5 things I wish I knew before moving to Germany


Moved to Germany? From those who've made the move, here are all the things you wished you'd known before you landed.

Ever found yourself on a futile Sunday shopping run? Maybe you've felt the confusion of everyone paying for things with wads of cash. Even for the best of us, getting used to the nuances of a new culture is no easy thing.

Here are five tips from expats and Wise customers on things to look out for if you've moved to Germany.

Learning Deutsch Before Arriving

It’s true that in most big German cities, and even some tiny towns, you’ll encounter many Germans eager to exercise their impressive English skills.

In fat, one German politician made headlines recently when he complained about the German language being relegated to a secondary status in Berlin.

However, that's not the full story. Don't expect to get by on English alone: “I wish I had ignored the people who told me I didn’t need to learn German before moving here,” says Danielle, an American expat in Berlin.

There are still many people who speak little English or just aren’t comfortable with it. Most of the red tape you'll encounter is conducted only in German, whether it be buying a train ticket or, ironically, applying for a visa at the international office.

Learning to Paint Walls

Whether needing to repaint a flat or move across the city, many Germans are used to doing things themselves rather than calling a professional.

Handiwork services can be expensive, and many Germans barely bat an eye at being able to take on these tasks themselves, rounding up a few friends to coat their walls with a layer of white paint or carry their couch down the street. “‘You never learned how to paint yourself?’ was the response I got a few times when I told friends I’d hired a painter before for my apartment,” said Sarah, an American expat in Berlin.

Germans take pride in customizing their space to the fullest (point in case: taking along their toilet seats and refrigerators is a common practice before moving) so it comes as little surprise that they also like to be involved with handiwork when possible. “Germans have a very DIY mentality.

At least when it comes to home services, money seems to be just as valuable as time,” says Javier, an expat from Spain.

Learning to Avoid Errands on Sundays

No time to pick up your groceries during the week?

Don’t count on going shopping on Sunday unless you want to wait in line at the one grocery store open at the main train station. Usually restaurants, cafes and movie theaters will keep their doors open, but otherwise many German cities -- especially in the winter -- are surprisingly empty.

Shopping on Sundays is such an oddity that some smaller towns will offer it one day a year, advertising for the Big Day weeks in advance. “One word stands out: Sundays,” says Justin, an expat from the U.S. “Anyone living here will know what I mean.”

Get Used to Carrying Cash

Germany is known for being a tech-savvy country, but accepting credit cards is not usually part of that.

Even many places that do take cards will typically just accept German bank cards. “In some parts of Berlin, you’ll probably have an easier time paying with Bitcoin than a credit card,” says Michael, an expat from Australia.

The card-averse attitudes of Germans stem from concerns about privacy, or, some say, an historical fear of inflation. A whopping 80 percent of transactions in Germany are conducted in cash, with the average German carrying $123 in their pocket at any given time, over twice the amount Americans or Australians carry.

“At one store, I was even expected to pay for a new Macbook in cash, says Michael, an expat from Australia. “I felt like I was doing some sort of drug deal when I handed the cashier an envelop with 1100 euros.”

Turning to Wise

Let’s say you want to send money back home -- even on a Sunday -- without paying high rates, and without getting stung by a terrible exchange rate. Wise can help.

Wise always gives you the mid-market exchange rate, which means you don't lose money in a spread, like you would with a bank, broker or PayPal. It's an easy way for you to save time, money and effort – all of which you can invest back in getting some German lessons...

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