We’ve tried to come up with a definitive overview of how life in Germany compares to life in the UK.
This is aimed at anyone considering a move to Germany, especially post-Brexit with all of the suspected additional complications this will result in.
And yes, moving to Germany post-Brexit transition period is still possible.
More tricky than before, sure. But nowhere near as hard as you may think.
Where the Grass is Greener? Moving to Germany from the UK
Everything of course is subjective, so we’ve covered both the pros and the cons in the most neutral way we can.
Of course, Germany isn’t perfect either. Everywhere has its own set of problems that people love to complain about. We’ve therefore deliberately left politics out of this.
So, here are a level-headed bunch of social, economic and cultural differences between the UK and Germany, so you can weigh up the case for yourselves.
On balance though, obviously we think that living in Germany is better for a whole number of reasons.
But just be aware that moving to Germany from the UK won’t be all roses!
One of the most noticeable differences of life in Germany vs. life in the UK is how much safer and more secure it feels, especially when out having drinks at the weekend.
There’s a noticeable lack of idiots and troublemakers. Young German men (and women, for that matter) are capable of drinking alcohol without the urge to fight one another.
Violent crime and muggings in German cities are very rare. Only the largest metropolises have a couple of no-go areas where you wouldn’t want to be on your own at night.
In medium-sized German cities, this is virtually unheard of. Compare this to the UK, where almost every city has at least one area you’d probably want to steer clear of after dark.
Travelling by public transport is generally safe at all hours, although the usual precautions should be observed, especially for lone women at night and on routes that go through dodgier parts of town.
In addition, there seems to be a more general consensus on anti-social behaviour in Germany. While this may impede some aspects of personal freedom (the laws around “quiet times” for example), you generally see fewer teenagers running riot and causing a nuisance to their neighbours.
The one major downside when it comes to safety and security is that bicycle theft is rife in major cities and the police, sadly, have few resources dedicated to dealing with it.
While certainly not up to the standards of their Dutch and Swiss neighbours, public transport in Germany is still vastly superior to the UK.
Buses, trams and trains are usually modern and clean, with very frequent services in major cities and an integrated system of buses and trains connecting suburbs and commuter towns.
Single-trip public transport tickets for shorter distances are not that much cheaper than in the UK in most cases. However, any commuter pass lasting a month or more is usually way cheaper than the equivalent ticket in Britain, especially compared to rail fares in London and the South-East.
Monthly passes often include free travel for family members or accompanying travellers during the evening and at weekends.
Also, unless you live out in the sticks, you’re usually not forced to commute to work by car as a necessity, like most folks sadly are in Britain.
Bike paths are everywhere, especially so in university cities, and many of them are set aside from major traffic arteries, so cycling feels a lot safer too.
If you’re in a larger city, it’s incredibly easy to get around without owning a car.
Many train stations also have secure bike parking, so you can lock your bike and combine cycling with public transport for longer distances.
For drivers, Germany can be both a blessing and a curse.
Diesel is considerably cheaper than it is back home. Petrol is roughly the same price, depending on exchange rates at the time.
The road network is well developed and the Autobahns don’t have tolls.
On the downside, buying a car is considerably more expensive (Germany serves as a huge export market to Central & Eastern Europe for second hand cars). Servicing and repairs are pricey too, especially the cost of labour.
Traffic jams are also a common sight on motorways, just like in the UK.
What about those famous Autobahns?
Well, they may theoretically have large stretches that are de-restricted but you can barely drive 20km without hitting roadworks or some sort of contraflow system.
In the western part of the country, the Autobahns are in a poor state, construction is everywhere and most motorways are only 2×2 lanes.
Driving in the east, on the other hand, feels like Disneyland because all their Autobahns were widened and expanded post-reunification.
Cost of Living
The cost of housing, especially in major German cities, has been a hot political topic in recent years.
Germany has favoured a more interventionist approach, aiming to stem rent increases, as opposed to a more liberal planning strategy to facilitate the construction of new apartment buildings.
If you’re considering moving to Germany from the UK, no German city has anything quite like London prices.
Munich is starting to approach this territory but is still some way off, with rents about the same as desirable locations in South-East England which enjoy easy access to the capital. Frankfurt, Stuttgart and Hamburg are also comparatively pricey.
Berlin has experienced a massive housing boom, albeit from a ridiculously low base (you could buy a decent 1 bed apartment for around €60,000 ten years ago). By some calculations it now has the fastest-rising rents in the world and is catching up fast with the other major German cities.
