Guest post by Dana Newman, writer and expat vlogger at Wanted an Adventure
You shut your eyes, gave that dusty old globe on your desk a good spin, plunked your finger down any old place, and after striking water twice, you finally landed on Germany as your fated destination. Awesome! What luck you have, because it’s a fantastic place. But the question is: now what?
First of all, it’s time to spin again, or perhaps better yet, consult the Internet, because Germany’s a pretty large landmass and you’re going to have to narrow it down a good bit further.
Population-wise, the five largest cities are Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Cologne, and Frankfurt. But who says you have to go to a city? Maybe you’re more of a countryside type of person. Well, Germany certainly has lots of that, too. And if you’re traveling to Germany on vacation, perhaps you’d be more interested in a tour of several places rather than staying put in one town the whole time. All things to consider before purchasing your plane ticket.
Language & Schools
The official language is German, but accents and regional dialects abound. The German encountered in a Bavarian Alpine village, for example, differs greatly from that spoken at the base of the Cologne Cathedral.
English is taught as a foreign language in schools, and in the larger cities the employees of most downtown shops and hotels have at least a basic working knowledge of the language, but once you venture into the countryside, all bets are off. Many restaurants auf dem Land, as they say in German, may not even have menus (Speisekarte) in English, so make sure to brush up on your meats and veggies vocabulary before you go or at least buy a guidebook with a “useful phrases” section.
If you’re planning a relocation to Germany with your family, it’d be a good idea to learn about the school system, which will probably be quite different from the one you’re used to, before departing on your journey. As far as young kids are concerned, the cities abound with bilingual English-German preschools for children aged 3-6.
Visas & Permits
Rules and regulations for obtaining short-term travel visas as well as for longer residence visas and work permits differ depending on what country you’re from, so make sure to figure out in advance which permit you’ll need for your trip and how to go about getting it. A wealth of information on this subject is supplied here in English by the Federal Foreign Office (Auswaertiges Amt).
Hotels ranging in price and style can be booked throughout Germany’s cities, and most of the larger ones have an “English” option on their website. Just look for the British or American flag, or the abbreviation “EN.” As for more permanent housing, that can get a little trickier depending on where you’ll be living in Germany. Munich, for example, is notorious for giving locals and expats alike a hard time when it comes to finding a place to call home. Also, if you rent an apartment, be prepared for it to come with absolutely nothing. As in: no closets, no blinds, no window screens, no toilet seats, no shower curtain rods, no washer (and certainly no drier!), and no kitchen. Yes, you read that correctly; no kitchen. Many Germans take the cabinets, sink, dishwasher, and counter space with them when they move out and install it all again in their next place.
ToyTownGermany is an expat site with classifieds sections for individual cities as well as forums providing thorough answers to almost every question. Start your house/apartment search there. ImmobilienScout24 is another great tool, but while they do have an information page in English, their actual website is in German.
At first glance, Germans can come across as a serious bunch, but once you look just a tad deeper, their softer side becomes immediately apparent. All around the country, beer is a central part of their tradition and culture, but this is especially so in Bavaria (home of Oktoberfest), where the beverage is considered a food and a necessity more than a luxury item. In the summer, the beer gardens open their doors, providing people an easy-going place to consume the favorite beverage, often 1 liter at a time.
- Buy a guide book (or two!) that contains a section on useful German phrases.
- Check your and your family’s passports and driver’s licenses/ID cards to make sure they’re all still valid and will be for at least the first six months of your stay in Germany.
- Find out whether or not your driver’s license is accepted in Germany and for how long.
- Get some passport photos taken; you never know when you might need one for an application form.
- Familiarize yourself with all necessary visa and permit details.
- Scan and email yourself a copy of your passport and other important documents.
- Schedule a check-up with your local general practitioner or other doctor before leaving, making sure to get any needed vaccinations as well as a copy of your medical records.
- If you’ll be moving your possessions overseas, look into booking space in a shipping container. Alternatively, you could go through a relocation company that takes care of everything for you; just make sure to get insurance in case something should go wrong.
- Schedule a meeting with a tax advisor to go over your situation, preferably one who has experience with citizens who emigrate. Important note: if you’re an American who moves abroad, you still need to file a tax return with the IRS every year, even if you don’t owe any taxes!
- If you’ll be bringing pets with you, be sure to look into any shots or immunizations they might require as well as what kind of quarantine, if any, will be necessary.
- German citizens are covered under the social medical system, but as a foreigner (Ausländer) you’ll need to rely on traveler’s insurance or, if you’re staying in Germany long-term, private insurance, so look into that before leaving home.
Dana Newman is an expat YouTube vlogger and writer whose debut novel, entitled Found in Prague, is based loosely on her experiences living in the Czech Republic when she first moved to Europe in search of her roots. For the inside scoop on expat life in Germany (such as what it means to date the locals and why the German sauna culture is like mayonnaise) as well as travel videos from around the world, check out and subscribe to her Wanted an Adventure YouTube channel. She can also be found on Twitter @WantedAdventure, sharing her international thoughts and musings in the most concise form the Internet has to offer.