Life and Customs: Germany versus Sweden

Expats living in Europe have a unique opportunity to travel and visit interesting places in many countries. Traveling from Berlin to Stockholm, for instance, is only a 75-minute jet flight – about the same time as flying between Los Angeles and San Francisco in the USA. If you’re an expat who hasn’t been taking advantage of this, it’s time to start!

Recently, I had a chance to compare some of the customs and practices in Germany and Sweden. I was surprised by some of the differences, but I have written about similar differences before in “Comparing Germany and France and…” Here are a few interesting and practical cultural comparisons between Germany and Sweden.

Living as an expat in Germany or Austria, it can be easy to forget that the EU does not equal the euro. Most of the time it does, but as soon as you venture off to Scandinavia, the UK or eastern Europe, you are reminded that there are still ten European Union member nations (out of 28) that do not use the euro.[1] You are transported back to a time when travelers in Europe had to exchange money at the border when entering another country – back to the days of French francs, Spanish pesetas, Italian lira, and German marks. (Prior to the Schengen Agreement of 1995, travelers also had to get their passports checked and stamped.) Traveling from Germany to Denmark, for instance, means exchanging euros for Danish kroner (DKK, 1 krone = €0.13 or $0.14). If you head to Switzerland (not an EU member), you’ll need to use Swiss francs (CHF).

Stockholm harbor

Stockholm’s busy harbor is also a scenic tourist attraction. PHOTO: H. Flippo

Much of today’s money exchange problem is solved by another recent development: the wide use of credit cards, especially in Scandinavia. Need to pay for a taxi? The driver grabs his portable credit card reader and wirelessly processes your card. Any shop, grocery store or restaurant will gladly accept your credit card for payment.[2] Continue reading

How much does it cost to study in Germany, really?

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

When I speak to students and parents about the prospect of completing a degree in Germany, the question that invariably comes up is,”Ok, there’s no tuition, but how much does it really cost?” The answer is a bit complicated, but it largely depends on where you study and what type of lifestyle you want.

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Moving to Germany: The Top 10 Things to Consider

Moving anywhere is a challenge. Even a short move across town can be problematic. An international move presents additional complications, but a little preparation will mean fewer hitches. Even if you are fortunate enough to be using the services of a relocation agent, you should be aware of the following ten factors to consider when moving to Germany.

Berlin apartment parking

Having a car in Germany can be a mixed blessing. Here: apartment parking in Berlin-Friedrichshain. PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

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1. Get Oriented
By “get oriented” I mean get to know the culture, the language, and the place where you’ll be living. This may seem obvious, but I am constantly amazed by how many new expats fail to do this. You’re moving to a new country with a culture and a language very different from what you’re used to. Don’t arrive in German-speaking Europe without at least some basic preparation. This is what our German Way site is all about! You’ll find all sorts of help here, and here are a few tips on what you need to learn: Continue reading

January 2015 in Germany: New Year, New Laws, New Rules

2015 ushered in new laws and regulations in Germany. Our overview of new things that expats and travelers need to know also reveals a lot about daily life and customs in Germany.

If you drive a car, use public transportation, rent a place, watch TV, take out the trash, get paid in euros, or use the post office in Germany, there are changes that can affect all expats and travelers. We’ll start with one of the more bizarre things that the new year introduced to German law and life (and it’s not the precipitous fall of the euro). Continue reading

ATMs in Germany: Chips versus Magstripes

Although we take them very much for granted today, automated cash-dispensing machines have only been common since the late 1970s. Banks introduced the devices first in Europe, then in North America and elsewhere. Today there are an estimated 2 to 3 million ATMs in service around the world, with about 60,000 of them in Germany and 350,000 or so in Western Europe.

The German term for ATM is Geldautomat, but the Austrians and the German Swiss prefer Bancomat/Bankomat. Even in the English-speaking world there are several different expressions for automated teller machines: ATM, ABM (automatic bank machine, Canada), bank machine, cash machine, Cashpoint (actually a trademark), and hole in the wall (UK). ATMs have pretty much eliminated old-fashioned traveler’s checks. Remember those? Continue reading

American Expats, the IRS, FATCA and Other F-words

Besides “IRS,” Americans can now add another item to their list of ominous acronyms: FATCA. Like most things related to income taxes, the FATCA issue has a lot of people in a dither. As if US tax law wasn’t already complicated enough, along comes FATCA to gum up the works even more, especially for US citizens living overseas and earning income from a non-US source.

All US citizens or resident aliens living abroad are obligated to pay income taxes to the US Treasury, even if they haven’t lived in the United States for years, have no intention of returning, and even if their income comes solely from foreign sources. The United States of America is the only modern, industrialized nation that taxes the worldwide income of its estimated six million citizens who live abroad, even if their income is generated in a foreign country and they never return to their homeland.[1] Continue reading

Put Away Your Checkbook

Of all the things one can miss about a country after departure, the banking system probably shouldn’t be at the top of the list. For this ex-expat, however, it is actually one of the things I miss about Germany. The banking system there has arrived in the digital age, and North America is left in the dust.

For starters: put away the checkbook. Nobody in Germany has written a check in decades. When I arrived in 2000, checks were already obsolete. I was confused at the time: how do you pay individual people when you don’t have cash? The answer: bank transfers. In those dark ages of the internet, you paid others by filling out a paper Überweisung (transfer) slip, and giving it to your bank (possible via drop-box at most branches). Continue reading

Expatriates and the cost of living in A, D, CH

Expatriates don’t always have a choice of where they’re assigned to work, but they definitely need to know the cost of living in their assignment location. If your salary is paid by a US company, for example, that salary might put you at a huge disadvantage if you are working and living in Tokyo, Japan, which happens to be the most expensive city in the world for expats. (The news for Germany is much better.)

Companies with employees assigned to overseas locations usually offer some sort of cost-of-living allowance to supplement the increased costs. So even if you are going to an overseas location by your own choice, without company support, you need to know how the cost of living there compares to your current or home location. But how do you get that information? One excellent source is the website, from which we derived the rankings discussed here.

It may surprise you to learn that, except for New York City, Honolulu, Anchorage, San Jose and San Francisco, most cities in the United States of America have a far lower cost of living than places in Asia, Europe, Africa, South America – and even Canada! My own hometown of Reno, Nevada ranks 455th out of 780. Most places in the southern states of the US rank much lower than that. Continue reading