Here at Live Work Germany, we get asked about cost of living and salary expectations a LOT.
Unfortunately, they’re really hard questions to answer, because… well, everyone has different expectations:
Germany is relatively inexpensive by European standards, even though some basics like food and housing cost more. A student, living in rented accomodation and spending modestly, can survive in Germany on less than 900 euro per month.
But of course, a student will survive on much less than a senior executive. Major cities cost more than living in the sticks. If you have a family or a mortgage, things get more complicated…
There are so many variables that it’s tough to provide answers that will ring true for everyone.
Nevertheless, you clearly want us to tackle this topic.
So we’re going to give you the most objective view possible on how much it costs to live in Germany.
Cost of living in Germany: What you can expect to spend
Average expenditure in Germany per household, according to the Federal Statistics Office, are as follows. The statistics are from the 2019 statistical yearbook, which quotes actual figures from 2017. So these will have increased slightly by now.
- Single households – €1,629 per month
- Single parents – €1,929
- Co-habiting couples without children – €3,047
- Co-habiting couples with children (number of children not specified) – €3,483
This makes Germany a relatively inexpensive place to live by Western European standards. Your main expenditure is likely to be accommodation, which tends to be slightly more costly in Germany than in neighbouring countries.
Major urban centres are likely to have a higher cost of living but will also generally have more employment opportunities. So what you lose through higher living costs you (hopefully) gain back through a higher paying job.
The rank of essential items is going to be pretty much the same for everyone, so let’s start with the most important and most costly first:
Your apartment in Germany will almost definitely be the largest influencing factor on your cost of living in Germany.
Housing costs are very dependent upon which area of Germany you choose to live in, and your standards in terms of accommodation. Most people in Germany live in apartments.
If you live in a major metropolitan area, this will definitely have the biggest impact on your living costs. The pressure on housing is usually quite high.
Because of demand and supply you may find housing to be fairly expensive.
For this comparison we’re 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, has now almost caught up with the first-tier German cities mentioned previously.
While housing may seem expensive to some people, the quality of housing is generally high.
Expect to pay around €17-€20 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 €14-€15 in the other major metropolitan areas listed, with Berlin coming in at around €12-€13 (unless you like avocado toast and quinoa burgers and want to live in a hipster neighbourhood, then add €2-€3 on top of this figure!).
If you are living in a smaller city or a more rural location, the cost of living in Germany becomes much more manageable. Housing costs drop considerably and you should reckon on anything between €6 to €8 per square metre, depending on the quality of accommodation.
Leipzig is the best value of the larger German cities, with rents averaging around €8-€9 per square metre. It’s also somewhat cheaper when it comes to other goods and services across the board.
This is because it experienced a huge population exodus in the 1990s. However it has now the main up-and-coming city in Germany with lots of inward investment.
Next on the list of basic necessities comes grocery shopping.
Standard groceries are generally very cheap in Germany compared to most other European countries. 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.
With this said, certain speciality items or exotic foodstuffs might prove more expensive than in, for example the UK. This is because major supermarket chains tend to stock fewer items (think Aldi), which means having to shop at specialist stores.
If you’re single, live alone, and eat out maybe once or twice per week as well as lunch at work, you shouldn’t need more than €50 per week for groceries. You can slum it on €30 if you’re on a really tight budget.
Public transportation is of average cost compared to the rest of Europe. It costs between €60 and €90 per month for an all-inclusive monthly ticket in 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 fuel is in line with most other European countries but comes in around double that of North America.
At the time of writing (Aug 2020) it is at around €1.20 per litre (or $5.45 per gallon for Americans) but this depends on the oil price and the dollar of course.
Taxis are very expensive in Germany and you will quickly run up a €10 bill even for a very short trip. Uber has a limited presence in Germany thanks to a very strong taxi lobby.
Utility costs are relatively high, driven partially by the decision by Merkel’s coalition government to withdraw from nuclear electricity generation by 2022, following the Fukoshima disaster in 2011.
Subsidies and green energy taxes bump up the price of electricity, making Germany one of the priciest countries in Europe for power..
What does all this mean?
You should consider paying around €2.50 per square metre on utilities 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.
A 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 though, why would you need it. Get a VPN, and enjoy US or UK Netflix and Amazon Prime, and then you don’t need German TV other than the terrestrial channels perhaps for a means to learn German.
You can spend as much or as little as you like on German mobile phone or SIM packages, depending on what you’re looking for.
Spending your disposable income
So what about all those little things that make life enjoyable? Well, the cost of living in Germany may pleasantly surprise you for these!
Meals in restaurants are generally quite good value, although more expensive than southern and eastern European countries (except Italy).
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 significantly higher and the ingredients fresher.
An (optional) tip of around 5-10% is the norm.
A fast food meal in a major chain, noodle bar or kebab shop will cost around €8.00 to €9.00. 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 low, 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 €70 for a 2-course meal for two including wine in a good – but not posh – restaurant.
Drinks in a bar are around €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-€15 per hour in major cities, as will a babysitter.
A three or four star 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?
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 45-50% of your income if you live in Munich, compared to 25-30% if you live in Leipzig.
Consider the cost of rent over and above everything else when you get a job offer or are considering which city to move to.
Numbeo is a great cost of living calculator, offering cost of living comparisons by country. It can help you 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 the cost of living index of one city against the other.
Expatistan is another similar site doing more or less the same thing.
If you want to calculate net vs. gross salary, my video on the LWG YouTube channel will explain clearly how to do this.