How to adjust to life as a German in the US

08.07.16
3 minute read

The trail from Germany to the US is a well-trod road, but it can still throw up some surprises

Last year, The Economist reported that German-Americans are the country's largest single ethnic group. Some 49M Americans have German ancestry, and over 3.5M made the move there between 2009-2014 alone. In fact, some of the most famous American companies and names can be traced back to Germany: Chrysler, Boeing, Heinz and Steinway all have founders with German heritage.

What about the almost 590,000 German expats who currently reside in the US? We wanted to find out what they made of the move to the States, so we asked some of our German TransferWise customers and colleagues what it was like to adjust to life here.

From bank accounts to beer amounts – here are some of the challenges you’ll meet as a German in the US:

Healthcare

healthcare

Doctors, healthcare costs and medicine in the US can end up costing more than they would in Germany. While over-the-counter medicine is more freely available, you may find that if you don’t have health insurance, it will end up being much more expensive than it would be from the local apotheke. Annual premiums for employer-sponsored family health coverage were $17,545 in 2015, with workers on average paying $4,955, compared to an approximate cost of 15% for health insurance in Germany.

Real bread and real beer (served in pints)

beer

German bread culture is the stuff of legend. It’s even been given UNESCO recognition as an “intangible cultural heritage”, and it’s believed that there are many thousands of types of bread. It comes up a lot among German expats as a much-longed for comfort food. Expect instead bagels to become your go-to, rather than the dark rye you may be used to, and it may require more effort to find artisanal baking compared to the stroll down the road to the local backerei.

As for beer, while there’s a growing craft beer tradition in the US, remember it’ll come in pints rather than your litre stein...

Small talk

small-talk

Small talk is a big thing in the US, where meeting new people and heading straight into banterous bombast is perfectly normal. A far cry from the polite silence that is customary in most German public spaces. Be it a train carriage, doctor’s waiting room or a supermarket queue, get ready for some serious small talk.

Potholes instead of public transport

potholes

German roads are infamously smooth, making for easy driving even on the 130mph autobahns. But if you’re planning that road trip across the States, be prepared for a bumpier ride that you might have hoped for. The American road network is massive and much of it aging, and potholes are very much to be expected. New York City alone has been reported to have as many as 300,000 potholes, costing drivers around $400 or $500 extra per year in vehicle upkeep costs, according to the Washington Post.

And public transport in the US is nowhere near as practical an option as it is in Germany. Unless you’re somewhere such as New York, it’ll be much harder to get around without a car.

Banking

banking

Looking after your American finances will make for a change from the cash culture of Germany. For example, credit cards are accepted in most places, and you won’t need to pay back all of your credit card balance each month. Oh, and that checks are still a thing in the US. Be warned that a check book, which you’ve probably forgotten all about by now, might cost you $25 or more...

Let's not even get into the first time you try to move money back home with your bank. Just to rationalise the 4% exchange rate markup, $40 wire fee and 6 day wait… TransferWise anyone?

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