The Ultimate Family Guide: Moving to Germany
Are you thinking of moving to Germany with your family? Germany is one of Europe’s most popular destinations for expats, immigrants and international students. A study by Deutschland.de found the majority of expats (some 35% ) move to Germany for work, with 13% for love and 13% for higher education. There are good reasons why Germany is an attractive place to work – it has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the EU, with a growing need for skilled workers, and is one of the best countries for start-ups in Europe. The largest economy in the EU, Germany is home to multinational organisations in industries from science & technology to pharmaceuticals to the automative industry. Frankfurt is Germany’s financial capital while Munich a global centre for technology and engineering, home to BMW and Siemens. The nation is also famous for social policies like the Kindergeld monthly payment of at least €200 per child to new parents. Germany’s government captures attention for green policies, like reducing single-use plastic bottles going to landfill to between 1-3% with a plastic deposit scheme, and its capital Berlin is often named the greenest city in the world with the fastest commute of 32 international capitals. And all this is before mentioning the jaw-dropping castles, world history sites, food, culture and month-long beer festivals!
In this MumAbroad Ultimate Family Guide we’ll cover 8 hurdles when moving to Germany, so you make the best decision for you and your loved ones:
Relocation services in Germany
German School System
Where to Live in Germany
Healthcare in Germany
Opening a Bank Account in Germany
Cost of Living in Germany
Moving to Germany for Work – Visa & Residence Permit
Learning the German Language
Driving in Germany
Moving to Germany checklist
Attention anyone considering a move to Germany!
This blog will help you understand all the steps you need to take to move to Germany.
But we often hear that expat families hit a roadblock with the actual move, or finding a house, getting a visa, choosing a school, and much more.
That’s why MumAbroad has partnered with leading specialists who speak your language and can save you time and stress.
In case you get stuck, don’t hesitate to contact one of the specialists below!
Relocation Services Germany
Nearly all universities in Germany are public institutions, offering free tuition. This is extremely attractive for Germany’s over 350,000 international students who increasingly have the option to study undergraduate and master’s programmes in English. For families moving to Germany before their children graduate from high school, learning German will increase their study options – and substantially reduce costs of higher education compared to many home countries.
Law requires all children in Germany to attend school from age 6 to 14 or 16 years, depending on the federal state. This does not include homeschooling, which is illegal in Germany. The German school system itself can be complicated to navigate, as it’s one of the only education systems in the world that divides pupils into different pathways for most of their academic life. These education routes hugely influence a child’s options later in life – so parents & pupils, choose wisely from grade 5 onwards! The three academic tracks are:
- Gymnasium (grades 5-12): for bright and academic students preparing for the German Arbitur qualification, equivalent to an American High School Diploma or British A Levels.
- Realschule (grades 5-10): for students preparing for the the Realschulabscluss, seeking vocational or commercial training after completing school.
- Hauptschule (grades 5-9): for students requiring a slower approach to education, seeking apprenticeships in blue-collar jobs after graduation.
One of the biggest dilemmas facing parents moving to Germany is whether to educate their children in the national curriculum, opt for a public or bilingual school, or choose a private international school.
Germany has many top fee-paying international schools that teach everything from the American High School Diploma, to the International Baccalaureate programmes, to the British curriculum – as well as a combination of the above alongside the German Arbitur qualification. These schools can be vital for families moving to Germany from the USA for a short while, or with the intention for children to return to their home country for higher education.
International schools are also vital for older children not fluent in German at the time of arrival. Many free, public German schools have quality English or even bilingual programmes, but core subjects will naturally be taught in German.
