Advice for British Expats Moving to Germany

When you are preparing to move to Germany, there are a couple of things that you need to do to make sure it goes as smoothly as possible.

2/2/202421 min read

1. Introduction

This brief guide is aimed at British citizens considering or indeed in the process of relocation to Germany. It is particularly aimed at people in employment who need practical advice with the bureaucratic process. This guide does not give information about emigration from Germany to the UK. It is also not comprehensive. The headings of the key areas of information are listed, but you may need to do additional research to have all the information you need to hand.

1.1. Purpose of the Guide

The purpose of this guide is to explain how best to adjust to a different culture and society, and to give British expats moving to Germany both practical advice and basic knowledge about the new country. There are also hints and tips for specific regions and cities, and all of the information included in this guide has been provided by recent British expats already living out there. It is based on their first-hand experiences and, wherever possible, it has been written in their own words.

1.2. Target Audience

British expats suitable to this guide are those who have just arrived, or who are in the process of moving to Germany with a job, usually at a corporate or multinational level and those with a high skilled job. They tend to be in their late twenties to early thirties and are very career orientated. Sometimes they’re following the love of their lives and so may even enter retail or some other alternative career if their language skills don’t quite take off immediately.

2. Preparing for the Move

Learning the language of your new home and understanding the culture are basic steps to make sure that you are able to communicate and live comfortably in your new environment. Therefore, it is worth making plans to visit your destination before you move or talking to as many German residents as possible about the culture, customs and the ways of life in general. In this digital age, there are a variety of ways to find this information. Although it is a good idea to network with those who have already made the move, there are numerous videos, blogs and books available on various platforms about just how different it is to live in Germany, compared to our neighbors in the UK.

2.1. Researching German Culture and Customs

It can also be beneficial to learn about the Federal Republic’s customs and values when moving to Germany. Many German locals live life to a stricter schedule than in some other countries, and a delayed or lost package is less forgivable here than in Britain or the USA. It might also be advisable to genuinely understand what is expected of those who live and work in the country; after all, being polite might mean something entirely different in Deutschland compared to the country you are moving from.

2.2. Learning the German Language

First off, the German language can be tricky to pick up, and, being honest, you still might find yourself struggling even after years of living in Germany. Despite this, it is recommended to learn the language as it will be useful in both professional and personal contexts. In terms of the former, international companies will often hold meetings and discussions in German, and, even if you speak, read and write fluently in English, it's seen as a sign of respect to at least make the effort to conduct your conversation auf Deutsch, especially if you're in the same room as predominantly German speakers.

2.3. Understanding the German Job Market

In Germany, it is a legal requirement to have some form of health insurance. Being part of the public health system is compulsory for all employees earning less than 64,350 EUR annually. This system is funded by social security payments which is usually split between employer and employee. generally, this system is perfect for permanent job position employees. some part-time and flexible jobs might not offer this benefit, in which case it might be best to research additional private health insurance. To apply for this, it is necessary to present a certificate from a previous provider. Lacking this, insurance is usually expensive and will not cover existing illnesses.

3. Legal and Administrative Matters

If you are living in Germany, you will need to make sure that you have the correct paperwork in place. If you are employed in Germany, it is likely your employer will apply for your residence permit on your behalf. If not, you will need to make a personal application to your local Ausländerbehörde. This involves making an appointment and taking all of the required documentation with you. If you are not an EU citizen, the documentation required may involve evidence of your level of German language ability, a specific type of private health insurance and a certificate of sustainability for your savings. If you have dependants, they will need to apply separately for family reunification visas and residence permits. Once your permit has been granted, it is likely to be in sticker form, which will be placed in your passport.

3.1. Visa and Residence Permit Requirements

If you are thinking of moving to Germany for an extended period of time, you will need to go through the process of obtaining a visa. If you are from the EU or UK, you are currently able to enter Germany without a visa, and live and work in the country without a residence permit. Keep in mind however, that this will change post-Brexit, and it is likely that there will be a need to obtain a residence permit to live in the country for a longer period. As a student, you willbe required to apply for a Residence Permit for Study Purposes (Aufenthaltserlaubnis zum Studium) if you are going to be studying in Germany for more than 90 days. There is a fee to pay when applying, and you may also require extra documents such as your university acceptance letter and proof of health insurance.

