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Living in Germany

What You Should Know about Living Costs and More in Germany

Living in Germany is a dream for many, but there is so much you need to know before making the move. That is why in this section of our Moving to Germany guide, we tell you all the most important country facts about Germany, such as the cost of living in the country, transportation, driving, and the culture you will have to adapt to. Did you know the recently-introduced German Skilled Immigration Act will make it easier for non-EU citizens to work in Germany?

Need to move abroad? Organizing an international relocation is not something you should do on your own. As expats, we understand what you need, and offer the the essential services to help you move and live abroad easily. Contact us today to jump start your move, and begin the preparations with our free relocation checklist.

With high salaries and a reasonable cost of living, Germany is one of the most attractive Western European countries to settle in. The ease of obtaining permission for driving a car, and reliable public transportation, plus somewhat formal but friendly people, are a few things you will come across in the country.

Germany has a little something for every expat. Split into 16 states, it offers a variety of landscapes, from dense forests to cosmopolitan cities, expansive mountain ranges, and quaint riverside villages.

Although a developed and welcoming country, there are several practicalities to living in Germany that expats should note. This section covers setting up communications, like internet and mobile phones, and more.

Another issue is that, although the cost of living is fairly reasonable, especially when compared to the UK and the US, housing is hard to come by. For years, Germany has been experiencing a housing shortage that has affected a third of its cities. Expats relocating to Germany should be sure to secure at least short-term lodging before their arrival. Read our country facts section for more information.

Practical Information

This section of our Moving to Germany guide will explain all you need to know to start feeling at home in this historic, vibrant country. We provide key information about the country, such as emergency numbers, as well as the public holidays you should be aware of. Knowing about these basic aspects of German life will help you find your feet quicker.

With a thriving international population, Germany takes great strides to make expats feel at home. Embassies, representing nearly every country in the world, can be found in major German cities and towns. Emergency services are also readily available.

Main Embassies

Germany is home to over 150 foreign embassies and consulates. All embassies can be found in the capital city of Berlin. Consulates can be found throughout other German cities, such as Bonn, Munich, Frankfurt, and more.

The diplomatic mission of your country will be able to assist you in the following cases. If you:

  • need a list of local lawyers and interpreters;
  • want to contact a local doctor for medical treatment;
  • have to get in touch with your family and friends back home;
  • need to safely acquire money from relatives or friends;
  • have lost your passport/ID card;
  • need information on the local police and legal procedures.

Keep in mind that consulates and embassies cannot assist you with everything. For example, in the case of unpaid hotel bills or hospital treatments.

Main Airports in Germany

The busiest airports in Germany last year were as follows:

Airport Number of Passengers
Frankfurt 69,510,269
Munich 46,253,623
Dusseldorf 24,283,967
Berlin Tegel 22,000,430
Hamburg 17,234,229

 

Emergency Numbers

Germany has two primary emergency numbers:

  • 112 for medical and fire emergencies. Use this number is you need an ambulance.
  • 110 for police services.

Public Holidays in Germany

While there is no official religion of Germany, the country has largely been influenced by two denominations of Christianity: Catholicism in the south and protestant in the north. Because of this, Germany has nine public holidays and a smattering of regional holidays that are only celebrated in certain states. Bavaria has the highest number of public holidays in Germany with 13.

Public Holidays
New Year’s Day January 1st
Good Friday April 19th
Easter Monday April 22nd
Labor Day May 1st
Ascension Day May 30th
Whit Monday June 10th
German Unity Day October 3rd
Christmas Day December 25th
St. Stephens Day December 26th

 

Regional Holidays
Three Kings Day January 6th

Celebrated in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Bavaria, and Saxon Anhalt

Fasching March 4th

Celebrated throughout Germany, but not considered a public holiday.

Corpus Christi June 20th

Celebrated in Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria, Hesse, North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland, and some local authorities in Saxony and Thuringia.

Assumption Day August 15th

Celebrated by Saarland and some local authorities in Bavaria.

Oktoberfest September 21st

Folk festival celebrated throughout Germany, but not considered a public holiday. Lasts 16-18 days.

Day of Reformation October 31st

Celebrated in Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and parts of Thuringia.

All Saints’ Day November 1st

Celebrated in Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria, North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland and parts of Thuringia.

Repentance Day November 20th

Celebrated in Saxony.

 

Although not recognized as holidays, Germany has many public festivals during the summer months and winter months (close to Christmas). Be sure the check the regional happenings of your specific German state.

