Have you made the exciting decision to move to Germany—or already have? Then this post is your go-to resource for a smooth transition.
As our international students and colleagues attest—navigating a new country can be overwhelming. However, considering the benefits of living in Germany, it’s definitely worth it.
This guide provides invaluable insights, practical tips, and insider knowledge to help you settle in seamlessly. So, join us as we unlock the secrets to thriving as an expat in Germany.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- Living as an expat in Germany
- Important institutions to know in Germany
- Key takeaways
Living as an expat in Germany
1. Great cities for expats in Germany
Germany has several cities popular among expats due to their exceptional quality of life, abundant career opportunities, and cultural attractions.
Here are some cities in Germany that are often considered great for ex-pats:
Berlin boasts a diverse and inclusive startup ecosystem; it received an impressive €10.5 billion ($11.6 billion) in investment in 2021, surpassing the $6.9 billion received by all German startups in 2019.
Furthermore, this city boasts a wealth of culture, history, vibrant nightlife, exquisite cuisine, impressive art, and countless other attractions.
The heart of Germany’s GDP attracted a record-breaking €4.2 billion worth of investments back in 2021. Munich is home to many multinational companies, especially in industries like automotive, engineering, and technology. It also hosts the famous Oktoberfest and boasts beautiful parks and historical sites.
It’s easy to see why the safest city in Germany is so popular, with its delightful fusion of large urban feel and small-town charm, plenty of green spaces, and the renowned Oktoberfest.
Hamburg is home to numerous tech startups across various sectors, including e-commerce, fintech, health tech, and media. The northern city is also seeing a female-representation boom, with more women than men in startups.
Located in northern Germany, it’s a major port city with a rich maritime history, known for its cosmopolitan atmosphere, diverse culinary scene, and lively entertainment options.
Hamburg offers excellent job opportunities in industries such as logistics, media, and creative arts. It boasts more canals and bridges than Venice and Amsterdam combined, along with numerous parks and gardens scattered across the city, for a delightful living environment.
Frankfurt is a global financial hub and home to the European Central Bank. It has a bustling business district, numerous multinational corporations, and a highly international population.
While Frankfurt is often associated with finance, it also offers a vibrant cultural scene, excellent transportation infrastructure, and a range of recreational activities.
Frankfurt is a city steeped in rich history and culture, enticing visitors with its array of historic buildings and museums and serving as a vibrant cultural hub.
2. Cost of living in Germany
Germany is renowned for its high standard of living, efficient public transport, excellent healthcare, and high-quality education system. In fact, Germany ranks above average in the OECD Better Life Index in terms of quality of life and well-being.
Despite these high standards, shopping bills in major German cities are often significantly less than in other European hotspots.
The cost of living in Germany varies based on the chosen city or region and is generally considered moderate to high compared to other European countries.
Factors influencing the cost of living include housing expenses, regional disparities, utility charges, transportation costs, health insurance obligations, food and grocery budgets, education and childcare expenses, and entertainment opportunities.
Here are some of the major considerations:
When searching for rental homes in Berlin and Munich, the average rent jumps to €1,745, while in Frankfurt and Stuttgart, you can expect a more affordable average of €920 per month.
2. Food and groceries
Food prices in Germany are widely regarded as affordable, particularly when compared to neighboring countries like France, Italy, Austria, Sweden, and Belgium, where food costs are notably higher.
The reason behind these lower prices is primarily Germany’s robust agriculture industry, which enables the country to produce a significant portion of its food domestically.
The cost of basic food items may differ depending on the store you visit, but the following prices represent the average in Germany:
- 1 liter of milk: €0.70 ($0,77)
- 1 bread loaf: €1.30 ($1,42)
- 12 eggs: €1.82 ($1,99)
- 500g of local cheese: €4.45 ($4,87)
- 1 kg chicken breast: €7.32 ($8,01)
- 1 kg of rice: €2.09 ($2,29)
3. Taxes and utilities
The tax burden for the average single worker in Germany was 47.8% in 2022. While this may seem high, it’s worth remembering the incredible state support that the country offers, such as extensive unemployment benefits and paid parental leave of up to 14 months, which is possible thanks to this taxation.
In 2022, the OECD average tax wedge was 34.6%. Among the 38 OECD member countries, Germany had the second-highest tax wedge in both 2021 and 2022.
In Germany, the combination of income tax and employer social security contributions accounts for 66% of the total tax wedge, which is lower than the 77% of the total OECD average tax wedge.
This document goes into greater detail.
3. How to find a job in Germany
Finding a job in Germany can be a rewarding experience, but it requires careful planning and understanding of the local job market.
Here’s are some key points to help you in your job search:
- Research the job market: Start by researching the job market in Germany to understand the industries, sectors, and regions with high demand for your skills. Explore job portals, professional networks, and industry-specific websites to gather information about job opportunities.
- Polish your application documents: Ensure your resume (CV) and cover letter are tailored to German standards. Highlight relevant qualifications, skills, and work experience. Consider translating your documents into German and include a professional photo.
- Learn the language: German language skills greatly enhance your job prospect and help you to find your way around. Enroll in language courses or consider language exchanges to improve your proficiency. A good command of German increases your chances of success in many industries. You can try learning tools such as Babbel, Lingoda, and DuoLingo, or go to a language school.
- Network: Networking plays a crucial role in the German job market. Attend industry events, job fairs, and professional meetups to expand your network. Utilize online platforms like LinkedIn or Xing (the “German LinkedIn”) to connect with professionals in your field.
- Utilize job portals and recruitment agencies: Register in Germany’s popular job portals and upload your CV. Check out sites like Monster, Indeed, Stepstone, and. Stellenanzeigen.de. Additionally, consider contacting recruitment agencies that specialize in your industry.
