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Moving to Germany > Moving to Germany

Moving to Germany

By Betsy Burlingame

Summary: Expats in Germany share 10 things they wish they had known before moving to Germany - from the importance of learning German to residency permits to understanding the culture and more.

Expats in Germany - Moving to Germany

If you're moving to Germany, read these tips from expats living Germany about the importance of learning German, what to bring, obtaining a residency permit, the challenges of the German culture and more.

Learn German

"Learn German first. Learn the language before coming. Learn to speak and understand the spoken language. Otherwise, you have no hope. Most here speak German and Russian. Only the very young, under 16 know much English at all. And the local library has fewer books than most homes," remarked a expat who made the move to Germany.

"It is a nice town and a beautiful region of Germany. In Nuernberg it is difficult to get by with just English skills. So study up on your German or take classes here," said another expat in Germany.

"I would have done things differently if I get to do it all over again. I would do my home work more thoroughly, like understanding the mental stages that I might have to go through. Although, if I know what I had to deal with, I most probably would not chosen to come here. Being able to understand and speak the local language is much more important than most expats think. I spoke simple German before I came here. There was a time when I regretted being able to understand the language. The down side is that if some people choose to insult me, I can't pretend that I am letting my imaginations run wild, that I am being oversensitive. However, I realised that speaking the local language does help me be more independent and if necessary, I could defend or protect myself," said one expat who moved to Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany.

What to Bring When Moving to Germany (and what to leave behind)

When we asked expats living in Germany what they wish they had brought when moving to Germany and what they wish they had left at home, they replied:

"I wish I would of brought with me my kitchen, all appliances and fixtures, including the SINK! My washer and dryer and pretty much all the contents of my house. I wish I would of left a lot more of my clothes home," said one expat who moved to Hillerse, Germany.

"One of the first things I recommend bringing would be medicines. Most of the German medicines I tried were weaker doses than I was used to or where homeopathic remedies. I felt very little effect when I was sick with say the flu. If you attempt to go to a Pharmacy (apotheka). First you have to know what the medicine is called in German. Second you have to hope the Apotheka is open. If you are sick during lunch, after hours or on the weekends you may have to travel far to find the 1 open pharmacy in your area. All of this is hard to find out when you are new to Germany. So I always make sure I have a basic stock pile of cold medicine, cough suppressent, pain relievers etc. Second thing I would definitly bring would be a few non-pershable items of 'comfort food.' I found it odd that as much as I love trying new foods I still missed the old mac and cheese. Bring a few items to snack on when you are feeling particularly homesick. Also I found it impossible to find the brown sugar that we are used to in the states. Bring a few baking items and spices as well. Third would have to be very good walking shoes. Invest in them, they are worth the money. Living in Europe often requires a lot of walking on cobblestone streets. Your feet take a real beating. Shoes are expensive to buy there so you are better off doing that back in the US. Things I would leave behind would be some of my books and CD's. I never used any those phrase books and only listened to about half of the cd's I brought," commented another expat who made the move to Germany.

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Cost of Living in Germany

"Here are some of the cost of living figures for Dusseldorf, Germany. Flat rent 1000-1500 Eur; Flat buy 3000 Eur/m2; Avg Restaurant 8-10Eur/meal; Car leasing 300-500 Eur/month; Car insurance vary 1000-2000 Eur/year; Insurances 300Eur/year; Health insurance private 400 Eur/month; Health insurance public 400-800 Eur/month; Income tax vary depending family status," said one expat who moved to Dusseldorf, Germany.

An expat in Munich answered a question about the cost of living in Germany, "Lower here than the SF bay area. Cost is area dependent although Munich has the highest rents in Germany. Rents are now around 1,000 euro for a 2 room apartment (living room and bedroom) cold. You may have to install your own kitchen and lighting. Buying in our area is about 5,000 euro per quadra meter (10,75 sq. ft.). We don't have a car, rent as needed, saves 60-100 per month on garage fees."

Healthcare in Germany

Some expats are happy with public healthcare in Germany while some recommend private health insurance. "In Dusseldorf, public hospitals offer emergency treatment as well. Private clinics are affordable only with private insurance. Costs are still cheaper than US," wrote one expat. "I am on the German Sickness insurance because I worked longer here than in the UK. My husband is insured with myself, but he is over the UK Pension Service, because he never worked here and is British. We are both very happy with the medical situation here and pay only 1% of our annual income, medicines and treatment are thereafter, free. We have both been and still am having treatments for cancers, and we will stay here till the treatment is finished. Treatment is better here than in the UK," said one expat who retired in Eifel.

Expats living in Germany interested in expat health insurance should take a minute to get a quote from our trusted expat health insurance partner, CIGNA.

The Best Places to Live in Germany

In our article, 8 Best Places to Live in Germany, we highlight 8 popular expat destinations in Germany, such as Berlin, Frankfurt and Heidelberg.

