Guide to Germany

Guide to Germany: Read this before you relocate!

12 min read

Understand the most important aspects about living in Germany before you relocate for work or study: German history, regions, society, language, cost of living, and more.

Andrea Roth Last updated on July 29, 2022
Illustration of a German flag on a pedestal

Introduction to Germany: facts & figures

This Guide to Germany Whitepaper gives you an overview of Germany and highlights its advantages as an immigration country. The German immigration experts at Nioomi equip you with all the information you need to live the life you love in the heart of Europe.


Germany is a full EU member state that is neighbored by Denmark in the North, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and France in the West, Switzerland, and Austria in the South, as well as the Czech Republic and Poland in the East.

In the North, Germany has sea access to the North Sea in the West and the Baltic Sea in the East. Germany has a land area of almost 360,000 square km, roughly the size of the US state of New Mexico.


Germany’s 83 million population has only grown slightly over the last decades. However, the demographic shift is omnipresent, causing increasing pressure on the retirement and healthcare/nursing systems.

The general workforce needs young, highly skilled workers, particularly in the IT, engineering, energy, and healthcare sectors.

Capital city

The country’s capital city Berlin has a population of 3.6 million and is located in the Northeast of Germany. After World War II, Berlin was divided into East Berlin and West Berlin until November 1989, when the Berlin Wall came down, and the country was reunified (Wiedervereinigung).


Germany consists of the federal government and 16 partially-sovereign federal states (Bundesländer). The Federal Republic of Germany is considered a parliamentary democracy, with Olaf Scholz serving as the Chancellor of Germany since 2021 (after Angela Merkl retired after 16 years in this position). Frank-Walter Steinmeier currently serves as the President of Germany since 2017.

Time zone

The time in Germany is Central European Time (CET), which is Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) plus two hours. Daylight saving time in Germany starts on the last Sunday in March and ends on the last Sunday in October.

Emergency numbers

  • Police (Polizei): 110
  • Medical Emergency (Krankenwagen): 112
  • Fire Fighters (Feuerwehr): 112

Short history of Germany

Compared to other European countries, Germany is relatively young. The German state that exists today was formed back in 1871. Until that point, Imperial Germany consisted of hundreds of dukedoms.

At the same time, Germany’s history may also appear rather violent, having fought in World War I and II. Germany was a monarchy between 1871 and 1914, and after its World War I defeat, the country established its first democracy in 1918. This Weimar Republic lasted until 1933, when the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP) and its members (Nazis) quickly rose to power.

This “Third Reich" ended in 1945 with Germany’s surrender and the end of World War II. Consequently, Germany and Berlin were divided into four occupied zones: British, French, US, and the Soviet Union. Between 1961 and 1989, the Berlin Wall physically separated West Berlin and East German.

Due to its divided occupation, Germany was at the center of the conflict between Communism and Democracy during the Cold War (1947-1991). Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) absorbed the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). This was also when Berlin replaced Bonn as Germany’s capital city.

Heavy government investments resulted in an economic boom that made Germany the global leading economy that it is today. In the 21st century, Germany can be described as a modern and liberal democracy based on Christian values.

However, the shadow of the Nazi past is not forgotten, and many Holocaust memorials commemorate the murdered Jews of Europe. The distribution and public use of Nazi symbols – in particular flags, insignia, symbols, slogans, and greetings – are prohibited by law according to the German criminal code (Strafgesetzbuch) section § 86a.

Main regions and cities in Germany & Climate

Germany can be divided into three major geographical regions: the Northern Lowland, the Central Uplands, and the Alps running through the West and East of the country.

Germany is one of the most popular destinations worldwide for foreigners to relocate, with most migrants from Europe (Turkey, Poland, Italy). The migrant workforce contributes to balancing the demographic shift in Germany and compensates for the skilled labor shortage.

Where to live in Germany

Berlin is not only Germany’s capital but also the largest city, with an approximate population of 3.6 million. You can easily enjoy big city vibes in Germany’s cultural melting pot Berlin, with lots of art and spare time activities and many parks and recreational areas. Did you know that Berlin has more bridges than Venice? The capital’s largest economic sectors are centered around the IT and creative industries, including life sciences, transportation, IT, media and music, advertising and design, biotechnology, and e-commerce – often in the form of start-up businesses. According to the global Quality of Life Index by Numbeo, Berlin ranks 75 in 2022.

Germany’s second-largest city Hamburg (1.8 million population), may not impress with its mostly rainy and cold weather but is an attractive place to work and live. The main economic sectors in Hamburg are industry and energy, media (publishers, agencies), service economy, foreign trade, retail and wholesale, logistics and shipping (Germany’s largest seaport is in Hamburg). According to Numbeo’s 2022 Quality of Life Index, Hamburg ranks 63.

