Cost of living in Germany: What you can expect to spend
This is one of the most frequently asked questions on expat forums for Germany, and I've seen different variations of it several times on Quora too. The problem is it is such a vague and woolly question when formulated in such a way. It depends where you are coming from, what type of job you do, and how expensive a lifestyle you lead.
What is the average cost of living in Germany is one of those questions which is very difficult to answer well because everyone has different expectations. A student will survive on much less than a senior executive. Nonetheless, folks obviously want an answer and so I will attempt to do this the best I can. Whilst it is a subjective question, there are some important elements which can be universally applied.
Major urban centres are likely to have a higher cost of living but will also generally have more employment opportunities and therefore the opportunity to maximise the potential salary you can expect to earn. So what you lose through higher living costs you (hopefully) gain back through a higher paying job. The rank of essential items is pretty much the same for everyone, so let's start with the most important:
Let's start with the most essential of necessities – shelter. This is the single largest outgoing for most people and therefore what is most likely to predetermine how the average cost of living in Germany will compare to where you currently live. Housing costs are very dependent upon which area of Germany you will be living in and what your standards and expectations are in terms of accommodation. Most people in Germany live in apartments and if you live in a major metropolitan area, the pressure on housing is usually quite high. Because of demand and supply you may find housing to be fairly expensive, depending on where you have come from. For this comparison I am considering rentals rather than purchasing a property and getting a mortgage.
The most expensive city in Germany for rents is Munich, followed closely by Frankfurt, and then come the other major cities where the economy is strong, such as Hamburg, Stuttgart, Cologne and Düsseldorf. Berlin, which despite being the capital, had very cheap rents in the 2000s but has now almost caught up with the first-tier German cities mentioned previously.
Whilst housing may seem expensive to some people, the quality of housing generally is very high. Expect to pay around €15 per square metre in cities like Frankfurt and Munich for a well-maintained (but not brand new) apartment in a better-than-average neighbourhood. This drops to €10-€12 in the other major metropolitan areas listed, with Berlin coming in at around €8-€10.
If you are living in a smaller city or a more rural location, these housing costs drop considerably and you should reckon on anything between €6 to €8 euro per square metre, depending on the quality of accommodation. Leipzig is the best value of the larger German cities with rents on average at around €6-€7 per square metre and other general expenses also coming in lower than the average cost of living in Germany. This is because it experienced a huge population exodus in the 1990s, however it has now recovered from the economic slump after reunification and is now the main up-and-coming city in Germany with inward investment from Porsche, DHL and Amazon.
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Next on the list of basic necessities come food and water. Standard groceries are generally very cheap in Germany compared to most other European countries. The proliferation of discounters such as Aldi and Lidl have made the food retail market in Germany a very cutthroat business. Only the Netherlands and a handful of Southern and Eastern European countries have lower average prices for a standard shopping basket.
Specific grocery items which may not be readily available in every German supermarket tend to cost more than they do back in the UK, mainly because major supermarket chains tend to stock fewer items, which means having to shop at specialist stores. A good example are items for Asian cooking such as curry, bean sprouts, specialist sauces, and more exotic vegetables.
If you are single, live alone, and eat out maybe once or twice per week as well as lunch at work, you shouldn't need more than €40 per week for groceries. You can slum it on €25 if you're on a really tight budget.
Public transportation is of average cost compared to the rest of Europe and you will pay between €60 and €90 per month for an all-inclusive monthly ticket for the main city zone that you are living in. Running a car in Germany is slightly more expensive than most European countries, mainly down to the cost of insurance and maintenance. Car mechanics are quite expensive. The cost of petrol / diesel is in line with most other European countries but comes in around double that of North America. At the time of writing it is at around €1.30 per litre but this depends on the oil price. Taxis are expensive in Germany and you will quickly run up at €10 bill even for a very short trip. Uber does not have a presence in Germany: It was banned after a court ruled it violated transport laws.
