21 Things to Know Before Moving to Germany from the US
Wunderbar! You’ve decided to make the most exciting move of your life, swapping Budweiser for Pilsner, corn dogs for bratwursts, and amber fields of grain for Sound of Music hills.
Before you travel more than 3,000 miles to start afresh in Europe’s economic powerhouse, let’s remind you why moving to Germany is such a fantastich decision.
Here are the five best reasons to start living in Germany:
- You can enjoy universal healthcare
- Working hours are shorter than in any other developed nation
- This is despite Germany having the best economy in Europe
- You can visit 46 World Heritage Sites, the fourth-most of any country
- The ‘beer and sausages’ culture should make you feel right at home
It’s no wonder, then, that in HSBC’s 2019 Expat Explorer Survey, Germany was the eighth most popular country to move to. This high ranking was largely down to its education system, which was ranked third, and its economic stability, which saw it come second behind Switzerland.
These are positives for any family, but many of you will be asking: is Germany a fun place to be? Can I enjoy myself on the weekends? The answer, fortunately, is a resounding ja.
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Neuschwanstein Castle is one of many stunning attractions you can see after moving to Germany
1. Your new cost of living will be a massive relief
Moving to Germany is a treat for people such as yourself, who are used to paying American prices. Your wallet will be much happier on this side of the pond. Comparing Germany’s biggest city, Berlin, with the US’s – New York City – on Numbeo shows that eating out and buying beer is half as expensive in Berlin.
There’s good news for your regular trips to the shop, as well: if you get a standard grocery haul of milk, eggs, cheese, bread, rice, apples, beer, lettuce, tomatoes and potatoes, it’ll cost $25.07 instead of $50.47. That’s right: you’ll save more than 50% buying groceries in Berlin instead of New York.
2. You’ll also save money on your new home
There really is no comparison here. Are you looking to rent a one-bedroom flat in the city center? Rent in Berlin is one third as expensive as NYC and half the price of Los Angeles, according to Numbeo, and it’s a similar story with a three-bedroom flat in the city.
But maybe you’re looking to settle down, plant some roots, and buy a flat. In which case, you’ll be delighted to hear that it’s still significantly cheaper to do so in Berlin than in NYC or LA. If you’re moving from the Big Apple, you can expect to save hundreds of thousands, while West Coast folk will keep tens of thousands for themselves.
3. You've got good healthcare options
Germany has a universal healthcare system, meaning that everyone can receive treatment if there’s something wrong with them. The US’s healthcare system is ranked lower than Germany’s, according to the World Health Organisation (it’s also lower than the systems in Morocco, Dominica, and Costa Rica, among others).
Germany’s excellent healthcare system explains why people there live two years longer, on average, than people in the US. Germany also has the 12th-lowest infant mortality rate in the world, according to the United Nations. The US comes 38th, behind Poland, Slovakia, and Brunei.
If you want to start living in Germany, you have to get health insurance. This can either be with the public health system, which covers around 90% of German residents, or with a private company. However, if your annual salary is under €57,600, you’re required to get state insurance. Make sure to register as soon as possible.
If you're thinking of getting private medical cover in Germany, we recommend Cigna. With four levels of annual cover to choose from and extra modules for more flexibility, Cigna will sort you out with a plan that suits your needs.
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4. Getting a visa is pretty simple
Before you get started on interior design, you have to gain legal entry to Germany. Thankfully, emigrating to this wonderful land is easy enough, even for those who live outside the European Union.
The first step is to apply for a Standard Residence Permit, which is easy enough to get if you have a job waiting for you in Germany. You can stay in the country for 90 days without a visa, which should be plenty of time to book your appointment at your nearest immigration office – known as the German Aliens Authority (Ausländerbehörde) – and get all your affairs in order.
To ensure that you’re successful, make sure to bring the following documents:
- A filled-in application form, which you can get at the immigration office
- A passport that’s valid for at least four months after your initial 90-day stay in Germany
- Two valid photos of yourself
- Official confirmation that you’ve registered your address with the authorities
- A bank statement or tax bill to show that you can pay your way in Germany
- A letter from your boss confirming you have a job (if you’re moving for work)
- Proof you’ve signed up for health insurance
- Receipts proving you’ve paid €60 ($67) for a short-stay visa and €75 ($84) for a longer stay
- Any other documents you’re told to bring when you make the appointment
You can also apply from the US, but it’s more difficult. You’ll need to send two copies of your application form, and it’ll take a lot longer.
