We have covered the ‘why‘ in “why move to Germany”, but now it is time to consider the why not. I don’t want to be a buzz kill here and squash your dreams like a mosquito. Quite the contrary actually, I want to help you make a very informed decision about packing it all up and moving, because it is a BIG one.
So, this is part two of my ‘new’ series: “How to move to Germany”. I will not purport to know everything, that isn’t my style. What you will be reading here will be from my own experiences, from people I know and have met and from other bloggers or websites when I feel the point needs reinforcing. For part one, look here.
Additionally, inspired by an article I found on Cracked.com titled, “6 reasons your plans to move abroad might not work out” from 2011, I wrote about aspects of this idea in this post about wanting to move to Europe and maybe why you should reconsider. What follows is my own version of that idea.
1) Learning the language will make your brain hurt like nothing you’ve ever experienced
a) I’ve heard many people say that learning English is relatively initially easy but can become complicated over time whereas German is initially challenging but becomes easier over time – once you are able to unlock the ‘lego language’.
b) Unless you are looking to move to a larger city, most people around you will likely not speak English, surprise!
c) There are intensive Sprachkurs (language courses) available in most larger cities that are often offered by the Vhs (Volkshochschule; community college). These courses are actually offered five times a week for about five hours a day and for some are available at a discount, just check with your local Auslandsamt (foreigners office).
In a nutshell you should have some knowledge of the language before you arrive in Germany otherwise the most simple of tasks will be exponentially more challenging thus making you seriously question what the hell you are doing in Germany. That will probably happen anyway but it will be somewhat less painful and traumatic if you have some language experience under your belt.
The caveat here is, of course, if you don’t already know it. As someone who knew maybe five words of German before arriving in the Vaterland, I know this pain from first-hand experience. Please, begin learning German as soon as you think you might be moving.
For more about learning German in Germany, look here.
2) Finding a job might be more challenging that selling your organs on the black market
a) If you don’t have a job before you leave your home country, you might be up a creek here too. Friends of mine moved here a few months ago, both had jobs lined up but then both jobs ended up falling through. I don’t know the circumstances around their loss of initial jobs, and that sucks, but it is only one case.
b) Speaking multiple languages helps, especially English. The friends I spoke of above are both native English speakers and I strongly suggested they find English teaching jobs to pay the bills until they can find something more their speed. If you only speak English, you may be able to find something here if you look up an American or British company that has a corporate or other office in Germany. However, I highly recommend trying to secure a job, training, or educational exchange before you jump ship.
c) On the other hand, my husband came over here and looked for a job for a month straight, sending out applications left and right, and did find one that was very similar to what he was doing in the US and still remains the only native speaker in his office after close to four years.
Another friend of mine looked for months and months for a job to no avail. A freelance job finally became available thanks to a friend’s connection, which worked for this person in the short term. The problem was that this freelance job was only supposed to be about twenty-five hours a week but, because of commuting here and there via public transport this friend ended up out of the house about fifty hours a week. In the end this other friend did obtain a more secure position, but it took her spending much of her sparse free-time applying for various jobs.
So, there is hope, but it does take diligence.
3) Finding adequate housing can make you want to live under a bridge or in a cash point kiosk
Moving is expensive whether you decide to move within your own country or internationally. Most of us don’t have “House Hunters International” at our disposal.
a) In some of the larger cities, housing will be expensive. Even in some of the medium-sized cities finding adequate housing can be challenging to find thanks to the towns proximity to either a larger (wealthier) city/country or a university, both of these things will cause the rent to be bloated because the landlords can get away with it and well, you can go to an Immobilien if you can’t deal.
