Expat survey: Is Germany too cold and unfriendly?

In recent years, Germany has become an attractive destination to live and work for professionals from all over the world. We asked expats in Germany about their job and social life satisfaction and biggest hurdles in Germany. They were also asked about their job and how long they plan to stay. In this article, we summarize the survey results and provide insights into the development and characteristics of the expat population in Germany, as well as their working and living conditions.

Who was surveyed?

In a survey, around 120 expats who came to Germany for work were asked about their experiences in Germany. Respondents had the option of completing the survey in German or English. 44 percent chose English, while 66 percent felt more comfortable with German questions. The average age of our respondents was 35. Forty-one women and 59 percent men participated.

How long do respondents plan to stay?

The respondents have different life plans. How long the expats surveyed plan to stay in Germany varies greatly. 55 percent of respondents plan to spend more than five years in Germany, while 22 percent plan to stay between one and five years. None of the respondents planned to stay for less than a year.

The main reason for not wanting to stay in Germany is the weather. Around 14 percent say it is too cold here. But access to healthcare was also mentioned.

What challenges do expats face in Germany?

Despite the opportunities and possibilities that Germany offers, expats also face challenges, particularly in terms of social integration, language, finding accommodation and bureaucracy.

The recognition of foreign professional qualifications plays an important role in the integration of expats into the German labor market. In 2021, a total of 46,900 professional qualifications were recognized.

Most recognitions were recorded in the professions of healthcare and nursing (16,000 recognitions) and as a doctor (8,200 recognitions). Engineers (2,200 recognitions), teachers (1,700 recognitions) and educators (1,300 recognitions) are also among the frequently recognized occupational groups.

Health care: How are expatriates covered for health insurance?

The question of health insurance plays an important role for expats. This is because health insurance is compulsory in Germany and a visa is linked to it.

Across Germany, around 10 percent have private health insurance, while 27 percent of the expats in our survey have private health insurance.

However, the respondents are well aware that private health insurance offers some advantages over statutory health insurance. For example, comprehensive preventive check-ups and faster appointments due to a wider choice of doctors were mentioned in particular. The same applies to treatment by chief physicians and single rooms in hospital.

Over a third of the respondent group stated that they had experienced problems when taking out health insurance. The English-speaking group in particular experienced hurdles in relation to medical care. This can probably be attributed primarily to the language barrier in doctors' surgeries.

English-speaking support

This is where ottonova comes in, offering policyholders the option of making medical appointments with English-speaking doctors.

Occupational fields and industries: Where do expats work?

Our surveyed expats are also spread across a wide range of industries. At 25 percent, a large proportion of the English-speaking respondents work in the IT and telecommunications sector, accounting for a total of 5 percent of all respondents. In general, over two thirds of expats in Germany work in this sector.

The tourism industry leads with 15 percent, but the surveyed expats also work in healthcare (8 %), finance and real estate (7 %) and the leisure industry (7 %).

How easy is it to make friends?

When asked whether it is difficult to make contacts with Germans, two thirds of the expats surveyed agreed. 

39 percent of our expat survey described Germans as unfriendly. So the welcoming culture is still lacking. Just 5 percent described Germans as friendly.  

How difficult is it to learn German?

Knowledge of the national language is also a hurdle for many: 63.5% of respondents who answered in English stated that they had learned German, but still preferred to answer in English. Overall, around 79% of expats had learned German. However, all respondents stated that they wanted to learn German.

Above all, official language courses, self-study and, of course, the practical use of the language as well as the consumption of German-language media such as television, books and films help expats to learn the language.

"They have no sense of humor, but are very punctual."

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Cliché or truth: What cultural differences do expats face?

The first thing that pops into your head when you think of a certain country is often a cliché that, in retrospect, is not really confirmed in the country itself.

But which clichés about Germany have been confirmed and which peculiarities of Germans do our interviewed expats perceive?

"Socks in sandals and unnecessary bureaucracy."

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The most common stereotype about Germany that was confirmed for the expats surveyed was the punctuality of Germans, but also their love of beer and wine and Germany's dreaded bureaucracy.

Also mentioned was the directness and seriousness of Germans, which expats more often perceive as unfriendly and bad-tempered. Likewise, the bad weather in Germany from the expats' point of view was also mentioned.

Attention was paid to these negative aspects, but also positive, for example friendliness was mentioned.

"Germans are always ready to help and they are very kind."

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The perception of Germans thus varies considerably among the respondents.

How digital is Germany from the Expats' point of view?

Even though the lack of digitalization was mentioned here and there among the confirmed prejudices of the expats, Germany fared better than expected in the general perception of the respondents.

No one thought that Germany was not digital at all, and 25 percent thought it was highly digital. The second-best rating was also awarded by over a third.

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Marie-Theres Rüttiger
HIER SCHREIBT Marie-Theres Rüttiger

Marie-Theres is online editor for health and insurance topics at ottonova. She researches and writes mainly about private health insurance, (e-)health and digital innovation that make life better.

ottonova sales experts
HIER SCHREIBT ottonova sales experts

Our ottonova team of experts has over 40 years of experience in private health insurance and answers questions about it every day. What are old-age provisions and for whom does private health insurance make sense? What is the actuarial interest rate and which tariff is right for you? They know!

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