Living in Berlin as a US Expat – 1 Year Later (Part 1)
Part one of my experience moving to Berlin as a US Expat. After one year, I am sharing my experience and what I’ve learned along the way.
When was the last time you packed all your bags and started all over again in a new city, new country, new language?
For me, it was last year when I bored a one-way ticket from St. Louis to Berlin. Nervous and anxious. Ready to start new, still so naive.
I arrived on a crisp December day with 2 pieces of luggage, only 2 days after having Christmas with my family. As I stepped on the cold wet fallen leaves, teeth chattering in the cold, I thought to myself “Holy cow, it’s really happening. I’m here.”
One year, a comedy/tragedy of errors, and numerous ups/downs later, I am proud to still call Berlin my home. Through it all, I’ve learned some lessons that I’d like to share with you.
Why am I writing this?
I want to help others who are thinking about moving to Berlin or have recently moved here. I’ll share my personal stories and advice, with a focus on the psychological aspects of moving.
Alright, auf geht’s! (let’s go)
BEFORE THE MOVE
Be honest with yourself why you want to move
Moving to a foreign place is difficult. There is no way around it. It’s very different to living in the U.S. from the bureaucracy side of things to getting a job. But it’s important you are doing it for the right reasons.
- Why do you want to move to Berlin? What’s here that you can’t get anywhere else?
- Is it worth it to pack up your life and start over again in a new place?
- Or are you escaping from things in your life you will have to face again in the future? (Quick reality check: if you are just running away from your problems, those problems will also meet you in Berlin.)
My first time arriving in Berlin was in March of 2018. I specifically remember the day because I couldn’t get over how cold, icy and windy the weather was. Despite how brutal the weather was, I learned to really enjoy the city.
It was fun, exciting, free-spirited, but super-edgy and yet, very sophisticated. Something that left a strong memory for me.
My journey to moving to Berlin wasn’t very typically, I would say. I never imagined I would move here one day. In 2019, my friend and I travelled around the world after we finished our Undergraduate Degrees. When our travels were put to an end, at that point in my life, I was ready and I knew it was time to begin a new chapter in Berlin.
While it hasn’t been easy leaving life and luxury in the U.S., it helps that I had my own clear Why’s for moving.
Do your research
If you have only visited in the summer and fell in love with Berlin’s sunny fairytale beauty, I have big news for you – it’s an entirely different city in the dark, cold winter months.
Visit in different seasons and spend at least a week here to see if it’s something you would like. Or you can do what I did, and visit in the coldest time of the year. You will know very fast whether or not you like it or not.
- Could you really build a life here? And afford the costs?
- Are there viable career opportunities for you?
- What does the daily grind of life look like?
As I said before, my journey moving to Berlin isn’t very typical. I only visited here once before I moved here, but I did have a lot of other exposure to other european cities, which helped me tremendously to have a sense of culture and lifestyle.
Also, Google is your best friend. Google, Reddit, YouTube, Quora everything and anything. Do stay on top of your research, and do ask many questions. If you don’t do any preparation, who will?
Do some self-assessment
We all have different personalities and lifestyles. My five-year plan will look very different to my friends. It will impact how you choose to plan your move and create a timeline for yourself. If you do decide you want to have one.
- Are you ready to leave things behind or leave people? I.e. your dog at home
- Are you ok with not having any solid plans? Or does everything need to be planned out in detail?
- How much unknown can you handle? How comfortable are you with living each day as it comes?
- How much financial security do you need to feel safe? Do you have a steady source of income before moving or have help from a family member?
There isn’t a right or wrong way to move. But there needs to be preparation work regardless how you move. Do what feels necessary for you.
One of the toughest things for me about moving, was knowing I would be leaving my family and dog behind. I felt guilty about “abandoning” them. In reality, I wasn’t leaving anyone. It was only my fear that made me feel this way. In the end, they supported my dream wholeheartedly.
During my travels prior, I was able to come home a few times in between destinations, which helped a lot of my home sickness. It also helped me get used to the feeling of being gone and away from a luxury and convenient life.
When I moved to Berlin, I had some savings. I had no job though and only some income to help me get myself comfortable. I am very ok with not having step-by-step plans, and feel comfortable with improvising on the fly when it needs to come to that. However, I did have a huge safety net upon arrival.
To begin with, having a Job-Seeker Visa would allow me to stay in Berlin for 6 months, to give me time to find a job. The U.S. and Germany are both part of the Schengen Agreement. Which allows U.S. citizens to enter Germany for up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes without a visa.
Secondly, since my friend moved to Berlin a month prior to me, she was able to secure an apartment for us to live in. Which took a lot of weight off my shoulders to finding a secure place to live.
Would someone else do it differently? Most probably. The point is, do the digging to know yourself and discover what you need first.
Drop the ego, and get outside help.
You don’t have to move on your own. You may be highly capable too, but if you’re losing sleep and creating wrinkle lines over the stress, then get some sleep, and help. There are professionals who do this for a living, to help expats with moving and settling in Berlin.
I tried to do it by myself. I really tried. (Stubbornness is a family trait.) Then I realized how many free resources I had available to me. Friends, family, friends of friends, friends of friends of friends. It isn’t easy to move to a foreign country and try to start a new life in a different country.
The important thing is to talk to people. Communicate what you are doing, what you need, and ask for help. (It’s not easy, but it’s the best thing you can do.)
For more, head over to part 2.