Why some expats may struggle in Germany
Citizens from around the world living and working in Germany have collectively rated it as one of the least attractive destinations for expats.
In the annual Expat Insider study conducted by the InterNations network, Germany ranks a mere 49th out of 53 countries. With over 12,000 respondents, this study is one of the largest surveys focused on the experiences of people living and working abroad. It offers valuable insights into various aspects of expat life, including their satisfaction with quality of life, adaptation to the local culture, work experiences, personal finances, and essential aspects of expat life such as housing, administrative processes, language, and digital services.
A survey published earlier this year also found that, when compared globally, Germany provides expats and foreign skilled professionals with the least favourable starting experience.
Poor digitalisation and rigid bureaucracy make it difficult for expats here in Germany.
Expats who settle in Germany face significant challenges due to the lack of digitalisation, inflexible bureaucracy, and a tight housing market. Additionally, Germans are considered one of the least friendly populations worldwide. This could also explain why expats are dissatisfied with their social lives and find it challenging to set up new friendships.
Expats and foreign professionals don't find Germany appealing
Germany ranks worst among 53 countries in the most important ranking category, Expat Essentials, which evaluates digital services, administration, housing, and language in an expat destination.
It's not surprising that expats in Germany are among the least happy. Overall, only 64 percent of expats are satisfied with their life in Germany, compared to 72 percent worldwide.
Germany lacks in welcoming culture, digitalisation, and the housing market
One of the main challenges for local expats is highlighted in the Adaptation Abroad Index. Germany performs very poorly in all three subcategories: friendliness (ranked 50th), making friends (ranked 49th), and culture & welcome (ranked 49th). Three out of ten respondents feel that people in Germany are not friendly towards their foreign fellow citizens (compared to 18 percent worldwide), and 55 percent find it difficult to make friends with locals (compared to 36 percent worldwide). Additionally, 32 percent lack a personal social network (compared to 24 percent worldwide). It's no wonder, then, that expats and foreign professionals don't find Germany attractive.
"I can't meet new people here, and no one really wants to spend time with me." - Survey participant from the USA
Therefore, it's not surprising that 32 percent of them don't feel at home in Germany (compared to 20 percent worldwide). Unfortunately, this isn't just a snapshot but a clear trend: Over the past ten years, Germany has consistently ranked among the ten worst countries globally in terms of friendships and friendliness.
According to the Expat Insider Study 2023, the average expatriate is around 42 years old. The majority work in IT and have come to Germany voluntarily.
Germany ranks last in the most important ranking category.
Respondents are particularly frustrated with the digital infrastructure (ranked 51st) and the language barrier (ranked 51st). According to expats, Germany also has the worst cashless payment options (ranked 53rd) and the second-worst rating for setting up a fast internet connection hassle-free (ranked 52nd). Half of the respondents (50 percent) find it difficult to live here without knowledge of the local language (compared to 32 percent worldwide). This is a problem as 60 percent consider the language to be difficult to learn (compared to 38 percent worldwide).
"It's often impossible to pay with a card. 'Made in Germany' digitalisation is a joke." - Study participant from France
Heavy bureaucracy and a tight housing market add to the problems: More than half of the respondents (56 percent) face difficulties dealing with local authorities (compared to 38 percent worldwide). Another 58 percent struggle with finding housing, which is 27 percentage points higher than the global average of 31 percent.
On a positive note, Germany provides a strong job market and secure employment opportunities
Germany excels in the Working Abroad Index (ranked 15th). It performs quite well in factors like the job market (ranked 4th) and job security (ranked 5th), even making it to the top 5 globally. However, the results in the Personal Finance Index (ranked 28th) are rather mediocre. Regarding quality of life (ranked 18th), expats appreciate both the car infrastructure and the easy availability of eco-friendly products and services (both ranked 7th).
"I not only have the opportunity to further my career here but also to lead a more sustainable life." - Expat from Nigeria
The most popular destination for expats is Mexico.
According to the results of the Expat Insider 2023 study, the top destinations for expats are Mexico (1st place), followed by Spain, Panama, Malaysia, Taiwan, Costa Rica, the Philippines, Bahrain, and Portugal (10th place). The top 5 destinations particularly stand out with good to very good results in the Personal Finance Index. All destinations in the top 10 rank significantly above the global average in the Adaptation Abroad Index, but apart from Taiwan (9th place), none rank high in the Working Abroad Index. The top-ranked destinations also differ significantly in terms of quality of life: Spain (1st place) and Taiwan (2nd place) are at the top globally, while the Philippines (48th place) are among the ten countries with the lowest ratings worldwide.
When it comes to working abroad, the range of results is quite broad: Germany and Norway are well above average, while Turkey, Kuwait, and South Korea perform poorly in this regard.
Austria and Switzerland don't perform much better
Overall judgments about the DACH countries (Germany, Austria, and Switzerland) vary considerably: Switzerland is rated above average (23rd place), while Austria (42nd place) narrowly avoids being among the ten worst countries for expats. Germany, on the other hand, ranks 49th out of 53, making it one of the five least attractive destinations for expats. Expats living in Germany also rank among the unhappiest respondents worldwide (50th out of a total of 53 countries). Austria ranks 40th in terms of overall satisfaction, while Switzerland is at the 21st spot.
Germany performs poorly compared to Austria and Switzerland. In crucial criteria, Germany can't even match up with its German-speaking neighbours.
