How to move to Germany, part one: Why?!

I’ve received a few emails and comments recently about tips to make a move to Germany easier. I am honored that people would ask me for suggestions to make this process so much easier and while I wrote a response to each one of these requests individually, I thought it would actually be smarter to write a blog series on the topic too, since there is a lot to think about and do, if you want to do it right!

Here is an overview of what might be the most important points to think about from Expatica.com

  • German visas and residence permits
  • Opening a bank account
  • Finding a home/apartment
  • Education in Germany
  • Finding a job
  • Learning the German (language)
  • German Healthcare
  • Driving in Germany
  • Joining expat communities

Perhaps the most important question you should ask yourself is why, why would you want to move to Germany? Is it because the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence? Meaning  that you feel life could be better for you elsewhere? It could be, but it will also probably be a little harder too.

Here is a list, “Top 10 reasons to move to Germany” written by Fred Searle, provided by The Local, an online country-specific English language news source. To read the full article, please click the link above as what follows has been edited for space.

1) You can be the apprentice – Germany has one of the lowest youth unemployment rates in Europe.

2) You can put your foot down – Many of Germany’s motorways have no speed limit, so you can step on it and put your car to the test. […] Germany is also well geared for bicycles with lots of cycle paths – and lots of cyclists.

3) The bread tastes great – German bakeries are renowned worldwide. Although they don’t quite match French pâtisseries for cakes, bread-wise they offer an unbeatable and delicious range […] – 1200 varieties according to the Tagesspiegel.

4) Bienenstich is a cake to move for – As an exception to my previous rule, there is one German cake to rival the French pâtisseries. Bienenstich or “bee sting cake” is made with sweet yeast dough, filled with a thick layer of cream and topped with a crunchy and buttery honey-almond caramel. This cake alone is a good enough reason to emigrate. Bienenstich won its name because it is said that when it was first made, a bee was drawn to its sweet topping and stung the baker.

5) Sunday really is the Sabbath – Whether you like it or not, Sundays in Germany are a time to rest – or carry on drinking. It’s up to you. What you can’t do is shop – anywhere. The 1956 Ladenschlussgesetz still forbids it.

6) Workers rights – Workers in Germany have a good deal. According to 2012 figures from the OECD, they work fewer weekly hours than UK and US employees. Employment protection also ranks higher – especially compared to America, which in 2013 had the worst record for individual and collective dismissals on regular contracts.

7) Next-level playgrounds – Playgrounds in Germany are a cut above.

8) There’s a club for every hobby – Germans take their hobbies seriously.

9) Public transport works – The trains run on time, there are high speed rail connections between major cities and the Mitfahrgelegenheit (lift share) scheme allows you to travel long distances on a tight budget – and reduce your carbon footprint.

10) You’ll look fashionable (compared to everyone else) – Yes Berliners can look ‘effortlessly’ cool, and yes Joachim Löw’s roll neck sweaters are pretty sharp, but there is too much leather on show and Jack Wolfskin jackets are not as stylish as Germans think.

While the list above seems almost more for children or young adults, it does make some good points about transportation, health care, bread (oh, fantastic bread) and driving on the Autobahn. However, like everything there are pros and cons to each of these points as well.

For example, Deutsche Bahn practically always runs on time, except when it doesn’t and in the larger cities, on your morning train commute you might be subject to “jumpers”. Jumpers are people who attempt commit suicide by jumping in front one of the first trains of the day (but it isn’t limited to the first trains, it could happen at any point during the day). I experienced this on a very early trip to Frankfurt a few years ago. My German was horrid so it took a long, long time to figure out how to ask someone what was going on. It wasn’t fun, both knowing that someone had died on the tracks and that the timing of my day (because I had an appointment with the US Embassy) was off because of that sad death.

Additionally, the health care is a blessing. I am happy to have the health care I do as I didn’t have ANY healthcare in the US – even when I paid for it and thought I was fully covered, I wasn’t actually (legal swindlers!). In Germany, freelance workers are not provided with employer paid health care and have to pay out of pocket and if you miss your window of applying (something I hope to explain in another post), you may be required to pay between 300,00 to 700,00 Euros for your health care coverage even if you only make roughly 300,00 – 500,00 Euros a month.

