Precision engineering. Oktoberfest. The Berlin Wall.
Just three of the many great things Germany is known for.
Not only that, but it’s becoming increasingly popular as a destination for Americans wanting to begin new lives abroad.
If moving to Germany from the US is in your plans, then you’re in the right place.
Our practical guide will help you sidestep the pitfalls, conquer the bureaucracy, and have a smooth start to your new life in Germany.
In writing this guide, I’ve drawn on my personal experience of living in eight countries, to understand exactly what aspiring expats need to know before they make a big move.
I’ve also chatted to real-life US expats in Germany to understand their insider challenges, especially those that go beyond the ordinary!
Germany in Brief
|Central Europe, Western Europe
|Approximately 83 million
|Central European Time (CET)
|Temperate with four distinct seasons
|Munich, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Cologne
|Federal parliamentary republic
|Predominantly Christianity (Protestant and Catholic)
Why Move to Germany?
Well, the question should be, why NOT move to Germany?
It’s full of rich history, unparalleled culture, breathtaking landscapes, and some of the friendliest folks you’ll meet.
Plus, it’s a hub of technological advancement and houses some of the world’s top universities.
And let’s not forget about Oktoberfest, the ultimate beer festival, or the fairy-tale-like Christmas markets.
Germany’s prime position in central Europe makes it an excellent starting point for traveling, with many neighboring countries only a short train or plane ride away.
But the appeal extends beyond its geographical location.
German cities rank high in quality of life surveys, showing the country’s commitment to sustainability, cleanliness, and public infrastructure.
What’s more, Germany is also a leader in several industries such as automotive, engineering, and technology. If you’re a professional in these fields, it’s an ideal destination.
Germany’s rich cultural heritage, diverse food scene, and strong traditions make it a fascinating place to live.
Imagine being able to experience Oktoberfest, Christmas markets, or Carnival firsthand.
The charm of Germany extends to its language, which you’ll come to appreciate as you become more fluent.
The Pros and Cons of Moving to Germany from the US
Like any other place, moving to Germany comes with its own set of benefits and challenges. Let’s break it down, shall we?
The Pros of Life in Germany
- Quality of Life: With a strong economy, an efficient healthcare system, excellent work-life balance, and a well-maintained infrastructure, Germany offers a high standard of living.
- Work Opportunities: Germany is home to numerous multinational companies and innovative startups, promising a thriving job market, especially for engineers, IT professionals, and healthcare workers.
- Public Transport: Say goodbye to being stuck in traffic. The public transportation system in Germany is top-notch, making commuting efficient and eco-friendly.
- Education: German schools are high-quality, and many universities offer programs in English.
The Cons of Life in Germany
- Language Barrier: While many Germans speak English, daily life and bureaucracy often require a solid grasp of German.
- Cultural Differences: Germans can appear reserved and strictly follow rules. It might take you some time to adapt to the cultural nuances.
- Taxes: Germany has higher tax rates compared to the US, which might be a shock initially.
Insider Tips on Life in Germany
We’ve rounded up some top insider tips from Americans living in Germany. The first batch are courtesy of Melissa Malec, a freelance content strategist who lived in Hamburg for several years.
Don’t just pick a city or region randomly. Really consider what that location offers you and how in line it is with your needs, expectations, and lifestyle.
For example, three of the main cities in Germany – Berlin, Hamburg, Munich – will each give you a completely different experience.
Do your research into the weather, the culture, the things you’ll be able to do on the weekends, the communities you’ll be part of, and so on.
And if you’re considering a move outside of a city, be prepared to learn German fast because few people in the countryside will speak English.
On the other hand, most German cities will be a softer introduction because you’ll find plenty of English spoken.
If you’re looking to rent in Germany then you’ll need to know the difference between a ‘Warmmiete‘ rental and a ‘Kaltmiete‘ rental.
Warmmiete is a warm rental which means your bills are included in the price, while kaltmiete won’t include bills.