Utility costs are relatively high, driven partially by the decision by the ruling government to gradually withdraw from nuclear electricity generation by 2022, following the Fukoshima disaster in 2011. Renewables are poised to take the place of nuclear but are a less reliable as a consistent source of power, which plays havoc with wholesale gas and electricity prices. What does all this mean? You should consider paying around €2.50 per square metre if you live in an apartment. This includes heating, hot water, gas or electricity (usually you will not have both), trash collection, snow removal for communal walkways on the apartment block's land, as well as janitorial and landscaping services. Phone line and fast Internet connection together will cost around €30 per month. For a full package including cable TV expect to pay around €15 extra on top of this. In reality these days with the era of Netflix and Amazon Prime, you don't need it unless you want to use it to learn German.
Spending your Disposable Income
So what about the average cost of living in Germany for all discretionary items? Meals in restaurants are generally quite good value, although are more expensive than southern European countries, except for Italy which remains an expensive southern outpost for restaurants. I find the cost of meals in independent restaurants to be lower than the U.K., and similar to the U.S. but the quality is usually higher i.e. fresher ingredients. An (optional) tip of around 10% is the norm. A fast food meal in a major chain or a noodle bar or kebab shop will cost around €7.00 to €8.00. Work on something similar for a sandwich, small salad and drink from the supermarket or bakery at lunch time. A bit more for a sit-down meal.
The price of drinks is extremely good value, especially domestically produced products such as wine produced in the south-west of the country and beer from the main brewing area of Franconia and Bavaria. Budget on average to spend around €60 for a 2-course meal for two including wine in an average restaurant. Drinks in a bar are around €3.50 to €4.00 for a half litre draft beer and around €5.00 to €6.00 for an 0.2 litre glass of good quality wine. Whites will usually be German, reds generally Italian or Spanish. A coffee will cost around €3.00 in a local coffee shop or major chain.
Cinema tickets will cost around €15.00. Gym membership, depending on what you are looking for, ranges from €25 for a bargain basement gym with lots of Russian and Turkish guys who look like gangsters, to around €75 for a premium chain such as Fitness First or David.
For those who want a bit more luxury, a cleaner will set you back about €12 per hour, as will a babysitter. A 3 or 4* hotel, including breakfast, for a weekend city-break will be anything between €80 – €125 per night, depending on location and time of year.
So what does all of this mean?
As I have shown, whilst the cost of living really depends a lot on your individual lifestyle, some things cost the same no matter what. You can economise on accommodation requirements and eat out less if you're on a budget, you can easily get by without a car if you live in a major city. Groceries can be purchased at a lower cost if you're happy to shop at discount supermarkets and not buy stuff which is more difficult to find in Germany. Clothes can be as cheap or as expensive as you want them to be.
A single person who is making EUR 2,000 per month net of taxes and social security contributions can easily afford a comfortable life here, although that said, rent will typically be your largest monthly outgoing. This could be around 40-50% of your income if you live in Munich, compared to 20-25% if you live in Leipzig. My one single biggest takeaway would be:Consider the cost of rent over and above everything else when you get a job offer or are considering which city to move toClick To Tweet
Everything else except for utilities you can more or less adjust to live within your means. You can for sure survive on less than this if you are happy to share accommodation or cut back on holidays, meals out and other non-essential items.
Numbeo is a great site to get a rough idea of what individual items cost and goes into more detail than I do here in terms of the range of items it compares. It also has a very cool feature which allows you to compare one city against the other. I ran the numbers for my home town in Germany and whilst I would challenge some of what it spat out, it certainly gives a good approximate snapshot (I found that reality is a little more expensive. It could just be that it's a bit out-of-date as I'm not sure how often they update such a huge database). Expatistan is another similar site doing more or less the same thing. If you want to calculate net vs. gross salary, the simple calculator in the link form Der Spiegel will do this (in German).
If you missed it at the top of the article, don't forget to grab the FREE DOWNLOAD of some basic stats of what you can expect to pay for housing, utilities, transport and some common things people typically spend their disposable income on. Just click on the button below!