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Moving to Germany

Moving to Germany

By Joshua Wood, LPC

Summary: If you're moving to Germany, gain insight from expats living in Germany about making the move. Topics covered include what they wish they had brought (and left behind), visas, culture shock, cost of living and more. It's a must read for anyone thinking about moving to Germany.

Munich, Germany
Munich, Germany

If you're thinking about moving to Germany, read these tips from expats living Germany. From what to bring (and leave behind) to culture shock, visas and more, their insight is invaluable.

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:

"We didn't bring much to Munich other than clothes and bikes. Nothing we needed here would have been worth the cost and hassle of shipping," said one expat who moved to Munich, Germany.

"1. Bring over-the-counter Rx 2. Bring any type of daily use consumer products, because they are expensive here," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to Germany.

"Brought: more suits, more shoes, a southern woman - but not a feminist, of course. Left: the divorce bad feelings, the American naivity (trust, sincerity, hard work - none of which apply in Germany), the idea that every one in Germany speaks English," commented one expat who made the move to Germany.

"Wish I had brought my good vacuum cleaner, my big bed and a functional bug zapper. I should have left behind clothes, soap & shampoo and blankets," remarked another expat in Brandenburg an der Havel, Germany.

"I wish I had brought more: make up and medicine (antibiotics) I wish I had left the following at home: all my electronic items and my weight set," said another expat in Germany.

"One of the first things I recommend bringing would be medicines. Most of the German medicines I tried where 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. 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," remarked another expat who made the move to Germany.

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Deciding Where to Live in Germany

When we asked expats living in Germany to offer newcomers advice about choosing a neighborhood and finding a home, they replied:

"Live near my wife's work, so the commute is walk-able, 1 mile, even in winter. We are on the subway line so city center is 15 minutes away. Used an online search to find it," said one expat who moved to Munich, Germany.

"The German companies have no relocation programs. That means that you are on your own in finding a place to live. The companies that will help you for a fee are very expensive. And if you just read the newspaper (providing you speak German), you can visit the apartments yourself. But expect not be alone but surrounded by many other people at the same time - depending on the area, too, of course. In Frankfurt or Munchen more than in smaller cities. The German renting system is very different than in US. While in US there are bigger companies, which offer apartments for rent, in Germany there are many people who have an apartment for rent in the attic, for example, of their house," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to Germany.

"I lived in a pension (hotel) for 6 months until I knew enough to find a nice rental," commented one expat who made the move to Germany.

"I asked future co-workers who lived in the area then I visited those areas they suggested," remarked another expat in Karlsruhe, Germany.

"We had our company choose an apartment for us first. We where there 1 year and where able to explore all the areas around us. After that we choose a realtor to find an apartment for us. It was expensive but we really liked the apartment and where able to choose an area closer to the friends we had made and the places we liked to frequent," said another expat in Germany.

"Primarily, our relocation agency found this particular house for us. But, during a Look and See trip, my wife and I identified neighborhoods and towns that we liked. First, we wanted to be close to my work, and to Heidelberg (closest major city). Second, we were looking for a "small-feel" town that had a nice pedestrian zone. Third, there had to be playgrounds within walking distance. With that, our relocation agency found 7 homes in 5 different towns. We settled on this particular home because it was a single-family home versus a twin," remarked another expat who made the move to Germany.

Read our article, 8 Best Places to Live in Germany, for advice about deciding where to live in Germany.

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Expats in Germany interested in expat health insurance should take a minute to get a quote from our partner, Clements Worldwide, a leader in international insurance for expatriates..

Typical Housing for Expats

When we asked expats in Germany about the type of home or apartment they life in and whether that is typical for expats, they replied:

"Renting a flat. I think this is very common in Munich. 40% of the population is from outside of Bavaria or Germany. Not too many US expats. But there are a couple of US expat groups," said one expat who moved to Munich, Germany.

"I live in Germany for eight years, almost. I now bought a house with my partner. And I have an apartment for you as well, in the attic of my house, of course. :-) A plus, I have an apartment in the finished basement, too," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to Germany.

"4 story "American style" house. I live in Brandenburg, most of my fellow expats live in Berlin, where they have apartments in tall complexes," commented one expat who made the move to Germany.

"I live on the top floor of a in a three family house/apartment. Most people live in an apartment complex," remarked another expat in Karlsruhe, Germany.

"Single-family home, 4 bedrooms, 2 baths. The style is very typical new construction for Germany (white stucco with tiled roof). However, I believe that this is much larger than the typical relo housing, we were very fortunate. Renting a house is not common. Usually it is an apartment," said another expat in Germany.

