Making the move to Berlin
Part 1 — Getting Prepared
The beginning of a multi-part story of Emigrating. Part 2 will follow and so-on.
Q. Do any of the following points resonate with you?
Yes? Then this article is intended for you :)
- I’m thinking of Emigrating to Berlin
- I’m thinking of Emigrating to Germany
- I’m thinking of Emigrating to Europe
- I’m thinking of Emigrating Period
- I AM Emigrating to any of the above
- I HAVE emigrated to any of the above
- I like reading fun stories by people not experienced at writing!
Bonus Relevance points
- South Africans would find this especially relatable.
- Family with young children, ours were nearly 3 & 1 at the time of arrival
Making the decision to GO is the hardest part. It’s like jumping into a frozen lake, leaning in for that first kiss, bungee jumping — once you commit, your survival instincts and adrenalin take over. Your fight, rather than flight inclination, will get you through every challenge until you’re “safe”.
Safe = Settled.
That feeling where your to-do list feels uncomfortably short for the first time in what will feel like forever. It’s an intense process to emigrate; it’s exciting, mentally exhausting and somewhat daunting — but nothing you cannot manage, if you have the right support and structures, and check-lists in place.
Once you make it over to the other side the rewards in reflection are, at least for us, well worth it. The story I have written (and will continue to in further “parts”) aims to document where we were surprised, enlightened, and how we found shortcuts/solutions, and the quirks of our new home in Germany.
My hope is that this story serves as a guideline for anyone considering a life an adventure abroad.
DO I QUALIFY?
As every case is of course very different, and within each possible avenue there are multiple nuances. For me to say which route is possible or not, would be irresponsible, and I would caution from searching forums for advice on residence status. All I can say is that there are some surprising means in which you could obtain a work permit that are perhaps not widely understood. e.g. You may have British rights if your parents/grand-parents lived in Colonial states such as Zambia/Zimbabwe. You don’t necessarily have to be a ‘Bachelor’s Degree’ holder to obtain a work permit if your role and work experience exists within a skills shortage. You may not have to prove that you have the ability to speak the native language e.g. German.
If you’re committed to the process and believe there is a fair chance of success, my suggestion is to investigate via a professional Immigration Consultant, what options you may have, and get the facts laid bare. Also keep in mind, that if your dream is to live in Switzerland, but that VISA is unobtainable, but perhaps Germany/France/Portugal is an option, that’s a much nearer bridge to gap once you’re in Europe than from the outside later. Essentially, be open-minded to opportunities, and investigate the merits.
Also, if you do qualify for a VISA, make sure you’re explicit as to understanding the costs, as the process will most likely be lengthy. Obtaining the entry visa may just be Step 1 of multiple, where you’ll need support in concluding the process of arranging follow-up appointments, handling documentation in the native language. These costs may quickly add-up if this is on your own personal account. And if you do qualify, and you are serious about emigrating, get the process going sooner-than-later, as rules do change, and what may have been true last year, perhaps isn’t this year. Note Brexit’s c̶h̶a̶n̶g̶i̶n̶g̶ changed landscape.
MAKING THE APPLICATION
If you need to apply for a VISA.
You’ll need a system to manage and keep track. The amount of documents you require quickly becomes overwhelming, and keeping track of whether you’re being waited on, or if you are waiting on someone else — make sure you ensure this is explicit to continually chase down documents, print-offs etc. Email threads with attachments very quickly become unmanageable and messy.
My recommendation for TAX and this process is to share a Google Drive of documents, and colour code the state. Link people to direct folders or items so as to ensure you’re always using the most up-to-date information.
If you’re even thinking of making the move, and you don’t know if you have these documents, get the ball-rolling immediately… without even one of these, it’s a potential non-starter.
- Passport — preferably with loads of years to the expiry date (more on this later)
- Birth Certificates (Unabridged i.e. printed not written) — especially for your children.
- Marriage Certificate (also Unabridged)
In South Africa getting any one of these documents ranges from Easy and Fast, to unreasonably Hard and Slow!