3.2. Registering with Local Authorities

If you plan to stay in Germany for more than 3 months, you have to register at the Bürgeramt (citizen's office) within 2 weeks of your arrival. This location can often be found within larger city halls. Once your application is processed, you'll receive a registration certificate (Meldebescheinigung). Keep it in a safe place, since it's an important document in Germany.务。

3.3. Opening a Bank Account

In Germany, it is incredibly difficult to live without a bank account. Everything from paying your rent to receiving salary payments will usually require you to have a German bank account. If you’re staying in the country for three months or more, it’s highly recommended that you open an account, but bear in mind that the process is time-consuming and can take several weeks, so ensure you plan accordingly if funds are low. All banks in Germany offer basic accounts – by law, they must accept your application, regardless of your financial situation or previous account conduct. By the same token, they’re also not allowed to overdraw this account or charge you for any services on it. Some accounts may have a monthly fee, but this can vary widely depending on the provider, as can the minimum payment required to waive the fee. Applying for an account is relatively simple and can usually be done either online or in a local branch. Regardless of how you do it, however, you’ll need to bring a number of documents with you. At a minimum, you’ll normally need to bring with you the following: - Passport - Proof of residency - Anmeldebestätigung (registration certificate) - A lot of banks will also ask for a SCHUFA certificate, which you can request from SCHUFA (the largest German credit reference agency). Once you have completed the relevant application forms and provided all necessary documents, it should take about a week to set up your account, at which point you’ll receive your account details or a bankcard with them on by post.

4. Finding Accommodation

In Germany, it may seem strange to rent instead of buy, especially considering strict lending conditions and affordability. However, this is the norm in the residential property market. Most German people will never own their own homes. One reason for this is that houses are very expensive. Therefore, if you are planning on moving to Germany for a temporary period, it would be wise to rent. This also relieves you from the burden of maintenance and repair costs, which is advisable for an expatriate. Another risk in purchasing property in Germany is that property prices have witnessed a steady drop over the years. It has come to a point where new developers are trying to sell flats for tens of thousands less than their original price, without success.

4.1. Renting vs. Buying Property

Renting is extremely popular in Germany, especially when you consider how rented property is maintained by the landlord and the levels of protection that tenants get. In addition to this, many new-build apartment blocks are designed with the needs of a rental market in mind. It's therefore a very good idea to rent a property in Germany when you initially move there, so that you get a feel for the various areas and types of properties available. Many expats have been known to rent for several years before they buy a property in Germany.

4.2. Popular Cities for Expats

Frankfurt is the financial hub of Germany and has a large expat community. As the city is home to many leading international banks and companies, it is a popular destination for expats working in the financial sector. Munich is famous for its beer halls and clean streets and is an affluent, prosperous city. With a population of around 1.3 million people, many expats opt to live in the suburbs to have a more relaxed way of life and to enjoy the outstanding Bavarian countryside. Berlin is a vibrant, diverse city where you can find all kinds of entertainment and cultural activities. The city is very relaxed and liberal, and Berliners’ attitude to life is “live and let live.” Hamburg is a port city, and it is Germany’s second largest city. The city is close to both the beach and open countryside, making it a popular destination if you enjoy outdoor activities. Düsseldorf is another prosperous city with a high standard of living. It has an impressive shopping street, the Königsallee, and boasts a high number of Michelin starred restaurants. Many multinational companies are based in Düsseldorf, making it an attractive location for expats.

4.3. Finding a Real Estate Agent

This really depends on how confident you feel with your German, how well you get on with the locals and how desperate you are to move into a new place. If real estate agents were worth using they'd never have to advertise, they'd be far too busy? Make sense? Some agents charge a fee for simply showing you around, even if you don't take a place they've shown you. Sharpen your German and your people skills and look for ads in newspapers and shop and pub windows. Flipside ? no-one introduced me to anyone at many of the parties I've been to and I almost always have to do my own introducing, but I am still new here, so ask me again in a year or two.

