Get Your Keys!
The Expat’s Handbook to Renting in Germany
Copyright © 2023 Jen Palacios & Yvonne Koppen
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the publisher.
Cover art © Jen Palacios
This book is not intended to provide personalized legal or financial advice. The Authors specifically disclaim any liability, loss or risk which is incurred as a consequence, directly or indirectly, of the use and application of any contents of this work.
Simple Germany and the Authors refer to helpful services and do not provide a complete market overview. The information provided in this book is based on our own experience and in-depth research. We are not certified brokers or consultants.
40239 Düsseldorf, Germany
Moving to a new country for work is a wild ride. It's a journey full of excitement, anticipation, a lot of planning, and a healthy dose of nerves. If you've got this book in your hands, I'm guessing you're all set to embrace the challenge of making Germany your new home.
First, let's kick it off with a warm and hearty welcome to Germany! Whether you're planning a move or are already here, I'm excited to help you navigate the ins and outs of renting an apartment in this beautiful country.
Finding a place to live in Germany can be a bit of a rollercoaster. You might have read horror stories on online forums from other internationals about the complexities of the rental market here. But don't let that scare you off! With the right mindset and information, you can absolutely find your dream apartment in Germany.
As someone who has gone through the process of finding an apartment in Germany, I know firsthand how overwhelming it can be. My name is Jen, and together with my co-creator and wife, Yvonne, we’re excited to share our experience and knowledge with you in this book.
I was born and raised in Guatemala City, Guatemala. I’ve been living in Germany since 2012.
Yvonne was born in Bonn, Germany, traveled the world on cruise ships, and came back home in 2013.
In 2020, we started Simple Germany with one mission in mind - to empower internationals with English content to help them settle into life in Germany more smoothly.
The content we share on YouTube and our website has guided millions of internationals through the maze of German bureaucracy, job hunting, apartment searching, sorting out banking and insurance matters, and understanding German culture among many other challenges.
Over the years, we've gathered firsthand stories and tips from internationals who successfully navigated the labyrinth of finding a long-term apartment. We've blended their wisdom with our own experiences and research to create this handbook.
One of the central questions that many internationals face when searching for a long-term place in Germany is understanding the country's rental culture. The process of finding an apartment in Germany can be very different from what you are used to in your home country, and it can be challenging to navigate the system without the right information and guidance.
By reading this book, you will gain a comprehensive understanding of the German rental culture and the steps you need to take to find your long-term apartment. Our chapters cover everything from preparing for your apartment hunt to understanding rental contracts and settling into your new home.
The magic happens in our actionable chapters that take you step-by-step through creating your profile on the biggest rental platform in Germany, ImmobilienScout24.
Yvonne is your host on detailed over-the-shoulder videos on how to nail your application in ImmobilienScout24 and what to look out for in listings.
Additionally, we introduce you to three real-life case studies, from other Smoothlers (our community members), to give you an honest perspective on the apartment hunting process in Germany.
By the end of this book, you will have the knowledge and confidence to get your keys to your long-term apartment in Germany.
STRUCTURE OF THIS BOOK
All German words are in italics.
At the end of every chapter, you will find a QR Code that will take you to the Bonus Content related to that chapter.
Depending on the chapter, you might find two sections in the Bonus Content:
In this section, you might find two types of links:
- More Information: These links might take you to Simple Germany’s website or YouTube channel for further details on a specific topic.
- Service Providers: If we discuss service providers in a chapter, you'll discover links to trusted options. We strive to offer foreign-friendly service providers, including those available in English. However, certain industries, such as telecommunications in Germany, are predominantly in German. If you buy a service through our links, we earn a small commission from the provider, which won't cost you anything extra.
Whenever applicable, we have created templates for you to copy and paste to communicate efficiently and respectfully with landlords.
You should replace the information in brackets and red with your own information. It looks like this:
[Example of where you need to add your information]
Here is some basic vocabulary to help you nail your communication:
- Frau: Mrs. / Ms.
- Herr: Mr.
- Date: The date format in Germany is dd/mm/yy.
