It has scored remarkably high in global expat surveys in the last two years, allowing us to see the European economic power house in a new light. What is enabling the growth of Germany as a top country for expats? What are the key advantages living in Germany when looking through the eyes of expats? How do they perceive and evaluate living and working in Germany? And on the other hand, what are the main challenges for expats adjusting to the local culture in Germany?
Germany as a top country for expats- Survey results
Why living and working in Germany as an expat is very attractive was revealed in numerous surveys. According to HSBC´s Expat Explorer study 2013 and 2014 Germany reigns supreme in the category Raising Children (Rank # 3 out of 34) with high scores in child education, quality of child care, child health and well-being. German education options are exceptionally cost-effective when it comes to schooling. This rating is expected to jump even higher after the recent abolishment of university tuition fees in Germany. Germany´s high scores in economics help the overall ranking of Germany as fourth best country for Expats after Switzerland, Singapore and China according to HSBC. The survey, now in its seventh year, analyses the findings from 7,000 Expats globally who answered the survey covering about 34 destinations in categories including economics, experience and raising children.
The strength of Germany as a top country for expats is enhanced as raising children is probably a higher priority for senior professionals and expats with families. The average age of an expat is 39,5 years (stated in demographics of the recent InterNations Survey Expat Insider). The InterNations expat survey worldwide is the largest such survey worldwide with a sample size of about 14,000 participants in 160 countries rating 61 expat destinations. 48% of the expats in this survey are married, 25 % with kids. Again in this survey, Germany scored high in the category Quality of life (Rank #5 out of 61) and Family Life Index (#5 out of 34). Safety and stability are other factors leading to a positive impact on the ranking. Education, child care and health care amongst other factors elevate Germany to a child-friendly country with high quality of life.
Switching the focus to what the best cities are for expat living – every year, Mercer, a global HR consulting company conducts the Mercer Quality of Life Survey based on expat evaluation of costs of living and in-depth quality of life in 223 cities. In 2014 several European cities received glowing recommendations whereby Vienna (Austria) is the top city for expat living, followed by Zurich (Switzerland), Auckland (New Zealand). For Germany Munich was voted rank #4 for best cities for expats. Düsseldorf (#6) and Frankfurt (#7) aren´t far behind too.
Germany as a top country for expats- Cultural experiences
So from an expat’s perspective living in Germany has plenty of advantages. However the German language and the German culture can prove to be a hard nut to crack. People who would like to live in Germany are encouraged by the government to join a subsidized Integration course with the view that language is important if you work in Germany. This doesn´t make the German language easier but maybe more manageable. Many who struggle with the German language in the beginning would agree. However having well organized and reasonable options to start with a language course makes life much easier.
As for understanding the German culture, this needs a closer look and preferably support by an intercultural expert. In particular expats from Anglo-Saxon cultures tend to have a tough time with the directness of the Germans which is sometimes interpreted as rudeness. The Germans tend to communicate in quite a direct way coming straight to the point which doesn’t mostly go well along with the feeling of being considerate. Speaking in cultural sciences terms, communication patterns in Germany are considered to be a part of what is termed as a “low context culture” (E.T. Hall). This means communication relies mainly on words. The information is conveyed in a direct manner, meaning `what you hear is what you get`. Alongside some other culturally specific traits in Germany like `task orientation prevails over people orientation` (implication of Hofstede´s cultural dimension Individualism vs. Collectivism) communication maybe a bit of a challenge. However once expats get knowledgeable and skilled e.g. through intercultural training, this tends to become easier. Expats will know how to maneuver through the communication settings in Germany and will find some appreciation in previously experienced uncomfortable situations. With time one may start finding comfort in the non-fluffiness of the Germans where what counts is being frank, serious, direct and detailed. No kidding ;).
The little detour to cultural aspects of an Expat experience in Germany points out that alongside all the attractiveness Germany has to offer as an expat country, there are some linguistic and cultural challenges too. These are also reflected in the comparatively low scores of Germany in the category ‘Experience’ of the HSBC´s Expat survey. It suggests that making friends and creating a social life can be a challenge. Speaking of which, only 5 % of the respondents of the Expat Insider survey (InterNations) find it `very easy` to make local friends in Germany while globally it´s double of that (12%). Furthermore, the friendliness towards foreigners in Germany was rated comparatively low which might affect the participants ‘Ease of Settling In’ – a category in which Germany scores very low (#50 out of 61) in the Expat Insider survey. With respect to the language, 59% of respondents of the Expat Insider survey (InterNations) find it difficult to learn the German language – noticeably more that expats across the globe (43%).
Still in the eyes of Non-Germans Germany is seen as a top country for expats- very attractive for foreign assignments. Indeed English speakers favour popular expat countries like the United States, Hong Kong, Australia or Singapore, sometimes for language reasons. But maybe it´s time to consider take a fresh look at good old Europe, embrace the challenge with the German language and enjoy the high quality of life in Germany.
For all Germans – it´s a real thrill to see Germany on top positions of Expat ranking lists. What a great opportunity for all Germans to look at Germany with new eyes! As a country, there’s a lot that can be done to improve the challenges that expats may still be facing, however, it is indeed time to savor these good perceptions too. Some other may have already started to do so…take a look at this epic headline in the Mirror (UK) the day after Germany´s Soccer World Cup victory in July, earlier this year:
“It´s cool to be German – and it´s OK to love them now”.
This blog post was created by Viara Richter (www.culture-alchemy.com) and was originally published by Experteer.com http://www.experteer-blog.com/magazine/germany-as-a-top-country-for-expats/