Germany is one of the most populous countries in Western Europe, with a population of over 82 million people. The country is known for being multicultural, modern, and diverse with a strong economy and excellent infrastructure, offering expats from all over the world a high quality of life. In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about moving to and living in Germany as an expat.
Germany is an exciting and affordable place to live, with many expats from the EU and the rest of the world choosing to settle down here either for a couple of years for employment, or to simply enjoy living in one of Europe’s most populous countries.
Germany is known for being a modern and diverse country, with a rich heritage in fine food and drink. Expats will find that in general, infrastructure in Germany is of a high standard – from education to healthcare.
There are a number of different avenues expats may take when looking for the appropriate visa for living in Germany. We’ve covered the main categories you may need to know about:
Tourist visa: Residents of other Schengen countries, as well as those from the US, UK, New Zealand, Australia, and Argentina can all stay in Germany for up to 90 days without a visa. This will be stamped on your passport upon arrival.
Schengen visa: For foreigners from any other country, you may need to apply for a Schengen visa, which permits you to visit any country in the Schengen area for up to 90 days. This type of visa is not suitable if you are wanting to work in Germany, however.
Residency permit: You’ll need to apply for a residency permit at your nearest German embassy in your home country. If you are a non-EU citizen, you may apply for a resident permit for general employment, as a professional with specialist skills, or as a self-employed person. Depending on your own circumstances, you may be either granted a permanent or a limited residence permit.
Germany is a lively place to live, with a powerful economy and excellent infrastructure that offers many expats a high standard of living. The stereotype that German people love rules does hold some truth – as an expat, it will bode well for you to do some research into the customs and rules that German people stick to in order to avoid a telling off when out and about in public!
While some expats find the more rigid lifestyle and formal locals difficult to adapt to, others will fall in love with the modern and diverse culture Germany has to offer.
The climate in Germany is temperate, with warm summers and cold winters. Expats looking to move to a country with beautiful sunny weather and long, hot summers may find that Germany isn’t quite the right fit!
Germany has an excellent transportation system, for both public and private transport. We’ll cover both public transportation and driving your own car in Germany in this next section.
The public transport network in Germany is generally of a very high quality, and most expats can get by perfectly fine without a car of their own – especially if you’re living in a city. The most common public transport methods are buses, trams, and trains in Germany.
Trains: Germany has a great train network across the country, making travelling between cities convenient and cost-effective. The Regional-Express, S-Bahn, and InterCity trains connect Germany’s major cities and main regions, while the InterCity can also be used for international routes through Europe.
German trains tend to be comfortable, punctual, and affordable. You’ll need to buy your ticket before boarding the train at one of the ticket machines at the station. If you expect to be travelling by train on a regular basis, you may be able to save more money by looking into a monthly or annual rail pass.
Bus: The bus is one of the cheapest ways of getting around Germany, although significantly slower than train travel. You’ll be able to rely on buses for getting around a city, as well as for longer routes connecting major cities and regions across the country and throughout Europe. Tickets can be purchased online or at a machine by the station.
Trams: Many of Germany’s major cities also have tram networks which are convenient for getting from A to B. You can either buy your tram ticket before boarding, or when you’re on the tram.
If you prefer to drive, Germany’s roads are well developed for exploring the country by car. Driving licences issued in EU and EEA countries are accepted and while international driving permits are recognised, they’re not a requirement.
If you’re renting a car, make sure you have the correct insurance for driving in Germany, and take the time to brush up on local laws and regulations before getting behind the wheel.
Germany is considered to be a very safe country to live in, with a low crime rate throughout the country. Expats will generally feel very safe when living in Germany and shouldn’t encounter any problems – although it’s always advisable to use your common sense and not take unnecessary risks – especially when out at night alone.
It can be difficult to find employment in Germany as an expat, largely because Germany’s immigration rules are strict to reduce unemployment amongst the German population. If you speak German fluently, you’ll have a much better chance at finding work as an expat.
Germany has an overall low cost of living for many expats with high salaries compared to many other European countries if you can find employment. However, working expats should be aware that Germany also has one of the highest tax rates in the world, so you should factor this into any employment package you are offered.
Overall, your cost of living will vary depending on the lifestyle you want to live. Where you’re based can have a big impact on your expenses, too, as larger cities such as Berlin and Colognese are likely to have a higher cost of living. In general, however, you should find that living in most cities in Germany has a lower cost of living than many other major European cities.
