Moving to Germany – 10 things you need to know
Kristi Fuoco


Don't be fooled by the German stereotype for coldness,
Germans really are very warm and welcoming once you get to know them!


So lately you’ve been reading all of my blog posts, and you keep finding yourself salivating at photos of beer and pastries and beautiful old crumbly buildings and now you’re thinking to yourself, yah, I could do that. I’m SO moving to Germany!

Okay, maybe it’s not that simple. Maybe you fell in love with a German and you’re taking that big leap and joining them here, maybe your husband or wife got transferred here, maybe you have been studying German at university for four years and want to live somewhere where you can practice it, maybe your work transferred you here…the list goes on. There could be a million and one reasons why you have decided to take the leap of faith and start a new life in this wonderful and complex country, but if you have, congratulations! Germany is a fantastic country with an incredible standard of living, sincere and honest people (don’t let the sometimes gruff demeanor deter you), great quality food and drink and a fascinating culture in general. But before you come…here are a few things you might want to know.


May I be excused? My brain hurts from
these long German words and complex
sentence structures. And yes, this photo
was taken in Hawaii which is where I imagine
myself when Germany is overwhelming me.
(Photo by Michelle Herrington)

1. German is hard. Like really hard. I’m not bad at languages, in fact, I’ve always thought I was pretty good at them. I’ve learned French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and even some Dari (the Afghan dialect of Farsi), but German has kicked my butt in a way no other language has. Even Germans find German hard. Not only are there three genders (which is nice and PC in my opinion), but there are all these things called “cases” that I won’t even get into it. Oh and the verbs go at the end of the sentence. Oh and…okay, I’ll stop. Even if you’ve studied German it won’t prepare you for speaking it and understanding it here when you first arrive, but no worries, it will come eventually. The problem is that all Germans learn English in school and many want to practice it, so it’s not just a matter of mastering German, it’s a matter of having the will power to stick to speaking German when everyone switches to English when they speak to you and also having the desire. English is a much more informal language than German and sometimes, you just don’t want to feel that formal. So, learn some slang to keep it fun! Learning to really speak German can be done (especially if you don’t live in a big international city like Hamburg), and I have met many an expat here with amazing German, but it is no easy feat. So try and make the process enjoyable somehow (like laughing at funny signs in German), keep a sense of humour and viel Glück!


Hey, if all else fails, you could always be
the beer seller guy at concerts and events!

2. Expect to have fewer job opportunities and earn less money than you did back home. I realize this is a sweeping statement, and hey, maybe you go transferred here through your work and you’re still earning a good salary, but in general, most of the expats who are working in Germany are earning less, if for no other reason than the taxes are so incredibly high and another 15% of their salary is going towards health care. I even have friends who opt for working less hours and end up earning almost the same as they would if they worked twice as much, solely due to taxes. Don’t get me wrong, taxes are allowing for all sorts of great things like universal health care and an incredible standard of living in Germany, but just be prepared. Also realize that since your German isn’t good enough yet, this will limit your job opportunities a lot. Even if, after a few years your German is fairly fluent it will still never be on the same level as a native speaker or someone with a German internship and work experience. But, if you speak English then this is a big bonus for you too, don’t forget that. So expect to be taken down a notch or two in the work you do, but remember, you’re here for an incredible experience too and everyone back home is super jealous!


My friends Emily and Donald visited from
Italy (but are from Canada) and much beer
was had. Notice the very empty beer glasses
all around. I’m not sure which round this
was, but we were feeling pretty good!


3. BEER! Yes, they drink a lot of beer in Germany and yes, you will too. They always say that stereotypes exist for a reason and they’re right. Germany really does have the best beer, in my opinion and people drink it ALL the time. My friend was living in Italy this summer and came up to Hamburg for a visit with her husband. They were amazed by the massive one litre beers being devoured by the German folks at the table next to us in a beer hall. Italy is all about wine and Germany is all about beer. So, if you don’t like beer….start liking it. It’s part of the process of adapting to Germany. And here’s the best part….you can drink it on the streets and in parks, so go nuts! And yes, a whole blog post just on German beer is coming…..don’t you worry.




Sometime in the wee hours on Hamburg’s
famous party strip, the Reeperbahn.
a night out ends up here.


