are unavoidable. All residents – local or expat – in Germany must have health insurance, and expats typically also pay for private health cover.
Working in Berlin
- CON: Finding a job is hard
Berlin consistently proves a hard job market to enter, and those who do find a job may not always be rewarded with a lucrative salary and employment benefits. Career growth and promotions also remain a pipe dream for many Berlin residents. Unfortunately, the city struggles with the highest unemployment rate in Germany.
- CON: Taxes are high
German residents will face high taxes, and as the tax rate is progressive up to 45 percent, higher earners contribute more than lower earners. Be sure to confirm and calculate net earnings when receiving job offers and draw up budgets for life in Berlin.
+ PRO: Job prospects for the innovative and creative
Despite its drawbacks, Berlin continues to attract young expats, particularly the creatives and those with entrepreneurial minds working in the tech sector. Anyone from singers and performers to writers and painters find themselves in Berlin, contributing to the bohemian atmosphere, while start-ups in the IT and media sectors are also growing.
Lifestyle in Berlin
+ PRO: Never a dull moment
Berlin is a melting pot, reflected in its buzzing cosmopolitan lifestyle. The city offers everything from bohemian art galleries and cafes to outdoor festivals and wild nightclubs, and those who prefer time outdoors can enjoy the green spaces such as Tiergarten and Viktoriapark. There is so much to see and do, and expats who have an open mind will meet people from all over and experience a veritable smorgasbord of fun and exciting things.
- CON: Culture shock of the Berlin Schnauzer
Berlin has a bad reputation of its local people being unfriendly and impolite, so much so that this attitude has gained the name Berlin Schnauzer. Interactions with German locals may seem curt with cold replies. However, this attitude is not typically intentionally rude, but rather just a result of Germans being more socially reserved. Understanding the culture can help overcome the hurdles of making friends.
- CON: Learning German is a must
Although Berlin is a globalised city and is home to languages from all over the world, expats may face language barriers, and learning German is key to having an integrated expat experience. Understanding and being able to communicate in German is greatly beneficial in both workplace and social settings, but it often proves a difficult language and takes time, effort and practice.
Getting around in Berlin
+ PRO: Public transport is efficient
German culture is characteristically punctual and efficient, and this cuts across all spheres of life, including public transport. One of the quickest ways to get around the city is the U-Bahn, Berlin's metro system, while trams, buses and the S-Bahn also connect the central and surrounding areas and regions.
+ PRO: Great for cycling
With over 620 miles (1,000km) of bike lanes and combined foot and cycle paths across the city, cycling is one of the easiest and healthiest ways to get around. Be sure to follow the rules of the road and be aware of pedestrians and other vehicles. Expats should note that, as a pedestrian, they should not walk in the dedicated bicycle lanes.
Accommodation in Berlin
+ PRO: High standard of accommodation
Berlin hosts a range of accommodation options, most of which are neat, well maintained or recently modernised and refurbished.
- CON: Most rentals come unfurnished
Most expats in Berlin will rent accommodation, and of these properties very few will be fully or even semi-furnished. ‘Unfurnished’ in Berlin may also mean no large kitchen appliances or even light fittings. Expats staying long term may prefer this, as they have the freedom to decorate and furnish their property, making themselves feel at home.
Education and schools in Berlin
+ PRO: High standard of education
Berlin has an excellent standard of education. Whether expats opt for a public, private or international school, their children are likely to have well-trained and motivated teachers as well as access to multiple learning materials and resources. This includes special-needs education for students with disabilities – schools are inclusive, both in academic and vocational institutions, and provide specialised services.
- CON: Admission to international and bilingual schools is competitive
Expats with older kids who may struggle with the language barrier in public schools tend to prefer international or bilingual schools, but demand is high and space is limited. Admission is not guaranteed and parents are encouraged to start exploring their options as early as possible. What's more, while bilingual schools typically offer reasonable fees, international schools come with steep tuition, often charging extra for external exams, so parents must be able to budget for this.
Weather in Berlin
+ PRO: Summer fun
Summers are warm without being unpleasantly hot, and spring and autumn also boast comfortable and mild temperatures. While there are year-round annual events, Berlin comes to life in summer, with park-goers enjoying picnics, outdoor music festivals and parties. Expats should always be prepared for the chance of rain and pack an umbrella.
- CON: Winter is bitterly cold
Expats who struggle with cold temperatures likely won’t enjoy Berlin’s winter when they find themselves needing to leave the comfort of their heated apartment to go to work or do grocery shopping. Some expats may enjoy the cold weather as well as the snow that falls, typically between December and March, although the snow cover doesn't last long.
►For an overview of life in the city, read Moving to Berlin
►Read some Frequently Asked Questions about Berlin for answers to some common concerns
"There are many, many things I love about Berlin: its location in the heart of Europe, the history, the music scene, the wide range of arts, culture and museums, and the events and places that you would only find in Berlin." Jenni shares some positive and negative experiences in Berlin in this expat interview.
Are you an expat living in Berlin?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Berlin. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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