Ready to give your family a new start in Germany? After wrestling for a kindergarten spot, finding the right school, and going through the works at the immigration office you probably will find yourself on the verge of a toddler tantrum.
Fear not. Here are 5 essential tips for expat families moving to Berlin.
Tip 1: Secure your family’s right to reside with a visa and residency registration
If you as the main applicant already have a job, or the required paperwork to secure a freelance, employment, self-employment, artist visa or “Blue Card” in Germany, then your family will usually automatically qualify for some kind of residency permit under the “reunification of families” rules.
As the primary applicant looking to bring your family to Berlin, you will need to prove that you can financially support your dependents with your income. Children up to the age of 16 automatically have the right to reside with their parents, provided that you can both prove full custody of the child, or in the case of divorced couples, show an official document of approval from the remote parent.
The law around family visas and residency for relatives is complex and nuanced. It must be handled on a case by case basis as your circumstances will affect your application. This does not mean that they will automatically receive a visa. Your family will still need to apply individually for their residency permit or working visa in Berlin and attend appointments in German at the immigration office.
Our german visa service provides comprehensive consultancy on your family’s move to Berlin. We develop a full visa application strategy to best fit your needs, prepare all paperwork, attend your immigration appointments with you acting as your translator and representative, and consult you throughout the process.
Tip 2: Apply for a kindergarten (Kita) place as soon as possible
While German bureaucracy has a bad reputation in general, there are a few official processes that will send prickles down the spine of even native Berliners. One of these is securing a place at a kindergarten.
Amazingly part time childcare is provided in Germany free of charge for children up to the age of 3 years old. In order to be eligible you need to show that both parents are working (provide employment contracts or other proof) and that the child is an officially registered resident. That means visa and residency registration as above!
If you are eligible then you can apply for what is called a “Kitagutschein” (translated as “Childcare Voucher”) online. Applications can be made when your child is a minimum of 8 weeks old.
However, before you even apply for the voucher, start your applications. Finding a kindergarten in Berlin is extremely competitive, and most have a waiting list of around a year. It’s not at all uncommon here for parents to attempt to secure a place before their child is even born! If you are looking for an international or English speaking kindergarten, then raise the competition bar a little higher.
If you want to learn more about this process then check out this great resource from All About Berlin.
Tip 3: Live in one of Berlin’s most child friendly neighbourhoods
Despite its reputation for promiscuity and hedonism, Berlin is one of the most child friendly cities in Europe. With an abundance of expansive green parks, including the fabulous roller skating paradise of former airport Tempelhofer Feld, free adventure play parks in every neighbourhood, and sugar frenzy inducing selection of fine ice cream parlours, the city is as much fun for real children as for giant man- and woman- children like you and I.
Nearly all neighbourhoods are well equipped with the aforementioned attractions, but some seem to attract young parents more than others.
Prenzlauer Berg, just north of Mitte, is most notorious for the city’s yummy mummies. Every third person on the street in this area appears to be pushing some kind of vintage pram, or be accompanied by a miniature hipster invariably carrying a Fjällräven backpack.
Friedrichshain can be a little rough around the Warschauer Strasse station area. For a calmer neighbourhood vibe journey a little further north across Frankfurter Allee and into the backstreets heading up the hill on the East side of Petersburger Strasse. The cosy streets are close enough to the action, but avoid the intoxicated tourists and spaced out hippy punks.
Kreuzberg is a strange mix of gentrification and roughness. The fancy Bergmannkiez area is perfect for families looking for laid back cafe culture and up-market shopping. While moving towards Kottbusser Tor all the way to Schlesisches Tor areas are hotspots for drug users and dealers. Like most of the city, these areas are generally safe, but perhaps a little unsightly or uncomfortable with young kids who are not accustomed to dodging syringes in the gutter.
There are of course a wealth of other areas to discover, from cheap but sexy Wedding, to rising star Moabit, or even the relaxed and arty Weissensee. For the best choice book an appointment with our relocation consultants and we’ll recommend the best areas for your flat search based on your requirements.
Tip 4: Escape at the weekend to swim in the lakes
Berlin and the Brandenburg region have thousands of beautiful and clean lakes. Many of these have artificial beaches and waterside amenities that make managing a screaming rabble of children a breath of fresh air.
Our favourite for families is the iconic Strandbad Wannsee. It’s close to the city and accessible with the S Bahn. You have to pay an entry fee for around five euros, but for your money you get access to the changing room and toilet facilities, showers, a few fried food and drink stands, free wifi and can also rent a funky beach basket (Strandkorb) to sit in.
The water is exceptionally clean, and the artificial sandy beach is clear from rubbish and extends at a gentle gradient out for a couple of hundred metres. This means your kids can be standing well out into the lake without fear of drowning giving plenty of space for everyone to play.
The whole development was designed in the late 1930’s (gulp) and definitely has remnants of the dark grandiosity of its time in its modernist architecture. You can read about the lido’s interesting history here.
If you are looking for something a little wilder, then there are plenty of lakes to choose from. Most are accessible from small bays, or have a sandy beach for easy swimming. Just take a look at the map and pick one. Those close to the city get pretty busy on hot weekends, so if you can make use of a car or bike to go further afield we definitely recommend it.
Tip: You can get a weekend Berlin / Brandenburg ticket which gives up to 5 adults, or parents with an unlimited number of your own children, freedom to travel all day in the entire region for just €29.
Tip 5: Join the Secondhand market online for discount essentials for the kids
In a city with so many young families, and a country so renowned for its engineering of high quality, practical products, you can buy prams, furniture, clothes, books, scooters, bikes and just about anything you can imagine on one of the city’s brilliant online second hand marketplaces.
In Berlin the biggest online secondhand marketplace is ebay Kleinanzeigen. With so many expats you can even search in English, although for the best deals it’s a good idea to brush up on your German vocabulary.
If you see something you like then it’s best to enquire as to whether or not the item is available, and to make an offer on the price. As the site is quite competitive you can usually haggle a little bit with the seller.
Just remember that German culture is quite straight talking so don’t try and elaborately swindle anyone. Keep it straight and to the point, with a clear offer of what you would be willing to pay, and be ready to meet in the middle. Be polite and courteous, and ask in German (even with the help of Google translate). If you make a little effort people tend to be patient.
There’s also a fantastic Facebook group for city residents giving away unwanted items called Free Your Stuff Berlin. If you’re on a budget you can likely furnish your entire apartment with donations from this group alone. It’s very active, and full of people claiming for resale, so if you see something you like be quick!
That’s it for our tips for now. From the challenging bureaucracy to fantastic adventures to be had with kids in the city, we have just scratched the service. More to come soon and don’t forget to get in touch if you are interested in relocating your family to Berlin!