4.4. Understanding Rental Contracts

When you are renting a property of any form in Germany, it is important to consider the following points. The first thing to mention is the available types of properties. There are three main types of renting property in Germany; furnished, unfurnished, and parti furnished. You will need to consider the type of property that best suits your needs and to which you are most interested in. Bear in mind that if you opt for a furnished property that it will usually be chargeable at a higher monthly price.

5. Healthcare and Insurance

When you start working in Germany, you must choose whether you would like the state health insurance (gesetzliche Krankenversicherung) or private health insurance (private Krankenversicherung) in order to be covered for medical treatment during your stay. If you are under the age of 55 and earn less than €64,350 gross per annum, it is obligatory to sign up for state health insurance. The standard rate is 14.6% of your salary which is then matched by your employer. However, you have the ability to tailor the extent of your coverage according to your requirements.

5.1. Understanding the German Healthcare System

The healthcare system in Germany is known for being one of the best in the world and you will be expected to partake in it. Before moving to Germany, you should research and understand what your rights and responsibilities will be in terms of healthcare. Due to the complexity of the German system, it is recommended that you seek professional advice regarding health insurance. You will also be required to contribute to the cost of your own healthcare. It is particularly important to understand what level of cover you are required to have. It is recommended that you do not rely entirely on EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) to cover you for the duration of your stay in Germany, although it may be good as a short-term solution. It is advisable to take out travel insurance and secure health cover before you go and register with the ‘gesetzlich’ or ‘private’ system in Germany. Each system provides different benefits so you need to take the time to consider all options and what will be better suited to your needs.

5.2. Health Insurance Options for Expats

Important factors: In Germany, people normally pay around 7.3% of their salary every month on health insurance, which is generally matched by their employer. All residents in Germany must have health insurance, and there are a number of different providers and options. It is obligatory to be insured. If you are moving to Germany to take up a job, your employer will probably arrange health insurance for you. You can also arrange it yourself. The following options are the most likely: Public health insurance Private health insurance.

5.3. Registering with a Doctor

Registering with a doctor is easy. Although you may sometimes just drop by your doctor's office during consultation hours, most doctors will require you to schedule an appointment. In some cases, OP doctors will not accept patients outside of their consultation hours, while you may be able to register as a new patient directly with them. However, you should generally call ahead to sort out how to register, and then schedule your first appointment.

6. Education and Childcare

Enrolling your child in a state school is a relatively straightforward process in Germany. Children start formal education at the age of six and will have different options available to them. The first 4 years of their education will be in primary school followed by the next 6 years in a secondary school. All of which is mandatory. If at 10 years of age it is decided that your child is academically capable, they will have the choice to move to a Gymnasium – an academic orientated secondary school designed to prepare your child for higher education. Alternatively, they may continue to a vocational school or a combination of both. Every child will be assessed individually at the age of 10 to determine their academic potential. You can expect for your child to routinely have homework and very normal for a German child at the age of 10 to study more than two languages.

6.1. Schooling Options for Expats' Children

Education in Germany is compulsory for children between the ages of 6 and 16. Once a child turns six, they are expected to attend school; until then, most children attend kindergarten. If your children are already somewhat used to education in the UK, they may notice some significant differences in Germany. Some of these differences include: There are no “grades”, just “years”: Children will be placed into a year according to their age, in Germany. The school year is split into two semesters or terms rather than three trimesters. Classes are normally mixed and children of different ages share the same classroom. For example: in the first year (or the equivalent of year 1) children are normally aged 6 – 7, the second year 7-8, etc. For example: a class of 1st year children will normally be divided into three groups of children learning different lessons. If you arrive in Germany before starting school and intend to stay, it would be advisable to have your children tested soon after you arrival for any learning or thinking problems that may lead to educational disabilities later –Aussiedlerinnnenkinder and bilingual children often have them. Depending on the evaluation, your children could be placed in a Sonderschule or Förderschule instead of a Hauptschule. The senior school or Gymnasium is for children who intend to go to university or onto the three-year DRK (Deutsches Rotes Kreuz) course to prepare for specifics careers.

