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How to find a flat in Germany as a foreigner

Dana Regev
March 30, 2022

Looking for a flat in Germany as a foreigner? If you've received comments like "we've had bad experience with *insert nationality* before" — don't despair. These tips will set you off for success.

a sign in German, searching for a 1-room apartment for 400€, phone numbers ripped up
The flat hunt in Germany is tough businessImage: Imago/Seeliger

Let me start by offering my condolences. Finding an apartment in Germany is not easy, let alone if you are not German and can hardly speak the language — and two years of global pandemic haven't made things easier either.

You might have faced bizarre replies during your search, like "we prefer a German" or "is your language too loud" (erm, what?) — if you even got a reply at all.

It may feel like a lost cause then — but I've got some good news for you. It WILL eventually happen. Like the rules of the jungle, you just need to dive into the German way of thinking and adjust as quickly as you can.

Angry frustrated man yelling and steaming with rage.
Don't despair — It WILL eventually happen!Image: Colourbox/T. Lazarev

Many of the obstacles have nothing to do with racism or discrimination, even if it sometimes feels like it. Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of racists out there — but not all rejections are due to prejudice or misconceptions about you.

Don't believe me? Try out these 5 tips first.

1. Deutsch Deutsch Deutsch!

That's probably the last tip you want to see here, but sending an initial email in German would increase your chances to get a response, so try as hard as you can to find help with that.

Ask — or beg — a German friend to phrase a short text for you, and if you don't have anyone who could do that try to put out a translation request on social media.

Even if you can't speak a word of German, state that in your email — in German. Something along the lines of "I myself can't speak German, but a friend is helping me out."

As silly as it may sound, many Germans are completely insecure about their own English skills, and are embarrassed to come across as ignorant. So an initial email in German could not only break the ice, but also showcase that using non-native languages is a struggle for everyone.

2. It's paperwork time

If you didn't want to hear about writing in German, surely you don't want to be reminded of German bureaucracy. But it's here to stay, and your future roommates or landlord are suffering from it, too.

In practice, this means that you should prepare as many documents as possible in advance. Are you in Germany for work? To study? Bring an official confirmation proving it. Get a document called "Schufa" in advance (just Google it to find out how): It is a summary of your credit history to prove you have no current or previous debts.

Close-up on a hand filling out a paper form.
You'll probably need help from someone who speaks German for your Schufa document tooImage: picture-alliance/ZB/J. Kalaene

Did you open a bank account? Bring a paper confirming that. Were you not allowed to open one yet because you didn't have a permanent address? We've all been there. Ask a friend, a colleague, social media — anyone — to be listed on their address just for a week or two. It's a bit of a hassle for both sides, but someone will eventually agree to do that.

If you've already been working in Germany for a while, get a copy of your last three payslips.

And a bonus pro tip: Prepare a CV-like document of yourself and bring it with you when you visit new flats.

It will help future landlords to get to know you better, and save you time filling out forms they usually require anyway. Mention your job or student status, your approximate income, and any other detail that can support your application.

3. Go retro!

If you haven't lived in Germany before, you'll be surprised to learn how many people actually read a printed (!) hard copy (!!) version of the newspaper. Man, there are newspapers still advertising dating requests! Can you believe it?

Point is, there is a whole world out there of hard copy material we all thought was eaten alive by Facebook — but not in Germany.

Why so slow? Germany's reluctant move into the digital age

Some of the best apartments are still being published in newspapers — or even on public bulletin boards — simply because their owners are not exactly tech-savvy, or because they see it as a way to filter out unfitting inquiries.

Buy a copy of your local newspaper sooner rather than later. You'll be surprised to learn how many treasures are hiding there!

If this all sounds too horrifying, luckily the pandemic has changed things. It seems like some Germans are finally willing to adopt to the concept of the internet, and are accepting documents per email.

During lockdown, some landlords even offered virtual visits! I know, because I viewed an apartment in Berlin this way. Mind = blown.

4. Sniff for international-friendly humans

Some friends of mine were asked during their flat search whether they cook with "too many spices" or if "their food smells." Others were asked about the languages they speak and whether it "gets loud" when they bring their friends or "their huge families" over.

A colleague of mine with a foreign-sounding name was flat-out ignored until she used her (German) husband's email address to send out requests.

It's terrible, really, but as much as it hurts — this is not the majority.

A lot people can't wait to get to know other cultures and share a flat with someone from literally anywhere else but Germany.

 Happy friends having lunch together clinking glasses.
There are still people who enjoy sharing international culturesImage: imago images/Westend61/J. Rovirosa

Many have never lived anywhere else before, so having an international flatmate is a great way for them to practice their English, try out new types of food, listen to new music or simply get to know something different.

Much like with your love life, don't waste your time on those who are unwilling to accept you as a full package. There are many fish in the sea who are just waiting to have an interesting exchange with you — try to sniff around for them.

5. Patience

The tritest tip of all. Sure, everything in life requires patience, but wait, there's a twist. In some German cities, if you are the one to put up an ad for an available flat or room, you might get up to 50 messages in the first hour of it being online. Imagine how exhausting!

This means that most likely, no one is getting back to you simply because they're swamped with messages and have to arrange the viewings carefully, not because you've done anything wrong.

Take a breath, your right match is just one more message away. Good luck!

You'll find more about Germans and everyday life in Germany on dw.com/MeettheGermans and on YouTube. Make sure to also check out our new Instagram account @dw_meetthegermans.