After almost five years in Germany, I think it is safe to say that I’ve adapted to the German way of life. I do not even notice many of the “only in Germany” aspects anymore. Every time I have visitors, they point out differences that I do not even notice. Last time my mom was here, she noted that all of the cashiers are sitting down this difference to the US, where cashiers stand at checkout.
Moving to a foreign country is a BFD. It requires a lot of preparation and headaches (but worth it!) and you will face a lot of literally foreign situations, some funny and some frustrating. Plus, moving to Germany is not quite like moving to the UK, where English is the native language. You also have [insert several emotions here] challenge of learning a new language. There is no way to be 100% prepared for a move to Germany, but I hope this post (which I plan to turn into a series because this list started getting long) can help those new in Deutschland.
So, here is round 1 of 10 things you should know before moving to Germany:
1. Pfand (Deposit)
When you purchase drinks at the supermarket, they will often come with a Pfand, or deposit. The Pfand ranges from €0.08 – 0.25. Glass beer bottles are at the low end of the range cost €0.08 and cans cost €0.25. The Pfand is charged in addition to the price of the drink. Not all bottles have a deposit though; for example, wine and liquor bottles do not contain Pfand and should be disposed of in the glass recycling bin. You can then bring the empty bottles back to the store and insert them in one of the machines to receive your money back in the form of a coupon for the supermarket. If you are drinking at the park, you might find people collecting bottles in order to cash them in later. Therefore, try and avoid throwing Pfand bottles in the trash as someone could use them to earn some cash.
2. Contracts automatically renew
This was was a classic example of me learning the hard way so I hope I can at least ave 1 person the heartache: when you sign any contact or year long agreement, this contract will automatically renew at the end of the agreement. If you do not want this contract to renew, you should cancel it no less than three months before the end date. This usually needs to be done in writing, although I recommend calling first to confirm the cancellation procedure.
3. “Foreign” grocery items
1. I should really do an entire post on the differences in supermarket options in Germany, but I think first it is mot important to know that if you cannot find certain items at a store, e.g., black beans, peanut butter, brown sugar, chia seeds, then you should try going to one of the organic markets, such as Alnatura, or one of the Asian supermarkets. These stores often stock these more special items.
4. Use Jameda to find a doctor
The healthcare in Germany is fantastic and you will not have a problem finding a physician to speak English with you. However, choosing a doctor might cause you a headache. There is a website, Jameda, that includes reviews of doctors and you can search by doctor type. Be sure to sort by insurance depending on the type you have: public (Kassen) or private (Privat).
5. Sonntag ist Ruhetag
Sunday is a day of rest – Sundays in Germany are sacred. The shops are closed and you are sort of forced to take a day off. While this may seem archaic and frustrating at first, try to enjoy it by doing as the Germans do, going for a hike, a bike ride, whatever it takes to enjoy the great outdoors. There are also rules around Ruhetag, so be sure not to run the vacuum or engage in any other loud activities at home or your neighbors may complain.
6. Sort your trash
Stock up on trash cans on your trip to IKEA because you will need several for Mülltrennung, or waste separation. While theoretically you could throw it all in one waste bin, it is not the environmentally friendly option around here. Every city does it differently, but there will be multiple bins for different types of trash to dump your waste and it is easiest to first sort it at home. At my flat, we have a trashcan for organic waste, plastic waste, paper waste, and just plain waste. Then, we also have a box to keep our /Pfand/ bottles, glass, and aluminum, which go the neighborhood recycling bins.
7. Rechts vor Links
Right before left: Although I could write an entire post on driving in Germany, there is one rule that really stuck out to me when I started driving more after switching to a German driver’s license. If you come to an intersection in a lower traffic zone, there may not be any stop signs or traffic lights to direct you. That is because there is a simple rule in place: right before left. The traffic to your right has the right of way, so you should yield to traffic (including bikes) coming from the right.
8. Carry cash
Germany, despite it’s high-tech industries, still is very much a cash society. Many restaurants, bars and cafes only accept cash, so be sure to hit the Geldautomat before heading out in the evenings.
9. Payments and tipping
Paying the bill in Germany is a bit different than in the US so I am here to walk you through it:
First, it is important you first know about tipping; it is expected and 10% is considered a good tip.
Next, the waiter will tell you the bill, for example €17,38 (side thing to know: they use commas where we use decimals, so it is flipped). You would then consider how much you want to tip. In this case, 10% is ~€1,70, but I usually round up or down. Let’s say the service was great and I will round up. So, I would tell the waiter/waitress that I want to pay €20. I only have a €50 in my wallet, so I had it over. The waiter then knows to give me €30 in change. So, I have already paid my bill and tipped €2,62.
10. Your first to do in Germany: Setup a bank account
In order to setup anything else (e.g., health insurance, mobile phone) in Germany, you will need a bank account (ask my friend Jordan, she’ll back me up). First, you should know that you first have to make an appointment at the bank to setup your account. When making the appointment, be sure to ask them what you need to bring to the appointment. This list will likely include passport and possibly even an income statement or working contract.
Or, you can just do the mega 21st century way and signup for Number26, a fintech startup out of Berlin, without ever walking into a physical bank. With an English interface and customer service, no ATM fees, option of a credit card, and the easy transfer via the app, I am definitely a happy customer and use it as my primary account. However, N26 does not yet have savings accounts so you will need to get one elsewhere. Plus, N26 does not have EC card, so you may also want an account at a physical bank for back up (again, could go on forever about this topic but this is my quick advice).
What advice do you have for newcomers to Germany?