6.2. Finding International Schools

International schools are widespread in larger cities and they tend to follow the curriculum of the individual country. English, American and other national curricula are available in international schools all around the country. The fees at international schools are often much higher than those at state schools, however, they do give our children the opportunity to study in an environment which is familiar to them. In some companies, fees for the international schools can be included in the salary package. For the most part, families should be aware that these schools can be an enormous expense, and should therefore budget accordingly.

6.3. Childcare Services in Germany

• Babysitters, • Kindergaertners, • Tagesmuetter (day mothers).

Infant care services in Germany are still few and far between. The government’s legal framework for the protection of children and health issues in those institutions is very strict. However, there are many options to choose from. These are recognized kinds of childcare other than nurseries:

7. Transportation and Driving

7. Throughout Germany, public transportation is reliable, frequent and relatively affordable. In cities such as Berlin, you can expect U-Bahn and S-Bahn services to begin at around 4.30 am and end at 1.30 am. In Hamburg, you will often have to use the metro system, which is not quite as frequent. From Sunday to Thursday, this service operates from around 5 am through to midnight. On Fridays and Saturdays, the metro runs for 24 hours. In Bavaria, the regional train system is called the Bayerische Regiobahn and is also used frequently by Germans. When going to buy a ticket from a machine, keep in mind that the display screens are in German, as are the announcements. Therefore, it is advisable to know the intended destination platform before you arrive in Germany.

7.1. Public Transportation in Germany

Public transportation is very popular within Germany, and you will find a competent public transportation network in all large German cities. This includes buses, trains and trams. If you live in a city you will probably find that a car is more of a hindrance than a benefit. In terms of environmental concerns, public transport in Germany is highly regulated to assure minimal emissions and environmental impacts. Also, it can be a bit expensive for British standards. Mind the time schedule as they are usually very punctual in Germany and you might be unable to hop onto a train if you miss the designated time. However, this is difficult to fight against, as in means that personal appointments only count if you can write a train or bus delay as an excuse. The means of public transport is, obviously, the most direct in large cities. This meads that even if you have to live outside the city, you might to able to reach your destinations fast and without the struggle of finding a proper parking space.

7.2. Getting a German Driver's License

Getting a German driver's license is often necessary when owning a vehicle or driving in Germany. Because the license fee is much higher in Germany than in most countries, many expats retain their original driver's licenses for as long as it is legally acceptable. British expats should take note that the driving laws are strict in Germany. Drive off from the road without a license and you could be disqualified from driving and fined heavily, especially if you have an accident whilst driving without a valid license.

7.3. Buying or Renting a Car

Do I need to buy a car? If you are moving to a city, you may not need a car as public transportation is extremely efficient. In the countryside, a car will be vital. Assuming you are in a city or near Stuttgart, we recommend leasing for the first few months to test the need for a car. If you decide to lease a car, it is very easy. Tasker Insurance and Financial Services GmbH in Stuttgart can provide this service, and all documents can be sent via email.

8. Working in Germany

You will likely require a job in order to support yourself while you are in Germany. Fortunately, there are many websites and resources that are specifically geared towards ex-pats looking for work. Networking through social media platforms, as well as looking on company's website directly for job postings are also strong starting points. Also, be prepared to write a German-style CV and covering letter, and familiarise yourself with the format of German job interviews.

8.1. Job Search Strategies

Understanding German employment law is the key to having a successful job search in Germany. It is very challenging for British expats to land a job, despite having high qualifications and being fluent in English. The first step is to have a clear understanding of your rights and obligations, and to legal restrictions on your work status. Also, you may not get lucky during your job search right away so it is important to begin a job search as soon as possible. Always be aware of the fact that there may be variation in your skill set and job profile, so prepare to change job roles if necessary. It is best to start searching before the day of your job search, rather than waiting until after you have moved to Germany.

