11 survival tips for newcomers to Germany

11 survival tips for newcomers to Germany

11 survival tips for newcomers to Germany

You’ve just landed in Germany, your job or university course is starting and your new room is bare. You need a bank account, a German course and a bed (not necessarily in that order). So where to start?!

Here is a survival guide for newcomers to Germany, with 11 tips on what you need to do and know during your first few days so that you can save money and stress while you’re settling in to your new life. 

1. Renting a place and registering 

Unless you’ve lucked out and managed to find a room before arriving in Germany, the first thing on your list once your flight touches down is probably going to be looking for a place to live. Affordable housing is in high demand in Germany, especially in cities, but there’s a range of options to suit most budgets. Check out IamExpat Housing for some expat-friendly places.

Once you’ve found somewhere to live, you can sign your rental contract and obtain a proof of residence certificate from your landlord. You’ll need that to register at your address, which you must do at your local citizens’ office within 14 days of arriving in Germany. 

2. Opening a bank account and getting some cash

Setting up a German bank account is one of the most important steps to establishing your new life in Germany. You’ll need one to receive your salary, take out health insurance and pay taxes

To open an account with a German bank you can either make an appointment online or visit your local branch in person. You will need a form of identification, your certificate of registration and your residence permit if you are not an EU citizen.

Once your account is set up you will receive your new debit card and PIN number in the post. Then it’s time to head to your local ATM to withdraw some of Germany’s payment method: cash. It’s not uncommon to see people withdrawing hundreds of euros at a time, enough to cover their weekly shop. What’s that? You thought everything was done by card by now? Welcome to Germany, my friend. Cash is king here. 

3. Buying a travel ticket

Some people might tell you that they’ve been “travelling black” (Schwarzfahren - what Germans call travelling without a ticket) for years and years without being caught. But from our perspective the thundering fear in your heart every time a ticket inspector gets on your U-Bahn train is just not worth it. 

We know what you’re thinking: “But there’s no barriers! That’s asking for it, surely?” Well, the German system works on this lovely thing called trust. Do a nice thing for your new adoptive country and buy a pass for the public transportation. The rates are actually fairly reasonable (especially if you’ve ever lived in London) and thanks to agreements between different transport associations your ticket will work on all S-Bahns, U-Bahns, trams and buses in the city. If you’re a student, you usually get a ticket included in the price of your semester fees. 

4. Buying a bike

Maybe you’re the healthy type, or you just don’t fancy spending much money on transportation. Then you’ll be relieved to hear that most German cities are pretty well set-up for cyclists! (Some more than others). If nothing else, you’ll want a bike to explore some of Germany’s beautiful long-distance cycle routes

Rule number one: don’t buy a stolen bike (you can spot them by the ridiculously cheap price). You will only be perpetuating the cycle of bad bike karma which will inevitably come back to bite you when your stolen bike is re-stolen. 

Flea markets are an ideal place to find legitimate and cheap used bikes. Alternatively, there’s a tonne of bike shops that will be more than happy to kit you out with a new ride. Their expertise may also come in useful if you’re not 100% sure what you’re looking for. 

5. Getting health insurance

Having health insurance in Germany is mandatory, regardless of how long you’re staying. It’s a prerequisite for receiving a residence permit and students cannot enrol at university without it.

There are two types of health insurance in Germany: statutory health insurance and private health insurance. Which one you choose depends on your employment status and salary but around 90 percent of people opt for state cover. If you’re coming to Germany for a job, your employer will automatically sign you up and the payments will be deducted from your wages. Other people can voluntarily take out cover. There a discounted rates for student health insurance as well.  

6. Finding furniture

Once you’ve sorted somewhere to live, it’s time to get your new pad kitted out! As you may well know, when tenants vacate an apartment in Germany, they take everything with them - and by everything, we mean EVERYTHING, right down to floors and light fixtures. 

So how to turn that empty shell into a home? Of course, you could buy everything brand new from well-known stores such as Ikea, but if you want to save a couple of bob you should get hunting for a bargain! Germany is famous for its quirky flea markets that pop up in every square, street and park across the country every Sunday. If you’re looking for an antique chair, some dodgy electrical items or some overpriced DDR memorabilia, then this is the place! 

Alternatively, you might try hitting up online classifieds such as eBay Kleinanzeigen or There are also plenty of Facebook groups where outgoing expats are desperately looking to shift furniture and other household items before moving away. This means they’re often much more willing to negotiate on price, so everyone’s a winner. 

7. Getting connected

Now we’ve got the basics covered, it’s time to get connected and let friends and family back home know how you’re getting on. You can purchase a prepaid German SIM card for your mobile phone at almost any shop or supermarket. If you want to take out a contract, you should note that in Germany they are relatively inflexible, usually last for 24 months and can be renewed automatically as soon as the original contract expires.

As for getting an internet connection, the sooner you sort that out, the better, as it can be a painfully slow process. If you are renting, you may be able to take over the old tenant’s contract. Otherwise, you’ll need to get a new internet connection, which means having a router installed - and that can take a long time (four weeks is generally considered to be quick!)  

8. Stocking up before Sunday

If you’re not from Germany, or haven’t visited before, it may seem mad - but nothing is open on a Sunday. In really desperate situations, Spätis and the shops at central stations can usually be counted upon but you’ll almost certainly end up in a fight over the last loaf of bread so on balance preparation is best. 

Visit your local supermarket (and marvel - Germany may be a rich country but food here sure is cheap!) and stock up local goodies. You may struggle to lay your hands on anything that’s not meat, bread or potatoes at your local shop, but there’s plenty of more “exotic” weird and wonderful ingredients to be found at Asian or Turkish supermarkets in most cities (and if there’s something from home you really can’t live without, it’s safest to bring it with you!) 

9. Doing a German course

We know German is hard. We know it isn’t pretty. But learning just a little bit of the local lingo will make your time in Germany easier and enable to you to assimilate into the local community. It’ll almost definitely boost your chances of landing a job as well. 

There’s an absolute plethora of German courses to choose from, with classes to suit every lifestyle and budget available. It’s even possible to learn online, from the comfort of your own sofa! Once you’ve learned the basics (unfortunately you’ll find it hard to get anywhere in German without a bit of grammar) you can graduate onto a conversation class to put your new skills into practice. 

10. Getting over the tourist attractions ASAP

Okay, often there are good reasons why things are popular with tourists. There’s certainly unending amounts of fun to be had munching on Bratwurst and clinking Steins at the Hofbrähaus in Munich or visiting the bonkers Checkpoint Charlie museum in Berlin. After all, you have to go at least once, right? 

But, once you’ve had your fill, start exploring other aspects of what is a very rich and diverse society and culture. Sure, Germany might be known for pretzels, Oktoberfest and Schloss Neuschwanstein, but it’s also home to 25.000 other castles, festivals for every season, event and foodstuff, and more varieties of bread than you can shake a stick at. 

11. You’re in the middle of Europe, travel!

One of the best things about living in Germany is that you’re located in Europe’s geographical heart. Paris, Amsterdam and Vienna are all within easy reach on the train and London is only a short flight away. 

So make the most of being right in the mix of things and get travelling! Need some inspiration? Check out our tips for securing cheap train fares and some of our top weekend destinations in Europe

Do you have more advice for newcomers to Germany? Add it to the comments below!



Abi Carter

Abi studied History & German at the University of Manchester. She has since worked as a writer, editor and content marketeer, but still has a soft spot for museums, castles...

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