Compared to many European cities, rent is relatively affordable in many parts of Germany. However, this of course depends on where you live and what type of lifestyle you’re looking for. You should be prepared to pay a higher price for renting an apartment in bigger cities such as Berlin, Frankfurt, and Hamburg than if you were looking for a place to live in a more rural location in Germany.
The German healthcare system is excellent, and expats living in Germany will be entitled to state healthcare funded by social security contributions. Legally, all Germans are required to have healthcare insurance for medical treatment – many will opt for the state health insurance system, while others will opt for more expensive private health insurance.
If you are living in Germany and are a citizen from the EU, EEA, or Switzerland, you’ll be entitled to healthcare on the same basis as German nationals. You’ll need to make sure you have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) before arriving in order to be eligible. Expats planning on staying in Germany for a year or more should look into either private health insurance or signing up for the German state health insurance scheme.
If you know that your stay in Germany is likely to be temporary and you are not from the EU, EEA, or Switzerland, you may find it is more cost-effective for you to take out travel insurance to cover any medical expenses while living abroad.
Germany’s education system is generally of a very high standard, although most expats will not consider sending their children to a state school unless they are planning to stay in Germany long-term. This is because lessons are taught in German, and can be difficult for expat children to adapt to if you are only staying in the country for a year or so.
Major cities such as Berlin and Munich have a good selection of international schools catering to students of various nationalities. The only real downside is, of course, the cost of tuition. Like private school, international school fees can be extremely expensive and should be factored into your budget when moving to Germany. If you are moving for work purposes, you may want to negotiate international tuition fees into your employment package to ensure you’ll be able to send your children to the school of your choosing.
If you are working in Germany, it may be a good idea to open a local bank account to receive your salary and to pay bills and utilities more conveniently. The banking system in Germany consists of private banks, co-operative banks, and public savings banks, as well as international and online banks.
Some of the major banks in Germany include:
It may be a good idea to consider what bank has a local branch near you or your workplace, and to look at the types of accounts on offer to you. To open your account, you will normally need to visit a local branch in person or go online.
The documents you need to provide will differ depending on what bank you go to, but generally, you’ll need:
If you are not a resident in Germany (for example, you have a long-stay visa rather than a work visa), you may need to provide different documents to open a local bank account. You should enquire with your bank about this first to ensure you have all the documents they’ll need from you.
There are a number of money transfer operators with excellent networks for sending money to and from Germany for a low cost and quick transfer time. Whether you’re sending money from your home country to your account in Germany on a regular basis, or need to send money back home to family or for other financial reasons (such as paying a mortgage, for example), a money transfer provider can save you a significant amount of money in the long-term over sending money internationally via a bank.
Our comparison tool was designed to provide a real-time breakdown of the best ways to send money to Germany based on transfer fees, exchange rates, transfer time, and more.
Berlin is known for its lively nightlife, creative spirit, low cost of living, and thriving international scene. The digital nomad scene in Berlin is booming, with co-working spaces and networking events hosted on a regular basis to help other foreigners living in the city connect. Berlin is a multicultural and open-minded city, with plenty of opportunities to mix with people from Germany as well as all over the globe, and is a great place to be for any expats looking to really get stuck into life in a big city.
Munich is a great city for expats working or studying in Germany, with a lively student scene and high quality of life on offer. Home to Oktoberfest, Munich is a city that will really meet all of your expectations of what life in a German city is like.
Hamburg is Germany’s second largest city, but despite this, residents boast more living space per person than any other major city in the world! This beautiful port city is interwoven with canals and rivers with bridges connecting the streets and has plenty to offer in terms of food and drink, things to see, and activities to do. Expats will enjoy a lively international scene here with plenty of other foreigners choosing to settle in Hamburg – so if you’re still getting to grips with the language, you’ll at least find people you can talk to while you learn!
Other cities in Germany that remain firm favourites with expats include:
Yasmin is the content writer for MoneyTransfers.com. With an English degree from the University of Nottingham and over 5 years’ experience freelancing in the personal finance niche, Yasmin joined the team with a mission to make international money transfers accessible and easy to understand for all. When she’s not writing, you’ll find Yasmin on her yoga mat or planning her next escape to the mountains.