As one would expect, transitioning into digital nomadism comes with its fair share of administrative obligations. Not my favorite kind of obligation, but it’s a minor inconvenience on the path to freedom.
So when I gave my company the requisite three-month notice that I would quit, I immediately started researching the process of leaving the country as a foreigner with a residence permit and more than a handful of contracts. Three months is the standard notice period for most contracts in Germany, including apartment leases (unless you take it upon yourself to find someone to replace you); phone, internet, and electricity contracts; health/home insurance contracts; and gym/sports club memberships. In other cases, you might be bound to an annual contract and must give three months’ notice before the end of the period or else the contract is automatically renewed.
Coming from Canada, where contracts usually require only two weeks or maybe a month’s notice, I was surprised. Understandably, this lengthy notice period allows for plenty of time for a landlord to find a new tenant or a company to hire a new employee, but otherwise, three months seems to me a bit overkill (and I’m not just saying this as a chronic procrastinator). The process doesn’t totally prevent you from making spontaneous decisions, but it does leave you financially accountable if you do—even if you no longer make use of a service.
I learned my lesson during my first year of living in Germany, when I signed a year-long contract at a yoga studio. At some point before the one-year mark, I decided I would rather practice at home instead, but I was locked into paying my monthly membership fee for three months after cancelling. Fair enough—I didn’t read the contract carefully (I was lazy about deciphering the German) and assumed I would be content with the class for a year.
But still, I was annoyed.
Although you must abide by the notice period if you’re simply cancelling a contract on the grounds that you no longer wish to avail of a service, you’re exempt if you’re moving abroad.
The golden ticket to cancelling all contracts, regardless of the notice period, is the deregistration certificate.
In Germany, this process is called Abmeldung, and foreigners and Germans must complete it in the event of moving abroad. It’s just a matter of filling out a form and submitting it to the Bürgeramt (citizens’ office) in your city either by making an appointment or mailing it (to be safe, I went in person). According to online sources, the ideal time to do this is around one week before you leave the country to two weeks after (my first attempt was too early). The clerk at the Bürgeramt will stamp the form, and you can scan/email it to companies you have a contract with or make photocopies and send it by post, if required.
If the date you will leave the country is in the middle of a payment period you’ve already been charged for, some providers will refund you the unused amount of that payment. I received money back from one of my insurance companies and ARD (the publicly funded broadcasting corporation, which all residents of Germany are obligated to pay for).
Below are the steps I took to cancel my contracts. I got the job done with a series of awkward encounters due to my non-fluency in German and with the help of my awesome German friends (note that not all customer service agents speak English).
As mentioned above, I had to give three months’ notice to my landlord to terminate my lease. I did this by email and by sending a typed and signed letter in the post. Three months are only necessary if you plan to leave the process of finding a new tenant up to the landlord; if you decide to scout for a new tenant yourself, this tenant can take over your lease sooner. Although I didn’t go this latter route, I imagine that the tenant would have to be approved by the landlord first––in my experience, the process of landing an apartment in Germany feels like a job interview. The landlord wants to make sure you’re an upstanding citizen who can pay the rent and has good prospects of staying long-term.
My internet provider was Telekom––the process might be different for other providers like Unity Media or 1&1. The contract can only be cancelled online here (under normal circumstances or for moving abroad), and you need to attach your deregistration certificate to the submission form.
I didn’t receive any confirmation that I cancelled the contract and had no idea what to do with my router, so I called Telekom’s customer service to find out what the deal was. After being shuffled around several non-English speakers on the phone, I had my friend call to confirm that my contract had been cancelled. They then sent me an email with instructions for mailing back the router, which involved sticking the router in a shoe box, printing off a label provided in the email, and dropping it off at the post office (there is no postal fee for this).
Cancelling my contract with MVV was relatively straightforward. Upon moving out of my apartment, I recorded my meter reading. My friend called MVV a few days later to state that I was moving abroad and reported this reading (no deregistration certificate necessary). I had to pay €16 to settle the extra electricity consumption between bills.
