Germany and the USA are two countries welcoming thousands of foreigners every year. The USA was always a place where people go to realize their big dreams, while Germany is more preferred among skilled workers.
As a skilled professional, executive, or student, you want to get the best of your experience abroad. In this article, we will take a look at different aspects of life in the US vs Germany.
Education and student life in Germany vs the US
Germany has 380 Universities and 370,000 international students. It’s the third most popular destination among international students in the world and the most popular destination in Europe.
The main advantage of German higher education is that it’s free for foreigners and German citizens. The disadvantage is that you will probably study in the German language and your university won’t be on top of the rankings.
The semester contribution in most universities is between 100 EUR and 350 EUR per semester, including your public transportation card. While in the US, students collect thousands of dollars in debt for studying at university.
More than 12% of students at German universities come from abroad. Germany is an attractive place to study, and German degrees are highly respected by employers worldwide.
German universities provide high-quality education with either focus on practical application or research. For example, universities of applied science provide various practice-oriented programs.
Also read: Difference between universities and universities of applied science in Germany.
The drawback of high education in Germany is the lack of English-taught courses. Students will usually have to pay for an undergraduate degree if it’s in English.
In 2019, the US had 1,095,299 international students across 400 universities around the country. The US is by far the world’s most popular destination to study abroad. In fact, most top-ranking schools are located in this country.
The American degrees have an excellent reputation worldwide. Yet, higher education in the US is very costly. In Germany, you will need to study in some of the best universities to get the same outcome. Sadly the admission to the best colleges in Germany is quite challenging.
Many students prefer to study in the USA because of on-campus infrastructure like accommodations, technology, student communities, and occasional parties of course.
In the US, the bachelor’s program lasts 4 years whereas it’s just 3 years in Germany and master’s has the same length – between 1 and 2 years.
Student life is very active in the US. Many students live on campus and have tighter and closer relationships than Germans do. In Germany, many students live in apartments instead, in fact, only a few universities provide accommodations on campus.
While studying in the USA, students are taking part in the social and cultural scene, since campuses provide a variety of academic, cultural, and athletic activities.
Unfortunately, German universities aren’t on the same level as Americans and offer less to no campus life.
In Germany, it might be challenging to find an English-speaking job. You might need to look in bigger cities such as Berlin, Munich or Hamburg. Germany is undoubtedly a good place to work as an engineer, IT specialist, scientist as well as in finance&business and logistics.
Related: “Is Germany a good place to live?”
For English speakers, there are good chances in the IT sector, in international customer service, and some engineering.
It’s beneficial to speak some German when seeking work in Germany, but not always essential.
The rule is the better your qualifications, the better your chances! Germany has lots to offer unless you pretend on low-end jobs, especially for people willing to work hard.
To work as a foreigner in Germany, you must apply for an EU-Blue Card or work residence permit. These permits allow non-EU citizens to stay and work for up to 4 years in the country.
EU-Blue Card requires a minimum salary of 56,800 EUR and 44,304 EUR for shortage occupations (2021). You also need to have a job offer in Germany that matches your qualification.
Moreover, after two years of employment in Germany, you can apply for permanent residency status.
Germany gives a chance for graduates to work after they finish the university. So international students from non-EU/EEA countries can extend their stay in Germany and look for a job for up to 18 months after graduating. The future job must be related to the field of study.
Read more about German resident permits and requirements.
The US has low unemployment rates and the economy is thriving, therefore, foreigners can expect some great career opportunities. Particularly, cities like New York and San Francisco offer excellent career chances for expats.
In the US, all foreign nationals will need to receive a work visa. The hiring company usually sponsors it. Yet only 5% of American companies are willing to take this responsibility.
They prefer to hire someone who is already in the US unless your field is in high demand and you have experience in the profession.
Major US employers include:
- Exxon Mobil
- Ford Motor
- General Electric
- JPMorgan Chase & Co.
- Procter & Gamble
Currently, the US experiences high demand for healthcare workers such as nurses, medical assistants, and doctors. Moreover, there is always a need for cooks, accountants, software developers, retail workers, customer service representatives, office clerks, market research analysts, and marketing specialists.