Finally, driving on the Autobahn is sometimes like driving on any highway or freeway full of traffic – stop and go. I would say that the only difference here is that, in Germany you are likely to be given a traffic ticket if you don’t follow the rules of the road meaning stay to the right unless you want to pass or go fast.

The Vancouver Sun published an article, by in 2012, about moving to Germany that really considers the pros and cons. Here is her list:

  1. Learning German is hard.
  2. Expect to have fewer job opportunities and earn less money than you did back home.
  3. BEER! Yes, they drink a lot of beer in Germany and yes, you will too.
  4. Like to party hard? Good!
  5. This one’s for the ladies – don’t bring a million pairs of high heels with you.
  6. Apartments – different rules for a different country.
  7. Everything will take you longer here.
  8. Got pork?
  9. Traveling around Germany & Europe – not as cheap as you might think.
  10. 10. Load up on drugs before you come

Not to knock the language as many Americans like to do, it is challenging to learn. I didn’t know it before I moved out here and I am still at a rather basic proficiency after countless classes and four full years of living here. In my defense, I use mainly use English for work, which has become both a blessing and a curse.

Fuoco explain, probably better than I could here about the lack of job opportunities:

[…] most of the expats who are working in Germany are earning less, if for no other reason than the taxes are so incredibly high and another 15% of their salary is going towards health care. I even have friends who opt for working less hours and end up earning almost the same as they would if they worked twice as much, solely due to taxes. Don’t get me wrong, taxes are allowing for all sorts of great things like universal health care and an incredible standard of living in Germany, but just be prepared. Also realize that since your German isn’t good enough yet, this will limit your job opportunities a lot. Even if, after a few years your German is fairly fluent it will still never be on the same level as a native speaker or someone with a German internship and work experience. But, if you speak English then this is a big bonus for you too, don’t forget that. So expect to be taken down a notch or two in the work you do, but remember, you’re here for an incredible experience too and everyone back home is super jealous!

I will only add that as a freelance English teacher, some months I feel like Woody Harrelson and Demi Moore in that film, where they roll around the bed covered in money. You know, like they are swimming in it practically drowning from it. Then there are other months where I am so thankful that my family doesn’t depend on my earnings to survive. For a freelancer like me, it can be that drastic. You do learn pretty quickly to manage your accounts and stretch your wallet, but it can be tricky and gut-wrenching if you are not prepared for it.

Germany is Beervana, it really is. While American domestic beer leaves a lot to be desired, German beer is a beautiful and wonderful thing. Also, depending on where you settle once you move, your proximity to Belgium and their delicious beers will increase too. If you love beer as my husband does, this will be your heaven. However, one thing that disappoints my husband is that in each region of Germany, different breweries have a sort of monopoly (okay, generally agreements) with the pubs in those respective areas and it can be challenging to buy a different region’s beer in a pub. This isn’t the case however, if you go to the supermarket.

Regarding partying in Germany, Germans do love a good get-together! No where else have I heard so many adults talk about the wonderful time they had into the wee hours of the morning playing games, chatting, dancing, and yes, sometimes also drinking. The thing is, while Germans love their beers, they don’t always just drink the night into the early morning hours like you might have when you were in college. It really is amazing.

Now, about the shoes. I haven’t really been able to wear heels since my early twenties. I quickly got over them. Mind you I still admire a beautiful, fancy shoe with a big sexy heel but these days I wish the most comfortable shoes also were not the ugliest. I cannot wear heels these days. Furthermore, here in Germany I don’t really see the point. Most cities and in Germany are hundreds  of years old and while pavement is a somewhat modern luxury it doesn’t mean Germany has gone the way of America and paved over everything. I would wager a bet that in most places you are likely to be walking cobblestones are pretty popular. All I can say to that is, “ouch!”