In our specific case, our application took so long, I literally sent an email to the Home Affairs office, wishing my Marriage Certificate application a Happy One Year Anniversary!! It didn’t help much, as it still took another 6 months! Humour… you have to have a good sense of humour to survive this process.
Future proof your life, for your future you, that person will
thank you for it.
Make sure while you’re at home, and preferably even prior to applying for a VISA, you get your passports renewed, so you have as many years to NOT have to do so abroad. It’s not unusual to hear that a passport (South African) may take longer than 6 months to even a year to obtain when applied for via an embassy. You don’t hand in your passport, so you can still travel, however you need to be mindful of the 6 months remaining within your passport expiry date travel window (generally you may not travel on a passport within its final 6 months of validity), and should the passport take longer than the anticipated period, you will be locked in/out with an expired passport. Who needs that kind of stress on their hands… get it done!!
If you intend driving in Europe, you will swap in your South African drivers license for the net benefit of a European license that you can use worldwide, with no expiry date. The EU Administration will hold onto your license regardless of its expiry. The arrangement means that you need not do any conversion, other than convert to driving on the “wrong” right side of the road! There are states within the USA that require you do a complete do-over to get your license, so enjoy the privilege if you have it! So if you’re thinking the above applies RE renewing your drivers license, so long as you have enough time to get the application done when arriving in Europe prior to expiry, this is one task you may not need to do in preparation.
OK GREAT, YOU’RE GOING!
NOW TO PACK, WITH THE FUTURE IN MIND
In the preparation of our container’s arrival to collect our belongings, and the volume (size) considerations of a container. To IKEA or not to IKEA, that was our biggest conundrum, having not even set foot in one of their stores before. Do we take everything we have, or do we buy as much as possible when we arrive?
We decided on a mixture of both, and for the most part it worked out well, fortunately. The biggest “challenge” we had, was having an over-oversized L-Shaped couch, which oh-so-nearly didn’t fit in the stairwell of our apartment in Berlin. It only just fits in our lounge. That isn’t the only challenge, and this is one you need to weigh up with your own items. It’s also important to note that in Germany, it can take weeks for a large furniture item to arrive, perhaps longer than your furniture even takes to travel!
A couple of furniture stores for you to compare (and note the ETA’s):
IKEA, Wayfair, Home24, MADE, Höffner
A question to bear in mind, could you sell any bit of furniture or an item in Europe if you no longer need it, if not, it’s probably going out for free. We brought over our Cloud Nine King size mattress and base, in hindsight I would have sold both this and the couch in South Africa, as we would have at least recouped some of the initial outlay. In Germany, there is no market for CoriCraft or Cloud Nine, no matter how big the brands may be in SA, they aren’t necessarily in Europe, where you are really spoilt for choice. Even picking something academic like a pillow leaves your head spinning with the sheer volume of choice available. Therefore the only way I foresee moving either the Bed or Couch is for free. None of this is the end of the world, but be aware and consider your own scenario. You can get a gauge of just how much and what moves (sometimes shocking) for free (surprisingly) on the Facebook Group Free Your Stuff Berlin
When it comes to those South African treats and creature comforts that we’ve known since childhood, do you like very specific non-perishable items, that could survive the 2 month trip? e.g. (a kids/your favourite sweet or chips/crisps, Marmite, Peppermint Crisp, rusks). This is your opportunity to stock up and ensure that when your furniture arrives in Europe, you will have a box of treats that you packed up awaiting you to remind you of home. This will be comforting for the settling-in period. For us, having some rusks and Flings crisps felt very familiar.
Unfortunately items like wines need to be noted and carry a hefty cost that wasn’t worth it for us. Unless you’re bringing an irreplaceable collection over, there are services for this to our understanding — naturally at a cost.
Just know, if you like wine, you’ll be blown away with options in Europe, both locally and internationally. And of course, you will still be able to get your favourites from the Cape Winelands, and in most cases better labels, as surprise — they export their best batches! Vivino is a great resource to get an idea of what is available, and with a review system designed for wine. Amazon also does cater for a decent portion of the most readily available, and a few local favourites are very readily available e.g. Amarula. As enjoyers of Chardonnay, we’ve found the Napa Valley Californian wines really nice, and fairly inexpensive.