8.2. Understanding German Work Culture

Assuming your application is successful, once you are working in Germany it is vital that you understand German work culture. There are some key differences between working in the UK and in Germany. In Germany, all work contracts are permanent once the initial probation period has expired. This period can be anything from three to six months, and the norm is that the contract can be terminated by either side with only two weeks notice, prior to the end of the trial period. After this time, the notice period increases depending on the length of employment. In Germany, all employees, apart from those in smaller companies, belong to a union. A portion of your salary is automatically deducted from your earnings to pay towards union funds. All unions have exclusive rights to protect their employees, and it is usual for people in jobs of a similar nature to strike, should a dispute occur within any particular company.

8.3. Work Permits and Employment Contracts

During the application process, you will be asked to provide two copies of your employment contract. The ZAV will then check the contract to make sure it is according to Bath 3 of the German Federal Employment Agency (Bundesagentur fur Arbeit). You should not start working in Germany until you have a valid work permit and are on the BVA's database as employed at a specific company. Your company also needs to meet its own labor and social security law requirements, so the employment contract is relevant to them, too. In addition, although it is essentially an employment contract, you may want to have your contract drawn up or checked by a lawyer with expertise in German labor law. You should expect your German employment contract to look somewhat different than your British one, and they may cover matters other than those mentioned in your British contract. For example, some employers may require a non-disclosure agreement. Moreover, German employees receive a limited amount of vacation days per year, and in addition, a vacation bonus if they take less than their allocated days.

9. Cultural Integration and Social Life

One thing to bear in mind is the cultural differences which may pose a problem. You may find that making friends with local Germans isn't as easy as you'd originally thought. It's difficult for Germans to break into their social circles but if you put the effort in and are patient you will make friends. Networking is one of the key ways to make contacts, both in a social context and a professional context. Another thing to consider is the cultural activities and events available in Germany. There are a wide variety of activities for different types of people, so it's recommended that you research into what you are interested in and take part in the events. Furthermore, the Germans have a lot of traditions and they follow the procedures diligently. One example is of recycling; they recycle nearly all types of refuse and the penalties for not abiding by these rules are quite severe.

9.1. Making Friends in Germany

Making Friends in Germany Germans are said to have closed social circles, hence expats might find it difficult to establish meaningful connections with the locals. Yet that is not the case for everyone - some find it easier than others, but as a general rule, most British expats would agree that it is tricky to truly bond and make lifelong German friends. Germans are very direct and guard their personal space fiercely. This can come across as rude or unfriendly to British expats, who are more used to casual conversation and polite small-talk. In Germany there are strict rules for every social interaction however once someone is acknowledged and accepted as a friend then the reality is indeed very positive and sometimes long lasting. Even for Germans, many of their friends can be categorized into internet friends, outdoor friends, homework friends and school/college/office friends. So once you are accepted essentially, the ongoing social life can be very vivid despite its complex start.

9.2. Participating in Local Events and Festivals

Throughout the year, towns and cities across Germany hold various festivals and events that are well worth attending. Many of the larger cities hold weekly markets and annual events that celebrate their heritage, history or local delicacies. It’s a good idea to attend some of these events when you arrive to get a feel for the country’s customs and traditions. There are many events on the calendar if you look beyond the popular Christmas and beer festivals, from music to street performances to food tasting events. Some events are held to celebrate a certain time of year, for a special occasion or to encourage the community to come together. If your local town or city has a community centre, this is a good place to start to get information on local events. Any local library should also have posters and leaflets about upcoming events. Online blogs and forums may also be a way to find out about smaller, less-advertised events in your local area.

9.3. Embracing German Traditions and Etiquette

When you travel to a new country, you must adapt to its customs and meet the people on their terms. The time when expatriates can expect indulgence because they are foreigners is long past. The German population was founded on unity. Consequently, it is expected that others also integrate and acknowledge the different cultural traditions and societal norms. While it might be a nerve-wracking prospect, this could be considered as an opportunity to learn new things. Start studying German traditions and etiquette and, almost as soon as you arrive, try to model them. While in certain situations terrible errors can prove a source of embarrassment, do not be scared. The citizens are very pleased if people from other cultures make sweet gestures. Also, keep in mind that integrating and recognizing specific cultures and religions is a wonderful opportunity.

