Starting a new life in a foreign country isn’t easy, whether you’ve made the decision to move for employment, education, or for family. Simple things you took for granted back home are more difficult – finding a place to live, learning where to buy your groceries, figuring out how to find a doctor. We’ve now been through this exhausting but rewarding process twice in just over a year and hope that some of these resources in Germany will be helpful to other foreigners who’ve chosen to call it home, even if only temporarily.
Lodging – Temporary
Airbnb – Great site for finding quirky, inexpensive, and intimate lodging options all over the world. Booking online is easy, hosts (in our experience) tend to accurately represent their lodging and provide services that are often above and beyond hotels. Plus, customer service from the company is excellent!
Local Tourism Office – The folks at our local tourism office ended up being one of the best relocation resources in Germany. They came to the rescue quite unexpectedly when they found not one, but two separate “holiday guesthouses” where we were able to stay while we were looking for an apartment. Since we don’t speak German, we were able to book and communicate through the tourism office. Ours in Goettingen had English-speaking staff and were very helpful. We were dismayed at the high prices we were charged for both rentals, but we were grateful that we didn’t have to spend the night in our car in November. A quick Google search should take you to the website for the tourism office of your city or town.
Expat Tip: Moving with pets? Take note that many accommodations are not pet-friendly. Some species or breeds that are allowed in your home country may not be allowed in Germany.
Lodging – Apartment & House Rentals
ImmobilienScout24 – This quickly became my favorite site to search, mostly because they have more listings than any other site. Plus, they offer commission-free listings.
Immowelt – We found our flat on this site, so it’s worth checking as many sites as you can as often as you have time.
WG-GESUCHT – If you’re searching for a flat share, either because you need extra roommates for your flat or you’re looking to join other folks in a flat, this is a great source.
Local Paper – Check the paper copy of your local paper, which should have listings. Oftentimes, these aren’t posted online.
Expat Tip: Planning to move to a city with a university? Try to schedule your arrival so as NOT to coincide with the start of the school semester. If you can arrive in the early summer before students return in the fall, you'll have a better chance of finding housing.
Shopping – Groceries & Household
Real – Stores that offer “one-stop shopping” with inexpensive groceries, clothing, and housewares. They’re located throughout Europe and accept Visa, including American credit cards without a chip. All of the Wal-Marts in Germany were bought by Real’s parent company and now operate as “Real.”
REWE – Huge supermarket chain that was founded in 1927 and has over 3,000 stores in Germany. They also accept American credit cards that don’t have a chip.
Edeka – Largest supermarket chain in Germany with over 4000 stores ranging in size from small shops to hypermarkets.
Lidl – This German-based discount chain has over 10,000 stores and offers some of the lowest prices for groceries. They don’t take Visa or other main credit cards, however, so plan to pay with cash or a local bank card. Besides groceries, they offer misc. discounted seasonal items, clothing, and household goods. Unfortunately, many of their locations don’t show up in Google searches but if you go to their website (which is only in French, German & Italian), you can search for the store nearest you. Need groceries in Romania? Lidl is there as well!
Aldi – Inexpensive store similar to Lidl that sells groceries and limited discounted household goods, sporting goods, and non perishables.
Bon Prix – We bought the most perfect clearance curtains on this site! Despite the low prices, they tend to have decent quality. Shipping is fairly inexpensive, and delivery is fast. I don’t personally hold them responsible for my misadventures in German underwear shopping.
OTTO – Touted as the largest mail order company in the world, you can buy everything from housewares to large appliances. Unfortunately their website is only in German. We haven’t purchased anything from them, so we can’t personally recommend them.
Expat Tip: In much of Germany, grocery stores are closed on Sundays. They typically close by 10 in the evening as well, so plan accordingly.
Thrift Stores – Though not as widespread or as popular as in the US, thrift stores exist across Germany. Prices can be high and often lack variety, particularly with furniture, but if you’re shopping on a budget or just prefer to re-use because it’s more environmentally friendly, it’s worth asking around to find local shops near you. Search for Aus Zweiter Hand (second hand) or DRK, for Deutsches Rotes Kreuz. This is the German Red Cross, which operates quite a few thrift stores across the country.
eBay Kleinanzeigen – It walks like eBay but talks like Craigslist! The site doesn’t have user fees or seller fees, and sellers straight up list their things for sell. You contact them by phone or online, they send their address, and you go pick up your new couch or bedroom set. Prices tend to be low, and you can find just about anything for sale.
Curbside – It’s common in Germany for people to leave furniture and household goods on the sidewalk in front of their house. City services will pick up these items for disposal, either as rubbish or recycling. While it technically is against the “rules” to take these items, it’s commonly done.
General – Helvetia offers everything from mandatory renter’s and accident insurance to car and life insurance. We used them in Switzerland and were happy with them. We weren’t able to find a local agent in Göttingen, but would still recommend them to folks who live near any of their offices in Germany.