It can help you plan your budget and know exactly what you’re getting for the listed price.
Germany, even post-pandemic, is very much a cash culture.
During my first few days in the country I went to the grocery store and was shocked when I was told I couldn’t pay with my card.
I had several items at the cash register and I was really embarrassed when I wasn’t able to pay for them.
Luckily, my Airbnb host who I was staying with while apartment hunting happened to be there. She witnessed it and kindly lent me the cash.
So…my advice is to be prepared to carry and use cash much more frequently.
Also, it’s REALLY easy to fall into the trap of befriending other expats when you move abroad somewhere but I encourage you to try and meet people who are German. In fact, do both!
Because there’s a comfort you’ll have with other expats you won’t have with anyone else.
But at the same time the beauty of living abroad is immersion and experiencing the culture. Befriending Germans is the best way to do that.
How to Move to Germany From the US in 2023
Visa and Immigration Requirements for Americans
#1. The 90 Day Visa-Free Tourist Stay
US citizens can spend up to 90 days in Germany as tourists without any visa or permit.
All you need to do is hop on your flight to Germany, and you’ll automatically get the 90 days stamped into your US passport when you arrive at immigration.
At the end of your 90 days, you’ll need to leave not only Germany, but the entire Schengen area. You must also wait another 90 days before returning (whether that’s to Germany or any other Schengen country). For example, you could spend this 90 day period in any non-Schengen country, such as the UK, Albania or Turkey.
The 90 day stay is a great opportunity to try out Germany first-hand, explore different parts of the country, and figure out whether you’d like to live there long-term.
But if you plan to stay longer than 90 days, you’ll need to apply for a residence permit.
All long-term residency processes for Germany consist of two stages: 1) applying for the visa at your nearest German embassy in your home country, 2) applying for your residence permit from your immigration authorities within Germany.
Here’s an overview of the different kinds of long-term residence permit routes that you can choose from (based on your individual and professional circumstances).
#2. The Long Stay Freelancer Visa
This visa allows nationals from outside the EU/EEA to get residency and work in Germany as freelancers.
There are two types:
- Visa for freelance employment (Freiberufler): For those with a freelance occupation that benefits German economy and society, such as freelance language teacher, writer, artist, or translator.
- Visa for self-employment (Selbständiger): for those who are company founders or managing directors fulfilling the following criteria:
- There’s a distinct economic need for the business in Germany
- The business will have a positive effect on the German economy
- The founder has funded the business with either a loan or equity
But that’s not all you need to do to get the freelancer visa. You also need to show proof of clients willing to hire you, sufficient funds in the bank (at least €9,000 per year, and legal residence in Germany (i.e. an official rental contract).
What’s more, authorities may ask for a criminal record check and proof of adequate medical insurance.
Foreign freelancers living in Germany say the freelancer visa process is quite bureaucratic and challenging. Be prepared for a long haul and lots of paperwork. If that sounds overwhelming, then I recommend hiring a professional to handle everything on your behalf.
#3. Germany Job Seeker Visa
The Jobseeker Visa might be the right fit for you if you’re not a freelancer but want to get hired by a German company.
Bear in mind however, this visa doesn’t allow you to work while in Germany. You can only attend job interviews and network with potential employers. It won’t be the right fit for digital nomads who are already working remotely.
To be eligible for the Germany Job Seeker visa you’ll need to meet the following requirements:
- Hold a bachelors or masters degree from a recognized university
- Show proof of sufficient funds to support yourself during your stay
- Have at least five years of experience in your field of work
- Show proof of a suitable travel health insurance policy to cover you during your stay
#4. Germany General Employment Visa
The General Employment Visa is designed for those who already have a job offer from an employer based in Germany. Your German employer will become the sponsor of your work permit and subsequent residency. To get the visa, you need suitable qualifications along with an official work contract from your new employer.
#5. Germany Special Employment Visa
The Special Employment Visa was created for foreigners with special professional knowledge in high demand within the German economy. Senior managers and university professors can also apply for this visa.
