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Moving to Germany
Moving to Germany | Guide
Moving is stressful and the to-do list can go on for days. Moving to another country, across the ocean, that speaks another language, that you have never visited before, and you can see the stress levels rising beyond what you think you able to handle. Rest assured that you can do this! Countless have done it before you and countless will do it after you, and I am one of them.
I can guarantee you that there are resources and people out there, all too ready and willing to help you make the transition as worry-free as possible. While we can’t pack your house and cancel your contracts for you, I have created a Guide to Moving to Germany to help ease the stress and finally give you that “to-do list” check in the box that makes every Type-A list maker happy.
When to Cancel Contracts
As soon as you have a firm confirmation of work, you should notify your contracts. Some require 30 days, some require 90. Make sure they have your move documented in your file properly and take the name and employee number of the associate that helped you. If possible, also ask for a conversation tracking number. If something goes wrong and they didn’t cancel it on their end on time, this is the only way to get you out of those cancellation fees.
If you work for the government and are moving because of your job, or your partners, many agencies will waive cancellation fees to government employees. Tell them everything about the move to try and squeeze every last discount and waiver possible.
Ask around to others that have done the move before or at the same time as you. Maybe their representative knows something yours doesn’t. It doesn’t hurt to exchange notes.
Opening New Contracts
Before leaving Canada, you will need to decide what kind of contracts you want to carry over into Germany. While you will need a new bank account in Germany for your new income (and Canadian debit cards don’t work in Europe), you will want to hang on to your Canadian bank accounts for any residual incomes and income tax purposes.
Do you need to change your credit cards to better suit your new lifestyle? Some cards offer better points deals if you plan on traveling a lot. Be aware though, Europe doesn’t like credit cards very much so not everyone will accept them. Local grocery stores, for instance, only take cash and European Debit cards. American Express is rarely offered, and Master Card is a close second. The main credit card of choice, where available, is Visa.
Since taxes are will be that much more complicated with the new income stream, think of hiring an Income Tax agent to handle all of your new special needs. Same goes with your Will, Life Insurance, and Power of Attorney. Find one that will be honored in your destination country, as not all are recognized internationally.
Speaking of Legal…
Not everything that is legal in Canada is recognized as such elsewhere. While Germany has more or less the same laws and values as Canada, surrounding countries that you may find yourself visiting, may not. Things like civil unions, same-sex marriage, and adoption laws may not be the same and require extra documentation if recognized as legal at all. Be aware of these differences and respect their laws, whether you agree with them or not, morally right or not.
When to Quit Your Job
While it is always nice to give your employer as much notice as possible, in order to find a replacement, you are not legally obliged to do so. Find out when you absolutely have to tell them and ensure you comply with those rules. If you want a reference letter, make sure your resignation letter is peppered with flattery and it’s handed in promptly.
If you are able to take an extended leave of absence, try doing that instead. Some companies will allow you to remain an employee for an extended period of time, if you are only moving for a contract, as opposed to an undetermined amount of time. Only gone for 3 years and your company has locations across the country? Ask to be transferred to where ever it is you will lang when your contract is over. You won’t get the same position and may not even keep the same paycheck, but you will have a job waiting for, which is more than many returning expats get.
When to Sell the House
During the job offer/screening/deliberation process, it is recommended to make the house in sell-able condition. This includes shopping around for a Realtor and having them look around the house to mention anything that might stand out.
You don’t pay them until the house is sold, and a contract isn’t signed until the house is officially listed on the market, so you are not bound to them, but make they know this too. If your offer suddenly disappears, we won’t want to have invested too much of their time into a house that will never make them money.
Once the job offer is solid, start discussing a listing date. You will want the house on the market as soon as possible to give it the most exposure possible. There is a “sweet spot” for listings, known as “posting season”. This is when the military members start looking for houses in their new area, followed by college students looking for places to live after graduation. It generally starts around Easter and can last until mid-summer. Your Realtor will tell you to have the house ready for this window.
