Moving to Germany from the US
Germany is Europe’s leading economic powerhouse. Add in state-funded healthcare and generous holiday allowances most US employees can only dream of, and it’s no wonder there are now over 100,000 Americans living in Germany. Located in the heart of Europe, Germany’s residents enjoy easy access to historic cities, scenic mountains and a beautiful coastline. And trips to neighboring countries, such as France, Italy and Denmark, couldn’t be easier!
Whether you’re moving for work, to study or even to retire, Germany is famous for welcoming people from all around the world. Since the end of World War II, Germany has established itself as a country where culture, environmentalism and cooperation are all part of the national identity. Art, food and festivals all play a big part in German life, making it a great place to raise a family.
The scale of Germany makes it an attractive destination for US expats. With the entire country coming in at roughly half the size of Texas, the beautiful cities and countryside of Germany are easy to explore thanks to the high-speed railroads and well-maintained highways (or Autobahns). Even its cities are on a smaller scale, with only Munich, Hamburg and Berlin housing over 1 million residents.
German cities vs US cities
Germany’s top five cities are considered among the best places to live in Europe, if not the world. They might be smaller than cities in the US and have that distinctive European spirit, but they have a similar feel to some favorite US cities:
Berlin vs. Brooklyn – dubbed New York’s sixth borough, Berlin is home to an edgy, art-loving hipster crowd. And the similarities don’t end there. The German capital city also boasts a thriving food scene, booming start-up culture and some beautiful Brooklyn-esque parks to walk in.
Frankfurt vs Portland – Frankfurt’s small-scale layout, trams and friendly neighborhoods have a similar atmosphere to Portland. It’s renowned for its excellent museums as well.
Hamburg vs San Francisco – both cities have diverse populations, cool alternative scenes and attractive waterfronts.
Munich vs. Boston – much like Boston, Bavaria’s capital city, Munich, has a quieter, conservative atmosphere then some of the country’s livelier cities – and both have world-class universities.
Düsseldorf vs. downtown Chicago – Düsseldorf matches Chicago in its mix of historic and cutting-edge architecture, its growing arts scene and its wealthy-but-sports-loving inhabitants
Becoming a German citizen
Citizens from the USA can enter Germany for stays of up to 90 days without needing to apply for a visa. After that, you’ll need to apply for a residence permit to extend your stay. You’ll need a residence permit for work purposes if you plan to work. There are different permits for general employment, specialist professionals and self-employment. All residence permits cost €60 (around $65).
After five years living in Germany, you can apply for the right to permanent EC residence. This allows you to stay in the country as long as you like and travel/work freely within the rest of the EU.
If you want to be able to vote, hold a German passport and have the same legal status as German citizens, you can apply for full citizenship after eight years of residence. This costs around $250 and you will need to meet certain conditions and pass the naturalization test. You will also need to pay an extra fee of $2,350 for renouncing your US citizenship.
Top tip – German immigration bureaucracy can be insanely thorough. Keep every personal document safe in case you need to present it as evidence in the future.
Select the size of your move to get free quotes
Jobs in Germany
The German job market is in a strong position and has weathered the global economic crisis well. The slow birth rates in recent generations mean Germany has one of the lowest levels of unemployment in Europe at just 4.2%. For every three people that retire, there are just two young people entering the workplace. Workers enjoy good salaries, excellent holidays and a commitment to work/life balance that is rarely seen in the States – 35 hour working weeks actually exist here!
With its famously green credentials, it’s no surprise that Germany’s environmental technology industry is booming. Engineering and construction, IT, healthcare and the service industries are also doing well. American expats must bear in mind that experience in your field may not qualify you to do that job in Germany, where the country’s apprenticeship system requires most workers to pass a training program. If you do have a qualification, then it will need to be verified by a professional association in Germany.
House prices and renting
For the most part, Germany is a nation of renters. It is not uncommon to spend your entire life renting, whatever your financial situation. As a general rule, rents are roughly 30% lower than in the US, while house prices if you are buying your own property are up to 80% higher.
House prices in Berlin may be on the rise but are much lower than in pricey neighboring European capitals, such as Paris and London. Munich is Germany’s most expensive city to buy in, with apartments costing an average of $5,041 per m2 and houses $3,297 per m2.
The German education system is widely considered to be excellent, with small class sizes and low fees (if any). But you will find it quite different to the US system.
The vast majority of schools are state-funded public schools, although you can also opt for private schools and independent international schools. After elementary schooling, which runs from grade 1 through 4, children go on to attend one of three types of school based on their abilities: Hauptschule to prepare for vocational training and apprenticeships, Realschule to prepare for white-collar employment or to Gymnasium to prepare for University. Regulations vary across states, but you will usually have the final say in which kind of school your child attends. Homeschooling is illegal in Germany.
Universities in Germany are also state funded, providing way more accessible higher education than you will find in the States. Over forty German universities make it onto the list of the worlds best.
Top-ranking German schools:
- Technische University, Munich
- Ruprecht-Karls University, Heidelberg
- Ludwig-Maximilians University, Munich
- Karlsruhe Institute for Technology
- Free University Berlin
Germany has a rich culture and no shortage of attractions to visit. Take in the country’s famous architectural landmarks, from the Brandenburg Gate to the majestic Cologne Cathedral. Visit Museum Island in the Spree river or the remains of the historic Berlin Wall. Take the family for a day of fun at Europa Park or venture into the Bavarian Alps for hiking, biking and snow sports.
German food and drink
German food has so much more to offer then beer and bratwurst (German hot dogs) – as delicious as they are! Street food is huge here, from Vietnamese to Spanish. Berlin was named Vegetarian Capital of the World in 2015 – and now vegan eateries are opening up in every neighborhood. Try Chaostherie for vegan comfort food and cocktails. Or head to the Black Forest to try the region’s famously rich cuisine and a slice of decadent Black Forest gateau.
- Bareiss – Three Michelin-starred food deep the in the heart of the Black Forest, brought to you by Claus-Peter Lumpp. Hearty but opulent food, with 9 course tasting menus starting at $193. Book your table well in advance!
- Bieberbau, Berlin – Set in a quiet district away from the hustle and bustle of the center of the city, this restaurant has something for everyone was artistically presented local food and a popular vegetarian menu.
- Munich Beer Hall – This huge beer hall is noisy, bustling, fun and very, very German! It serves crowd-pleasing food alongside its beers, such as roast pork with horseradish and sour pickles.
Contrary to national stereotypes, Germans are a fun-loving crowd with great nightlife happening in all of the major cities. Munich has a great mix of cosmopolitan bars, Stuttgart is known for its live music scene, and Berlin is one of the biggest and best cities for clubbing in Europe. Superclub Berghain plays host to top international DJs every week. Berlin and Munich both have a lively gay scene with plenty of bars and clubs to choose from, while smaller cities, such as Leipzig, have a growing LGBTQ scene.
Pros of living in Germany
Germany’s location makes it a great base for European adventures, working hours are shorter and holidays are longer. That famous German organization means public transport runs on time, there’s a big emphasis on activities, festivals and socializing, and those higher taxes go towards providing excellent services, such as healthcare and environmentally friendly initiatives. And don’t forget the beer!
And the cons…
Shorter working hours mean shops close earlier, with many closing completely on Sundays. The excellent organization means suffering through a lot of bureaucracy and you’ll find German service way more relaxed than back home. German TV isn’t quite up to US standards either!
Germany has a lot to offer. Beautiful scenery, delicious food and vibrant cities, as well as great work opportunities, services and education systems. Liberal values and an enviable work/life culture make it popular with US citizens who want to experience a relaxed European way of life.