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MOVING TO GERMANY

The pros and cons of living in Germany

Germany is a hugely popular destination for expats - and for good reason! But when you're weighing up whether to relocate, you'll also need to have an honest look at both the good and the bad.

Frankfurt am Main
Frankfurt am Main. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Boris Roessler

Every year, more than one million people decide to pack up their own lives and make Germany their home. It’s certainly a country with a lot to offer – though it may not be for everyone.

Here are the main pros and cons about living in Germany.

The Pros:

1. There are great career opportunities on offer 

Germany is not only the largest economy in Europe but also the fourth largest economy in the world, making it a magnet for both startups and multinationals. It also happens to have a huge skills shortage, which means they’re always keen to welcome new workers from abroad. 

Though salaries may pale in comparison with Germany’s ultra-rich neighbours like Luxembourg and Switzerland, they’re pretty decent in comparison to the cost of living. In 2021, the average employee in Germany earned a highly respectable €49,200 per year – around €5,000 higher than in the UK. For workers in less well-paid jobs, the minimum wage is set to go up to €12 per hour in September. This is one of the highest minimum wages in Europe. 

2. You can get lots of paid time off

Employees in Germany get a minimum of four weeks off per year, which amounts to 20 days of paid holiday for a five-day working week. That said, many companies choose to offer more than this, so it’s not uncommon to get five or even six weeks off per year. 

Depending on what state you live in, you can also look forward to around 10 days of public holidays – or even as many as 14 if you live in Bavaria. The culture of taking Brückentage – or bridging days – around these public holidays means that often you can look forward to a week or more off work while barely using any of your holiday allowance. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How you can make the most of Germany’s 2022 public holidays

Parental leave is also hugely generous, with up to 14 months of state support available for new mums and dads who want to take time off work, as well as 14 weeks of paid leave for mothers before and after the birth of their child. 

3. It’s increasingly international

In pretty much all of the major cities, Germany is becoming ever more ‘Multi-kulti’ and international. These days, it’s far from unusual to find people gathering at English language comedy nights or going to the cinema to see films in English or with English subtitles. 

Understanding that German isn’t a first language for everyone, companies are increasingly internationalising their services by offering English-language versions of their websites and apps. And you’ll find a bustling startup scene in places like Munich and Berlin, where English is also the working language in the office.

READ ALSO: What it’s like to work at a Berlin tech startup

4. You can feel safe 

Germany is a very safe place to live, with similar crime rates to countries like Norway and Luxembourg. Though people need to watch out for things like pickpocketing and bike theft, serious crimes like shootings are very rare.

5. Public services and facilities are good

Not everything works perfectly in Germany, but it’s fair to say that tax money is pretty well spent. In most parts of the country, you can find buses and trains to get you around and a decent network of cycle paths as well. Most towns and cities also have well-stocked public libraries, lots of parks and leisure centres, decent schools and heavily subsidised adult education at the Volkshochschulen.

U-Bahn in Hamburg

The U-Bahn train in Hamburg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Marcus Brandt

6. Nature is easily accessible – even for city-dwellers 

One of the things that contributes to the excellent quality of life in Germany is how easy it is to get out into nature. Even if you live in a major metropolis like Berlin, Frankfurt or Munich, you’re usually only one S-Bahn ride away from a lake, forest or the mountains. 

What’s more, Germans make a point of factoring this time in nature into their lives: outdoor activities like hiking, skiing and wild swimming are pretty much a national past-time. 

READ ALSO: Riding the Radweg: A guide to touring Germany by bike

7. It has a rich culture and traditions 

Goethe famous described Germany as “das Land der Dichter und Denker” (the land of poets and thinkers), and looking back in time, it’s certainly had its share of famous writers, philosophers and composers over the years. 

These days there’s still a buzzing cultural scene in the country, with everything from Bach and Wagner festivals and book fairs to cutting-edge modern art and thriving local music scenes. 

You’ll also notice that this is a country that is in touch with its folk cultures and traditions. Every state has its own unique identity, which is often reflected in their regional dishes, dialects and charming folk festivals throughout the year. 

8. It’s the perfect base from which to explore Europe

Germany shares a border with eight different nations, making it the ideal location to explore the diverse culture and landscapes that Europe has to offer. In many ways, it represents both a cultural and geographical bridge between eastern and western Europe – from Belgium and France to Poland and the Czech Republic.