If you choose to keep the house, or simply can’t sell it, start arranging for a renter or a company to care for the house in your absence. These agencies will be in charge of keeping the house in working order, tending the garden, and vetting potential renters. They will also have a handyman on contract to care for any tenant related problems.
Germany has a similar vaccination schedule to Canada, but being in such a densely populated, multi-national area, can lead to the spread of viruses that move more slowly in Canada. Hep A & B are highly recommended, as well as anything that you may need a booster for before you return from a contract.
While German doctors can do these, the language barrier can be a little scary at first and it is much easier to simply have it done with your current doctor.
Are Travel Visa’s needed
Canadian Citizens do not need a Visa to enter the EU. Canadians are allowed to be in the EU for up to 90 days without special documentation. After which a Travel Visa or Residency card will be required.
Documents for the new job?
Your job offer will come with immigration paperwork to be completed before you are allowed to legally earn an income in Germany. Take those documents to the Rathaus (Town Hall) and submit them for your legal residency card. This will make you eligible for all public state insurance, access to local schools and financial programs like your Baby Bonus.
This also means you will have to file your taxes in both Canada and Germany, but that is between you and the tax man.
- medical documents
- purge house
- research new country; schools, medical services, citizens expectations
- consider language courses
- notice for contracts
- end lease/sell house
- travel visa
- travel credit cards
- book flight
- research new country bureaucracy; registering with the city, taxes, customs, and traditions
- book and fill storage container
- book shipping container
- vaccinations up to date
- copy and scan documents
- open or close any accounts
- change of address at the post office
- Notify change of address to all unions, student loans, friends and family
- create a Will/Life insurance that is valid in the new country
- travel health insurance
- test-pack luggage
1 week before
- inform banks of the move
- registrars office – license and health insurance
- pack luggage
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Where is the SNOW?!
As a Canadian, to say that it doesn’t get cold in Germany is understatement. We curreently live in an area that has amazingly mild temperatures. With friends and family living in both central Canada and the east coast, boasting about the local weather borders on cruel and unusual punishment; snow passed the windows in PEI, $9 million dollar over-budget snow removal in Nova Scotia, Niagara falls froze over and 45 car pile-up on the 400 highway in Ontario.
I have to say, I love snow. I don’t love shoveling snow or driving the dangerous roads to get to work but I love playing in the snow and making snow men with my son. I enjoy cuddling under a blanket to watch a movie with a nice cup of tea or hot chocolate, depending on the mood, and having a fireplace to warm the house. Germany…doesn’t really offer any of that.
When we moved here in July, we were told that there was 3 weeks of stupid hot and humid and you will want to move into the basement during this time. We bought two standing fans and survived without AC (the first time in my life that I haven’t either had central air or a window unit) and it wasn’t that bad. Around October, I asked when winter would start. Canadians said “never”, Americans said “in a month or two” and Germans said “last week”. Clearly this was a stupid question. While the munchkin and I wore jeans and a long sleeve (still in flip-flops I have to add, I will wear those until the snow falls), the neighbors were busting out their hats and mitts, fuzzy boots and winter coats. We received a few odd looks at first, then we were just known as the weird people next door.
Also see; Celebrating an International Christmas
I started planning our Christmas vacation to London and asked a few people for their opinion. I even asked Google for it’s opinion of winter in London. Obviously they have never lived in Ontario. We were told that it was way too cold to travel that far north – we are currently at the same latitude as northern Newfoundland, so you can only imagine London being that much further north. We got a few “the sun goes down so early and rises so late, there isn’t much sun during the day to have a good time”. We took this into consideration so a day or two, until one of us had the bright idea of checking the sun rise and set for our area; London was all of 30 minutes shorter than here. So I’m either in the dark at home or in London… I choose London. The weather wasn’t all that bad. We brought the munchkins snow pants incase we decided to go skating but the rinks were actually shut down because it was too warm and it all melted. He often had a blanket on his lap but sitting for hours in a stroller tends to be colder than walking. I had my regular winter coat with a long sleeve underneath and I was perfectly warm. Unfortunately, not a drop of snow fell the whole time we were on the island.