"I don't know any expats in my area. We have a single family house with a small hair salon attached to one side," remarked another expat who made the move to Germany.

Housing Costs 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," said one expat who moved to Munich, Germany.

"Housing is much more expensive in Germany. As mentioned above, it has to do with an inefficient system like every other system in a socialist country like Germany. You name it, expect it to be inefficient or much more inefficient," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to Germany.

"Lower, avg cost here in Brandenburg ~600 Euro. Avg cost in Berlin ~1000 Euro. Avg cost in San Francisco ~1700 $," commented one expat who made the move to Germany.

"The average cost of housing is 500 Euro per month for a 2 bedroom apartment in a nice neighborhood which is just outside of downtown," remarked another expat in Karlsruhe, Germany.

"Cost of living is higher. Most things are more expensive than back in the US. We waited to buy a lot of basics (clothing, toiletries, books, shoes) when we where home visiting," said another expat in Germany.

"To purchase, I understand that it is very expensive in Germany. Some areas just the land can cost 1,000 per square meter (10 square feet). Which is why most people rent here. Actual ongoing costs seem to be about the same or a little less than our area at home (Philadelphia suburbs). The actual housing rent is less here (1730/month for a 4-bedroom house), but utilities seem to be about the same," remarked another expat who made the move to Germany.

Advice for People Moving to Germany

"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 your 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," said one expat who moved to Munich, Germany.

"If you don't look European, don't move here, come here for a visit is OK. Although University education is inexpensive here, don't waste your time trying to get a degree here. The German university S-cks," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to Germany.

"I lived in many areas and I worked for many companies. I have been in Germany of almost eight years now. So: 1. Ensure your company will find an apartment for you (it might be impossible). 2. Your company will not put you in the socialist health care system. Say, " NO! I want a private health insurance!" And repeat it a few times, and then put it in writing as well. You will find in time, how primitive the communication skills of your local co-workers are, although in the beginning you will think they are the most modern and open-minded Europeans you ever met. 2. Learn German, if possible, before you move to Germany. If you do not speak German when you get here, you will encounter many problems. And you will get only filtered information. Plus all the misunderstandings, you will be amazed. Although a generalization, a person in Germany will never tell you when they do not understand something or for that matter when they cannot do something. Or if they do not want to do something. There is a passive resistance: yes, sure, OK; and then you will hear nothing until you ask / communicate again. 3. If you have a name, which might not sound American from the German perspective, John Wayne for example :-), be ready to answer the question put to you at some point in time: Are you a real American? If you are not prepared, like I was not, you will be perplexed and get the itchy feeling in your fingertips to reach for a gun and shoot the m.f. although you might hate guns, like I do. 4. Be ready to deal with things that might not cross you mind what so ever, that is be ready for ideas and communication results that you have never experienced. I.e. at work you send an email to a co-worker: you might never get an answer, not even an I will get back to you. Someone comes to make repairs will never give you a precise price. You buy a t-shirt, it will shrink by washing and drying 30%, although it is written in big letters, American T-Shirt. You go buy a new car, the person will try again and again to sell you a used car. You go to the bank to transfer money, there are hidden fees (high percentages) that no one will feel entitled to inform you as a customer. You buy anything that has a standard two year guarantee, it will break after a year, and of course, you will not had kept all the boxes and receipts for everything that you bought. Your department or the whole company will be restructured every three months - you keep tasks to do, you have bosses you do not know. There are Unions not just for blue collar but white collars as well - you got no choice; get informed of the positive but mostly the negatives. Get ready for mobbing: most workers will make the life of a co-worker be hell; I am not sure why it is being done in Germany, probable because it is harder to fire someone; or because of what Freud said, the German culture remained in the anal phase. It is a sado-maso culture. If you fit in, it is OK; if not, it is hell. The school system is very different - get informed. Depending on the region: your neighbors will not be the friendly type at all, and will dislike you very much if you do better financially then they do. And you will get to know it. And so on," commented one expat who made the move to Germany.

"Secure a job first. Either have your work assist you with the house location, or plan several months of hotel time to "get the lay of the land". Don't be afraid to live in some of the smaller towns, much more character," remarked another expat in Brandenburg an der Havel, Germany.

"Take your time. Don't compare it to your current home in the US. If you compare, compare it to others in your similar situation (income, family status, lifestyle). If you would like to take public transportation, which is very popular, economical, and practical in Europe, be sure to live near a bus/train stop," said another expat in Germany.

