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Foreigners Survival Guide for Germany

Yes - there are several online guides that describe the basic ropes of living in Germany.
This guide is particular in that describes some noticeable differences from a South African Perspective - so you can call it a cultural survival guide rather than a generic fact guide. Of course, other nationalities have other differences.
I've had 3 similar requests over the last two years, so I decided to publish it rather here and simply reference this guide, instead of responding via message- in this way; other people can add their senf (mustard) and make it qualitatively better.
Some parts might be more tongue in the cheek than others, but still accurate nonetheless, always with the prime objective of showing the positive side of both countries.



Job
Germany still certainly is the country of “Ordnung” & academic titles – so formal tertiary education and title (Doctorate for career advancement) weighs strong compared to experience (which of course is also important), relative to other countries.
Residency & Immigration - can usually applied for after 8 years, you can read the conditions under "Einbürgerung".  A Language and History test with duration of stay is the primary requirement - Proof of social integration / engagement is surprisingly not one of those conditions.

Visa
It is usual that you have a confirmed job offer before applying for a working permit. The employer, in turn, has to proof to local authorities that no German or any European citizens are available that can fill the specific position. Needless to say, it therefore helps if you have skills as highly skilled labour (a manager or consultant position is not necessarily “highly skilled”). After entering the country with a standard business visa, you’ll have to apply for a residence registration at the local town hall (where you plan to buy/rent a place to stay). Your residence registration (Stadt Anmeldung) is used as input to go to the Alien Office (yes, it’s called like that but still is the Immigration Office) which will issue, based on the 3 aforementioned documents, you’re working permit (Arbeits-Erlaubnis). Compared with other countries, there seems to be functioning checks and balances. A check is performed to see if your certificates match that of the institutions listed and your stated attendance thereof (like universities, etc.). It’s known that certain immigrant groups have a more laizzez faire approach with matching reality with fiction, which is bad for those few individuals in such groups that really are gifted.
CV's

The German Lebenslauf requires that you "must”=legal get a letter of recommendation from your previous employer or (number of employers for that matter). An employment history which doesn't line up as "continuum" equates to it being figuratively filled with time spent in jail. The language used in these letters is a dark art, which contains subliminal messages that an average German employee can't decipher. Example (direct translation) "Through his sociability, he contributed to the improvement of the working environment" equates to someone who knows Bacchus well ;) So with your second job, you don’t have an excuse you had as new immigrant.

South African Embassy & Consulate - Support, whilst staying overseas, is as best described as challenging. Passport Renewals often gets lost, there are no status tracking capabilities. Like South African banks, the system is not built to cater for people that cannot quickly drive to the nearby home-affairs  or the local branch.
The diplomatic postal bag sits behind a door and is emptied once a month. No-one knows exactly when such diplomatic postal bag is emptied nor is there a countersignature as proof of receipt. Offering to carry the costs yourself – to send it on behalf, (ie from the consulate) with premium insurance through an official Postal Agency to home affairs is not tolerated. Although all applications have to be processed through the SA consulate or Embassy, the staff members have no procedure transparency towards Home Affairs (ie your application form simply is piled together with local applications on arrival). The actual stated office availability (on the internet) is not aligned with actual availability (max. ca 2 hours per day). Visa Applications for kids requires both parents being physically present at the embassy, on average 400km away. If you're not living in Berlin or München, it means taking a day off, driving 800 km (including return) for a 3 minute procedure.
Other consulates - Applying for Visa to travel to foreign countries is generally quite efficient (online or via courier), with the British Visa being the exception : 1.5 months waiting time, 6 month Business Short-Term Visa maximum validity, the UK Visa is front office is outsourced so website policies are not synchronized with a local office,  ca 121€ + … costs.



Naming your new-born
In contrast to some Western countries, you cannot choose a forename of your new-born from endless possibilities like Blossom, Shy, Cheese, Simba, … in fact there is official name book (Namensbücher), per gender, that states the allowed possibilities. Of course, being South Africa, you can proof that “Pieter” is a well-known local name in South Africa, through news clippings or the likes and keep the family tradition in place (if you must).