- Your Name: Remember to write your name in Latin characters and avoid using non-Latin characters (i.e., Arabic, Cyrillic, Chinese, Japanese, etc.)
- Individual translations: If you need further translations for individual questions, we recommend using DeepL. In our experience, it provides the best results for complete sentence structures.
SPECIAL ADD-ONS INCLUDED IN THIS BOOK
With the purchase of this book, you will receive some bonuses.
We encourage you to go through them and use them to your advantage.
A series of 5 over-the-shoulder videos guiding you through the process of setting up an online profile in Germany’s leading website for apartment search.
In the Bonus Documents folder you will find two documents in German with their English translation:
- The Mieter-Selbsauskunft: A document most landlords request to fill out additional to your online profile.
- The Wohnungsgeberbestätigung: a crucial bureaucratic document that enables you to register in Germany successfully.
Written by: Jen
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of finding an apartment in Germany, we need to get on the same page.
There are some peculiarities about homes in Germany and Europe. Some might be similar to your home country; others might differ completely.
It’s important that we highlight these aspects in this chapter so you don’t get any surprises during your home search in Germany.
SHOULD YOU RENT OR BUY?
TLDR: Expect to rent. Forget about purchasing a property in the first years.
If you’re a non-EU citizen with a temporary resident permit, getting a mortgage in Germany is quite difficult. Banks will see you as a riskier investment. So, the question of buying is out the window. You can reconsider this option once you are a permanent resident.
If you are an EU citizen, you have better chances of getting a mortgage, so you have more of a choice.
However, don’t go purchasing a property just yet.
When you compare the number of homeowners in Germany to other countries, the numbers are shocking.
Renting is a common housing option in Germany; over half of the population live in a home they rent.
Germans view purchasing a house as a big financial commitment and responsibility. They tend to wait to buy a house until they are certain they have found their DREAM house. It’s seen as a lifetime investment, and flipping properties (as often done in countries like the USA) is not at all common.
Nick Mulder, founder of Hypofriend, who is seen as an expert in the housing market in Germany, wrote the following on his LinkedIn:
"Germany and Switzerland are the only two countries in Europe with homeownership rates below fifty percent," and "the hidden fees of buying in Germany can end up totaling more than ten percent of the purchase price. Those fees make flipping harder, leading people to wait to buy their “forever home.”
I’d dare to say that every newcomer rents when they get to Germany. They consider purchasing a property only after they have lived in Germany for a few years and are sure that they want to put down roots.
HOUSING OPTIONS IN GERMANY
In Germany, you can rent three housing types:
- Apartment (Wohnung): This is the most popular option if you live in a city. Due to limited space and high demands for housing in European cities, apartment buildings are a more efficient use of land. So, if you plan to live in a city, you should be on the lookout for an apartment.
- House (Haus): Houses are easier to find in a city's outskirts or suburban areas. Depending on the area, public transportation might be scarce. This might mean that purchasing a car is the only way to move around. So it’s important to consider the costs of purchasing and maintaining a car in Germany and compare them to the rent in a city to find the right option for you. There are some houses within cities in Germany, but because they are not so common, their rental price is usually more expensive than an apartment.
- Shared accommodation (Wohngemeinschaft, a.k.a. WG): This option is great for students or single people. Living in a WG is also okay when you’re past your 20s. The majority of shared accommodation is already furnished or half-furnished. Your rent is a monthly fee for a private bedroom within the apartment and you share the common areas like the bathroom, kitchen, balcony, and sometimes living room with your flatmates. Because the final rent is split amongst the people who live in the property, you can find really good deals.
MOST POPULAR BUILDING TYPES IN GERMANY
- Old buildings (Altbau): Germany is filled with history. With history comes historical buildings. It is quite common to find old apartment buildings in Germany. These Altbau buildings have a lot of charm and are usually in central locations. They have high ceilings and larger living spaces. However, they may require more maintenance, have lower energy efficiency, lack modern amenities, and potentially have poor insulation, allowing street noise to filter in. In some cases, the owners might have done some remodeling work to
tackle energy consumption or noise reduction. So, make sure to check the listing carefully. Although high ceilings might sound super cool, they might be a negative feature in wintertime. Usually, rooms with higher ceilings require more heat to warm them up; this could lead to an increase in your heating bill. So, just keep that in mind.
