Never in my life had I imagined I’d live in Europe. But in trying to escape living with my abusive hoarder dad, and being told all my life that Malaysia is a hell hole that I needed to escape from in general, and being tired of the US immigration system’s difficulty, I found myself living in Germany for a good amount of time. Since the early 2010’s, it has actually been incredibly easy to enter Germany, either as a student or worker, and attain German permanent residence shortly after. As I later would discover, there’s good reason why Germany doesn’t have skilled immigrants lining up at its door…
I could literally write a book about this but here are the points in brief. The gist of it, or TL;DR, is if Germany (and really, Europe in general) is somehow on your radar as a place to move to, seriously reconsider your options.
BS you’ll hear about Germany
- Everyone speaks English: You’ll hear that Germans are all taught English as a second or third language in school and it’s hard to learn German on arrival because everyone will want to speak with you in English. Coming from Malaysia, a country which makes white people ask “so where’d you learn how to speak English?”, I can say a LOT more Malaysians speak English, and at a better level while at it, than Germans.
- You only need English to get around: This is like the “free giveaway” shops sell you on in their flyers, only for you to go there and find out “free” isn’t really free but requires a minimum purchase before you qualify. People in major restaurants and retail shops are the only guaranteed English speakers. For the rest of daily life, it’s a hit or miss (mostly miss – no English for you). Including but not limited to landlords, government service officials (including the immigration office that issues visas to foreigners), service people you deal with (such as banks/credit card companies, dry cleaners, apartment maintenance, customer support from online shops, etc), basically everything else that isn’t a major restaurant or shop.
- Lots of job opportunities: There’s some truth to this if you’re in the narrow group of people with 2 to 10 years of working experience, so you’re neither competing with the swarm of fresh local graduates nor excluded from super high-level positions because you’re not white and/or German/European. This is because:
- About all entry-level jobs require fluent German, especially office jobs that pay a decent salary (35,000 EUR and above before taxes). You stand no chance if you’re a non-EU foreigner who graduated outside of Germany for these kinds of jobs because priority is given to local Germans, local Europeans, and international students who graduated with a German degree.
- With 2 to 10 years of working experience, one can kinda by-pass the German language requirement for a job and likely qualify for an EU Blue Card visa, based on a minimum salary, so parity with local candidates is less of an issue. However, it is still not a walk in the park.
- The job hunt in Germany at any level for someone who wants to work in English is frustrating because there are lots of job ads that are written entirely in English, and you spend the time clicking and skimming through it, only to find a point buried at the end that says “fluent or close to native German required”.
- Foreigners tend to hit a hard ceiling in their career in Germany as early as 40 years old. High-level jobs that pay 100k to 150k EUR are difficult to get but still possible, but to break into upper management and above is just about impossible (especially relative to the US and Asia, which have tons of Indian C-levels and white C-levels respectively). Those positions and their 150k EUR or higher salaries are reserved almost exclusively for Germans (and to a lesser extent, other Europeans. Seems some companies like to have a token Italian or French senior manager to show “diversity!!!!”)
- Come for the free education, in English! I noticed that European countries have doubled down their efforts at recruiting international students since the early 2010’s. Germany has been touting free education for international students in all but one state (and even then, 1.5k EUR per semester tuition is still dirt cheap versus the typical 15 to 30k figures in the US, UK and Australia). They also boast about various programs and their classes being available in mostly or entirely English. Here’s what they don’t tell you (disclaimer: I did my bachelor’s in the US, but this is what I’ve gathered and verified through multiple international students in Germany who were doing their bachelor’s):
- There is no obligation to offer all the classes, let alone in English, every semester. So if a class that fulfills a graduation requirement is offered in English only once a year and you missed it, too bad for you. You either have to take an equivalent class in German (too bad for you if your German isn’t at that level) or delay your graduation until you can take the class offered in English (too bad for you)
- The “not my problem” culture is hugely prevalent in society but particularly the university system because nobody is paying the university on an individual level (unlike in the US, UK and Australia where students get to complain and be heard occasionally because they’re “paying customers”). The above point is an illustration of just one example.
