Frankfurt, Germany Report of what it's like to live there - 08/14/16
Personal Experiences from Frankfurt, Germany
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No. I've lived in six other countries.
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
Washington, DC. Non-stop flights from Frankfurt to DC are about 9 hours. Frankfurt has one of the largest airports in the world and has non-stop flights to many hubs throughout the USA.
3. How long have you lived here?
A little over a year.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Posted at the U.S. consulate
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Apartment in the consulate's housing compound, known as the "Siedlung." Most consulate personnel live on the Siedlung, which is about 15 minutes from the consulate by car or bus, or about a 30 minute walk. Non-foreign affairs agencies may live off of the compound in leased apartments and commute times vary considerably.
The apartments on the Siedlung are spacious and include storage units that vary somewhat in size but are generally at least as large as a single car garage. Decor varies a bit depending on when the building was renovated. Not the fanciest or most stylish, but large and functional.
I was a bit apprehensive about living on a compound prior to arrival, having served in other posts where people were all housed within a few neighborhoods and feeling like everyone was on top one another and all up in one another's business. However, the compound here is so large that it doesn't really feel like that here. Plus, it's easier to get people together to do something, like go to dinner, because everyone doesn't scatter to the winds after work.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Nearly everything you could want is available on the economy or at the commissary/PX in Wiesbaden, a 30 minute drive away. Costs are similar to the USA.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Only a few things that aren't available locally or through online shopping, like Trader Joe's items.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Just about any type of cuisine is available in Frankfurt.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO or German postal service. DPO is fairly quick, 1-2 weeks usually. German mail is reliable, too.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
No clue. I'd imagine it's not cheap.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There's a tiny gym in the consulate, a medium sized gym on the housing compound, and any number of options on the economy.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
Yes, credit cards are widely accepted and safe to use, though Germans are more likely to use cash than Americans are. ATMs all over the place, including one at the consulate.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Several options, depending on your location and religious beliefs.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Basic knowledge of German will make your life easier, but Frankfurt's a very international city, so you don't really need it.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Some. Many buildings are wheelchair-accessible, but it's not universal.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
One sees just about anything on the road here from large SUVs to tiny roller skate-looking cars. I'd recommend something on the small end, as some streets are narrow and some parking garages are tight.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Sigh.Yes, but if you're on the consulate's housing compound, you're required to go through a particular company if you want internet, and in order to get internet, you have to also get cable TV. I really wish they'd get rid of this stupid contract and let people choose their own provider. Installation usually takes a couple of weeks. You have to set up your German bank account first, then order the service and make an appointment for installation.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
No clue. I use a work-provided phone.
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
Yes, good vet service available. No quarantine needed if coming from the USA, though I'm not sure if regs are different if the animal is coming from a different country. Germany is very pet friendly.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
There are a variety of EFM jobs at the consulate, some of which are quite substantive. It depends a bit on the luck of the draw of when you arrive at post and what's available at that point in time. I would think most jobs on the economy would require German ability, but maybe you could luck into something that doesn't require German with one of the multinational companies here.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
The consulate trends more toward business casual. Frankfurt is a fairly conservative banking town, but also has a lot of young people so one sees the whole range of attire.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Not really. I feel quite safe here. Europe's been a bit more on edge in the last year or so with the recent attacks in Brussels, Paris, Munich, etc., but I haven't really noticed a change in day-to-day activities.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Post has a good medical unit for routine check ups and such. Lots of options for other care on the economy, but I don't have direct experience. My guess is that it'd take something quite serious to lead to a medical evacuation, but I'm not an expert.
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
Good. No complaints and minimal allergy issues.
4. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
The winters can be long and grey. It doesn't get especially cold here, but the days do get short and the weather can be grey and gloomy for extended periods of time. A lot of people posted here travel for work more than half of the time they're here (couriers, regional IT folks, etc.) which can take a toll on them and their families.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Fairly temperate. Summers are warm, though not usually too hot. Winters aren't too cold (a bit of snow a couple of times per winter, usually) but can be very grey and rainy. Fall and spring are lovely.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Several options, but I don't have direct experience.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
There's a pre-school/day care on the housing compound. I think there are local options in German, but I don't know the process of enrolling or costs.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, I'm aware of several consulate kids playing several sports either through school or a league.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Quite large. Frankfurt has a lot of expats from the various multinational companies, the European Central Bank, etc. I think morale varies depending on the specific circumstances. The consulate is a strange place, with a lot of people TDY for regional duties more than 50% of the time and a lot of agencies (i.e. TSA, GSA) that aren't usually overseas, which causes some interesting dynamics and different expectations of what life overseas with the U.S. government should be like.
2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
There are any number of clubs one can join. There are a lots of consulate-related activities if one makes an effort.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
I think there's something for everyone here.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Yes. Very open, both at the consulate and in Frankfurt.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Frankfurt is a very international and multicultural city, however Germans have a different sense of what it means to be German than most Americans would have about what it means to be American. The recent refugee crisis has also caused some tensions against foreigners or those who look foreign.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
There are lots of fun festivals in and around Frankfurt. As an air and train travel hub, it's very easy to travel in Germany and internationally.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Lots of fun festivals. Christmas markets in December. Cruises on the Rhein. Wine tastings at any of the many vineyards in the area.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Christmas crafts, bembels (jugs for apple wine), etc.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
High quality of living, great travel opportunities, easy access to a lot of cultural events.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
4. But don't forget your:
You can get just about anything you need here.