Germany’s challenge to expatriates – What you need to know!

Germany has changed

Over the last five years my view of Germany and its people has completely changed But let’s start by the beginning to speak about the cultural challenges in Germany. I first lived in Germany ten years ago, where I attended university studying Business Management. I remember feeling Germany was one of the best places someone could move to within Europe.

One of the first steps, before I had even moved, was having a buddy assigned to me by the University. This person helped me with every step of my move and registration, from finding a flat and registering in the local town hall, to filling in my university application and curriculum or even opening a bank account.

What you need to know about Germany and German language

Germany is one of the most attractive destinations for international workers in Europe1 due to the important presence of international large corporations2, the increased numbers of job postings3 and the high salaries.

However, despite all the benefits Germany offers to highly qualified employees,  relocations to Germany can sometimes end in failure. Foreign assignments are considered a ‘failure’ when either the employment ends prematurely, or when the employee is not performing as expected in the new location, which can cost in excess of 50.000€4, not to mention the emotional and psychological investment.

With this in mind, along with many other students that chose Germany as their abroad year destination, I decided to relocate for work some years later. I  was incredibly shocked with the difficulties I faced when moving back to this country only five years after I had left.

After several weeks I even considered returning home as I did not feel integrated or welcomed at all. As you can guess, I didn’t go back and decided to give it a try, I took the time to think about what the real challenges were that I was facing.

Cultural challenges in Germany and language

One of the first things I realised was that language was one of my main barriers. My limited knowledge and confidence to speak had affected my entire moving process, as well as my first interactions with neighbors and colleagues. It might sound surprising, but most public administration employees do not speak any English.

Of course, as a European citizen, I am allowed to work in Germany without the need of a visa, but there is still the need to obtain a variety of official paperwork, tax, residency, social security etc. My previous experience in other countries was that a minimum knowledge of the language and a good level of English was enough to get by, however that was not in Germany. That was one of my first cultural challenges in Germany.

Thankfully there were other expats in the company who were able to help me navigate the systems and get settled. At this point it became clear to me that I should have planned better and either have taken a language course or even considered having an agency to support me on the initial arrangements. 

Learning German language

Learning German was quickly becoming my priority and it is of course never too late, so I decided to give it a try, even though it seemed impossible to me at the time. After just a few months, my experience and feelings completely changed. My new found language skills meant that I could now interact with most people at a very basic level, and as result I found that people became much nicer and patient, since they really appreciated the effort I was making.

Little by little my German knowledge improved and so did my social connections.  After five years I am still improving my language skills, and I am still always learning, but I do not regret having stayed in Germany and building my life here. 

I definitely recommend BiCortex Languages if you are in need of German classes.

My advice for expats relocating to Germany

If you are planning to move, don’t let the negative messages in blogs discourage you. All you need is a bit of planning, some courage and a language course designed for newcomers, one that will provide you with the basics so that you can show your are trying. This will help you get settled, navigate the registration processes and more importantly allow you to make connections and form friendships.