German living: The good, the bad and the Praktisch

German living: The good, the bad and the Praktisch

For many years, Germany has always been seen as a great place to head to for Expats from all over. However, as with most great places, there are the Cons that stand beside the pros. If you are caught up in a dream to go get Germanized, its best to make sure you have a well-rounded look beforehand. To help you get more informed, below are the most common Pros and Cons associated with building a new life in Germany.

Working in Germany

Pro: Work-life balance and job security

Germany can be a great option to work for multiple reasons. Firstly, the employee has much more personal protection and rights in comparison to other countries. The amount of work you are contracted for is very important. Your annual paid vacation allowance is a minimum of 20 days (based on a 5 day work week) however most employers offer 25 or more days. And, they are mandatory. Secondly, you have 6 full weeks of paid sick leave and if you face a longer-term injury or illness, your health insurance will cover a percentage of your normal income amount after. I find this aspect very nice. As an American, I was always used to pushing and going into work sick because I would either face losing pay or my employer letting me go for taking a sick day, but in Germany, it is very encouraged to take the time if your health is on the line.

Con: Climbing the ladder

Heading up through the ranks can be a challenge due to the fact there are a very large amount of qualified people next to you. Competition alone is pretty fierce for Germans, and as a foreigner, it can be even more so. Germans tend to focus a lot on scrutinizing your experience history and educational background, often this can be the big difference between being chosen for an opportunity against a German.

Cost of living 

Pro: Lower cost of living 

In general, the cost of living is pretty low in Germany (keep in mind I’m excluding certain cities like Munich and Frankfurt). When it comes to your basic needs such as food, electricity, and transportation, they are quite affordable. One of my favorites being the price of groceries. Germans focus a lot on this topic and when it comes to buying food you can even purchase only organic produce for an incredibly small cost. This all being in comparison to my previous home in Hawaii, US coastal cities, and major European cities.

Con: Steep income tax

This topic is typically one of the biggest gripes for locals as the income tax deduction can be quite high, sometimes as much as 40% of one’s income. It is however important to keep in mind that this is not a general statement, German income tax is individually based, it is dependent on the individual’s earning bracket. Even if your income tax is in the higher range, it is good to keep in mind that this tax system helps to support other aspects that improve the German lifestyle such as free education and the public healthcare system.

Health and personal insurance 

Pro: Great health care system and the general mindset

One of my favorite parts of life in Germany (and even an industry I studied and worked in for some time) would be its great insurance industry. Granted I worked in the health insurance sector, which is a two-part system I highly admire, but it is not the specific insurances I want to highlight but the whole mentality. Germans are very adamant about their rights to maintaining good health and security, this is an aspect we Americans do not believe in. Whether it is physical or mental health versus personal security or liability, Germans view this as essential.

Con: Too many options and too much German

Unfortunately, the cliches about German insurance are true. Germans do LOVE insurances and have A LOT of them. From health insurance, personal liability, legal, household, bike theft, and even dog insurances (yes multiple insurances for your dogs exist and are sometimes required!). It can be difficult figuring out which you need, what the best offer is, even understanding the German concepts can be quite tricky but often most the difficult getting support in English. Luckily the last years many companies have realized the large number of Expats in Germany who need support and thus adjusted their services. One of these I would recommend to any interested Expats is Coya. Coya is an insurance company for expats by expats. They offer many great options for liability insurances (home insurance, dog insurance, theft insurances…) but also they offer great English support as well as a super helpful blog full of free information for new Expats in Germany.

Transportation

Pro: Many great options

Coming from Hawaii, I have to say I’m pretty biased about this Pro of living in Germany because the transportation options here always amaze me. Everywhere I’ve been in Germany they tend to have a wonderful transportation system that is not just affordable but varied. Recently in Munich, we have had updates to our MVG app (the public transportation system) that shows you a multitude of connection options, options for the type of transportation (bus, tram, train, or even bike rentals), and you can purchase all tickets digitally. Additionally, most cities are very bicyclist friendly.