In meanwhile, check out the high-demand jobs in Germany.
Many foreign employees move to the US within their job in the home country, which has branches overseas.
Also, many Germans like to work in the US. It’s not uncommon for German companies to have branches in North America. Consequently, it’s the easiest way for international workers to relocate abroad.
Salaries the US vs Germany
Germany is one of the highest paying countries in Europe, but can it compete with the US?
The average salary in Germany is 45,240 EUR gross with monthly payments of 3,770 EUR.
Some german industries are especially well paid, such as pharmacy, banking, medicine and dentistry, law, industrial engineering, industrial engineering, computer science. However, employees in Germany also need to pay higher taxes than anywhere else.
Read the full comparison between salaries in the US vs Germany.
Overall, gross salaries for most professions are lower than in the USA.
Here you can see average salaries in Germany by the industry:
|Purchasing, transport & logistics||€47.907|
|Skilled crafts & Trade||€43.919|
To check current salaries in Germany you can use this free tool. Add filters like location, experience, skills, size of the company, and others to see the most accurate numbers!
New York is one of the high-paying places in the world. Here, you’ll find some of the best-paid data scientists and web developers in the world.
Also, executives and managers earn on average more than in other countries. Tech and finance positions are always in demand.
Here are some examples of average annual salaries in the USA in general.
|Salary averages for the USA||Average annual salary|
For example, the average salary of a software developer in the US is much higher than in Germany.
Read the full comparison between salaries in the US vs Germany.
Taxes the US vs Germany
Germany is known for its high taxes, but they also include social contributions deductions, which will give you benefits later on the road.
Taxes and social contributions together will cut around 35-42% of your gross salary in Germany. German salaries are half of what you get in the US, so people end up with less money after tax.
In addition, the sales tax is 19%, which is 9% higher than in the US.
Luckily, Germany and many other countries have tax treaties to prevent double-taxing expat’s income. So while working in Germany, you won’t pay additional taxes.
In the end, as an American, whether you go, you always will be taxed US rates.
In Germany, the first 9,169 EUR or 764 EUR per month are tax-free. Any amount after that is subject to income tax.
Income tax in Germany is progressive: income tax rates start at 14%, then they rise to 42%; very high-income levels are taxed at 45%.
Below you can see German income tax brackets.
|Taxable income||The marginal rate|
|up to EUR 9,408||0%|
|EUR 9,408 – EUR 57,051||14% rising progressively to 42,00%|
|EUR 57,051 – EUR 270,500||42%|
|from EUR 270,500||45%|
The income tax rate for a foreigner with a gross salary of 40,000 EUR is estimated to be 36%.
The tax rate also depends on your personal circumstances such as marriage, having kind, or divorce. The highest taxes pay a single person without kids. What is unfair, you want to enjoy your earned money while you are young instead of giving it to the government.
The salaries in the USA tend to be higher, and taxes are lower. The highest sales tax in the USA is under 10% and most US states have lower taxes than that.
Income taxes in the US also divided into brackets: 10%, 12%, 22%, 24%, 32%, 35% and 37%. The rate is growing with income.
Same way as in Germany your tax bracket depends on your taxable income and your marriage status: single, married, qualifying widow(er), married but paying tax separately, and head of household.
The average tax rate for an employee in the United States was 31,65% (2019).
The big difference is that all your income is subject for taxes. Hence, there is no tax-free amount as it’s in Germany. Another difference – in the USA, employees pay health insurance separately.
In Germany, dividends and sales of capital assets are taxed at 25% while in the United States there is a maximum of 23,8% (or up to 37,1% if you live in California).
The US’s corporate tax rate is 35%, whereas 15% in Germany. So it’s not clear in which country you will pay less tax as a business owner, in Germany with VAT of 20% and corporate tax of 15% or in the USA with VAT of 10% and business tax 35%.
The only advantage for high earners is that income from $510,301 or more is taxed only with 37%, whereas it would be 45% in Germany.
Read the full comparison between taxes in the US vs Germany.