- If you’re doing a bachelor’s degree, you most likely don’t have any work experience or other higher education, and the unseen cost is time. You WILL have to learn German to get a job because, as mentioned above, an overwhelming majority of fresh grad jobs require German at a near-native fluent level (learning the language to that level is typically a 2 year task on its own).
- Great work-life balance. This is absolutely true if you land a job at the right company, with sane management that focuses on work done over time spent at office. However, this is also a feature in every single country, including those with nasty workaholic reputations like the US and Singapore! On the flip side of the table, there are plenty of terrible jobs that work you like a dog and expect unpaid overtime in Germany. But of course, the Positive Vibes people will never tell you that!
- Most foreigners will work in more “diverse” companies for a variety of reasons (e.g. tendency to move to the main cities, language, etc) which means either multinational corporations or startups.
- I can tell you there’s a lot of companies, particularly in startups, in Germany that are terrible and have toxicity that’s on par with the “Chinaman companies” in Malaysia/Singapore. One particular company I worked for (a 15-year-old “startup” of 300 employees) matched the description of a stereotypical Chinaman company above, point for point. And yes, it was 100% German – a German company, founded by Germans, all-German senior management (because I’ve been asked before if it was an Asian company or run by Asians that happened to be in Germany).
- Despite touting excellent employee rights, many of these toxic companies have a “hire and fire” culture anyway and break a lot of laws (and get away with it… so much for the “rule based society” eh?). They thrive on taking advantage of young and naive people, especially foreigners from outside the EU, who usually have no clue about their rights and/or are afraid of losing their visa status.
- Describing said crappy companies requires at least another 10,000 words (I’m not joking) but my personal experience is I’ve been let go from 2 companies in Germany before and, to their surprise because I’m young AND non-EU, I sued them in court for unfair dismissal.
- I won both times but it has not deterred either company from continuing the same practices till today (based on what I hear from ex-colleagues who are still at the companies). After all, the chances of someone suing them is low – usually people chicken out when they’re brought into the meeting room with HR in it and sign away their rights in the “mutual dismissal agreement” sheet in return for 1 or 2 months’ pay. Even if they’re sued, they don’t lose a lot of money – I estimate each company that I sued was out 15-25k EUR maximum, including settlement payment, lawyer and court fees.
- Lots of bureaucracy… and that’s good because there’s a process for everything (as the shills will try to argue). No, it’s actually bad because first off, many rules are severely outdated (conceived as long as over 100 years ago!) and for most part, they serve as guidelines.
- Germans typically use “but it says so in some obscure part of the rules that are dozens of pages long” as a get-out-of-jail-free card to shrug it off as “your problem” for not following the rules.
- The reality is the rules really are bendable but it depends on the person’s face (basically, just like Malaysia). If the person serving you likes your face (better to be white, sometimes they make a pass if you’re Asian because of “hardworking” stereotypes, but almost no chance for those with darker skin), then there may be a chance they’ll let things slide or go easy on you if you forget a requirement or two.
- Nearly everything has to be done in-person and on paper. Forget about getting much or anything done online!
- Back when I was applying for grad school in Germany in 2014, the process I had to go through on “Uni Assist” (a central application website for many German universities) was fill up and submit the online form, receive a “summary” of everything I had just submitted and had to print out everything (yes, literally print out… onto paper) and then physically mail the results of what I had just filled AND SUBMITTED on the website to Germany. Rinse and repeat for each and every application to a different university. I spent about 1,000 MYR (~250 USD at the time) on FedEx alone! In hindsight, I was very stupid to not see this as a massive red flag on how Germany actually works compared to the nice and pretty picture everyone loves to paint about it online.