Con: Driving is a bit more tedious

The catch for having such a great public transportation system is that owning a car, driving and even getting a license is a lot more costly. The German drivers license alone comes in at a hefty price of around 2000€ (although can be less depending on if you have a preexisting license that can be transferred or you do not need all the exams/ required courses). Next to that, the cost of gas can range from 50€-over over 100€ to fill up one tank and in certain cities, (like Munich) parking is also an additional cost but can also just be very frustrating since it can be so tricky to find a place.

Lifestyle 

Pro: Great location for those who like to travel

One of my personal favorites to my life in Germany is how close I am to many other European countries and the easy travel options. Weekend city trips are a great option and can be quite inexpensive as well. The German culture is also very travel-oriented so with all of your mandatory days off per year this is a great match!

Con: Lackluster cuisine

*Unpopular opinion alert* I hate to say this…but the tough fact is that German food is not the most exciting. I have found that it has nice comfort food quality to it but after many years, it has really become something where I have noticed there is not much variety or even innovation…but luckily many neighboring countries bring in their influence to help spice up your life in Germany.

Culture Shock

Pro: Structure and standard of living

Now, I am not going to say the cliche of German efficiency is 100%, but I will admit that Germans and their general social practices and habits do go towards the higher standard of living in the country. Standard of living in reference to daily life in general. People in Germany really like their structure, set habits, rituals, and practices. There is a lot of discipline in the working culture and a refreshing push on always having some good quiet time to rejuvenate. Take Sundays for example. In many places in Germany, Sundays are for taking it easy. Most shops are closed and work is discouraged (both by neighbors who expect silence in your building and most companies are not legally allowed to have employees work on this day). For some, these cultural differences may be frustrating at first but a lot of expats come to enjoy them once acclimatized.

Con: Socializing can be cold

Germans tend to not be known for their warm, welcoming culture, but this does not mean they are cold-hearted. As an American, when I first arrived (and even many years later) this difference in socializing was a bit rough for me. People here are very reserved and it takes time for them to build more personal relationships. In American we are polar opposite to the point where a lot of times the friendliness is too surface level, as that has never been a preference of mine, I have actually grown to admire its contrast in the Germans more. It may take a very long time to find your people or feel you are ‘in’, but once you do breakthrough you know that your German counterparts are there for you. If you want to hear a bit more on this topic, you can also familiarize yourself with the Coconut vs. Peach analogy.

Pro / Con: Language barrier

The German language to me is a real love/hate relationship. It is incredibly hard to jump into at the start and feels like you will never fully be able to get a grasp on it. Then throw in connecting with your new city, environment, and peers, and it drives you a bit bananas. However, I love the language and the way it never stops challenging you. There are so many fun parts within the language to learn and there is always some form of it you will need to adapt to. I would say the real issues with the language barrier lies in the fact that once you live in Germany, most people will rush to speak any other language with you than German-especially English.

What do you feel about these? Feel free to comment with any I’ve missed below!

xxA

Connecting to community during covid

Connecting to community during covid

Not only does being trapped at home mean that you’re staying safe and you’re helping save other people’s lives by not spreading the virus – it also means you have a new opportunity to reconnect with yourself, your friends and family, and your interests. -Nicole, The Expatcast

The 2020 pandemic has been a tough situation for all communities, and now that we are in 2021, it is still a part of our lives we are all adjusting to. But I find it to be not all bad, it is creating a new level of creativity.

Back in the summer my friend, fellow expat in Germany and dynamite podcast host, had a virtual quaratine sitdown to discuss our optimistic thoughts on the topic.

Have a listen and let me know what you think or if you prefer a visual option, check out the Youtube version ( kindly excuse the lazy lockdown video look) ⤵️

xxA

How to get Permanent Residency in Germany

How to get Permanent Residency in Germany

Endlich, after many years and exams I have finally received my Permanent Residency in Germany. So now I can (with confidence) break down the details for any of you who are also eager to secure your German home for the long run.

💡 What is a Permanent Residence permit?

A German Permanent Residence Permit, also referred to as a Settlement Permit, once received, allows its owner to stay in Germany indefinitely* and gain access to the labor market.