German companies often practice flexible working time in order to have a good work-life balance. Employees are only allowed to work 8 hours per day and so 40 hours per week.
Germans finish their working day punctually to spend the rest of the day with family, enjoying the outdoors, or just their free time. However, overtime is still happening but not often. Employees working overtime always get paid.
Many people work part-time in Germany, especially women with kids. Companies are very open to this type of employment, it usually easy to find a part-time job in your industry.
The USA isn’t considered as a country with excellent work-life balance. Many employees are working very long hours, in fact, 11% of them are.
Statistics say that more than half of Americans have an unhealthy work-life balance. A third of the employees in the US, are working more than 45 hours per week, and around 9,7 million are even more than 60.
There is definitely an issue with balancing work and life in the USA. People tend to sacrifice much for work and less enjoy life than Germans do.
Germany has one of the best healthcare in the world, and it’s universal – everyone has health insurance and access to medical services.
The quality of services is outstanding, and you never have to worry about going broke after you/your family was sick.
The insurance pays all medical costs. Insurance is inexpensive if you are a student or unemployed. Employees pay 7,3% from their gross salary (other 7,3% paid by the employer).
Another advantage of working in Germany that employees are get paid sick days. It’s no dilemma you can leave your workplace if feeling unwell or don’t show up in the office. You will get your paycheck anyway.
Read more about employee benefit in Germany.
Additionally, family members may take out statutory health insurance at no cost if one working family member has coverage already. That means an employee in Germany can provide health insurance not only for himself but for the entire family!
Employees can also take out private health insurance to pay a fixed amount per month without relation to the salary. It’s the best option for high earners or business owners.
Also read: Cost of German healthcare
Unfortunately, health care isn’t universal in the USA, not all people have health insurance, and someone always has to pay for medical services.
The USA spends more money on health care than any other country, on average $8,500 in the year.
Usually, Americans also have health insurance which covers most of the treatments. However, premiums are very ranging, mainly depending on the state. The average annual cost of health insurance in the United States was $403.
The lowest for a 27-year-old in 2020 is in New Mexico’s – $282, and the most expensive is in Wyoming’s – at $723.
In Germany you will never have to pay 723 EUR, the health insurance costs range between 50 – 500 EUR.
Below you can see average premiums for health insurance depending on the state for 27 years old.
There is a lot of debate over healthcare in the USA. A short stay in the hospital can cost you a fortune even with good health insurance. Surgeries are often don’t paid for by the insurances too.
Health care is a big business in the USA, and it earns money from residents when in Germany, insurance companies are the main clients of the hospitals. At the same time, the health insurance companies in Germany are mainly non-profit and run by the government.
Cost of living the USA vs Germany
Cost of living ranges in both countries, for some items and services you will pay less in Germany than in the USA and another way.
Overall it’s hard to say where life is cheaper. Many Americans who live in Germany will say that living costs are lower in the US.
But it also can be more expensive in the USA if you are in cities like New Your or San Francisco. It’s all very relative.
Fuel, cars, clothing, electronics, and other “stuff” are more expensive in Germany. Health care, education, and public transportation are cheaper in Germany.
The cost of living in Germany is relatively low in comparison to other western countries. The capital Berlin ranked as the 106th most expensive city out of 200 rated worldwide.
With an average German salary, people even manage to save money every month.
For example, the average monthly expenses for a family with one kid will be around 2,300 EUR – 3,000 EUR and highly depend on the region and the lifestyle.
A family of four will need on average 3,800 EUR per month to live a comfortable life in Germany.
The average costs of living for students range between 800 – 1,000 EUR/month, including accommodation.
Prices also differ significantly between the large cities in Germany. You would need more money for living in Munich than you would in Dresden, for example. Small, university cities also tend to be more affordable.
In general, east of Germany is very affordable for living due to its ridiculously cheap rent.
The most significant monthly expense is, as always – rent. However, rents in German cities wildly vary. As a student, you will pay between 290 and 560 EUR per month for a room in a shared apartment or sometimes a single flat.
