Are you considering moving to Germany? Moving abroad can be difficult enough without the added pressure of ensuring your entire family settles in as well. To help you prepare for the journey ahead, here are five useful things to know about family living in Germany — from figuring out the German education system to settling into the local community.
1. Education in Germany
Germany’s public education system is free for all children from the ages of six to 18. Public education is of a high quality, even on par with the country’s private school system. While the majority of people in Germany enroll their children in the public education system, many expats opt for international schooling with bilingual lessons. This can be perfect for children who are not yet familiar with the German language. An added benefit is that it may be easier for older children to continue where they left off in their coursework.
While international schools offer a high standard of education and a varied curriculum, the fees can be high. However, if you have a relocation package that covers education costs or can afford to pay the fees independently, then enrolling your child or children in an international school may be a good option.
The German education system consists of five levels. These include:
- Early childhood education (Kindergarten)
- Primary education (Grundschule)
- Secondary education (Gymnasium or Realschule)
- Tertiary education (Berufsschule or preparations for Abitur)
- Continuing education (Universität, Fachhochschule, or Hochschule)
Although most children go to Kindergarten starting when they are toddlers, it is not actually mandatory. However, once a child turns six, they have to stay in school for nine or ten years, depending on what type of school they attend. After completing Grundschule, which goes through the 4th grade, a child may attend Hauptschule, Realschule, or Gymnasium. The choice of school depends on their academic ability and the wishes of their family. These schools lead to different types of apprenticeships, vocational schools, and universities that prepare students for various career paths.
2. The German healthcare system
For many families, healthcare is one of the most important things to think about when moving abroad. Luckily, the German healthcare system is considered to be one of the best in the world, and is certainly one perk of moving to Germany. Due to the level of care available, the country is even home to a booming medical tourism scene, so much so that it is known as the “Hospital of Europe.”
Compared to the UK, which spends 9.8% of its wealth on healthcare, Germany spends just over 11%. Additionally, Germany has more doctors and hospital beds per patient than the UK — highlighting the high standard of care you should expect.
The healthcare system in Germany receives funding from statutory contributions, ensuring affordable healthcare for all residents. To benefit from this, you must register for state health insurance in Germany, otherwise you will usually have to be covered by private health insurance. For the transition, you may want to consider purchasing an international healthcare plan. This way, you and your family have access to high-quality medical care and can cover out-of-pocket fees.
3. Children’s allowance (Kindergeld)
Parents who have lived in Germany for more than six months are eligible for Kindergeld, an allowance for children. The amount you receive will depend on the number of children you have and their ages. You can receive anywhere between €194 and €225 a month for each child until they turn 18, though it can continue until they are 25 under special circumstances.
Expat parents moving to Germany with their children can apply for Kindergeld, provided they have a valid residency permit. However, if you’re a resident of an EU/EEA country, you do not need a residence permit to apply.
4. Germany’s family-friendly infrastructure
Family is an integral part of German culture, so much so that Germany’s regulations in the workplace are often very family-oriented. Germany is home to a family-friendly infrastructure, which can be noted in the incredible playgrounds and accommodating public transport system.
One thing expat parents also need to know is that German children receive a lot of freedom and trust. They are raised to be independent and self-reliant, so it’s not uncommon to see a child walking or biking by themselves, or kids playing in the park unsupervised.
This may sound a little bizarre at first, especially if you’re originally from a country where children receive constant supervision outside of the home. But teaching independence and self-reliance is very common in Germany, so why not give it a try?
5. Finding a community after moving to Germany
Building a network for you and your children will be an important part of moving to Germany. Not only does it help to combat homesickness, it can also help speed up integration with local culture. This is especially important for your children, who will likely miss their friends back home and find it hard to adjust. Try to get them involved in after-school activities or with local sports teams. The more involved they are with their school peers and extracurricular activities, the more they’ll feel at home.
As a parent and most importantly, a human being, you need to remember to take care of yourself too. Feeling lonely in a new country is normal when you’ve only just made the move. One way to curb the loneliness is to connect with like-minded people who are in a similar position. You can join your local expat community or check out online expat groups and forums like Meetup and InterNations.
While making friends with other expats can help you adjust, it can also be very beneficial to get to know locals. One way to do this is to join a Verein (association) where you’ll meet people with similar interests. Think theater clubs, sports clubs, volunteer associations and the like. Making friends with the locals can also help you integrate and better understand the local culture.
Whether it’s finding community and helping your children make friends or adapting to the country’s parenting styles, starting a new life as a family in Germany can take some getting used to. But once you’ve spent some time experiencing and exploring the country with your family in tow, you’re all the more likely to find your forever home.
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