Whether Germany is more or less expensive than the UK for housing depends a lot on where you’re moving from and to.
In most cases, you’ll likely find rents to be somewhat cheaper, especially if you’re moving from a major UK city to a major German city. Do your homework first though. Rent or mortgage payments will be everyone’s largest expense.
We cover other expenses in more detail here:
- Utilities, transportation, clothes and groceries will work out pretty much the same overall if we bundle these expenses together.
- Gyms are about the same.
- Coffee and a typical take-away lunch for office workers is about the same.
- Electricity, mobile phone and internet are a bit more expensive.
- Taxis are way more expensive (good old German protectionism…)
- Hotels are cheaper.
- Tobacco and alcohol are significantly cheaper.
- Public transport and groceries will be a bit cheaper.
- Restaurants are cheaper.
Discretionary expenditure will generally come out at a bit less than in the UK, obviously depending on what you like to spend money on!
I would estimate the cost of living in Germany, for everything that falls into the non-essential / discretionary income bucket, to be 10% less for anyone outside of the M25 and 20% less for anyone living in Greater London. The difference would be about 10% more favourable still for those moving to Germany from the UK and considering living outside of the major cities and university towns.
Doing your own research
The websites Numbeo and Expatistan offer a good overview of individual items and are by and large pretty accurate, although the housing costs quoted tend to be a bit less reliable.
Here, your best resource is wohnungsboerse.net. You should be able to make sense of it with Google translate.
Healthcare in Germany is based on an insurance system, with doctors’ practices and hospitals being independent businesses. Germany does, however, have both universal healthcare and mandatory requirement to have adequate health insurance in place for anyone living here.
The major difference between the UK and Germany is there is no centralised, state-run “German NHS”.
We’ve covered German healthcare extensively across the site, so we won’t drill down into the detail here.
If you’re moving to Germany from the UK though, figuring out your healthcare will not only be one of the most complex things you need to get your head around, but also something which you’ll have to take care of within your first few weeks of moving!
Some key differences
There are way more doctors per head of population. Getting an appointment doesn’t require patience and stoicism as it does in the UK (other than the language barrier perhaps when dealing with the receptionist).
Hospitals are world class. They just feel a hell of a lot more modern and clean.
Waiting times for appointments with specialists are also much shorter. Many health insurers will also allow you as part of your coverage to book appointments with specialists directly.
Relationships with GPs tend to be more transactional and less personal. Most people have their local GP (Hausarzt) but this isn’t compulsory, and they are not the gatekeepers to other, more specialist areas of the healthcare system like they are on the NHS.
What’s the downside? Well, the cost is pretty much the only one. German healthcare is vastly superior to the UK but that is also reflected in the cost of health insurance.
The other downside is just the sheer complexity of the system when you’re a newcomer. Coming from a system where the NHS administers pretty much everything to a system with a myriad of different providers and options can feel both overwhelming and confusing in equal measure!
Family Life / Raising Kids
I don’t have kids, so I had to rely on friends and Twitter connections who do to help me here! A common gripe is that the education system in Germany can be confusing for foreigners.
One of the flagship policies of Merkel’s government has been making it less of a financial burden for couples to raise kids.
Kindergarten is heavily subsidised, meaning that childcare is substantially cheaper than in the UK. Part of this is that every family has the right to a place at a state-run kindergarten.
The system is chronically overburdened in the larger cities but nonetheless, for most people who know the system and get on the waiting list early, it’s possible.
The school day tends to be shorter and earlier, lasting in general from 8 in the morning to around lunchtime, and children are only legally required to attend school between the ages of 6 and 15.
This is a big area which can impact women in Germany being able to maintain (or not, as the case often is) their careers after having a family. With a school day that finishes so early, it can make childcare a logistical nightmare, even though after school activities are often provided with this in mind.
Child support is more generous and is also not means-tested. €210 a month for the first 2 children, which then goes up to €235 a month for kid number 3 and each subsequent one.
Once your kids (or future offsrping!) get into their teens, the obvious financial advantage of raising them in Germany is that there are no university tuition fees. There are some complex exceptions that can apply, but in most cases university just costs a couple of hundred Euro per semester as an admin fee.
Especially for families whose kids are likely to aspire to go into higher education, there are some pretty good incentives to make the move!