As a professional, you might want an entire apartment, then expect to pay from 500 to 1,000 EUR for a one-bedroom flat.
Food is quite affordable and very high quality, especially if shopping in the discounters such as Lidl, Aldi, Netto.
For dinner in a restaurant, you will pay 10 EUR for food in a cheap one and 15 for a normal one. A three-course meal for two in an average restaurant costs 45 EUR, and an additional light drink will be 4 EUR.
The average costs of living for a student/single person on the budget range between 800 – 1,000 EUR/month, including accommodation.
Depending on your location, prices vary, for example, the east of Germany is very affordable, the rent is remarkably cheap.
The average prices accordingly to the Numbeo:
- Meal in restaurant 10 EUR
- Cappuccino 2,75 EUR
- Water 2 EUR
- Local cheese (1kg) 8,24 EUR
- Apples (1kg) 2,33 EUR
- Monthly pass for public transportation 75 EUR
- Utilities 221 EUR
- Apartment (1 bedroom) 750 EUR
- Average monthly net salary 2,329 EUR
In the USA, people have more disposable income by the end of the month. Therefore purchasing power is higher.
Although, living in the USA is pretty pricey. And costs strongly depend on which city and region you are living in. The most expensive cities include San Francisco, New York, Boston, and Los Angeles.
However, there are still some well-known places where life comes with a reasonable price tag – Oklahoma City or Cincinnati, for example, have much lower average costs than other large cities.
In rural areas and less popular cities, you’ll find the cost of living is much lower.
For students estimated living cost for the US, is around $700 to $1000 per month. This includes your accommodation costs, room, food, travel, textbooks, weather-appropriate clothing, and entertainment expenses as well.
As an adult, for example, in New York, you will pay $3,003 for a one-bedroom flat in the city center, $75 for lunch for 2, and $119 for a monthly transportation pass.
Single-person expenses without the rent are estimated at $1,100 in New York and $1,114 in San Francisco.
Gasoline or petrol is cheaper in the USA and comes at $0.69 per liter. That’s probably why people in the USA prefer to use cars over public transportation.
Buying properties will cost you on average less than in Germany – the average apartment price per square meter is two times lower.
Eating out in the restaurant is more expensive in the USA, although fast food is cheaper there. Groceries are 55% more expensive in the USA than in Germany. On the other hand, Americans pay 22% less for clothing.
There are definitely some advantages and disadvantages of the cost of living in both countries.
The average prices accordingly to the Numbeo:
- Meal in restaurant 13 EUR
- Cappuccino 3,75 EUR
- Water 1,36 EUR
- Local cheese (1kg) 9,34 EUR
- Apples (1kg) 4,09 EUR
- Monthly pass for public transportation 65 EUR
- Utilities 141 EUR
- Apartment (1 bedroom) 1,219 EUR
- Average monthly net salary 3,186 EUR
Read more about the cost of living in Germany vs The US in this article.
International expat life
Germany is an international country, especially cities like Berlin, Munich, and Frankfurt have a large number of expats. For example, even relatively small (700,000 people) german town Düsseldorf has 8,400 Japanese inhabitants.
Germany has 12 million foreign residents, which is about 12% of the total population.
Some sectors in Germany require skilled workers from abroad. Shortages are especially evident in the electrical and mechanical engineering fields.
It’s also good place for English-speaking IT professionals, engineers, researchers, university professors, and high-level executives. At many other positions, expats will need some knowledge of German to be able to work in Germany.
Companies like L’Oreal, Henkel, BMW, Trivago create a great international atmosphere, and it’s without mentioning Berlin, Munchen, and Hamburg.
But don’t forget it’s a German-speaking country, amount of expats is significantly lower than in the USA.
There is probably no country that beats the US, in the number of immigrants and international workers. However, more and more Americans become expats and leave the country, while immigrants continue to come.
The country has 47 million immigrants of 328,2 million total population or 14%.
The biggest expat communities are in the US are in New York, Washington D.C., and San Francisco.
The unfair advantage of moving as a foreigner to the USA is you don’t need to learn another language as in the case of Germany!
