Cultural Differences as an Expat in the USA and Germany Part 1

Have you ever wondered how many cultural differences you could find between USA and Germany, but living the expat experience in both countries? 

Here I will point out some of the cultural differences I found in these 2 countries, without the bias of having been born in any of the two.

The Food 

The very first thing you will notice, is the food variety between these 2 countries. Food is a very important part of a cultural heritage, therefore it’s one of the biggest things that will impact your life when moving to another country.

Food Cultural Differences

For taste, let me tell you, and that’s my personal opinion, I think USA has more variety of tastes, there are more choices over there than in Germany. On the other hand, food in Germany tends to be healthier, due to stricter regulations and sanitary measures. In the USA in the first month I gained around 10 Kg the same I lost in Germany in around 2 weeks. 

Credit Cards

I couldn’t believe it at first, I thought that credit cards were the same in all countries, or at least managed similarly.

Cultural Differences Credit cards

Not in Germany, in here the credit card is tied to your debit account, and by the end of the month they take the full balance you owe directly from there. In the USA, and in Mexico for that matter there is normally a minimum payment to keep your account current, and if you don’t clear the balance by the end of the month you pay whatever interest rate you got for your card. 

If you were to try to do that in Germany, you have to go to your bank branch and sit down with them to negotiate terms of payment, sign a 100 page contract and explain them all your life and reasons why you need financing. 

Cash

Believe it or not, cash is still a thing !! in Germany. If you ever come to Germany or move here, make sure you carry around enough cash, because in many, and I mean MANY places they just accept cash or Debit card. 

Cultural Differences Cash

In the USA I remember carrying a $100 USD bill with me “for emergencies” same I never had to use in 3 years. 

Renting a house or apartment

Ohh !! as the Cash and credit card matter, this is a point I can write (and will write) a full post about, but here are the main cultural differences.

In the USA you can have lease or rental contracts as short as weeks or a couple of months, in Germany the contracts are longer in general. The deposit in the USA is customary 1 month in advance, while in Germany is 3 months, plus until recently you had to pay the realtor’s fee as well, not the landlord (I think they changed that law recently, the land lord pays now, making rents higher).

cultural differences apartment
For Rent sign in front of new house

It’s hard to find an apartment with a freaking kitchen installed !!! or even light fixtures. The Germans have this BYOK (Bring your own kitchen) thing (I invented the acronym, its nothing official). 

Anyways, in general in the USA is way easier and cheaper to move around and relocate from one city to another, while in Germany you are more rooted. 

Customer Service

This one is easy, in USA most, if not all the culture is customer oriented, the customer is the focal point of any business.

cultural differences CS

In Germany, there is close to ZERO customer service, employees in general don’t give a damn about customers, so don’t expect that asking for a manager in a retail store will take you anywhere when you have a complaint. I can write another full post regarding this point as well. 

Transportation

In General Germany is way more expensive in terms of transportation than the USA. But the main cultural difference here is the way you use these means. 

While in the USA is fairly mandatory to get a car because public transportation is not as connected and distances are in general greater than in Germany. 

Cultural differences ubahn

As an example, Germany’s whole country area is 357,168 km2 while Texas the state alone has 696,241 km2 so one single state is almost twice the size of Germany. This means there is a lot less space for everything. The streets are narrow and small, cars tend to be smaller it makes having a very connected public transportation easier to achieve. 

Gas prices are a lot more expensive in Europe than USA, therefore many people prefers to use public transportation for daily commute and the car just for weekends or trips. 

Education System

This is a big one as well. In Germany the public schools tend to be better than private, and are totally free, while in the USA is the contrary, public schools are not so good as the private ones, but the latter are overly expensive. 

Education

In Germany the vocational studies (Ausbildung) are well accepted and you can make a good living from a vocation without a Univesity or College Degree. Germans have a course or specialized training for EVERYTHING !!! 

You want to be a supermarket cashier? cool ! you can, just take this course, get your certificate and apply for a job in Rewe or Globus or whatever. 

Also the German system may seem a bit more relaxed in the early years than the american system but later on it puts a lot of pressure on the students to excel. 

Doctors and Healthcare in general

One of the biggest cultural differences that shock me still nowadays are the Doctors and how the whole healthcare system works in Germany. 

Many argue that the american system is more expensive etc.. but the German social care is not cheap, you just don’t see it. Here they take almost half of my income in taxes and health care, while in the USA I had a bigger portion of my salary and I could decide which insurance to get. 

