At the time of writing this, I’ve lived in Frankfurt, Germany for almost two years and it’s been an absolutely amazing experience. I’ve traveled all around Europe visiting beautiful places like Ukraine, the Baltics, literally so many different islands in Greece, Italy, France, etc. In addition, I’ve traveled to almost every corner of Germany which is in itself perhaps one of the most underrated countries in Europe.
Prior to Frankfurt, I had lived in South Africa which is how this whole blog got started in the first place. The two countries are so different but they’ve allowed me to experience the world so can’t complain about that!
For those moving, or planning to move to Germany, this is a summary of everything I learned about living here. While this will be more geared towards Frankfurt, there are many things that will apply to all of Germany and I’ve linked to my more detailed posts accordingly.
Visas and work permits
Well you can’t move and live in Germany without some sort of visa. As I came to Germany with my job, I obtained a blue card (Blau Karte) through my work. This was a much more streamlined and easy process than applying for a work visa in South Africa.
The whole process only took two months or so. German bureaucracy is mostly efficient (with headaches here and there). Visiting the Auslanderbehorde is not for the faint of heart but it must be done so prepare yourself.
The EU Blue Card
There are numerous other visas that you can apply for in Germany like a student visa or freelancer visa. However, I only have experience applying for the blue card which is similar to the general work permit with some extra perks.
Registering your address in Germany
The first thing you’ll need to do when moving to Germany is registering your address, or “anmeldung” in German. Germans don’t mess around when it comes to tracking their citizens homes but really that’s the extent of it.
When you first move to Germany, you have to go to the Burgeramt (city hall) and tell them where you live. You’ll need your landlord to fill out a standard form and that way the Government will be able to put an address to your name.
Every time you move apartments subsequent to that, you’ll need to do it again with the Burgeramt closest to you.
It’s a bit of a process but I go in depth about my experience getting the anmeldung.
Getting German Health Insurance
The next most important thing, if not more important than the first one is obtaining German health insurance. You can’t live in Germany without health insurance meaning you can’t get a residence permit without one.
Germany also does not mess around with their health insurance and everyone must be registered. Sorry Americans. You are SOL if you think you can get away without any here.
Germany is a hybrid socialist healthcare system in that they have a state sponsored healthcare system that is ranked among the best in the world. This system covers everyone and anyone and comes with a fixed price.
If you make above a certain income level, you can obtain private insurance which is given through private corporations. These plans are generally better in that they provide more extensive coverage, shorter waiting times, etc.
The healthcare system in Germany can be very confusing, even to other Europeans.
Read my guide about German health insurance.
Mobile Phones, Internet and Cable
There is a big variety of mobile data plans in Germany. In general, the quality of 4G in Germany is lacking compared to other European countries and the prices are generally on the higher side compared to other EU countries. Nevertheless, it’s still not that expensive especially if you’re willing to go with O2. The main mobile carriers in Germany are:
Overall, Telekom is the best with the biggest network coverage. O2 is by far the worst in terms of speed and network with Vodafone being in the middle. In Germany, there are many third party vendors that buy spectrum on these three main networks and offer their own plans accordingly. This is where you can get some real deals. It’s not uncommon to find a deal where you can get 5gb of data, unlimited calls and texts, for €10 a month.
Unlimited data plans are generally quite expensive if even offered at all.
Read in detail my cellphone and home internet experiences.
As for home internet, Germany is pretty cheap in this regard. I don’t really need the craziest package with 50 mbps being more than enough for my needs. The main providers of home internet in Germany are:
You can expect to pay somewhere between €20-€30 a month for an unlimited plan at decent speeds.
Apartment Hunting In Frankfurt, Germany
Looking for apartments in Germany is a very involved process. In Frankfurt especially, apartments go quickly as there is an insatiable demand for good apartments without the necessary supply to back it up. In Germany as a whole, I find that prices are reasonable compared to the incomes people make so you won’t find crazy situations like New York City, or Hong Kong where you get shoeboxes for a ridiculous price.
Apartments in Frankfurt are generally much nicer overall than what I had back in New York and I think the quality of the apartments here are fantastic. Landlords really take care of their apartments.
Apartment hunting is a bit of a mission but there are many websites out there that I used to search like immoscout.de or wunderflats.de. Generally, you’ll need to start looking for apartments at least 1 month beforehand and don’t be surprised by certain things like having to provide not one but three months rent for a security deposit!
I went very in depth while writing my Frankfurt apartment hunting guide on how I found my wonderful apartment in Nordend.
