You know, I don’t think I’ve ever seriously asked myself if moving to Munich was actually a good idea.
A couple weeks ago, mindlessly scrolling through reddit, I came across a post on /r/IWantOut about everyone’s personal pros and cons of “getting out”. I stopped scrolling. I thought to myself, “Shit, have I ever even thought about that?”. Maybe I’ve been simply too busy for a retrospective look back at that decision. Maybe I’ve just assumed it was a good decision because it was what I decided to do at the time.
In any case, that Reddit thread made me think about it. I left a long comment in that thread back then, but I want to revisit the topic today. Reading the other comments was really quite interesting, so if you want to take a looksie yourself, here’s the link to the thread. In this post, I want to break down my personal pros and cons of moving 5,000+ miles from home.
I’m just passing the 2-year mark this week, so was it a good idea after all? What are the benefits and losses I’ve experienced by moving here?
My Pros of Moving to Munich
Below is just a small list of the benefits I’ve seen from moving to Munich. I know there are several that I’m forgetting, but these are the most important that popped into my head.
Cost of Living in Germany
- We have a pretty nice place and don’t pay too much. It’s not big by German or US standards, but our apartment is comfortable and well-equipped. Finding a place of similar quality, location, and price in Chicago would have been very hard to find, even in – relatively – cheap Chicago.
- Health insurance and its stability. I just don’t have to worry about not having it, especially as a student and future self-employed person. The system will be a bit worse off for me next year as a self-employed person if I go that route, and stay on the public plan (more info on German health insurance here). I could also get my insurance through a part-time job, which would be much better than having to pay both the employer and employee parts of the cost myself. Even then the costs depend on my income, but will probably be around ~300€ a month for full public coverage.
- The food here, especially bought at the store, seemed to be much cheaper than in Chicago. Seriously, I’m still amazed how little I pay nearly every time I go to the supermarket. Some more specialty-type items are more expensive and/or harder to find than they are at home, but most things are much cheaper. Of course, local dishes like Rouladen are much easier and cheaper to pull together than an American Thanksgiving dinner.
- Also, our internet and mobile data plans are cheaper for mostly better service. My Telekom plan is pretty cheap and provides great coverage, and our internet plan is inexpensive and was hassle-free to start up. If you plan on moving to Germany, I highly recommend using the site check24.de to find and compare offers for all kinds of services.
Getting Around and Public Transport in Munich
I guess this might fall under cost of living as well, but I appreciate the public transportation here and the general lack of need for a car. This isn’t so different from when I lived in Chicago, I suppose. However, to travel anywhere outside the city you need to rent or have a car. That’s just not really the case here. Of course, train service to rural towns is pretty limited, especially on weekends. Many of them have a local/regional bus system, which is similarly limited with the size of the town. But that’s reeaallly rural then.
Even the small towns in the alpine regions of Allgäu and Austrian Tirol have a robust bus and train system. It’s especially convenient for getting to the numerous trailheads in nearby towns or getting back to your little village back after dinner and a few drinks. The fact that they run trains as small as this between these towns amazes me.
There’s something more than simply having public local and intercity transport. There is a general cultural approval and want for continuous improvement of these systems. For example, a new high-speed rail connection between Berlin and Munich will open to the public in December. It is going to be a massive improvement over current travel times. As a former civil engineer, and current transportation systems planner, it makes me very happy to live in a place where progress on public transportation is actually taking place.
On the topic of transport – I love just how pedestrian and bike-friendly Munich (and much of Germany) is. Chicago isn’t half bad itself, but it could learn a thing or two still. The thing that makes it so friendly to non-motorized transport here – that Chicago and other US cities lack – is a culture focused on pedestrians and cyclists.
Compared to cities in the US, drivers pay more attention here. Fewer cyclists ignore the rules of the road as well.
Chance to be Immersed in the German Language and Culture
A huge personal pro for me is that I am essentially forced to learn a new language! I certainly could survive without learning German, but I wouldn’t be a real member of society. Learning languages is interesting to me as an originally mono-lingual person. To that end, it’s great to live in a place that makes it very easy to learn. I don’t always have time to take German classes, but I have found a few other ways to continue learning German outside classes.
A big pro to me of the German culture is a generally slower atmosphere or approach to life. People actually take their vacation here and are encouraged to do so. Also, there are more vacation days to take. I really appreciate that that is the culture here, even if I haven’t worked full-time in Germany yet.
To me and many people my age, the work-life balance is a big topic. In my opinion, the culture tilts more towards the life side of that balance than in the US. I worked a fair deal in the US, but I had a better work-life balance compared to many of my friends. It’s not that Germans are “lazy” either, they’re known for working hard!
My Cons of Moving to Munich
Of course, life isn’t all unicorns and roses. Wait that doesn’t sound right. Waterfalls and meadows? Cute kittens and puppies? Alright, I’ll just google it…
Apparently, “sunshine and rainbows” is the proper pair, but I think I’ll stick with unicorns and roses, thank you very much. You get the idea, the grass isn’t Emerald Isle-green on the other side. There are definitely some drawbacks to moving to Munich vs. staying in Chicago.