German Police

For the most part, German law enforcement has a good reputation. However, human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International, have criticized the police for a lack of disciplinary measures when officers have been accused of using excessive force. An example of such an alleged incident was a police clash with demonstrators. Police have also been criticized for allegedly mistreating asylum seekers.

Police often do not speak English or any other foreign languages. In the unlikely event you must deal with the German police as a witness, victim, or potential suspect, we suggest asking for an interpreter.

 

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Cost of Living

In 2019, the Mercer Cost of Living Survey, which focuses on expatriates, showed that in recent years the average cost of living in Germany has increased faster than almost anywhere else in the world. This was especially obvious in the cities of Frankfurt, Berlin, and Munich. According to Mercer’s 2019 ranking, Munich is the 67th most expensive city in the world, while Frankfurt is 74th, and Berlin is 81st. Happily, the cost of living in Berlin could be set to fall or at least stabilize as a new rent freeze measure comes into effect until 2025.

You can find out about travel and transportation costs in our sub-section about public transportation in Germany.

Is it Expensive to Live in Germany?

Despite Berlin, Frankfurt, and Munich’s jump in average living costs in recent years, no German city ranks among the 50 most expensive expat destinations worldwide. This means average living expenses throughout Germany are more affordable than in Vienna, Milan, London, and Amsterdam.

Household Expenses

According to a recent survey by Germany’s federal statistical office, Statistisches Bundesamt, the average living expenses of a household in Germany are 850 EUR (960 USD) per month. Of this expense, 36% goes towards housing and utilities. Leipzig is the cheapest city to live in. Frankfurt, Munich, and Hamburg are the three most expensive cities, with Cologne coming in at a close fourth.

Healthcare Expenses

Healthcare in Germany costs little as long as you are assigned to either the public health system or have private health insurance. If you join the public system, the percentage you will owe to the state is taken from your monthly salary.

Germany’s healthcare contribution costs are 14.6 to 15.6%. Half of this is paid by the worker and half by the employer. There may also be a small supplemental rate on top of this, at an average of 0.9%, which is paid solely by the employee. This supplement is a “contribution rate” charged by the state German health insurer. Public healthcare covers treatments and services, such as immunizations, prescriptions, and dental checks.

Private Health Insurance

If you earn more than 62,550 EUR (69,600 USD) a year, you can choose private insurance, which offers benefits, such as shorter waiting times to see a doctor and the option the choose which specialist sees you. Private insurance costs vary depending on the package you opt for but expect to pay at least 100 EUR (110 USD) per month and up to 300 EUR (330 USD) and possibly higher, depending on what is included.

The cost of education in Germany is generally reasonable. Public schools are free to attend while private schools hover around 20,000 EUR (23,000 USD) per year. The German government has strict laws preventing private schools from raising tuition fees too much.

Mandatory Contributions

In Germany, an employee has to spend about 21% of their gross income on things like mandatory contributions to healthcare, unemployment funds, and the national pension plan. Middle-income workers also pay a relatively high income tax percentage of 42%. Low-paid workers pay 14% tax and the top earners pay 45%. However, a good tax consultant can help you find various tax cuts and benefits in the income tax system. InterNations GO!’s Settling-In Services include support to register with local tax authorities.

Average Annual Spending Percentage After Taxes

• 30% on accommodation and utilities
• 10.5% on groceries
• 10.5% on transportation
• 8% on leisure activities
• 4% on the hospitality industry
• 3% on clothing

The remainder includes miscellaneous smaller items of less than 100 EUR (110 USD) per month, such as personal grooming, pets, individual insurance policies, medication, etc.

Monthly Cost of Living in Germany by City

City Single Person Family of Four
Frankfurt 1,800 EUR

(2,000 USD)

4,600 EUR

(5,000 USD)

Munich 2,000 EUR

(2,300 USD)

5,000 EUR

(5,500 USD)

Hamburg 1,700 EUR

(1,900 USD)

4,500 EUR

(5,000 USD)

Leipzig 1,200 EUR

(1,400 USD)

3,500 EUR

(3,800 USD)

 

Rent Prices

To give you some perspective on rental prices in Germany, here are the average prices for a small apartment in the most expensive and cheapest cities:

City Average rent (EUR) Average rent (USD)
Munich 1,090 1,240
Frankfurt 870 1,000
Hamburg 840 950
Saarbrücken 700 800
Leipzig 675 760
Dresden 640 720

Utility Costs

Housing in Germany may be reasonably priced, but their utilities are some of the most expensive in all of Europe. The average price for the whole country is about 215 EUR (242 USD). In Frankfurt you can expect to spend around 240 EUR (270 USD) per month. In Leipzig the average price for electricity, water, and gas is about 220 EUR (250 USD).