End of January came and still nothing that felt like winter. It was cold-ish; 5 degrees here, -1 there, but the farmer next door was still planting and harvesting so it couldn’t have been that bad. There wasn’t much rain fall, but there was much overcast and very few sunny days. It was often windy, but not the bone chilling kind. When I think of winter wind, I am reminded of the internet meme “the air hurts my face; why do I live in a place where the air hurts my face”.
Also see; Winter travel tips
Snow at last!
Finally, last few days of January and we woke up to snow on the ground. Not a light sprinkle that melts when you look at it, but a nice two inches and more was still falling. I can’t remember who was more excited, munchkin or myself. Either way, we got dressed and ran outside to play in the snow right away; forget breakfast, we don’t have time for that. We played in the field behind the subdivision for a while, made a snowman and munchkin asked for the sled when we needed to go to the grocery store. As we walked back to the house, we saw the neighborhood wake up and start shoveling their driveway. Since we live in row housing, everyone is responsible for the driveway in front of their property, but the whole row is responsible for the street next to their row. The houses that lined the secondary roads were also shoveling the streets in front of their homes… with only one snow day per year, I can only imagine the lack of snow-removal equipment at city hall.
Also see; Tips for Christmas Markets
We joined the neighbor in shoveling our driveway and the kids played nicely, helping the parents move the snow. He asked us if this was making us home sick. Of course, we told him that we loved the snow but grateful that it wasn’t several feet high over several months. There is a limit to my love, after all. We asked him how often it snows. “Today” was his answer. The last two years, there wasn’t a single snowfall and he expected that this year, today would be the only one. I was surprised that he even owned a shovel by this point, but they had just moved here from further south so they have personally had snow in the past.
It’s been three weeks since the snowy day and it has only gotten warmer. Winter is officially over. Last week, I even raked the leaves in a sweater, while the neighborhood insisted on wearing tuques and their Canada Goose jackets. The trees in my front yard are pudding flowers and the birds never migrated south (I hear south is colder than north in these parts of the Europe… just when I thought I understood the world).
Don’t anger the Canadian
Just last week I was in serious trouble with my mom. I forgot that there was a long weekend so I didn’t get a chance to plan anything. Thursday night came and I googled a few places for day trips but found that most websites described them as too cold in February to travel effectively. I’m 6 months pregnant so sitting around the house is ok too. My mom asked what I was going to do that weekend, I told her what I discovered, then she proceeded to blast me on Facebook, attached to a screenshot of her weather network app. I guess wind and -5 degrees as a record low for Amsterdam is nothing compared to -25, feels like -40 with an extreme winter cold advisory. I am screwed when I move back to Canada in 4 years. My children will hate me.
For more information on the gear we wear during cold-weather vacations, check out a recent post on the Proper Gear to wear in a European Winter.
What’s it like to live in Germany
When we arrived in Germany, we knew there would be a few cultural differences and the language barrier would be a challenge. There are very few words that English and German have in common, and their sentence structure (and word formation) might as well be Ancient Egyptian to these non-speaking ears. The weather, public transit, daycare and grocery stores were also vastly different than anything we had ever encountered. Considering our House Hunting trip was only the second time we had ever left Canada, the first being Florida (little change there), this was a whole new kind of scary. Living in Germany was going to be interesting but it was a challenge that we were willing to accept and now, here we are. Full immersion and there was no turning back.
The Weather in Germany
When our neighbors told us that it rarely snows in Northern Germany, we were ourselves. What kind of Canadian lives in an area without snow?! It rains often, it is windy as sin and the locals consider “cold” weather as 10 degrees Celsius. Every spring, you can spot the Canadian a mile away in our long sleeve shirts and no jacket, while they still waltz around in their parkas and wool hats. As a temperate climate, this part of Germany doesn’t see too much cold weather (actual cold, not “Germany cold” shall we say. The winters are pretty mild) and the summers aren’t blistering hot. It doesn’t so much rain a lot, more like it rains often. What’s the difference? It rains often, but it is very light and not a lot of rain falls, just enough to darken the sky and leave everyone with a Vitamin D deficiency. In between those rain showers, the skies are clear and you would hardly know a storm just blew by. When it does clear, however, the streets are packed with people walking their dogs and children playing. They don’t miss an opportunity to get outside.