To apply, you’ll need proof of your qualifications and experience, sufficient funds to maintain yourself in Germany, and proof of an employment contract from your German employer.
#6. Family Reunification Residency
Another option for long-term residency in Germany could be through your EU citizen spouse or partner (if you’re lucky enough to have one!)
According to European law, all EU citizens have the right to “reunify” their family in any EU/EEA member state of their choice. That’s great news for you as a US citizen.
You can move freely to Germany alongside your spouse or partner, then apply for residency through them.
To claim German residency via the family reunification route, you’ll typically need proof of your marriage or partnership.
This could be a marriage certificate or, if you’re not married, proof of having lived together for at least two years, such as a shared lease or utility bills from your previous country of residency).
Getting German Citizenship
If you’re moving to Germany from the US for the long term, then you may wish to pursue German citizenship.
This brings huge benefits, as holding a German passport will make you a citizen of the European Union.
That status gives you the rights to live, work, study, and retire freely across any EU/EEA country, or Switzerland.
What’s more, Germany has one of the most powerful passports in the world.
The journey to citizenship begins when you receive your German temporary residence permit, using one of the routes discussed in the previous section.
The next step is to apply for permanent residency, followed by citizenship. The whole process normally takes around eight years.
Applicants for German citizenship by naturalization also need to have spent at least 183 days per year in Germany, pass a German language exam, and have an unbroken record of paying taxes and social security contributions.
Getting German citizenship as an American isn’t an easy mission, but the end result is well worth it.
How Much Does it Cost to Move to Germany From the US?
The typical cost for shipping a container overseas ranges from $2,000 to $3,000, according to shipping experts.
But the cost can vary greatly depending on cargo volume, whether you’re shipping by air or sea, the distance shipped, the destination port, and the time of year.
You’ll also want to budget for flights, initial accommodation, and living expenses until you get settled.
The cost of living in Germany is generally lower than in the US, especially regarding healthcare, education, and public services, but this depends on the city.
Typical costs to budget for when moving to Germany from the US
- Immigration costs: This includes everything associated with getting your German residency visa, including the visa fee itself, other government fees, and translation fees.
- Travel costs: Your flight to Germany along with any luggage or excess baggage fees involved.
- Accommodation costs: includes agent fees, security deposits, first 1-2 months of rent (usually paid upfront), property taxes and notary fees (if you’re buying).
- Utilities costs: Getting set up with Internet, water, and electricity at your new accommodation.
- Shipping costs: For bringing your belongings from the US to Germany, you’ll need to factor in shipping fees, customs charges, any taxes, and fees for transporting pets.
- Translation costs: you’ll probably need a German speaker to help you navigate all the bureaucracy. Trust me, it can significantly reduce your stress levels! Plus, some documents will need to be officially translated into Italian.
- Driving costs: If you plan to drive in Germany, you’ll need an international driver’s permit to begin with. Then you’ll need to exchange your US licence for a German one after six months in-country (if you plan to live there longer than a year). You should also factor in the costs of buying or renting a car, fuel, road tax, and insurance.
- Travel insurance policy covering the whole Schengen zone: You’ll need to have this in place when you apply for your initial German residency visa. SafetyWing’s Nomad Insurance is our favorite (and you can start a new policy any time, even if your trip has already begun!)
Don’t forget, some visa options will want you to have proof of savings in the bank too.
In general, it’s always worth having a comfy cushion rather than trying to cut corners on such a major life change.
Despite the country’s image of efficiency, German bureaucracy can be challenging.
That’s why it’s always good to have some extra funds available to smooth over some of the difficult bits (such as hiring a translator).
I use Numbeo for checking the latest living costs in different countries.
You can also use it to run comparisons between costs in various German cities and your hometown in the US.
5 Great Places in Germany For Americans to Live
Germany is diverse, and each city offers a unique living experience. Here are my top five picks:
Berlin is the biggest city in Germany and its cultural epicenter.
