Renting as an Expat in Germany

math on the move blog renting

We’ve been in Germany for nearly a month now, still without a place to live. Typically, before we even move anywhere, we have a lease prepared and ready to be signed the day we arrive so we can move right into our new home.  In Germany it is not that easy.  Unless you have someone in country helping, It’s nearly impossible to even search for apartments prior to moving.  And even once you find a flat, it’s not an overnight thing.  In Germany, it takes patience, effort, and a little bit of creativity to get the flat you want.

5 tips for renting in Germany

Use the Internet first.  This seems like the obvious choice, but the rental sites run differently here than in the US.  And rental terms are very different.  Use websites like Immobelienscout24, wg gesucht, Ebay, and even Facebook Marketplace during your search.  If you are specifically looking for short term or furnished rentals, use Flatmix.

Be picky (but not too picky).  Know what you want and don’t want when you’re looking at a flat.  In our desperation to find a flat, I emailed every single available listing online and waited for responses.  I got 3.  We went to one viewing, and the flat was so terrifying Josh and I walked out and had the full-body heebie geebies.  You know in movies where they hold someone hostage in a dark room with nothing but a mattress and a stool?  Imagine that.

Grossed out

Other flats will offer the kitchen included with the rent, or as something to buy from the landlord.  Often, flats will come without a kitchen and you will need to bring your own.  Some landlords will offer certain things that are not necessarily listed in the advertisement, so ask if something is included or if you can purchase it with the flat.

Be patient.  When we went to our first viewing, we loved the flat and told the landlord we were very interested.  We spent the next hour wandering the neighborhood, talking about where we could get groceries, go to eat, local parks, etc.  In our haste, we failed to keep reality in check.  We didn’t get the apartment.  It’s okay to get your hopes up, but be realistic, and especially be patient.

In Bielefeld, like most cities in Germany, there is 0.4% vacancy.  When people rent an apartment, they don’t rent for a year, they rent for 12 or 30 years.  You will not be the only one interested in a flat, and you certainly will not be the only one going to a viewing.  Don’t be pushy, just be patient.

Bielefeld Germany north rhine westfalia

Sell yourself.  If you’re still having difficulty finding flats through traditional online sources, try putting an ad online (or in the local newspaper, people still read those) as a tenant.  Often, landlords will avoid the hassle of multiple email threads and viewings if they can find a tenant that is suitable for what they are renting.  Be specific, sympathetic, and flexible.

math on the move renting apartments germany

Use your resources.  If you’re working for a company or a university, chances are they have someone whose sole job is to help you get acquainted with your new country.  This includes finding a place to live.  Contact your employer to see if they can help you.  Talk to coworkers or friends in the area.  Use Google Translate when sending emails to landlords, creating ads, or viewing flats.

I think as Americans we are used to everything happening at the speed of Internet. When I moved throughout the US, I always rented an apartment site unseen.  I did a virtual walk-through of the apartment online, I don’t need to see it beforehand.  Send me a copy of the contract and I will sign it electronically.  Germans will tut-tut at this.  Renting is a slow process here, because life is a slow process.

And I think it should be.  A home is a place to lay roots, grow families, build relationships.  It should not be a one-and-done thing.  See it first, feel it out, let’s see how you get along as landlord and tenant (sometimes you’ll be living in their house), and go from there.


What do you think is unusual about the German renting process?  Leave a comment.


4 thoughts on “Renting as an Expat in Germany

  1. Thank you for your opinion and sharing all of this information. I am sure many will find it useful. When I needed to find real estate in Germany for sale or rent I always first was going to and after i was sure in the option I want to see i started negotiation process. Just because I never agree to the start price and prefer to pay 4-6 month in advance in case of rent to lower the price and to show that I am serious about the deal. Usually it works )))


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