We have all had to invest in a good pair of walking shoes that are waterproof, not just wellies. We each have an umbrella and our jackets (raincoats and winter coats) are 100% waterproof, not just water resistant (when the rain falls that hard or the wind pounds on you for that long, waterproof is required, not just suggested). Our Columbia and Merrell gear is perfect. There are obviously stores here that sell what you need but add another $100 to the price tag and that’s what you are looking at paying for local products. It is best to purchase them back home before arriving. Amazon would be your second best choice.
Very few homes or buildings have A/C, mainly because it is only worth it for a few weeks throughout the year. The windows do not have screens on them, mostly because there are no mosquitoes and the flies are minimal. They will tip in or swing in to let just the right amount of fresh air in. For a better explanation and a few pictures, check out German Girl in America here. German windows also tend to not have window coverings. In my 4 years here, I have yet to enter a home with curtains, and I have never seen curtain rods sold at the hardware store. They do have, however, a type of storm shutter called Rolladens. Not only do these act as weather protection during rough storms, they are your blackout curtains – and boy do they ever black out a room. Not a single ray of sun gets through this thing when closed properly. Lastly, Rolladens are a security feature that prevents baddies from breaking into your house while you are on vacation.
There are spiders here in Northern Germany but they eat bugs and critters that are not afraid of people, so even the landlord has suggested we just keep the house as clean as possible (since dirt and food attract all kinds of bugs) and if we do see a spide, just leave it alone – she is doing more good than harm. Gross.
Germany is famous for its public transportation. The local trams and buses will take you everywhere you need to go so a second car isn’t necessarily required in the big city. There are times when I have wished for a second vehicle, but when I think about the monthly car payments associated with a second car, I would prefer taking a taxi if I really needed to get somewhere quickly (which we have; worth every penny). While the train schedule looks like it takes forever to get around; 30 minutes to get to the mall or 45 minutes to the zoo, I can guarantee that taking a car would take longer and now you need to find and pay for parking. We have had many friends come to visit us and offer to meet us downtown – they quickly turned around and parked in our spare parking spot and took the tram with us, no parking was available anywhere near their destination.
Driving in any major city is cause for anxiety but we have found German streets that much more troublesome to maneuver. The streets are not narrow, but they are lacking a definite shoulder. And street parking is permitted just about anywhere, especially in the subdivisions. This easily turns any road into a single lane, two-way road and it’s a first come first bomb through the streets like a bat outta hell. Sufficed to say, we don’t like to drive if we don’t have to.
But we can if we needed to. There are days when it is not possible to get where we want to go, in a timely manner without a car. And hubby can’t get to work out of town without it. The German highways, translated into Autobahns, are “special”. When most North Americans hear Autobahn, they automatically assume we mean unlimited speeds and zero police surveillance. This is inaccurate. There are unlimited sections of the highway, and those wishing to go over 160km/hr have the right of way on the left-hand side (the passing lane). All others stay in the center lane and right lane for exiting, just like any other road. The only difference is the speed. And once you get used to it, driving 100km/hr on Highway 400 in Toronto will seem slow and beneath you.
The Autobahns have 4 lanes, the off ramps have 2 lanes which go in opposite directions. “take exit right. keep left and keep right” are the GPS directions. While this sounds crazy and confusing to read or even to hear, once you see the map or are on the road, it makes complete sense. Always follow the GPS directions, the cars are so close to you and traffic is so heavy that you can’t second guess yourself or the directions. If you don’t make your exit, it can take a while before you can get to the next exit and find your way back to where you wanted to go. To be fair, even the locals have and use a GPS, it is almost impossible to memorize the roads unless you take them each morning – even then, they are always being improved or another exit is being added.