Its size is complemented by an unrivaled cultural richness, placing it at the heart of Europe’s art and music scene.
If you’re moving to Germany from the US, Berlin should be on your radar. Here’s an overview of the key things to consider as a potential expat in Berlin.
Job Market: Berlin has a diverse job market, with opportunities in sectors such as information technology, creative industries, healthcare, and education. It’s known for its thriving start-up scene, housing numerous innovative tech companies.
Language: While it’s possible to get by with only English, especially in the startup scene, learning German is beneficial for integrating into the local culture and society. Many language schools offer intensive German courses.
Cost of Living: Compared to other European capitals, Berlin’s cost of living is relatively low. However, rents have been rising in recent years, particularly in sought-after neighborhoods.
Education: Berlin offers a wide variety of international schools, making it a suitable choice for families. The city also hosts prestigious universities like Humboldt University and Free University.
Transportation: Berlin’s public transportation system is comprehensive, punctual, and efficient, including the U-Bahn (subway), S-Bahn (overground train), buses, trams, and ferries. Additionally, Berlin is bicycle-friendly, with numerous bike lanes and rental services.
Healthcare: The city provides high-quality healthcare services, with a wide network of hospitals and clinics. As in the rest of Germany, healthcare insurance is mandatory.
Culture and Social Life: Berlin’s cultural scene is vibrant and diverse. From historical landmarks and world-class museums to music festivals and a dynamic nightlife, the city has something for everyone.
Nature and Outdoor Activities: Despite its urban nature, Berlin has plenty of green spaces like Tiergarten and Tempelhofer Feld. There’s also ample opportunity for water sports with several lakes and the Spree River.
Keep in mind, while Berlin is affordable compared to other capital cities, it is still one of the more expensive places to live in Germany.
But with its cultural richness, job opportunities, and vibrant lifestyle, many expats find the city to be a rewarding place to live.
Munich, the capital of Bavaria, offers an excellent quality of life, backed by a robust economy, first-rate public services, and low crime rates. As an expat, here are some crucial points you should consider:
Job Market: Munich is home to numerous multinational corporations including BMW, Siemens, and Allianz. The city has also emerged as a significant tech hub with many start-ups and the presence of tech giants like Microsoft and Google. Job opportunities are plentiful, especially if you’re in the tech, manufacturing, or finance sectors.
Language: While English is commonly spoken in the workplace, learning German can make daily life, social interactions, and integration easier.
Cost of Living: Munich is one of Germany’s more expensive cities. Renting is costly, especially within the city center. However, salaries tend to be higher to offset this.
Education: Munich offers high-quality education, with many international schools. If you’re planning to move with your family, this is a significant benefit.
Transportation: Munich has a comprehensive and efficient public transport system. It includes the U-Bahn (subway), S-Bahn (suburban train), trams, and buses. Cycling is also quite common, thanks to the city’s extensive bike lanes.
Healthcare: Munich offers excellent healthcare facilities. Germany operates under a universal healthcare system, ensuring all residents have access to medical care.
Culture and Social Life: Munich is famous for Oktoberfest, but its cultural scene extends beyond beer gardens. It hosts numerous events throughout the year, boasts art galleries, museums, and offers a vibrant culinary scene.
Nature and Outdoor Activities: Munich’s proximity to the Alps makes it ideal for outdoor enthusiasts. City parks like the English Garden offer green space for recreation.
Remember, moving to Munich means a higher cost of living than some other German cities.
But the trade-off comes in the form of high salaries, excellent public services, and a great standard of living.
As Europe’s financial hub, Frankfurt has a cosmopolitan feel, with a skyline filled with skyscrapers.
It’s nicknamed “Mainhattan” due to its impressive skyline. But it also has charming neighborhoods like Sachsenhausen, known for its cider taverns.
Here’s an overview of Frankfurt as an expat destination.