*with some conditions to keep in mind

  • If you leave Germany for more than a period of longer than six consecutive months, it will expire.
  • It’s not the same as having German citizenship, but it holds more security than having an Aufenthaltserlaubnis.

🤔 What are the Requirements for a permanent residence permit?

Non-EU and non-EEA citizens (as well as UK citizens) living in Germany are able to apply for permanent residency after a period of at least five years in the country (although there are the occasional circumstances that allows earlier qualifications, which I describe briefly below).

Fast-track permit cases

  • Sometimes it is possible to receive your Permanent Residence Permit in just two years. Usually this would apply to those who graduated from a German university and then lived and worked in Germany for two years after.
  • Individuals married to German citizens can also apply for a Permanent Residence Permit after three years.
  • Finally, another opportunity to receive a Permanent Residence Permit in under the normal five years is open to those who are highly qualified in a specific technical/research area.


Normal permit cases

The above exceptions are never 100% certain, unfortunately, so most often one will qualify after five years, as long as they are able to meet the following requirements:

  • You have held a Aufenthaltserlaubnis for a minimum of 5 years.
  • You are able to support yourself without benefit payments (your working contract and typically the last three months salary slips will be requested)
  • Proof of current and paid health insurance (and documentation showing at least 60 months of social security contributions)
  • You hold the proper permissions to gain employment in Germany
  • You have a completed B1 language exam and Einbürgerungstest (Kenntnisse über die Rechts- und Gesellschaftsordnung sowie die Lebensverhältnisse in Deutschland), which is an exam testing you on basic knowledge of common law and life in Germany.
  • You have sufficient living space for yourself and your family (a copy of your rental contract is requested)
  • You do not have a criminal record

I personally am an individual employed by a company, but in case you are self-employed, there’s a special case for you too. If you’re looking to dig up some tips on this, here are the details I’ve been able to confirm for you:

As a self-employed person, you can apply for permanent residency after three years.

In order to qualify, you must be able to provide a valid residence permit for self-employment, have already successfully set up your business and prove that you have the financial stability to support yourself indefinitely.

It is important to keep in mind that the German tax system does distinguish between Freelancers and Self-Employed persons (commercial activity). So if you are only freelancing, unfortunately you will not qualify for the reduced application period.

📝 The Application Process

It is important to know that this process is never exactly the same for every person, and once in a while individual circumstances can change things up a bit (speaking from personal experience…), but generally speaking, this is how it should go.


So once you have confirmed you meet all the previously mentioned bullet points, it’s time to go grab your application form, the Antrag auf Erteilung der Niederlassungserlaubnis, from the local immigration office and make an appointment.

Then make sure you have all the following required documents on hand before your appointment:

  • Completed application form
  • Proof of current and paid health Insurance
  • Valid Passport
  • B1 level German certificate and Integrations course / Einbürgerungstest certifcate
  • 1 x biometric photo
  • Certificate of German degree (if applying for a fast-tracked Permanent Residence Permit as a graduate of a German university)
  • Marriage Certificate (if applying for a fast-tracked Permanent Residence Permit due to marriage)
  • Proof of being financially secure (bank statements for employed individuals and tax returns for self-employed)
  • Employment contract
  • Proof of accommodation and registration
  • Professional license (if applying for fast-tracked Permanent Residence Permit as a result of being highly skilled in a field)
  • Money for your permit fee (The standard fee for a Permanent Residence Permit is about €135, for self-employed people, it is €200…prices do very, keep this in mind!)

Depending on the grounds of your application, next to having your documents will be checked, you may be interviewed about your application and intention for long term residency. (This was a bit intimidating in my interview but in the end, it worked out great.)

One of the reasons why I adore Germany so much is down to the basic fact that, if you have all the correct paperwork, you are 9 times out of 10 guaranteed to receive what you want. And this fact has always played out for the best in my experience.

And finally, the big question to sum up all the excitement: how long does it take to get a residence permit in Germany?

To which this answer is, of course… it ALWAYS varies. 😛

In my experience, this particular Amt does like to take its precious time getting my documents and permits to me, so it’s tough to say precisely how long yours will take.

