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.
- You can visit Germany for as many as 90 days without a visa, plenty of time to test the retirement waters.
- The cost of living in Germany is surprisingly low.
- Healthcare in Germany is first-rate, but expensive.
- Renting is more prevalent than homeownership in Germany.
Why Americans Like to Retire in 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 is that Germany can’t claim a whole lot of sunshine during the year. Berlin’s average of 1,625 hours of annual sunshine 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 34,674 personnel deployed there as of March 31st 2019, according to the U.S. government’s Defense Manpower Data Center.
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 that 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 2020 ranking of cities in Europe, with Zurich, Switzerland, being the most expensive, puts the U.K.’s London fifth, Denmark’s Copenhagen 8th, and France's Paris 10th. Germany cracks the list in 13th place, with Frankfurt. Munich follows at 16th, and Hamburg notches at 18th.
Numbeo’s 2020 comparison of the cost of living in Chicago and Berlin shows that, in general, consumer prices in Berlin are 27% less than in Chicago, while consumer prices plus rent are 26% lower. Groceries are 42% less, and a monthly transit pass will cost $90. To rent a one-bedroom apartment in the center of Berlin costs an average of $1,028 per month; outside the center, $751. To buy a one-bedroom apartment would cost $388 to $597 per square foot, depending on how central you want to be. To join a fitness club, expect to pay $30 per month. A pint of domestic beer will cost you less than $4, a movie ticket $13.
Surprising Facts About Housing in Germany
Well, at least they’re surprising to Americans. “Germans have a completely different attitude about homeownership 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. 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.
If you plan to retire in Germany, or even just want to do a test run, learn some German before doing so.
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. Also, 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, or even if you are just 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, but in smaller towns that may not be as true. Knowing some German will make meeting new people substantially easier, and feeling that you can make yourself understood will reduce the stresses of starting life in a new country.