Bureaucracy gets a section of its own because it’s such a common gripe for British expats in Germany.
When talking about bureaucracy, we shall cover both civic bureaucracy when dealing with any arm of state or local government, as well as bureaucracy encountered when dealing with service providers e.g. utility and insurance companies.
The frustrations tend to stem from 2 major characteristics of the German mentality:
- A deeply ingrained respect for rules and the resulting application of said rules / laws to the letter, often with little or no flexibility
- Suspicion of and resistance to any modernisation of existing processes.
Bureaucrats working for the German state or local government have very little autonomy or room for manoeuvre when it comes to bending the rules for a specific case, so it’s (usually) not them being belligerent. Be hard on the process, not the person!
How can this affect you in practice?Everything is still paper-based and requires in-person appointments at a set time. The end-to-end process when it comes to accomplishing anything is not very efficient.
Forget about completing any official processes online.
Because the German system operates at state or municipality level in most cases, there is no equivalent of the gov.uk website as a central access portal to a wide range of government services online.
Dealing with service providers, you will often encounter an aversion for communicating by email, a need for ink-based signatures on everything and unfathomably inflexible contract terms.
Buyer beware: make sure you know exactly what you’re signing up for.
You’ll also find yourself sending a lot more letters by post than you’ve been used to.
Jobs & Career
There’s no easy way to say this.
To integrate into German life and to have more employment opportunities, you need to learn German quickly.
Jobs are hard to find in English unless you’re:
- highly experienced in your field;
- or your job doesn’t necessitate frequent communication with German clients or blue-collar colleagues.
If you work in sales or a manufacturing environment, you’re going to struggle.
On the other hand, if your job is a back-office function or anything relating to a STEM (science, technology, engineering or mathematics) profession, you’ll have an easier ride.
Only about 5% of jobs ask for applications in English.
We’ve aleady covered some common roles where speaking German isn’t necessary.
Work-life balance in Germany is vastly superior to the UK.
Germans value their leisure time and tend to compartmentalise work time and free time. The Germans generate on average $60.50 GDP per hour worked versus $52.80 by the British, or are about 13% more productive in other words, when you measure economic output per hour worked.
Germans don’t see why a long hours working culture should be a badge of honour. They prefer to spend this time doing sports, relaxing or with their families. Answering emails during holidays or at the weekend is strictly frowned upon.
The downside of this is that German workplaces can sometimes feel a bit stiff. After-work drinks and team nights out are not really a thing except for in the media and tech industries. You don’t typically encounter as many gregarious or charismatic managers and team leaders as you would in the UK.
Freelancing and Self-employment
Starting off as self-employed is tough in Germany compared to the UK, mainly due to the extremely high burden of health insurance costs.
However, if you already have an established business and an existing pipeline of clients, then it’s definitely possible to make a good living.
Germany’s tax code also enables many expenses to be deducted legitimately as the cost of running your business.
If you’re set on moving to Germany and could really use some expert support to kick-start your job search strategy, then definitely check out our job seeker services.
There’s no way of trying to gloss over this.
The amount of tax and social security contributions you’ll have to pay in Germany will feel pretty brutal when compared to the rates in the UK. In fact, the overall tax burden is the 2nd highest in the OECD.
For savers and investors, Germany also offers pretty measly benefits compared to the UK. Your savings won’t be shielded from the taxman in the way that ISAs are, unless they are invested in a formal pension plan.
So, let’s break it down.
Married couples / Families with kids
If you’re a family with kids, then there are a lot of additional benefits that your taxes provide.
See the family life / raising kids section for more details of how kindergarten is heavily subsidised and how family allowance isn’t means tested.
Likewise, if you’re sick or unemployed (and you’ve paid into the German system), the social safety net is cast wider and deeper in Germany than it is in the UK.
If you’re married and one person in the relationship is a much higher earner than the other partner, this also has fiscal benefits in the German system.
Singles and co-habiting couples
For singles, however, I’m afraid you’re at a distinct disadvantage in the way that Germany taxes its residents.
Germany’s comparatively high levels of taxation tend to be reflected in higher salaries, especially for more professional jobs where the geographical mobility of skilled workers comes into play.
The best advice would be to do your homework before you enter into discussions on salary with potential employers.
No council tax
One other point worth noting on the subject of tax is that German municipalities don’t administer an equivalent of council tax.