Live in a Town... Not the Countryside

"When looking for a flat or house stay in the town, don't be tempted by lower rent cost to go to the countryside villages around here, you will pay a fortune for transport and will still need at least 1 car, 2 if family is with you. The countryside is nice for daytrips but the town is better to live in," commented one expat who made the move to Germany.

Getting a German Driver's License

"Plan further ahead than the 90 days we did. Your driver's license is only good for 180 days if you live here. Plan ahead. IF you live in a state with full reciprocity it will be cheap and easy to get a German license. California doesn't have reciprocity so you have to do everything. Minimum cost will be 600 euros. (You pay for the tests every time you take them, you must pay a school to have a car to test in, Driving exam will be in German. Written is 80 driving is 160 plus car and driver.) Bring original documents, especially if you are working of credentials. We also needed a postulated marriage certificate to claim married status for taxes. Would try to find a place near any job. Munich is pretty flat and bike infrastructure is good," remarked another expat who made the move to Germany.

You'll Need a Residence Permit to Work in Germany

According to the US Embassy, "All persons who wish to seek gainful employment in Germany are required to obtain a residence permit in the form of a visa. The residence permit ('Aufenthaltserlaubnis') only allows you to take up gainful employment (employee or self-employment) if the residence permit expressly entitles you to do this. Alternatively they can apply for a residence permit prior to entry at the German Embassy in Washington or at a German Consulate (currently located in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York or San Francisco). Inquiries may be made at the German Embassy."

The Embassy goes on to write, "Once in Germany, the following procedure generally applies for job seekers:

  • Once you have an offer of employment and have registered your residence, go to the Ausländerbehörde (Immigration Office).
  • Check with your local Einwohnermeldeamt or Rathaus for the exact address and office hours of the Ausländerbehörde in your city.
  • They will check whether the general legal prerequisites are fulfilled for issuing an 'Aufenthaltserlaubnis.' If these are fulfilled, the immigration authorities request approval from the 'Bundesagentur für Arbeit' (Federal Employment Agency) for taking up employment in a particular job for which you are applying.
  • Approval is only given if the job cannot be filled by a German, EU citizen or other applicants given preferential treatment (e.g. third-country nationals who have been living in Germany for a longer period of time). This is known as the Priority Principle ('Vorrangprinzip'). After a specific period of time has lapsed, it is possible for the U.S. citizen applicant to have the same access to the labor market as German and EU citizens."

German Culture Can Be Hard on Expats

"Daily life in Germany is not that much different from that which I was accustomed to in the US. The main difference in my eyes is probably the lack of 'service with a smile'. German culture is very different in that aspect. Although they have improved drastically over the last 20 years, they are still a very 'closed' society which can be difficult to break into. People do not greet strangers on the street with even so much as a hello and those who do attempt such politeness may be disappointed by the reaction it produces. Also Germany can be 'brutally honest' with those they deem friends. This becomes apparent in situations where they tend to point out faults of said friends which in their mind is meant to help, but where I come from such things are often not spoken out of general politeness," remarked another expat in Erlangen, Germany.

"I live in California over 20 yrs and I tell you one thing, Germans need to relax, have more fun, take more risks and laugh whenever possible. They are too serious, always plan everything, are almost never spontaneous. Not to mention the customer service...ooohhh llaaa laaa," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to Germany.

Be on Time, Germans are VERY Punctual

According to the US Embassy in Germany, "Whether the event is social or business, punctuality in Germany is very important. An invitation for dinner at eight usually means anywhere between 7:59 and 8:00, (between 1959 and 2000 in Germany*). If you are planning a party, tell your German friends the time you actually want and expect them to arrive – don’t plan to have that 15 minute American buffer zone to put the finishing touches on your hors d’ouveres. There are reports of a strange 'Akademisches Viertel' (Academic Quarter-hour) clause which gets you off the hook if you are less than 15 minutes late. This is not a foolproof excuse and does not apply to dinner invitations. If you have a meeting or are invited to a social function, and you find yourself running late, do call to announce your late arrival (preferably before the time you were expected). Remember that in Germany, time is told on the twenty four hour scale, not the twelve hour one: the rule is to subtract 12 from any number over twelve. So 17:00 becomes 5 pm and 2:00 remains 2 am. Sometimes when speaking, Germans will use the 12 hour calendar. Usually, this does not cause confusion. Very few people in Germany eat dinner at 8 in the morning."

Expat Health Insurance in Germany

Expats living in Germany interested in expat health insurance should take a minute to get a quote from our trusted expat health insurance partner, CIGNA.

Expatriate Health Insurance

Get a quote for expat health insurance in Germany from our partner, Cigna Global Health.
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About the Author

Betsy Burlingame Betsy Burlingame is the Founder of Expat Exchange. She launched Expat Exchange in 1997 as her Master's thesis project at NYU. Some of Betsy's more popular articles include 6 Best Places to Live in Costa Rica, 12 Things to Know Before Moving to The Dominican Republic and 7 Tips for Obtaining Residence in Italy. Betsy loves to travel and spend time with her family. Connect with Betsy on LinkedIn.

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Updated On: Jun 24, 2019

First Published: Jun 24, 2019

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