Living in Germany

Reaffirming its popularity as an expat destination, Germany scores incredibly well across many economic and lifestyle categories.

High living standards and an efficient infrastructure are also major benefits. But they come at a price as real estate is expensive, and the more restrictive aspects of German society can be too much for some people. That said, most locals are easy-going, speak English proficiently and welcome expats to their country.

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Accommodation

Most expats rent, as buying property in Germany is pricey, even by European standards.

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Types of accommodation

Tall apartment buildings called wohnsilos dominate German cityscapes. What they lack in character, they make up for with sleek, modern amenities. They’re the most popular inner-city choices, but you’ll also find single- and two-storey townhouses in central areas. Larger family homes are usually located in the suburbs.

Furnished/unfurnished

Most apartments are unfurnished and often don’t even have light fixtures, wardrobes or a stove – so ask your landlord what you need to buy before you move in. If you don’t plan to stay for a long time, it’s easy to rent furniture for your new home. Some landlords cater specifically for expats and rent out semi-furnished apartments, but expect to pay extra for these.

Rental contracts

Renting in Germany has its quirks, so it’s a good idea to get legal advice before you sign a lease. There are two main types of rental contract. Warmmiete contracts include maintenance and utilities, but with kaltmiete contracts you only pay for the space and you’re responsible for your own heating, water and electricity costs.

Utilities

If utilities aren’t included in your rental contract, you’ll have to set them up yourself. Ask the landlord to help you find gas, water and electricity suppliers.

Culture changes

If you’re from Europe or North America you’ll be familiar with many aspects of the German way of life, although certain things can take some getting used to.

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Language

Although a lot of locals speak English, learning German is important. Even if you don’t speak it well, making the effort goes a long way to helping you integrate into your community.

Making friends

Germans are private, reserved and don’t do small talk. They’re polite but direct, and they keep what they consider an appropriate distance from strangers. But once you’ve made local friends, you’ll find them loyal and warm.

Following the rules

Germans value efficiency and like to follow the rules, so you’ll quickly learn to get on the bus using the right door and not to jaywalk. An exception to this is queuing, which often involves a lot of jostling and pushing in.

Recycling

Germany recycles more than most European countries. How waste is collected differs from place to place, so check your local council’s website to find out what happens in your area.

Education

Many expats send their children to public schools where independence is encouraged and students are allowed to develop their natural talents.

The school year varies between states, but usually starts in July with a six-week summer break and five shorter holidays during the year.

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Public schools

German public schools are a good option if you plan to stay long term. The education system is managed at state level and there are regional differences. Local schooling is free and it’s a good way to help your children adapt to their new surroundings.

Different types of public school encourage different abilities. Some are more focused on academic achievements, while others provide practical, vocational training.

International schools

There are international schools throughout Germany that follow the American, British or Australian curriculum or the International Baccalaureate. Fees are steep and waiting lists are long.

Bilingual schools

Bilingual schools are a cheaper alternative to international schools. They offer two curricula. One is based on your child’s mother tongue and the other is in German. They’re very popular and places disappear fast, so start your research early if you’re interested in this option.

Homeschooling

Homeschooling is illegal in Germany. Children must attend a recognised school from the age of 6 to 15.

Learn the language! Germans speak English, but you will never feel truly at home unless you make the effort to learn German.

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Keeping in touch

Mobile

You can use international roaming in Germany, but a local SIM will be cheaper. The main network operators are Telekom, Vodafone and Telefónica Germany. You’ll need a valid ID, bank account and residence registration card to apply for a long-term contract. Even prepaid SIM cards must be registered online.

Internet

Some operators have various packages that combine internet services with a landline phone. Look carefully at what each package offers – some don’t charge connection fees while others have better deals for long-distance calls.

Postal service

Deutsche Post is the national mail service. It’s reliable, efficient and you can easily track your mail.

English media

You won’t struggle to find English media in Germany. Local news sources such as Der Spiegel and Die Zeit publish English editions online. And you can buy British and American newspapers at train and U-Bahn stations in bigger cities.

Healthcare

Germany’s healthcare system is excellent. Standards in its hospitals are among the best in the world and the country is a popular destination for medical tourism – it’s often called ‘the hospital of Europe’.

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Hospitals

There are more than 2,000 hospitals in Germany. Around half of these are public while the rest are privately owned. All hospitals have well-trained staff and state-of-the-art equipment and facilities. And most have cardiology and radiology departments, along with other specialist services.

Medical insurance

Medical insurance is compulsory for all residents. If you’re employed by a company in Germany, you’re eligible for subsidised medical insurance that covers all basic treatments and emergencies. If you’re self-employed or work as a freelancer, you’ll have to take out a private insurance policy.

Pharmacies

Pharmacies (apotheke) are widespread in all German towns and cities. They’re easy to spot – look for the big red ‘A’ on their doors and windows. Medicines can be expensive, but most are covered by medical insurance.

Getting around

Germany’s public transport systems are reliable and integrated, making it easy to get around. You don’t need a car in most cities, although the well-kept, scenic roads make driving long distances a pleasure.

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Trains

All German cities have a combination of light rail ( stadtbahn ), underground (U-Bahn) and suburban commuter rail (S-Bahn) services. Frequent intercity and Eurocity trains cover longer distances.

Buses

Most German cities have buses that will take you to the few places the trains don’t reach. Intercity bus travel is a more affordable but slower alternative to trains.

Cycling

Getting around on two wheels is becoming increasingly popular and more than 75,000km (46,603 miles) of cycle routes criss-cross Germany. Most of these are in the countryside, but cities such as Berlin, Bremen, Munich and Münster are cycle friendly.

Taxis

German taxis are light beige with a yellow light on the roof. Residents tend to use other modes of transport, but if you want the comfort and convenience of a cab, you can book one in advance or catch a ride at a taxi stand. Ride-hailing services, such as Uber, are also available in Germany.

Driving

Home to some of the world’s best-known motor manufacturers and the famous autobahn, cars are a key part of Germany’s national identity and its road network is very well maintained.

All Expat Explorer survey data and all tips (in quotation marks) are provided by HSBC.

All other content is provided by expatarrivals.com, Globe Media Ltd and was last updated in October 2020. HSBC accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of this information.

This information does not constitute advice and no liability is accepted to recipients acting independently on its contents. The views expressed are subject to change.

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