The US is a popular expat destination and one of the most multi-cultural countries globally, with large Mexican, Spanish, Italian, African American, Puerto Rican, Indian and Chinese communities.
New York and Wall Street are the most famous financial districts in the world, and many expats are based here when working in the finance sector.
The biggest prospects for expats in the USA exist in high technology or niche markets. The US Department of Labor has forecast a requirement for 900,000 engineers in biomedical, software, and life sciences.
Despite the great opportunities, American immigration law makes it difficult for foreigners to come for work. Receiving the Green card has become more complicated with the years. Germany is more open and easier for immigrants and expats.
Standard of living
Both countries have a high standard of living. However, Germany has less poverty, social disbalance, and tensions, or refugees than the USA.
Overall, Germany has a high living standard: a clean environment, very low crime rates, lots of leisure-time and cultural attractions, well-developed infrastructure, good transportation.
Most people are very satisfied with life in Germany, they have many rights, freedom, and their voices are taken seriously by the government. To be exact, 93% of the German population is satisfied with their current life, while this number is just around 80% in the US.
The ratio of prices and earnings is well matched, you can find ways to save but also to spend a lot. Frankfurt has the 9th highest wages in the world and the relatively low cost of living, thus people there can afford more.
The crime rates are extremely low, therefore, Germany is a safer place than the USA.
The standard of living is also high in the USA but it also depends on which aspects are we talking about. Health care is expensive and not at the same level as in Germany. The USA also has a bigger gap between poor and rich, than Germany.
However, the United States ranks at the top in housing. Finding an apartment is more accessible, easy and affordable than in Germany. Income is higher in some fields. People have higher purchasing power due to the lower taxes.
Another difference in the standard of living is that crime rates are much higher in the US, especially in murdering.
The problem with the USA that Germany doesn’t have it’s that too many university graduates can’t find a suitable job. Many decide to work in different fields after college to earn at least some money.
Germany is a diverse country with a large variety of different landscapes. It stretches from the North and Baltic seas to the Alps in the south, where the border with Austria also lies.
The landscape is predominantly flat, the climate is moderate with chilly temperatures. But there are also highlands, rolling hills, lowlands, beautiful lakes, and rivers. Forest covers a huge percentage of Germand land, almost a third.
You can spend your weekends wandering in the forests, sitting by many rivers and lakes, hiking hills, and mountains or exploring beaches and islands in the north.
The USA surely beats Germany at this point. The size of the country plays the role here. The US is in times bigger than Germany and is located in different climate zones.
The USA is the world” s third-largest country in size and the third-largest in terms of population. Located in North America, the country is bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean, and on the east by the Atlantic Ocean.
The USA has 50 states, almost each of them has something special in its nature and landscape.
From the tropical beaches of Florida to the snowy peaks of the Rocky Mountains, from the rolling lands and barren deserts in the west to the huge areas of dense wilderness in the north.
If you really want diversity and an exciting traveling experience, the USA will be the right choice. Europe it’s all about culture and not much about the landscape.
The German public transportation system is well connected and very punctual. Many cities have a subway or intercity transportation, all towns have local busses.
The prices might be a bit high, so you want to look for train discounts or special deals, for example, traveling in the group going to be always beneficial.
With a student card, you will get a discount too, especially for a monthly or yearly pass, which is normally expensive.
Main big cities in Germany are connected with high-speed trains which makes the life of business travelers easier as there is almost no need for taking a flight.
If you prefer to travel eco, Germany is also pedestrian and bike-friendly, each city has mandatory biking roads, which make riding a bike hassle-free.
Compared to cities in the US, drivers pay more attention here. Fewer cyclists ignore the rules of the road as well.
Generally speaking, any person living in Germany can live their life comfortably without owning any motor vehicles.
Public transportation in the USA is different than in Germany, but it exists! In big cities, you will find a subway, in smaller ones you might want to use a bus. However, if you live in the suburbs, buses will not run as often and you may have to find alternative methods to get around.
Overall, infrastructure isn’t that good as in Germany, and if you are living outside of the town you need a car.