- Prepare for Interviews: Once you secure interviews, thoroughly research the company and practice common interview questions. You could even seek help from a career coach to practice mock interviews.
- Get going on your work permit and visa: Ensure you have the necessary work permit or visa to work in Germany legally. Check the requirements and consult your home country’s German embassy or consulate for guidance.
4. Getting a work visa in Germany
Some of you might need a work visa to move to Germany. The following is only a brief overview of the necessary steps. We recommend checking out the explainer video by Make it in Germany to learn more about the German Skilled Immigration Law and recent updates.
It’s also possible that your future company will apply the fast-track procedure for skilled workers. Here’s how the average process might go:
Step 1. Determine visa type
Identify the appropriate visa type based on your employment situation. Common work visa categories include the General Employment Visa, EU Blue Card, and Job Seeker Visa (also students job seekers visa). You can check out more about the specific requirements on the website of the German missions abroad and do the “Quick Check” by Make in Germany.
Step 2. Secure a job offer
To apply for most work visas, you will need a confirmed job offer. You can also apply for a job seeker’s visa to travel to Germany for job-seeking purposes (usually up to six months). Once you find a job, you can convert this visa into a work permit.
Step 3: Check eligibility
Ensure you meet the specific eligibility criteria for the chosen work visa category. The employer may need supporting documents, such as the work contract.
Step 4: Gather the required documents
Prepare the necessary documents, including a valid passport, completed visa application form, passport-sized photos, job contract, educational certificates, and proof of health insurance coverage.
Step 5: Make an appointment
Schedule an appointment with the German embassy or consulate in your home country. The appointment is typically required for submitting the visa application and supporting documents. Book your slot as soon as you receive the binding job offer.
Step 6: Attend the visa interview
Attend the visa interview as scheduled. Be prepared to provide additional information and answer questions about your employment and stay in Germany.
Step 7: Pay the visa fee
Pay the applicable visa processing fee. The fee amount varies depending on the visa type and nationality.
Step 8: Wait for the processing
After submitting your application, it will undergo processing. This may take several weeks, so be patient and allow sufficient time for the authorities to review your case.
Step 9: Receive the decision
Once a decision is made on your visa application, you will be notified by the embassy or consulate. If approved, you will receive a visa affixed to your passport.
Step 10: Travel to Germany
With a work visa, you can travel to Germany within the visa validity period. Upon arrival, you need to register and book another appointment at the Immigration Agency for the visa extension.
The process and requirements for obtaining a work visa in Germany can vary based on nationality, type of work visa, and individual circumstances; citizens of certain countries (such as Australia, Israel, Japan, Canada, Republic of Korea, New Zealand, United Kingdom, U.S.) can enter Germany as tourists and apply for the work permit within the country.
Important institutions to know in Germany
Moving to a new country can be an exciting but challenging experience, and it’s important to understand the support systems to help you settle in.
In this section, we’ll explore the various forms of assistance and benefits the government provides to internationals.
1. Immigration authority/Ausländerbehörde
The German Ausländerbehörde, or Foreigners’ Registration Office, handles immigration, residency, and integration matters for internationals in Germany. They process visa applications, issue residence permits, and register foreign residents.
The office also handles permit extensions, changes in residency status, and various other matters. They promote integration through language courses and assist in the asylum application process.
Remember that procedures may vary between the different Federal states within Germany. To book an appointment, you can type into Google: Ausländerbehörde+ city xy to find the necessary form. For example, Ausländerbehörde + Berlin.
2. Finance office/Finanzamt
The Finanzamt is the tax authority in Germany responsible for assessing, collecting, and enforcing various taxes. They process tax returns, conduct audits, provide tax advice, and ensure tax compliance.
Their main role is to administer the tax system and collect revenue on behalf of the government. You’ll usually receive the Tax ID after registering with the German citizen office.
3. Home affairs/Bürgeramt
The Bürgeramt serves as a central point of contact for citizens and handles administrative tasks related to civil registration, identification, and other municipal services.
Some of the key services the Bürgeramt provides include registration and address changes, certificates and documents, residency matters, and vehicle registration.
- The confirmation form from your landlord
- The Anmeldung form (this form is different for each city registration, so type into Google: Bürgeramt/city registration + city xy + Anmeldung form to find the necessary form. For example, Bürgeramt + Berlin + Anmeldung form)
4. Job center/Bundesagentur für Arbeit
The Bundesagentur für Arbeit, or Federal Employment Agency, is a government agency in Germany responsible for labor market-related tasks.
Its main functions include job placement services, administering unemployment benefits, supporting vocational training, analyzing the labor market, and assisting specific groups.
This institution also issues educational vouchers (Bildungsgutschein). With this voucher, you can reskill for free.
5. Health insurance/Krankenkasse
The German Krankenkasse provides mandatory health insurance coverage, including medical services and reimbursements, to residents.
Members contribute premiums based on income, and the Krankenkasse promotes health awareness, coordinates with healthcare providers, and offers administrative support.
You can choose the health insurance provider on your own and use, for example, check24, to compare different options. Keep in mind that you can choose between public and private health insurance.
If you’re an expat in Germany or are looking to become one, there’s a lot of administration to navigate. But there’s also an incredible amount of benefit.
Here are a few key points to remember:
- Germany offers cities with exceptional quality of life, career opportunities, and cultural attractions.
- Understanding the cost of living in Germany is crucial for managing expenses effectively.
- Finding a job in Germany requires research, networking, and adapting application documents.
- Getting a work visa involves identifying the appropriate type, securing a job offer, and preparing the necessary documents.
- Germany provides state support for expats through institutions like the Ausländerbehörde, Finanzamt, Bürgeramt, Bundesagentur für Arbeit, Jobcenter, and Krankenkasse.
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