Even countries that Germany doesn’t share a border with can be reached by train or car in no time. For example, it takes a mere four hours to get from Munich to the gorgeous alpine city of Bolzano in Italy. 

Bolzano region of Italy

The Bolzano region of Italy, which is just four hours from Munich on the train. Photo: picture-alliance/ dpa | epa apa

9. The cost of living is reasonable 

Things certainly aren’t as cheap as they used to be, but compared to many other western countries, Germany isn’t an overly expensive place to live. Generally, public transport is heavily subsidised and there are plenty of discount supermarkets where you can buy cheap groceries.

We should mention that there are some regional differences: in most parts of what used to be East Germany, the cost of living is still super low, but western states like Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg are pretty expensive. 

The Cons:

1. You’ll have to tackle a lot of bureaucracy

We’ve mentioned that Germany is the land of poets and thinkers. We should add that it’s also the land of contract law and administration. If you move here, expect to be tackling paperwork on a pretty regular basis – which is often a struggle in a foreign language. 

2. Lack of digitalisation and modernisation

For the fourth largest economy in the world, Germany is surprisingly far behind in terms of its digital services and internet. This is definitely an ongoing project and could improve in the future, but as it stands, you’ll probably experience slower internet than you’re used to and find yourself frustrated by the insistent uses of a fax machine. 

Also, don’t expect to be able to pay by card everywhere you go. The Bundesrepublik is still very much a cash-based economy. 

READ ALSO: Fact check: Is Germany’s internet really that bad?

3. High tax and insurance contributions

The public services in Germany are good – but they do come at a cost. Depending on how much you earn, it’s not unusual to see a good 40 percent of your income evaporate in tax and insurance expenses right off the bat, so make sure you factor this into salary negotiations.

If you’re used to universal healthcare systems like the UK or Denmark, you may also be shocked to see how much your health insurance contributions are each month – especially if you’re a freelancer. In addition, most Germans have a number of other insurance plans in place like Haftpflichtversicherung, which is personal liability insurance. 

Germany ATM cash withdrawal

A woman withdraws cash from an ATM. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Angelika Warmuth

4. Germans can seem unfriendly 

A lot of foreigners struggle with how Germans come across at first. Smalltalk isn’t a big thing here and strangers can often seem quite cold or rude when you first meet them. 

Depending on where you are, you’ll probably also find that customer service isn’t quite up to the standard it is in the United States, for example. In places like Berlin, you’ll need to get used to being slightly pushy to get the attention of the scowling hipster checking their phone behind the bar. 

READ ALSO: From nudity to sandwiches: The biggest culture shocks for foreigners in Germany

5. The language barrier can be a struggle

Despite the international vibe in many cities and the fact that lots of Germans speak good English, having some interactions in German is unavoidable. For people who aren’t confident in the language, this can be a big downside of living in Germany. We recommend trying to learn a bit of Deutsch before moving here and enrolling in a course at the Volkhochschule (adult education centre) once you do. 

6. It can be hard to find a place to live

Germany is in the midst of a pretty bad housing crisis right now. In most big cities, rents are rising all the time and there’s fierce competition for housing. This makes it especially difficult for foreigners to get a secure and affordable place to live.

Americans and Australians may also find the living space a lot smaller than back home, though the quality of housing in Germany tends to be quite high. 

7. Not everyone is a fan of the weather 

There’s a lot of variation in Germany’s weather across the regions, from the chilly northern coast to warmer wine-growing regions in the southwest. However, you can generally expect hot and stormy summers and cold, drizzly winters. 

Since the country is high up in the northern hemisphere, the days get very long in the summer months and very short in winter. A lot people really struggle with this aspect of the colder months and the lack of daylight hours can certain prompt some bouts of SAD. 

Rain at Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.

Rain at Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christophe Gateau

8. Things have to be done a certain way

It’s a bit of a stereotype that Germans like to follow the rules, but there’s also a lot of truth in it. In Germany, following the correct procedures, sticking to the rules and doing things by the book is part of the culture. This may be a shock for people who are used to a bit more flexibility and leniency in their home countries. 

9. There’s a lack of food variety

Germany has some wonderful national dishes, but some people may find the pork, potato and sauerkraut combo a little bit samey after a while. Of course, immigrants have also bought their own cuisines to Germany over the years – so there’s no lack of Turkish and Vietnamese food around.