b) Do you even know where to begin looking for a place? There are these people/businesses called Immobilien which can help you find a place to live which is great, but can also incredibly expensive like 2.3 times the rent needing to be paid. This means that if you go through an Immobilien and the rent for the place you want is 900 Euro a month, you will likely have to put down two to three months rent as Kaution or deposit and then have to pay your fee to the Immobilien Vermittler/in (agent). This means for a 900 Euro a month apartment you would have to pay an extra 2100 Euro (2 months rent plus a third of another months rent) and that is often just for someone unlocking a door for you. I’m sure there have been a few stories of people very thankful of their agent, I just haven’t met them.
c) If you don’t go through an Immobilien, where do you look? It is rare that you will have an opportunity to be on “House Hunters International” to find a place to live and if you don’t speak German then you’ll really be up a creek! Some of the larger cities have Craigslist, which uses a very standard format or something similar, however many cities do not. It is a good guess to look for local newspapers, which also have online editions.
d) Something else to consider too is the lingo advertisers used when posting housing adverts. If you don’t know German, Google translate will only help you so far, and don’t count on BING. Luckily for you, I found this short list of abbreviations from About.com for English speakers searching for housing in Germany. If you are lucky enough to navigate the lingo, good luck finding housing that includes a kitchen. For some reason Germans are not necessarily fans of used goods, meaning clothing, furniture or kitchens. I am not entirely sure why and it might help to run an unofficial poll asking the Germans that I know and that read this blog: WHY?! Many Germans are happy to spend thousands of Euros fitting their perfect kitchen into their apartment and then tear it out when they move because it won’t fit in the new place they are moving to. Mind you, Germans don’t seem to mind renting, for life and many I’ve met live in their apartments or homes for decades upon decades.
A couple of years ago a European friend of mine spent a year in America and thus had to move out of the apartment her and her boyfriend shared since it would have been too expensive for one person for that time. When she returned to Germany, it seemed to take them about three months to adequately put their kitchen together, and quality kitchens are not cheap. I have no idea why this is the norm.
Luckily for you, a lot of private renters will ask that if you like the apartment you need to buy the kitchen off the old tenants at an adequately (hopefully) reduced price. This might make or break your standing with a private rental. If the apartments are not rented by the private party, very often the kitchens are torn out by the owner so the apartment can be a fresh slate for the eventual next renter. It is kind of odd and sad from an American perspective and what we are used to anyway.
4) Making friends is tougher than deep-fried-day-old gizzards
a) When you are young, making friends is so easy. Sometimes being enemies first can makes people lifelong friends. Most people make friends through shared activities like sports, intellectual pursuits, hobbies, etc. etc. etc. So, get out there and be a joiner. There are countless ways to make friends as an expat. Check out the myriad of expat websites and groups, otherwise you will feel alone and likely end up hating your new home for lack of a social life. One of the first places you should make friends is in your integration or language course anyway.
b) Unless you are a fluent German speaker, do not expect to make friends right away. I’ve had Germans themselves tell me that it is hard to make friends with Germans. Germans don’t necessarily seem to like to move too far for work, if they can help it because then they would be leaving their lifelong friends behind. University students try to cram as many of their courses as they can on one, two, or three days in the week so that many of them can not have the other four days to study, travel or party but rather to be able to go back to their home villages – if they don’t still live there, let mommy do their laundry and hang out with the friends they’ve had since Kindergarten. From an American perspective Germans can come off rude and distant. There is a great business analogy about small talk and communication between Americans and Germans called the coconut and the peach, guess which is which.
In short the idea is that Germans are really hard to get to know, but once you do, you are in their life and it is great (ie: the coconut). Whereas, Americans are easy to get to know, but difficult to really know (ie; the peach).