Once your life is packed up into multiple cardboard boxes and you’re nearing the departure date, AND you hopefully didn’t accidentally pack your passports into the container (top tip: remove critical documents from your home before the container goes to be sure this kind of error can’t happen), the remaining items need to fit into bags for your flight over.
Our biggest error in judgement was overpacking in this regard. We didn’t even use half of the clothing, anticipating that we’d be there over two seasons, we really weren’t. The Summer lives long into September here. For context we arrived with 7 bags and two baby car-seats for a family of 4. So keep in mind your arrival, if it’s winter, don’t bother with summer clothes, but also be aware that with central heating it’s your choice as to how warm you like it inside, and in reality, you can live indoors in shorts & t-shirts all year round.
And if you overpack, don’t try and hero the packing into a set number of bags, if you need more bags, just get them and spread the load. You can drive yourself insane trying to save a couple of bucks in another bag, just adding unnecessary stress to the last days with your friends/family. Our intention was to use 4 bags, and we arrived with 7 after trying to make 7 fit into 4 for 2 days — what a waste of much needed relaxation pre-flight! I can’t recall exactly but I think British Airways charged around ZAR 500 per back, so it really was a silly investment in “saving” time.
FIND TIME TO ENJOY THE PROCESS
You’re emigrating, it’s an exciting and daunting process for the leavers, it’s less exciting and more daunting and sad for the stayers. Make sure you make use of your time wisely and spend it with your loved ones. If COVID has taught us anything, it’s that we took the freedom of travel for granted. You don’t know with absolute certainty when you’ll see your family and friends again — don’t waste time on frivolous ill-placed stress (read the bag packing paragraph above) and visit, and visit again.
Go to that wine farm you always wanted to, go to the beach, have that pint with that person you’re usually too busy to see. Get on the plane with your loved ones saying “Thank Goodness, I’m exhausted from all the socialising”. Make the memories… for the sake of their memories.
ONE LAST THING BEFORE YOU GET ON THE PLANE
Having learnt this lesson the hard way (in my twenties it was adventure) in 2004, I arrived in London with no plan whatsoever. The two friends I was travelling with, were also none-the-wiser nor prepared. And after we collected our baggage, we were faced with 3 options as to how to get somewhere. An Underground train — but to where? Heathrow-Express — but where the hell is Paddington?
A London Taxi-Cab was the option we landed upon, the most expensive drive imaginable to a Pub in Notting Hill (probably the cab drivers local), that he knew had an upstairs digs. The worst nights sleep I have had in my life, followed with a morning in which a plan was made and I insisted we head to a hostel immediately.
Don’t let this be you. Have a plan for your arrival. Here are a few suggestions in our own retrospective hindsight.
- Pre-book a van to take you to your first destination — rather have too much room than too little, and have a driver know up-front to meet you and exactly where to drop you off. Remember to Tip :)
- If arriving at a hotel, make sure you get an early check-in should that be applicable. You don’t want to be sat waiting around with your luggage for a check-in that is hours away.
- In a city like Berlin, cash is king — have some walking around money immediately available, request small denominations if possible. A €1 coin is useful to unlock a trolley on the way out of the airport for a trolley.
- If you’re living in a temporary accommodation apartment, you’ll need to pick up the food basics fairly quickly. Setup your Amazon account before you leave, perhaps even setup a delivery for the day or two after you arrive with Amazon Fresh, and apply the changes to your order accordingly.
- Consider packing a WiFi router in your luggage, as most hotels/temporary apartments provide ethernet cables, but the wifi is shared and therefore not always consistent. Broadcast your own connection, and it will most likely be faster and more reliable.
- Be aware of the food delivery services in and around the address you will be living at, so you can easily pick-up a meal especially in the first days. In Berlin the two major options are Lieferando and Wolt.
- Consider picking up an Amazon Fire Stick, or pack in your Apple TV device, so as to have your shows available to watch on Netflix etc. It’s likely Hotel/Apartment you initially live in will not have such features built into their TV’s, but they will have an HDMi port.