Advice from an Expat Expert
Bastien Allibert came to Berlin ten years ago and set up a blog to help other foreign newcomers settle into the German capital. As an expert in navigating the complex bureaucracy and unique culture of the city, we ask him for his best advice.
What brought you to Berlin?
It's a normal story really, similiar to many lives out there. I had just graduated from university and it was time to decide where my next life phase should be. There were three things on my mind at the time: 1. I wanted to work in the music industry. 2. I wanted to live in a city with a good quality of life. 3. I wanted to improve my German skills. Berlin was an obvious choice, although I didn't plan to stay for that long. I suppose that is the case for a lot of foreigners here. I didn't work in the music industry for very long at all. I stayed, met someone, and had kids. 10 years later, I'm still here.
What's your favourite part about living here?
Despite the increasing prices and rapid changes the city is going through, I'm still amazed at how I never cease to discover it. Thanks to its unique history and geography, Berlin combines multiple cities into one. There is always something new to see or experience, always new people to meet. I guess it's probably why Berlin still attracts so many different people and cultures: there is something for everybody. The century-old "live & let live" mindset is also still very much a thing. There is room to find and realize oneself. Also a strong reason for Berlin's attractiveness.
What made you decide to start a blog?
It's also a very simple story. As a newcomer in Germany, I faced countless little hurdles when moving here. As I was meeting colleagues, friends and language course partners, I kept explaining what I had just been going through, over and over again. I grew tired of repeating myself and decided to put it online, for everyone to read. As I went through the different steps of moving here such as getting a flat in Berlin or health insurance in Germany, I kept documenting it over the years, as a side project next to my day-time job. Soon after, the first comments appeared on the blog and I now see around 2500 users on the blog and answer to 5-10 comments everyday. I now cover topics related to later-stage settlement like applying for finding a kita spot, parental benefits or even applying for pension refund when leaving Germany! I keep editing this blog because 10 years after, the need for concise & clear guidance on those topics is still there. I am also motivated by people that reach out to me on social media or via the comments to let me know how much of a difference I made.
What's the best piece of advice you have for people moving to Berlin?
The most obvious one is still to come with a plan. Long gone are the days where you could improvise your move, guessing as you go. Everything is more competitive now. Thankfully, most people come well-prepared here, in part also thanks to resources like mine (boasting mode: engaged). The media tend to focus on the most desperate or stereotypical cases, the ones that reinforce that all newcomers are after the 24/7 party lifestyle. That's not true. Another advice that I keep preaching is to learn German. I know it gets old but it improves your chances of success significantly, on a professional and personal level. Bursting out of the English-speaking bubble goes a long way to bring you interesting opportunities.
You created a game satirizing the challenges associated with finding housing in Berlin. What advice do you have for expats looking to buy real estate here?
Berlin Flat Quest became viral because it does reflect real world-issues packaged in a comedic mini-game. It also points out discrimination foreigners tend to experience when looking for a flat to rent or estate to buy. With less established and different profiles compared to the average German, landlords and banks still seem to favor German nationals when granting access to housing opportunities. There is unfortunately not a magical solution for those issues as they tend to be institutionalized. Alongside building a solid profile as a potential buyer (that can take some years if you just arrived), it can really help to make use of professional and vetted brokers. They bring that all-needed trust to the table when talking with banks, and can make use of competition between them to gain a better rate. However right now, financing is often the least of all worries. Finding a place to buy is the most difficult part. Another tip: when visiting larger projects or buildings, always ask if there are other units not yet renovated or built that are soon to be on the market. This can help you get access to things that aren't even listed yet and put an offer on it first.
Active since 2011, settle-in-berlin.com helps anybody coming to Germany tackle all practical aspects of moving here. Everyday, up to 2500 visitors find answers on registration, tax returns, unemployment, insurance, visa applications and more. Over the years, SiB has been recognized for its work and has been featured on Bundesregierung.de, Expat.com, Deutschlandfunk and Süddeutsche Zeitung.
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