How Many of These German Expat Mistakes Have You Made?

German Expat Mistakes

I’ve written a lot about how wonderful it is to live as an expat in Germany, but today I’d like to flip and talk about the mistakes new expats can make here. Especially to other Europeans, coming to Germany is so easy. We don’t need any visa or much planning at all and as long as we’re registered to live here when we get here, it’s all good.

BUT there are things that can go wrong…

  1. Register as Christian

A lot of British people, as well as American people (I assume) would say that their religion is generically Christian. It’s the default option because a lot of people grew up in Christian education and culture. I myself went to Christian primary and middle schools and although I went through a short spell of taking my little sister to church every week when she was curious, I’ve never been one for actually going to church. I am Christian by culture, not by religion, I guess.

So when you come to Germany and, when registering, you’re asked what religion you are, should you say that you are Christian? Well, maybe not. If you do, you will have to give money from your wages (around 9% of your salary) every month to the church. Of course, if you are church-going, and are very serious about being Christian, then this is no problem. But for lazy Christians like myself, this is probably not something we want to do.

  1. Phone contract

How long are you planning to stay in Germany? If you are there on a whim and are trying out a new job I advise you to refrain from getting a phone contract. German phone contracts usually last for 2 years, and you have to inform the company 3 months in advance at the end of the contract if you want to end it. If you do not do this, it automatically rolls over another year.

Canceling the contract when you move back home is a pain in the bum. There are loads of horror stories about people who have been given trouble when they try to do this, but luckily, (TOUCH WOOD) it’s been OK for me so far. I first sent a letter to O2 informing them that I will be going home in June. Next, I’ve had a string of emails back and forth giving them various bits of information. After this, I should pay the remaining 300 euros for my actual mobile phone. Then, in the last week of me being in Germany, I’ll send them the confirmation from the town hall that I have deregistered.

It’s all so much faff that I wish I’d just been pay as you go the whole I’m I was here.

  1. Downloading

Now you’re in Germany, you can’t catch up with your favourite shows from home any more, so you switch to downloading them, right? WRONG!

Germany is VERY strict with downloads so there is a much, much higher chance of people who use torrents getting caught and having to face a large fine. It’s happened to two people I know, and even the whole “only downloading, never uploading” doesn’t seem to work.

There are lots of legal ways to watch things these days – I know a lot of people who pay for things in the iTunes and so on. Some people also use a proxy to watch the BBC iPlayer and so on, which is still dodgy, but not enough to get you in trouble.

Extra – TV Licence

I’ve put the German TV licence – GEZ – as an extra because there are two ways to go about this. In Germany you should pay the GEZ for a TV licence even if you don’t have a TV – even owning a radio, computer or mobile phone counts. But this has changed recently and you are to pay it just by existing here. When you register here in Germany, GEZ will be given your address and they will start asking you to pay.

Some people say they have never paid this, and tell you to ignore the letters and to refuse the GEZ people entry to your home. Other people just pay up, as it’s our responsibility living here in Germany. They can, however, get it wrong sometimes as even though I replied to their initial letters saying that my flatmates pay a cover for the whole flat and that I should not have to pay, they are still sending me scary-looking letters demanding money.

I don’t have an answer for this one, but Toytown has extensive information on their forums about it, so if you are worried about this then please have a read.

What German expat mistakes have you made? Are there any that I’ve missed off my list?


  1. I thankfully didn’t have the problem with the first one, though I did have the guidance of my husband, who was required pay 30 euros to extract himself from the system (!). I’m on PAYG, so no problem with the second one either… but we did get shafted with the third one several years ago, having downloaded a film which the director had got particularly hot about preventing people from sharing and had a load of lawyers going bonkers over it; unfortunately it was seeded from computer by someone else and we ended up having to pay up a very, very large sum of money for having done shared it (though we got out of paying as much as they wanted us to). That hurt. And obviously we’ve not done it again since 😉
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    • Charlotte says

      Ugh! I think it’s a lesson a lot of expats have to face. People just assume it’ll be like back at home here with regards to downloading and so on.

  2. – Weekends: If you’re from a country where most shops are open for at least part of the day on Sundays, you may be in for a shock at just how much Germany shuts down on the day of rest. Try to get used to no-shopping Sundays as soon as you can, the better for your mental health. It can be nice to have a day with no pressure to indulge in capitalistic ritual, but also rather inconvenient when it comes to basic groceries. If you’re a tea-drinking Brit, get your extra milk in on Saturdays lest Sunday morning go tragically cuppa-free; ditto coffee-loving Yanks and your hallowed grounds. Also might be an idea to keep some emergency UHT milk (H-Milch in German) in the cupboard. Fortunately Germans love that shit so it will be available in abundance.

    – Phone tariffs: the US seems to be a ripoff in different ways than Germany, but the UK is a relative paradise when it comes to getting reasonable or more than reasonable amounts of minutes, texts and data included in your monthly cost, which itself is not generally shockingly high unless you bought into the 4G hype. Discard all such notions in Germany. Texts are meted out as though on prescription – for my €49.99 a month I got the princely total of 40 inclusive texts – and data caps are decidedly miserly.

    • Charlotte says

      You know, I CANNOT wait to be back in the UK where phones are reasonably priced. I have a Samsung Note, I pay 50 a month (up from 30 a month when I kept on running out of data at the end of each month) but I STILL run out of data! I have already scouted a good sim card deal with unlimited data for 22 pounds a month.

  3. Great post! You got me in all four of them, even though I got lucky with the downloads (never used BitTorrent, I think it’s the one they check the most, and never downloaded German movies) and the TV license. I’ll have to tell you later how did the phone contract end went.

    The one I regret the most was registering as Christian: once you do that it’s a lot of trouble to deregister. They told me I would have to go to the church and sign some paper to “get out” of it. I replied “but I never got in any church in Germany!”.
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    • Charlotte says

      Like someone else said, it’s also pretty expensive to get out of the church tax as well – did you have to pay?

      I *think* I’m doing OK with the phone contract – I just need to follow their steps. I can’t wait to get back to the UK!

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