Switzerland ranks among the top 10 in terms of digital infrastructure
One major challenge in Germany is its digital infrastructure: Germany lags far behind Austria (36th place) and especially Switzerland (7th place), ranking 51st. Nearly three out of ten expats in Germany (29 percent) are dissatisfied with cashless payment options (compared to 17 percent in Austria, 8 percent worldwide, and 3 percent in Switzerland).
Interestingly, expats in Germany also struggle significantly more with the language compared to their (partly) German-speaking neighbours: Half of the expats in Germany consider the language to be a barrier (compared to 45 percent in Austria, 32 percent in Switzerland, and 32 percent worldwide).
Moreover, expats in Germany face some of the toughest challenges in the housing market: 58 percent complain about the difficulty of finding housing (compared to 46 percent in Switzerland, 32 percent in Austria, and 31 percent worldwide). Switzerland, on the other hand, excels in digitalisation (7th place) as well as administrative matters (7th place), where it leaves Germany (43rd place) and Austria (31st place) far behind.
"Technologically, Germany is roughly at the same level as some other industrialized countries were about 30 years ago." - Survey participant from the USA
However, the biggest challenges for expats in the DACH region are of a social nature: the lack of social interaction and the absence of social contacts weigh on them. The Adaptation Abroad Index (Germany ranking 50th, Austria ranking 52nd, Switzerland ranking 47th) clearly illustrates this, as all three countries are among the ten lowest ranked globally in this category
Expats find the Austrian population to be the least friendly in international comparison
Expats perceive Austrians as the least friendly population worldwide (last place, 53), with Germans ranking 49th and the Swiss at 46th. It's therefore not surprising that 58 percent of expats in Austria, 55 percent in Germany, and 54 percent in Switzerland find it difficult to make friends (compared to 36 percent worldwide). Only 48 percent in both Germany and Austria feel at home in their host country, while Switzerland reaches 56 percent, compared to the global average of 62 percent.
"Austrians are a bit lacking in warmth; social interactions here are quite different from Spain. However, there are plenty of sports opportunities here." - Spanish survey participant in Linz.
An above-average quality of life in Austria
Despite a lack of friendships, expats in all three countries enjoy an above-average standard of living. However, when it comes to quality of life, Germany (ranked 18th) lags significantly behind Austria (ranked 5th) and Switzerland (ranked 8th). Particularly in the Travel & Transportation subcategory, the two Alpine countries shine with excellent ratings. Travel opportunities for expats in Switzerland rank 1st globally, 9th in Austria, and 15th in Germany.
In terms of Environment & Climate, Switzerland once again takes the top spot worldwide, ahead of Austria (ranked 6th) and Germany (ranked 21st). Thanks in part to its high political stability (93 percent satisfied vs. 63 percent worldwide), Switzerland also makes it into the top 3 in the Safety category (ranked 2nd), far ahead of Germany (ranked 18th) and Austria (ranked 22nd)
"I love the safety and stability in Switzerland, the beautiful diversity of nature, and how easy it is to travel everywhere." - Participant from Russia in the study
The healthcare system in Switzerland and Germany only ranks in the middle of the pack
In this regard, Austria (8th place) leads the way and is the only DACH country in the top ten. For comparison, Germany achieves a slightly above average 23rd place, while Switzerland lands at 33rd place. This difference can be attributed to the costs of medical care: 40 percent of expats in Switzerland rate it negatively, while it's 19 percent globally, 12 percent in Germany, and only five percent in Austria.
When it comes to leisure activities, all DACH countries are considered somewhat unexciting (except for recreational sports), with Austria at 33rd place, Germany at 40th place, and Switzerland at 47th place.
However, concerning working abroad, it's Germany (15th place) and Switzerland (12th place) that receive noticeably better ratings than Austria (24th place). They achieve better results in almost every subcategory of this index. For example, Germany ranks 13th in career opportunities for expats, just ahead of Switzerland (15th place) and significantly ahead of Austria (34th place). 59 percent are satisfied with the job market in Germany, compared to 49 percent in Switzerland and 46 percent in Austria.
"Vienna offers so many things! I also appreciate the social security - healthcare and unemployment support. And until recently, the cost of living was very low." - Participant from Sweden
Switzerland, on the other hand, receives the best results in the area of Work Culture & Job Satisfaction. Seven out of ten expats (70 percent) in Switzerland are generally satisfied with their profession, a slightly higher percentage than in Germany (66 percent) and Austria (61 percent). However, the balance between work and leisure seems somewhat more even in Austria (ranked 23rd) and Germany (ranked 22nd) compared to Switzerland (ranked 33rd).
Significant trust in the Swiss economy
However, in the Salary & Job Security category, all three DACH countries manage to secure a spot in the global top 10 (Switzerland ranking 2nd, Germany ranking 9th, Austria ranking 10th). As a result, a full 95 percent of respondents in Switzerland view the local economic situation positively; this percentage is even higher in Germany (83 percent) and Austria (84 percent) compared to the worldwide average of 62 percent.
Regarding personal finances, all three DACH countries rank roughly in the global middle. Austria proves to be the most cost-effective host country for expats overall. Nevertheless, respondents in Switzerland are the most satisfied with their financial situation (65 percent satisfied vs. 58 percent worldwide). However, they simultaneously suffer from the highest cost of living: 56 percent in Switzerland rate it negatively, compared to 40 percent in Germany and 34 percent in Austria.