“If you aren’t in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?”
― T.S. Eliot
Of all the sentences T.S. Eliot wrote, this one might be most relevant to the expat experience. As an expat in Germany, you may often feel that you are in over your head. Reinventing your career, your networks and your expectations while learning a new language can feel overwhelming, to say the least. However, with every challenge comes growth. These challenges may make you a stronger and more perseverant person than you were before you arrived.That isn’t to say that we don’t all need a little help sometimes! Compiled from the experiences of expats in Germany through our Facebook group and interviews, we have assembled a catalogue of the biggest challenges expats in Germany face, as well as how to deal with them.
“When moving to Germany, the main challenge was the language, my job here is in English but obviously, everything else is in German and without proper previous training it was pretty stressful, we have been here for 3 and a half years now and still struggle with German,” writes a Mexican expat living in Frankfurt.
Scrolling through the Facebook group for expats in Germany, it’s clear that problems around language make up most of the serious challenges facing expats in this country.
There is really only one way to address this, which is to start learning German as soon as possible!
There are methods of learning German for every budget and preference. One of most effective ways is to hire a private German tutor or go to a sprachschule (language school), in conjunction with studying by yourself. You will find numerous private language schools in all cities. Simply Google sprachschulen in the German city where you will be living.
Learning German takes plenty of time. If, like many expats, you are starting from scratch, it will probably take six months to a year until you can begin to have conversations. Don’t be disheartened, it gets easier eventually! Learning the language will take a lot of effort, but will also make your life exponentially better.
There is a common cry across internet forums for expats in Germany: “Can anyone help! How easy is it to look for work in Germany?” asks an Expats in Germany Facebook member
How easy it is to find work largely depends on the kind of work you are looking for, as well as how well you speak German. In Berlin, speaking only English is fine if you’re looking for a bar job or you work in a cafe. However, the hard truth is that it is difficult to find a well-paid job in Germany if you only speak English. One language simply won’t cut it in most professional fields.
Even though many international German companies operate in English, they still require employees to have a grasp on German. Luckily, while most jobs need some German, many will accept an intermediate level of German, which should only take around one year to attain. While you are learning German, you can also look for part-time work in hospitality or retail, which will help you learn quicker. This should also boost your confidence in speaking the language, which is a big plus.
Germany has numerous online portals dedicated to job hunting. The most popular include:
Expats hoping to work primarily in English may also have luck on Linkedin or Xing, which is a German equivalent to Linkedin.
Job agencies or advisors can also help you find work. Once you arrive in Germany, you can visit a branch of the federal employment agency. This agency is dedicated to helping people find work, and offers a free service in most German towns and cities. Private recruitment agencies are also readily available, but these can be expensive.
Germans are also big fans of certified education, so ensure your degrees are recognised!
“I moved to Germany in 2014. Finding a long-term rental apartment was one of the toughest challenges for me personally” – member of our Facebook group for expats in Germany
To say that Germany is a ‘hot destination’ would be an understatement. Every year, thousands of people relocate to the country, and while this brings internationality and colour, it also makes finding permanent housing more difficult.
This problem is at its worst in the cities most desirable to expats, such as Berlin, Munich, Frankfurt and other international hubs. Rent may be low but space is in high demand so even if you have a good budget, it can take a while to find a home.
Most expats move into short-term apartments for one to two months while they search for a permanent house. The best websites for short-term apartments are WG-Gesucht – choose the befristet (temporary) filter, or Tempoflat.
It is very expensive to use immobilienhändler (real estate agents) in Germany, so most people search for apartments themselves online. The most popular websites are:
Facebook groups for each city can also be immensely helpful. Try searching for wohnungen (apartments) in your city.
The best way to search for an apartment is to be vigilant and check for updates frequently. Be patient; you will eventually find something. It might just take time.
Asked about the biggest challenge moving to Germany, one expat said, “The bureaucracy involved! The most simple tasks like setting up the internet in our apartment was a huge hurdle and very difficult when you don’t speak the same language.”
Moving to Germany can be a red tape maze, but there is a method to the madness; just be prepared for a lot of paperwork. Of course, not being able to speak the language doesn’t help. Nothing is impossible though, so keep calm and carry on!
Once you have a house, a visa, a job and some insurance then rest assured, as your burden of bureaucracy will lessen. Until then, make your lists and check them twice. German bureaucracy has a very specific system and if one cog in the machine doesn’t work, it’s enough to cause a major problem.
There is no obvious way to make all the bureaucracy easier; you simply have to jump through the hoops that are laid out. You might, however, be able to change how you feel about all the paperwork. Sure, no one feels great about it, but a shift in attitude towards all the red tape might be helpful and necessary in Germany!
The reality is that much of your first six months in Germany will be spent waiting: waiting to register, waiting in line to open a bank account, waiting for a visa appointment. Although you might be used to doing these things online in your home country, you won’t be able to do so this country.
All you can do is be organised. Make sure you have all the right documents, as without them, nothing will get done. One of the good things about Germany is that there are a lot of online resources that state what you need and where you can get it. Check these thoroughly, as personnel at administrative offices can be unsympathetic.
For those fresh off the boat, this step by step guide will be your bible.
Finally, if you know German speakers who can help you translate documents, then do ask for their help!
Have you lived in Germany? What challenges did you face, and how did you overcome them? Share your thoughts in the comments below, or answer the questions here to be featured in an interview!