Skip To Content

    I Made A Life-Changing Move From The US To Germany; Here's Everything I Wish I'd Known Before I Left

    Here's the checklist no one considers.

    If you're thinking of moving abroad, then you probably have about a million questions about the hows, the whens, and the wheres.


    With everything going on in the world, it's no surprise that this is on many people's minds.

    Fortunately for you, I went through a huge move last year, and I'm here to give you all the answers you didn't know you needed.

    The author in Dresden, Germany, atop the Zwinger building.
    BuzzFeed / Michelle No

    After seven years in New York City, I decided to move to Berlin last fall.

    From practical considerations to little things you might not realize are important until after you've moved, here's an essential pre-move checklist — and my thoughts on whether it was all worth the hassle.

    Consider this a resource to consult after you've asked yourself all the big questions, like, "Can I actually move to a country far away from family and friends?" or "How the hell am I going to make money in said country?"

    This entire list is based on personal preferences; it's very possible you won't be perturbed by any of these things! Either way, I hope it helps you organize your thoughts around your own planning.

    1. This one's kinda obvious, but it's worth repeating: People might treat you differently in your new country because of your race or culture.

    The author in a beautiful, green Saxon forest.
    BuzzFeed / Michelle No

    I know, I know. This one may sound obvious, especially if you're a person of color. But all I'm saying is, even if several people who are currently living in France/South Korea/Sweden tell you that all the locals are open-minded and "It's super diverse" or there's a "strong expat/immigrant community," there's still a high chance you'll run into tons of racist scenarios. Most locals are usually native to that country and have never actually experienced the reality of being an "other."

    In a single year living in Berlin, I've been asked where I'm "really from" more times than I ever was during my whole life in the States. I would've loved a review platform to weed out this nonsense. Like Tripadvisor, but make it anti-racist.

    And it's not just about race, either — people may treat you differently because of your sexuality, religion, or gender identity.

    2. You probably should do more to culturally prepare yourself for life in a new country than just download a language app.


    Let's get something straight: I'm no Emily in Paris. I took months of German-language classes and signed up for more as soon as I moved here. I also have experience as an immigrant in two different countries. But I'll admit that my American confidence did not help prepare me for the actual difficulties I faced in dealing with German bureaucracy (which the locals themselves have a hard time with!).

    And I'm not sure if there was any way I could have fully prepared for this. What did help was joining as many Facebook groups for expats as I could find, and grounding myself in the fact that my spike in anxiety could be attributed to culture shock.

    3. Unless you have the extra cash to ship all of your stuff (or keep it in storage), you'll likely have to ditch a bunch of your belongings.


    When I moved abroad, I packed three enormous suitcases with warm clothes, a packet of photos and notes, and a handful of books, and basically sold or tossed everything else. I'm not a minimalist, but the cost of shipping things abroad (usually around $100 for a tiny box or bag), and the subsequent logistical nightmare of shuttling all those things around when I moved between my first few apartments, never seemed worth the hassle to me. I did send an old laptop and a large box full of old photos back home to my parents' house, but I did away with everything else. I'll also reiterate one insight I saw repeated in tons of online forums: You'll probably end up purchasing "local" versions of everything you bring, including clothes and home knickknacks.

    Pro tip: Before tossing them, take a picture of all of those old, sentimental shirts, gifts from an ex, and expensive upholstery. You'll thank yourself when a flash of nostalgia has you yearning for a glimpse of your old life.

    Check out: Just 15 Really Smart Things to Do the Next Time You Move

    4. You'll have to say goodbye to your network of low-stakes, casual friendships.

    Boomerang Toons

    You know who I'm talking about: those people you see maybe once a year when you invite them to your birthday or a mutual friend has you over for dinner. They're not bedrocks of emotional support, but they perform an equally important job: They make you feel like you belong in a community, like you'd be missed (and welcomed back) if you were gone for a long vacation — and very importantly, they're the kind of people who refer you to jobs and apartments.

    It's hard to make these kinds of relationships because, above all, they take a lot of time. And without these people, it's easy to feel lonely and to feel as if you're all you've got in a brand-new city.

    Check out: 11 Helpful Tips for Making Friends as an Adult

    5. You'll spend a lot of your free time during your first year figuring out where to buy all of your everyday items.

    Warner Bros.

    One of the least talked-about annoyances of moving somewhere new is figuring out where the heck to buy everything you need! I mean, finding food and specific ingredients within a grocery store is hard enough, but I've never wanted a local Target more than when I was trying to figure out where to buy a fan or USB stick on short notice.

