With only a few more days left in Berlin, it is time to sort out the last of the practicalities, before living out of a backpack once more, or rather, a suitcase. Have I turned into a flash packer? Highly unlikely, but let’s see how I go as I get older! As on arrival, there are a number of practicalities that need to be sorted before leaving and it is best to do them well in advance, rather than at the last minute. The list looks a bit overwhelming at first, but if you just work through it step by step, you will make it out the other end!
1. Obtain your Abmeldung
This is the process of making an appointment to de-register from the town hall. On arrival, it was tricky to work out how to communicate with people at the Bürgeramt (or town hall), but with two years of German under my belt, the process was all much smoother. Just remember to bring your proof of address and passport.
2. Cancel your health insurance
This can be done on cancellation of your work contract if you’re lucky. However, if you’re intending on staying in the country a little longer, or if you are a freelancer, check with your health insurance company to see what needs to be done.
3. Obtain a Führungzeugnis (German Police Clearance)
If you are working for any government organisation or school back in Australia, it pays to get things organised in advance, rather than trying to navigate forms and documents from outside the country. Teachers note: You will need this if you are updating your teaching registration.
4. Cancel your bank account
Make an appointment with your bank in advance if necessary to discuss the final details. If you’re lucky, you can keep your account open for a while longer, to ensure you have somewhere to deposit your tax-back. Normally, you will have to fill out a form stating when you wish to close the account and where to transfer the money.
5. Transfer your savings
Speaking of transferring money, banks often charge large transfer fees when converting euros to dollars. The website transferwise.com is a secure, cheap and fast way to transfer your savings abroad and is super convenient too.
6. Claim your tax back
This was also another challenge, but I found the easiest way to do this was to use a start-up website at wundertax.de. Click on “I am an expat” and it will redirect you to the English site. It is super easy (especially if you have a straightforward tax return) and shows you how to obtain all the information from your German payment summaries and fill in a tax return or steuererklärung. It will show you how much you should expect to get back and charges a 35 euro fee for using the online tool to convert the tax return into German. Then you simply print it out and send it off. You will receive your return within 6-8 weeks of lodgement. In order to do this, you need to still have an address in Germany willing to receive mail, as well as an account in which to pay the euros, so keep this in mind when leaving the country. Note: the financial year in Germany runs from January – December (just to make it extra confusing for the Australians).
7. Cancel your rental contract
Officially, this should be done in writing and you cannot always expect to get your security deposit back immediately, depending on where you are living. If you have a nice landlord and live in a privately owned W.G. (share house), then things can be a bit more flexible.
8. Cancel your Rundfunkbeitrag (T.V. Tax)
In Germany, you will be required to pay a TV tax of 17.50 per month per household. If this is under your name and you are responsible for the payments, you need to write a cancellation letter (you will find a template on this website www.recht-finanzen.de) and attach a photocopy of your Abmeldung (de-registration) to prove you will be no longer living at that address. The T.V. tax people can be pretty sneaky at getting money out of people, so make sure you do everything by the book. I made sure I just paid each month myself, rather than getting the money directly deposited from my account. That way, I have control with what is coming in and out. Note: you many have other contracts to cancel on leaving the country – as I lived in an apartment where bills were included in the overall rental cost, I was able to cut out these extra steps.
9. Post the essentials back home
Whilst you can have the best intentions of not collecting too many material possessions when living abroad, you inevitably end up with more than you started with and you certainly don’t want to be throwing away all the beautiful European souvenirs that will give you such great memories when you return home. UPS.com is a convenient website to work out your shipping needs as you have the option to work everything out in English! They can also pick up from your home, which makes it easy if you have any large, heavy boxes. DHL.de offers similar services but the website is all in German, which can be a bit frustrating if your language skills are not up to scratch yet. Both are reasonably priced.
10. Book your flight out of the country!
This sounds like an easy step, but it can be a bit difficult to get up the nerve to do this. The amount of blood, sweat and tears involved in setting yourself up in a foreign country with a different language means that you can become rather attached to the place, and the thought of doing it all again back at home can be a bit overwhelming. Be prepared for an emotional roller-coaster but try to remember, everything will be easier in your mother-tongue and, if you’re from Australia like me, you can look forward to endless sunny beach days and the beautiful never-ending space that you just can’t find over here. Germany has been an absolute pleasure, but Australia is calling and, after a sneaky trip around Spain and Portugal, I will be on my way!
Have you got any different tips or handy websites to help make a transition out of the country a bit easier?