If you want to retire in Germany as an American, you won’t be alone. A New York Times article cites figures ranking Germany fourth in the world for the number of Americans who retire there: Out of the 373,224 retired Americans living abroad in 2013, 24,499 chose to move to Germany.
What attracts retirees to Germany? Numbeo.com, which ranks countries based on various quality-of-life criteria, ranks it very high on purchasing power, high on safety and high on healthcare. One factor that may work against it as a retirement favorite: Germany can’t claim a whole lot of sunshine during the year. (Berlin’s 1,625 hours of annual sunshine – averaged over 30 years – just can’t compete with Barcelona’s 2,524.)
Still, there are other pluses. “It might not have the weather of Spain or the cuisine of Italy,” according to expathub.com, “but Germany has a dynamic modernism and impressive spirit.” And other (perhaps sunnier) European countries are just a train ride away. What's more, a not-insignificant number of Americans have come to know Germany because they were stationed there in the U.S. military, which had nearly 38,000 personnel deployed there in 2015, according to Time magazine.
Paperwork Needed to Retire in Germany as an American
Americans won’t need a visa for a visit of up to 90 days. If you decide to stay longer, it is possible to apply for a residence permit while you are there. Use those first three months to test the waters and decide whether Germany is the right place for you, but remember, no paid work is allowed while you’re there. Two of the requirements for any extended stay are proof that you have both adequate means of support and health insurance.
Cost of Living in Germany
Life in Germany is not as inexpensive as some of the other destinations that attract retiring Americans. Expatistan.com’s 2018 ranking of cities in Europe, with No.1 being the most expensive, ranks Cambridge, U.K. (18th), Cork, Irleand (19th) and Hamburg, Germany 20th on the list.
Numbeo’s comparison of the cost of living in Chicago and Berlin. In general, consumer prices in Berlin are almost 11 % less than in Chicago; consumer prices plus rent, almost 23% lower. Groceries are almost 24% less and a monthly transit pass will cost under $95. To rent a one-bedroom apartment in the center of Berlin costs an average of $960 per month; outside the center, $700. To buy a one-bedroom apartment would cost $559-380 per square foot, depending on how central you want to be. To join a fitness club, expect to pay over $35 per month. A pint of domestic beer will cost you $4.00, a movie ticket, $15.
Surprising Facts about Housing in Germany
At least, they’re surprising to Americans. “Germans have a completely different attitude about home ownership and renting,” according to expatica.com. “The American dream was always a home of one’s own... Only about 40% of Germans own their house or apartment, compared to about 60% in the U.S.” Mortgages are more difficult to obtain than in the U.S. and require a fairly high down payment. Also, German tax law is not as favorable as U.S. tax law to homeowners.
Probably because renting is considered a viable long-term option, very few flats are rented furnished. And the term “furnished” doesn’t just refer to beds and chairs; kitchen cabinets and appliances may be absent, too. One blogger shares her experience: “We were lucky that our flat had a fitted kitchen so we didn’t find ourselves making a mad dash to Ikea for cupboards, but we did have to buy ourselves a dishwasher, washing machine and light fittings.”
Healthcare in Germany
Germany’s healthcare system is one of the best in the world but with the high standards come high costs. That is why you absolutely must have comprehensive health insurance before you go. It should be one of the first things you arrange, according to expathub.com.
You will find that most doctors will speak some English but if you want someone who is fluent, you can check with the U.S. embassy or consulate.
Dental treatment is extremely costly – although as an American you’ll be used to that – and insurance often doesn’t cover dental work. It is not unusual for foreign residents of Germany to return to their home country for dental treatment.
The Bottom Line
This is how the online newsletter “Insider Monkey” summed up why Germany may be a good retirement destination for Americans: It offers culture, safety, first-world perks, recreation and great healthcare. And it is a country where “you can maximize your cashed out retirement funds and pension…”
If you want to retire in Germany as an American, even if you are going to “try out” the idea, you will greatly enhance your time there by learning some German before you go. Many Germans, particularly in larger cities, speak some English; in smaller towns that may not be as true. Knowing some German will make meeting new people so much easier and feeling you can make yourself understood will reduce the stresses of starting life in a new country.