Taxis services are expensive the same as in Germany, but in the USA you can use a Uber! This is a huge advantage.
Bicycles are used as well it can be a great way to get around in the local area. If you live in a city, the bus system will likely be pretty extensive, as with most public transportation systems in large urban areas.
In the US, not having a car can be a disadvantage, when in Germany, many people live their life without even thinking about owning a car. Furthermore, cheap fuel makes owning a vehicle much more affordable than in Germany.
If you move to Germany, you can expect to eat many foods that are part of the traditional cuisine. However, you can find some Italian, Turkish, Mexican, Japanese, Chinese, and Vietnamese food throughout Germany that will give you some variety.
However, Germany has fewer chain restaurants and chain stores than the US and more family-owned places.
Due to the big numbers of Turks and Arabs in the German population, the Middle East and Turkish food especially fast food like döner kebab and falafel can be found everywhere.
German food mostly contains pork in different forms, like for example sausage as well as potatoes and pickled foods.
If you are vegetarian, you might have a hard time, in the south and throughout the country, pork is the main meal element. German cuisine varies with the region, in the north, they eat lots of fish.
The United States is a melting pot of cultures as a result of the many immigrants that came here from various other countries across the globe.
Therefore they have picked up foods from other nations these include American Indians, African Americans, Asians, Europeans, and Latin Americans.
Generally, Americans love meat and potatoes, the same as Germans, but potatoes come often as fries. Mexican food is very common in the USA due to the big amount of Spanish-speaking people.
Most of the fast foods came from the USA which automatically became their traditional and trendy foods such as hot dogs, burgers, pizzas, hamburgers, burritos, tacos, and others.
Consequently, food in the USA is more international when Germans prefer to eat more of their traditional dishes.
In Germany, you can enjoy 13 national holidays in addition to your minimum of 20 weekdays leave.
You are legally guaranteed a paid minimum entitlement of 20 days of vacation if you work five days a week on a full-time job and 24 if you work 6 days a week. If you are disabled, you get 5 days more. If you are underage, you also get more (between 25 – 30 days, depending on your age).
In practice, almost everybody often gets even more vacation days (between 25 – 30 days), and on average Germans have 29 days. These days, of course, are paid by the employer.
Total: 38 days of (vacation plus national holidays)
In the US, employees receive 15 days of paid vacation per year and an additional 10 days of public holidays. In total it comes to 25 days off in the year, which is almost 2 weeks fewer than in Germany.
Entertainment/Things to see and do
Both countries offer a variety of different things to do, see, explore. Germany is more cultural, visiting historical signs is very popular, day or weekend city trips as well.
Germany also offers many cultural events and entrainment opportunities such as concerts, festivals, celebrations, parties, nature spots, parks, lakes and rivers, cities to visit countless architectural sights, cathedrals, etc.
Germany is a diverse country, you can do weekend gateways only within the country and still haven’t seen everything.
Due to the size and position of the country, the US has a very diversified nature, landscape, and climate. While living in the USA, you can explore countless amount of exciting places and probably you won’t cover all of them.
Each state has something special about it and the climate is different as well. The natural beauty of the US is still very untouchable and undiscovered compared to the German natural reserves, which everyone knows and has visited.
The USA is full of national parks, epic mountains, picturesque hiking trails, and stunning beaches. The diversity is definitely on point in the USA.
America is so large that you can travel for miles on the highways between main cities and towns without seeing another soul.
However, the country has almost no history or historical buildings and places, if architecture, traditions and heritage somethings you are interested in Germany will be a better choice.
Airports in Germany and the USA
Germany has many airports (539), many of them international, and some only domestic or charter ones. The country connected itself well with trains and flights between big cities.
In the USA you can find some of the largest airports in the world with flights to most of the countries. In total, the country has 19,700 airports and 149 of them are international. Whereas in Germany only 36 offer flights to other countries.
However, Germany has many options for flying with low-cost airlines such as Ryanair, Wizzair, and others for a small price.
So you can travel domestically and internationally for less than 50 EUR. In fact, popular flights to Mallorca are offered for as much as 30 EUR both ways.
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