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Germany ranked ‘most difficult country’ for foreign residents to get started

Germany has been ranked bottom of a new international ranking that looked at how countries make life easy or difficult for newly arriving foreign nationals.

Flags of the countries participating in the European Women's Football Championship in 2022 hang in a pub garden.
Flags of the countries participating in the European Women's Football Championship in 2022 hang in a pub garden. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sebastian Gollnow

The Expat Insider 2022 study surveyed around 12,000 foreign citizens in 52 countries and asked them to rate their country of residence in the subcategories of dealing with administration, housing, digital life and language.

Bahrain topped the list, followed by the United Arab Emerates in second and Singapore in third place. International residents reported that all three countries offer easy communication and a lack of language barrier, while also posing minimal bureaucratic hurdles. 

Of the 52 countries reported on, Germany came bottom of the list behind Japan (51st) and China (50th). It also landed in the bottom ten in three out of four subcategories: Housing (47th), Digital Life (48th), and Language (49th).  

In the housing category, expats reported that housing in Germany is both hard to find and afford.

READ ALSO: Why Germany is seeing the ‘worst housing shortage in 20 years’

“It may take up to three months to find even a temporary accommodation,” one contributor from Poland reported.

Foreign citizens do not fare much better when it comes to language in Germany either: 46 percent said it is difficult to live in Germany without speaking the local language (compared to 32 percent globally), even though 60 percent reported speaking the language fairly well or very well. A full 55 percent rated German as hard to learn, compared to 38 percent globally.

Germany also landed in the bottom five countries worldwide when it comes to digital infrastructure (48th), such as cashless payment options (51st) and easy access to a fast Internet connection (49th).

Germany’s lack of digitalisation is a major issue and 24 percent of expats reported finding it hard to get high-speed internet access at home, compared to 11 percent globally, while 27 percent are unsatisfied with the lack of cashless payment options (compared to 8 percent globally).

READ ALSO: Is card payment finally gaining ground in Germany?

The poor digital infrastructure also impacts the availability of government online services – a subcategory in which Germany came in 43rd place. A total of 52 percent of expats reported finding it difficult to deal with the local authorities, compared to 39 percent globally. 

“I really hate German bureaucracy,” one person from the UK said. “Especially the fact that nothing is digitised! It takes forever to get in touch with any of  the local government offices to discuss residence permits and the like.”  

Germany did slightly better in the category Admin Topics overall, where it came in 36th place.

How does Germany compare to its German-speaking neighbours?

Compared to its neighbouring German-speaking countries, Germany also scored worse in every category. In the overall ranking, Switzerland and Austria landed much higher up the list – in 20th and 32nd place respectively. 

A sign points to the Foreigners' Authority and the Public Order Office in Frankfurt am Main.

A sign points to the Foreigners’ Authority and the Public Order Office in Frankfurt am Main. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sebastian Gollnow

The ratings for the three countries diverge sharply on two aspects in particular: foreigners in Germany complain about the lack of digital infrastructure (48th) and administrative topics (36th), while international residents in Switzerland are very satisfied with these aspects of life. Switzerland ranks among the top ten countries worldwide in both subcategories (7th in each), while Austria ranked around the middle of the list for digital infrastructure (29th) and administration (27th).

Austria ranked much higher than Germany in Switzerland for housing and came in 25th place, while Germany (47th) and Switzerland (44th) rank in the bottom ten when it comes to the availability and affordability of housing for foreign residents.

“The housing shortage here is a real problem, as well as the constant increase in rent prices, while salaries are not increasing at the same rate,” said one participant from Ukraine.

Despite German being one of the official languages in all three DACH countries, German residents perceived the language barrier as more of a difficulty (49th place) than those living in Austria (38th place) or Switzerland (30th place).

“Germans are prejudiced if you don’t speak German well enough, especially at the offices,” one Romanian survey participant said.

READ ALSO: IN DEPTH: Are Germany’s immigration offices making international residents feel unwelcome?

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Living in Germany: Making the most of culture and lake life

In this week's roundup, we delve into Germany's lakes and look at how to make the most of Germany's cultural offerings.

Living in Germany: Making the most of culture and lake life

Get out and enjoy the culture 

One of the hardest things about living in Germany (and elsewhere in northern Europe) is the relentless winter – it sure goes on for a long time. But with summer on the horizon and the pandemic thankfully over, it’s now time to get out of the house and really make the most of Germany’s cultural offering.

From folk festivals to music line-ups, there’s no shortage of events out there. One initiative that launches next month in Germany taps into just how important the arts scene is. The KulturPass or culture pass, is a birthday present for people turning 18 in 2023. Young people will get a €200 voucher to buy tickets for various cultural events. It’s aimed at encouraging young people’s interest in the arts after the pandemic meant they didn’t get a chance to enjoy much of public life. Meanwhile, venues were closed during various shutdowns in Germany which massively hit the industry. 

But even if you’re not 18 this year, it’s still worth getting out and exploring German culture, from opera and ballet to local gigs and shows. Check out our story on unmissable events this June for a taste of what’s going on, from Bachfest to Kiel Week. But go local too and ask around your community to see what’s on –  it’s a fun way to get more integrated into German life. 

Tweet of the week

This is certainly a phrase we hear a lot in Germany. See also: Heute, leider nicht.

Where is this?

Photo: DPA/Sven Hoppe

Those familiar with the Bavarian capital of Munich will know this scene well. Lots of people flock to the Isar river banks on sunny days to relax next to it (and even swim in it at some points). With the weather heating up in Germany recently, more people are heading to lakes and rivers. 

Did you know?

Speaking of lakes, perhaps we can wow you with a few facts as bathing season gets underway. Did you know that the biggest See in Germany is Bodensee or Lake Constance? The lake in Baden-Württemberg has a total area of 536 square kilometres and a depth of 254 metres. However, only part of the lake belongs to Germany. Switzerland and Austria each own an equal part. The largest lake that is fully located in Germany is the Müritz in Mecklenburg Western-Pomerania with an area of 117 square kilometres.

According to the Federal Environment Agency, there are more than 12,000 lakes in Germany. Most lakes are in northern Germany and in the foothills of the Alps. The site says that Brandenburg – with 2,857 is the state with the most lakes in Germany, followed by Baden-Württemberg (2,797) and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania (2,044).

And what about the smallest See in Germany? Lake Titisee in the southern Black Forest is one of the smallest known bathing lakes in Germany, with an area of 1.3 square kilometres.