In the most recent episode of our ‘Expat Life’ series, we were privileged to engage in an enlightening conversation with Alexander, an expat originally from Kazakhstan, who has now made Cologne, Germany, his home. Through a combination of unique insights, personal anecdotes, and practical advice, Alexander painted a vivid picture of his life as an expat. Let’s dive into the core elements of our engaging discussion.
The Adventure Begins: Setting Foot in Germany
Alexander’s leap into the expat lifestyle started when an exciting opportunity knocked on his door. Working for a multinational corporation, with its headquarters based in the bustling city of Cologne, Alexander was presented with an offer to relocate within Germany. Being a career-driven individual, he seized the chance to be closer to the hub of his professional life and thus embarked on his journey to Cologne.
Finding Temporary Shelter: The Initial Challenge
Once he had decided to move, the immediate challenge was finding suitable accommodation. Initially, Alexander contemplated using Airbnb, however, the relocation agency assisting him introduced him to Homelike, a leading online booking platform for serviced apartments. The Homelike platform was particularly appealing to Alexander for a number of reasons:
- They offered the comfort of familiar, home-like accommodation.
- The provision of registration approval was an essential benefit, an aspect highly significant for expats in Germany, to establish legal residency.
The outcome of using Homelike was an overwhelmingly positive experience for Alexander. He appreciated that the apartments matched the online representation, eliminating any nasty surprises upon arrival.
Navigating German Bureaucracy: The Unexpected Challenges
One of the lesser-known aspects of moving to Germany is the complexity of its bureaucracy. It was a tough nut to crack for Alexander, but he navigated his way through, and now has some vital advice for future expats:
- Residential Address: To facilitate any government-related correspondence, including the receipt of the German Tax ID, a stable residential address is vital. This can be tricky without a long-term lease.
- German Tax ID: This is a critical document that can take between 8-12 weeks to process and receive. It’s needed for almost all financial activities in Germany, from opening a bank account to getting a phone contract.
Decoding German ‘Invoice Culture’: A Novel Experience
Once settled in his temporary accommodation, Alexander began to familiarize himself with the unique aspects of German culture. One of these was the German ‘invoice culture’. This was a notable change for Alexander, as he was accustomed to the convenience of upfront payments for services. In Germany, expressing interest in a service could result in receiving an invoice before the actual payment process took place. For expats unaccustomed to this, it may initially be somewhat confusing.
Securing Permanent Accommodation: An Expedition of Its Own
Finding long-term accommodation proved to be another significant challenge, which Alexander found comparable to job hunting. Cologne’s bustling housing market, characterized by high demand and limited availability, made the quest for the perfect home a competitive affair. Alexander shared some strategies that he found beneficial in this process:
- Being proactive and quick to respond to fresh listings.
- Actively reaching out to potential landlords to establish interest and initiate communication.
- Treating the search for an apartment with the same seriousness as a job hunt, investing time and effort into it.
Alexander's Key Recommendation: Medium-term Accommodation with Homelike
Alexander suggests that expats should consider renting an apartment for at least 2-3 months, ideally from a service like Homelike, as one of their first steps upon moving to Germany. Here’s why:
- Stable Address: A 2-3 month rental gives you a stable residential address to register with the government. This is not only necessary for your stay but also to receive the German Tax ID.
- Time to House Hunt: With Germany’s competitive real estate market, house hunting for longer-term accommodation can take time. A 2-3 month rental provides that much-needed buffer.
- Avoid Exorbitant Prices: By choosing Homelike, expats can avoid inflated hotel or Airbnb prices. Homelike offers reasonable rates, especially for longer stays.
Side note: Homelike, with its range of furnished apartments, is a fantastic option for expats looking to start their German life on the right foot. They offer a simple and efficient booking process, no hidden costs, and an impressive selection of homes in all major German cities.
Falling in Love with Cologne: Unveiling the City’s Charms
Even though the initial transition phase posed several challenges, Alexander discovered several aspects about life in Cologne that he grew to love. The city’s reliable public transportation system is something that he highlighted in our conversation. The convenience it provided in accessing different parts of the city and beyond was a significant advantage. Additionally, Alexander found himself captivated by Cologne’s stunning architecture, with the majestic cathedrals being a particular highlight.
Quality of Life in Cologne: The Expat Perspective
When asked to reflect on his overall quality of life in Cologne, Alexander expressed great satisfaction. He cited the healthcare system as a significant factor contributing to this, even though he was fortunate enough not to have had to use it extensively. Additionally, he also appreciated how the tax he was paying was visibly used to enhance social and municipal services around him, leading to a comfortable and high-standard living environment.
Words of Wisdom: Alexander’s Advice for Future Expats
Alexander concluded our conversation by sharing some pearls of wisdom for fellow expats who might be contemplating a move to Germany. Here are some of his suggestions:
- Open a bank account as early as possible in the process.
- Secure short-term accommodation for at least 2-3 months to ensure a smoother transition, especially considering Germany’s tax identification system.
- If you’re relocating with pets, be aware that finding pet-friendly short-term accommodation can be a bit tricky but it’s certainly not impossible.
As for the future, Alexander envisions himself remaining in Germany. The business-friendly environment and promising career prospects in data analytics make it an attractive prospect.
In conclusion, Alexander’s experiences serve as an enlightening guide for potential expats. Despite the initial challenges that come with moving to a new country, the journey can indeed be rewarding and fulfilling, especially with the right tools and resources such as Homelike at your disposal.