Like most major cities, there are no school bus; kids are taken to school using public transportation. Most German families allow their 7-8-year-old to travel to school by themselves, even if a transfer is required. There is bound to be more than one kid in their neighborhood going to the same school and they can all travel together and keep each other on track. Germany, and most of Europe actually, have a strong “it takes a village” mentality. They will watch over your children when you are not present, and in turn, you watch over theirs when they are not present. Adults know this, children know this. Feelings are not hurt and no one gets offended.
German’s are allowed 1 year of paid maternity leave plus 2 additional years of job security. If a baby is born during this additional time, parents get to tack it on at the end, it is not lost. With this much time off to raise their kids, the public school system looks a little different than they do back home in Canada, or in America for that matter.
Stay at home moms send their kids to daycare a few days per week (out of their pocket) until they are accepted into a Kita group (Nursery). Kita starts at 6 months old and goes until the child is 6 years old when they start preparing for Year 1 (Senior KindergarKindergarten). After the child hits their 3rd birthday, many states cover the cost of childcare, since the stay at home parent is now forced to go back to work or lose their job. This is a way to stimulate the economy, in that, now two people have a job – daycare employee and parent. Like I said, many states do this. Many, however, do not. We live next to the city of Dusseldorf, many times I would even say we live IN Dusseldorf, that’s how close it is. But, sadly, we are on the wrong side of the border and our Kitas are not covered. We do get a subsidy from the city, with our tax returns – since we don’t pay local tax, we don’t qualify, but other Expats will. In Dusseldorf itself, even nonresidence have access to the Kita program, they just need to register with the city and hope their child is accepted into the program. If you are moving to Germany with a child, it is best to get on a waitlist as soon as possible – I would even go so far as saying the day after the child is born is a great time to start filling out applications.
The first few months, I joked with my husband if Germans even have children or do they give birth to 5-year-olds; I never saw toddlers in the streets. Every time I went to the grocery store, or the park, or just for a walk down the street, not a child in sight, unless it was school pick up time. This is how much the country trusts and depends on the Kita system to socialize its children.
There are a series of local amenities, like zoo, parks, playgrounds, and pools. Their opening times are something to be desired and they are fairly spread apart throughout the city so I don’t use them as often as I had hoped. We have been to the Duisburg zoo several times; it takes about 45 minutes and 2 transfers to reach but we have driven once and I would never do it again. The local pools differ around the city; some can be regular Olympic style pools, and others have fancy children’s areas and indoor
You will end up at the store very often; almost daily. The fridges are small, the packaging is small and the food does not have preservatives or additives in them. This means you will run out quicker or they will go bad before you are done eating them if you buy too much. The milk is in 1.5-liter containers so I buy two milks every other day. I also buy meat, bananas, apples, and veggies every other day or so.
The local grocery store Edeka does not have the water that we prefer so the larger store, Real, is the larger store that we visit Friday afternoons for 4 cases of water and juice, potatoes and other long-term dry items (onions, garlic, oranges etc). Eggs are not washed at the store and therefore remain on the shelf longer, and also don’t need to be refrigerated. Once they are cleaned, they expose the pores on the shell and must be kept cold to keep salmonella at bay. Therefore, it is important to wash the eggs just before using them. Because of the small kitchen space, even sugar and flour don’t come in excessively large bags (like Robin Hood or Rose flour back home). The stoves are not much bigger than apartment sized either, I have had to put a few dishes and pans away because they simply don’t fit.
Walmart was kicked out of Germany a few years back for it’s purchasing practices. The closest thing Germany has to Walmart is Real. There are other brands across the country but so far, these are the only two we frequent and many of our coworkers and friends have said the same thing.
Miscellaneous tidbits about Germany
Europeans are very environmentally friendly; you don’t really have a choice when the population is so dense. We have a recycling bin, paper bin, garbage, and compost, just like back home. Most people have a backyard compost bin to help with the summer gardening. It is illegal to cut down a tree on your own property without getting a permit from the city. It is also illegal to idle the car. Since the summers are not too hot, the driveway is covered from direct sunlight and the winters are not freezing, there is no need to idle the car before leaving the house. At grocery stores is another story, I can’t sit in the car with a sleeping baby while hubby goes in the store anymore. Well, I can, I just need to turn the car off and crack a window.
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