Auto – HUK is one of the largest insurance companies in Germany, they tend to have decent reviews online, and they have some agents who speak English. For €25 a month, we bought basic car insurance and roadside assistance through them. The customer service with our particular agent in Göttigen left something to be desired, but he was fast and efficient. *Note that you can’t register your car in Germany until you can provide proof of insurance.
Medical – This is mandatory insurance in Germany. We chose TK, one of the country’s largest public insurance carriers, since several of Trav’s co-workers recommended them. The application process is fairly easy, and they’re known for their ability to provide services, forms, and agents in English. So far we’ve been pleasantly surprised and fairly happy with TK. Though we have the standard plan that doesn’t include dental or vision coverage, some dental work is still covered – porcelain fillings on front teeth, amalgam fillings on back teeth, X-rays, and even root canals if there are no complications. Cleanings aren’t included; expect to pay about €95 out of pocket. TK also covers a whole host of recommended travel vaccinations – adult polio booster, DPT, Hep A, rabies, and typhus – at 100%. For those living in or visiting southern Germany, you might want to consider getting vaccinated against tick-borne encephalitis. It should also be covered by your insurance and available from any general practitioner. If you’re struggling to find a doctor or schedule an appt, you can call the TK hotline or use their online form to request they schedule an appt for you. We’ve used it, and they’re very helpful.
ATU – We took our car to ATU for oil changes, TUV repairs, and tires for the first year or so we lived in Germany. They’re a big chain with stores in lots of cities. We finally switched to a different mechanic shop and wouldn’t recommend ATU. Despite the size of their shop and number of employees, we rarely spent less than 30 minutes waiting in line just to get to the counter and ask our question or schedule an appointment. They typically offered us appointments fairly quickly, but these appointments seemed to be unnecessarily lengthy and communication was poor. They did offer us a 10% discount on a set of expensive repairs shortly after our car passed the TUV inspection, but we’re still doubtful that the repair was even necessary.
Kfz Hermeier – This mechanic in Goettingen gave us a quote for over €1000 to do auto repairs required by TUV. We got a second opinion, took our car there instead, and permanently switched mechanics. We don’t recommend this guy.
Vöhri Tech – We switched from Hermeier to Vöhri Tech. The guys at Vöhri Tech gave us a quote for TUV repairs that was between €300-400 vs the €1000 we’d been quoted by Hermeier. They told us we could just drop off our car without even making an appointment, and they had the repairs done by 5 pm. On top of that, the final cost was even cheaper than their own estimate, which is practically unheard of. The total came to just over €300. Bottom lie, if you’re not happy with the first mechanic you visit, SHOP AROUND!
Goettingen – Zahnarztpraxis Dr. Egert was recommended to us by a fellow expat in Göttingen. We saw three dentists in the office for a variety of work – cleanings (paid-out-of-pocket), fillings, root canal, and crown – and don’t recommend them. The one dentist we liked moved to Berlin. In general, the hygienists are really rough on your mouth, so if you have dental phobias or sensitivities, this office isn’t a great option. If you do visit this practice for dental work, we recommend Sandra Klipp. She’s young but friendly, thorough, gentle, and she speaks English.
Nikolausberg – Dr. Klaus-Achim Sürmann was recommended to us by two of our roommates who went to this dental office. We actually had a different, female doctor in the clinic, but she’s fantastic. The staff members are friendly and even those who don’t speak English are very accommodating despite the language barrier. The office is in a village near Goettingen.
Hanover – PODBI 344 – This dental office is rather upscale. They offer a website in English, and patients can make appointments easily with their online system. Out-of-pocket prices tend to be a bit higher than other dentists, but staff are caring and competent.
Expat Tip: If you need a root canal, go to an endodontist if at all possible. If you have a tooth infection, German dentists and doctors can be reluctant to prescribe antibiotics. Insist on them if you're in considerable discomfort or the infection persists.
In General – Options for qualified English-speaking doctors can be lacking, particularly if you live in a rural area and don’t speak German. After unexpected medical issues arose during our second year, we unfortunately became very familiar with the German medical system. Based strictly on personal experience, doctors in Lower Saxony I do not recommend are Dr. Ralf Henke and Dr. Sroka (GPs in the same office), Dr. Andreas Hilden (internal medicine), Dr. Bettina Fleckenstein (gyno), and Dr. Christine Heppner (rheumatologist). Doctors I do recommend are Dr. Peter Krug (GP), Dr. Christian Loweg (vascular surgeon), Dr. Heide Siggelkow (endocrinologist), and Dr. Westfal (neurologist). Our experience has been that doctors in Germany rely almost solely on lab testing for diagnosis and rarely do even a rudimentary physical exam. They rarely take a thorough family history or recommend preventive care or treatment. Imaging such as CT Scans and MRIs are typically booked up a minimum of three months and doctors are reluctant to order them. Clearly this does vary quite a bit across Germany. The quality of care in Hanover is better than Goettingen, though wait times to see specialists are still lengthy.
