Two Weeks Out

Sorry I haven’t made a post in a while. Not very much has been going on outside of me preparing for my trip. I didn’t want to have half a dozen posts of the boring logistical stuff; I kind of wanted to sum up the experience I had planning to move to a new country for five months along with some tips I wish someone would have told me at the start.
The first thing that I really did was make sure I had a place to stay in Germany. I’m not sure if I mentioned it before, but I’m staying in a dorm called Coppi and Hilde in Berlin. It’s about 30-45 minutes away from campus, and I’ll have two roommates. While it’s not my first choice, I’m glad I got a dorm, as apparently availability was very limited. I’m threatened by the distance my dorm is from school. I will have to get really familiar with the public transportation system in Berlin very quickly.

The next major thing I looked into was getting a cellphone while in Germany. When I moved to Gainesville to go to UF last year, my smartphone really helped me figure out the bus system here. Now I find it an easy and convenient way of getting around the city and school. I looked into a variety of options, but what seemed to be the best option was bringing an American phone and putting a German SIM card into it. The way cell phones work over there is that the SIM card will allow you access to the cell network. From what I’ve read online, SIM cards are all over: in drugstores, big supermarkets, and sometimes even in gas stations. There are limitations, however. If you were thinking of bringing an American phone to any European country, the phone will have to operate on different “bands” or frequencies in order to access the European cell phone network. Most newer American cell phones do. If they’re a “tri-band” or “quad-band” phone, you’re typically okay. The phone needs to have the capacity to run on 900 MHz and 1800 MHz frequencies in order to access the GSM network, and it needs to be able to run on 2100 MHz in order to access the faster 3G network. In order to check whether the phone you want to bring can access those frequencies, just google your phone and within the first couple of webpages you should be able to find the specs. If having a working cell phone as soon as you land is important to you, you may want to look into buying an international sim card from a company such as Cellular Abroad. Compared to the SIM cards that are purchased in Germany I’ve read about, such cards seem much more expensive. One thing that is important to me and may not be as important to others is having a relatively large amount of data available. It seems to be the trend that with the SIM cards you can purchase that online only a measly amount of data is included in their rate, with an extra package available for purchase. This can easily drive the monthly cost of cellphone use up to $100 a month. This is still much cheaper than incurring roaming charges on your cell plan, so it may be something worth looking into for many people.
The final thing that I’ve been concerning myself with lately is money. For my dorm, I will have to pay first month’s rent and a security deposit in cash the day after my arrival. I will also need to buy my SIM card, food, pay for registration for the pre-semester course I’m taking, and open a German bank account. Altogether, that will come up to a lot of money that I believe I will need within a few days of my arrival in Germany. The first thing I did was get a credit card with no foreign transaction fee. I went to a site called Creditkarma.com that will give you a credit score for free and suggest cards to apply for. One should be aware that despite the card not having any fee, if you exchange currencies in your purchase, you will incur a 1% charge from VISA. I’m not sure how often I’ll use the card, but even if it’s just for emergencies it’s nice to have. Something else to take into account is that in Europe a chip and pin card is more popular. While the US is turning around to the new cards, chances are your card doesn’t have the chip inside of it that is needed for use in Europe. I’ve read online that most places will accept cards that only have the magnetic strip, and that you’ll only really run into trouble with some machines. This brings me to my next point: apparently the best way to get money is through an ATM in Germany. The exchange rate on an ATM is supposed to be better than that which American banks would give, and because they are so widespread, it is easy to find one. There are a few things to watch out for though. First off, your bank probably has a charge for using an ATM that’s not theirs and  there will also probably be a foreign transaction fee. For instance, with Wells Fargo (one of the banks I use) there is a $5 charge for using a foreign ATM and a 3% foreign transaction fee for each withdrawal. Another good option seems to be going into a foreign financial institution such as a bank or even a post office. They are supposed to have really good exchange rates as well, and you may avoid charges that you would incur by using an ATM (such as the $5 charge from Wells Fargo) All sites that I’ve read seem to agree on one thing: DO NOT use the exchange booths at the airport. The sites consistently argue that of all options, the booths offer the worst rates. One last bit of info: I’ve also read that one should avoid having vendors do the exchange themselves, their rate is typically pretty horrible. When you can, pay for things in the local currency.

Well those were kind of the big three things that I’ve been stressing about. I’m surprisingly not very anxious, and as the day draws nearer and nearer I get more excited. Tomorrow, my sister is picking me up and we’re going back to Tampa to see our parents. I’m going to just stay the week there since I fly out of Tampa International on the 28th. This will probably be my last couple of days in Gainesville until the fall semester starts up in August; so that’s kinda weird to me. I’m excited to be able to spend time with my family before I leave, but I do wish I had more time with my friends in Gainesville. Hopefully when I get back everything will be just the same!

I will do at least one more post before I leave.

Bis nächstes Mal!

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