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There are a number of right and wrong turns that you can take when relocating to a new country, in my case, when relocating to Germany. After an exhausting move in the middle of a pandemic, there are certainly a number of things I’ve learned not to do when relocating to Germany.
It’s my hope that by sharing you the things I’ve learned along the way, I can prevent you from making the same mistakes and perhaps even help you plan a successful/less-stress inducing move.
Don’t make emotional decisions
It was the usual dank, grey day in the UK when my Irish husband announced he was interested in a job in Germany. I’d had a shocking day at work (my boss was a dinosaur), the kids were whining and humans and animals were looking to me for food and I thoughtlessly agreed that he should go for it.
He flew into Düsseldorf for the interview and was offered an amazing job.
I got a call while he was at the airport asking me if he should accept it. Again, it had been a shocking day. My boss had annoyed me by interfering again, the chickens had got out prompting an hour of chasing them back in, the kids rejected my homemade meal and I ran out of wool to finish a project.
So, I said yes, without considering that we were going to need to give up our jobs, home, and friends when relocating to Germany. While it could be a grand journey, it was definitely entirely based on emotions… which leads me to my next point…
Do your research before relocating to Germany
Due to our spontaneous decision to relocate to Germany, I really hadn’t put much thought into the location itself. Now that I think back, it would have been nice to do some research before moving to Germany. Now, I’m stuck thinking, are there more beautiful locations in Germany? Is Düsseldorf the most affordable option? Will we like it? How does one keep busy? And the list of questions goes on.
Make sure you write down all the questions you have beforehand and do the research before choosing where you would like to move.
If you’ve decided Düsseldorf is the place for you, you should also figure out which neighborhood may be right for you.
It pays to get relocation support if you can afford it
My husband’s new employers covered the cost of relocating to Germany and appointed a relocation specialist to help us move. If you’re relocating for a job, you might also have the opportunity to hire a relocation agent, which will certainly help save your sanity.
If you can’t afford a relocation agent to take care of the move for you or don’t want to incur the added costs, you can also consider the Life in Düsseldorf – Welcome Program which is an online program that will take you step-by-step through the entire relocation process. In this case, you’ll still be relocating on your own, but you will have the guidance of the Life in Düsseldorf team helping you through all the paperwork and all other relocation topics.
A relocation agent (or the Welcome Program if you choose to do it on your own) will help you set up your bank accounts, register at the Town Hall, sort out which visas you’ll need, and make sure you’re prepared for the small things – like that rental properties often have no kitchen!
Relocation agents can also often help you with applying for those visas, translating important documents, finding the kids a new school, and so much more. I cannot stress enough how important this was for our family when relocating.
Driving to Germany is possible but it doesn’t mean you should do it
Back in the UK, we handed in our resignation letters (my boss being a tool made this so easy!), we had to find new homes for some of our animals, and I was finding out that I needed a passport for our cats.
Here are 7 things you need to know before bringing your pets to Germany that will help!
We have a long and complicated relationship with our old cat. She hates us and we hate her. The kids mounted a defense in her favor, so she came with us even though I was in favor of leaving both her and the kids at this point.
My husband then decided that he didn’t want to sell our nearly new English car… so we drove to Germany. Nearly 8 hours with kids asking, “Are we there yet?”, 2 cats meowing their head off despite the generous amount of catnip they had both consumed, me needing the loo every hour and the cats needing a walk on leads.
It might have been better just to fly on over.
So, helpful tip: When relocating to Germany, weigh the pros and cons of flying vs. driving if you have the options.
Make sure you hire the RIGHT moving company
There are a number of things you should consider before hiring a moving company to help you with the move to Germany, and I’m going to add one more thing to that list. Make sure they speak English, or you understand German!
The removal company turned up at our house and neither of them spoke English. Cue 2 days of Denglisch and a lot of finger-pointing. My 20-year-old German skills were useless. After they left, we discovered they had packed up the suitcase and toiletry bag we had asked them not to pack, so that meant no clothes and no toiletries which resulted in a run around the supermarket before we left the UK.
Prepare yourself for the stress of school politics
We arrived in Germany to a welcoming party full of paperwork. Germans love a bit of paperwork, don’t they?
After figuring out how the German school system worked, we had optimistically decided our kids should go to the local German school instead of one of the many international schools (which were English speaking) around the area.
Their only German language experience was the Duolingo app which they used as practice. Now, I thought English school gate diplomacy was a rough ride but, yes, I can confirm that German school gate diplomacy is just the same. It’s tough on someone like me who is well known as someone who is quite happy to go against the flow.
Try to get your kids into a foreign school rhythm while a global pandemic is raging… it’s a bag of crazy and despite Google Translate, I often didn’t understand what was going on.
- Our daughter’s teacher didn’t speak English so this was an introduction that can only be likened to trying to watch a movie without subtitles and it was being played underwater.
- Both kids had a total of 3 weeks at school before the German lockdown was announced. I suddenly found myself in a situation in which I had to homeschool 2 children in a foreign language which they didn’t understand.
- The lockdown has also affected my attempts to change my visa to a citizen visa, and as a foreign person of color to not have the proper documentation, can you imagine how angst-inducing it may have been?
It seemed like the decision and the timing of relocating to Germany for everyone and their 2 cats was utter insanity. But the most important rule I’ve learned in the first few months of Germany living is to throw out all your preconceived notions of Germany and Germans. They are just not true anymore.
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