Expat Insider, Expat Life, Featured, Working in Germany

Germany Offers Expats the Best Work-Life Balance

Expats in Germany may be unhappy with their social life, but a well-paying job can make up for having no friends, right? RIGHT?!

Okay, maybe not. But after failing so badly at making expats feel welcome, Germany excelled in the “Jobs & Education” section of the Expat Insider survey by InterNations.

In fact, the survey found that what makes Germany so attractive to foreigners is its good career prospects and job security — Germany ranked #7 of 65 countries in the career section of the survey. Of expats working in Germany, 67% rate their job security positively and 52% consider the state of the German economy very good (in contrast to only 19% worldwide).

Here are all of Germany’s rankings within the “Jobs & Education” section of the InterNations survey (of 65 countries):

  • Work-Life Balance: #20
  • Job Security: #2
  • Job & Career: #21

The main points contributing to expats’ happiness in this area include personal safety, political stability (16 year of Angela!), quality of the environment, school education and leisure activities for children.

Here are the overall stats for expat workers in Germany:

As I mentioned in the previous post, the US is the most represented nationality of expats in Germany. American expats working in Germany are particularly happy with their work-life balance, as German companies are required to offer at least 24 days of paid vacation per year and have significantly shorter working hours than US companies. In fact, employees in Germany only work an average of 1,371 hours per year compared to US employees’ 1,674 hours per year.

If you work in Germany, are you happy with your job? How does it compare to work life in your passport country?

Culture, Expat Insider, Expat Life, Featured

Expats Feel the Most Unwelcome in Germany

Germans are known for being cold and distant. And while stereotypes are unfair to the stereotyped, maybe – just maybe – they also sometimes hold a bit of truth.

Earlier this week, I introduced InterNation’s recent Expat Insider report, which analyzed the feelings of 12,500 expats around the world – nearly 800 of which were living in Germany.

If you believe the stereotype, then it should come as no surprise that Germany ranked particularly low in the section “Ease of Settling In” – just 10th from the bottom (#56) among the 65 most popular countries for expats. Other areas where Germany ranked quite low included:

  • Language: #56
  • Finding Friends: #59
  • Friendliness: #51
  • Feeling Welcome: #50

Language

If you’ve ever taken 5 minutes of a German class or spent 5 minutes in the country (or read one of the my Mistranslation Mondays), then you know that German isn’t an easy language.

Globally, half of all expats report that it’s overall not easy to learn the language of the country they live in, but this figure is almost 20 percentage points higher in Germany, with 69% saying they struggle to pick up German. Only 5% of expats strongly agree that it is easy to live in Germany without a grasp of the local language. Internationally that percentage is far higher at 18%.

While the language is difficult, I find Germans very accommodating to foreigners that struggle with the language. The overwhelming majority of Germans under 40 can and will speak English. And in my experience, anyone that can’t speak English is open to (and thankful for) foreigners that speak broken German with a bad accent. However, I do agree that at least a loose grasp on the language is required for living here.

Friendliness

In the Expat Insider survey, expats in Germany placed Germany far right on the scale of friendliness. The only countries that expats find more “reserved and calm” than Germany are Denmark, Switzerland, Japan, Finland, Norway, and Sweden.

Friendliness of Countries to Foreigners

Finding Friends & Feeling Welcome

Knowing that expats find the Germans so un-friendly, then it follows that these expats also find it difficult to find friends, causing Germany to be ranked at 59 of 65 countries. InterNations reported that many expats in Germany tend to stay in the “expat/foreigner bubble”, where they have a social circle solely comprised of fellow foreigners.

The metric of “feeling welcome” was visualized in the below graphic. Respondents placed Germany pretty central along the axis from “Constant & Traditional” to “Dynamic & Innovative.” However, Germany is at the far left end of the “Rational & Distant” to “Emotional & Welcoming” scale.

What do you think about these results? Do you agree? Disagree? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Featured, Living in Germany

German Apartment Tour (Built 1462)

After finishing my Master’s degree, getting married, and starting a new jobwhew! – my German husband and I decided it was time to upgrade our living situation.