Income for professionals can start from 50k (or lower) upwards to beyond 100k .  Professional  in the usual traditional sense. Lufthansa Captains are the comparatively best paid non-university  going profession with Salaries up to 225k pensionable at 55. Entrepreneurs, Business men etc. falls in a different category.
Average increase ca 2-5% per year (linked to inflation).
Salaries are an unspoken topic - unlike UK or US you won't see a job advertisement for a particular salary scale. Your neighbour doing the same job at the same company with the same qualifications might be earning 40 % less (for those outside the Tariff of course).
In contrast to a number of western countries, but true to Europe custom, showing of your relative status by hording earthly possessions (keeping up with the Jones’s) is less pronounced – Instead, post-capitalistic behaviour is evident through modestly avoiding or at least hiding such audacious expressions of weakness from the public eye.
Good citizens proud themselves to passionately avoid making “generalizations”, although “equality” is vocally expressed as common intention.  Of course, the inherent dichotomy of these two terms is not blatantly obvious to all.
Although the incomes are competitive, in absolute terms, Germany globally has the 4th highest personal income tax (per 100k€ income incl social security) but only the 16th highest income tax for earners at 300k. In comparison South Africa ranks at number 12.



Costs of Living
Renting/Buying - Size of property – A majority (31%) of families lives in a Mehrfamilienhaus/Multifamily residential (ca 93m2 per 2.1 heads) – similar to a Duplex/ Maisonette (Larger single building home with separate entrance, or staircase entrance, by name 2 family home, sharing common outer walls. A “Reihenhaus” is a special variant where 6 or more Simplex’s all line up in one row (sharing more than one wall), but having own entrance, own small garden, and having a trustee board for common property like parking garages etc. A “Wohnung” is the classical standalone unit on a single property.
The rent of such in city 1,6k€-4k€ per month down to 1,2k€ in a smaller town. Heating (& levies) is charged separately at ca 110-250€/m (highly variable). Inclusive will be advertised as ("warm"), in contrast ("kalt") means that heating levies still need to be added on top. A new 180m2 (which contains say a living space size 129m2) freestanding house on an yard size of 600m2 - goes at ca 600k upwards,  (25km from work, city suburb, bakery, school, dual income neighours etc. nearby). Of course there are houses in the middle of nowhere for much cheaper.
Contents of home/apartment on arrival – It is custom to find no light fittings, no kitchen (including oven, fridge, stove), no wardrobes/cabinets/closets. At one such event, the previous rentor, announced that she would remove the floor inlay, since the landlord refused to compensate such investment! For Rental  a “Kaution” (3 Months of upfront levy) is usual to protect the owner for possible damages. This will be payed back (at standard bank rate) when properly signed-off.  Beware - The landlords are very relaxed on small blemish on new rental but are extremely meticulous to the cm on leaving. Write down /photograph and sign every so small imperfection as part of the contract.



Culture

Language - The thing with not speaking German can be a substantially limiting, the adjective “utterly” also jumps to mind. Larger Corporates performs all their minutes in English but the discussions, decisions, lobbying and allegiances are formed around the language. Still this is proudly considered international.  98% of all  US and British I know since living in Bonn, München, and in Frankfurt never saw the need / necessity to speak or learn another language and form the exception of foreigners for which this socially tolerated. By implication – employment through an international company is the most likely.

Buying habits
One discover the strong roots of colonial culture, when you witness the constant small quantity buying behaviour in Germany in comparison to South Africa. South Africans buy once a month (like Australians, US) but then buy stocks as if civilization will disappear in the next 30 days (figuratively going back to a time of wide dispersed farms). In contrast it is not unusual for Europeans to buy 4 times a week, small quantities of really fresh stock of a market(fish, meat, salad). This reduces unnecessary wastage, but of course requires only 15% of the usual freezer and refrigerator space…   no need for a 80 gallon walk-in fridge, no large malls with endless rows of cryo fridges containing frozen everythings.

