How Does German Bureaucracy Work?

Germany is known for its efficiency, especially when it comes to their manufacturing, but this certainly is not the case when it comes to their bureaucratic processes. 

One very important thing to keep in mind when visiting a government department in Germany is that the public servants there only speak German.

This doesn’t mean they can’t speak English, or that they don’t want to, it is that they are required by law to only speak German.

Therefore, if you have a really complicated query or your German is a bit shaky, then we would recommend bringing a German speaker with you. 

Below, we’ll be taking a look at the most common and important bureaucratic processes to be aware of when you first move to Germany.

Anmeldung (Registration)

The first thing you should do when you move to Germany is Anmeldung.

This essentially means registering your address which you are legally required to do within the first two weeks of moving into your new home.

You need to do this at your local Bürgerbüro /Bürgeramt which roughly translates into ‘resident’s office.’

However, in some places it may be called the Einwohnermeldeamt, and in Bavaria it is called the Kreisverwaltungsrat, or the KWR.

You will need to have your registration certificate and a form of ID.

You can’t do any of the other bureaucratic admin without first registering your address, so get this done first. 

If you’re an EU citizen then this process is fairly quick, taking no more than 30 minutes.

But if you’re a non-EU citizen, you will also need to go to the Ausländerbehörde (or the ‘administrative office for foreigners’).

This office also handles everything regarding residence permits and visas. 

Even if you’re moving in with a family member or a friend who is already a resident, or subletting a property you will still need to undergo the registration process.

Church Tax

German Church Tax, or Kirchensteuer is one of the most controversial taxes in Germany.

The Catholic and Protestant churches – as well as some denominations of Judaism – are allowed to legally collect taxes from members of their religion. 

The Finanzamt administers this tax and charges a small administration fee from their collections.

This is taxed via the usual pay-as-you-earn income tax model, meaning it will be taken out of your salary.

However, you don’t have to pay Church Tax, and you can avoid paying it when you register your address as outlined above.

All you have to do is declare that you’re not a member of any church or part of any religion. 

If you don’t declare your religion in your registration, you can still opt out of Church Tax by declaring the fact later.

However, this will mean another trip to the Anmeldung and extra paperwork. 

Health Insurance

German healthcare has a system based on insurance that you are expected to have.

The social system in Germany pays contributions to health insurance for those who are unable to afford it, or those who have spouses who are unable to work.

In Germany, medical professionals work for private companies and there is a wide range of health insurance providers (or Krankenkassen) available.

If you’ve just moved to Germany, the options available to you can be overwhelming and confusing.

But a good place to start is weighing up the advantages and disadvantages of both public and private insurance.

Your employer’s payroll department will not be able to pay you if you are not signed up to an insurance provider and have their details, due to the fact your employer is required to contribute towards your statutory healthcare costs. 

This is a trap that many migrants to Germany fall into all the time, and it is one of the most complicated aspects of moving to Germany.

However, it should be one of the first things you should take care of when you get a job.

If you go for public insurance, your employer will contribute 50% of your payments, while your salary will pay the other half of your insurance costs.

But what if you’re self-employed? Well, you can opt out of this system and take out a private health insurance policy, or you can choose to pay into a public health insurance policy.

Medical Registration

While you don’t necessarily have to register with a German doctor, it is highly recommended.

This is because if you are admitted to hospital or are referred to a specialist, one of the first things you’ll be asked is who your Hausarzt is. This is the German word for General Practitioner. 

While some doctor’s surgeries allow walk-ins, you may be waiting to be seen by a doctor for a long time, especially if you live in a city.

However, in some doctor’s surgeries you can only see a doctor if you make an appointment. 

On arrival, you will need to show your health insurance card to a receptionist, and if this is your first visit to the doctor you will need to complete a questionnaire regarding your medical history.

If you have public health insurance you won’t be billed, but rather an invoice will be sent to your insurance company. However, you will need to pay a €10 fee every quarter. 

Meanwhile, if you have private insurance you will need to pay your medical bills directly to the surgery and your insurance provider will reimburse you.


Another controversial German tax is the Rundfunkbeitrag.

This is basically a license fee that allows you to access public service broadcasting.

Paying the Rundfunkbeitrag pays for television and radio production, as well as the production of online content produced by a few publicly funded broadcasters.

The reason this fee is extremely controversial is that no matter if you intend to watch any public service broadcasting you have to pay it.

Plus, public service broadcasting in Germany is generally considered to be of low quality, although it’s a great resource for learning the German language. 

After you have completed your Anmeldung, you will soon receive a payment notice for Rundfunkbeitrag.

This is because the administration of the Rundfunkbeitrag has records of everybody registered to an address in Germany. 

You will be charged €17.50 every month, and if you don’t pay Rundfunkbeitrag you will receive warning letters and even visits from bailiffs, so it’s important that you maintain payments. 

It’s also important to deregister with the Rundfunkbeitrag if you ever move from Germany. 

Final Thoughts

While the bureaucracy of first moving to Germany can be a hassle, it’s good to get it sorted as quickly as possible, and we hope our article has made it a bit easier!