When you decide to move here, you will need a place to live and you will need to be prepared for the bizarre arrangement with apartment living. First of all, I think most places you move to in Germany are likely to be equal to or cheaper than your current living situation (if you are renting). If you want to live with a roommate (Wohngemeinschaft or WG for short) you’ll likely pay even less. However, If you go through an agency (Immobilien), expect at least two to three months rent to just disappear into  the agents pocket simply for showing you the apartment.  Next, if you decide to move into a new place by yourself you are likely to encounter bare rooms (without a built-in kitchen and without closet space). You generally have to provide your own kitchen unless the previous tenant is willing to sell their old one to you. Finally, you will also likely have to pay anywhere from two to three months rent as a Kaution (deposit) on your apartment upon moving in, and this is in addition to rent.

The fact that everything will take you longer is for a number of reasons, mainly you’ve moved to a different country where they have different social customs and practices and they speak a different language. While English is the international language of worldwide business at the moment, not everyone speaks it here. Surprise! Plus, the toiletries, pharmaceuticals, and food you will likely want to buy will probably have a very different name here.

Vegetarians rejoice, you can still move to Germany! This country LOVES its pork and pork products. It is crazy just how much an advanced nation can love a particular food, really! Vegetarians though, you won’t die of malnutrition here, depending on where you end up though, you may only be able to eat at home unless you travel.

Traveling around Germany and Europe isn’t as cheap as you might think, but then again the same is true for America too. There is however many options for cheaper travel and staying overnight, it is just a matter of being able to a) take the time to look and then inquire, often weeks or months in advance, b) be incredibly flexible, because some deals are blink and you miss them type deals, or might require you taking a bus overnight or longer, just for example.

There really are quite a few reasons why you should probably move here if you have the opportunity. In fact other people have written about it too. Most recently, the hilarious blog of a fellow Portlander turned expat, OhGodMyWifeIsGerman was recently interviewed by ExpatFocus, which looks like a wonderful resource for moving and living abroad in general. However, since I’ve decided to commit to this series, you should come back and read more later!

ANYWAY…

In short, you should read his blog, especially because in the interview these where his tips and they are good ones:

1) Moving was super stressful!

[…] in that last year, we were both working full-time jobs, planning our destination wedding, arranging for my wife’s future career in Hannover, and worrying about how I was going to continue my own career in Germany without speaking the language. It was probably the most stressful year of our lives thus far […]

2) “[…]finding an apartment is rarely a pleasant experience, and no matter the country, moving sucks.”

Our location was determined by my wife’s job; she’s a Gymnasium teacher (and a fantastic one at that), and she landed a job at a school in Hannover.

3) Depending on where you end up, there is an expat community (probably) nearby.

4) Interacting with the locals can be challenging, especially if you are a writer or web designer and your German language skills are not up to snuff.

We have a lot of friends, and I’m also taking a German language class, so we mingle with the locals quite a bit.

5) What do you like about life where you are?
“Germany feels safe. I like the pace of life here. And Hannover is similar to Portland in that it feels like a big, little city. Or a little, big city. However you say that. Also, as an expat, you’re always challenged. The people, the culture, the godforsaken and unnecessarily difficult language — everything is new. You’re like a perpetual student, so there’s no time for boredom or plateau. You gotta get up every day and launch yourself into that alien landscape like an astronaut about to pee in his space suit.”

6) The most important advice: LEARN THE LANGUAGE OF THE COUNTRY YOU ARE MOVING TO!

Please look here to read the whole interview and check out his great blog.

I don’t want to overwhelm you so that is it for today…but fret not my dear wanderlust reader, more is to come!

6 thoughts on “How to move to Germany, part one: Why?!

  1. Pingback: How to move to Germany, part two: Why NOT! | living the american dream in europe

  2. Very useful information. I am going to study in Berlin. I have serious intentions to work there, too. I need desperately this information. You saved my life. Thank you so much. I am looking forward to drink beer , though! 🙂 Greets!

  3. Pingback: How to move to Germany, part 3: The First Step… | living the american dream in europe

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