8 pros and cons of expat life in Germany

8 pros and cons of expat life in Germany

As a destination for expats, Germany consistently scores highly when it comes to quality of life, family life, and average earnings. The country places 3rd overall in U.S. News World international rankings (behind Canada and Japan), particularly as a nation where entrepreneurship and social agility are encouraged. If you’re thinking of taking the leap, our 10 best places to live in Germany for expats picks out the most sought-after cities for living in Germany as a foreigner. Bear in mind that there are already around 231,000 expats in Germany whose first language is English, part of a substantial proportion (10.3 million) of the population classed “foreigners”, so the language barrier is by no means an insurmountable obstacle.

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Despite the abundant benefits and scope for a lifestyle upgrade, Germany does present its challenges. We’ve scoured the expat blogs and message boards and trawled the surveys to pick out our eight pros and cons of living in Germany. Let us know in the comments below if we’ve missed one.

An advantage of expat life in Germany: German gastronomy

Picture a sausage truck on every square, more than 7,000 varieties of beer brewed to rigorous standards dating back to 1516, and a thriving Dӧner kebab scene and you have all the ingredients for a culinary expat life to savour. Even if German food often misses out on the praise lavished on cuisines from other European nations, it’s actually far more sophisticated and nuanced than expats might expect. In short, you won’t go hungry in Germany. This is a nation that’s comfortable with a cabbage, proud of the potato, and mad for meat, but also adept at producing more than 300 types of bread and some classic pastries.

But…

A disadvantage of expat life in Germany: High cost of living

Your weekly shopping basket or dining out budget might be satisfyingly affordable, but with up to 40% of your paycheck covering accommodation on average, it needs to be. Move to the economic hotspots such as Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Munich or Cologne, for example, and you will be paying high rent by European standards, although perhaps not in for much of a shock if you’re coming from San Francisco, Hong Kong, London or Zurich. Add on utilities and mandatory insurance, and monthly costs can be what some would consider high. One quirk to be aware of is that apartments are often rented without a kitchen too, so you’ll need to fit a new one if you haven’t brought your own.

An advantage of expat life in Germany: Impressive standard of living

Moving to Germany as an expat offers the opportunity to work with some of the world’s leading auto, pharmaceutical, telecoms and engineering companies, among others, and to take home some of the highest average salaries and minimum wage in Europe. Away from work, perks include a high standard of health care and public transport, and excellent public education with no tuition fees for higher education. The work/life balance is healthy too. German culture values recreation in order to recharge rather than going into the office at the weekend or working late. With these things combined, the quality of life in Germany is generally considered to be very high.

But…

A disadvantage of expat life in Germany: Difficulty in integrating

The challenge of making friends and playing a part in the community is a recurring theme among expats. At the risk of generalising, Germans do tend to value their privacy and might seem backward in coming forward to expats accustomed to welcoming newcomers to the neighbourhood with a pot roast. While it’s quite possible to live in the big cities without speaking German, learning the language will make integration much easier. If you can navigate the German language’s formal and informal pronouns, get used to saving your verb for the end of the sentence, and establish which of the eight main dialects applies to your region, your experience much happier will be.

An advantage of expat life in Germany: Fresh air and Wunderlust

Outdoor activity and exercise are de rigueur in Germany and families seize any opportunity to hike, bike, ski, or camp. That ethos is reflected in the urban architecture too. The number of green spaces, parks and playgrounds in big cities can be astonishing to the newly arrived expat. Berlin, for example, counts more than 2,500 public parks and gardens. Take your pick when it comes to topography, with the lakes or Baltic Coast resorts in summer, the Black Forest in autumn, and the Alpine ski resorts in winter. Overall, there are 16 national parks to explore in Germany, covering over a quarter of the country.

But…

A disadvantage of expat life in Germany: An excess of rules

The Teutonic reputation for regulation and bureaucracy precedes Germany’s more liberal and open-minded qualities. Expats might find it frustrating to open a bank account, pay with a card (cash is still Kaiser in Germany), and obtain their residence permit from the nearest German Aliens Authority (Ausländerbehörde), for example. This is no place either to cross the road on foot at a red light, close the office windows, or look for an open shop on Sunday. Anecdotally, many fresh-faced expats are also shocked at the abruptness of German customer service, which tends to be more of a fact-based transaction rather than an exchange of goodwill.

An advantage of expat life in Germany: A cultural Colossus

Another area in which Germany does not receive nearly enough international credit is culture. The nation is home to 51 World Heritage Sites, and more than 6,200 museums that celebrate Germany’s global contribution to design, engineering, literature, art and cinema. The Old Town is still a feature of even the most modern German cities, often having been completely restored following their destruction in World War II. Start with Trier, the oldest city in Germany, which dates back to Roman times, or join the tourist groups flocking to Cologne and Rothenburg ob der Tauber during high season. For fans of avant-garde, Bauhaus and alternative culture, Berlin oozes energy and style.

But…

A disadvantage of expat life in Germany: Resurgent extremism

The German economic miracle has not made its presence felt across the whole country, resulting in a rise in anti-foreigner extremism in some of the historically less affluent regions, particularly in the east. Signs of neo-Nazi influence are no longer rare, and their numbers grew 4% in 2020. The problem is not confined to far-right groups either. Since the pandemic, left-wing extremism has added to the increase in anti–immigrant rhetoric. That overshadows the fact that Germany has gone further than most in Europe when it comes to offering a new home for refugees, who account for 1.2 million of the population in 2019.

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Having weighed the pros and cons of moving to Germany, remember that you can save up to eight times as much money when you transfer your savings with CurrencyFair as opposed to conventional currency exchange services. Unlock the full extent of the affluent lifestyle Germany offers and keep more in your pocket to enjoy its culinary delights and outstanding attractions.

Sending money overseas? Save money when you send money with CurrencyFair’s competitive exchange rates.

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This information is correct as of 20 December 2021. This information is not to be relied on in making a decision with regard to an investment. We strongly recommend that you obtain independent financial advice before making any form of investment or significant financial transaction. This article is purely for general information purposes. Photo by Martin Damboldt from Pexels.