Dining out Meal, Inexpensive Restaurant R55-R100.00 / 30-40€
Meal for 2, Mid-range Restaurant, 3-course R250.00-R400.00 / 86€
On an average basket, for supermarket foods you pay ca 1.5:1 to 2:1 (double) the price (Bottle of Water, Eggs, Potato). Same factor for Cinema.
Clothing /Shoes are 1.3 :1
Fuel : 1,44€ : 1,05€ (Germany to SA)
Vehicle : Prices on par (for German cars/ Volkswagen/BMW)
Utility- Although the income compares favourably there are a number obligatory costs (healthcare, insurance, municipality costs). Ie utility costs (electricity costs 35c per KWh compared to SA at 10c/Kwh)
Communication and Media - Monthly recurring rates (for internet / telephone) are only a third of the costs in South Africa

Much more to write here…




Aftercare, Education, schools for Kids -
Kindergarten (Kita 3-6 years) - Towns have to transfer apportioned funds for kids not attending in their area, so choosing a kindergarten outside your area is not exactly appreciated by the town mayor. Attendance waiting-lists is the norm and should be applied for 1 year in advance, irrespective if you knew about such rules before as foreigner or not.
Primary Schools - In contrast to SA, there is no equality when applying at a school outside your living area. That means that kids from the local area are prioritized in terms of getting placement, than those living further away (Work Address doesn't count). So choosing a home from a radius distance around a school of your liking is very, very important. Private schools (mostly British and American) charge a percentage fee of your income, generally starting @ 1100€/m and up. For private schools we witnessed in Bonn, München and Frankfurt, the kids often get a 1,2-1,5 average grade/score  (1 good-5 low) even with learning difficulties... The private school's accreditation system however, allows preferential access to US and British Universities. Study in European Universities (for EU citizens are cheap (200€). It’s substantially different for those outside EU wanting to study in the EU.
Secondary Schools system consists of 3 main branches Haupt, Real, Gymnasium. Kids change to secondary school at the age of 11 (Grade 5, Std 3). Attending Gymnasium requires 1,2 Average (beyond 1,8 gets arguable). Whatever school they're in at the age of 11, which, in turn, will strongly determine to 90% the fate of the rest of their lives (attending a university, ability to study profession, access to leadership positions). There are of course 1% exceptions to the rule, so it can't be generalized.
Holidays and Planning are pre-booked at least 1 year in advance, again not by all, only those we met. Travelling materials are extensively studied in that period. This pre-study custom, somehow explains why there are almost no touristic signs overly visible in Germany (compared to Straford upon Avon, which even have a sign for the Shakespeare's dinner at a restaurant on 4  April 1603). It also explains why you can walk 1 meter close to a history changing location in Germany and be utterly oblivious of the fact that you’re unable to connect your textual literacy with context and place. Such knowledge is assumed and understated when experiencing humour.

Humour - Unlike the typical Anglo Saxon humour, that South Africans are accustomed to (characterized as Slapstick, Silliness, Lacking Subtlety or Self Deprecating),  Continental humour is characterized by pun, black humour and word play/sentence construction, often with something/event related in the past. Both addresses parody or situation in one form or the other. Which explains why non-Europeans simply don’t “get-it”, until they’ve been around a decade or more.
30 Days standard leave (Paid Holiday+Paid Annual Leave) per year. Before you jump up in joy at this, you have to take public holidays, working moral, equivalent remuneration into account.  For example, the US has more Public holidays than Germany, and on average take 5 day unpaid leave. In contrast, the UK battles with employees taking the statutory 4 days sick-leave as right whether they’re sick or not.
Working Hours = 40 Hours per week.