- Free healthcare, free education, free free free! Absolute bullshit because none of that is really free, but baked into the taxes. That’s why when your pre-tax salary is 60,000 EUR a year or 5,000 EUR a month, the amount that goes into your bank account (post-tax) is 2,9xx EUR! A whopping 40% chopped right off. The “free healthcare” parroting really triggers me in particular because there is literally a (mandatory and around 7-8% of your salary) health insurance payment stated on everyone’s payslip (denoted as “KV” on the payslip, which stands for Krankenversicherung, which is “health insurance” in German). Why is misinformation like this so widespread? It’s as if all the people saying it have never worked a single day in their lives and therefore have never seen a payslip before.
I don’t have an issue with Germany having downsides in daily life because every country has its own set of problems. What’s really appalling is the massive push of misinformation that only highlights the positives of a country and just outright burying the downsides (not even downplaying).
6 of the 7 points above were exactly what sold me on moving to Germany in 2014. I’m the type of person who likes doing a lot of research and frankly I could barely find any “negative reviews” of Germany and could only find upsides. And I’ll openly admit it once again – moving to Germany was the biggest mistake and waste of my life I have ever made so far (though I’m not that old) and by writing my honest review, I hope to help save someone else the trouble and misery I had gone through.
General life in Germany
Also, have a few facts about how life actually is.
- Massive dating racism: Since I’m an Asian guy, the first thing I need to warn you if you’re also a minority dude reading this, that the dating life is absolutely MISERABLE in Germany. If you’re single upon arrival to Germany/Europe, the chances are high that you’ll stay that way until you leave. This is a big issue and actually a primary motivator for me to leave. People have tried to gaslight me into believing I just needed to write my profile better, put better photos of myself or partake in more activities in-person… until I tried putting my profile up in SEA (see study linked above) where I had matches rolling in every 3-4 days, while I could go for MONTHS in Germany without a single match.
- Backward and monotonous: Locals like to call it “relaxing and cultured” especially in comparison to those boorish Americans, but if you come from the competitive, big city life of America or Asia, it’s horribly boring and backwards. Many establishments are cash only. Everything closes around 8pm +/- 1 hour in the city areas, can’t imagine what life in a small town is like. Nightlife is exclusively drinking and smoking (with majority of bars allowing smoking indoors, very nice!)
- Home of the world’s rudest customer service: To add to the above, there’s a non-insignificant number of Germans who are an absolutely miserable bunch (the German friends I have concur) – and you’ll find many of them working in the businesses that you will patronize in daily life. They’re spiteful, rude and honestly just give off the feeling that they hate their job and the customers they’re supposed to serve to the deepest level. If you hate your job and/or dealing with people so much, then just quit. But they won’t. In Germany, customer service scolds YOU.
- Scams all around: While Europeans are quick to boast about the lack of guns and shootings (Wow, how amazing…not. As a paranoid person, I lived for years in America just fine, without the fear of getting shot ever on my mind), they rarely tell you about the petty crime that’s rampant on their own continent and arguably even more irritating. And I’m not talking about just pickpockets, beggars and small timers – I have been scammed more times by businesses in Germany more than I ever have living in Malaysia which, remember, has Le 3rd World Stereotype and is supposed to be worse.
- Again I’ll need a lot more words and will go into the details in a separate article, but I’ve been accused of damaging items and therefore denied to return them for a refund (one was a clothing article, the other was an electronic item), scammed by a car dealer (false accusation of damaging a rim during a test drive) and car rental company (car was vandalized in the parking lot after return but somehow that still was ‘my fault’ because I was the last person who rented the vehicle)
- Visa office: As a foreigner in Germany, you will have to deal with the immigration office quite a bit and it’s a load of fun! (Wow am I glad I don’t have to deal with that crap any more!)
- At the time, I had gone to Germany just at the start of their 2015 refugee crisis, the website constantly showed no free appointment slots for everyone (back then, some said it was due to the overload caused by the refugees, some said it was because the website was functionally broken to begin with).