4. Like to party hard? Good! Parties are epic in Germany. No, I don’t mean that everyone is necessarily trashed out of their minds and creating a massive ruckus (although this is possible of course, especially after a soccer game), but when you go out in Germany it’s very common to stay out until 5am….or 7am. You can thank public transit that runs all night and liquor laws that actually allow you stay at bars and clubs past midnight for this. The best part is that if you do manage to stay up until 5am you can grab a fresh pastry from one of the millions of bakeries around first thing in the morning. But, if you are used to North American style non-college parties where people get home at a reasonable hour….you might need to change your tune. So, if you get asked out, you know what to expect.


The only time I’ve worn heels in Hamburg so far…
(Photo by Catherine Lambert)


5. This one’s for the ladies – don’t bring a million pairs of high heels with you. I’ve been in Germany for five months now and I’ve worn high heels…once. Yep, that’s it. I love high heels, I think they look great, but in Germany you walk everywhere, there are stairs everywhere and cobble stones everywhere. Sure, bring some heels if you want for the office or special nights out, but don’t expect to wear them on a daily basis. Bring lots of cute flats and comfy boots and you’ll be good to go. You’ll especially thank me for this when you’ve been dancing all night long and remembered to just wear ballet flats.





The view from my new place. Stick it out
long enough and you’ll see a rainbow
in Germany…I promise!

6. Apartments – different rules for a different country.
I was lucky enough to be able to stay with my cousin when I first arrived in Germany, but when I finally moved into a new place with a roommate I learned all about what it takes to find an apartment in Germany. If you come from Vancouver or an expensive part of the world you will be happily surprised at the lower cost of renting here in Germany. Hamburg is known to be one of the more expensive cities in Germany and I still find the cost of apartments really low…but of course, I’m used to Vancouver. Berlin has a reputation for extremely cheap rent so if you’re looking for inexpensive big city living give it a try. Of course, it’s not nearly as pretty as Hamburg (not that I’m biased of course.) Depending on the neighbourhood you live in in Hamburg you could pay anywhere from €200 (or less) to €500 for a shared flat or house. For your own place you’re probably looking at €600 and upwards for a one bedroom flat. These are all general prices in Hamburg so you will find all sorts of different places and prices depending on the city, neighbourhood and the building of course. But, one thing you need to prepare for are the huge deposits that are expected when you move in. Sometimes landlords ask for up to three months rent in deposit alone, plus if you use a realtor you will get charged realtors fees in addition to the rent and deposit. So, I suggest coming with a large lump sum to start off your stay in Germany. Also, know that apartments don’t necessarily come with kitchens or washing machines. So you might need to buy all new appliances and furniture. It’s possible to find furnished apartments of course (my room was furnished when I moved in), but they will normally cost you more money to rent, but it could save you all the additional costs. And if you order furniture in Germany it could take months and months to arrive. I had a friend who was living without a bed and sofa for ages, so order early!


Sometimes all you can do is give in to a true
German moment and let the slower pace of
life here take over.

7. Everything will take you longer here. This one drives me nuts on a daily basis, but I’m trying to be zen about it and think of it as an exercise in patience. Everything takes me longer in Germany for a variety of reasons, and often it has to do with my lack of language skills, but also it has to do with just simply not knowing where to buy things, how to do things or where to even go for advice at times. That’s why it’s key to make friends with fellow expats who have been living here for a while and who know the lay of the land. Germans will help you too of course, but expats will understand the exact frustrations you are going through and the exact things that you need, especially if they’re from your country. For instance, we have on-going conversations amongst my friends about where one can buy simple things like brown sugar, vanilla and all things baking related. Also, don’t expect one stop shopping. The thing that continues to boggle my mind here is that you can’t buy regular over the counter drugs at what I would consider a drug store. There are a few common chains here which remind me of the drug stores back home, Rossmann and Budnikowsky being the main ones, but I spent a frustrating time in both those shops once only to realize they didn’t sell anything like Tylenol or cold medicine. You have to go to the Apothekes for this and at most of them, you have to order what you want from the counter, which, when you are sick in a foreign country, is a daunting prospect. But, most of the pharmacists will speak a little English, especially in the main busy parts of town or the main train stations. Also, give yourself plenty of time when cancelling anything (like months), doing any kind of German paperwork or even just daily tasks (it took me five months to buy a binder and dividers….yep, nutty.)