Pension and Health deductions can only be used by the state for those purposes. Tax, on the contrary can be distributed in any way possible :
Integration Tax +5%- Tax for integrating East Germany,
Church Tax (KirchenSteuer) +8%/9%) is Regionally different. Once you have declared whether you're Protestant, Catholic, ... this is automatically subtracted from your salary (no choice).  Such incomes are distributed in the province, with the benefit that even small towns still have small churches, but to the detrimental effect, that the local pastor/priest are not directly incentivized with a salary is decoupled from measurable performance/feedback. Alternatively, you can declare to be officially atheist/other and can then decide to which institutions you want to donate yourself.
Health care coverage is provided by both public and private health funds, as personal choice. For gross income is below €53,550 you're obliged to the Public Health System (several alternatives). Public Health contains a fixed list of standard treatments, time contingent spend patient.
Special treatments for Dental and Healthcare are not always included (i.e. a tooth in the back of your mouth is aesthetic, whilst the 4 frontal ones are a necessity). Like with all insurance, you can simply take a special additional insurance, to cover for this extra risk.
If you have a brutto income above €53,550, self-employed or independent worker, as second option you may choose a private health fund. Coverage is generally more efficient and although everyone is equal there is a subtle difference at the reception desk. With a private health fund, you can minimally adjust your level of coverage and your monthly contributions based on your own health care needs. Once you're in the private health system it is nearly impossible to get back to the public health system (“almost” a one way street). Since 2014, due to public health expenses, the private health insurance were obliged to also contribute to the public health system.




Driving & Drivers License
- Non EU nationals can drive up to 6 months with national license, beyond which you need to go to re-do your drivers license - ca 3-5k€.




Opening Accounts, Registration 
Opening Accounts, Registration of Vehicles etc. : Most formal applications requires that you have to provide official proof of stay = residence registration= "stadt anmeldung". Tax  are gathered on a local level (Federal State), so towns have a rigid process of signing you "up". With the residence registration you can open a bank account, get registration plates, pay for sewerage, pay for fresh water + paying additionally for "waste" water, vote in local elections etc.



Burocracy can also be efficient

Burocracy here has a very high value - and, can be extremely efficient, compared to other countries where burocracy generally is a way to slow things down if you don't have contacts. That noted, any application form that contains a glaring mistake (missing punctuation, omitted information on page 1), is a guarantee for closer dissemination on molecular levels. Don't make mistakes on Applications. Never. The L-approach of stapling a 50€ note to the application / fines - to oil the machinery - will get you in serious trouble.





Sport - Public schools doesn't include sport as part of the curriculum as does SA. You have to join various sport clubs (“Sport vereine”), that specializes in various sport art. Cost ca 40€ per semester (excluding private gear)





Property & Banking - Still to this common day, the financial institution practice in Germany heralds centuries of money changing - with conditions subpar comparison to other EU countries and the rest of the world. Example for buying property, it is quite customary that you have at least 20% (preferably 30%) own capital (Bausparvertrag) available as part of the gross amount. Again, since we established that Generalization is frowned upon, there are again many exceptions to this rule. Terms are usually 10 or 15 years. The financially aware average Joe have a Bausparvertrag that matures when reaching the age of 36, to afford buying his first own property. Any lower contribution is penalized by increased rates (similar but more extreme than SA). A bank manager explained this simple rule of thumb to me one day (ideal profile) - you should've saved 1000k€  on average per month since the first day you started studying or working until today. That equates to the interbankrate. Of course you can get a loan from a foreign bank, but the small print can have notorious implications.





Unlike most first world countries, during the last decade, internet bank transfers are not immediate but are still the customary 3 working day freeze for "manual administration". Transactions with Credit Cards are rare and avoided where possible. Payments in a number of midsized Restaurants are cash-only.
Relocation costs - An average SA home requires ca 2 containers of bare necessities - price for relocation is 12k€ upwards. Shipping containers require 3-4 months for delivery (dock clearance etc.).The Cape of Storms didn't get its name accidently, a number of South Africans I know suffering damage of ca 5% of the total value, due to rough seas.

Thanks, I'm not South African but have been living in Germany for quite a while now. Had to laugh when I read the Job & CV part

"The language used in these letters is a dark art, which contains subliminal messages that an average German employee can't decipher"

That really is a spot-on observation  :D

Excellent post - thanks a lot!
Most of what you say applies to all foreigners relocating to Germany, not just South Africans.

Hi JohannesM,

Thank you for these information.  :thanks:

Your topic is now a sticky one.

Priscilla

Thank you, I always wanted to live in Germany in the future :)

Thanks so much for posting this!

Very handy to have all this information in one place. Perhaps you would consider sharing your expertise on our website clubglobals.com/. It is a one stop location for all things people new to Berlin need to know about.

Looking forward to connecting!

