Understanding Utility Bills in Germany

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What you need to know about utility bills in Germany

Utility bills account for a large part of living expenses, so knowing what to expect can help you manage your budget better. Moreover, if you’re new to a country, setting up your utilities is part of the settling-in process. For example, you may need a utility bill in the renter's name to open a bank account. This article will help you understand how utility bills in Germany work.

Cold rent vs Warm rent (Kaltmiete vs Warmmiete)

When browsing rental ads in Germany, you will come across two types of prices: Kaltmiete, which means basic or “cold” rent. As its name suggests, Kaltmiete doesn’t include space and water heating or some operating expenses. On the other hand, Warmmiete is an all-inclusive rent that includes certain additional costs, which we explain below. How much is the Warmmiete? Warm rent can range anywhere between 150 to 1500 Euros or more / month, depending on what it covers and the size of your house / apartment. You should also bear in mind that Warmmiete is adjusted every year.

Additional costs for renters

In addition to the property costs, tenants in Germany are expected to pay for additional expenses, called Nebenkosten. You can think of Nebenskosten as a set of service charges that cover the monthly consumption of space and water heating and operating costs like waste disposal or the maintenance of common areas (garden, laundry room, etc.). If you are renting under the Warmmiete model, Nebenkosten will be included in the rent price. What’s included and excluded from Nebenkosten should always be specified in your rental agreement. It’s common to pay Nebenkosten directly to your landlord as a lump sum based on estimate or average costs. However, if actual costs exceed the estimate, you may be presented with a bill to cover the remainder. You should note that not all landlords are obliged to do an accurate year-end calculation of Nebenkosten. If your lease mentions “Nebenkostenvorauszahung”, your landlord must calculate the real costs and be ready to show you bills and invoices should you request them. This requirement exists to prevent overcharging. On the other hand, a lease that mentions “Nebenkostenpauschale” does not oblige the landlord to make this calculation. In the majority of cases, as a tenant you will also need to cover utility bills, whether your rent is Warmmiete or Kaltmiete.

If you are renting an apartment, you will be responsible for paying the additional costs of the apartment.

Utility bills in Germany

Nebenkosten cover some utility bills, but not all of them. So what is a utility bill in Germany? A simple utility bill definition is any bill for essential household services that isn’t included in Nebenkosten. A utility bill example could be a telephone bill, or a bill for the supply of electricity and gas. The following are the most common utility bills in Germany.

Electricity bills

This is one of the areas where utility billing in Germany differs from other countries. The typical electricity bill covers lighting and the electric power needed to run household appliances. As explained in previous sections, heating and hot water are often charged separately under Nebenkosten, even if they run on electric power. This means that you may have to pay two electricity bills, each of which covers different uses of electricity. There are hundreds of electricity suppliers serving the country, so it pays off to use comparison sites to see what suits your needs best. If you are a newcomer, you should know that unless you specifically choose a supplier, you will be signed up to the default provider for your local area (Grundversorgung) when you move into a property. This is because German law requires the provision of uninterrupted electric supply, even when a property is vacant. So if you just moved in, find out which company is covering the property and their tariff. When comparing providers, two things you want to find out about electricity prices in Germany are:

  • Whether their price per kilowatt-hour is fixed or dynamic. If it’s dynamic, prices can rise when there’s high demand for electricity (for example, during a winter storm or at peak hours).

  • Whether your supplier offers a price guarantee, which will ensure prices don’t increase for a specific period of time.

Lastly, remember that meter readings are not done every month, so during the first year your electric bills will be based on estimates and then adjusted at the end of each period. You may be billed monthly or quarterly depending on the provider.

Heating bills

The German heating system mainly relies on natural gas and oil. In many apartment buildings, it’s common to have a central heating system consisting of oil boilers. Heating bills are included in Warmmiete rents, but if you are a homeowner, you will need to cover these costs separately. If your home is equipped with gas heating, you may want to see if your electricity supplier offers bundled deals for electric and gas. In houses fitted with an oil boiler, you will need pay for the cost of refilling the oil tank instead of paying month by month. Radiant heat and electric space heaters are also common, but they can have a significant impact on your electricity bill.

Your heating bill is usually separate from your electricity bill in Germany.

Water bills

If the cost of water is not part of your lease’s Nebenkosten, you will need to find a local provider and set up an account with them. In Germany, the water supply is managed by municipalities or city councils, which have agreements with their chosen water company. This means that your may not have much of a choice when it comes to selecting a water supplier. Water bills are based on consumption and are often calculated per cubic metre. Bills are typically issued every two months at a fixed price and there is a year-end adjustment that takes into account actual consumption. If water bills are included in the Nebenkosten, the calculation is usually based on the square footage of the property you are renting.

Internet & phone bills

Internet usage in Germany is well established, since 94% of German households have online access. The type of service offered depends on your location and the Internet provider available. In rural areas, DSL connections may be the only option. Otherwise, you can usually choose between broadband or fiber optic. Although average speeds aren’t the fastest, monthly costs are moderately priced. Please see the FAQs for details. Other things to note include:

  • Unless you are transferring or taking over an existing Internet contract, you may need to pay for the cost of setting up a new connection or processing fees.
  • You may get lower monthly prices if you commit to a 2-year contract.
  • Short-term contracts are called “Ohne Mindestlaufzeit”. They offer more flexibility in contract duration, but prices may be higher and you will still need to give 3 months notice before cancelling.

You can also get Internet access through your mobile phone, since many monthly contracts and pay as you go plans include data. If you need a landline, it’s often cheaper to get a bundle from your Internet service provider. Packages that include cable TV are also widely available.

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