Are you dreaming of working in an international environment? Would you rather be a foreign assignee or a digital nomad? What are the best destinations for women working abroad? And will Germany succeed in attracting more global talent?
In this series, InterNations will be discussing the various pros and cons of an international career.
A Less Than Attractive Expat Destination?
Though many expats consider Germany an attractive destination for working abroad, everyday life can frequently be a struggle. Settling in, finding affordable housing, the language barrier, and digital shortcomings seem to be harder for internationals in Berlin, Munich, or Hamburg than in many other cities across the globe. And they often perceive the local residents as less than welcoming.
This is what our Expat Insider 2022 report revealed. It is based on a survey among 12,000 expats worldwide. In our overall ranking, Germany only places 42nd out of 52 destinations, mainly due to the issues described above.
So, we’ve spoken to some of our international team members to find out how they view living and working in Germany. Do they actually agree with the respondents’ harsh verdict?
Typically German? Rigid Bureaucracy & Self-Styled Trash Inspectors
Our Junior Recruiting Manager Dani, a British expat, had spent her semester abroad in Munich and hoped she would be able to go back there one day. So, when her French business degree also required her to do an internship, she decided to look for positions in Germany. Her six-month stint at InterNations later turned into a full-time job.
“My ‘relocation process’ just involved dragging my bags from La Rochelle to Paris,” Dani recalls, “and getting on a bus to Munich.” She’d even found a place to stay beforehand — the exception rather than the rule, considering Munich’s housing market. “It was a tiny room in a shared flat, cheaply furnished and clearly overpriced. Maybe that’s why it was easily available.”
Soon after arriving, Dani had an unexpected run-in with German bureaucracy. And not even due to Brexit looming on the horizon. “Brexit was surprisingly easy,” she says. “Since I was already registered as living in Germany, I automatically received a letter from the immigration office. After one appointment, I was a permanent resident.”
But it was also the local registration system that caused her considerable problems. “I’d previously registered in Munich during my semester abroad. I didn’t know you had to de-register, too,” she explains.
“So, the German authorities assumed I owed them years of back payments in TV license fees. They even threatened to take me to court.”
It took Dani some time, effort, and paperwork to clear up the misunderstanding. The experience soured her a little on living in Munich, a city she loves. “It felt like sticking to the rules, just for the sake of it!”
This rigid mindset made her feel less than welcome in Germany at times. For example, a neighbor once insisted on inspecting her garbage bags to make sure she was using the right trash can. “Surprise bin inspections aside, I’m very happy here!” Dani jokes.
She does describe Germany as a great destination — especially for working abroad. In the workplace, the rules usually work in your favor. “You’ll generally have a good working life and be treated fairly as an employee.”
Finding Friends Calls for a Bit of Patience
It was love that brought Paula, our Team Lead Brand Engagement, to Germany. She relocated from the US because of her husband-to-be ten years ago.
After a decade of living in Germany, Paula has settled in nicely. “I can finally say that I do speak German,” she says proudly. It was raising two bilingual children that gave her language skills a huge boost and helped her get connected in her local community.
“In the early days, most of my friends were international co-workers from InterNations. A lot of us were around the same age and were in the same boat. It was a natural choice to hang out together after work. But I have more local than international friends by now. For example, other parents from my neighborhood or people I met through my music hobby.”
However, it took Paula literally years to get to this point. “You need to have some obvious things in common to make friends in Germany,” she explains. “Germans seem to have a lot more walls up when they interact on a daily basis. Especially compared to where I’m from, the Southeast of the US, which is an overly polite and friendly area.”
Still, she doesn’t regret moving — on the contrary. “Well, if you’re from the US, your first pay check is quite a shock,” she jokes. “You pay much higher taxes here.”
However, Paula appreciates the fact that there’s also more of a social safety net. “To me, working in Germany seems quite down-to-earth and family-friendly. There’s generally a bigger focus on the person and on work-life balance.”
But a little bit more entrepreneurial spirit might do Germany some good at times, she thinks. “It can be very complicated to start your own business, maybe unnecessarily so,“ she says, mentioning the example of a friend who works as a self-employed music teacher.
“Still, life in Germany is pretty well organized. And there’s a genuine need for skilled labor, which means there’s lots of opportunity.”
Language Barriers & Lack of Digitization
Our Senior Software Engineer Yavor had been working for a German company as part of a nearshoring team in his native Bulgaria. He regularly visited their Munich offices and fell in love with the city. When the opportunity for a transfer presented itself, he seized it immediately.
His personal experience with German bureaucracy was “quite pleasant overall”, as he puts it. His previous employer played a huge part in that. “Their HR team helped me settle in. They explained how to register locally, how to get health insurance, etc.”
He has only worked for two companies in Germany, but both their HR and Feel Good Managers have been very helpful. “They seem to really care about supporting their employees here.”
For Yavor, the apartment search and the language barrier were the biggest hurdles. His former employer offered him accommodation for the first few weeks. However, the only possibility of finding housing in Munich within about a month was an agency that specializes in temporary accommodation.
“I hadn’t spoken German in twenty years. I understood a lot but had a hard time expressing myself. Lots of people didn’t even want to try and talk to me about renting an apartment. There have been several occurrences, not just during the housing search, but also in shops and the like, when someone heard me speak English or less than fluent German ― and they just didn’t bother all that much to provide good customer service. Or even not at all. ”
In cities like Munich, the easiest way to find a rental apartment is often by word of mouth. This puts expats without a local network at a disadvantage. But what else would make life abroad in Germany easier? “Definitely better cashless payment options and internet access,” Yavor suggests.
“I couldn’t believe I had to carry emergency cash everywhere,” he says. “Maybe in some tiny village, but not in Munich. And I was honestly surprised at the cost of smartphone contracts. The price-performance ratio isn’t very good.”
Other than that, Yavor enjoys the quality of life, especially the urban environment. “Munich is far greener and more walkable than Sofia. And I still find it fascinating that you can go for a swim in the river, right in the middle of a major city.”
Image credit: InterNations