If you are reading this, the chances are you are a fellow expat, are considering living in Hamburg or Germany yourself, or you were coerced into reading this by clicking on a link somewhere; either way, you are very welcome! 😄 If you’d like to know a bit more about me, feel free to take a detour to my ‘About Me‘ page!
Last year, in the midst of planning our elopement in New Zealand, I had the chance to come to Germany for a work project, together with my then-fiancé. Contrary to my expectations (I had mainly expected to eat sauerkraut, drink beer and have to actually be on time for things – all of which turned out to be true), I liked Hamburg, and at the end of my project I was given the opportunity to stay permanently. So, right in the middle of wedding planning, we went back to London to pack up our lives and ship everything into the unknown.
Four weeks later, in September 2016, I found myself in an Uber on the way to Heathrow, having just said goodbye to all my friends and to our old apartment. I was crying uncontrollably as my beloved Putney raced past the window. I’d chosen this, and yet the whole situation felt SO STRANGE. I’d studied abroad in Russia as an undergrad but that was a) a decade ago and b) temporary. This felt…different. At the airport, I had a double gin and tonic to calm my nerves and tried to think about things like a rational person, instead of an over-emotional one. Our jobs weren’t a big unknown to us; we’d already been doing them. We had some friends in the city. We’d already found a permanent flat. Everything was going to be OK. And of course, despite the odd headache in the beginning, it was all fine.
If you happen to be reading this because you’re about to pack up your own life and move abroad, then worry not. As the great philosopher Michael Jackson once said, You Are Not Alone. You’re about to embark on an adventure that will enrich you in ways you couldn’t have imagined. You know that phrase ‘there’s no such thing as poor weather, only poor clothing?’ Metaphorically speaking, if you’re prepared, everything will be fine. (And in literal terms, if you are moving to Hamburg, do bring waterproof clothing, as the city is famed for it’s ‘Schietwetter’ – and yes, that does mean what you think it does!) Learn from those who have been there before:
Victoria’s Words of Wisdom
- Before you leave for your new home, check for expat groups on Facebook. In these groups you can ask questions about paperwork that needs to be done, or find people to hang out with when you arrive – especially useful if you’re going solo. I came to the expat scene rather late and I wish I’d known about it sooner. If you’re female, see if Girl Gone International (GGI) has a chapter in your city; they’re especially active, and unlike on some of the more general expat groups, if you ask if anyone wants to meet for coffee, nobody will try and pick you up.
- Before you arrive, try and find out about any bureaucratic requirements so that you’re already prepared – at least mentally. In Germany for instance, you need to do an ‘Anmeldung’ at the local Einwohnermeldeamt within 14 days. This applies whether you’re German or not, and whether you’re a student or not. Without it, life is so much more difficult – it’s difficult to open a bank account, get a mobile phone, get health insurance, or even join the gym. This can get tricky if you’re in an Airbnb to start with, so consider all of these things before the move. (Also, as a side note, if you’re in Germany and in temporary accommodation, ensure your surname is on the postbox or you probably won’t get your post. This led to no end of headaches for me, including my Brexit vote not showing up in Germany).
- Try learning some of the basics in the language ahead of time. Make it a priority to find a friend who speaks the language and can help with some of the official things you’ll need to take care of in the beginning – in Germany, you’ll find that people in the local supermarket will speak fluent English to you but when it comes to doing anything official, people only speak German.
- When you know you’re leaving your hometown for good, leave with fixed plans in mind for when you will next see the friends and family you’re leaving behind, whether it’s a visit from them, or you’re planning to go back for a weekend. I left the UK knowing I’d be back for my hen weekend a month later, which made those initial weeks of adjustment easier to bear.
- Anticipate the first month or so being a bit of a headache as you get your bearings. Look in advance at cool things you can do in the city so that you’ve got fun things planned to get you through the initial period.
- Failing all else, remember this important mantra: gin cures everything!!
If you’re moving to Germany and need a steer on anything from Anmeldung to bank account opening, or need help with the language, feel free to contact me.
Until next time,