Job Market: Frankfurt is the financial heart of Germany, hosting the European Central Bank and many major German banks, such as Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank. The city also has strong job markets in sectors like IT, automotive, and chemical manufacturing.
Language: As an international city, English is commonly used, especially in business. But learning German will still help with day-to-day life and cultural integration.
Cost of Living: Frankfurt is one of the more expensive German cities, especially housing in popular districts or near the city center. Keep in mind that salaries in Frankfurt are typically higher than the national average.
Education: Frankfurt has several international schools offering curriculums in English. There are also prestigious universities, such as Goethe University and Frankfurt School of Finance & Management.
Transportation: Frankfurt boasts an efficient public transport network, including U-Bahn (subway), S-Bahn (overground train), trams, and buses. Frankfurt’s compact size also makes it bike-friendly.
Healthcare: Frankfurt provides high-quality healthcare facilities. Germany’s statutory health insurance covers a broad range of health services.
Culture and Social Life: While Frankfurt might seem all business at first glance, it has a vibrant cultural scene with several museums, theatres, and music festivals. The city also hosts traditional events, like the Christmas Market and Apple Wine Festival.
Nature and Outdoor Activities: Frankfurt has several green spaces, including Palmengarten, a large botanical garden, and the City Forest, the largest inner-city forest in Germany. The Main River provides opportunities for boating and riverside picnics.
Moving to Frankfurt means embracing a cosmopolitan lifestyle with a high standard of living.
While the cost of living is higher than some other German cities, the trade-off is a robust job market, excellent infrastructure, and a rich cultural scene.
The port city of Hamburg has a rich maritime history, bustling nightlife, and lots of green spaces.
It also has more bridges than Venice and Amsterdam combined. The HafenCity district is a model of modern urban planning, and the Elbphilharmonie, a concert hall, is a marvel of contemporary architecture.
Job Market: Hamburg has a diverse economy with strong sectors in logistics, media, IT, and aerospace. It’s also the second-largest port in Europe, offering opportunities in shipping and trade.
Language: English is widely spoken, particularly in business settings, but learning German is helpful for integration and daily life.
Cost of Living: While Hamburg offers a high standard of living, it’s also one of Germany’s pricier cities. Housing can be expensive, especially in desirable neighborhoods near the Alster Lake or Elbe River.
Education: Hamburg has numerous international schools and is home to reputable universities, including the University of Hamburg and Hamburg University of Technology.
Transportation: Hamburg’s extensive public transportation network includes U-Bahn (subway), S-Bahn (overground train), buses, and ferries. Hamburg is also bike-friendly, with numerous dedicated cycling paths.
Healthcare: The city provides high-quality healthcare services, with a wide network of hospitals and clinics. Like elsewhere in Germany, health insurance is mandatory.
Culture and Social Life: Hamburg has a vibrant cultural scene, including renowned music venues like the Elbphilharmonie, theaters, and art galleries. Hamburg’s Reeperbahn is famous for its nightlife.
Nature and Outdoor Activities: Despite its urban environment, Hamburg has plenty of green spaces, such as Planten un Blomen park. Water activities are popular due to the city’s maritime location, with sailing and paddleboarding on the Alster Lake.
Smaller than the other cities on this list, Heidelberg has a romantic charm, with its well-preserved old town, famous castle, and the oldest university in Germany.
It’s a picturesque town perfect for families and academics, thanks to its renowned university.
Job Market: Heidelberg is known for its thriving sectors in academia, research, healthcare, and IT. It’s home to several multinational companies and one of Europe’s most reputable educational institutions, Heidelberg University.
Language: While English is commonly spoken due to the large student and expat population, knowing German is beneficial for daily life and deeper cultural immersion.
Cost of Living: Heidelberg is relatively affordable compared to larger German cities, though rent prices can vary significantly depending on proximity to the city center or the university.
Education: Besides the historic Heidelberg University, the city hosts several international schools, which is a plus if you’re planning to move with your family.