Frankfurt Neighborhood Guide
You can’t apartment hunt in the city without understanding where you are! Frankfurt is a big city but the central part of the city is very small. If you are not looking for a big house, then you’ll want to stay in the city center. There aren’t that many neighborhoods here but it’s good to know the difference between them all. When I was apartment hunting, I narrowed down my search to these neighborhoods.
These are the most central and in demand neighborhoods of Frankfurt. Similar to living in Lower Manhattan or Zone 1 in London.
Read my Frankfurt neighborhood guide to learn more about them!
If you’re not looking for a long term official lease, Germany is all about short term unofficial ones as well. WGs, or flat shares, or sublets depending on where you’re from is a very common thing in Germany. People are in and out all the time in Frankfurt and therefore, short term leases or living with a roommate are very common.
I actually stayed in a WG for a month when I first moved to Frankfurt because I needed some more time to find a long term lease. WGs are generally cheaper, even if you do have a roommate. If you are looking for this option, read my WG renting guide.
Getting around Frankfurt
Frankfurt is surprisingly a very small city. It has everything that a big city offers like tons of restaurants, bars, shops, and big buildings but it condenses that all into a small city size. It’s a small city pretending to be a big city. Getting around Frankfurt is very easy as it’s super well connected by the U-Bahn and S-Bahn train systems, as well as having a comprehensive network for bike lanes.
I only bike nowadays around the city as I just feel so European with my little bike and basket. It adds to the authenticity of my expat experience!
I have a bike subscription model from Swapfiets which rents out bikes by the month. This means you get your own bike that you can do whatever you want with it. If there’s a problem with the bike, just use the app to inform them and someone will actually come to service your bike. If they can’t fix it, they just give you a new one! It’s probably one of the best startups that I’ve seen.
Banks and Credit Cards
Banking in Germany is a bit of a headache in my opinion. The traditional brick and mortar banks have archaic processes and generally make opening bank accounts more difficult than it should be. To add insult to injury, most of the banks in Germany have no English options. I guess they don’t need to target the foreigner market? Commerzbank and Deutsche Bank are the only brick and mortar banks that I’ve found that provide assistance in English (but it’s still not great).
Germany is one of the only developed countries that I know of that prefers cash over credit card. More and more businesses are accepting card but cash is still very much king here. Many restaurants and shops still only accept cash, not even a debit card! It’s a bit mind-boggling to be honest but that’s just the way of life here.
The main banking institutions within Germany are the following:
- Deutsche Bank
There have been new startups in recent years that have taken advantage of the digital age and the incompetence of older institutions to come out with more user friendly interfaces. N26 is one of these banks that is perfect for expats. They do everything in English, and have a very easy to use interface. Revolut is also another revolutionary option. While it’s not Germany based, you can still use the bank as a digital option in Germany. They also have no fee spot rate FX conversions which is completely unheard of if you want to transfer money home.
Credit cards are not really a thing in Germany. People are very credit-adverse and the concept of buying anything on debt is non-existent. There is no concept of credit card points or travel hacking here so don’t even bother. In fact, most of the credit cards here have an annual fee but give little to no rewards making it completely useless.
Read my detailed German banking guide here!
Income taxes and such in Germany
Germany is a country with a high tax rate but it’s not the whole story. A big part of your income taxes go towards your social contributions like the state pension and your health insurance. To better understand tax rates and filing income tax returns, read my German tax guide.
As well, if you’re looking to better understand the German tax classes which dictate how much tax you pay (based on your marriage status), then read about my guide to change tax classes which could save you thousands of euros a year.
Restaurants and dining scene
Germany is not known really for its cuisine. Yes of course I love me a good schnitzel or bockswurst but let’s be honest, it does not compete on the world stage with nearby France or Italy. Nevertheless, Germany is one of the most diverse countries in the EU so you can expect to find food from all around the world. Frankfurt in particular is one of the most diverse cities in the country and you can expect to find all types of food and restaurants here.
In fact, I’ve eaten more Thai and Vietnamese food living in Frankfurt than even when I lived in New York City.
Food and drinks in Frankfurt are generally quite reasonably priced compared to the incomes. You can find fancy tastings for €100+ per person but generally, I find the prices to be quite decent.
Frankfurt, being in the middle of Germany’s wine growing region, has an abundance of amazing wine bars. I thought I would be drinking beers all the time (German stereotype after all) but I’ve had nothing but wine during my time as an expat here.
