So you’re preparing to move to Germany? There are a number of matters to consider. This is a short list of some of the important things to keep in mind.
You can probably bring in your household goods and car free of duty if you plan to stay here awhile. But be warned that non-EU cars must often be modified to meet German standards in such things as headlights, emissions, brakes, rust and tires. (See our article on importing a car.)
The climate in Germany is temperate, comparable to most of North America and much of Asia. So the clothes most expats have ought to do when they get here. Pack as many of them as you can. If you want to take advantage of the marvelous ski resorts that will be handy to you pack some clothing and equipment accordingly.
Anything you need for your health is probably available in Germany. If you take any medication, or use gymnastic or orthopedic products, you’ll have no problem getting them here. But it will take some time for you to get settled and find a physician, so bring a month or so’s supply.
The standards for electricity and TV sets in Western Europe, Asia and South America are very often the same as those for Germany. But North Americans will find such things a challenge. The voltage is different, wall plugs are different and their TV sets and cell phones may not work.
The experts are nearly unanimous about big appliances, such as stoves, refrigerators, washing machines and dryers. Leave them at home! They cost a lot to ship, and for North Americans may need complicated rewiring and a big, expensive transformer. It’s probably all right to bring in things that run on batteries, such as laptop computers, cameras and iPods.
German voltage is 220-240 volts, double the 110 volts in the USA and Canada. Plugging many 110-volt devices into that current can destroy them. Fortunately, North Americans will be discouraged from making this mistake because of the wall plug. The prongs on the German ones are round instead of flat, so theirs won’t go into a German electric outlet.
Adapter plugs, making it possible to access the German outlets, are cheap and available, but they only solve half the problem. There is still the voltage to contend with. Many computers, shavers, video cameras, irons and other devices are being made multi-voltage now, but be sure and check. Other 110-volt devices can be operated with transformers.
There are two kinds of transformers. One is for low wattage devices, such as shavers or radios that use less than about 50 watts. Items that use more current, such as TV sets, irons and refrigerators, require a heavy and expensive transformer. And after all that there still may be a problem. Much of Western Hemisphere current is 60 cycles, while German current is only 50. That usually doesn’t make a difference, but clocks and other timing devices won’t work properly with it.
Television sets are probably the biggest challenge of all. You need a lot more than a transformer and adapter plug to contend. Germany operates on the PAL system, which is common in Western Europe and South America, but incompatible with either the NTSC (US, Canada, Japan, Taiwan, Korea, the Philippines) or the SECAM (France, Russia, Eastern Europe) systems. If you want to watch TV you’ll want either a PAL set or a multi-system one. With multi-system you can watch any NTSC DVDs or videos you may have brought with you.
You probably won’t be able to use your North American cell phone in Germany, either. In the first place only about 20% of North American phones are compatible with the GSM system, which is in use in Germany and more than 190 other countries. And even if it is compatible it will probably use a different frequency. It’s best to buy or rent a phone when you get to Germany.
A final note to Americans and Canadians: if you want to use your recipes from home be sure and pack a measuring cup. The recipes here do everything in grams and liters. And cooking temperatures are in Centigrade, so a temperature conversion chart from Fahrenheit will be useful.