Guide me: Germany

What’s this?brit


This is a Guide, especially for everybody, who lives in Germany for a longer period of time.
So if you’re a international student, Ph.D., refugee or just live or work in Germany for longer than half year, you might find some interesting things.
Although there is plenty of information available, I want to point out some specific cultural differences. Its by far not complete, and just covers the most interesting parts of contemporary life in Germany!

Let’s start with the most important thing:

Don’t Panic

“It looked terribly complicated, which was one of the reasons why it had the the words DON’T PANIC in nice, big letters written on it“

(Douglas Adams, Hitchhiker Through the Galaxy)


This are the most important words, every book should start with. So take everything relaxed from now on. Great book, by the way ..

Many people encounter similar questions a lot of time. Please help to extend this guide with your questions and information!

 Let’s get started

So, you have been living here for a while, or you are just fresh to Germany? You just want to know everything, or encountered a specific problem?
Hopefully this Guide can help you! It’s divided into 3 main chapters.
Chapter One “Official Affairs“, includes things which are related to contracts and civil affairs.
Chapter Two “Daily Affairs“, covers up things you will meet in everyday life.
Chapter Three “Private Affairs“, will cover things which are useful to know, but you need them only once in a while.

 (I) Contracts & Civil

Some words on the German mentality

  • On time, orderly, planning
  • Justice aware
  • habit people


Please notice that, unlike some other parts of the world, many contract matters are taken very seriously and not Laissez-faire. On the other hand, Germans just love paper work. This means, you must be very carefull with any contract signing (for instance private appartments), since any of the clauses can be used in court. If you live somewhere, always have a contract and be aware of the conditions (exiting conditions, money conditions).

If you have to do something, the general rule is “as soon as possible”. If you want to have a nice dormitory, or applying for an university, you applications must be in time, and its usually”the earlier the better”.

Many contracts (phone providers, BahnCard, newspapers abonnements) include an automatic contract extension, if you dont cancel them 4-12 weeks in advance. Then you sometimes have an contract for another, maybe 24 months, and no possibilty to exit the contract.

Bank printouts

Just another sign of how much we love thoroughness. Please note, that the bank is expecting you to keep your bank printouts for about 24 months. If there is any problem with the balance, these can be used to solve problems.

Civil Office Registration

Everybody has to register when you come to Germany. of course. But even when you change your living place, you must inform the Civil Office (Einwohnermeldeamt) about this within 2 weeks of your new contract.

Shared Flat Contracts

There are several types of living in a (private) shared flat. One option is that the landlord has a contract with one person (so called “Hauptmieter”), who then writes private contracts for the other flatmates. Another common option is that every person is included in the contract with the landlord. Please be aware that in this case, any of the flatmates can be made responsible for the whole rent when there is a problem. Attention: If a flatmate moves out, there usually will be an “exchange” contract (just 1 page), defining the person who moves out and the person who moves in, who will take his place in the contract. Please be aware that this is NOT a full contract. The previous appartments contract will be in force for you. This can be risky, since sometikes take more responsibility than you know. For instance, you can be made responsible for additional cost (heat, water,..) before your move-in. Then it will be your own responsibilty to get the money from the previous flatmates! Therefore consider getting a complete new contract for all people instead of this kind of “exchange additions to the contract”, especially when its likely that there wil be no contact to the previous landlords, or there is a frequent coming&going in the appartment.

Common contract exiting conditions is 3 months.

A very good page on legal conditions for private flats can be found here: (german)


Especially when you move into a new appartment, many people are surprised by how much they have to pay extra for water,heating and electricity (“Warmkosten”) after the first years calculation.
When you move into a new appartment, the landlord will take numbers from the previous habitants. If you are going to live there with more people than that, your expenses will naturally rise.
The average cost of warm water, electricity and heating usually is often 50% of the whole rent. For normal usage, you can expect about 75-80 Euro /month / person.


Many people need an appartments contract, to extend their VISA. The most landlords will only allow 1 person per room. This means, usually only two people can live in a two-rooms private appartment.



Not everybody is used to the winter climate in Germany. Sometimes it can be difficult to achieve a good room climate. Many foreign students have to wet rooms, resulting in bad health or be a foundation for musk (“Schimmel”, the black spots on the wall).
Do avoid this It is suggested to:

  • Heat your appartment/room
  • You should daily for  a couple of minutes open the window completely for air exchange, and then close it again
  • Be carefull with wet things (avoid wet laundry in your room).

Detailed Information (link) are supported by Gagfah in many languages (english, german, polish, ukrainian,turkish, russian, croatian).

Appartments – private

Private rooms in Germany are usually not furnitured and are rented empty, which is the first big problem for students from abroad. Secondly please be aware that in oppose to many other countries it is VERY uncommon that more than 1 person lives in one room. If you intend to do so, discuss it first with your future flatmates. When you are looking for an appartment there are 2 common websites, the first is more dedicated to students ( and the second one has usually a wider offer ( In general the written price is including heat, water and electricity already, sometimes also internet. A average contract includes a deposit of about 1 months rent, a 3-month exit clause for both sides.