5) German ‘services’ might just be one of the levels of Hades
Honestly I am not entirely sure if I should even go into this one here. With the stories I’ve heard and the things I’ve learned, unfortunately thanks to experience, this topic is most definitely saved for it’s own blog post.
a) The first thing you should know about Germany is that it is absolutely a customer service wasteland. If, my chance you do happen to receive good customer service, count yourself lucky because hell must have frozen over. I’ve especially heard Germans complain about this – but it doesn’t matter, I don’t think this will change any time soon.The mindset is basically that if you don’t like the product or service, so somewhere else. Oh, you mean this one place is the only place in town where you can get this product or service, then suck it up. Tchüss!
b) Basically, contracts here are different than they are in the US. You have two weeks to try a product or service and cancel the contract if you do not like said product or service. Assume the staff doesn’t know anything and that they just want to get you out the door with whatever you are considering to purchase. Ask a thousand questions and do as much research as you can before you buy. If you don’t speak German very well, then take someone with you who can translate and help be your advocate. Sometimes the two week countdown starts as soon as you walk out of the store, sometimes it doesn’t. You need to be clear about when it starts and when you can cancel your purchase – and specifically how to cancel! Otherwise, you will be stuck with a subscription/contract for at least two years – even if it doesn’t work in some cases. Such fun!
c) I have heard, and you should confirm this on your own, that as a foreigner if you must leave the country because of visa problems and your service contracts must be canceled you are not liable for the loss of revenue from whatever time is left on the contract. Yet, again, please confirm this for yourself as it might be good to know, should you need it.
6) You’re leaving your family and friends hundreds or thousands of miles away, why do you hate them so?
a) Life goes on without you and either life will seem like it stopped the moment you left or leaped ahead without you just because you left.. At least in this day and age there is technology and you can likely Skype or Google Chat or a plethora of other ways to communicate via technology. People will also assume, even if you are homeless and broke that you are living like European royalty, touring, traveling and living life like the movies simply because you live in Europe. It might be sad to explain your actual life to them without embellishment, but I hope not. One of my husbands favorite things to do is to run three or four times a week around all of our cities Roman ruins. He says that reminds him what he is doing here, even when everything else has become incredibly normal.
b) We’ve had a lot of visitors since we’ve moved to Germany. I am so thankful for the friends and family who have been able to visit, or come nearby whom we can meet and visit with. That said, we can afford to travel home about once every two to three years and my parents, bless them, are only moderately technologically literate. Mainly though, my parents have horribly crappy and expensive internet, so we can’t ever video chat. They also for whatever reason cannot call me. I usually call them. I don’t know why. My mother said she has tried and just cannot make the telephone connection. My husbands family is a little better at this and more connected so we are able to chat slightly more. Oh, and I just found out that my mother and aunt are touring Croatia, Montenegro, and Slovenia. Yes, they are on an organized tour that was planned a month ago, but who knows we might have been able to meet them had we known. Sometimes it is hard to feel the love from so far away, and yes that is a two way street.
7) If you don’t have a contingency plan, you’ll likely be up a creek without a paddle, or basically walking around in real life naked as the day you were born, but this isn’t a dream.
(If you haven’t guessed it already, quite a lot of things can send you up a creek without a paddle here!)
I’m actually only really a fan of planning so much. When I traveled to Australia for four months when I was 21, I had only the basic requirements as they were explained by the visa issuing office and program I was going through. I had two nights reserved at a hostel, 700 American dollars (Hey, it turned to 1400 Australian dollars once I landed!) and a return plane ticket. That was enough for me, as I knew everything else I would figure out once I got there, especially because I knew everyone would speak English. When I moved to Germany, I had a job and housing for a year. I knew my husband was headed over and we would figure things out for us then. My biggest regret is not learning the language before I left. I can’t tell you the number of times I felt like an utter idiot – with numerous other travels under my belt along with all those degrees too.
To pack up your life and move across the country or world is a challenge and takes immense personal strength and perseverance. Some things you think will work, might not and you will be tested and probably cry a lot out of frustration. But have something of a plan, then have two back up plans, just in case the next plan doesn’t work. You should probably also have an exit strategy…a “what if” plan. And remember you can always teach English if you are a native speaker.
There you have it folks, a few reasons to consider perhaps not moving to Germany/Europe. I hope to expound on most of if not all of these points in the weeks and months to come.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you.