Markets in Frankfurt and Germany
Without a doubt, my favorite part of living in Germany has to be the weekly markets and summer festivals. These outdoor markets are filled with shops selling fresh fruit, vegetables, bread, pastries, honey, art and crafts, etc. Once you’re done with your weekly shopping, move to the party nearby which will almost always include stands selling wine, beer, and wursts.
Germans love drinking and so do I. Germans love drinking outdoors even more. As do I.
In Frankfurt, there are a few markets to familiarize yourself with: Kleinmarkthalle, Konstablerwachemarkt, and Schillersmarkt among others. Saturdays are a perennial drunk party during the day times at Kleinmarkthalle. Frankfurt’s finest comes out in full force to take down wine like no other. Best of all? Wine in Germany is very cheap so you can expect to get quality rieslings for a very cheap price.
Festivals in Frankfurt and Germany
In the summer months, there is a festival every week celebrating different things. Whether this is for their local Apfelwein drink, wine from nearby vineyards, or just really any excuse to drink a lot and enjoy the outdoors, there is something here. You might be thinking about what a festival is like in your home country, but I can guarantee that German ones will at least live up to your expectations.
In the winter, the world famous Weihnachtsmarkts, or Christmas markets take full shape in Germany. These are the most picturesque and best Christmas markets in the world and I’ve spent many days driving around Germany just to go to different Christmas markets. Frankfurt’s Christmas market is very beautiful and I went to it every other night because why would you do anything else? This is truly one of the most special things about Germany!
Gyms and Working out
The gym culture is strong in Germany. People like to stay fit and whether that’s because of the warm weather or the people wanting to impress others, there are plenty of gym options to go around in Johannesburg.
There are many gyms in Frankfurt with all different price points. In general, I find the gyms to be very reasonably priced especially with the quality you get in return. Some of the main gym chains in Frankfurt include:
- Fit Seven Eleven
- Fitness First
- Prime Fitness
As someone that goes to the gym a lot, I’ve written in detail about my experience finding gyms in Frankfurt!
Lifestyle, culture, and language
Frankfurt is a very attractive expat location because of the great work life balance Germany has to offer. While Germans work hard, they also understand balance and the Government has instituted policies accordingly to make sure people aren’t overworked. While this is mostly adhered to, some jobs like investment banking aren’t so lucky as those people usually just ignore the Government.
Germans are very into abiding by the rules and listening to the Government. Society is very orderly, organized, and peaceful. As long as you follow the rules, you won’t have any issue and your life will be quite comfortable. In general, I find that society in Germany not that different to life in the US. On a macro level, life is different in that Europeans believe in a more socialized approach that values the collective over the individual (although not as much as in Asia). However, on a micro level, the day to day stuff is not that different.
Frankfurt is an expat heavy city since there are so many industries in this city. While Finance is probably the biggest, pharma, IT, and law are huge industries here as well. There are so many foreigners here that it’s actually only about 50% native German with the rest mostly concentrated in other European nations and Turkey. Needing to speak German in Frankfurt is less of a requirement than other German cities so for those that also find Deutsche to be impossible, you will be in luck in Frankfurt.
Is Frankfurt A Safe Place?
Frankfurt, surprisingly, has some of the worst “crime” statistics in Germany. There are more incidents per capita in the Frankfurt area than anywhere else in the country. Of course, there is a huge caveat to this as “incidents” include any mix ups that happen at the airport which is quite common.
There are a few seedy areas in Frankfurt, mostly by the red light districts. However, this is Germany after all and if you’re really wondering if you are safe living in one of Germany’s biggest cities, then you are a bit delusional from the get-go.
I’ve written about whether I think Frankfurt is safe in my other post so if you’re really curious, give it a read.
Car Insurance and Drivers License
Germans love their cars, there’s no doubt about that. I mean they do make perhaps the most highly coveted cars in the world and their car industry make up a huge percentage of their net exports. If anything, Germans would buy a car just out of pride to support their country.
If you’re looking to buy a car in Frankfurt, the process is not the easiest but there are so many dealerships and private sales, that you will have no problem finding a car. You will also need car insurance which can be very painful to obtain. Thankfully, there are new age digital services that make the process a bit easier.
A car in Frankfurt is absolutely not necessary. I’m baffled at why people who live and work in Frankfurt would ever buy a car. It’s a waste of money and parking is impossible to find. The city is so small you can bike from one end to the other in under 30 minutes.