Hi Jacquie, sure, but I'll probably need guidance from your side - and I'm not the most frequent visitor...

Hmmm. I'm declared as no religion/other and pay NO church tax. While South Africans have to get new drivers licenses this is not the case for all countries, many have an exchange provision. For Americans it depends on your State, some have a reciprocal arrangement where you need to take no tests and others have partial reciprocity - and one need only take a written exam. With an Ohio license, I could drive 1 year and then had to get schooled and tested for a German one but only because Ohio, unlike many other States, had no exchange provision at the time (although this has now changed). One should look into the exchange situation before coming. An American might have, for example, a California license but presently live in another State like Texas that does have an exchange provision. He could continue to drive with his California license but might opt to get a Texan one anyway if planning to relocate to Germany.

On the other hand, the majority of the cost is the driving school and I was also given credit for having already been a licensed driver and had to take less classroom (theory) course hours and only a couple hours of practical driving instruction. This cut my driving school cost down to a third of what a beginner would pay. The written test can be taken in different languages and should not be a problem for one who already drives. The practical test is judged with nit picking scrutiny and one needs to stick to German theories. For example, they will include stopping on a slope and one has to use the handbrake to make sure one does not roll back before getting the clutch engaged while driving off. Being practiced at doing so without the handbrake is considered wrong. I played the game although I had spent the previous 20 years driving vans and motor homes that this method would have been virtually impossible on. Like many things in life, there is a gap between theory and actual practice but one needs to play the game and do as expected.

American should note that once a German license is done it is good indefinitely unless you get it taken away. This saves one the trouble of renewing it. But having a license taken away cannot be gotten around by going to another State and getting one there, they are governed by the country as a whole. Serious driving violations might not just mean a fine but a temporary ban and mandatory re-schooling costing time and money. There is a point system and a number of small violations can add up to the same as a big violation.

Germans tend to be good drivers yet not overly courteous. Say you need to get over to the next lane and signal and wait. Even if there is no heavy traffic, one may wait a long time until someone lets you in as 20 cars go by without considering to be delayed an extra 2 seconds to help you out. They don’t do it - because they don’t HAVE to. I think this is why Germany has so many laws. It is a necessity because people tend to do what is in their interest with no concern for others unless forced to. While it is not meant with animosity, helpfulness and courtesy are just not common unless set in formalized rules and regulations. An exception is if someone is seriously injured; or maybe it is the result of laws that require one to help, or call for help, if one witnesses an accident or injury, unless they would themselves be put into danger. This is particularly strict for drivers who have to do a first aid course as part of their licensing.

Hi JohannesM,

I don't know if you've seen my A Gringo's Survival Guide to Brazil or not, but I'd like to personally thank you for your tremendous contribution to the Germany Forum and all of our members.

Keep up the good work! I really wish we had more members like you who make such great contributions.

Cheers,
James      Expat-blog Experts Team

Hi James,
thank you -  also just finished reading your blog - by the size of it - that must have taken considerable time investment - and covers a wide area of interests. Did you do it all in one round,or did you extend it successively? (ie spelling mistakes, correcting possible misinterpretations, etc.)

I have learned some good things to take home here. Thank you Sir

thank you for sharing

Moved to Berlin a couple of weeks ago and have been sick for as long as this.
I must admit I would simply like to share this with others cause in terms of survival, this is not a pleasant situation.
I have accidentally left my European Insurance card back home and I'm not getting registered as a resident here until August 10th. I was looking for private clinics to get treated, and the doctor that treated me first time said I have a "mild" case of tonsillitis, didn't prescribe me with anything but ibuprofen and lots of liquids and rest...and charged me 70€.. A week later I'm suffocating because both my throat and my nose are stuck, not to mention I can't really eat or sleep..
I wrote to my husband who  and he sent me this link: https://goo.gl/MZjjCC
So it's an app where you can chat or video call with a doctor. I registered, sent a message and got a reply in a couple of minutes. Had penicillin prescribed over the app, and the prescription sent to a pharmacy in Mehringdamm, across the road from my apartment. A couple of days later, cause immunity was shattered obviously, I had a herpes appear on my lip and my nose. Wrote a message into that app and had acyclovir prescribed within 15 min.
In case any of you end up in a similar situation, I highly recommend this new App. I think in the states there's the same type of app like Wallgreens and First Opinion, but in Europe it's this MeeDoc. And the consultation costs you 34€, not 70.