Depending on your package and internet provider, a standard Wi-Fi set up should cost between 30-40 EUR per month (34-45 USD).

Grocery Prices and Eating Out

In comparison with some other European countries, Germans spend less on food. This happens for two reasons. First, Germans can choose to go grocery shopping at many different small retail outlets and supermarkets. Secondly, Germans have a different attitude towards eating out than, for example, the Italians or the French. Eating out is considered a treat rather than a way of life, which explains the relatively low monthly expenditures at restaurants.

Food and Alcohol Prices in Germany

You should keep in mind that the VAT is relatively high in Germany: set at 19%. For selected goods, such as dairy products or tickets for local public transportation, the VAT only amounts to 7%.

As far as the cost of daily necessities and small luxuries goes, you might pay the following in Frankfurt:

Food item Cost (EUR) Cost (USD)
Four apples 1 1.15
A liter of milk 1 1.15
One dozen eggs 2
One loaf of bread 1.20 1.35
A cup of coffee to go 1.50-3 1.70-3.40
Movie ticket 12 14
Restaurant dinner 15-25 17-28
Bottle of wine 5 6
½ liter imported beer 1.20 1.35
½ liter domestic beer 0.80 0.90

Culture and Social Etiquette

Intercultural consultants like comparing Germans to coconuts: both have a hard exterior, which can take some time to crack, but are soft and sweet on the inside. Practically speaking, this means that German cultural customs generally impose a certain formality when interacting with strangers and casual acquaintances.

Proper Forms of Address

When you meet a German for the first time, polite German custom requires you to be very formal. You should make direct eye contact, shake hands firmly, and use a formal greeting. German custom places emphasis on the correct form of address and a person’s title, particularly if interacting with business contacts, a person you have never met before, someone older than you, or other people entitled to your respect. Be sure to use the polite form of “you” (“Sie”) when addressing a German for the first time. Also use Herr/Frau (Mr./Ms.) + title + last name: for instance, Herr Doktor Meier.

Formal Greetings
  • Guten Tag, Herr Schmidt: Good day, Herr Schmid.
  • Wie heissen, Sie?: What is your name?
  • Wie geht’s Ihnen?: How are you?
  • Guten Morgen, Frau Müller. Es freut mich, Sie kennen zu lernen: Good morning, Ms. Müller. It is a pleasure to meet you.

First names and the casual form of address (“Du”) are reserved for friends, family, and younger people, like university students.

When someone invites you to talk on a first-name basis, you should accept. In young or trendy businesses, most people will be on a first-name basis immediately.

On the Phone

Politeness is also recommended when making phone calls in Germany. Do not phone people at home late at night, early in the morning, or during lunch hours (generally from 13:00 to 15:00). Sunday is an especially bad day to disturb someone, as they are protected as “days of rest from work and of spiritual improvement.”

Retailers have tried to change the law regarding Sunday shopping, but they are still forbidden from opening. The law comes from Catholic and Lutheran church practices.

Always remember to say your full name when answering the phone:

  • Hallo, John Smith am Apparat: Hello, this is John Smith speaking.

When calling someone who is not a close friend of yours, treat the person on the other end of line with formal courtesy, even if it is only the receptionist offering to forward your call.

Guten Tag, hier ist John Smith. Könnte ich bitte mit Herr Doktor Meier sprechen?: Good afternoon, this is John Smith speaking. Could I talk to Dr. Meier, please?

 

Out in Public

You should take care not to invade other people’s personal space, to snap your fingers, to point at someone or to raise your voice (unless it’s an emergency and you urgently need help, of course). When you need to make your way through a crowd or accidentally bump into someone, a quick “Entschuldigung” (“I’m sorry”) is considered polite.

Breaches of etiquette, like spitting on the street, listening to loud music, littering the pavement, smacking chewing gum, or public drunkenness in any other context than the Munich Oktoberfest, are frowned upon.

Modesty

Showing lots of skin or excessive displays of affection are only common among teens and younger Germans, especially in the bigger cities. Even there, they might encounter odd looks, raised eyebrows, or disapproving remarks from more conservative Germans.

Having a snack in public is perfectly fine as long as you don’t make other people uncomfortable: for example, by eating a dripping ice cream cone on a crowded bus or having spicy food with lots of garlic immediately before going to the cinema.