Munich is Germany’s third-largest city (1.5 million population) and scores points with Oktoberfest, the Bayern Munich soccer team, and its proximity to Southern European countries. Workwise, Munich’s strong economy is based on high tech, automobiles, the service and creative industries, IT, biotechnology, engineering, and electronics. On Numbeo’s 2022 Quality of Life Index, Munich takes rank 33.

With its famous cathedral and friendly inhabitants, Cologne (1.1 million population) is popular among tourists and an entry point to Belgium and the Netherlands. Finance, insurance, media, and engineering are the largest industry sectors in Cologne. The city is ranked 100 on Numbeo’s 2022 Quality of Life Index.

Germany’s financial capital, Frankfurt am Main (750,000 population), is home to the European Central Banks and some of the country’s largest companies. While Frankfurt may not be known for its pretty skyline or extra high quality of life, work opportunities are ample, and Germany’s largest airport is located there. On Numbeo’s 2022 Quality of Life Index, Frankfurt am Main is ranked #54.

Stuttgart (635,000 population) is located in the heart of Germany and the Black Forest. Renowned for its friendly people and strong dialect, the region is home to many global manufacturing companies like Porsche, Mercedes, and Bosch. Other notable economic sectors – besides mobility and engineering – include finances, media, IT, and creative industries. Stuttgart ranks 67 on Numbeo’s 2022 Quality of Life Index.

Düsseldorf (620,000 population) attracts migrants with a laid-back and friendly culture, high quality of life, and job security. The largest industries are industrial manufacturing, consulting, fashion, advertising, and the digital economy. Ranked 27 on Numbeo’s 2022 Quality of Life Index, Düsseldorf is the highest-ranked German city.

Climate in Germany

Germany has a very seasonal climate, mainly influenced by the North Atlantic Drift. Summers are generally warm and winters relatively cold. The average temperature in Germany in spring is 8°C (46°F), 25°C (77°F) in summer, 10°C (50°F) in autumn, and 0°C (32°F) in winter.

German society: Beyond the land of poets and thinkers

When you think of Germany, maybe the first things that come to mind are castles, cathedrals, impressive mountains and lush forests, bread and sausages, and beer. It is also known as the country of poets and thinkers (Das Land der Dichter und Denker).

While you can find all these things in Germany plentifully, there’s also more to the country, its history, and its culture. Today, Germany’s culture elegantly combines Christian values with literature, art, philosophy, and reason.

Understanding German values, lifestyle, customs, and traditions, will ease your immigration and relocation process.

The German perception of time is linear, meaning once a moment has passed, it will not return. Perhaps this understanding contributes to the famous “German efficiency." You can typically expect punctuality, reliability, and straightforward processes throughout Germany.

German bureaucracy may be exempt from this, but you can form your own opinion when you go through the processes of immigration (visa), recognition of qualifications, and address registration.

High value is typically placed on privacy, respect, formality, and seniority, e.g., only addressing friends with the informal you (Du), while everyone else is addressed with the formal you (Sie). However, in recent years and in the face of digitalization, this is changing, and it has become more common to address others informally, also in the work environment.

Germans are also known for following the law and rules precisely. Community and neighborliness are highly valued. The general notion is that “if everyone is considerate, we have a healthy and high-quality co-living space." For example, recycling, riding your bike instead of taking the car, and avoiding late-night noise. Generally, Germans expect everyone – including migrants – to respect order and structure.

Hard work and diligence are typically considered a virtue, and it is often combined with being thrifty and frugal – particular in the South of Germany.

Whereas Germans will typically state family as vital to them, family ties are usually not as interwoven as, for example, in Southern Europe. German families usually let every member do their business and gather for important holidays and family functions.

Communication in Germany

From the languages spoken in Germany to how people communicate – Germany may be a little different from what you are used to.

Languages in Germany

The official language of Germany is German (also referred to as High German), with a large variety of partially very strong accents in the various regions of the country. Official minority languages in Germany are Danish, Frisian, Sorbian, and Romani.

Today, more than 10 million foreigners live in Germany (about 13% of the total population), mainly Turkish, Polish, and Syrian nationals.

Around 56% of the German population speak English – a higher percentage among the younger generation. This may not sound like much but is significantly higher than other European countries like France, Italy, and Spain.

Basic German language skills (Must-knows)

Master these simple phrases to ease your everyday life and make interactions smoother.

  • Hello: Hallo
  • Please: Bitte
  • You’re Welcome: Bitte
  • Thank You: Danke
  • How are you: Wie geht’s?
  • I’m fine, thanks: Gut, danke.
  • I’d like to pay by bank card, please: Mit Karte, bitte.

Are you keen to learn more? Start learning German with practical, convenient, and easy-to-access classes provided by Nioomi.