INTERNATIONAL SCHOOLS IN GERMANY
International schools in Munich
If you’re thinking of moving to Germany and need educational support, MumAbroad has a network of education specialists to help you:
With Germany being such a popular place to move to, finding accommodations can be challenging, especially in cities like Berlin and Munich. That’s why most expats will suggest you use an Immobilienhändler (a real estate agent) or a Makler (a rental agency), for support and for help with the bureaucracy. Around 50% of Germans live in rental apartments, and per square foot houses in Germany are generally more expensive than other countries such as the US. Renting however can cost significantly less in Germany. The most expensive cities in Germany include Munich, Hamburg and Cologne. Cheaper cities include Leipzig, Bochum and even Berlin.
If you choose to rent, bear in mind that agents and/or agencies will charge a fee of two months’ rent for their services. On top of this, your property owner may ask for a deposit of three months’ rent that you will be refunded after the contract except in the event of damages or unpaid rent. When looking at rental prices and contracts, be aware that Germans use Kaltmiete (cold rent) to refer to a fixed rental price and Warmmiete (warm rent) to refer to water, heating, waste disposal and other services. When talking about ‘rent’ more often than not you’ll be talking about Kaltmiete. It can be common for new tenants to find their own electricity, hot water or heating gas supplies and sign your own contract.
Most flats also come unfurnished in Germany, except for short and temporary contracts. And when we say ‘unfurnished’ we mean ‘unfurnished’ – often the tenant must purchase light fixtures, kitchen fittings, cabinets and appliances such as an oven, washing machine etc.
Bear in mind you may need the following extra documents to rent a home in Germany:
- Your ID or Passport
- A Mietschuldenfreiheitsbescheinigung – a document to prove you don’t owe money to previous landlords.
- Three recent pay slips to prove you earn enough to pay for rent.
- Bank statements from the last three months.
- Mieterselbstauskunft – an application form giving the prospective landlord more information about you, such as your date of birth, how many people will live on the property, and what you do for a living.
- A credit score report.
The German healthcare system is considered one of the most efficient in the world. Medical facilities and standards are excellent, with a national network of hospitals and clinics providing extensive care. All residents of Germany are entitled to German healthcare, although there are no subsidised services and health insurance is required by law.
Four different principles make up the healthcare system:
- Compulsory insurance. All German residents must have statutory health insurance called gesetzliche Krankenversicherung. Anyone who earns more money than the fixed gross income can choose to have private insurance.
- Funding through insurance premiums. The healthcare system is financed from premiums paid by insured employees and employers. Tax revenues also contribute to the healthcare system, which helps to make healthcare free for those not working & affordable for those who are.
- Principle of Solidarity. Everyone covered by statutory insurance has an equal right to medical care and continued payment of wages when you fall ill. The premiums paid by German residents are based on their income. This means that the rich can assist the poor and the healthy can help the ill.
- Principle of self-governance. The German state sets the standard for medical care for its citizens, but further organisation and financing of individual medical services is the responsibility of self-governing bodies within the health care system. The Federal joint committee is the highest entity of self-governance within the statutory health insurance system.
Outpatient care in Germany is mainly provided by self-employed doctors, dentists, psychotherapists, and other healthcare practitioners. Most doctors have statutory health insurance accreditation that enables them to treat anyone with statutory health insurance.
If you were to fall ill once you relocate to Germany, you will more than likely see your family doctor who will then refer you to a specialist you might need. There are many joint practices and medical care centres in Germany with two or more doctors that work together to provide their services. Outpatient care also includes medical care received in the hospital or a psychiatric institution, that does not involve an overnight stay.
Those who are self-employed and business owners must pay their own contributions in full. For those who are unemployed or eligible for benefits, this is covered by the state. Applying for public health insurance is relatively straightforward. Once you have chosen a specific insurer, simply apply online or make an appointment with a regional office. The HR department of most large companies can assist with this process too and will be familiar with the state German health system.
Private Health Insurance for German Healthcare
Individuals who earn more than the €4,687.50 per month can opt for private health insurance, as well as German Civil Servants and those who are self-employed. Private health insurance is more costly and the application will require proof of income, a medical test and providing a detailed medical history. Most employers do not offer assistance with this process. Those with private insurance do not necessarily receive superior care, but waiting times are dramatically shorter.