    At the end of the day, I kind of felt like I was replacing any "big-city stress" I thought I was escaping by leaving New York City with a different kind of logistical "new-city stress."

    6. You'll probably have to postpone some big financial plans — like paying off your student loan debt.


    I spent WAY more money moving from NYC to Berlin than I ever could have imagined. And I mean, in the thousands (that I didn't have, that I needed to use my credit card for). Before I moved, I was on a pretty solid track to pay off all of my college loan debt and start contributing more into my pension, but that pretty much went out the window when I moved.

    Think about it this way: You know how, when you start dating someone, you get really giddy and overconfidently treat yourself to luxurious dinners, gifts, and couples trips? It's like that, but with a city. Costs that I never thought about when I moved — like my visa application fee, curtains (lol, but seriously), bike-rental registration fees, and so many dinners out — quickly racked up in my fervor to court my new city. And it's hard to deny yourself any of these expenditures because you don't want to kill your beginner's vibe.

    It's probably safe to assume that in your first year of living somewhere new, you won't save a single cent. For most middle-class folks like me, maintenance was the most I could hope for.

    7. You'll probably experience some loneliness because of differing time zones.


    It's true that the evolution of technology these days means that you're never really disconnected from anyone. But let's also remember: That's only true if you're in the same time zone. Because no matter how connected you are, you can't get through to someone who's, um, asleep.

    The loneliest I ever felt in Berlin was one morning, just after I moved here. I was deliberating between two job offers — which I recognize is a good problem to have — and my overanalysis of the situation had sent me into an anxious spiral. Chest tightness and shallow breathing ensued. All I wanted to do was call a friend or family member and have them talk me down, as they usually do. Unfortunately, it was 10 a.m., meaning that it was 4 a.m. in NYC (where most of my friends are) and 1 a.m. in LA (where my family lives) — and I had no one to turn to. Imagine one of those inflatable tube men in front of a car dealership, but with a panicky face — that was me.

    Over the last 15 months, I've strengthened enough relationships to make sure I never have to live through a morning like that again, but I would advise anyone moving to make sure they have a robust mental health tool kit to turn to during such times.

    Check out: 11 Tiny Ways to Keep Your Long-Distance Friendship Strong as Ever

    8. You'll spend way more time than you'd like trying to figure out the labor laws and HR policies of your new workplace.


    It's hard enough figuring out if you're entitled to unused vacation days if you're terminated when the legalese is in your mother tongue, but when it's in another language? 😫

    To get answers to everything from requirements for my working visa to what questions an interviewer is actually allowed to ask me, I spent more time navigating Berlin Facebook groups than I would have liked. And I still don't have clear answers to any of my questions. Moving abroad has meant getting comfortable with ambiguity.

    9. You may be in for a culinary culture shock.

    Aisles of sad snacks with bland flavors like 'salt & vinegar'
    BuzzFeed / Michelle No

    Your palate might take longer than any other part of you to get used to your new country. I have never appreciated the culinary perfection that is a peanut butter pretzel, Cool Ranch Dorito, or honey mustard and onion skinless popcorn more than while browsing the sad snack aisles of Berlin. If you stay in the US, please chew on some candy corn in my honor.

    We might not get a lot of things right back in the States, but our snack selection is the gold standard. If you disagree, please don't talk to me or my son — *points to tub of yogurt-covered pretzels* — ever again.

    Check out: The 17 American Foods I've Missed Most Since Moving to France

    10. And despite all of the aforementioned challenges, you'll probably move anyway 😌.

    Author in a drindl on an Austrian mountaintop
    BuzzFeed / Michelle No

    Sometimes our best decisions in life aren't made after logical deliberation but because they're manifestations of who we are. I spent months making list after list of all the "pros" of moving to Berlin, and still, by the time I was set to move, I felt insecure about my decision. The only thing I was 100% sure of was that I'd regret it if I didn't move.

    Moving overseas for the sake of it is a privilege — but if you have it, it's one that'll push you beyond your comfort zone and triple your empathy for others.

    It's been exhausting, but I'm glad I'm living in Berlin — beautiful forests, socialized healthcare, large-ass beers and all.

    Don't forget to check out Bring Me! for all of BuzzFeed's best travel tips and hacks, vacation inspiration, and more!

    Jay Fleckenstein / BuzzFeed