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I am an American, and I recently took a job in Berlin. I have a few questions regarding how to perform a transatlantic life transplant (see what I did there?)

  1. What is the best way I can move my money from USD to Euros? I wasn't planning on closing my domestic bank account, but since I will be wanting to move the bulk of my money to Berlin, what is the best way to do this?
    1. a. Recommendations on German bank accounts? Reasons?
  2. I am a gamer, and I have a custom-built desktop computer with 3x monitors. How the hell do I bring this to Europe? Do I? Should I deconstruct it and reassemble over there? Should I bring the hard drives, and build a new one completely over there?
  3. Cell phones. I've already bought an unlocked phone for when I arrive. Does this mean I just need to buy a SIM card at a cell provider, and I'm good to go?
    1. a. Recommendations on a German/European Cell Provider?

Thank you for any help you can give. I really need the advice!

  • 3
    I think these should be three separate questions, it's kinda broad. – Kuba May 25 '17 at 14:36
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    And I believe all of them have answers already, just separately – Kuba May 25 '17 at 14:37
  • If you have not done so you should also look into toytowngermany.com, a community of expats in Germany. There is a lot of useful stuff on there. But it's a forum and a Facebook group, so it has lots of irrelevant things too. Also Google for expat blogs of people in Germany. – simbabque May 28 '17 at 7:37
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This is just my opinion and you can easily get a half dozen useful answers.

  1. The banking laws are very strict in Deutschland. Go for a bank that has European branches as well as branches throughout Germany and you should be ok for travel, exchange rates, ATM availability and that sort of thing. Have some cash on hand to deposit into your account when you open it, but transfer the bulk electronically. These days its fairly cheap and trivial to do. Keep your domestic account open with some credit in it. It's amazing how handy that is when travelling back stateside.
  2. They have great gear in Germany and a healthy gaming subculture (which you may already be aware of). If you are willing to lose the monitors, I'd just buy new stuff there. Are you using gaming laptops or full blown desktops? If laptops, just bring that stuff over. If desktops, break it down, lose the cases, keep the boards and ram (and obviously the drives), rebuild in Germany.
  3. Just pick a decent sized company. You wouldn't notice a major difference in service switching around. Again there's lots of regulation in this industry, so not a lot of variation in my opinion.
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For the bank account, you should decide if you want someone to talk to. A lot of people end up with Deutsche Bank initially, because they needed a special type of account to get their visa that only Deutsche Bank provides. But they are also expensive later on. The normal bank account you need for your salary is called Girokonto. There are banks that provide it for free and have physical branches, like Commerzbank. There are also online-only banks that do it for free. Some banks with branches charge up to 10 Euros a month for the account. It's up to you what you want.

With your account you will get a Maestro debit card that works for paying with a PIN and taking money out of the ATM. Most banks charge a fee for using ATMs of different banks unless they are part of the same group (cashgroup is one of them, where Commerzbank, Deutsche Bank and others are part of it). The Sparkasse is something similar to a bank, with branches, and lots of ATMs everywhere, but they are limited to the city where you are. With an account at Berliner Sparkasse you will be able to use an ATM in the Sparkasse in Hamburg (Haspa) for free to take money out, but not go to the cashier in the branch.

Bank accounts do not typically include credit cards, but there are some that provide a free credit card too. Usually you have to pay a yearly fee for credit cards. The acceptance for those is limited. If you do not want to pay cash, use the maestro card. And remember that change is quite valuable here, unlike in the US.

I don't know how hard it is to get an account in an online-only bank. There are types of work visas like the blue card where you need to get the bank account fast. It's a bit hard to get started, especially if you don't have an address yet, and a bank with a branch that you can go to, and maybe take a new coworker with you to help with paperwork goes a long way.


With regards to 3, it depends. In Germany we usually distinguish between so-called contracts and prepaid top-ups. Decide what you need the phone for. Do you want to do a lot of calling to other countries over the phone network? Do you need a lot of mobile data? Do you want to send SMS?

At the moment you can get decent rates with free unlimited calls and SMS pretty much on every network. Those are called Flatrate or Flat in German. Both the large traditional companies as well as cheap, mostly migrant-targeting prepaid providers have those and you can get a decent deal for 10 to 15 Euros a month easily.

Some of the large, traditional providers include T-Mobile, O2 and Vodafone. All of them also have prepaid, in which case the network coverage is mostly better than with the prepaid-only companies. Almost every discount supermarket chain offers prepaid, but the prices vary. Some of them are Lidl and ALDI. There are also prepaid-only companies that are ventures of the traditional ones, like Klarmobil or Congstar. Then there are the ones that target migrants and low-income people, like Lycamobile, and Lebara as well as maybe Turkcell. They offer special packages you can book after you've topped up to call certain countries for free or very cheap. There are deals for Turkey, the Middle East and northern Africa mostly. You can buy top up for those things in every little Spätie store in Berlin and you can top up as little as 2.5 Euros.

Typically mobile data comes in packages of 300MB, 1GB, 3GB and 5GB and cost somewhere between 10 and 20 Euros per month. For the prepaid things, you typically top up, then send an SMS to activate one of the packages, which will then last for 30 days and might automatically re-book if you have enough credit.

If you intend to stay long and you have a secure job you can make a contract with a traditional carrier, but keep in mind that those usually come with a 2 year attachment, and the only way to get out of them early is to prove that you are moving away from Germany. If you're not sure, get prepaid with a large company, then later move your number over to a contract if you want.

If you intend to travel within Germany the whole data roaming should not be an issue with any of the providers any more starting from the middle of June this year, as a new law will basically remove the costs and you will be able to use your data anywhere in Europe without extra charge (hopefully).

In addition to that, if you want landline internet at home, you can either get DSL or cable (Kabel). Again most companies will only make contracts that have a minimum duration of 24 months and you will have to pay a fee to change your address if you move around. You will also get a landline phone number, but you don't need to get an actual phone and connect it.

  • This turned out like a bit of a rant, but it should have some valuable information. I did not include links to all the companies I mentioned. You should be able to find them easily with Google. – simbabque May 26 '17 at 14:16
  • A rant is very good, I need all the information I can get! Thank you for your help. – ellman121 May 28 '17 at 6:39
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  1. For a bank account, once you're a German resident, you can open an account with N26 fairly easily. They provide a Mastercard and a Maestro card (although not an EC Card/Girocard), and opening the account is easy (can be done from home and in English). Obviously there are other options (DKB and comdirect always get a lot of positive reviews) but from a simplicity point of view N26 work well for me - the account is managed via a smartphone app and everything is available in English. Alternatively, find out if your employer has any deal with the bank they bank with (mine does for example). I can't help with transferring USD to EUR unfortunately - I transferred my GBP to EUR with a standard bank transfer but obviously that's a bit different...

  2. Not sure here, sorry - is DHL/UPS or something an option?

  3. Basically, yes - the main question is do you need German voice calling or are you OK with just data? If just data, you can get pre-paid cards from O2 with 5Gb data for €25 a month or, for voice, with 1.5Gb data plus 200 minutes/SMS in Germany for €20 a month. There are cheaper options (check Ay Yildiz, Ortel or Lebara which are all virtual providers) but if you want to go for one of the big names then I found O2 to be the cheapest so far.

  • As a security conscious German I have to say that I would be careful with fintech startups that have a banking license. m.heise.de/newsticker/meldung/… (in german German) talks about recent security problems that were disclosed at the 2016c3 conference, and m.heise.de/newsticker/meldung/… (also German) about random accounts being closed because customers withdrew cash a lot. Not the experience I want to have. – simbabque May 28 '17 at 7:35

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