- Because you had to get a “proper” student visa after arrival in Germany (this can only be done in-person, in Germany… which is the opposite of US, Canada, Australia, etc which tend to expect you to get a visa from their embassies BEFORE arriving in the country) and by a certain timeframe (even if there was no deadline, it was hard to get anything done like get an apartment rental contract), the only thing my friends and I could do was go to the visa office at 3 am (there were already 11 people ahead of us at 3am…) and queue up until the office opened at 7 or 8 am.
- For a government office that deals exclusively with FOREIGNERS, you’d think the staff would speak at least English. But no, most of them only spoke German and some of them gave my friends a VERY hard time (not just because they didn’t speak the language, but apparently also because “oh look, more immigrants entering the country”). I was lucky enough to have gotten a friendly lady and all the required docs ready, so there were very few words that needed to be exchanged.
- Referring back to point 6 of the previous section, Germans love to tout how there are rules for everything but funny enough, you’re welcomed with a prime example of “face judging” early on in the visa office. My friends and I found it really weird that we all brought the same documents, had the same “blocked account” deposit amount (proof of being able to pay for cost of living), were studying at the same university, for the exact same program at the same time… yet me as a Malaysian and a girl from Hong Kong received visas valid for over a year (!) after the month we would graduate, while the Indians and South Americans received visas that were valid only until the month of graduation itself (we can only guess what the variable is here…)
Europeans get defensive
Almost every single time I’ve made the facts above known, any European who hears it will immediately jump to refute the claims. And literally every single time, their counter is an ad hominem – which isn’t even a counter-argument.
Their “comebacks” don’t attack my points (or even bother to address them really) but just jump right to a false conclusion and attack me as a person. Here are some examples:
- I am German and have never heard of such experiences ever, therefore what you’re saying must be false and doesn’t exist.
- Obviously you are the troublemaker, that’s why you got scammed/dismissed/etc.
- That is just your experience and it doesn’t happen to anyone else.
- It works differently in America (for some reason, people always assume you’re American on the internet if you’re critical of Europe) so your expectations cannot be the same while in Germany (oh so it’s unrealistic expectations to NOT get scammed or calling out the blatantly false lies about how fantastic Germany/Europe is that are spread across the Internet?)
- Spin doctor statement of highlighting the positive things about Europe and chalking up said incidents to be a way that life works. For instance, if you were to point out how backwards the cash only culture is, the spin doctors will tell you that Germans value privacy so much (yeah I’m sure they do, since many of them share their full birthdate and entire history down to which kindergarten they went to on Xing, the German alternative to LinkedIn!) that they refuse to be tracked via their purchases they put on a credit card or debit card. And the “cash only” culture definitely has nothing to do with tax avoidance and money laundering – especially not with the income taxes taking anywhere from a third to half of your income away. No, it has absolutely nothing to do with that!
Since my target audience are Malaysians, Singaporeans and other Asians who have been ingrained with “Western countries = more betterer and developed” perception, my advice is to seriously reconsider if you are thinking of moving to Germany or Europe for a “better life”.
Seriously, I grew up being told for over 20 years that Malaysia is a third-world, developing trash country that I needed to escape from, only to discover that Germany is far worse!
And really that isn’t my gripe with Germany and Europe at all – there is no perfect country and every country has its flaws. By moving, you’re just trading one set of problems for another. The real issue I have is the massive push of a false narrative that it’s oh-so-much-better-in-Europe combined with the active denial of flaws when they’re pointed out.
More people need to come out with the truth of what Europe really is like, because the praises of perfection are just too good to be true. You frequently read about the bad things in America (guns and violence, healthcare that makes you go bankrupt, no workers rights, no days off, at-will employment!), Asia (overcrowded cities, expensive property, scammers and gold diggers, workaholic culture!) and Australia (expensive, far away from the world and boring, skin cancer, red necks!)… but isn’t is suspicious when you look for the downsides of Europe and you’re met with “it’s fantastic, nothing bad really”. Even the refugee problem has already been swiftly swept under the rug and you rarely hear about it in mainstream media.