Remember that Germans take stopping at traffic lights and other road rules very seriously. Unless the green man is showing at a crossing, you should wait to cross. Not only could you put yourself in danger by attempting to cross the road too soon, but you could draw disapproving stares and even a verbal telling off from a passer-by.

Smoking

It is illegal to smoke in public places in Germany, including in bars and restaurants, however it is up to individual states to decide specific non-smoking laws. You might find it curious that there are vending machines in Germany that sell cigarettes—these machines now require the consumer to insert their bank card or driver’s license to prove they are old enough to smoke legally.

If you are a smoker and you are concerned about attitudes towards smokers, you might want to avoid living in Bavaria. This state in the South East of Germany is especially tough on smoking. It is forbidden to smoke indoors at any bar or restaurant there. Bavaria is the only state where owners of these establishments are not permitted to provide a separate, sealed off room in which people can smoke. You can freely smoke outside anywhere in the country.

In Saxony, Rhineland-Pfalz, and Saarland, it is up to landlords if they allow people to smoke inside their establishments, after business owners sued to be excluded from this no smoking indoors policy.

In some German states, smoking is also banned in schools, sports centers, museums, hospitals, and airports. The maximum fine for breaking the no smoking law in Hamburg and Thuringia is a relatively lenient 500 EUR (455 USD), but it is ten times that amount, 5,000 EUR (4,555 USD), in Saxony.

Recycling in Germany

Germans take recycling as seriously as waiting for the green man at road crossings. They have a blue bin for paper, a brown or green biodegradables bin, a yellow plastics bin, and a black bin for other waste.

In addition, Germany has an ingenious recycling system whereby you can take plastic bottles, glass bottles, and aluminum cans—bearing the Einweg recycling mark—to supermarkets, and get 0.25 EUR (0.23 USD) back. This 0.25 EUR is actually the deposit that is paid when someone buys a drink in one of these recyclable containers.

Collecting Plastic Bottles

You will see people collecting plastic bottles in the streets in order to earn a small amount of money. It is certainly an incentive to recycle, however, since the system began, the percentage of reusable bottles in Germany has fallen from 80% to less than 50%.

Once you use the recycling machine, you will get a receipt to get your money back or to deduct its value from the cost of any items you buy. Alternatively, to donate the money to a good cause, you can select the machine’s “spenden” option.

In 2019, Germany introduced a new packing law, called Verpackungsgesetz, which obligates manufacturers to report how much paper, glass, and plastic they use. The manufacturer then has to pay a certain amount towards recycling costs.

Driving

Driving in Germany should be a positive experience, but bear in mind that most cars, including rental vehicles, will have manual transmission. Here you’ll find the famous Autobahn where only 30% of the motorway has a speed limit, attracting motorists who want to test their high-powered engines. But Germany is conscious about the environment—the capital Berlin has a Low-emission Zone, a bit like the Congestion Charge in London, and there is pressure from the Greens political party to introduce speed limits along the entire Autobahn.

How to Get a German Driving License

You should go to the driver’s license office (Führerscheinstelle) at your local citizens registration office/district city hall (Bürgeramt) or city/town hall (Rathaus).

Bring the following documents and information to get your new driver’s license at the driver’s license office:

  • Passport or German ID card
  • 1 passport photo
  • Your valid foreign driver’s license
  • You will need to have your license translated into German unless you are from the EU, EEA, Andorra, Hong Kong, Monaco, New Zealand, San Marino, Switzerland or Senegal
  • Certificate of good conduct

Driving with a Foreign License in Germany

Whatever legitimate driving license you have, you will generally find you can use it to drive in Germany for a short period of time. The license must not expire during this time.

If you have a driving license from a state outside the EU and the EEA, you can generally use it to drive in Germany for six months after you have established residence in the country. Then, you will require a license issued in Germany. You can contact your local drivers licensing authority to find out more about getting a German driving license.

If you are driving in Germany with a European driving license, or a license from a country that’s part of the EEA agreement, it should be valid until its natural expiry date. However, it must be a domestic license not an International Driving Permit.

Rules for Driving in Germany

  • The legal age for driving in Germany is 18.
  • Drive on the right side of the road.
  • U-turns are illegal.
  • Drinking and driving is banned: the legal blood alcohol limit is 0.5g alcohol/liter of blood.
  • It is illegal to leave the scene of an accident without getting help.
  • Keep your driving license and vehicle registration with you when driving in Germany.
  • You can only drive into low-emissions zones if you have a sticker showing that your car’s emissions are low enough.
  • Germany is a handsfree country, meaning you are permitted to use your mobile device when driving as long as it has a feature allowing you to keep both hands on the steering wheel. You are not allowed to wear headphones while driving.
  • You must carry a warning triangle and a First Aid kit.
Speed Limits

The speed limit throughout most of Germany is between 50 to 130 km/h (31 to 81 mph).

