The following “expat checklists” cover topics that expats or potential expats in German-speaking countries need to consider in order to have a more enjoyable overseas experience. Some of the topics in the checklists pertain more to expatriates with families, while other items apply more to single people or couples without kids living overseas. You can decide which items relate to your situation, but be sure to look them all over.
Our expat checklist is divided into three sections. The first is for items you should consider before you go to Europe. The second is for things you need to do after you arrive. The third is for expat repatriation or when it’s time to move on to another assignment. (Did you know there’s a thing called “reverse culture shock” – also known as “re-entry shock”? It often happens to expats when they return home. See Expat Repatriation.)
Also see: The German Way Expat Blog
EXPAT CHECKLIST 1 | Before You Go
- Visas and Residence / Work Permits – What are the requirements for entering Germany as a permanent or semi-permanent resident? Do you need a visa? How do you get a residence / work permit for Germany? It depends on where you’re coming from.
SEE > Requirements for US Citizens
SEE > Visas and Residence / Work Permits
- Housing and Relocation – Will your employer help arrange for housing, and moving you to Europe, or do you have to do that yourself? If so, be sure to get estimates from several moving/shipping companies. You may want to use a relocation agency if your employer isn’t helping with the move. Don’t forget about your present home. Will you rent it out, sell it, or what?
SEE > Moving to Germany: Tips for Your Overseas Move
SEE > Moving to Germany: Top 10 Things to Consider
SEE > House and Home
- Insurance – Will your US health insurance cover you (and your family) in Europe? Even if it does, you may still need a European policy to avoid paying up front in Germany. You do need European insurance for your car, if you have one, and for your house or apartment.
- Banking – The German and European banking systems do things differently than what you may be used to in the States. But online banking can help you manage your US bank account from Germany and do online banking with your German bank. Make sure you have your PINs and passwords.
SEE > Banks and Money
- Appliances and Electricity – Europeans have 220-volt/50Hz current. Your large and small US appliances won’t work without a transformer; it’s usually wiser to buy German appliances, which are often superior to the ones you have. Your US TV set won’t work with European television or European DVD players, even if you use a transformer.
SEE > Electrical Facts
SEE > Radio and Television in Germany in Europe
More on The German Way
Voltage Converters, International Travel
The GW Store: International travel products and appliance voltage converters
- Computers and the Internet – A computer can be an important link to friends and relatives back home, plus online banking. Most US-bought notebook computers will work fine with 220 volts (with a plug adapter). Most computers can also be used to view German DVDs. Germany and most European countries offer good Internet connections.
- Language – Contrary to what you may have heard, NOT everyone in Germany speaks English. Besides, your life will be much more pleasant and productive if you know at least some German. Even if your job can be done in English, it’s rude to be a typical monolingual American. “Trailing spouses” and the kids need to know some German, too.
SEE > German – the language
SEE > AboutGerman.net – Free online lessons
SEE > German Language Forum for learning German
- Medicines and Prescriptions – Although Germany and all western European countries have excellent doctors and medical facilities, drugs and medications (and their names) can vary greatly around the globe. If you require certain prescriptions or medicines, make sure that besides bringing a supply along, you also have a written prescription from your hometown physician. You also need to find out if your medication is available in Europe, and under which name it is dispensed. Note that in Germany even aspirin must be purchased from a pharmacist (der Apotheker). You can’t buy it over the counter, as in the US. For more info…
SEE > Rx for Drugs in Deutschland (GW Expat Blog)
SEE > Medications and Prescriptions
SEE > Health Care in Germany
SEE > The German Way Expat Forum
- Family Concerns – Not everyone in your family may be as thrilled about the idea of an overseas move as you probably are. The kids will be losing friends (even if only temporarily) and their familiar, secure surroundings. The so-called “trailing spouse” may end up feeling isolated in a foreign culture. Talk about it as a family and plan for the required adjustments.
SEE > The German Way Expat Forum
- Pets – Yes, you can bring your dog(s) or cat(s) with you to Germany, but you have to plan ahead. Germany and the EU have strict requirements for importing pets, including rabies shots and microchips. Germans love their pets, but they are usually much better trained than those in the US. Make sure your dog is also ready for that.
SEE > Taking Dogs or Cats to Germany – Guidelines for taking your pet to Germany
- Schools – If your children are coming along, you need to make some decisions about schooling. (Germany does not allow home schooling.) Will the kids attend an international school (if there is one where you’ll be), a parochial, or a regular German school?
SEE > Education
SEE > The German Way Expat Forum
- Furniture and Bedding – European beds and bedding are different in size and style from what an American is used to. If you move your beds, you’ll also need the bedding. It’s better to buy some furniture in Europe. If you bring items from home, make sure they’ll fit in your new home. As we said before, leave large appliances behind; German-made washers, driers, and dish washers are better anyway. (Note: Kitchens in a new German house or apartment are usually bare. Even the kitchen sink may be missing!)
SEE > House and Home
- The Folks Back Home – You should also prepare your friends and relatives for your overseas move. How will you stay in touch? Email is great, but Skype is even better. Stay in touch via voice, video and email.
SEE > Telephone Tips
- Documents – Gather all the papers and documentation that you will need in Europe. These include: passports (one for each family member, including children), visas, birth certificates, marriage certificates, divorce/custody papers, driver’s licenses, insurance records (for German insurance), and income tax records. If applicable, bring medical or dental records with you. Leave a copy of your will in a safe place or with your attorney.
SEE > Visas and Residence/Work Permits
- History and Background Information – If you know very little about the history of Germany, Austria, or Switzerland, read up on it. You also should have at least some basic knowledge of current affairs and politics. Don’t arrive as a total know-nothing! Once you’re there, find ways to stay current. There are English-language versions of some German media, both in print and online.
SEE > History & Culture
SEE > Notable Germans, Austrians, etc.
- Repatriation Preparation – You may think it’s way too early to think about the end of your assignment in Europe, but expats who have gone before you all say the same thing: Planning for your return “home” (or another relocation) is just as important as planning your initial move overseas. Many an expat has returned from an overseas assignment only to discover the company doesn’t know where to place him/her now. There are also many other issues, including reverse culture shock (“re-entry shock”). Learn more in our special section on expatriate repatriation.
SEE > Expat Repatriation
Next | Expat Checklist 2 (After You’re There)
AT THE GERMAN WAY
- Expat Checklist 2 – After you’re there
- Expat Repatriation – Re-entry or moving on when the assignment’s over
- Expat Blog – The German Way Expat Blog discusses issues of interest to expats in German-speaking Europe.
- Voltage Converters, International Travel – The GW Store: International travel products and appliance voltage converters
- Medications Overseas: Potential Hazards – Rx for expats in Europe
- The German Way Expat Forum – Join our forum, where we share info and tips about life in German Europe.
- The Autobahn in Austria, Germany and Switzerland
- Driving in Germany – Tips and rules of the road
- Die Polizei – The police