In my case, I had three types of insurance to cancel: health insurance, travel insurance, and personal liability/apartment insurance (I was advised to acquire the latter when I moved to Germany, but otherwise wouldn’t have gotten it––Germans like to be insured for everything).
Health insurance (Techniker Krankenkasse, TK)
I had health insurance through my employer, who automatically notified TK that I was leaving the company. Close to my leaving date, I received a letter from TK with instructions that only applied if I was staying in Germany, so I went to the office in Mannheim for clarification on what to do (I just needed to give them a copy of my deregistration certificate). They typed up a letter and had me sign it to confirm the contract termination, and I was told that the insurance would cover me for a month beyond my last day at work (only within Germany), which was fortunate. TK (or at least the branch in Mannheim) gets bonus points for customer service––they were friendly and made it really easy for me.
Personal liability insurance and household insurance (HDI)
The notice period for cancelling with HDI is three months to the end of the contract term, so I gave my notice this way. I simply wrote a formal letter based on this template and sent it to them by logging into my account online. The only issue was that I accidentally cancelled only one policy (the liability insurance––Privat-Haftpflichtversicherung) and not the other (household insurance––Hausratversicherung). But no worries, they cancelled the household insurance immediately when I sent them my deregistration certificate online and credited me the unused amount.
Travel insurance (TMG)
I had a yearly, automatically renewed contract with TMG with a one-month notice period. In my case, I cancelled right on time before the next payment was charged. All I had to do was email them and ask that the insurance not be renewed. No deregistration certificate required.
Independent media fee (ARD/ZDF)
All residents of Germany (with exemptions for people receiving certain social benefits) are obligated to pay a recurring fee to support independent media: the Association of Public Broadcasting Corporations in the Federal Republic of Germany (ARD), Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF), and Deutschlandradio. The fee is €17.50 per month (€52.50 was automatically withdrawn from my bank account three times per year) regardless of whether you actually consume German media (like me––I didn’t own a TV nor did I listen to the radio). Don’t get me wrong, I support independent media. Germany is actually ranked number 11 in the 2020 World Press Freedom Index, and the publicly funded “solidarity model” no doubt helped allowed for this.
You can terminate these fees in the event of moving abroad by filling out a form online and uploading your deregistration certifcate.
Like most Germans, I had a BahnCard from Deutsche Bahn for discounts on train fares. The card is automatically renewed annually unless you give them proper notice (no later than six weeks before the end of the BahnCard term). I cancelled the card online and quickly received a confirmation by email.
I also had a “job ticket” for the local transportation network Verkehrsverbund Rhein-Neckar, VRN, which covers the states in southwest Germany. This ticket allowed me to pay a flat, discounted monthly fare for the local transportation (tram, bus, and regional trains within the VRN area) through their partnership with my company. The job ticket can be cancelled at the end of the month, and I did this by going to their customer service headquarters in Mannheim (I bet you can do this online as well). I gave them my deregistration certificate, but I don’t think it was needed.
According to Deutsche Bank, there was no need to rush to close my account the moment I left the country. However, I plan to eventually shift all funds to my N26 account, a no-fee virtual bank well-suited for digital nomads. When I’m ready, closing my DB account is just a matter of completing and sending off this form.
I didn’t cancel my phone contract with O2 when I left the country. It made sense to hold onto it at least while traveling within the EU, which exempts me from roaming fees. The notice period for cancelling the contract is three months to the end of the term, and cancellation can be done online by logging into your O2 account and selecting “Give notice of termination” (Kündigung vormerken) under the “Manage contract” (Vertrag vewalten) tab.
It’s a good idea to set up mail forwarding (Nachsendung) with Deutsche Post after you move out of your residence, even if you manage to change your address for all your subscriptions and service providers. This will take care of any mail that slips through the cracks. You can complete the process online or through the post office. For a 12-month forwarding period, the service costs €26.22 online or €30 at the post office (I didn’t realize that the online method is cheaper until after the fact and signed up at the post office).
Remember to cancel sports club memberships, points card memberships (e.g., Payback), and any other subscriptions you can only make use of in Germany (unless you’re not permanently relocating and plan to return).
I was glad when all this was over and I could fully turn my attention to the next stage: freedom.