Klinikum – Another option for care is to seek treatment from doctors at your city’s Klinikum, or main hospital. It’s not uncommon for doctors in a given specialty to work not only in their own clinic, but also a certain number of hours at the Klinikum. There’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to see a more experienced or qualified doctor at the hospital, but they tend to offer a wider range of more advanced testing capabilities and if it’s urgent, can often see you quickly.
Referrals – Some specialties require that you first get a referral from your GP to a non-Klinikum specialist (for example, a neurologist), and that if that neurologist is unable to treat you, then that specialist then will give you a referral to the hospital. Others don’t require this. It is common that the doctors and even your insurance company will give you incorrect information regarding this. It’s best to be proactive and simply go to the Klinikum and request an appointment in person. They will tell you what you need, and you can sometimes schedule the appointment without the referral, then get the referral from your GP prior to that appointment. It’s also worth mentioning that referrals (at least with TK) are only valid quarterly (Jan-Mar, Apr-June, July-Sept, Oct-Dec). If you get a referral from your GP to a specialist on December 21st and your appointment with the specialist is scheduled for January 4th, you’ll have to get a new referral from your GP dated no earlier than January 1st.
Vaccinations – You have a couple of options. You can request them of your GP, but be warned that they will possibly require you to track down the vaccines yourself. This involves the GP writing you a “script” to take to a pharmacy where you pay out of pocket for the vaccine, then you need to return with the vaccine to your doctor to have the injection. If you’re traveling abroad, your GP possibly won’t know what vaccinations you’ll even need (this was our experience with two different doctors). A better option, particularly if you’re planning to travel abroad, is to visit your local medical office that specializes in infectious diseases. In Göttingen, it’s the Institut für Medizinische Mikrobiologie Zentrum Hygiene und Humangenetik, or the Institute for Medical Microbiology. Their hours are limited, so call ahead or stop by at 8 am on a weekday to schedule an appt for your vaccinations. Staff members are friendly, efficient, and exceedingly competent.
Prescriptions – Even common painkillers like Ibuprofen are only available through pharmacies in Germany.Many have limited business hours but they are absolutely everywhere. Most pharmacies are closed on Sundays and evenings. It’s typical for larger towns to have at least one pharmacy that’s open 24-hours for emergencies. This information should be posted at each pharmacy or you can ask your doctor. It’s also possible to search the Apotheken.de site to find an open pharmacy near you. If you have basic public health insurance (as we do – not private), expect to still only pay about €5 or €10 for basic prescriptions.
Emergencies – The emergency number to call for medical assistance, an ambulance (Krankenwagen), or fire services in Germany is 112. Residents can access emergency medical assistance by dialing from anywhere in the EU. For emergencies when Urgent Care is closed, the ER is likely your next best option, but be prepared for a lengthy wait.
If you need to call the police, dial 110.
24-Hour Medical Service – This is another option for medical assistance if you can’t reach your doctor and/or Urgent Care. Dial 116117 from anywhere in Germany and you can speak to someone about your illness/symptoms. The call is free. They will assess your symptoms and instruct you on how to proceed. The service has been available since 2012. Germany is the only country in the EU to offer such an option.
Taxes – US Filing
Taxes for Expats – Tax firm based in New York that specializes in filing US taxes for Americans living abroad. We hired them to do our taxes for the year we lived in Switzerland. They are not cheap (we paid about $400 for very few forms filed), but they are exceedingly responsive, professional, and competent.
TurboTax – Who hasn’t used TurboTax? In the US, we always filed our state and federal taxes with this popular software. During our second year in Germany, we opted to use TurboTax to file our own US taxes. Combined Oregon State and federal cost about $110 minus a 15% coupon from Oregon Community Credit Union.
Pets – Supplies & Care
Fressnapf Göttingen – This is our go-to pet store in Göttingen. It’s bigger than Zoo Busch with more variety in pet supplies. Plus, they have a great central location near Real and free and ample parking.
Zoo Busch – Popular pet store with lots of locations in Göttingen. Website is only available in German but they often have staff who speak some English.
Veterinarian – Dr. Ulrike Scupin provided vet care for our two cats and dog for the 4 years we lived in Goettingen. The office is located outside town in the village of Nikolausberg. It has multiple vets available, staff speak English, and they’re helpful and friendly. We can’t speak highly enough of Dr. Scupin!
Tourism – Travel & Activities
TripAdvisor – A great site to check out popular attractions at different travel destinations and to read reviews from other travelers. Be on the look-out for “Traveler’s Choice” Winners from previous years.
Germany Travel – Germany has a vast and confusing array of tourism websites and offices, including official sites. While a few of the larger ones offer information in English, many are only in German. This site is one I’ve found quite helpful for travel ideas.
Toytown – English-speaking forum with info about life in Germany. It’s similar to Switzerland’s English Forum, though the info is usually only useful for folks living in larger cities and the online community isn’t as active.
None of the links listed on this page are affiliate links, nor do we receive a commission or fee if you choose to purchase any of the products or services listed here. We simply have shared them because we’ve personally used them and freely recommend them.