Our old apartment was fine, but it was also a bit boring. So, we told ourselves that we would only move if we found something amazing – and we did. Our new apartment is directly in the historic city center, which means we are within walking distance to all of the best shops, restaurants and bars that our city has to offer. The building itself was built 1462-1463, although the top floors were not converted into apartments until 2011. This means our apartment is the best of both worlds – German Altbau (old building) flair with modern renovations.

Before we start the tour, here are the basics of the apartment:

  • Size: 89 sq m/958 sq ft
  • Rooms: 2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom
  • Floor: 3rd floor apartment, extending up 2.5 floors

Let’s start the tour on the 1st floor of the apartment (the 3rd floor of the building). Here we have the bathroom, kitchen, and the largest bedroom. This floor has low ceilings, crooked beams, and lots of steps between different floor levels (those may all sound like negative features, but I love it).

Altbau German Bathroom

Altbau German Bathroom

The bathroom is a nice size, but due to the many beams, the builders obviously had to get creative when fitting in the shower/tub. I know it may not look like it in the picture, but it is possible (even for tall people) to stand up and move around comfortably in the shower. We are also lucky to have a window in the bathroom (that nobody can see into).

Altbau German Kitchen

Altbau German Kitchen

Just like our last apartment, we were lucky to find an apartment that came with a built-in kitchen (you often have to buy your own in Germany, even when renting an apartment). If you look at our kitchen counters, you will once again see the builders’ creativity in working around the particularities of this old building. Our counter has 4 different levels, which means there is a comfortable height for chopping no matter how tall you are! The shelf that we mounted to hold our pots/pans/utensils also highlights how crooked the ceiling is.

Altbau German Bedroom

Altbau German Bedroom

Our bedroom has the lowest ceilings of any room in the apartment, which means that Marco (who is 6 feet tall) does have to duck in some areas. Because of this, we put my dresser in the low area, so he doesn’t have to duck around that beam too often.

Altbau German Bedroom

Altbau Closet Solution

Due to our apartment’s peculiarities, we also had to come up with an innovative solution for creating closet space. Germans don’t do built-in closets, and those giant wardrobes that most Germans use would certainly not fit anywhere in the apartment. Instead, we hung hanging rods along the wall behind the bedroom door and hung sliding curtains from the ceiling in front of it.

And yes, we do have a TV in our bedroom. Don’t judge – this is the first time Marco or I have ever had a TV in our bedroom, and we like it!

Altbau German Apartment

The second floor is the reason we fell in love with this apartment. The pictures should be enough to understand why.

Altbau German Dining Room

Altbau German Living Room

On the second floor, we have our living/dining room, a sitting area, and a second bedroom. I didn’t include any pictures of the second bedroom because it’s still a work in progress.

Altbau German Living Room

Altbau German Windows

Another peculiarity of city center Altbau living – views like this. I actually don’t mind it though. When the evening sun reflects off of the tile roofs, it lights up our living room in a warm orange.

Altbau German Stairs Altbau German Loft

From our second floor, we have a set of very steep stairs that go up into a third-floor loft. There we have a bit of storage space (not pictured, obviously) and a desk. It’s a really great space for working and looking down on the living/dining room.

View from the Loft

Oh yeah, and I forgot to mention another highlight of this apartment – the garden! Even though our apartment is directly in the city center, we have a private garden, which we only have to share with the 1 other apartment in the building. This is our view when we look down on the garden from the living room.

German City Center Garden

If you haven’t gotten enough of our beautiful new apartment, then you can also check out this apartment tour video I made for my family. Please excuse the poor quality, this was recorded on my phone 😀

Diabetes, Featured, Working in Germany

An American’s Experience with German Public Healthcare

When I began my master’s studies in Germany, I also enrolled in German public healthcare. At that time, I wrote a (somewhat naive) blog post about my first experience with German public healthcare. This is an update to that post.