- New buildings (Neubau): These are newly built apartments. They offer a modern infrastructure, lower maintenance requirements, enhanced energy efficiency, and potentially some soundproofing windows to prevent outside noise from filtering into the house. However, they often come with higher rental costs. The most expensive apartments you can rent within Germany are Neubau within the city center or close to a popular body of water.
DO APARTMENTS COME FURNISHED IN GERMANY?
The popularity of furnished apartments is growing in Germany. However, the majority of apartments still come unfurnished or partially furnished.
There are two types of unfurnished apartments:
- With a kitchen: The kitchen counters and appliances like the fridge, stove, and oven are already installed in the apartment. This usually does not include tableware (cutlery, crockery, glasses).
- Without a kitchen: The kitchen counter and appliances like the fridge, stove, and oven are not installed. The kitchen area has the connections set up, but it’s up to you to find your kitchen after you move into the home.
We will expand more about the kitchen situation further on in this chapter.
PARTIALLY FURNISHED APARTMENTS
Some listings will show a furnished apartment in the pictures. This does not mean, however, that the furniture is included in the rental price. Read the listing carefully.
Some might say that you may have the option to purchase some of the existing furniture from the previous tenant.
Others might say that the previous tenant will take all of their furniture, so the apartment will come unfurnished.
The most popular apartments that come furnished are short-term or shared apartments (WGs).
If you find a furnished apartment, this usually means that all the furniture, kitchen appliances, tableware, and utilities (electricity, water, gas, and internet) are included in your rental price.
Naturally, furnished apartments are more expensive than non-furnished apartments. If you plan to stay in Germany only temporarily, this might be the best economical option for you in the long run.
SHORT-TERM VS. LONG-TERM RENTAL APARTMENTS
In the past years, the offer of short-term apartments has increased in Germany. The majority of short-term apartments come furnished. This makes it an ideal option for those wanting to have a home ready after landing.
Generally, short-term apartment rentals have lower requirements compared to long-term apartment rentals.
Many newcomers opt for renting a short-term apartment for the first few months. During this time, they can take care of their bureaucratic paperwork, get to know the neighborhoods in their city, and gather the documents required for a long-term apartment rental. We will talk about these prerequisites in Chapter 2.
In the Bonus Content section of this chapter, we provide a link to a detailed guide on our website with links to the most up-to-date and popular short-term rental providers in Germany.
Getting a long-term apartment in Germany is a big deal. Some even say getting a job is easier than a long-term apartment in Germany.
Due to the strict laws that protect tenants, landlords want to ensure they get the right person for their property.
Don’t let that discourage you. By reading this book, you will fully understand the process you must go through to increase your chances of getting your dream home in Germany. Chapter 2 will guide you through the steps of renting a long-term apartment.
WHY ARE GERMAN LANDLORDS SO PICKY?
Landlords in Germany are often selective with their tenants due to several factors:
- Tenant Protection Laws: German law is strongly protective of tenants. Once a tenant has a rental contract, it can be very difficult for a landlord to evict them, even if they have not paid rent. So, landlords tend to be very careful in choosing tenants who are financially stable and likely to respect the terms of the rental contract.
- High Demand: Especially in cities, demand for rental properties often exceeds supply. This means landlords can afford to be picky about their tenants, as they typically have multiple applicants for any given property.
- Long-Term Tenancies: German tenants tend to stay in properties longer than tenants in other countries. This makes it even more important for landlords to choose tenants they're comfortable with for the long term.
- Property Care: Landlords want tenants who will take good care of their property. Since damage can result in costly repairs, landlords want tenants who demonstrate responsibility and reliability.
Because of these factors, landlords often require potential tenants to provide information like employment contracts, payslips, their credit report, proof of insurance, and references from previous landlords. While this might seem invasive, it's part of the process of ensuring a good match between tenant and landlord.
A CRUCIAL DOCUMENT THE WOHNUNGSGEBERBESTÄTIGUNG
The Wohnungsgeberbestätigung is an important document your landlord needs to sign to confirm your residence in your new home. It includes details such as your name, the address, the move-in date, and the landlord's signature.