"Frankfurt is a wonderful city. There are a lot of wonderful areas you just have to get out there and explore. Expect things to be different than (USA)home but be open minded about it. I always said that it's not better or worse it's just different. Soak up the experience one day you may no be able to have it. Do what you need to do to make your at home. It's hard being a foriegner especially if it's your first time living overseas. Find a way to make yourself a safe spot where you feel be relaxed at the end of a day of learning a new language and exploring a new town.If you don't speak the language get out there start taking German lessons as soon as possible. Immerse yourself in it and it will get easier," remarked another expat who made the move to Germany.

Banking in Germany

We asked expats which banks in Germany they use and their experiences. They said:

"No. When I got here as a student, I worked with the Volksbank because they had a free account for students. What I didn't realize was that I could not use this Volksbank service in any other city. It's not like in the US when, for example, you have a Wells Fargo and it is irrelevant in which Wells Fargo you go to in another city or state. I eventually switched to Postbank because of their online services and CashGroup membership," said one expat who moved to Munich, Germany.

"No. Only a bank that had a representative with good English and who came to our home to sign us up," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to Germany.

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Finding a Job in Germany

If you're searching for a job in Germany, expats talk about popular industries and how expats find employment.

"Having a portable career that you can do from anywhere eliminates the stress of trying to find a new job every time you move to a new city. For people who are looking for jobs in Dusseldorf, it is good to get involved with the German-American business club or American Women's Club to start networking. It is not always easy if you do not have a work permit or language skills. That is why I recommend having multiple streams of income to support your international lifestyle," said one expat who moved to Dusseldorf, Germany.

"Different types of high tech, IT, Telecom, Auto Industry e.g. BMW. Currently there are not many job opportunities on the market," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to Germany.

"I was a civillian worker on one of the U.S. bases, which is probably the easiest route for U.S. citizens without a strong background in German and will provide access to a lot of the military infastructure (and I believe the Dept of Defense school system as well.) Their job listings are here- http://www.chra.eur.army.mil/ Outside of that, Heidelberg has a very large high tech software and medical research industry, probably as a result of the university. Tourism and acadamia also seem to be very big, though I know less about them. A decent link is here- http://www.e-heidelberg.com/stay/stay.html Mannheim, which is nearby and much larger and more industrial/business oriented than Heidelberg might yield more options," commented one expat who made the move to Germany.

"Mostly hi-tech and IT. To find new jobs, you got to use the internet or the employment office website (Arbeitsamt)," remarked another expat in Munich, Germany.

"There are not many openings around the surrounding areas. Carpenters, Printers would have a better chance of finding employment as opposed to white collar sectors," said another expat in Germany.

"Jobs are hard to come by in Germany without first attaining a work permit which is very difficult to get. Boblingen is near Stuttgart so there are plenty of jobs. HP has offices there but Americans usually get jobs before they get to Germany," remarked another expat who made the move to Germany.

Work Permits

"I don't actually need a work permit to do this type of work in Germany (or any other country). However, I do have a work permit because my husband is German. I would suggest that expats, especially expat women and mothers who want to have an income stream(s), look into various opportunities for portable careers that don't require work permits. Especially for women living abroad, it is important to be able to pursue passions and interests that bring fulfillment and offer earning potential but are not limited by work permit laws or language barriers. Before I was married, I obtained my work permit through the Carl Duisberg Gesellschaft which arranges work exchange programs and organizes homestays/internships/assists in finding jobs. I recommend this option for students, college grads and young professionals," said one expat who moved to Dusseldorf, Germany.

"For EU citizens it is easy, a bit administrative, but well organized and rather fast," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to Germany.

"My company arranged for my work and residency permit. They also arranged for my partner's residency permit, but since it was a short term assignment they did not want to arrange a work permit as well, so he was not allowed to seek enployment," commented one expat who made the move to Germany.

"Dual citzen but other American friends working for the same company applied for jobs and the company then took care of the rest," remarked another expat in Dusseldorf, Germany.

Expat Health Insurance in Germany

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About the Author

Joshua Wood Joshua Wood, LPC joined Expat Exchange in 2000. Joshua has a BA from Syracuse and a Master's in Clinical and Counseling Psychology from Fairleigh Dickinson University. Some of Joshua's more popular articles include Pros and Cons of Living in Portugal, 10 Best Places to Live in Ireland and 5 Best Places to Live in Spain. Connect with Joshua on LinkedIn.

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First Published: May 23, 2019

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