Food and Restaurant Variety
Or more specifically, the relative lack of food variety. There are pretty good Vietnamese, some good Japanese, passable Mexican, and some other rarer cuisines like Georgian and Peruvian that are actually decent here. But generally, none of them hold a candle to food (and definitely service) quality back in Chicago. This is especially with classic US foods like burgers and BBQ. Nothing here comes close to back home.
Chicago is an amazing food city for anything you could possibly want, and Munich is…well, really mostly pork and potatoes. Mind you, these are very delicious pork and potatoes, but that’s the general fare here. Though I will say that the Italian food in Munich is exceptional.
There’s also a weird (to me) lack of variety in the bar scene. There are good spots here and there, sure. Of course, by now I know the ins and outs of the city and have my own regular haunts. But generally, the bar scene back home was vastly more diverse in the styles of pubs and bars available. Here there are great beer halls and beer gardens – things we don’t have in the US. In Munich, there are a few of your typical college-style bars, cafe-bars, dive bars, and local corner pubs. There are also quite a few clubs in Munich since that scene is generally much bigger here.
What I miss is that in between style of bar. This might be hard to explain. What I mean is that kind of bar that is popular, large, serves drinks at a fair price, and turns into a bit of a party later in the evening. Chicago, and the rest of the US too, has a much different bar scene, and obviously a much bigger selection. I often find myself trying to find a place for several of us to go to after drinking at our apartment, and it’s actually difficult. Trying to find the right place – one that’s big enough to guarantee spots for us, has the right vibe, and fair drink prices – is surprisingly difficult. I’ve actually started a pretty big list of places to visit in Munich to search out a go-to group spot.
Again, the service aspect comes in here too. I have had some nights at cafe-bars especially when I’ve waited 45+ minutes for the waitress to come back around after we had finished our drinks. Though honestly, I’ve had better luck at bars than at restaurants generally.
Income, Taxes, and Bureaucracy
Two topics that are sure to be on any list of the cons of moving to Munich, or Germany overall, are income and taxes. I haven’t been hit too hard by this yet, but I will be next year once I begin working full-time again. We’ll see how I feel about it then, but hey at least I’m not double paying yet!
US and German Taxes
US citizens are liable for US federal taxes no matter where they reside. However, the US and Germany, as well as many other countries, have treaties to prevent double-taxing expat’s income. Currently, any income up to somewhere around $101k is free of US federal income tax. If I do get to that point, I’ll be making enough to not really care. Additionally, salaries are generally lower here. That will hurt, but that’s also why I’m looking to start my own business in the future. We’ll see how it goes.
On the topic of starting a business and taxes – it really is hard to jump through all the hoops here. Paddling your way upstream through the bureaucracy is difficult in many ways, especially if you don’t speak fluent German. Even at 2 years in with my German around a B1/B2 level, those forms and the office workers are still pretty difficult to understand.
I’ve had good and bad experiences with the German bureaucracy, but it still takes a ton of research online to find the answers to every little question you have before going in for that meeting.
Being Away from Home
Maybe the saddest challenge I’ve faced since moving to Germany is the most predictable, but that doesn’t lessen its effects. The worst part of being away from home is being away from my friends from family. Obviously, I’ve made a life here, but most of my friends and family are back home and I really do miss them. It’s like some sort of souped-up FOMO, knowing I’m missing out on literally everything my friends and family are doing.
I’m missing everything from your average Friday nights out to most of my friends’ weddings. I know we’re all still good friends and all, but I certainly can’t be as close with them as I used to. Hell, I’m 5,000 miles away after all. I really do miss them 🙁
Another big challenge of moving to Germany and being away from home has been adjusting to the differences between our cultures. I often like to equate this struggle to something akin to reverting to the cultural equivalent of a 5-year-old. I’ve talked about this idea in lots of posts, and I plan to write about it more directly someday soon. For now, check out Ceiling Lights, Internet Cables, and Ranch Dressing (one of my favorite titles!), Celebrating Thanksgiving in Germany, and The Settlement Curve, to name a few.
Suffice it to say that things I took for granted back home have been much more difficult than I could have ever imagined. Everything from visiting the doctor to taking clothes to the dry cleaner is more difficult simply because I don’t understand the society like a local does. It’s a painful and humbling process to achieve a local’s understanding of the intricacies of a new culture.
Was Moving to Munich a Good Idea?
Wow – well this post has turned into a 2,000+ novella. But, I think I covered a ton of important topics in one space. I know there are things I missed so please add your own pros and cons of moving to Munich, or wherever, in the comments below!
It may be no surprise to you that I think, in the end, moving to Munich absolutely was a good idea for me. To be honest, I think it was a very, very good idea. I have grown and learned so much in the last 2 years, more than I ever imagined I would in that time. As I’ve written about before, my life in Chicago was great, but I felt I needed a change. I felt I needed a challenge. Something was pushing me to break out of what I felt was a mold for my life.
I thought of moving to Munich as a way to kill two birds with one stone. I had the opportunity to study and get a master’s degree and a chance to experience a new part of the world. With that chance, I’ve learned a new language and learned to see the world from another perspective. I’d say all that is worth giving up 2 years behind a desk in a fluorescent-lit office building in the suburbs of Chicago, and the accompanying 1+ hour commute.