10. Financial Considerations

Keep in mind that the way taxes work in Germany might also be different to the UK so it is crucial to understand how they work. In Germany, taxes are deducted at the source. This is different to the UK, where you need to complete a tax return at the end of the financial year. Therefore, ensure that your employer has all the relevant details on your marriage and any children. You’ll need to apply for a tax number and if the tax code on your pay slip doesn’t look right, then this will need to be amended as soon as possible.

10.1. Taxes for Expats

Every expatriate living and working in Germany is subject to a certain amount of German tax, including foreign employees. The extent to which expats are affected varies according to their country of residence, their nationality, and the nature of their tax affairs. In Germany, taxes are computed based on the tax bracket the expat falls under, which can vary depending on single or marriage status. In Germany, taxes are divided into several categories. Some of the federal taxes include income tax, excise tax, corporation tax, and turnover tax. It should be noted that value-added tax in Germany is applicable at three levels – federal state and local taxes. Social security taxes in Germany include pension insurance, health insurance, unemployment insurance and long-term care insurance. Indirect taxes in Germany are insurance premium tax and real estate transfer tax.

10.2. Cost of Living in Germany

The cost of living in Germany is very high, and as such, it’s very important that you are prepared for this before you move. Generally speaking, going out for a meal can cost you around 10-15 euros per dish, with rent prices averaging around 300 euros per month. This all, of course, depends on which city you choose to live in, but do bear in mind that costs can escalate pretty quickly if you’re not careful. If you choose to live in Munich or Berlin, you can expect these costs to be slightly higher, but if you’re happy to live in a more residential, less urban area, then you can bring these costs down significantly.

10.3. Managing Finances and Currency Exchange

The major banks in Germany are Deutsche Bank, Dresdner Bank, Commerzbank and HVB. Many expats opt to chose Post Bank because they are English speaking. You should compare each of these banks to see what choice is best for you. Opening a bank account will also be essential for you once you have your visa and plan on staying for an extended period, as not only will you need to pay in money for bills but you may receive money in payments from the government. It may also be worth opening a second account in the UK with a branch that is connected to your German bank.

11. Conclusion

Now, let’s take a moment to revisit everything we’ve covered in this guide and summarize the key points that were made. Although the structural differences of the countries are what stands out the most when moving between the UK and Germany, it’s useful to be aware of the quirky habits of the Germans long before the move. scoffing at a quiet restaurant surrounded by friends, for example, is heavily frowned upon, as is pushing into a queue. The German phrase „Es zieht“, meaning „there’s a draft“ is heard fairly often, meaning that locals are always greatly cautious of staying away from anything considered to be a draft. There is a stark contrast between the laid-back nature of the British in lounges, where alcohol can be enjoyed and spilled without much care, compared to the completion of such a task in Germany which is considered to be a social activity rather than an overtly casual one. The final point to made is that even though many in Germany speak English, it is always best the basics of the language in advance. Even if it’s just on Duolingo – better something than nothing. Sinking or swimming in a foreign country may make an interesting plot for a book, but it doesn’t provide much needed stability for everyday. Taking a proactive stance before learning to live in Germany is made. After sorting out the basics, it’s exciting to seek a new city in Germany and attend meet ups. Even if it’s a bit awkward, the difficulty shall shape itself into a friendship before realising it. The ordeal is fierce but the opportunity is a great one, and as Bruce Lee once said: it’s not the daily increase but the daily decrease. Decrease your crap now and begin to assimilate yourself into the German culture effectively.

11.1. Recap of Key Points

Write down all the reasons - on paper, on your phone or even just on the back of an envelope - why you decided to take the leap to move to Germany. Keep it somewhere safe, and when things get tough, take them out and remind yourself of them. You might be amazed how much they can spur you on!

11.2. Final Tips for a Successful Transition

Save your existing bank account contact number or make sure t organize new accounts in both cunrency as quickly as you can. It pays to have a contingency plan so new accounts have money available before moving so you do not end up stranded or in a difficult cash flow position which could cause you stress and financial problems. Avoid using international bank talnsfers where budgets can be high. It is in your interest to shop around as there are numerous options for you to consider includins expert retailers favorable for expats and a number of fx companies who may pay you to use them to transfer your cash. Expert financial advice is readily available within The Guardians business directory.