You get it when you move into an apartment.
You will need this document to complete your city registration (Anmeldung). Once you’ve successfully done your Anmeldung, you’ll get another document called the Meldebescheinigung.
The Meldebescheinigung is the document that proves that you have registered successfully in Germany and will be essential in bureaucratic processes.
Some examples where the Meldebescheinigung is crucial are for applying for your residence permit (if you are not an EU citizen), opening a bank account, and getting home internet.
🔥Important note: When renting a short-term apartment in Germany, ensure the landlord can give you a Wohnungsgeberbestätigung. Without it, you'll face a chain reaction — no Wohnungsgeberbestätigung equals no Anmeldung, which equals no access to certain services in Germany.
A note about Airbnb: We typically don’t show Airbnb in our list of short-term rental platforms because, by far, not all landlords are willing to provide you the Wohnungsgeber-bestätigung, and there is no filter for this to target your search
better. You can message the hosts and ask them directly. We know a few internationals who were successful with this strategy.
UNDERSTANDING THE DIMENSIONS OF GERMAN APARTMENTS
It’s important for you to understand the common sizes of German apartments so you don’t get shocked when looking at listings. If you live in the suburbs of the USA in a big house, apartments in Germany might seem small. However, if you come from cities like New York or Tokyo, they might actually feel big.
THE AVERAGE SIZE OF GERMAN APARTMENTS
Here is the basic and most important information you should know about the size of German apartments:
- In Germany, the size of the apartments is measured in square meters (m² from now on).
- On average, each person living in a German apartment has about 47,70m² (or 513,50 sq. ft.) of space (1).
- The average apartment in Germany measures 92,10m² (or 991,40 sq. ft.) and includes 4,4 rooms — more about room numbers later (2).
- Cities have more availability of smaller flats.
- Because apartments larger than 90m² in cities are rare, these tend to be more expensive than smaller apartments.
If you're finding these numbers hard to understand, here's an easier explanation based on what we and our friends have experienced:
- Anything up to 50m² is ideal for one person
- Anything around 50-70m² is comfortable for two people
- Anything around 70-90m² is comfortable for three people
- Anything above 90m² is usually a home for a family with multiple children and a luxury for one person
NUMBER OF ROOMS IN GERMAN APARTMENTS
In Germany, the living room is also considered a room. So when you see apartment listings that say 1-room apartment, these tend to be studio apartments, where the living room and bedroom are in one open space.
2-room apartments refer to a living room + 1 bedroom.
For example, if you are looking for an apartment with 3 bedrooms. You should search for a 4-room apartment (3 bedrooms + living room).
To clarify, each apartment in Germany includes space for the kitchen, a toilet, and a bathroom. These rooms are not part of the room calculation you will see in apartment listings.
AVERAGE SIZE OF A SHARED APARTMENT (WG)
German vocabulary: WG = Wohngemeinschaft which means shared apartment.
You can expect bedrooms within a shared apartment to be between 12-30m² (129 - 323 sq. ft.).
Your rent in a WG will depend on the size of your room, the condition and location of the flat, and whether your room is furnished or not.
In a shared apartment, you rent a private bedroom and generally share the kitchen, bathroom, and common areas with your flatmates. These shared areas are usually furnished.
If you’re single, getting a shared apartment is a great way to kickstart your life in Germany. Although you won’t pay less per m², you will save money overall in rent as all the costs are divided between you and your flatmates. Also, if you’re lucky, your flatmates will be cool and will become like family.
REQUIRED APARTMENT SIZE FOR FAMILY REUNIFICATION
If you’re moving to Germany with your family, you will need to pay extra attention to the size of your apartment because you will need a minimum size for your family reunification visas to be approved.
According to German law:
- Every member of the family over 6 years has to have 12m² (129,17 sq. ft.) of living space
- Members between 2-6 years old need 10m² (107,64 sq. ft.) of living space
- Members under 2 years old are exempt from the regulation
- Additionally, every person must have access to a shared kitchen, bathroom, and toilet
Example: A family of 4 (2 adults, 1 child of 7 years, and 1 child of 3 years) need to have an apartment with a minimum size of 46m² living space to meet the governmental requirements for the visa and residence permit.