Since it is not allowed to advertise commercial services on thia forum: Could you please confirm that you are NOT part of the online medical consultation provider you recommend and have NO financial interest in it?

Good points brought up by Mspreis about getting sick. Once one is in Germany legally, the insurance systems give good coverage, paying doctors’ visits, although medicines seem to have everly increasing co-payments attached. Hospitalization involves 10 Euro/day co-pay. If one is covered through another European country, I would assume doctors’ visits would have to be paid for - yet get reimbursed once one can produce the proof of insurance to complete the forms with. For others traveling or temporarily in Germany, one should best have a travel insurance! While operations and hospitalization is MUCH cheaper than in the States, it can still cost a lot if uninsured! I traveled extensively around Europe before having residency and simply paid out of pocket. But that was decades ago when it was cheaper and I avoided getting anything but the most urgent and necessary things looked after. What I found was that a self-payer paid the same fees as one with a private insurance but didn't get the same level of care. And doctors were actually charging me more than what they could charge a person with a public insurance plan since they have the size to negotiate better rates. Coming from a medical family, I expected that most doctors would try to give me the best care for the lowest price possible since I was a poor street performer but actually the opposite was likely to happen. And despite paying for medical services, I was often treated with suspicion as if I must be a criminal to not have insurance and I had better pay up-front to make sure I wouldn't skip out on my bills.

Hey,

here are some informations in french about the german health system : (moderated)

Moderated by Julien last year
Reason : advertising your services is not allowed on the forum - please register in the business directory, thanks
We invite you to read the forum code of conduct

Thx, Laurent,

since the above-mentioned post contains websites in French and Hungarian, would it be possible to summarize the salient points you saw into a English post, especially where it contains useful information in addition to what was mentioned initially?

Hi Thanks alot !!

Hello Jackie😊
I'm debating moving to either Berlin or Frankfurt; do you know how much cheaper is the average rent in Berlin, compared to Frankfurt? And are there any hostels (temporary basis) you can recommend in Berlin? Will visit yr website, thanks for sharing - Alex.

Alex,

Rental Price Comparison for major cities in Germany :

1) http://www.abendzeitung-muenchen.de/inh … ac30a.html

Comment - You can use the list to notice some very average rental prices to get a general feeling. I would suggest, however that you compare it also with the following 2 links.

2) From a statistic perspective you can also try this link : http://de.statista.com/statistik/daten/ … tschlands/

Comment for link 2. You will notice that the sources are generally aligned but have interesting differences. From 1 and 2 you will notice that Berlin either has objects at the same price or are 17%-30% cheaper.

3) For a condensed graphical overview you can use : http://www.immobilienscout24.de/immobil … on_content


Comment for link 3. The graphical overview allows you to zoom in to the city maps and discern further rental price fluctuation drivers. Hence I personally prefer 3) rather than a pure list, because there are many, many other factors that influences the rental price implicitly as well as explicitly. Example - for factors like
- is it overlooking a busy highway/airport (noise polution) ?,
- close to an industrial zone ,university, notorius gangsta valley, surburb surrounded by natural forests etc.? (artificially skewing the rental price, on top of the object's current condition itself.)

 
Most major German cities display a standard "slight skewed donut" rental price phenomena. Inner city either exobitant high, or surprisingly low (challenged neighborhood - dented donut) with average middleclass in a donut around the city-centre between 10-40 km radius. The closeness to a "round donut" is a "general city wellbeing" indication, for me, on how well a city has been administrated and nurtured over a century- compared that to some cities where only breadcrumbs or cordoned-off zones are left...

Beppi, I do not know if she is or is not, but her info was very helpful. I went there and this particular application does not work on my tablet but similiar one yes so I instaled in case. Even if someone would work in this industry for me it does not matter if I can get information and avoid bigger health problems. :-)

Yikes!  Thank you for this and I hope you are on the mend now.

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