Directness of German people

If you are relocating to Germany, you may initially be surprised by the directness of most Germans. This is generally not meant to be offensive or rude. Polite superficialities and unnecessary small-talk are usually avoided in favor of an honest, open, and sincere conversation.

For example, in your home country, it may be polite to refuse a beverage that is offered when visiting someone’s house a few times before finally accepting it. On the other hand, German people usually say “yes, please" or “no, thank you" and actually mean it.

Spare time in Germany

Let’s look at the Germans’ favorite spare time activities – beyond drinking beer and watching soccer.

Leisure activities in Germany

So what do these diligent and thrifty Germans do in their spare time? Most Germans love to spend time in nature while being sportive (hiking, mountain biking or riding their bicycle, going to the park or the lake, swimming), camping, gardening, meeting friends, having coffee or brunch, going to museums, art exhibitions, and flea markets, watching TV, surfing the internet, and playing board games with friends.

In fact, Germany is one of the world’s biggest producers of board games. Almost every German household owns The Settlers of Catan, UNO, Monopoly, and Trivial Pursuit.

Germans typically love sports (watching soccer or ice hockey but also actively playing), and a third of all German residents belong to a sports club or organization.

Although there are many of the world’s top destinations within a short train ride or flight away from Europe, most Germans travel to Spain, Italy, Turkey, Austria, and Greece during their holidays.

Since German engineering invented the modern motor car and the country is the birthplace of Audi, Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz, and BMW, Germans unsurprisingly love motor vehicles. However, in recent years, the demand for electric vehicles and modes of transportation is increasing drastically due to the pressing climate and energy crisis.

Nonetheless, many Germans still enjoy going for a ride with their car or motorcycle on a scenic route or going at maximum speed on designated motorway sections (Autobahn). In Germany, there is right-hand traffic, and a valid driver’s license is required to operate a car, motorcycle, or other motor vehicles.

Wining & dining in Germany

Germans love to eat bread for breakfast (with sweet jam, honey, or nut spread or savory cheese), as a snack (sandwich), as a side dish for lunch (e.g., with a soup), and for dinner. In fact, many German families have bread time (Brotzeit) for dinner, where cold cuts, cheese, vegetables, and spreads are served as a light dinner.

Renowned German specialty dishes include stuffed cabbage (Kohlrouladen), dumplings (Spätzle), escalope (Schnitzel), and sausage with curry sauce (Currywurst). In fact, more than 850 million curry sausages are consumed in Germany every year.

Dining out in formal restaurants or delis is widespread, especially in Italian, Chinese, and Greek. Regarding street food, Turkish flatbread with meat or falafel (Döner Kebab) and sausages with curry sauce and french fries are most popular.

Alcohol consumption is socially acceptable – both in public and at home. Beer and wine are most popular and commonly enjoyed with dinner. With 11 liters per person per year on average, alcohol consumption in Germany is slightly above the EU’s average of 10 liters per person per year.

German holidays, customs, traditions

Whereas a Sunday Coffee & Cake (Kaffee und Kuchen) was typically designated bonding time with grandmothers or mothers, this tradition is becoming increasingly popular among the younger generation and friends.

While Oktoberfest is not a national holiday, this month-long festival is typically celebrated in September. The biggest celebration with around 6 million visitors annually takes place in Munich. There are also smaller Oktoberfest celebrations in larger German cities like Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Hannover, and Berlin.

Public Holidays in Germany

The number and types of public holidays differ from region to region in Germany. Typically, there are a few more religious holidays in the South of Germany.

Christmas (Weihnachten) is Germany’s most important national holiday. It has the main festivity on Christmas Eve (December 24th), is typically celebrated with close family, and involves extensive gift-giving. Christmas Day (December 25th) and Boxing Day (December 26th) are national holidays celebrated with extended family and friends.

New Year’s Eve (Neujahr) is lavishly celebrated worldwide. In February, a colorful carnival (Karneval) is typically celebrated in the far West of Germany (Rhineland), in Cologne, Düsseldorf, and Mainz.

Easter (Ostern) is the next big holiday that is celebrated in April, followed by Labor Day on May 1st (Maifeiertag), Ascension Day (Christi Himmelfahrt) in May, and Whit Monday (Pfingstmontag) in June.

On October 3rd, the German Unity Day (Tag der Deutschen Einheit) is celebrated as Germany’s most important non-religious holiday.

Remember that while shops and stores usually have longer opening hours during the week (stores typically close at 7pm-8pm and supermarkets may be open until 10pm-11pm), they are closed on Sundays and public holidays.

With 20 days of paid vacation per year (often more, depending on the employer) and nine public holidays per year (average across federal states), Germany ranks medium on the global average.

Religions in Germany

Originally a pagan country, Christianity came to rise around 300 AD when parts of Germany belonged to the Holy Roman Empire. From the 5th century onwards, most German tribes converted to Christianity.

