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‘It’s difficult to make new friends’: Germany ranked one of hardest countries for settling in

Germany ranks high in the eyes of expats coming for work or educational prospects, according to a new survey about international life around the globe. But many say that they struggle to make friends and learn the language.

'It's difficult to make new friends': Germany ranked one of hardest countries for settling in
Germany ranked high in factors such as public transportation, work and education, but low in settling in in a new global survey. Photo: Depositphotos/Wrangler

For the third year in a row, Germany landed in the bottom five of the Ease of Settling in Index in the latest edition of global community Internations' annual Expat Insider Survey.

The Bundesrepublik ranked 60th out of 64 countries surveyed in the index, with 55 percent of expats in Germany stating that the find it challenging to make local friends – a full 16 percentage points above the global average of people living abroad (39 percent).

READ ALSO: Eight rules for making friends in Germany

Additionally, four in 10 expats (39 percent) said they were concerned about not being able to make friends when they come to Germany, 12 percentage points higher than the global average (27 percent). 

More than a quarter of expats, or 27 percent, rated the friendliness of the Germans negatively, compared to a global average of 16 percent. “It's difficult to socialize and make new friends here,” said one survey taker.

One large obstacle to building friendships between expats and locals also seems to be the language barrier.

In the language subcategory of the survey, Germany ranked 59th out of 64 countries, with a full 54 percent of respondents stating that they found it to be difficult to live in Germany without knowing German. 

A British expat told the survey that “not speaking German and it being a difficult language to learn” is one of the most difficult aspects to life in Germany. 

Almost two-thirds of expats (64 percent) furthermore cited language difficulties as one of their biggest concerns before moving to Germany.

Expats in only two other countries were more likely to say this – South Korea (69 percent) and Japan (64 percent).

What makes Germany worthwhile for expats then?

Despite the challenges, Germany ranks highly in other factors. As many universities open their doors again for the autumn semester, students will be satisfied to read that Germany ranks seventh overall for education in the survey in terms of quality and eighth for affordability.

International Student Day at the Europa-Universität Viadrina in Frankfurt (Oder) in 2015. Photo: DPA

This likely explains why the number of international students in Germany are increasing, and that they now make up 15 percent of Germany’s student population as of the 2019-2020 school year.

READ ALSO: In numbers: Who are Germany’s international students?

For those who have finished their degrees and are looking to stay for work, there's good news: Germany ranks second place in the world for its economy and job security, outranked only by its neighbouring Luxembourg. 

A full 46 percent of survey respondents said that their jobs are one of the main reasons that they’re satisfied with life in Germany. 

“Germany is an excellent place to work, with many opportunities to get jobs and do business,” a French expat told the survey. 

In the Local’s own survey, 47 percent of respondents had ranked the country as good for international workers, citing the language barrier and workplace discrimination as some of the main challenges. 

READ ALSO: ‘Language is a huge barrier’: What it’s like for internationals working in Germany

However, they pointed toward a “wide range of opportunities” and a good work-life balance as some of the highlights of Germany’s working culture. 

When it comes to incomes, six out of 10 expats say that they earn more in Germany than they would in their home countries – and for three in 10 that amount is “a lot higher” than they would back home. 

Germany’s public transportation was also rated positively by nine out of ten expats, compared with a global average of 68 percent.

Yet Germany still has a long way to go when it comes to other types of infrastructure: it ranked 55th in the Digital Life subcategory.

One Polish expat called out “difficulties with paying with a card, slow internet, and bad phone reception,” as some of the technical challenges about daily life in Germany.

Some 20,000 people took part in the Internations' survey, with at least 75 respondents per country.


READ ALSO: Germany’s (dis)connectivity: Can the broadband internet gap be bridged?

What do you think of life in Germany? As a paying Member of The Local you are not only supporting our journalism, but you are also able to comment under articles. Just scroll down to comment below.

Read the full report here.

