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Berlin is a sprawling, cosmopolitan city with excellent roads and public transport networks. Expats will find that they can get just about anywhere relatively quickly and efficiently, although they should be prepared to get caught in traffic and crowds at peak times.
Most Berlin residents do not find it necessary to own a car. Traffic can be terrible during peak times and parking is expensive and extremely difficult to find. Even those who do own a vehicle often opt to use public transport to commute to and from work.
Public transport in Berlin
All modes of public transport in Berlin are interconnected and use a common ticket, with prices varying according to how many zones one travels through. There are a number of ticket options for tourists and commuters, which are all exceedingly reasonable.
Commuters can buy tickets from vending machines at U- and S-Bahn stations, and then validate the tickets once they board a bus or train.
The bus system is extensive, and making use of buses is a good way to travel to any part in the city that is not close to an S-Bahn or U-Bahn station.
Expats can use the same tickets bought at S-Bahn or U-Bahn stations on the trains as long as they are valid within the zone they are travelling in. Simply validate the ticket at the machine inside the doors of the bus (or train).
U-Bahn (underground trains)
The U-Bahn is Berlin’s underground metro system, which functions with characteristic German precision. Commuters can get detailed maps and tickets at all U-Bahn stations (marked by a big blue “U” symbol).
The frequency of U-Bahn services depends on the time of day and the line on which one is travelling. Expats are advised to consult a schedule when planning their journey.
S-Bahn (suburban trains)
The S-Bahn is the quickest way to get to an entirely different area of the city. Lines run in a mostly east-to-west direction in the city centre, and there is another line that circles the whole city. Expats can find maps on the S-Bahn website or at stations.
The tram system is the third largest in the world and offers a fun and novel way to get around the city. Tram maps can be found in S-Bahn and U-Bahn stations, and passengers can buy tickets on the tram.
Taxis in Berlin
Taxis are plentiful in Berlin and they are cheaper than in many other large European capitals. Most drivers speak English and are generally helpful.
Expats can either flag one down in the street or find a taxistand (taxi rank). While taxis are easy to find in Berlin's city centre, if travelling to or from the suburbs it is best to pre-book a vehicle ahead of time.
Travelling by taxi can be useful late at night, and it becomes a cost-effective method of transport if a single vehicle is shared by a group of people travelling in the same direction.
Ride-hailing services such as Uber and Free Now are also a super convenient way to get around. Expats can simply download the app, link their credit card and start riding.
Cycling in Berlin
There is over 620 miles (1,000km) of bike paths, dedicated bike lanes and combination foot/cycle paths across Berlin, and many locals find that getting around Berlin by bicycle is a cheap, healthy and feasible way to travel.
Berlin is largely flat and cycling is a pleasant experience, as most drivers are aware of the large numbers of cyclists on the roads and are therefore cautious and courteous.
Expats who wish to cycle in Berlin will have a range of bike-hiring options to choose from. Alternatively, it is also possible to buy a second-hand bicycle quite cheaply.
Walking in Berlin
Often the best way to explore the centre of Berlin is on foot, and walking is sometimes the simplest way to travel short distances in the city.
While there are plenty of pavements available for pedestrians, newcomers should be careful not to mistake them for the red-brick cycling paths, which are for cyclists only.
Jaywalking is illegal and most pedestrians in Berlin stick to the rules.
Driving in Berlin
As in any large, bustling city, driving in Berlin can be more trouble than it is worth at peak times or through busy areas where parking is scarce. That said, the road networks have been expanded and streamlined in recent years and driving is for the most part a straightforward experience.
Drivers in Berlin tend to obey traffic laws and give way to pedestrians and cyclists, although in peak times the sheer number of cars and traffic light intersections in the city will inevitably cause congestion. That said, expats should be prepared for the Germans’ famous love of speed on motorways.
Expats moving into inner-city areas or areas with metered parking on the streets can apply for a resident's permit to be exempt from the fees.
All expats can drive in Germany for six months after relocating. Thereafter, it depends on a person's nationality: EU licences are valid in Germany, while American, Canadian and South African expats will need to exchange their licence for a German one. Expats from other countries will need to apply for a licence from scratch and take both written and practical tests.
Are you an expat living in Berlin?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Berlin. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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