Seeing a Dentist in Germany
Most dental work in Germany is relatively costly, and insurance companies will usually require a cost estimate prior to the patient receiving treatment. Most insurance companies will make a strict distinction between necessary medical treatment and cosmetic procedures, and will not always deem treatment necessary (or cover it). This will vary depending on an individual’s type of coverage within the German healthcare system. Many Germans choose to take out an additional dental insurance option (known as Zahnzusatzversicherung or Zahnschutz-Zusatzversicherung). There are many English-speaking dentists in Germany.
For medicines and prescriptions you can go to a pharmacy (Apotheke) which will be identifiable by a noticeable red letter “A”. Those with public health insurance pay around 10% of the cost of the medication – which can be expensive in Germany.
Emergency Services Numbers:
Ambulance – 112
Fire – 112
Police – 112
Opening a Bank Account in Germany
Setting up a bank account in Germany is relatively straightforward for new customers. When opening a German bank account in person, most banks will only require a passport and funds to make an initial deposit. Some banks will ask to see proof of a German address and/or your registration certificate (Meldebescheinigung). Opening a bank account online in Germany may require more documents including pay slips and a work permit if available.
German Banking: In Branch or Online Banking in Germany?
When opening a bank account in Germany, one of the first questions is which bank to go with? Some of the largest banks, such as Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank have branches in most towns and offer many services in English, although most online services and smaller banks tend to operate exclusively in German. Almost all German banks offer online and mobile banking options.
There are a growing number of exclusively “online banks” which have no physical branches (for example Comdirect and DKB), which are common in Germany. These tend to have low or no fees at all, among other perks (almost all German bank accounts charge a fee, except for students who may apply for an exception).
Popular Bank Accounts in Germany
The most common current account is called a Giro account and the most popular bank card is a debit card known as the “EC-Karte”, which can be used to make payments and withdraw cash at ATMs (Geldautomat) for free. Cash machines are usually identifiable by a large EC sign. There are fewer reciprocal agreements between German banks than in the Uk for example, and you may be charged a fee if withdrawing money from a Geldautomat of a different bank.
Transferring Currency to Germany
As with any move to another country you may need to make currency transfers – either for large one off purchases such as a property, or smaller regular payments. MumAbroad.com has partnered with Clear Currency, the money transfer people, to provide a more efficient and cheaper way to exchange currencies compared to relying on your bank for the exchange. Most banks apply significant fees and unfavourable exchange rates compared to dedicated foreign exchange specialists making this an expensive, inefficient way to transfer money. Clear Currency is free to join, and FCA regulated, they offer competitive rates, a dedicated currency exchange platform, phone support and same day transfers for more than 35 currencies.
Cash or Card Payments in Germany
It is worth noting that German society still uses a great deal of cash, unlike some of its European neighbours where this is waning in favour of card payments for even smaller, everyday transactions. Always be sure to ask if credit and debit cards are accepted in restaurants or shops. Mastercards and VISA cards often incur a fee with each transaction. For those having just arrived in Germany with no credit history within the German credit rating system is known as SCHUFA, banks may impose a 3-month waiting time before issuing a credit card or an overdraft to ensure they are generating an income.
The average gross monthly salary in Germany is €3,975, according to official figures for 2020 – after tax, it’s about €1,000 more than the EU average. The German office statistics, Destasis, is ever more optimistic suggesting average monthly disposable income per household in Germany is €3,681. Annually this means €44,172 of disposable income – well above the OECD average of €28,965.
Gas in particular will be a surprise for anyone moving to Germany from the USA – at the time of writing, a gallon of gas in Germany costs $7.40 compared to $3.73 in the US.
How much is rent in Germany?
The cost of living in Germany will be surprisingly affordable, considering its high taxes, high quality of life and strong economy. Overall, German cities are cheaper to live in than other European metropolises like London and Paris. Germany has also implemented rent control laws, meaning that costs can only rise over time very gradually, and in line with inflation.