Health Insurance

This part is about health insurance in Germany. You already know, that health insurance in Germany is mandatory.
As a student, you will be insured in a state insurance (gesetzlich). As a student, the price will be around 50-70 Euro per month. This is the complete health insurance, and screenings is paid.
It is common that you go to a dentist for a check-through screening every once year.

As a Post-Graduate, you will have to pay the full price. It is about 120 Euro (*Nachprüfen) and includes the same service.
You can also choose to go to a private Insurance now. It gives you the possibilty to pay about 55 Euro per month.
Altough this sounds promising, please be aware that with lower price, the services are much lower.
Please read the included services very precisely! Often they only offer the minimum services which are enforced by law.
(e.g. excluding free screenings/Check-ups; only the most necessary tooth reparations; exclude diseases and pregnancy which exist when you enter the insurance, no treatment against HIV)

This is an example of a private insurance. Dr. Walther – Link

(II) Daily Affairs


In Germany we very precisely segregate Garbage. Please dont just put all your garbage into the black garbage.

Yellow – Packagings and Plastics ( )
Blue – Paper (and Paper Packaging)
Brown – Biological Garbage
Black – Everything Else which doesnt suit any other category

In addition, there are also spots for Glass and Paper containers. Here, the Glass is seperated by color.

Batteries and old lamps can be returned in every bigger supermarket or technology store (Conrad, Mediamarkt).


Please dont put big chunks (furniture, old computers and machines) in the black garbage.



You should not be scared by the doctors system in Germany. If you stay for long time, don`t forget to take all the routine checks, especially with eye doctors and dentists. We only go to a hospital with a “serious” and “accute” problem, like a broken leg and very bad health. In most cases of general sickness we visit a common doctor (Hausarzt, Allgemeinarzt), or with specific Problems also directly to the specific doctor like for instance a Dentist. There is a transfer system within the doctors. It works the following: Every QUARTER (3 months, e.g. January-March, April-June, ..) you have to pay a fee called “Praxisgebühr” at the first doctor you visit. To avoid recurring fees at other doctors they give you a transfer (Überweisung) to specific doctors. To get these it is enough to ask the receptionist for transfers to specific doctors and they will print them out for you. An exception exists for dentists. The routine check will not charge you for the fee. They will only charge you when they actually have “work” to do with your teeth. Then you will have to pay the fee, which is independent from the previously mentioned transfer system. Dental checks are free every HALF YEAR.

Hautarzt – skin doctor (& sexual diseases)
Augenarzt – eye doctor
Gynäkologe – womens doctor

Sadly there are only very few doctors capable of a reasonable English in Eastern Germany. If you need an Operation or are otherwise in need of help you should turn to the hospitals run by the universitys. (Universitätsklinik), since they usually have young personal with good english and a delegate for foreigners who will help you. On the downside you have to expect long waiting times for small operations which are not necessary immediately (a couple of weeks is common).

(III) Special Affairs


Everybody who has registered to live in Germany will sooner or later learn that there is something called GEZ, which is short for Gebühreneinzugszentrale (fee … centre). It is a institution which was founded to fund the public TV and Radio Stations (like ARD, ZDF, MDR). They are charging for TV`s and Radio`s which you use, and since some years they also charge for computers with internet access, since you also can watch TV with those. It is very normal that some weeks after registration you will get a letter from GEZ, where they are asking you to register you TVs, Radios and Computers, and then to pay the monthly fee.

In general the idea behind this is very good. The money is used for financing these TV/Radio-stations and to keep them advertisement free. However some argue that this way of retrieving money is almost illegal and try to avoid paying those bills, which is 17.50€.

Update: A lot has changed in 2013. Now you have to pay per appartment and not per flat. Some exceptions occur, for instance if you have refugee status, receive student scholarship (BaFöG) and in dormitories. Please refer to the GEZ website which is available in English.

Information on GEZ fee (english, turkish, french, russian, spanish, arabic)

The following section refers to pre-2013!

If you dont answer this letter you will get it repeatedly. In case you dont use any TV or Radio, just fill out the red marked spot like shown and put it into a letter with a 55cents stamp.

But please be aware, that there are recently a lot of very fraudlike letters and door-visitors under the common label of GEZ. These people want you to register your TVs,… and if you have been using them in the past they will try to fine you for unallowed use. There are reported cases that people pretend to be from some service company. They get a provision per person registered or caught, so private franchisers sometimes use very questionnable methods. Please obey these rules:

o They will ask to enter your appartment to look for TVs, Radios, they are not the policeand you dont have to let anyone into your appartment in germany.
(By law, there are only limited cases that you have to give someone access to your appartments. Usually only the police, but only when they have a court decision.)

o If they ask you, say you dont have appertures, and don’t say things like “I have a TV since XX months”.

o Send back the letter in time. Otherwise they will not stop sending you new letters.

If you obey these rules nothing will happen to you.


