Expat Checklist 2

AFTER YOU’RE THERE

This is Part 2 of our “Expat Checklists.” It covers topics that expats or potential expats in German-speaking countries need to consider once they have arrived in German-speaking Europe.

German bookstore

A bookstore in a Berlin shopping mall. PHOTO: © Hyde Flippo

EXPAT CHECKLIST 2 | After You’re There

  • Moving In – Getting Settled – If you’re not in a hotel or other temporary housing, getting your new house or apartment set up will be your first priority. If you did your homework by getting estimates from several moving companies, your move should be easier. Do an inventory check with the movers and make sure everything arrived intact. Don’t forget to arrange for phone and Internet service.
    SEE > Telephone Tips
  • Explore the Neighborhood – If you haven’t had a chance before, explore your new neighborhood and locate the nearest stores, pharmacy (Apotheke), bank, etc. Do you know how to dial the police (110) or the fire department (112)? How about knowing your nearest public transportation (S-Bahn, U-Bahn, bus, streetcar)? In most German/European cities it’s the best way to get around.
  • Registering with the Authorities – All residents in Germany, including foreign nationals, are required to register their address with the authorities when they move in or out. In larger cities you go to the Einwohnermeldeamt, usually located in the city hall or Bürgeramt.
    SEE > Getting a residence permit (for US citizens) and The identity card (der Ausweis) and other red tape
  • Get a Cell Phone – A cell phone or mobile phone is known as das Handy in German. A normal US cell phone won’t work in Europe, but some phones from AT&T and T-Mobile will. But to save money, it’s best to have a German cell phone with a German plan.
    SEE > Cell Phones in Germany and iPhones in Germany
  • Contracts – German (and European) rental and sales contracts can be very tricky and loaded with legal restrictions (e.g., you have to paint the interior walls every two years, you have to give six months notice before vacating your flat, etc.). That’s another reason to use a good relocation agency, if your employer isn’t taking care of housing. Don’t sign anything unless you know what you’re getting into.
    WEB > Legal Guide to Germany (LG2G)
  • Local Laws and Regulations – You need to know the local laws and regulations concerning everything from garbage collection to ice and snow removal and the new winter tire laws. They are often much stricter than you may be used to back in the USA. If you don’t speak German very well yet, get a German-speaking friend or relative to help you.
  • Culture Shock – Some expats and their families enjoy a “honeymoon” period for the first month or so, but at some point it sinks in that you’re “not in Kansas any more.” The day-to-day strains of coping with life in a foreign environment can lead to withdrawal and even depression for some people. But you can avoid this by being well prepared for your stay and aware of the normal psychological reactions that can arise from culture shock.
  • The Trailing Spouse Syndrome – Normally the working partner has an easier time adjusting to the new culture because of the work environment, familiar tasks, and a daily routine. The kids have friends at school and their own daily routine. The “trailing spouse” (not always the wife), on the other hand, may feel isolated and adrift after the expat honeymoon period. Forewarned is forearmed. Everyone in the family should be aware of the possibility of the “trailing spouse syndrome” and work to avoid it. See our blog post The “Trailing Spouse” for a specific case. Also see “American Women’s Groups” and some of the other items below for possible alternatives, including:
    WEB > Writing as an opportunity for expats (at Just Landed)
  • Language Classes – German lessons are a very good idea anyway, but they are also a good way to meet other expats and avoid boredom. It’s easy to find a German course for foreigners in medium to large cities. There are many private and public language schools (and the Goethe Institutes in Germany) in the German-speaking countries offering beginning to advanced language instruction for non-Germans.
  • Networking – Networking applies to business, social, and educational situations. It can be as simple as getting to know your neighbors (even reserved German-speakers can be quite friendly) or more involved activities such as joining a club or organization.
  • American Women’s Clubs – There are American and other English-speaking expat women’s groups in many larger cities. You don’t even have to be American to join. See the links below for American women’s clubs (AWC) and other groups in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland.
    WEB > ExpatWomen.com (for Germany, Austria and other countries)
    WEB > Federation of American Women’s Clubs Overseas (FAWCO)
  • Keep Little Problems Little – In adapting to a new culture and a new lifestyle there are bound to be some personal problems. The trick is to deal with such issues early on and not wait until a minor annoyance becomes a major problem for you and your family/spouse. Keep the lines of communication open within the family. If someone is becoming irritable or silent and withdrawn, try to get at the root cause. Usually, discussing what’s going on can head off problems. Try to be aware of how the expat experience is affecting the other people in the family. (See “The Trailing Spouse Syndrome” above.)

EXPAT CHECKLIST 2 | General Considerations

Cuisine and Other Changes
Adapt or struggle! Among other things, a new culture means a new menu! Most expats don’t have to be encouraged to try the great German beers and wines, plus over 200 kinds of bread, but be more adventurous! Try other foods (Döner Kebap, a Turkish pita sandwich that has become German fast food) and beverages (Radler, a beer-and-soda pop mix similar to the British shandy).

  • Food and Drink – Not that you can’t find many familiar items (corn flakes, peanut butter), and not that you may miss good Mexican food (a rarity in Germany), but you can compensate by trying the Indian, Greek, Italian, and Chinese restaurants found all across Germany. And many ex-expats are thrilled that their German Nutella is available back home.
    SEE > Dining Out
  • Large and Small Differences – Here are just a few things that look different, work in a different way, or are puzzling to Americans in German-speaking Europe: Shopping hours, traffic signs, TV fees for the public channels, rules about when you can mow the lawn or wash your car (never on Sunday!), Celsius temperatures, the metric system (meters, kilometers), German frankness (often mistaken for rudeness), attitudes about nudity, attitudes about smoking, parking garages and ticket machines, fear of drafts (even when it’s hot!), shaking hands and social kisses, the church tax, the barber/hair salon, marriage ceremonies (civil ceremony required, church wedding optional), German windows and roll-down shutters, the autobahn, getting a German driver’s license (costs about $2,000), less frequent use of credit cards, the school system (different kinds of schools)…
    SEE > Germany vs. the USA – Cultural Differences – Comparison charts
  • The Ugly American – Most expats know how to avoid being an “ugly American” in Europe, but there are always a few who don’t get it. You’ll enjoy your expat stay much more if you… (1) don’t assume your own culture is best, (2) keep an open mind and avoid stereotypical thinking (all Germans are…), and (3) approach your time in German-speaking Europe as an opportunity to learn more about yourself, other people, and life in general.
  • Reverse Culture Shock – Many expats experience the interesting phenomenon of reverse culture shock when they return home. Oddly, you may have difficulty fitting back into the culture you left behind when you went to Europe. Now you have to readjust to a way of life very different from the Germanic one you spent a long time in and worked so hard to adapt to. Some expats have a difficult time leaving behind a foreign culture that is no longer foreign and is now an integral part of themselves. They discover that they now have different attitudes than friends and family at home. There is also a certain element of returning to reality and a loss of the more exotic life they led as an expat. Just one more thing to prepare for!
    SEE > Expat Repatriation

Please use the pages here at our website to learn more about life in the German-speaking countries. Also consider joining our The German Way Expat Forum, where current and past expats share their knowledge.

Next | Expat Repatriation (Re-entry)

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