Doctors

I will dedicate also a full post for this point, but I would like to mention here, when you have a cold and go to the doctor in Germany, they send you home for a week at least, tell you to drink tea and rest. In the USA they give you a nuke of a pill or shot, has you feeling like crap for 1 day and the next day you are as good as new. If you ask me I prefer the latter. But on the other hand the paid sick days off work are well worth it. 

Supermarket shopping carts

This may sound stupid, but I have lived in Germany for 3 years and I still can’t understand who was the “genius” behind the shopping carts with 4 freaking rotating wheels. Here in Germany, (And most of Europe I assume) the shopping carts have the 4 free rotating wheels. 

Cart

That makes it a lot more complicated to steer the damn thing, even more when the cart is loaded, it seems irrelevant but its one of the things I most miss from America. 

 

 

Conclusion

There are much more cultural differences between these 2 countries, specially from the eyes of an expat, look out for the part 2 

Expat Criteria to Consider a Country as Relocation Destination

I have been an expat for 6 years now, and I’m in my 3rd country … and counting

Have you ever felt the need or curiosity to know how it would feel to live in another country? Many people has this in the back of their minds at some point of their lives, some are too afraid to make the jump.

Here I want to give you some pointers or criteria I have used in order to determine which country could be good for me and my family as an expat.

You will frequently find people telling you WHY not to relocate, or how horrible their experience has been in a foreign country, on the other hand you will find other telling you exactly the opposite.

Each experience is unique to every person and down here I will list a number of criteria which can potentially influence how good or bad your experience as expat could be:

1.- Language 

Expat language

This point is very important, if you don’t know the local language in your target country, your life as an expat can become a nightmare very quickly. If on the other hand, you don’t know it, but you have an interest in learning it, then there is no better way to learn a foreign language than immersing yourself in it. 

Also this impacts immensely the amount of job opportunities you will have in said country. As the possibility to make friends and having a healthy support system.

2.- Be aware of the local Culture and mostly cultural differences

Expat culture shock

Definitely one of the most enriching parts of being an expat is the cultural differences with your own.

Learning from another culture or how things are done differently in another country can blow open your mind. 

But be wary, it can be frustrating at times, and you should be mentally prepared for that. 

3.- Education system 

Expat education

This point is important if you are a parent or you are planning on relocating as a student. Some countries have better public systems than private and vice versa, some are cheaper or even free, some are expensive. 

 

4.- Visas / Residence permits / Work permits 

Expat visa

A big criteria you should consider before throwing yourself head first to this expat life is VISAS. There is no point in relocating to a country without a long term plan. Evaluate your options, for example: I have Spanish citizenship, so basically for me it’s way easier to move as expat to any European country, than let’s say USA, Canada or Australia. 

Even more when considering getting a job in a country that requires sponsorship can be a daunting and challenging task. 

5.- Job Market 

Expat job search

You have to sustain yourself somehow. So do some research beforehand on how is the economic situation of the country you want to move. Is your career on demand? or will you find a lot of local people competing with you for a job?

You can check more info on this in my post “Some tips and tools for International Job Hunting”

6.- Quality of life 

Expat quality of life

If you already know someone living in that country, ask them how expensive it is? how are the salary ranges in a target area where you would plan to live. Commute times to job centers. There are many tools online such as Glassdoor for the salary ranges, you can check real state sites to check on rent costs, etc.. 

7.- Public Safety 

How safe is the target country, that is of paramount importance for me, so I normally check news papers, crime reports, etc.. before making the decision to move. 

Expat safety

8.- Food 

It might sound stupid, but if you come from a country where the food is AWESOME, such as Mexico and you move to a country where the food options are not so good. Let me tell you, you will feel it after a while. 

Expat food

Also very important, how good are the health and sanitation laws in the country? are they feeding only transgenic stuff to the people? or they have natural high quality produce available? 

As an example, I moved from Mexico to USA and in less than a month I gained 10 Kg. When I moved to Germany from USA, I lost the same or more in just a couple of months. 

9.- Healthcare system 

Expat healthcare system

How good (and cheap or expensive) is the healthcare system of the target country, as an expat, to have a good healthcare insurance becomes of paramount importance.

Since most of the times you don’t have the same rights as the citizens of that country or simply you have not been paying taxes as long as they do, therefore it may be more expensive for you. 

10.- Distance from your home country

Expat travel

Depending on each person’s priorities or needs, but this may be an important factor, for instance, someone whose mom is sick may want to be a 2 hr flight away from home.

How frequently and therefore expensive can become if you plan to fly back for holidays every year ? or for friends and family to visit you.