Since I was a student at the time, I was only paying the student rate for public healthcare (about 80€ per month). Since I also have a chronic disease, I was taking much more out of the public healthcare system than I was putting in.

While most German-taxpayers were compassionate and understanding of my situation, I did piss a few readers off by cheerfully pointing out how the system worked in my favor. They complained that I was taking their money, draining the system, and that I wouldn’t be so happy once I had a full-time job.

Well, I am back to tell you that (1) I have a full-time job, (2) 15.6% of my income is paid into the German public healthcare system, (3) I am (usually) paying more into the healthcare system each month than I am taking out of it, and (4) I am okay with it.

First, a few facts about the German public healthcare system:

  • Everyone that makes less than approx. 57,000 EUR (63,000 USD) must enroll in public healthcare
    • If you make more, you can choose to become privately insured (price depends on level of coverage and pre-existing conditions) or continue paying into public healthcare
  • The system insured 71.6 million people in 2016, which is about 88% of the country’s population (source)
  • People earning over 850€ per month have to pay 15.5% of their income for public healthcare (8.2% is paid by employee, 7.3% by employer)
This system is widely accepted within Germany, and very few political leaders push for significant reforms. When I was a student in Germany, taking more from the system than I was putting in, I also never heard anything negative about my situation from the Germans that I would speak to about this topic. Germans would generally laugh as I spoke so highly of the public healthcare system, telling me that not paying extra for doctors appointments and prescription medication is how it’s supposed to be.

The entire premise of Breaking Bad is basically a mystery for Germans, and people would often ask me how a person in an industrialized country like the U.S. could go into bankruptcy just because he was diagnosed cancer or got into a car accident.

Solidarity
The principle at play in any publicly-funded healthcare system (whether it be German public healthcare or US Medicare) is solidarity. The healthy will end up paying for (at least some) of the health care services for the sick. The wealthier will pay for services used by the poor.

In the US, the prevailing mindset seems to be, “I don’t want to pay for somebody else.” For better or worse, people only want to be responsible for themselves and their families. The problem is, of course, that a serious illness or accident that often lead to financial hardship (at best) for middle- to low-income families.

Everyday, I see my American friends and family sharing fundraising pages on Facebook to help someone with their medical bills. Just the fact that this webpage exists is, in my opinion, a sign that the US medical system isn’t okay.

Such websites don’t exist in Germany because people don’t need them. Public healthcare in Germany covers everything*, so insured people would never be financially burdened by medical bills.

There is strength in numbers, and with over 70 million people belonging to (mainly) just a handful of public health insurance providers, healthcare and medication fees can be negotiated strongly. Thus, health spending per capita is significantly lower in Germany than the US.

If you have a solid income, never get seriously sick or injured in your entire life, and you never have any children, is this system benefiting you? No. But the problem is that you cannot predict when you are going to get sick or injured, and (in my experience) Germans are willing to pay for the safety of knowing that should something happen, they are covered.

If you are curious what your net salary would be if you lived in Germany, and how much of it would go towards public healthcare, check out this salary calculator:
http://www.brutto-netto-rechner.info/gehalt/gross_net_calculator_germany.php

*German public healthcare does not cover everything, there are required “co-pays” (e.g. 5€ for a prescriptions, 10€ per day at the hospital), but these are fairly insignificant and would not cause financial hardship.

Featured, Studying in Germany

5 Reasons NOT to Study Abroad in Germany

I’m not going to sugar coat things. While the experience of studying abroad in Germany can be amazing, it is not for everyone. So, especially if you are considering pursuing your entire Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in Germany, maybe you should first consider these reasons for NOT studying abroad in Germany.

I studied abroad in Germany for one semester during my Bachelor’s and then came back to Germany to complete my entire Master’s degree. And while I write a lot about all the great things about studying abroad in Germany, I think it’s important that I tell you the not-so-great things as well.

1. BUREAUCRACY
The stereotypes of the rule-abiding Germans and the redundancy of German bureaucracy are true. From registering with the city to registering for exams, you will probably spend a good amount of your time in Germany running around from office to office until you finally catch the right person during their unpredictable and infrequent office hours.