Once you’ve been sent your visa, you can renew it every year until five years into the future, when you’ll be able to apply for a Permanent Residence visa.
If you wish to commit fully to Germany (and who would blame you), here are the requirements:
- As mentioned, you must have had a Standard Residence Permit for at least five years
- You may have to take an integration course, which usually involves 600 hours of learning the language, plus 100 hours of education about German politics, culture, and values
- If you have to take the course, you’ll have to pass a test to show you can speak German at a B1 level – the third of six levels – which proves you’re competent
- You have to show that you’re financially sound and stable
- You must have a passport from another country
- You must (still) be signed up for German health insurance
- You’ll have to pass a health check to show that you’re well enough to work
Germany isn't just pretzels, beer, and lederhosen – but all of those are wunderbar
5. Public transport isn’t just efficient, it’s amazing
If speeding down the Autobahn every day isn’t for you (you might not want to risk having to use your health insurance straight away, after all) you’re still covered. Like many countries in western Europe, Germany has a top quality public transport system.
A monthly pass will typically be cheaper in Germany, and boy is it worth it. Cities and towns use buses, trams, the U-Bahn (subway), and/or the S-Bahn (overground) to get people where they need to go.
And in the case of larger hubs like Berlin and Munich, all of these methods of transport seamlessly combine to form one incredible system. On a daily basis, Berlin’s 117-year-old U-Bahn carries 1.5 million people to 173 stations across 94 miles of track – and that’s just the subway. Everything is linked up, so you can easily shift from an underground train to an overground one – plus you can connect to the internet across the entire U-Bahn.
6. Living in Germany will also be great for your family
If travelling on the train isn’t a big enough thrill for your little ones, no worries. According to The New York Times, there are around 1,850 public playgrounds in Berlin (one for every 156 kids under the age of 10), and they are mind-blowing.
Cast your mind back. Far back. Access your inner child. Now tell them that they get to play on a real-life pirate ship, a creepy-as-hell witch’s house, or wooden planes and helicopters. Are they enraptured? Good. Let them know that they can also go to a fairytale playground with knights, a princess, and a three-headed dragon, and pop over to a free high ropes course too.
And none of those can compete with the radical nature of the Abenteuerlicher Bauspielplatz Kolle 37, a playground constructed entirely by kids (with help from volunteers). Adults aren’t allowed in, so drop the little ones off and go for a coffee or walk the dog, shielding your eyes as they grab a hammer and get to work – and play.
Long story short: we hope your children like fun.
Apart from playgrounds, there are plenty of other activities for you to enjoy with your family, from music (this is the land of Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, and Lou Bega, after all) to soccer, art, and cinema. If you enjoyed German hit films like Resident Evil, Good Bye Lenin!, The Never Ending Story, and Run, Lola, Run, you’ll fit right in.
7. The education system is brilliant
Everyone – yes, including you – can go to university in Germany for free. No exceptions. All 16 states abolished tuition fees in 2014, and haven’t looked back. That’s especially ausgezeichnet (excellent) as German institutions are some of the best in the world.
Germany has 23 universities in the world’s top 200, according to the Times Higher Education’s rankings, including institutions all over the country – from Freiburg and Hamburg in the north, to Tübingen and Munich in the south.
And that’s not all. If you have young children, you can rest safe in the knowledge that their education will also be top-notch. Germany came in the top 25% of OECD countries for maths, science, and reading in 2016, achieving top-16 places in each category.
This was way ahead of the US, which came 24th in reading, 25th in science, and 40th in math. Your kids can look forward to a better standard all round.
8. Prepare yourself for shorter working hours…
You’re also set for an improvement in your working circumstances. Get ready to take your nose off the grindstone and give it a well-earned break. Working in Germany means spending less time at your desk than you would in any other developed nation.
In 2018, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that people in Germany work for 1,363 hours per year, on average – more than 400 fewer than workers in the US. That means you’ll work an average of just 26 hours per week, or 5 hours and 12 minutes per day.
The minimum wage in Germany is also more generous, standing at €9.19 ($10.30) – nearly 50% more than the US’s federal minimum wage of $7.25.
9. …and way more holidays
Congratulations! (Or as German-speakers say: Herzliche Glückwünsche!) Unlike the US, which has no law compelling employers to give workers paid leave, everyone in Germany gets a minimum of 20 days off with pay. And it gets even better: the average across Germany is 30 days, the most in the whole of Europe, according to the Institute of German Business.
