5 Hacks to survive in Germany as an Expat

Hey guys, I just saw this blog post on medium about the life in Germany as an Expat. What do you think?

1: It is all about cash.
Signing up for a bank account is one of the first things you have to do when moving to Germany. It’s required for renting a flat, signing cell phone contracts or leasing a car. Since you have a work permit it should be quite easy, right? Nope! If you go to a traditional bank, such as Deutsche Bank or Sparkasse the bank account creation goes along with a lot of paper work, which often times is not available in English. Trust me, I’ve been through this. I had to sign 8 (!!!) different papers. Luckily, there are different start-ups tackling this problem. I can highly recommend Number26, a Berlin-based start-up, that does not have their own bank branch but a super cool App. (n26.com/en-de/) The entire sign-up process is digital and even the verification takes place via video call. The account goes along with a credit card that you can use for 5 cash withdrawals per month — no madder which ATM you use. This brings me to another topic: cash. Germans love cash. Restaurant, gas stations, train ticket, holiday…everything is paid in cash! Why? I don’t know. But no worries, most of the places accept credit cards as well. Nevertheless, I would always recommend carrying a certain amount of cash. Or you end up like me. Being stucked in a taxi and not able to pay because I did not have cash.

2: Don’t lease but subscribe your car.
Germans love their cars and I do, too. Even though Stuttgart has quite good public transport, I always wanted to own a car. There are many places you can visit over the weekend and I wanted to be flexible. I tried to find an appropriate leasing offering but all of them didn’t suit my needs. I don’t want to commit for 18 month or even more and the short-term leasing or renting conditions were too expensive. Until I discovered Porsche inFlow (inflow.porsche.de). It is an all-inclusive subscription offering with flexible conditions. You pay a monthly rate and everything except the costs for gas are included. No worries about insurance, registration, taxes and paper work. The booking is done completely digital via the App of Porsche’s partner Cluno. I booked a Boxster and I have to say: this is fun! The contract runs for 6 month and then you can either switch the car or end the contract with a 3-month cancelation notice. That kind of flexibility is what I was looking for.

3: Book your train tickets beforehand
For the first 10 month in Germany I did not have the pleasure to subscribe a Porsche. Thus, I was somehow a heavy train rider. What I learned here is that you can save a lot of money by signing up for the frequent traveler program of Deutsche Bahn and book your tickets beforehand. (bahn.de/en/view/index.shtml) With the ‘Bahn Card 25’ you get 25% off for every train ticket you book. There is even a 50% version available. You can easily do the math on your own and decide which offer suits your needs. If you want to visit different cities in Germany like me, the 50% version makes totally sense. You can even save more on your trip if you book the tickets some weeks before. The trains in Germany tend to be quite crowded on Fridays and Sundays, which makes those tickets quite expensive if you book them a couple of days before. But offerings such as the ‘Super Spar Preis’ help you to find tickets for a reasonable price. Another hack I experiences is buying first class tickets for the urban public transports. There are often times not that much more expensive but always empty. Thus, even in rush hours you always find a seat in the subway and can enjoy your ride.

4: Experience the German automotive culture
Did I mention that I like cars? Even though you might not be a car enthusiast like I am but experiencing the Germany automotive culture is definitely a thing I would recommend everyone. Luckily, I moved to Stuttgart the home of the famous brands Daimler and Porsche. Both of them have museums which explain you the history of the car in modern way. But also BMW in Munich and Volkswagen in Wolfsburg have nice sites to visit. But there is many more. You can experience race track events at the Nordschleife or similar. (greenhelldriving.nuerburgring.de/#/landing) This is not about watching others it is about driving your car on the track. This is way better than the Autobahn. The stereotype of the no limit highway is only partly true. Of course, there are a lot of sections with no speed limitations. But often times there is traffic jam. Especially on the weekend. Thus, I would rather recommend using your car to experience the roads of the black forest, Alps or similar.

5: Cover your basics
For me this is was a no brainer, but I met people that came to Germany without health insurance. Talk to your company once they offer you the position in Germany. The often times have established processes and partner insurance providers. My company took care of it. But be aware that getting an appointment at specialized doctors might take some time. What I would recommend here are online booking portals, such as Doctena. (en.doctena.de) They show you which doctors are available near by. This can safe a lot of time.

The article above recommends certain for-profit services and borders being a commercial ad.
I will leave it on the forum, because it also contains some useful information.
But be aware that for each of the services mentioned (except the German rail system), there are other providers that offer similar and in many cases better deals - and obviously a Porsche is not for everyone (e.g. if you have family, need to transport the weekly groceries or prefer to live long rather than fast).
You need to compare, read fineprints and find the offer that fits you best.

I agree with Beppi that this sounds pretty much like an advertisement for Porsche. The information is not incorrect but hardly gives many unknown insights while being incomplete.

Yes, there are multiple online banks available that will have some lower costs than traditional banks but then they have nobody you can talk to in person so it might be hard to get adequate service in some situations.
And if one does decide for a car and is only staying for a limited period of time in might be good to look into leasing. But there are many options including the Stadtmobil car sharing service that has long term plans that are basically leasing, otherwise one can use them to just get a car when you need it.

And yes, if one books train tickets in advance one can save up to 70% on the normal price with a “spar” or savings ticket. The big drawback on these is that one has to book a particular train with no flexibility. Miss a train and with a normal ticket one can simply use the next one, but not with a spar-ticket. And one should know that most tickets bought in advance can be cancelled but they will take around 18 Euros as a fee and one can expect waiting an hour or 2 in line at the service counter to get your refund. Because of such things one is best booking tickets online or if buying a non- discounted one - from a machine in the station, but this doesn’t work for a refund. And there are Bahncards that give one a 25%, 50% or even 100% discount. Naturally each one is priced accordingly so one needs to estimate their personal usage to decide which one is the best deal. And then there are many special group offers or day tickets limited to the region on the regional trains but for a very good price.

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