Transportation: Heidelberg has an efficient public transportation system that includes trams, buses, and regional trains. The city center is also very walkable, and cycling is popular.
Healthcare: Heidelberg is home to one of Europe’s largest medical complexes, the Heidelberg University Hospital, providing high-quality healthcare services. Remember, health insurance is mandatory in Germany.
Culture and Social Life: The city has a rich cultural heritage, evident in landmarks like Heidelberg Castle. The old town offers an array of cafés, restaurants, and small shops. Cultural events and festivals take place throughout the year, like the Heidelberg Fall Festival.
Nature and Outdoor Activities: Located in the Neckar River valley, Heidelberg offers beautiful hiking and biking trails. The Neckar River itself provides opportunities for boating or riverside strolls.
Heidelberg provides a picturesque, tranquil, and enriching environment to live in, with its academic vibes, rich culture, and beautiful landscapes.
The cost of living is typically lower than Germany’s major cities, but Heidelberg still manages to offer a high quality of life.
My 5 Top Tips for Moving to Germany from the US
Here are my five top tips on moving to Germany from the US, based on personal experience of almost two decades of living abroad, including emigrating to eight different countries.
#1. Define your long-term goals
It’s important to start with an idea of your long-term plans in Germany.
Do you want to stay there for a short time, maybe just a couple of years?
Or do you want to go all the way to German citizenship (at least 8 years)?
Are you open to just being flexible and letting things flow?
Whatever path you take, I recommend using your 90 day visa-free allowance to explore Germany before committing to a long-term move.
#2. Clarify your tax situation
You can’t escape from taxes, especially as an American. It’s always important to seek professional advice on your tax situation, before planning an international move.
Don’t forget, as a US citizen, you’ll still need to file your annual tax return, even if you become resident in Germany.
#3. Get suitable health insurance
It’s important to have proper health insurance before embarking on your move. You’ll need it for your residency visa anyway.
SafetyWing’s Nomad Insurance is my favorite (and you can start a new policy any time, even if your trip has already begun!)
Once you get your German residency permit, you’ll be entitled to German state health care.
But in the meantime, it’s important to have the peace of mind that proper health insurance brings you (and it’s much cheaper than paying for US health insurance!)
#4. Build up your savings
Having a firm foundation of savings is extremely reassuring when planning to move abroad.
Moving abroad comes with many unexpected costs. Often, you’ll feel like paying more money just to make certain things easier, and reduce your stress levels.
I always recommend anyone planning an overseas move to save at least six months of living expenses before kicking off the moving process.
To transfer money back and forth between the US and Germany, my top pick is the Wise account.
But for larger sums, such as buying real estate in Germany, I’d recommend using an international money transfer service instead, such as Currencies Direct.
#5. Invest in language classes
Locals in many European countries have a high level of spoken English, and Germany is up there with the best of them.
In fact, many foreigners in Germany struggle to find opportunities to practice their German skills.
If they notice you’re a beginner, the helpful Germans will quickly switch to English in an attempt to help you out.
Nevertheless, it’s important to acquire the basics of German, especially if you plan to apply for citizenship in the long term.
What’s more, you’ll find it much easier to handle German bureaucracy if you understand the language.
My favorite way to study online is with a one-to-one tutor via using the excellent iTalki platform.
Taking online classes forces you out of your comfort zone, so you can start actually using the language for speaking and listening.
I’ve used it over the years to practice Mandarin, Arabic and Portuguese.
You can use Pimsleur, Duolingo, or other apps too.
But nothing beats actually conversing with a native speaker in your target language.
That’s why iTalki will always be my top pick for building fluency fast.
Before you go…
Moving to Germany from the US is a big step, but it can transform your quality of life.
The good news is, moving to Germany doesn’t have to be as challenging as you might expect.
In this guide, we’ve covered all the major points to consider when organizaing your move, so you can make it as smooth as possible.
Welcome to the beginning of your new life in one of Europe’s top destinations!