  • 50 km/h: in built up areas such as towns and cities.
  • 100 km/h: outside built up areas.
  • 130 km/h: on highways.

Renting a Car in Germany

Here are some tips about driving a rental car in the country:

  • You can rent a car in Germany using the license from your country of origin. You must have had your license for at least one or two years, depending on the rental company.
  • If your local driving license is written in a non-Roman/Latin language, such as Arabic or Japanese, you will require an International Driving Permit or an official translation into English.
  • You usually have to be over 21 years old to rent a car in Germany.
  • Most cars will have a stick shift (manual gear stick).
  • You may want to consider leasing a car if you are planning on using it for more than a few weeks. It will include auto insurance coverage.

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Public Transportation in Germany

How is public transportation in Germany, you ask? Well, this is an area where the myth about Germany being efficient is actually true. A wide range of public transportation options are modern, safe, and provide regular services. There is the U-Bahn subway, the S-Bahn urban train, buses, streetcars, light rail, and taxis.

Travel and Transportation Costs in Germany

You can buy tickets for transportation which allow you to travel on any form of public transportation in the town or city, including buses and trams.

  • A single ticket or EinzelTicket costs around 2 to 3 EUR (2.30 to 3.40 USD) and normally you can use it for 1.5 hours. During this time, you can stop as many times as you want and use different forms of public transportation.
  • A day ticket, or TagesTicket, lets you travel around the zone you choose for a whole day. This is not always for a full 24 hours, so check your ticket carefully. The ticket costs between 6 and 8 EUR (6.80 and 9.10 USD).
  • A group ticket, or GruppenTicket/GruppenTagesTicket, allows up to five people to travel around for one day in a chosen zone. It costs between 12 and 20 EUR (14 and 23 USD).
Deutsche Bahn Trains

With Deutsche Bahn, you can get a monthly train ticket to travel across Germany at discounted prices.

You can also buy the BahnCard to save money on flexible and saver fares.

Type of card Class Price per year (EUR)
BahnCard 25 1st 130 (140 USD)
2nd 60 (65 USD)
My BahnCard 25 (under 27 years old) 1st 80 (90 USD)
2nd 40 (45 USD)
BahnCard 50 1st 520 (570 USD)
2nd 260 (290 USD)
My BahnCard 50 (under 27 years old) 1st 250 (270 USD)
2nd 70 (80 USD)
BahnCard 100 1st 7,400 (8,100 USD)
2nd 4,400 (4,800 USD)

 

Taxi Prices

Here are some average taxi fares for various German cities:

City Starting price (EUR) 1km price (EUR)
Dusseldorf 5 (5.70 USD) 2.15 (2.45 USD)
Berlin 3.90 (4.40 USD) 2 (2.30 USD)
Munich 3.70 (4.20 USD) 1.90 (2.20 USD)
Cologne 3.50 (4 USD) 1.90 (2.20 USD)
Dortmund 3.50 (4 USD) 3.65 (4.15 USD)
Frankfurt 3.50 (4 USD) 2 (2.30 USD)
Hamburg 3.50 (4 USD) 2 (2.30 USD)
Leipzig 3.50 (4 USD) 1.70 (2 USD)
Nuremberg 3.50 (4 USD) 2 (2.30 USD)
Heidelberg 3 (3.40 USD) 3.35 (3.80 USD)

 

Public Transportation for those with Physical Impairments

Germany’s public transportation system is often easily accessible to people with disabilities. Lots of underground stations have an elevator for wheelchair users, passengers in mobility scooters, or parents with baby strollers. If you are reliant on public transport in Germany and want to know if stations near you are wheelchair-accessible, get in touch with your local public transport provider. They may be able to provide you with specific information or a network map.

Do you want to relocate? If you have never moved abroad, the process will be overwhelming, and if you have, you know the burden that lies ahead. Whatever stage you are at, InterNations GO! can help you with a complete set of relocation services, such as home finding, school search, visa solutions, and even pet relocation. Our expert expat team is ready to get your relocation going, so why not jump-start your move abroad and contact us today? Best to start early!

Updated on: August 20, 2020

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