The whole area of the apartment is considered living space by the German government, except for:
- storage outside the apartment
- undeveloped cellars
- undeveloped attics
FLOOR NUMBERS OF GERMAN APARTMENT BUILDINGS
Germans might count the floor number (Etage or Stock) differently from what you’re used to.
The ground floor of the building is called Erdgeschoss. The floor above the ground floor of the building is called the first floor, or 1. Etage / 1. Stock.
WHAT TO EXPECT AS AMENITIES IN GERMAN APARTMENTS
Depending on where you’re coming from, you might be shocked to find out that apartments don’t come with a kitchen, air conditioning is rare, and the laundry machine connection is installed in your bathroom, kitchen, or basement.
Let’s explore in detail the amenities a German apartment might or might not have.
In some parts of Germany, finding apartments without kitchens is quite common. This might seem odd if you're new here.
To explain, these apartments have a designated space for a kitchen but no appliances or cabinets are installed. If you rent an apartment without a kitchen, you'll need to add it yourself. And when you move out, you'll need to remove or resell it. Getting a kitchen delivered and installed can take weeks or even months.
Sometimes, apartments are listed with a kitchen included. This could mean one of two things:
- The apartment includes the kitchen in the rental price. Which means that the landlord is the owner and is renting it to you. This should be specified in the apartment listing online and in your rental contract.
- The previous tenant installed a kitchen and wants to sell it to you. In this case, you'll be responsible for the
kitchen and any repairs. If you move out, you can either resell the kitchen to the next tenant, take it with you, or resell it on a second-hand website like Kleinanzeigen.
In German apartments, there are two types of laundry areas:
- Shared: It is common to find a shared washing machine room located in the basement of the building. Typically, you have a designated area in the shared basement to install your private washing and / or drying machines.
- Private: It is also common to find apartments that have the possibility of installing washing and / or drying machines within the apartment. Due to the small apartment sizes, it’s normal to have the washing machine in the kitchen or bathroom. Depending on the apartment size, there might only be a connection for a washing machine and not for a drying machine. Since the washing machine might be in the kitchen, it could be part of the appliances you can purchase from the previous tenant if they want to sell you the kitchen.
CULTURAL DIFFERENCES REGARDING LAUNDRY
German washing machines typically take longer than the washing cycles you might be used to. Because electricity is rather expensive in Germany, most modern washing machines have an eco cycle, which lasts longer but uses a lot less electricity because it warms the water up slower. A full washing cycle on eco mode can easily take three hours.
Although dryers exist in Germany, their use is not that widespread. There are two main reasons:
- Electricity cost: As mentioned before, electricity is expensive, and dryers are among the appliances that consume most of it. Many Germans think, “Why pay for something that regular air does for free?”
- Space: Since apartments are not gigantic in Germany, there is no separate laundry room that fits a washer and a dryer. Typically, the washing machine has a space in the kitchen or bathroom, and there is no further space for a dryer. From experience, we can say that dryers can mostly be found in houses and homes of larger families. Drying racks are mostly used in apartments. You can find them in any larger supermarket or department store. Depending on the temperature and humidity, you should expect your clothes to take around 24-48 hours to get dry, especially in winter.
In Germany, functioning smoke detectors in an apartment is not only important for safety reasons but also mandatory by law.
The German Building Code (Bauordnung) requires that all apartment buildings have smoke detectors installed in every bedroom, hallway, and living room.
Landlords are responsible for ensuring that the smoke detectors in their properties are installed and maintained properly. Tenants should ensure that the fire alarms are working correctly and report any issues to the landlord immediately.
The most popular types of heating in apartments are:
- Radiators (Heizkörper): Radiators are widely used in German apartments for heating. They are metal panels mounted on walls and connected to a central heating system. They allow individual temperature control per radiator. Depending on the size of the room, there is usually one visible radiator per room.