They do say that on average, from the time of your interview appointment it will be around 2-3 weeks for your Permanent Residence Permit to be processed and provided (but I’ve got my fingers crossed it will be nice and schnell).

So there you go. That was my 411 on the German permanent residency process. In all honesty, my situation was not one of the standard ones outlined and was a bit more fast-tracked (but still a bit tedious, as bureaucracy always is).

However, I hope those details were helpful to you all…and best wishes my little long-term Deutsch fishes!

xxA

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You can Du me; the formal or informal guide

Many European languages make linguistic distinctions based on interpersonal relationships. For example, a language can have two forms of the word “you”, and a speaker would use one or the other version depending on how well they know someone. In German this is the case with “Sie” and “Du” (“Sie” being formal and “Du” being informal).

This split leads to a chronic question for many native-English-speaking expats learning (or who have just learned) German: which form should one use, and when?  This, unfortunate confusion happens because these distinctions once existed in older forms of English, but they’ve since lost their place in modern English.

We expats learning the German language and culture are frequently struggling with this question, Sie vs. Du…so much envy for those lucky suckers learning English…

It’s hard when you are thrown into a new (and sometimes strange) culture. You are not just constantly out of your comfort zone but it seems that any faux pas, slight or not, somehow becomes this huge mistake in your head.

Sometimes improperly using sie/du can lead us into a downward spiral of self-doubt and we undermine our abilities of acclimation, but honestly let me tell you first things first, that’s nonsense. Get out of your head!

We, as expats can start to think and feel that we are alone when we make tiny mistakes like this.

Plot twist: we aren’t!

Most Germans make grammatical mistakes just like we do. In my experience it seems they just go by personal rules that work out unless corrected (sort of like guessing “Der”, “Die”, or “Das” for us–wing it until you’re told otherwise). Just think on the bright side, try your best and you will always succeed, or find the right answer. Germans are definitely not shy when a correction needs to be made.

But for those not so convinced..here is a little cheat sheet of suggestions i’ve found that will help you decide what to Sie and Du. (Or, rather, when to “Sie” or “Du”.)

  1. If both people are dressed casual, go informal.

  2. If both people are in an informal environment (chit-chat in line at the supermarket, or in the park) go informal.

  3. If one person is wearing a uniform in the place of employment (restaurant, café, shop, etc….) go formal.

  4. If there is more than 20 years difference between the people, go formal.

  5. In a work setting if both people are under 40 and wearing casual clothes go informal, otherwise go formal in the work environment.

Really though, these are just loose guidelines. Often they won’t exactly be the case. Usage of “Sie” or “Du” can be based on comfort levels or personal preference and how well you know a person. Just don’t fret, people won’t be offended when it is obvious you are not a native speaker. I myself have been here over half a decade and still fail once in a while.

The German language itself is extremely difficult and takes a lot of work to master. Most of the time trial by error when speaking. Just think of that great American motto of ours,  “Fake it till you make it”. I live by this when speaking German. The biggest road block you will find is lacking the confidence and getting trapped in your head. As long as you go out and give it all you’ve got, don’t sweat the little things and even ask to be corrected. In no time you’ll be Deutsch Sprechen wie ein Profi.

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Moving Abroad or Running Away?

Moving to a new country also means leaving another country behind. What if the situation you’re leaving behind is messy, full of problems and stress? Is your choice to move abroad a healthy way to improve your surroundings for a better future, or is it in some way a very elaborate method of running away from your problems? And what happens when certain problems sneak back up on you, because the baggage comes with you, even if you thought you left it behind?” –Nicole, The Expatcast

A while back I sat down with my friend and fellow Expat content creator Nicole of The Expatcast, to discuss the topic of moving abroad. This comes up often in questions, not just from other people but now and then in my own thoughts.

We all have our own reasons for leaving a place, but not too often do we acknowledge the full spectrum of factors that led to our initial decision. For me, I have come to accept it was a mixture of running from my past and running towards a different future… but I may still be on the fence.

Feel free to have a listen to the episode for the full details and let me know what you think

or if you want more of a visual, have a look at my Freiburg visit here ⤵️

xxA