An Expater guide to life in Germany

As I type the UK is in turmoil and many are trying to get out faster than you can say ‘Brexit!’ A lot of us Brits are moving to Germany from the UK, so I got in touch with a fellow Expater for an introduction to living in Germany as an expat.

Lara is originally from Slovenia, has lived in the USA too and now calls Germany home. Lara is a freelance marketing specialist and entrepreneur based in Heidenheim, a town in the Baden-Württemberg region of southern Germany. Here she share a slice of Expater life in the land of poets and thinkers…

Living in Germany guide

Moving to Germany 

I moved during a global pandemic which was really stressful. I had to move by a specific date as I was starting work, however right up until the day before we left we didn’t know if we would be able to drive to Germany because of all of the COVID restrictions.

Thankfully moving to Germany wasn’t so bad after all. We had to quarantine for the first two weeks when we arrived. Working from home the time went by pretty quickly.

We drove from Slovenia to Germany with our car packed with all of our stuff and food (for the quarantine).

In Heidenheim we rented an apartment for the first month. Soon we found a beautiful new home where we’re currently situated. The apartment came with a fully furnished kitchen and bathroom, and we bought the furniture for all other rooms.

Cost of living in Germany

Living expenses in Germany vary from city to city, especially the rent prices.

For example, in a smaller town like Heidenheim a two-bedroom apartments usually costs from 600 to 1200€ EUR+ expenses (710-1420$ USD).

Meanwhile, in a bigger city, like Munich or Berlin, the price range is between 1200-2000€ EUR (1470-2450$ USD).

The price difference between cities and rural areas didn’t surprise me much because I was used to this disparity having lived in the USA where urban areas are usually more expensive.

An average cost for my grocery shop is around 40€ EUR /week. Beer from a local bar is somewhere between 3-4€ EUR (3.50-4.70$ USD) and a regular take away meal costs 10-15€ EUR (11-16$USD). A decent dinner for two people costs between 40-50€ (47-59$ USD).

To sum up, if you live in a smaller city you probably need around 1500-2000€/month to live comfortably and 2000-3000€ if you’re located in a city such as Munich, Berlin etc. Even these vary – Munich is typically considered the most expensive city in Germany, followed by Frankfurt, Stuttgart and Heidelberg.

expat in Germany

Moving to Germany without a job

If you’re not a EU/EEA citizen, you can enter Germany for up to six months on a job seeker visa. However, it’s really important that you’re able to somehow support yourself financially for the whole duration of your stay in Germany. And you’ll need to prove this.

Once you’re here you can start searching for jobs and it’s important to know that without knowing any German, it is going to be very hard. It took me 4 months before I got the job. I was really lucky because the company that I worked for was international and it has a lot of foreigners so we were talking in English all the time.

So I would definitely recommend learning the language before coming here because you will automatically have a bigger advantage than other foreigner applicants.

If that is not an option then you should first start searching for more international companies where you can easily communicate in English. I found a lot of interesting opportunities on job search websites like Linkedin, Indeed, Glassdoor and StepStone.

When it comes to finding a job abroad is important to stay patient and positive. It is possible that you will receive a lot of rejections, however you have to be persistent and work hard every day. Dedicate at least two hours every day to job search and you will see that it will pay off in the end.

If a regular “9-5” job is not for you, you can always start freelancing. Depending on your line of work, freelancing is often the quickest way to earn a living in a new country, and Germany is no exception.

If you decide to freelance and you’re not a EU/EEA resident then you will have to apply for a freelance visa. The application process is the same as applying for any German visa. It is recommended to complete the application three months in advance from your planned travel date.

life in Germany

Expat life in Germany

Living as an expat in a small German town can be quite challenging when it comes to socialising!

In general I feel that Germans are usually very reserved when it comes to meeting new people. You have to give them some time so they can really open up to you. The expat circle here in Heidenheim is very tight and that’s why it is hard to network with other foreigners.

However, if you’re planning to move to a bigger city like Munich or Berlin then the situation will be different. Big cities have a lot of expats and it’s way easier to find and connect with them.

My partner and I made some friends at work and this is probably the easiest way to network, at least in the beginning. So at the moment we have more local friends than expats.

Overall I think Germany is good for expats. Especially if you already know some German, you will adapt to a new environment faster. If you don’t know the language and you would like to experience a place with a bigger expat community then I would recommend you to first move to a city like Munich, Stuttgart, Hamburg or Berlin.