Nevertheless, outside of big cities like Berlin, people may be a little disappointed with the quality of international food like Mexican, Thai and Indian. Some immigrants also notice that the selection of items on offer in supermarkets can be relatively limited compared to elsewhere (though there are bigger supermarkets like Kaufland that tend to have a wider range plus some great international supermarkets). 

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For members

BREXIT

EXPLAINED: How can Brits visit or move to Germany post-Brexit?

Many Brits may be considering spending time in Germany or even moving for work or to study. Here's a look at the rules.

EXPLAINED: How can Brits visit or move to Germany post-Brexit?

The Brexit transition period ended on January 1st 2021, but it’s been a turbulent few years with Covid-related restrictions, which mean many people may not have travelled abroad since then. Here’s what you should know about the rules for travelling and moving to Germany post-Brexit. 

Can I visit Germany from the UK on holiday?

Absolutely. But you do have to stick to certain rules on how long you can stay in Germany (and other EU countries) without a visa.

“British citizens do not require a visa for the Schengen Member States, if the duration of their stay does not exceed 90 days within any 180-day period,” says the German Missions consular service in the UK. 

You can find a full explanation of the 90-day rule from our sister site, The Local France, HERE, along with the Schengen calculator that allows you to work out your allowance.

READ ALSO: Passport scans and €7 fees: What will change for EU travel in 2022 and 2023

Note that if you were living in Germany before January 1st 2021, different rules apply. People in this scenario should have received a residence permit – known as the Aufenthaltstitel-GB – from the German authorities, which proves their right to remain in Germany with the same rights as they had before Brexit. 

READ ALSO: Reader question: How can I re-enter Germany without my post-Brexit residence card?

Can I move to Germany from the UK after the Brexit transition period?

Yes. But if you are coming to Germany to live and work, you will need to apply for the right documents, like other so-called ‘third country nationals’. All foreigners from outside the EU who want to to stay in Germany for more than three months have to get a residence permit (Aufenthaltstitel). 

As we touched on above, citizens from some countries (including the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, Japan, Israel, New Zealand and Switzerland) are allowed entry into Germany without a visa and can apply for a residence permit while in the country. You can contact the Foreigners Office (Ausländerbehörde) in your area to find out how to get a residence permit.

You’ll need various official documents, such as a valid passport, proof of health insurance and proof that you can support yourself. You usually receive your residence permit as a sticker in your passport.

Passengers wait at Hamburg airport.

Passengers at Hamburg airport. Brits coming to Germany have more things to consider after Brexit. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Markus Scholz

Germany has a well-documented skilled worker shortage at the moment so there are work permit options to consider that may suit your circumstances. 

For the work visa for qualified professionals, for instance, your qualifications have to be either recognised in Germany or comparable to those from a German higher education facility. 

You may also be able to get an EU Blue Card. This residence permit is aimed at attracting and enabling highly qualified third-country nationals to live in the EU. 

It comes with benefits, including the right to to request and bring family members to the country, and shortcuts for applying for permanent residency. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How German citizenship differs from permanent residency

When applying for a Blue Card in Germany this year, you have to earn a minimum gross salary (before tax) of €56,400 – down from €56,800 in 2021. 

In so-called shortage occupations (Mangelberufe), where there is a high number of unfilled positions, the minimum gross salary is €43,992 – down from €44,304 in 2021.

Shortage occupations include employees in the sectors of mathematics, IT, natural sciences, engineering and medicine.

If you want to come to Germany from the UK to study then you also need to apply for a visa. For this you may need proof of acceptance to the university or higher education institution of your choice and possibly proof of your German language skills.

Check out the useful government website Make it in Germany for more detailed information, as well as the German Missions in the UK site, which has lots of info on travel after Brexit, and on visas.  

What else should I know?

The German government plans to reform the immigration system, although it’s not clear at this stage when this will happen. 

It will move to a points-based system, inspired by countries like Canada, where foreigners will have to score above a certain threshold of points to get a residence or work permit.

This scoring system will be set by the government, but it will include factors like language skills, family connections to the country, specific qualifications or work-related skills, or the amount of money in your bank account.

Keep an eye on The Local’s home page for updates on the changes to immigration laws. 

Have you moved to Germany – or are thinking about moving – after the Brexit transition period and want to share your experiences? Please get in touch by emailing [email protected] 

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