There are also between 10 and 13 public holidays per year in Germany, depending on which state you live in.
Nine of them are observed nationwide – New Year's Day, Good Friday, Easter Monday, Labor Day (yes, Germany also has one of those), Ascension Day, Whit Monday, German Unity Day, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day (the day after Christmas) – while there are also several celebrated by different combinations of states.
This perhaps explains why people in Germany gave their work-life balance a score of 8.4 out of 10 when talking to the OECD – one of the best ratings around.
This is a Christmas night market in Frankfurt. Germans take their holidays seriously
10. Sunday is a legally mandated day of rest
Sundays are for chilling. Almost all the shops are closed, and so is pretty much everything else. Kick back, relax, and enjoy some Bundesliga soccer, church, or time with your loved ones.
This cultural phenomenon has been written into law through Sunday-specific bans on drilling and other noise pollution, throwing away bottles in recycling bins, and driving trucks. Accept the mandated rest period, and you’ll find it sets you up nicely for the working week.
11. The food and drink is great – and pretty familiar
One thing you can use Sundays for is immersing yourself in Germany’s culinary delights.
If you’re worried about getting used to strange European cuisine, forget your fears, and get ready for a welcome onslaught of beer, sausages, and schnitzel – not least at the annual Oktoberfest celebration (most of which confusingly takes place more in September).
And if you’re a vegetarian, that’s no problem. Potatoes are everywhere, there are some excellent cheeses, and sauerkraut (fermented cabbage) is a national delicacy – plus it helps out your immune system.
You can also look forward to tucking into some spätzle, a dish from the south-west region of Swabia that involves mixing German fizzy-water pasta with an obscene amount of cheese. Delicious.
12. Move your belongings to Germany in the least stressful way possible
Shipping is by far the most efficient, least expensive way of making sure all your prized possessions follow you across the Atlantic in a safe and timely fashion. Air freight can be up to 18 times more expensive than ocean freight, according to Transporteca, which just doesn’t seem worth it.
We’ve calculated the average international shipping rates for some of our most popular journeys from the USA to Hamburg in Germany. The rates are sourced from WorldFreightRates.com, and are based on the port-to-port transportation of a 20ft container of used furniture worth £40,000 – the typical value of the contents of a three-bedroom house (according to Admiral Insurance). These prices were last updated in August 2019.
|New York, NY||$960|
|Los Angeles, CA||$3,180|
Please note: these container shipping costs exclude typical add-ons such as door-to-door delivery, professional packing/unpacking, and basic insurance cover. Our shipping suppliers normally incorporate these services into their prices, so expect some discrepancy between the rates given here and the quotes you receive. These estimates should be used as an indication only.
13. Choose your new home in Germany carefully…
Just like the US, Germany is a federal republic of states – 16 states, to be exact – and also has a huge amount of variety across its land.
You could live in the south-west, near the Black Forest’s fir trees and pines, or bed down in the south-east and go skiing all the time in the Bavarian Alps. Pick an urban hub like Berlin or Munich, or live in a cheap northern town like Kiel and summer in Westerland on Sylt, which has 25 miles of beach for you to enjoy.
If you’re looking for a cheap city, Leipzig in the east and Bochum in the west are great choices – though it’s hard to beat Berlin’s combination of entertainment and affordability.
14. …but wherever you live, you can travel to amazing places
As well as dozens of World Heritage Sites, the Black Forest, the Alps, and more beautiful beaches than you would expect, Germany is also blessed with more than 2,500 castles, and over 124,000 miles of hiking trails.
When you’re ready to take a break from your everyday life, you can travel down the Romantic Road, a 300km-long southern trip from Würzburg to Füssen which takes in countless gorgeous towns and scenic views. If you weren’t in love with Germany before this trip, you will be afterwards.
Plus, if you’re a fan of driving to gorgeous destinations and have a need for speed, you’ll love that more than 70% of Germany’s Autobahn (highway system) has no speed limit.
A huge 83% of expats in Germany are happy with the leisure activities available to them, and no wonder. You’ll also be slap-bang in the middle of Europe, meaning you can journey to see any number of different cultures and landscapes – if you can tear yourself away from your new home, that is.
If that sounds too amazing to miss out on, you can fill in our form to get free quotes for shipping your possessions to Germany.
15. No-one is allowed to be hateful
Of course, no amount of beautiful castles and landscapes could make anyone forget the horrors of Germany’s recent history. Following the events of the Second World War, the country decided freedom of expression was less important than dealing with the harrowing events of the 1930s and 40s.