Living in Germany

Moving to Germany with a family

I don’t have kids yet but from what I’ve experienced so far, I think Germany is a great place to raise a family. Germany is a very family oriented country. For example, it offers really good infrastructure for kids and a lot of child-friendly facilities. I’ve noticed that a lot of restaurants and bars provide big play areas and special children’s menus

They also have a high quality education system that consists of many good local schools, as well as a number of private and international ones, which are perfect for expat kids because they allow an easier transition.

Besides the high quality education system and children-friendly facilities, Germany has also numerous family attractions and fun places where you can spend the weekends. They have a lot of popular theme parks, for example Euro-Park, LEGOLAND, Movie Park and Phantasialand.

I would also like to mention the work-life balance here. Germans do work hard, but they usually finish around 4-4:30pm in the afternoon (at least in office jobs) and then they like to dedicate the rest of their day to their families, friends and sports activities. You won’t see many people working late in the evenings or during the weekends. So when you have a family, you really have more time for the kids.

living in Germany as a foreigner

Is Germany safe?

I feel very safe in Germany. It’s true that I live in a small town and it feels like we are staying in our own bubble, however even when I visit the bigger cities here, I always feel completely comfortable.

I’ve heard from some people that you have to be aware of the pickpockets in crowded places and always lock hotel rooms and cars, but I think this is an important thing to do wherever you travel.

The pros and cons of living in Germany

Let’s start with the pros. Germany is one of the countries with a high-quality life. It has a really good health care system and a big variety of good specialists. Health insurance here is compulsory. You can choose between public or private insurance. The contributions are based on income. If you’re unemployed, you can get covered by the insurance of your spouse, or the insurance is paid by the social fund.

Germany is also an endless pool of job opportunities and career pathways. It houses a lot of high tech companies and because of the fast-growing industrialization; the number of available jobs is really high.

Another big advantage of living in Germany is also the fact that you’re based in the heart of Europe. It will only take you a couple of hours to travel to France, Italy, Austria, Netherlands, Denmark and so on. Everywhere is quickly accessible by car, train, or plane.

When talking about the cons of living in Germany, the first thing that pops into my mind is the language barrier. It can be very challenging to live here without knowing any German, especially if you live in a smaller city like I do where not a lot of people know how to communicate in English. I would be very hard to find a good job opportunity without fluent German.

The second disadvantage is the German bureaucracy. When moving to Germany, you will have to go through a lot of paperwork, from registering an address, your car and getting a bank account.  Many government workers don’t speak English, so the whole process can be a bit of a nightmare if you don’t know any German.

In my opinion people here like order in every aspect of their lives; everything has to be structured in the right way. It’s better if you accept this fact as soon as possible because you’re going to be way less frustrated!

Berlin

Things to know before moving to Germany

I visited Germany a couple of times before I moved here, but I didn’t have much contact with local people. After moving to Germany I experienced cultural shock – people seemed so reserved when meeting new people.

I remember when I was still living in Chicago, I felt very accepted and welcomed from everyone I’ve met but it’s different in Germany. Germans need more time before they can open up and start trusting you and that’s okay too. The sooner you accept this, the easier it’s going to be for you to adapt to a new environment. I’ve heard from a couple of expats that once they get to know you, they stay your friends for life.

All in all, is Germany a good place to live?

I think Germany is a perfect place to relocate to. There is definitely an excellent standard of living. The healthcare system is one of the best in the world, it’s a very safe country and you get the chance to really put your career on a next level here.

Moving to Germany does come with some disadvantages, but I think this is true for any country. Despite the cultural shock that I experienced during the first couple of months, I don’t regret moving to Germany and I’m very happy with my life here.

Moving to Germany guide

Any tips for expats moving over for the first time?

One thing I didn’t know before I moved here was the fact that cash is still king. Many places don’t take cards. If you’re planning on moving to Germany, I would recommend you to open a checking account and apply for an EC card, which you can use in a lot of places where they don’t take credit cards.

If you’re thinking of moving to Germany I would recommend you to learn German beforehand or at least the basics. Life here will be much easier for you.

If you’re looking to connect with other expats, the best thing you can do is to move to a city like Munich, Berlin or Hamburg, where the foreigners community is much bigger than in smaller towns. You can reach out to them even before moving to Germany (find expat groups on social media) so they can give you more information about the new city. That way you will feel more prepared when starting an expat life here.

Lara blogs at livingexpatlife.com, a website featuring tips for moving abroad, living abroad, how to find jobs internationally and traveling.

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