For example, a small apartment in German city centres costs an average of €736 per month – according to Numbeo. Meanwhile a three-bed apartment outside of German cities would cost an average of €1,063 per month. In Berlin a small central apartment can cost an average of over €1,000 per month. This is about the same as in Frankfurt, €50 higher on average than Hamburg, but about €300 cheaper than in Munich.
How much are utilities in Germany?
Germany is the most expensive country in the EU for electricity costs. Germans pay about €3.2 per kWh – well over the EU average of €0.23. Monthly bills for electricity, heating, water and waste disposal for an 85m2 apartment are around €230 per month – over twice that in Spain – according to Numbeo. Internet bills can cost over €30 per month.
Cost of food and drink in Germany
According to Destasis the average German household spend 15% of income on food and drink. Based on an average disposable income of around €3,600 this means roughly €540 per month on food and drink. According to Numbeo the following supermarket items are more expensive in Germany than in the UK: milk (22% more expensive), oranges, tomatoes, wine, beer, water and cigarettes. Meat products, on the other hand, are cheaper in Germany than in the UK.
A meal at an inexpensive restaurant is much cheaper in Germany compared to the UK, averaging €10 per head when eating out. A three-course meal is also about €10 cheaper per head than in the UK, according to Numbeo.
Financial planning in Germany
Now more than ever we need to be thinking about how best to look after our money, Horbach Expats specialise in high-skilled multilingual financial planning for expats living in Germany and offer personalised consultation services – in person or digital and provide financial education through multilingual events
The German visa application and paperwork required when moving to Germany for work will vary greatly depending on an Expat’s nationality and individual situation. The German bureaucratic system is known for being confusing, however when armed with all the necessary information with the required paperwork, the process of applying for a visa in Germany should be smooth and straightforward.
Visa in Germany for EU Nationals
EU and EEA citizens or Swiss nationals do not require a visa or permit of any kind to live and work in Germany. For Uk citizens, the impact of Brexit remains unclear with regards to entry requirements in Germany. Upon arriving in Germany, once they have secured an address, citizens of these countries need only to obtain a registration certificate (proof of residence in Germany) known as a Meldeschein or Meldebestätigung.
German Visa Application for Non-EU Citizens
Non-EU Citizens should make a German visa application at the German embassy of their home country. There are many different categories of visa corresponding to different purposes of stay. Once a visa has been obtained and upon securing a residence in Germany, newly arrived international residents from out with the EU must obtain a registration certificate (proof of residence in Germany) as above (this is the case for all foreign residents and German nationals alike). However those from outside the EU and EEA should also apply for a residence permit (Aufenthaltserlaubnis) from their local Foreigners’ Office.
The German Work Visa
There is detailed information on obtaining a German work visa on the German Government website (available in English and Arabic as well as German). The government have also launched a useful multilingual website for foreign people moving to the country, called Make it in Germany, with detailed resources on entry requirements in Germany, residence permits and various aspects of settling into life in Germany, including job-hunting and learning the language.
German Registration Certificate (Meldeschein or Meldebestätigung)
The registration certificate (Meldeschein or Meldebestätigung) is a legal requirement for all citizens living in Germany, whether German nationals or foreign. A new certificate must also be required upon each change of address, both when registering for the first time when moving from abroad to Germany (anmelden) or re-registering when moving internally from one German city or region to another (ummelden). Obtaining a registration certificate is crucial for almost every bureaucratic task in Germany, from opening a bank account to acquiring a tax code and health insurance.