MFW I have to go to the Bürger-, Einwohnermelde-, Ausländerbehörde-, StandesAMT.

Tip: Save all of your emails (office workers tend to “forget” or “lose” things), triple-check your deadlines, keep a calendar with all of your important deadlines

2. NO STUDENT FACILITIES
Especially if you are going to a public university in Germany, you should not expect to have a variety of student resources available (for free) on campus. This means no high-tech computer lab, no super-modern student center, no team of personal counselors. Also, the resources that are available will likely cost you. For example, a student membership to the on-campus gym at my university costs about 20€ per month.

Tip: Join a student organization and enjoy your university campus for what it is – a place of learning and research.

3. LEARNING GERMAN
I don’t care if your study program is in English – you need to learn German. Even if you are living in a big student city, getting through your day-to-day will come with a lot of uncertainty and confusion if you think you can get by on English alone. So, if you have absolutely no interest in taking a German course, stay home.

Now don’t get me wrong – you do not need to be fluent in German before coming to Germany. Germans are incredibly accommodating, and most young people do speak English. However, if you are planning on staying for a while, enroll in a German course (which will often be provided for free by your university).

Tip: Don’t be lazy! Just take a German course.

4. EXAMS
Depending on the system you are used to, the German grading/exam system can be quite confusing/aggravating. First of all, most classes base the grade for the entire course on the final exam/term paper. It’s stressful, and it means that the final exam period at the end of each semester is a very intense time for all the students on campus.

Another big difference that I noticed between the U.S. and German university systems was registering for exams. If you are registered for a course in the U.S., then you are automatically registered for the required exams. Not in Germany! You need to enroll in a course, then half-way though the semester, you need to enroll for the exam. Being the only foreigner in my degree program, I, of course, forgot to enroll for an exam during my first semester…

Tip: Read the exam regulations (Prüfungsordnung) at the beginning of the semester, and take every word to heart. Trust me, you do not want to have to deal with the dreaded Prüfungsamt later.

5. COURSE STRUCTURE
If most of this list could be wrapped up in one sentence it would be this: Do not study in Germany if you are not independent and disciplined. This especially goes for the courses themselves, which are usually structured much differently than university courses in the U.S.
Compared to the U.S., Germans spend much less time in class and much more time doing independent study. This means that you will have to be independent in structuring your time efficiently and disciplined about doing the outside reading, studying, and research.
Tip: Keep up on your reading and studying throughout the semester! Otherwise, you will end up cramming hardcore at the end of the semester as you study for exams that make up 100% of your grade and that you know nothing about.
Do you have any other warnings for students wanting to study in Germany?
Featured, Studying in Germany

American to German Grade Conversion

The best possible GPA in the U.S. is a 4.0. The worst passing grade in Germany is a 4.0. You can see why accurately converting your grade when applying to schools in a different country is important.

Unfortunately, converting grades between different countries is confusing. I first encountered this confusion when I was applying to Master’s programs in Germany, and I wanted to make sure my American GPA was high enough for the programs to which I was applying.

Note: German grades are on a scale of 1.0 (best possible grade) to 4.0 (lowest passing grade). 5.0 is a failing grade. Most Master’s programs in Germany require a GPA of 2.5, although this varies by program.

One of the first resources I came across in my research was the Wikipedia article on “Academic Grading in Germany.” There you will find a very confusing chart and a quick description of the Modified Bavarian Formula, but not much else. So, I will try my best to make this all a little bit easier to understand.

In general, the Modified Bavarian Formula is the standard method for converting foreign grades from any country into the German system. Here is what this formula looks like:

Modified Bavarian Formula

Nmax = highest possible grade in your home country’s grading system
Nmin = lowest possible passing grade in your home country’s grading system
Nd = the grade you want to convert

When using the Modified Bavarian Formula to convert American grades, it would (typically) look like this (using 3.5 as the GPA to be converted):

Nmax = 4.0
Nmin = 2.0
Nd = 3.5

Modified Bavarian Formula for 3.5 GPA

Do the math, and you will find out that an American 3.5 converts to a German 1.75.

