Living in Germany

Berlin ChristmasAs Europe’s major economic powerhouse, it’s perhaps no real surprise to learn that Germany has long been a popular expat destination. Europe’s most populous country is currently home to just under 10 million foreign-born residents (around 12 per cent of the entire population) and has the highest number of non-EU born residents (roughly 6.5 million ) of any EU country living within its borders. Widespread immigration in Germany didn’t really take place until the Wirtschaftswunder (economic miracle) of the 1950s and 60s when, facing severe skilled worker shortages, bilateral recruitment agreements were signed with Italy,  Greece,  Turkey, Morocco, Portugal, Tunisia and Yugoslavia. Today, Germany is still home to a significant Turkish population, many of whom have ties to the first wave of workers who arrived there in the 1960s.

While, Germany’s strong economy – easily the healthiest in the EU – is still one of the major attractions for business-minded expats who are drawn to international financial hubs like Munich and, particularly, Frankfurt, it is not only those looking to advance their career (or bank balance) who see the benefits of living in the country.

Although Germany’s climate may not be able to compete with some of the other popular EU destinations when it comes to year-round sun, warm temperatures and glorious beaches, the country’s high quality of life and top-notch infrastructure is such that thousands of families and retirees are also more than happy to make Germany their home each year.

In fact, Germany is world renowned for its high-quality and relatively affordable way of life. An impressive three German cities – Munich, Dusseldorf and Frankfurt – were ranked in the top ten of the 2011 Mercer Quality of Life survey, while a further four were placed in the top 30: Hamburg, Berlin, Nurnberg and Stuttgart.

So what makes the country’s quality of life so good? Well, even the largest German cities tend to benefit from low levels of congestion and pollution, high levels of cycling and highly integrated and high quality public services and transport systems. There are also many cultural attractions spread throughout the country while Germans themselves tend to be outgoing and welcoming to newcomers, providing said newcomers at least try to engage with the country’s traditions and culture, including having at least a basic grip of the language. What’s more, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), employees in Germany tend to work, on average, far fewer hours each year than people from almost any other nation in the world. A 2012 report found that the average German works just 1,408 hours per year, comfortably under the OECD average of 1,718 hours and well below the 2,193 hours worked by the average South Korean. So there’s plenty of time for residents to take advantage of the country’s many attractions. In spite of this, however, productivity from German workers was also found to be extremely high – far above the average, in fact. Feel free to draw your own conclusions regarding Germany’s long-held (and, it would seem, deserved) reputation for efficiency!

Germany has the world’s oldest universal healthcare system and the quality of care provided is generally high throughout the entire country. Waiting lists for treatments are rare, while medical facilities are equipped with the latest technologies. However, taking out health insurance is essential as costs for practically all health treatment is among the highest in the world – there is no such thing as free healthcare in Germany!

The country’s education system is also fairly strong. In a 2010 study conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to measure different countries’ performance in the key subject areas of maths, reading and science, Germany ranked 16th overall (out of 64 nations) for reading, 10th for maths and 9th for science, scoring above average marks for each.

Unlike some countries, where expat communities tend to be heavily concentrated in particular areas, immigrants in Germany are spread across the whole country. However, the larger cities and their immediate suburbs do tend to see more immigrants than the more rural areas. This is largely because for most non-EU residents, the country’s immigration laws can be quite stringent and without a job it is highly unlikely that they will be allowed to reside permanently in the country. It’s also worth noting that, if you’re emigrating with school-age children who don’t speak German, you may need to have access to international language schools which tend to be located in the larger cities. (Another point to note is that children don’t start school until the age of six in Germany.)

As already mentioned, economic migrants will tend to gravitate towards the country’s two major economic hubs: Munich and Frankfurt.  Frankfurt is the country’s main business centre and is widely regarded as one of the world’s top ten leading cities in which to work. However, living in Frankfurt is not just all about work, work, work. The city has more than its fair share of cultural attractions, including more than 30 museums and a thriving nightlife.

While Munich, too, is popular with economic expats, it is also a hugely popular location for families as well. The Bavarian city prides itself on being one of the world’s most liveable locations – in 2010 it was named exactly this by Monocle Magazine – and offers some of the best cultural and arts facilities in the country, along with fantastic shopping outlets and many picturesque parks in which to unwind.

The German capital, Berlin, is also becoming an increasingly popular location for families. As well as boasting a rich and interesting history, the modern-day city (it has been almost completely gentrified since the fall of the Wall) boasts a wonderful ambiance thanks to its many parks, lakes and wide boulevards. The capital’s largely laid-back way of life and sense of history also appeals to retirees and in recent years more and more retired expats have settled in Berlin. On the subject of retirement hotspots, Cologne, Dusseldorf and Wiesbaden also boast sizable elderly expat communities, largely due to their high quality lifestyles and easy access to major infrastructure and amenities.

So whether you’re looking to make the most of Germany’s booming economy or take advantage of the country’s high quality of life (or maybe even do both at the same time) the chances are that no matter what reason you have for moving to Germany – be it work, rest or play – you won’t be disappointed.

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