Property-related charges such as rubbish collection, sewerage and street cleaning are administered in your apartment service charges.
Public services are funded differently in Germany and councils get most of their revenue directly from central or state government.
Does the additional tax you’re paying make up for it in the higher quality of public services and civic amenities on offer in Germany?
It’s a subjective question to a large extent, which can only be answered on a personal level when an individual has lived in both countries for a representative period of time.
Recreation & Free Time
One of the joys of living in Germany is the sheer range of festivals and cultural offerings that municipalities put on.
Villages will usually have their annual Dorffest or Kirmes, which is much more hands-on and a bigger event than the village fete in the UK.
In towns and cities there will usually be several different festivals throughout the summer months, which can be in celebration of anything and everything.
The beer and wine usually flows freely with very little trouble. Add to this the traditional Christmas market that many municipalities also put on.
My Dad couldn’t grasp the first time he visited how thousands of people could be on the streets, drinking beer from real glasses, without there being any mass brawls!
Outdoor recreation in Germany also feels much more accessible. While it may be true that German cities often don’t feel as green as those in the UK, the big difference is the accessibility of nature from the major cities.
Mountains, vineyards, lakes, hiking, biking or skiing trails: you’re never much more than an hour away from some pretty spectacular countryside which can easily be reached by public transport. It’s so well signposted and geared up for tourism that it’s a joy to spend time in the outdoors.
Outdoor swimming pools or man-made lake beaches are also a wonderful feature of life in Germany.
Because German summers can get really hot compared to the windy, wet summers we’re used to in Britain, it’s a welcome respite to have this option.
Every town will have an outdoor pool and they are very popular, especially with youngsters.
While we certainly can’t blame the Germans for expecting you to communicate in German in their homeland, many British expats find learning the lingo the toughest aspect of integrating into life in Germany.
This isn’t The Netherlands or Scandinavia, where even their footballers often speak English better than the average Brit. But on the opposite side of the coin, it’s not France or Italy either!
People will expect you to speak German. In social settings, Germans are very accommodating and welcoming to non-German speakers, especially Brits and Americans (because they like to practice their English). However, this doesn’t extend to communication in non-international companies, civic bureaucracy and dealing with utilities and service providers.
You can definitely get by without speaking German in a social setting, and if all your friends are expats and your job is in English, then surviving without learning German is possible. That said, I certainly wouldn’t recommend it if you intend to live in Germany for more than just a couple of years.
Statistically speaking, learning German is harder for native English speakers than Latin-based languages such as French and Spanish, but easier than learning an Asian or Slavic language.
Dealing with bureaucracy and undertaking any official or civic process will require a German speaker to go with you unless you can speak at least intermediate level German.
These are some of the most common moans and groans about living in Germany from a British standpoint, based on some of the answers I got back from Twitter, as well as personal experience and conversations with British expat friends.
I’ve also covered the top 9 frustrations for newcomers in a separate article, to make sure that forewarned is forearmed!
It’s both truly awful and considerably more expensive than the BBC licence fee.
What’s more, they even have the audacity to run ads on the state broadcasters (ARD, ZDF and the regional 3rd channel) and you can’t get away with not paying it through not owning a TV. It’s a tax in all but name.
Even if you had little enthusiasm for the BBC back home, you’ll very quickly miss it as an expat in Germany!
Needless to say you’ll probably want to know how to access English language TV and streaming services.
Poor customer service
In Germany, the customer isn’t king and the mentality of employees working in service industries (shop assistants, waiting staff etc) is different.
Don’t expect friendly service and staff who are willing to bend over backwards to satisfy you as a customer.
Germans also generally tend to be more resistant to technological and economic change. This can manifest itself in a whole manner or things, but the top irritations for British expats tend to be:
Card payments are not as widespread in Germany as they are in the UK.
As Nordic countries and the English speaking world move ever closer to a cashless society and embrace contactless payments, Germany feels firmly stuck in the past.
Carrying so much cash around and having to find an ATM that belongs to your bank (because the others charge you up to 5 EUR for the privilege of withdrawing cash) can feel like a real grind.
(Lack of) Sunday shopping
All shops and stores are closed on Sundays by law. This one is usually a controversial topic among expats in terms of where they stand on this.
However, the majority seems to agree it’s an unnecessary inconvenience, at least for groceries. Sure, you can wait until Monday to buy a new dress or clutter for your home, but milk for your tea is a must-have.