Having moved into your apartment you need to take care of your registration with the public utility provider, i.e., contracting electricity, water and sometimes gas or oil. However, not doing so does not mean that you will suddenly be without heating or electricity - you will always be covered by the so-called basic supply ("Grundversorgung"), which is a relatively expensive contract with Vattenfall, EON, both major electricity providers in Germany, or the local water provider.
"GRUNDVERSORGNG" - BASIC SUPPLY OF ELECTRICITY, HEATING AND WATER
The basic supply of electricity, water and gas is usually provided by the "Stadtwerke", electricity providers owned by public shareholders (mainly the city itself), but which are mostly organized privately.
The basic supply tariff is usually the most expensive.
Therefore, it is particularly worthwhile for customers who are supplied under this basic supply tariff, to switch to another tariff and/or provider because the savings potential is particularly high - several hundred Euros per year, depending on the region of residence and consumables.
There are numerous electricity providers in Germany, some very big ones, usually the former public corporations, some split-off of these, and many completely independent small suppliers. The two biggest are Vattenfall and E.ON.
On top of the various providers, each provider offers a whole set of different products.
The products vary by a lot of factors; the most important factor is the origin of the electricity, i.e., if it is produced on a conventional basis (i.e., using coal), nuclear power, wind power or solar energy or a mixture. Other distinctive variances are package deals (not recommendable when entering into a contract without a solid experience of the actual consumption), the length of price security and the very popular discounts. The discounts are granted only once, and should not be valued to high against price security and yearly basic tariff because expatriates usually do not go through the hassle to cancel the contract every year - that would be the only way to benefit longterm form the discounts.
Since E.ON and Vattenfall have the largest customer base, their registration procedure is well oiled and usually runs smoothly. With smaller set-ups, this may require more communication. English communication is not a standard service with any of the providers, but since English is taught in school, the likelihood is high that you will be able to speak to somebody speaking English.
It is basically the same situation for gas and oil supply, with slightly fewer market players.
There are a couple of so-called "Stromvergleichsrechner". They basically only require your postal code and the yearly consumption. Ask your landlord if he knows the historical consumption. If he does not, you can apply the following thumb rule: m² * 9 kWh + number of people * 200 kWh + number of bigger electrical devices * 200 kWh. As a bigger electrical device you would count the stove, the microwave, the fridge, the freezer, the washing machine, the tumbler, the computer, the TV and the Hifi-devices, usually 10 pieces).
Germany has, after a review of the international consulting firm NUS Consulting, the world's highest water prices - an average of 1.91 EUR per cubic meter. Belgium (1.85 EUR), the UK (1.50 EUR) and France (1.27 EUR) follow on the next places. Canada, South Africa, and the United States require the lowest fees according to this analysis. However, it was also found that in Germany the rise in prices has remained at very low levels for years now.
The significance of such comparisons is limited, as the Federal Environmental Agency and the Federal Association of German Gas and Water Industries (BGW) have pointed out in the past. In Germany, water prices cover all costs, as so aimed for as a standard in the EU, but not compulsory. In France, customers are not billed many services, and cost for facilities and supply networks are charged separately. Other nations subsidize the drinking water: Italy with up to 70 percent, Ireland even up to 100 percent. In the UK, only a small proportion of consumption is measured in the households; the majority will be charged a flat rate.
On the other hand, the quality of the water is very high and of drinking quality. With a substantial investment, the very high load of nitrates and pesticides in some regional areas has been lowered significantly. Aside from the most recent occasional exceedances of the uranium benchmark, it is the lead-containing pipes in northern and eastern Germany that cause the biggest problems. But drinking water is subject to more stringent quality controls than ordinary mineral and table water and is - in some places suitable for preparation of baby food - for example in Munich.
German water is of the best quality in the world, and its supply is absolutely reliable. More than 99 percent of the population was connected to the public water supply in the year of 2010. 6,065 companies supplied the people in Germany with drinking water. This may lead to the assumption that you have a wide choice of providers to buy from - a wrong assumption. The water supply is organized regionally in Germany, in order guarantee short transport routes to the households. As a consequence, you will need to contract with your local provider.