Believes – Sects

“A sect is a group with distinctive religious, political or philosophical beliefs. Although in past it was mostly used to refer to religious groups, it has since expanded and in modern culture can refer to any organization that breaks away from a larger one to follow a different set of rules and principles. The term is occasionally used in a malicious way to suggest the broken-off group follows a more negative path than the original. ”

It is a very diversial topic, so here some information to increase your awareness. During the immatriculation period (October) you can often see a rise of activity of religious group in the city centres, and also in door-to-door promoting. During this period they expect a lot of disorientated new students and therefore increase there efforts of recruitation. Some of those will stand in the shopping streets, offering you tests, books and other stuff, often covered under keywords like “God”, “Meditation”, “Peace”. Common catchphrases are “Do you believe in god”, or showing you an excerpt of the bible, or give you a copy of the “Watchtower”.
Common groups are for instance Jehovas Wittnesses (Zeugen Jehovas), Krishna, Scientology.

I also have personally experienced door-to-toor recruites, specializing in foreign students. They came to the door, and spoke in Chinese. But instead of the new neighbours it was an specialized recruition delegation.



A very cheap way to travel around is Carpooling. Everybody who drives by car can put an offer, and so they can earn some money for the gas and some conversation. You can roughly calculate that 5 -6 Euro for each 100km is a fair price. It is common that you have to call them (or send them an sms), ask if they still have a free spot, and then arrange a meeting time and place. You can ask them what kind of car they drive (brand, color) and his license plates, so you can find them faster. There are also offers by train if you prefer driving by train. The are usually the same price or cheaper and are marked by this picture. (still free of charge, many rides including across europe, personal recommendation) ( same content as, however a fee applies for rides within Germany for the rider therefore slightly more expensive)


There is now a wide range of comfortable and quick busses for a lot of routes through Germany. Often these are cheaper than trains. Most notable companies are:


Another option is to take shared train tickets, which are for up to 5-people. They are a cheap way to travel in groups.
The price is always 42 Euro for the first person and adding up 6 euro for every additional person (so maximum 66 Euro for 5 person).
This ticket is only valid in Regio-Trains (RB, IRE, RE) and not for ICE/IC/EC/D. It is valid all over Germany.

The ticket is valid from 9 a.m. to 3 a.m. the following day.

 You can buy them at the Ticket-machines. If you buy them at a ticket desk, they will charge an small service fee.


Almost every Bundesland (federal state) has their own ticket. For example “Sachsenticket, Brandenburgticket, ..:”. They are valid up to 5 people.


This ticket is valid on the weekend only. It has the same conditions like the “Cross country” ticket. It is valid for on day (Saturday or Sunday) and cheaper (39 Euro alltogether). Its valid from midnight.

Phone providers

In general you have the choice between a PrePaid and a PostPaid(=contract) agreement.
Common prices are around 8-10 ct per minute/sms for PrePaid cards. Contracts usually are made for 24 months.
For a “normal feature” contract you should not have to pay more than 15-20Euro per month.

You can get good PrePaid cards in almost any supermarket now. They are pretty much the same.

Whenever you get a new,unused sim-card for your cellphone, you will have to register it to you with your personal information (name, address,…). Therefore each sim-card (also PrePaid) has a Activation process, which you have to follow.

Here are some providers, I have made some good experiences with:

  • Blauworld  (eplus number)
    A cheap and common PrePaid mobile provider, which also offers international calls at a good rates would be Blauworld. You register online, and they send you a starter package.
  • o2
    If you stay for long time in Germany a good provider, often chosen by students is O2. Please pay attention that contracts usually endure for 24 Months and if you dont quit the contract 3 Months before the End of this time, it will automatically extend for another 24 Months.


For used items, both buying them when you arrive and as well as selling everything when you return, you can use these pages.

Kijiji– Allows you to buy&sell items in your area, they dont charge a fee.

Bottle Deposit

The deposit system, shortly explained:

Glass bottles (Beer)- 8 Cents
Crate – 1.80 Euro

Plastic Bottles (with this sign, or with sign “Mehrweg”) – 25 Cents400px-Grüner_Punkt.svg

Some special glass bottles for Joghurt also have deposit. You can recognize this by the keyword “Mehrwegflasche” or “Pfandflasche”.

 DHL .. or: What are these big yellow machines?

Have you ever wondered what those big yellow machines in on the street are used for? Its simple, they belong to DHL and are used for package sending and delivery.
When you register online you can have the benefits to:

  • Your packages will be delivered there, and you don’t have to wait at home when you expect a package, and also it will not be given to your neighbors or go back to the Deutsche Post office.
  • This machines can be used 24/7 .
  • You can send packages for 1 Euro cheaper.

 Registration DHL Packstation (englisch)

Further Links

DAAD (included major topics, like flat, bank account, health insurance)

DAAD : Ten Steps in Germany

Image Sourcesüner_Punkt.svg

© 2015 Alexander Schultze (webmaster( a t )

With Thanks to:
Gerolf Mosenmann
Felix Bartels

Latest Change: 25.August 2015


Creative Commons Lizenzvertrag