Member comments

  1. So the biggest challenges to moving to Germany are making friends and the German language? I’ve moved around Continental Europe quite a lot and I’m not sure how much easier it’d be in those respects if you parachuted into Belgium or Spain, for example. It’s tough arriving in any country that speaks a language different to your own, and it’s also true that the moment you move from a metropolis in any land, the difficulties of finding anyone that speaks English quadruple. For language learning from zero, I started with the basic Michel Thomas CD German course, and then the advanced course. Thomas is a teaching genius and his promise at the beginning that “you’ll be speaking basic German sentences within 15 minutes” is actually true. Highly recommended for the beginner and a wonderful kick-off. The format is unique too. After that, I attended several Goethe Institute courses and found them wooden and unyielding. Language is surely for communicating meaning to other people, yet at Goethe if you get a case wrong or miss off an umlaut you score zero in their tests. Weird. I agree with The Local’s advice to sign up at a Volkschule course . . . cheap, earthy and you’ll meet people!
    As for friendship, yes, find a sports club or join an interest group. Best of all, find a partner and marry them. I did, and it opened a whole world of new friends to me, despite us living in a highly conservative rural area of Baden-Württemberg!

  2. Yes join a language class and always speak in German, you will get a much better reception and help. It does help enormously if you are married to a german partner.

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For members


Reader question: Can I get a retirement visa for Germany?

Unlike in EU countries such as Portugal or Spain, Germany does not have a visa specifically for pensioners. Yet applying to live in the Bundesrepublik post-retirement is not difficult if you follow these steps.

Reader question: Can I get a retirement visa for Germany?
Two pensioners enjoying a quiet moment in Dresden in August 2020. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Sebastian Kahnert

Due to its quality of life, financial security and health care, Germany snagged the number 10 spot in the 2020 Global Retirement Index. So just how easy is it to plant roots in Deutschland after your retirement?

Applying for a residency permit

As with any non-EU or European Economic Area (EEA) national looking to stay in Germany for longer than a 90-day period, retirees will need to apply for a general resident’s permit (Aufenthaltserlaubnis) under which it will be possible to select retirement as a category. 

READ ALSO: How does Germany’s pension system measure up worldwide?

This is the same permit for those looking to work and study in Germany – but if you would like to do either after receiving a residency permit, you will need to explicitly change the category of the visa.

Applicants from certain third countries (such as the US, UK, Australia, South Africa, Japan, South Korea, Israel, Canada, and New Zealand) can first come to Germany on a normal tourist visa, and then apply for a residency permit when in the country. 

However, for anyone looking to spend their later years in Germany, it’s still advisable to apply at their home country’s consulate at least three months in advance to avoid any problems while in Germany.

Retirement visas still aren’t as common as employment visas, for example, so there could be a longer processing time. 

What do you need to retire in Germany?

To apply for a retirement visa, you’ll need proof of sufficient savings (through pensions, savings and investments) as well as a valid German health insurance. 

If you have previously worked in Germany for at least five years, you could qualify for Pensioner’s Health Insurance. Otherwise you’ll need to apply for one of the country’s many private health insurance plans. 

Take note, though, that not all are automatically accepted by the Ausländerbehörde (foreigners office), so this is something you’ll need to inquire about before purchasing a plan. 

READ ALSO: The perks of private health insurance for expats in Germany

The decision is still at the discretion of German authorities, and your case could be made stronger for various reasons, such as if you’re joining a family member or are married to a German. Initially retirement visas are usually given out for a year, with the possibility of renewal. 

Once you’ve lived in Germany for at least five full years, you can apply for a permanent residency permit, or a Niederlassungserlaubnis. To receive this, you will have to show at least a basic knowledge of the German language and culture.

READ ALSO: How to secure permanent residency in Germany

Taxation as a pensioner

In the Bundesrepublik, pensions are still listed as taxable income, meaning that you could be paying a hefty amount on the pension from your home country. But this is likely to less in the coming years.

Tax is owed when a pensioner’s total income exceeds the basic tax-free allowance of €9,186 per year, or €764 per month. From 2020 the annual taxable income for pensioners will increase by one percent until 2040 when a full 100 percent of pensions will be taxable.

American retirees in Germany will also still have to file US income taxes, even if they don’t owe any taxes back in the States. 

In the last few years there has been a push around Germany to raise the pension age to 69, up from 65-67, in light of rising lifespans.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Could people in Germany still be working until the age of 68?