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How to settle in Berlin, Bastien Allibert?

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Bastien Allibert is the founder of the Blog settle-in-berlin.com, which helps anybody coming to Germany tackle all practical aspects of moving here. Being a freelancer himself who moved to Berlin in 2011, he knows a thing or two about registration, tax returns, unemployment, insurance, visa applications and much more. 

Hi Bastien, would you tell us a bit about yourself? Where are you from, why did you move to Germany and what was this transition like?

I’m 32, french, father of 3. I moved to Berlin in 2011, after studying abroad. I had just graduated and it was time for me to decide where to go next. I looked at a map and thought: where can I move to have a decent quality of life, good professional opportunities and improve my German skills?

At the time, the start-up scene was already up & coming in Berlin, so the choice was fairly natural. I never regretted that decision. I remember an intense feeling of freedom & discovery, on both a professional and personal level. That transition was helped by a few connections I already had in Berlin and some basic German skills.

You are a freelancer yourself – was this a natural decision?
What were your fears and hopes in becoming self-employed?

I never really planned to become a freelancer as my parents were always employees in their work life. I also never believed that being a freelancer makes you “free-er”. There is some freedom to be gained in a stable employment too. 

Becoming a freelancer was the shortest path for me to start my own business. It was purely practical until I could form a proper company.

My main fear was that freelancers spent a lot more time doing anything but their actual job. It takes a lot of time to find clients, generate visibility, handle sales & marketing, and accounting. That can be a bit soul-crushing, especially at the start when you have 0 network & 0 clients. Freelancers often start something out of passion, and it can be incredibly frustrating to fully “realize” that.

All of that turned out to be true, but it gets better.

How did you manage to become a freelancer in Germany?
Where did you take the needed info from?

I had been in Germany for a few years already at that point. I had already deciphered official letters. I even started to help others in their bureaucratic journey with my blog, too. I was not afraid to dive into the documentation and figure things out on my own.

Apart from my own research, I also took a workshop through the Arbeitsagentur. That was part of the Gründerzuchuss-benefits I applied for. This workshop took place over a few days and covered the basics of self-employment in Germany. That was really beneficial, even though it was fully held in German.

What challenges did you face in the beginning?

Accounting was actually my biggest challenge at the time. I wanted to do everything on my own and I thought “I don’t have a lot going on, I can do it manually”. It was only partly true. 

The other big challenge is constantly working on your own. That’s still my #1 struggle today. It’s really beneficial to have a sparring partner to exchange ideas with, to be challenged by. It’s so easy to stay in your own bubble. Joining the right coworking space can help with that.

How did you manage to deal with your taxes as a freelancer?
Did you use resources to understand how it works in Germany?

My Excel-based system was good enough but it did take some time and I had some mistakes sometimes. It actually took me a year or two to get an accounting software going on. The German system made sense to me but everything was slow to understand. And as a freelancer, you don’t want so much of your available brain time to go towards accounting. You want to focus on your actual job.

I now use an accounting app which I am very happy with. It saves me so much time at all steps of the process. It’s faster making invoices, declaring VAT, deducting expenses, yearly tax returns. Your Steuerberater will also love you for it. 

Tell us a bit about your blog – When and why did you start blogging?

Back when I moved to Berlin in 2011, I kept explaining to friends and colleagues how to do all the bureaucratic stuff I also went through. I was repeating the same stuff over and over. That’s when I decided to put it online for everybody to read. 

It started with 0 visitors and I kept adding stuff as I was going through them (e.g: how to get health insurance or how to get started as a freelancer in Germany). The blog grew over time and soon enough, people were asking questions in the comments. Today there are about 2500 visitors coming to find answers to their questions every day.

How is the future looking for your blog? Do you have specific plans or goals for it?

The main challenge I have at the moment is to have enough time to maintain it while having my kids at home. 

In the future, I’d like to move towards video a little. I also want to do more web apps, like the one I did to fill in the Anmeldung form in English

The “final form” of the blog would be a knowledge base integrated within a relocation app. An interactive to-do list that takes you through each of the steps to move to Germany.

What is the most important thing to know before becoming self-employed in Germany in your opinion?

If you can, try to move to Germany and establish yourself here as an employee first. It will save you a lot of stress & transition headaches. It’s much easier in the health insurance, accommodation & residence permit department.

Otherwise, remember that the system is hard to understand, even for German people. It’s normal to be confused and to ask questions.

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Sophia Merzbach, creative writer and content producer
Sophia Merzbach, creative writer and content producer

Sophia loves literature and writing. She's happy to have joined the Accountable team and is becoming a pro on all things tax related.
In her free time you will find her in a boulder gym, studying Italian or discovering the streets of her new hometown Berlin.

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