In the US, the freedom to protest and say whatever you want is protected under the First Amendment. This isn’t the case in Germany.
As a result, flags of hateful, extremist ideologies like Nazis and Daesh are banned in Germany, and displaying them is punishable by up to three years in prison. Germany takes this kind of act seriously – understandably.
Unlike the US, Germany has had a federal law banning all kinds of discrimination since 2006; neo-Nazi demonstrations are expressly banned, and any buildings or statues which glorify the Nazi ideology have long been destroyed.
In many cases, these have been replaced with museums to teach future generations about what happened in order to prevent a repeat. These museums are fascinating, and well worth a look.
16. Be careful when naming your child
Another legal difference in Germany is the danger of being fined if you don’t follow the country’s naming laws for a new child. Parents have to ensure their kid’s name isn’t too unusual, is in the best interests of the baby, and makes their gender clear (for some reason).
If your region’s Standesamt (civil office of statistics) rejects your choice of name, you can appeal the decision – but either way, it’ll cost you. If you’re concerned, you can ask the office to check the book of accepted names.
Famously rejected names from over the years include Lucifer, Dracula, Vespa – and in one case less than a year after 9/11, Osama Bin Laden.
If you appreciate Germany's culture and language, you'll form connections in no time
17. Learn the language
Obviously, the language is also different in Germany – and you should make an effort to learn Deutsch. A 2012 European Commission survey found that 58% of people in Germany speak English, but if you want to enjoy your new life to the maximum, it’ll help a great deal to be able to communicate with everyone.
The good news is that many people find German easier to learn than most languages, because many of its words and sentence structures reflect English. For instance, “das ist richtig” means “that is right”, “Wo ist die Toilette?” means “where is the toilet?” and “hallo” means “hello”. Easy!
At the very least, taking this step will help you to understand that Germans aren’t constantly angry; they’re just speaking a very aggressive-sounding language. And if you’re thinking of making your move permanent, learning the language is a must – you have to speak better than basic German in order to get your visa.
18. Making friends is hard to do…
Getting a basic grip on German will also help you to meet people and get truly involved in the local culture – and anything which gives you an edge in this area is worth doing.
After all, this is a country that’s been broadcasting an obscure 18-minute long British sketch called Dinner for One every New Year’s Eve since 1963. The cultural differences are stark.
Germany came 23rd out of 33 in HSBC’s survey for making friends, so be prepared to work for any connections you make. Joining a club – or multiple clubs – is a good place to start, as Germans love their clubs. Bonding over shared interests is more the style in Germany, rather than meeting people at a bar.
If you remember one piece of advice from this section, it’s that you should never bail on an event. If you’ve told prospective German friends that you’re planning to attend their house party or picnic: go. If you can’t go, tell them when they first ask you, or risk burning a bridge.
Numerous expats have said it’s hard at first to form connections, but that once a friendship is forged in Germany, it’ll last.
“I think it is a cultural thing. The label ‘Freund' in Germany is seen somewhat differently than it is in the US. Normally in Germany, you don't have many friends – but those you have, you know them very well, you trust them, and you have them for life, no matter what.”
– Der_Auditor, Reddit
19. …but you’ll have company
If you’re struggling to bond with the locals, you can take solace in the fact that 15% of expats living in Germany are American, according to InterNations’ 2018 Expat Insider survey – which is more than any other nationality.
Look up American groups, go to events, and hopefully meet (and steal) all of their German friends. You don’t need to be alone when you’re living in Germany – Reddit’s r/germany group and InterNations are good places to start.
20. You won’t regret moving to Germany
At least, that’s what expats have said. 73% of them reported being satisfied after moving to Germany, according to InterNations’ survey, and 77% are happy with life.
21. So who should move to Germany?
Genuinely? Everyone. The country bans discrimination of all kinds, legalized same-sex marriage and adoption in 2017, and has one of the most stable political and economic situations of any country in the world – as well as a rich culture full of even richer food.
You can benefit from universal healthcare, get paid a higher wage to work fewer hours and days, and watch as your children enjoy incredible playgrounds before attending some of the best universities in the world for free. There are also innumerable places to travel, whether you fancy being a beach bum, an expert skier, a tireless hiker – or all three.
Head on over to our International Container Shipping Costs page, and see how much it would take to set you up in your new German home. Or, to start receiving quotes for shipping to Germany, simply fill in this form and our professional suppliers will get back to you!