Today, about 54% of the German population are Christians (generally Catholic in the South and Protestant in the North) and 4%-7% Muslims. There are also Buddhists, Jews, Hindi, Yazidis, and Atheists/Agnostics. They largely coexist peacefully. However, overall the influence of religion in Germany is dwindling.

Germany is LGBTQ+ friendly

Overall, Germany is a modern and advanced society, including gender equality and LGBTQ+ rights. Especially in larger cities, the LGBTQ+ scene is very diverse and not “restricted" to gay bars and clubs. Same-sex marriage has been legal in Germany since 2017.

More than 77% of the German population live in urban areas, where attitudes are generally more liberal towards all aspects of life.

Fashion & modesty in public

In general, public display of affection like holding hands, kissing, or cuddling between any two people is not frowned upon.

The German fashion style is neither Latin American super sexy nor Asian/Arab fully clothed modest. Whereas individual preferences and styles differ, particularly between cities and rural areas, the German fashion style is more practical and functional, emphasizing high quality, longevity, and timelessness.

Yes, many Germans in the South own traditional leather pants (Lederhosen) for men and traditional feminine dresses (Dirndl) for women. However, they are typically only worn for traditional holidays and special events like weddings.

Nudity in designated areas (sauna, nude beach, nude camping) is considered “normal" and has nothing to do with extravagant sex parties.

Working and studying in Germany

With a GDP of 3.8 trillion USD, Germany was the fourth largest economy worldwide in 2021. This economic force, in combination with Germany’s central location, rich culture, and high quality of life, make the country one of the most attractive places to live.

Take a deep dive into the excellent working environment in Germany (bonuses and remuneration, work-life balance, etc.) in Nioomi’s whitepaper on working in Germany

Discover how to enter the German educational system with a student visa in Nioomi’s whitepaper on how to get a visa for Germany. Keep in mind that public college education (Bachelor’s degree) in Germany is free of tuition.

The most renowned universities – depending on your subject of studies courses – generally are the Ludwig-Maximillian University in Munich, the Technical University of Munich, the Humboldt University of Berlin, the University of Tübingen, and the Rhenish-Westphalian Technical University of Aachen.

Cost of living in Germany

Germany is renowned for its high quality of life and infrastructure: healthcare and the educational system are excellent, and public transport and recreational areas are very well developed. The country is generally very safe, pollution and traffic commute time are low overall.

According to the latest statistics on LivingCost, living in Germany costs about 1.5 times more than the world average (rank 32 out of 197 countries). However, Germany is also the 13th best country to live in, with a solid salary structure to cover the cost of living.

The average cost of living in Germany is about 1,400$ per month for one person, broken down as follows:

  • Rent and utilities: 750$
  • Food: 400$
  • Transport: 120$
  • Other: 130$

For a family of four, the average cost of living in Germany is about 3,500$, broken down as follows:

  • Rent and utilities: 1,400$
  • Food: 1,100$
  • Transport: 300$
  • Other: 700$

Compared to the average salary in Germany (4,251 Euros before tax, which becomes approx. 2,200-2,700 Euros after tax, depending on tax class), it is enough to cover living expenses for two months.

In fact, the 2021 Mercer’s Cost of Living rankings shows that German cities are generally cheaper to live in compared to other European capitals like Paris, London, or Rome.

Remember that your salary and cost of living generally depend on your negotiation skills and the area where you live. Larger cities overall provide higher salaries but also come with higher monthly expenses.

Would you like to predict your individual cost of living in the German city of your choice? Click here to access Nioomi’s Cost of Living Calculator.

How to immigrate to Germany

If you are not a citizen of the EU, EEA, or Switzerland, or a political/humanitarian refugee, you must fulfill the following criteria to relocate to Germany.

  • have a job offer or university study place in Germany
  • have proof of financial stability and health insurance

These are your first steps to getting a Visa for Germany (National D Visa or Work Visa like the EU Blue Card) as well as a residency permit as the next step.

Find out more about getting a visa for Germany as a skilled migrant worker or student in the Nioomi whitepaper for German visas.

The German relocation specialists at Nioomi are happy to assist you in this process.

Key takeaways

  • Germany is a full EU member state and an attractive immigration country. More than 10 million foreigners from various nations and religious backgrounds live in Germany. They navigate German efficiency, diligence, formality, and directness well and generally live together peacefully.
  • With its central European location, strong economy, and high quality of life, Germany attracts more than one million skilled professionals and international students every year. Skilled migrant workers, in particular in the IT, engineering, energy, and healthcare sectors, are highly sought after.
  • While the average cost of living is about 1.5 times more than the global average (~1,400 USD per person per month), the average salary in Germany (~4,400 USD before tax) is general enough to cover living expenses for two months.

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