Local Registration Process (Anmeldung)
Once you have secured accommodation (and within 14 days), you should undertake the “Anmeldung” registration process at your local Citizen Registration Office (known as a Bürgeramt or Einwohnermeldeamt). Depending on your location, you should either make an appointment online (particularly in larger cities like Berlin) or drop in. You should print out and fill in the registration form known as Anmeldung bei einer Meldebehörde (available on the website of your local Bürgeramt). This is only available in German unless you employ the services of an international relocation agency, whom usually offer translation services for this. You should also take the rental agreement signed by your landlord (Wohnungsgeberbestätigung), or if you are temporarily staying with a friend or relative, a signed letter from them declaring that you are staying there.
There are many exceptions to the above depending on an individual’s nationality and personal situation. If in doubt, always refer to the latest information from your own government or embassy regarding visas and your local town hall website regarding any relevant paperwork or Germany visa requirements
German is one of the 24 official languages of the European Union and the second most spoken language in Europe after English. There are various German dialects that you may encounter across Germany. The dialects are split up into high and low German. Low German dialects are closely related to Dutch, and high German dialects that are spoken in the upper Rhine region are divided into middle and upper German.
German is known as a complex and frustrating language to learn. It has strict grammar rules. It’s also notorious as a language that builds ‘compound nouns’ – that is, long words made up by sticking smaller nouns together. For example:
- Kraftfahrzeug-Haftpflichtversicherung (in English this would be ‘motor vehicle liability insurance’, but in German it’s the longest word in the dictionary, of course).
Despite being a tough language, knowledge of the language and culture of your host country are keys for successful integration. It will also make your overseas assignment or even new life much more enjoyable. Germans in particular have a stereotype of being ‘rude’, however if you know and appreciate the language and culture this directness can transform into practicality. Being late in Germany is seen as wasting other people’s time; but seen positively, punctuality and directness saves you time for your own hobbies, families and pastimes.
If you’re moving to Germany and don’t know the language, it’s never too late to download a language app and get learning.
If you’re thinking of moving to Germany and need language services, MumAbroad has a network of specialists to help you:
You are allowed to drive in Germany with an international license for up to six months without a German driving license. Afterward, you will need to get a German driving license. If you’re thinking of moving to Germany for more than six months, you’ll need to eventually swap your driving license with a German one. Exchanging your foreign license for a German one can be quite simple, with you taking either a written exam or a driving test. The written test can be taken in English and will cover the rules of the road and traffic signs. The test is taken at a driver’s school (Fahrschule) and you can let them know in advance that you will be taking the exam in English. As of 2013, a driver’s license is valid for 15 years.
Here are the required documents you will need:
- Passport or German ID card
- 1 photo 35×45 mm
- Your valid license from your home country
- Proof of how long you’ve had the license.
- Recent vision test certification
- Proof of completion of a first-aid course
- Confirmation of your first registration as a resident in Germany
- A fee of 40 Euros in cash
It will take three to six weeks before your driver’s license arrives.
For a quick moving to Germany checklist, these are the 8 hurdles when moving to Germany in brief:
- Find a private school that teaches in English, or prepare for private English lessons, or your child might have difficulty accessing higher education in their home country. Homeschooling is illegal in Germany. Universities, however, are free in Germany.
- German apartments are rarely rented with bills included. Expect to set up your own contracts for electricity, hot water and heating and don’t expect a fully furnished apartment.
- You are required to pay for health insurance in Germany, and the self employed or business owners must pay contributions in full.
- Germany is still very much a cash society, meaning you should open a German bank or online German bank for cash withdrawals.
- Petrol or diesel is really expensive in Germany, and Germans pay the most for electricity in the EU.
- If you’re not from the EU, you’re going to need a visa.
- Many Germans speak English, but learning German can be crucial to integrating and getting along.
- You can drive in Germany for up to six months with an international (non EU) licence.
We hope you found our Ultimate Family Guide to Moving to Germany useful. MumAbroad strives to be the leading resource for families moving to Spain, France, Germany & Italy. Please use the navigation links to find out more about each country, and don’t hesitate to contact us by email for any queries: email@example.com. We wish you every success in your relocation journey.