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What American expats in Germany should pay attention to

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Once the initial exitement wears off, it’s time to get serious. What should American expats in Germany focus on? What should they prioritize?

Once you have somewhere to live, are working and can get around Germany easily, it’s time to prioritize a few things. For American expats in Germany, it’s easier to overlook certain things because of the close US-German ties. However, you should still pay close attention to the following:

1. Insurance in Germany

american expats in germany

Unlike the US where insurance is mostly optional due to the prohibitive costs, you will have to think about insurance in Germany.

Health insurance

Health insurance is mandatory in Germany. If you work in Germany and earn between €4,950 and €59,400 a year before tax, unless you are self-employed you will be automatically covered by state health insurance (gesetzliche krankenversicherung – GKV).

Nursing care insurance (pflegepflichtversicherung) is also included in the GKV. The good news is that your employer will cover half of the health insurance costs (excluding the supplementary charge) with a maximum contribution of €323.03 a month for health care and €56.42 a month for nursing care.

If you are self-employed or have any special medical needs, you can always purchase Private health insurance (private krankenversicherung – PKV).

Personal liability insurance 

For American expats in Germany, it makes sense to consider taking out personal liability insurance (private haftpflichtversicherung). This covers injury or damage to other persons or their property. Although Germany is not such a litigious country, you never know!

Additional insurance

On your first paycheck in Germany, you will notice that, you automatically pay towards a few additional forms of insurance besides health insurance through social security contributions (sozialversicherungsbeiträge). These consist of:

  • Unemployment insurance (arbeitslosenversicherung) – payments split between employer and employee.
  • Statutory pension insurance (rentenversicherung) – German state pension.
  • Statutory accident insurance (gesetzliche unfallversicherung) – this is completely paid by the employer and covers treatment costs after work-related accidents or illnesses.

Optional insurance

If you decide to own a car, then you will have to take our vehicle insurance. In Germany, this is broken down into third-party liability (haftpflicht), partial coverage (teilkasko) and comprehensive coverage (vollkasko)

2. Take care of the taxes!

american expats in germany

America Expats living in Germany are subject to German taxes, especially if they have German source income. The German tax system is similar to the structures in other western countries. You pay income taxes throughout the year, usually with an employer deducting tax from each paycheck.

However, as a US citizen or resident, you benefit from the US-German tax treaty. So familiarize yourself with the following:

  • The IRS deadline for American expats in Germany is June 15th and can be extended until October 15th
  • For most types of income, the solution set out in the treaty for US expats to avoid double taxation in Germany is that you can claim US tax credits against German taxes that you’ve paid on your income in Germany. You can’t fudge the numbers! The treaty allows the IRS to see what German taxes American expats in Germany are paying.
  • The Treaty also states that American researchers, teachers, professors, students and trainees on assignment in Germany for less than two years will continue solely paying US taxes.
  • The Foreign Earned Income Exclusion which allows American expats in Germany to simply exclude the first around $100,000 of their earned income from US taxation. Claiming the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion is often preferable for expats who pay less German income tax than the US income tax that they would owe (so the US tax credits they could claim against German taxes paid wouldn’t wholly mitigate their US tax liability).
  • US-Germany Totalization Agreement helps ensure that American expats in Germany don’t pay social security taxes to both governments, while their contributions made while in Germany can be credited to either system. Which country they pay depends on how long they will be living in Germany for.

3. Embrace the local German Culture

american expats in germany

American expats in Germany tend to gravitate towards the traditional fun element of being abroad and associate more with other international Expats. It is important to learn to break down language and cultural barriers which will make it a lot easier to fit in, get comfortable, and make the most of your time outside of the United States.

Why?

  • It’s beneficial to make sure you enjoy your work. Look for ways to connect with supervisors and coworkers. Try some local cuisine with them, or ask them to help you learn key phrases in the native language.

Germany is more that the Autobahn, Christmas markets, soccer, Oktoberfest and made in Germany!

What does typically German actually mean? What are Germans particularly proud of and what sets them apart?

There are facts about the cultural characteristics of Germany and the peculiarities of the different regions that American expats in Germany might want to explore:

German poets and thinkers

Germany is known worldwide as the “land of poets and thinkers”. Many well-known poets, philosophers and inventors came from Germany: the world-famous physicist “Albert Einstein”, who developed the theory of relativity in 1905, civil engineer “Konrad Zuse”, who built the first functional computer in 1941 with the development of the “Z3”, the physician “Robert Koch”, to whom we owe the research of many infectious diseases, as well as the writer “Johann Wolfgang von Goethe”, one of the most important representatives of the “Weimar Classic” with his works “The Sorrows of Young Werther” or his most important work “Faust” .

German inventions

Numerous German inventions changed the world. Among the most influential and important discoveries are the telephone, invented by “Philipp Reis” in 1859, the light bulb by “Heinrich Göbel” in 1854, the bacteriology by physician “Robert Koch” in 1876, the airplane in 1894 by “Otto Lilienthal”, the television from “Hans von Ohain” in 1936, the computer from “Konrad Zuse” in 1941 and not to forget the automobile from “Carl Benz” and “Gottlieb Daimler” in 1886.

Architecture and art

The history of architecture in Germany is diverse: from the most symbolic buildings such as the Brandenburg Gate, the TV tower, the Reichstag building, the Wartburg or the Cologne Cathedral to the modern Bauhaus movement, founded in 1919 by Walter Gropius.

German cuisine

German cuisine is typically associated with very hearty and, above all, meat-heavy dishes. Fried potatoes with bratwurst, pork knuckle on sauerkraut and pork are popular meals among Germans. Desserts such as the Frankfurter Kranz, the Black Forest cake, marzipan and gingerbread as well as Spekulatius are also typical. The Germans are also known for their bread: here you can find most types of bread, traditionally especially gray and black bread such as pumpernickel and wholemeal bread. The traditional alcoholic drink in Germany is of course beer


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Michelle Halterman
USA, China, South Africa and now Munich - Michelle has come a long way in the world. She is an outdoor person and loves to be in nature with friends and on her mountain bike. Or she meets up with friends for pasta, vino, cappaccino & Co.
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