How can Germans eat something
so cute every single day? Okay,
I do now all the time too.
(Photo Wikimedia Commons)



8. Got pork? Just like bakeries, pork (I’m sure you’ve heard the tales of bratwurst) is as prevalent in Germany as orderliness and rule keeping. I haven’t eaten red meat since I was fourteen years old and only rarely eat pork back in Canada (bacon being the one huge exception), but I think I have eaten more pork in the last five months than in my entire life. And hey, it’s really yummy here. Sure, if you are a veggie or you don’t like pork you can get by in Germany, but expect your choices to be much more limited. But you really don’t want to miss out on a delicious pork schnitzel, believe me. So, all we are saying is…give pork a chance.






One of the local trains that runs
from Hamburg to Lüneburg. Only
a short forty minutes away but
without a group pass or discount of
any kind it’s more than €15 return.

9. Traveling around Germany & Europe – not as cheap as you might think. I was sadly disappointed to learn that the “cheap” flights I was used to in the UK back in 2005 are not so cheap in Germany, particularly from the north. If you have the choice about where to move to in Germany you might want to think about living in a city like Berlin or Frankfurt or Munich where there are many more options for cheap flights around Europe or back home to North America (if that’s where you’re from.) I’m so incredibly happy I ended up in Hamburg since the two of us are rather a perfect match, but it is a lot more challenging than I expected to find great deals around Europe. Also, train travel can be incredibly expensive if you don’t know how to take advantage of the deals. Even a short trip to a nearby town can cost you easily €80 return if you don’t book far in advance. I tend to be spontaneous in my travel plans and apparently this doesn’t fit with the German culture of planning holidays a year in advance. So, my tip for traveling within Germany – book your train tickets a minimum three days in advance in order to get the “early bird” tickets (they can be as much as half the price), buy a Deutsch Bahn card (25-50% discount) to get discounts on train travel, and if you can, travel in groups on the weekends for some great deals. Also, know that the regional trains are MUCH cheaper than the ICE express trains. You might have to make a couple extra transfers but you might save yourself a lot of money. Also, if you are up for car sharing Germany has a very active site for this called Mitfahrgelegenheit, which yes, I can finally remember and now say in German.


Welcome to my drug store. Many thanks
to the Medical Services Plan of Canada.

10. Load up on drugs before you come. And no, not the illegal ones. I don’t know about you, but I sure wouldn’t want to deal with angry German customs officers or police. No sireee. But, in terms of your run of the mill legal prescription drugs that you use back home, and even over the counter ones like IB profen, Tylenol, cold medicine etc., believe me, you will thank me later if you make room in your suitcase and bring supplies for all your needs for the next while. The last thing you want to do when you arrive is have to worry about trying to find a doctor (especially an English speaking one) just to get a prescription for a drug which probably has a different name in German and might be even more expensive. I shelled out quite a bit to get a year’s supply of a few prescriptions before I came and I’m feeling pretty smug right about now. Bring supplies of all things you are used to back home like cosmetics as well. You won’t regret making the space in your luggage.


Don’t worry, if you want you can forget everything I’ve just written and just learn it the hard way on your own – I’m sure you’ll have some good stories! My advice is by no means expert and it comes from my own personal experiences….and you can take it or leave it, but I’m telling you…you might want to take at least some of it. Like, really do try the beer. You’re gonna love the pants off of Germany, trust me. Just be open to it and know that it takes a while to warm up to German culture. But I tell ya, when you’re sitting on a patio on a sunny day drinking an amazing beer, eating amazing pastries and not feeling at all rushed, you will be happy you made all the effort to come. Germany excites, challenges, frustrates and stimulates me each and every day. Just try not to be too hard on yourself when you’re here, everyone else will do that for you! Now drink a beer for goodness’ sake and enjoy!



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Kristi Fuoco

KRISTI FUOCO – Social media enthusiast, English teacher, writer, marketer, traveler, music lover. West Coast Canadian gal living and working in Germany and traveling around Europe. Current city – Hamburg.

Twitter: @kristifuoco

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My experience in Germany has been invaluable. In addition to learning German and taking part in another culture, I have learned so much about myself. I am confident that I can thrive away from the comforts of home and that I am dynamic and flexible. This is exactly what today’s employers are looking for – giving me a competitive advantage in the working world.
Kate from British Columbia – working for an international not-for-profit organisation.