The biggest challenges of moving to Germany
In 2017 the number of expats living in Germany reached a record high. And with its cosmopolitan climate, affordable living costs, and vibrant culture scene, it’s no surprise people from all over the world are flocking to Deutschland.
Of course, moving to a new country isn’t without its challenges.
Adapting to life abroad can be daunting, especially if you don’t know what to expect. Simple things are a mystery -- like knowing whether or not shops are open on Sunday (in Germany, they aren’t), or if dickmilch is edible (in Germany, it is).
We’ve put our heads together with our friends at BDAE, an international health insurance provider specialising in cover for expats in Germany, to come up with five things to be aware of before you step off the plane.
1. Finding somewhere to live
We’re not going to sugarcoat it -- finding somewhere to live in Germany can be, ahem, interesting.
It may be that you decide to flatshare (wohngemeinschaft), which often means going to an open viewing where you have to impress the existing tenant/s. Although these “castings” can be (more than just a little) frustrating, if you do eventually make the cut, things become pretty straightforward after that as there’s a pre-existing contract. All you need to do is hand over your deposit.
If you decide to get your own place, you need to get your head around the rental market, know which documents are required, and ingratiate yourself with the property manager (hausverwaltung).
The housing market is competitive in the big cities, so if there’s an open viewing you need to act fast. If you get lucky and land an apartment, remember to take your contract to a tenants’ association (Mieterverein) so they can help you make sure everything looks savoury before you sign.
2. Registering with the local authorities
Bürgeramt. It’s not without reason that the German word meaning “citizen's office” sends expats living in Germany into a cold sweat.
If you’re planning to stay in Germany for three months or more, you’re required by law to register your address with the local authorities. Sounds simple enough, right?
Er, not quite.
We might be living in the digital age, but registration (anmeldung) still has to be done in person. Unless you have several hours to spare waiting to see an administrator at your local Bürgeramt, you’re advised to book an appointment ahead of time.
But be warned, you may end up waiting a few weeks for an appointment, especially in Berlin.
Remember to take along your ID, your tenancy or sublet contract, and don’t forget a letter from your landlord (wohnungsgeberbestätigung) confirming you’ve moved in. You’ll also have to fill in the Anmeldung bei einer Meldebehörde form you’ll find at the entrance to the Bürgeramt or online.
3. Navigating the healthcare system
If you have a job lined up, a percentage will be taken from your monthly wages and you can access Germany’s state-run healthcare system. But if you’re studying, freelancing, or simply in Germany for fun, you’re required to have suitable health insurance if you want to remain in the country.
That’s because to get your residence permit, which you apply for at your local foreigners’ registration office (Ausländeramt), you’ll be asked to show evidence of your health insurance and a certificate of health (Gesundheitszeugnis für Aufenthaltserlaubnis) issued by a doctor in Germany. Without these documents, your permit will be denied.
Besides the whole permit palaver, if you’re living abroad it’s always a good idea to have private health insurance. Knowing you’re covered if the unexpected happens can give you peace of mind in a country where you’re unfamiliar with the healthcare system. Particularly in Germany, where without appropriate cover treatment can be very expensive.
4. Language barrier
“German is a really easy language to learn,” said no-one ever.
Lots of expats find that learning German is one of their biggest hurdles when it comes to truly integrating into the country.
Sure, it can be perceived as complex -- not an unfair assessment for a language which lays claim to a 79-letter word (Donaudampfschiffahrtselektrizitätenhauptbetriebswerkbauunterbeamtengesellschaft — in English it means “Association for subordinate officials of the head office management of the Danube steamboat electrical services”). But if you do want to make Germany your home (and make some actual German friends) you really should learn the language.
Of course, many Germans do speak English, particularly in the big cities; however, it’s always appreciated if you make the effort to pick up the local lingo.
There are lots of apps which can help you get to grips with the basics, or you could sign up for some lessons at a language school. Once you feel confident enough to test what you’ve learned you can always find a Meetup group to practice with, and make some new friends while you’re at it.
5. Cultural differences
No two countries are the same, and what may be acceptable in your country could be an unforgivable faux-pas in others. Germany is no exception.
For example, Germans take rules seriously and feel it’s their social duty to keep each other in check. So don’t be shocked if someone calls out your bad parking, or tells you off for not clearing away your tray in a cafe. They’re not being rude, they’re just upholding their civic responsibility.
And above all remember, if the light is red at a crossing -- even if there are no cars for what may be kilometres around -- you do not cross. Think of that little red guy illuminated in the traffic light as a policeman or army general, and wait patiently till the friendly green one appears before stepping out into the street.
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