Nevertheless, if you plan to stay in Germany long term, you should look at whether you can convert your drivers license to a German license because this will save you the huge pain of going through the drivers license process in Germany that will consume months and thousands of euros!
Cost of living in Frankfurt
Frankfurt is not a super expensive place to live but it is certainly not cheap. Germany, while a wealthy country, somehow does an amazing job of keeping their costs low. By German standards, Frankfurt is considered the second most expensive city to live in after Munich. Rent is, of course, the main contributor to this. While the rent is not cheap in Frankfurt, it is not prohibitively expensive like living in NYC, Hong Kong, or London where it consumes a prohibitive percentage of your paycheck.
However, people make decent money and you aren’t going to be killed in the wallet paying €9 for a beer like I did in Finland (and their salaries are not actually that high).
As mentioned above, you can go to the markets with friends and get toasted on good quality wine for very cheap.
I have a very detailed breakdown of my monthly expenses living in Frankfurt for those looking to get an idea of what it costs. Of course, everyone’s situation is different so keep that in mind when you see my numbers!
Weather in Frankfurt, Germany
Well Germany certainly will not win over expat hearts because of the weather. No one visits Germany for its sunny and warm weather. Frankfurt is in the middle of the country and offers the quintessential German weather patterns.
It’s a far cry from when I lived in South Africa where it was sunny every day but that’s just part of living in Northern Europe.
For the most part, weather in Frankfurt is not that bad. The weather is mostly mild in that it doesn’t see extreme highs or extreme lows for extended periods of time. In the winters, it rarely gets colder than -5c and in the summers, you’ll see a few days above 35c but it usually hovers between 25c and 35c the rest of the time.
It does get cloudy with a drizzle of rain often and you can go days or even weeks with nothing but clouds at times. This can get very depressing especially in the cold of winter when the days end at 16:00. However, the beauty of living in Frankfurt is that the airport is 20 minutes away and you can book a €50 to Brindisi, Italia and explore the beautiful Puglia region!
Observations of living in Germany
Living in another country, you are guaranteed to come across cultural differences and quirky things. Germany is full of these. People’s mentality are so different here versus the US; some worse but most of them better. That’s the beauty of living in another country is to just see for yourself that your way of life is not the only way of life. There are better alternatives out there, you just need to open your eyes to them.
Having lived in Frankfurt for almost two years, life has been pretty damn good. I think I could certainly live in Europe long term because the quality of life is far superior to life in the US for just about everyone outside of the super rich. Of course these are my opinions and my experiences so don’t come here expecting an utopia.
For the reasons why I love living in Frankfurt, read it here!
Traveling Around Germany
Germany is not an undiscovered place by any means but it’s criminally underrated for what it has to offer. It’s a small country, but it’s filled with so much history and diversity of landscapes.
Germany has something to offer for everyone. Big cities like Berlin and Munich are popular, but the real charm rests in the little villages that just scream I’m in the middle of a fairy tale. Sometimes when I travel to these town, I’m still thinking at times, I can’t believe people live in these gingerbread looking houses.
Traveling around Europe
Germany has more than enough to offer you for a weekend trip, road trip, or more. Nevertheless, the beauty of living in Germany is that you’re right in the middle of Europe with literally endless options of places to travel. Whether you want to go wine tasting in France, island hopping in Greece, drinking rakia in the Balkans, skiing in the Dolomites, or eating Paella in Valencia, everything is possible. This is without a doubt, one of the biggest draws of being an expat in Europe.
Living in Frankfurt has been amazing because of its proximity to the airport which only takes 20 minutes from the city center. In addition, Frankfurt is one of the main hubs of the world so you have flights to every corner of Europe.
I’ve traveled to almost every country in Europe now and won’t stop until that list is completed!
- Do You Have To Speak German To Live In Frankfurt, Germany?
- What I Love About Living In Frankfurt, Germany
- Guide To Frankfurt’s Bike Sharing And E-Scooters
- Cost of Living Breakdown In Frankfurt, Germany: Updated 2022
- The Ultimate Guide to Fitness Clubs and Gyms in Frankfurt, Germany
- Cost Of Living In Munich, Germany (2022 Edition)
- Living In Frankfurt During Coronavirus
- The Best Wine Bars in Frankfurt, Germany
- What I Dislike Most About Living In Germany
- Ultimate Guide To Get From Frankfurt Airport To The City
- Guide To Finding A Flat Share In Frankfurt, Germany
- Ottonova Review: Why Private Health Insurance In Germany Is Better