Moving to Germany
Moving abroad is difficult. There is so much to research, paperwork to fill out, and stuff to keep track of before you go. Moving to Germany is obviously no exception. In the months leading up to moving here, I had my fair share of scrambling to rush paperwork ahead of deadlines and wasting countless hours researching online.
The sheer amount or complexity of paperwork might intimidate you. Visa requirements and procedures might confuse you. And, of course, physically moving yourself and a lot of your crap to another country will be frustrating at best. Luckily for you, I’ve experienced that frustration already. I hope that my experiences can help you in your move to Germany, or any other foreign country.
This can be especially frustrating when you, far too often, fail to find a definitive answer out there. This often left me feeling, frustrated, helpless, and most of all, confused. My purpose here is to allay some of your fears. I want to clear up some all too common confusion. And finally, I want to stop you from getting too frustrated with the process.
Common Reasons for Moving to Germany
There are several reasons why you might be thinking of moving to Germany to study.
First, and probably most important, is that master’s degrees are often free of tuition or extraneous educational costs. The little fees that you do pay are not to the university itself, but to something called the “Studentenwerk”. The Studentenwerk is literally the student union. I mean a literal union of students, like a labor union.
However, these fees do vary from state to state and from city to city. It is definitely going to be cheaper than a master’s degree in the United States, though. Before all of you start talking about scholarships and working as a TA during your master’s, let me explain something. They have these sorts of funding schemes too, except instead of paying for your tuition, they pay you actual money. Money that you can spend on things. Money that you can spend on beer.
Second, Germany offers many degrees taught in English, something obviously necessary if you don’t have a mastery of a foreign language. Most of my professors are German but speak perfectly good English, with some odd quirks here and there. English degrees also provide another benefit, drawing in international students.
The German university system is very much like our system in the United States in this way. People from widely different countries across the world come to Germany to study. Universities here are more diverse and are stronger for it. The large international presence makes it easier for students from around the world to continue to study here. In general, we feel very welcome and well supported.
A third and major reason you might choose Germany over other options abroad is the rate of fluency, or at least competency, in English. This is important again for us English speakers, as it really helps us during your early stages of learning German and settling into life here.
If you don’t know how to express yourself in German, normally you can switch to English. Most everybody under 40 will understand you and be able to speak English with you. Actually, German people often ask me to critique their English once they hear my native accent.
Moving to Germany to work, you would notice a few major differences between your job and the working culture back home and in Germany.
Whether you are moving for your current job or to pursue new opportunities, the German work environment can be a welcome change for Americans. On average, German employees work fewer hours per week than their US counterparts. In addition, full-time German workers enjoy six-weeks of federally-mandated vacation per year.
I have not worked full-time in Germany yet, but from what I have heard and what I can tell, the workplace culture is a bit more independent than the American workplace. I’m speaking generally, of course.
From what I’ve heard, this means that employees work more independently, and have fewer meetings than those in America. Now, to me, this doesn’t sound necessarily advantageous.
In my former line of work, sure, sometimes I would sit in on meetings of little use. However, most of the time, I felt like I contributed to and learned from meetings with my colleagues and superiors. Anecdotal evidence, I know, and I know most companies probably won’t be like this. Maybe fewer meetings would be very welcome to some of you!
Compared with the United States, wages are not as high here in Germany. This is the other side of the coin of getting more vacation days. Most of the loss in wages in most fields is probably offset the lower cost of living and higher quality of life – especially in urban areas. It would all depend on your particular situation of course, but hey, that would have to go into your list of Pros and Cons of Moving to Germany.
So many of my American friends tend to think of Europe as this place where the government takes all your money and you’re destined to be a member of the hoi polloi, no matter how hard you work. This is such a distinctly American perspective, and it’s wrong. Sure, taxes are higher here, but 1) you get more services and 2) the cost of living is much lower.
Look, I get it, sometimes people just want to escape their current situation. And sometimes they feel moving to another country is a good idea. Usually, it’s not.
My dad mentioned something to me as I was in the later stages of applying to schools and organizing my life. It kind of offended me at the time, but in retrospect, it was good advice even if it didn’t apply to me. He told me, “Tom, just make sure you’re not running away from something, but to something in the future”. Essentially, he was telling me to be proactive and not reactive. This is great advice for anyone, but it especially important for those looking to move abroad.
Moving to Germany, or moving anywhere else for that matter, isn’t going to solve your life’s problems. You’ll just bring them with you. Sure, this extra baggage may not cost you extra on the flight over, but it will weigh you down no matter where you go. I’m no counselor, but I would say that in order to successfully move to another country you need to have your own emotions in order first.
You need to have flexible outlook to smoothly transition from one place to another. This may not exactly be what you expect to be included as a reason for moving to Germany. Unfortunately, I have seen too many posts on forums and social media about moving for reasons like this. Just don’t.
Get your mind right, and have a goal or purpose of moving abroad in mind. Study, work, learning German, you name it. Just moving here to “get out” might physically remove you from your current situation, but “wherever you go, well, there you are.”
Posts on Moving to Germany
I’ve set up this page as a launching point for anyone interested in moving to Germany. On this page, you’ll find links to my posts filled with the knowledge I’ve gained and experiences I’ve had while moving here. You’ll find information on some of the most important topics related to moving to Germany, and lots of posts answering frequently asked questions.