For quick reference, I created the following chart using the Modified Bavarian Formula (Nmax=4.0; Nmin=2.0; note that some American universities do grade differently). This will give you a rough idea of what your American GPA or American letter grade would convert to in the German system:

American to German grade conversion
I hope this helps, and good luck to anyone applying to study in Germany!
Featured, Moving to Germany, Studying in Germany

How to Get a Job with a German Student Visa

Studying in Germany is great! It is way cheaper than in the U.S. (as long as you go to a public school), there are great universities, and there is a huge selection of interesting degree programs (many that are even in English!).

Regardless of how cheap the tuition is, however, moving abroad is never cheap, and you will probably want to get a part-time job during your studies.

Step 1: Read Your Visa Carefully

Before looking for a job, you need to know exactly what type of work you are allowed to do, and how many hours you are allowed to work per month. If you received an electronic residence permit, then this information is written on the Zusatzblatt (mine is pictured below). If you just got a sticker in your passport, then it should be written on the top page of the sticker.

German student visa
My Zusatzblatt (on the right) has all of the information regarding how many days/year I am allowed to work. For the standard student visa, you are allowed to work 120 full days or 240 half days per calender year. Since a half-day is 4 hours, this basically means that you are allowed to work 4 hours per day, 5 days per week. As a student, you probably would not want to work more than this anyways.
 German student application visa
Pictured above is the sticker from my student application visa, which states that I was not allowed to seek employment (Erwerbstätigkeit nicht getstattet).
NOTE: Most student visas specifically forbid freelance work. Unless you have a freelance visa, you are now allowed to have a freelance job such as teaching English.

2. Start Searching for a Job

After you know what type of job you are allowed to have, you can start searching. Student jobs at a university are called studentische Hilfskraft (abbreviated SHK) or wissenschaftliche Hilfskraft (abbreviated WHK). If you like the idea of working on campus, then this is what you should look for. Most universities have their own job portal on their website, which would be a great place to start.
If you are looking to get off campus, then other popular websites for finding a job in Germany include IndeedMonster, and Job Scout 24.
You may also consider making a Xing account, which Germans prefer to LinkedIn.

 

3. Make a Resume/CV/Lebenslauf

Once you found some jobs to apply to, it is time to make an updated resume targeted for your desired job. Since you are in Germany, you may also want to write a German-style resume, which includes your photo, birthday, nationality, and more. For more information, read my guide on how to write a German resume.
How to write a German resume

4. Apply to Jobs

After you have updated your resume, it is time to apply to the jobs you found. If it is just a part-time student job, then you probably do not need to write a cover letter. Rather, just include 1-2 paragraphs about why you are qualified for the job and excited to work for the organization in an email. Remember to attach your resume as a PDF, and hope for the best.
If the job description is in English, then you can probably get away with doing everything in English. If the job description is in German, however, then make sure to include a German resume and write your cover letter/email in German. Since the jobs I applied to wrote their descriptions in German, but English fluency was required, I included a German and English version of my resume.

5. Rock the Interview

Doing a job interview in German (when German isn’t your native language) is terrifying. Trust me, I’ve had to do it. My only advice is to speak slowly and clearly as possible. Good luck!

6. Fill Out the Paperwork

Once you have the job, you will have to fill out a lot of paperwork. If you followed my day of German bureaucracy, then you know that I spent a lot of time trying to round up all of the documents I needed before I could finally sign my work contract. Some of the documents you will probably have to provide your new employer include:
  • Visa / Aufenthaltserlaubnis
  • Passport
  • Proof of health insurance
  • Social Security Card / Sozialversicherungsausweis
  • Student ID
If you did apply for a student job at your university (SHK/WHK), then your wage is based upon your education level. So, you may also have to provide your college transcripts to prove that you already have a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree.
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