- Underfloor heating (Fußbodenheizung): A network of pipes or electrical heating elements beneath the floor surface. Heat is radiated from the floor. Underfloor heating offers improved heat distribution, eliminates the need for visible radiators, and can be more energy-efficient. Because it is expensive to install, this feature might increase the rental price.
SOURCES FOR HEATING IN GERMANY
Apartment listings will talk about the energy source installed in the apartment. In our experience, we do not make this a criteria for choosing an apartment. There is so much demand and so little supply, that we try to avoid being too picky.
However, to complete this section about heating, we wanted to share with you the most popular energy sources in apartments:
- Natural gas (Gas): Natural gas is one of Germany's most common energy sources for heating apartments. Natural gas is typically used in central heating systems, where a central boiler supplies heat to multiple apartments.
- Heating oil (Heizöl): The second most popular energy source is heating oil. Heating oil is typically stored in on-site tanks and burned in oil-fired central heating systems to provide heat.
- District heating (Fernwärme): District heating systems in Germany use a central heat source, like a biomass plant or
waste heat from industries, to provide heat to multiple buildings or apartments through a network of insulated pipes.
- Electricity (Strom): Electric heating systems are used in some apartments, although they are less common due to their higher operating costs.
- Electrical heat pumps (Elektrowärmepumpen): Electrical heat pumps use electricity to transfer and upgrade heat from the environment, making them an energy-efficient and sustainable choice for heating by using renewable or waste heat sources.
- Renewable energy sources (Erneuerbare Energiequellen): Germany promotes renewable energy for heating, like heat pumps that extract heat from air, ground, or water. Biomass heating burns organic materials, while solar thermal systems use solar energy to heat water in some apartments.
Many German cities have old apartment buildings, so finding one with an elevator is rare.
If you live on a top floor without an elevator, you'll have to carry your groceries up the stairs. But the upside is that rent could be slightly cheaper due to the effort of climbing stairs 😅! We climbed 99 steps from the main door to our attic apartment for 10 years.
Newer apartment buildings are usually equipped with an elevator.
Not all apartments in Germany include a dedicated space for storage. Most commonly, small storage units are in the basement of apartment buildings (Keller), but not every apartment includes one. Also, the basements of older buildings could be a bit moist, so they are not suited to storing delicate items.
The most popular outdoor spaces in Germany are a balcony, terrace, or garden.
Bear in mind that some gardens are shared with other tenants. Balconies and terraces are private spaces and never shared.
If you're thinking about getting a car in Germany, it’s important to highlight that not all apartments come with their own parking spaces.
Some apartments offer private parking, but you might have to pay for it, even if you don't use it. This cost is on top of your rent and can range from 50 to 150 euros a month.
If your apartment doesn't have parking, you have three other options:
- Free Public Parking: Some areas near your apartment might allow free street parking. But you'll always have to search for a spot.
- Paid public parking: If free parking is hard to find, consider getting a residential parking permit (Anwohnerparkausweis). The cost varies based on your
city and car type - an SUV costs more than a sedan. Costs can range from 30 to 360 euros per year. For exact rates, just Google 'Anwohnerparkausweis + your city'. This permit lets you park in your area but doesn't guarantee a specific spot. Each person can only get one permit for a car registered in their name.
- Rent a parking spot from a business near your home: Some local businesses, like hotels or supermarkets, may rent out parking spots. If you live near one, ask if they rent parking. Prices usually range from 50 to 150 euros per month.
In Germany, most apartments don’t have an AC unit installed. This is due to a combination of three important factors.
- Building Design: German apartments prioritize energy efficiency and sustainability, featuring well-insulated structures that retain heat during winter and keep interiors relatively cool during summer.
- Cultural norms: Germans tend to value fresh air and natural ventilation through open windows and cross-ventilation techniques over artificial cooling methods. This cultural preference aligns with Germany's emphasis on balancing indoor and outdoor environments.
- Electricity prices: Germany has some of the highest electricity prices in Europe. This is partially because the country has a commitment to renewable energy, which requires significant investment in infrastructure and subsidies. These costs are generally passed on to consumers. So having a running AC unit during the few really hot summer days doesn’t seem worth it.