10 things to know before moving to Germany
In many ways, Germany is an easy country to settle in, with welcoming people and efficient businesses and government institutions. But there’s no doubt that some aspects of German life can be slightly confusing and strange to newcomers. That’s why we’ve put together this list of 10 things every arrival should know when they start their life in Germany.
In some ways, Germany is a paradise for cyclists. National paths connect major cities in the Radnetz system (the German cycle network), cycle hire outlets are everywhere, and cycle repair shops are similarly common.
Cities like Münster and Karlsruhe are among the best in the world for cyclists (though Berlin and Cologne aren’t quite so bicycle-friendly).
When you’re cycling, pay attention to pedestrians as well. Sometimes paths will feature red stone patches, which tell cyclists to give way to those on foot. And in Germany, pedestrians always have right of way.
Cyclists are liable for damages caused by violating traffic laws, so liability insurance is a standard investment for cycling fans.
Red traffic lights
If you come from a culture where traffic lights are often ignored, it’s time to tighten up your driving style, because in Germany, traffic rules are always respected.
Running red lights carries a minimum €90 fine for a first offense, and this can rise to €200 and a 1-month driving ban.
Don’t take chances with red lights. Most intersections are fitted with automatic cameras which detect rule breakers. You’ll almost certainly be caught out.
Sunday is definitely the “day of rest” in Germany, and very few shops will be open anywhere in the country.
That’s bad if you haven’t planned ahead and your cupboards are bare. But it’s a great day for relaxation and socializing, with everyone away from work.
Don’t expect to stock up on Sundays. But if you absolutely have to, ethnic stores, bakeries, and gas stations are possible options.
Quick supermarket checkouts
Germans don’t like to spend time chatting at supermarket counters, and automated self-service checkouts are standard across the country.
These systems let you scan goods and pack them yourself, and take cash and cards in most cases. So they are a good time-saver.
There’s a 15 cent charge for plastic bags, so why not invest in some reusable cotton bags for your regular shopping?
You need cash in Germany
Germany is a bit unusual in the modern world. While countries like Sweden are going cashless, Germany remains a huge fan of hard currency, so carrying cash is a common practice.
Maybe it’s a hangover from hyperinflation or an aspect of German aversion to risk, but credit cards are not a big deal. You can use them in many stores, but relying on them is foolish. Cash is King.
Get used to carrying €50-100 in your wallet. It might seem strange at first, but you’ll need it.
As you’ll discover when you arrive, Germans are obsessive about punctuality. When you settle in, you’ll appreciate this national feature, but it can be a little off-putting at first.
As our pages on German culture explain, being on time really matters to Germans – who will be offended if you are regularly late (or even delayed without good reason).
5 minutes early
Always follow the German maxim that it’s better to be 5 minutes early, than 1 minute late. If you struggle, try setting your watch slightly fast to ensure that you get in tune with local timekeeping.
The reliance of German society on strict rules means that every area of life has its own regulations and official bodies to enforce them. Getting caught out can be frustratingly easy.
However, once you know the rules, things become much easier. Whether you are seeking an apartment and require an Anmeldung from the local city hall or Bürgeramt, or you are enlisting as a student and require health insurance, do the research required to know the ins and outs.
Always expect a little paperwork, and make sure you obtain any necessary documents well ahead of time. Otherwise, missing deadlines for courses or job applications is guaranteed.
Cars and street
Germans love cars, and that passion has created brands like Mercedes, Volkswagen, BMW, and Audi. It’s also given birth to a strong car lobby which ensures that aspects of society suit motorists’ interests.
For instance, many sections of the Autobahn have no legal speed limit. That doesn’t apply to all highways, and limits of 75 mph apply in many places. But there are spots where German cars can show their full potential.
Even so, cars aren’t supreme in Germany. The government is fighting to limit vehicle emissions and cycling is booming.
Car sharing is also on the rise, and apps like Drive2Day or Drive Now are really handy in major cities.
Germany operates a bottle deposit scheme to make recycling easier, and it’s one of the most high-tech in the world.
Known as Pfand, the scheme was introduced in 2003. It imposed a small deposit on all plastic and glass bottles, which can be refunded at machines in supermarkets and drinks stores across the country.
Typically, glass bottles will refund 8-15 cents, while each plastic bottle returns 25 cents. It’s not a route to riches, but it definitely helps to keep Germany tidy.
Tipping in Germany
Tipping isn’t obligatory, but it’s still a core part of German dining culture. Service charges will usually be added onto restaurant and bar bills (and should be shown clearly on the bill). But even then, it’s customary to add a little extra to “round things off”. There’s a good reason for this. In Germany, waiters and waitresses don’t usually benefit from service charges. So your 10-15% tips will go to them.
The usual practice is to round things up to a convenient round amount, e.g. the nearest €5 or €10, whether you pay by cash or card.