Frankfurt, Germany Report of what it's like to live there - 02/27/20
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?
This was my third overseas tour. I have previously served in Riga, Latvia, and Baghdad, Iraq.
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?
I'm from Southeastern Virginia, but NoVa is pretty much home base. There are daily flights from Dulles and multiple flights from around the country. Frankfurt is a hug air hub and so is very easy to get to.
3. How long have you lived here?
I lived there for three years.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Assignment to the Consulate.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Most Consulate families are assigned to the Siedlung (settlement), a former military housing compound that was signed over to the city when the military left and then leased back to the State Department. As an 02 with a child, we had three good sized bedrooms, two baths, a large living room, a decent sized dining room, and a serviceable kitchen. Some kitchens have a more open design, but ours was a separate room. Larger apartments have two levels, but are on the third floor. The apartments get good light and cross breezes, but can be hot in an extended heat wave (there is no central air). The Siedlung can be a little loud and a little fishbowl-ish, but if you have kids, it's great to be able to shoo them out the door and not worry about them.
The Siedlung is a 30 minute walk, 20 minute bus ride, or 10 minute drive or bike, to the Consulate.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Most groceries are less expensive than in NoVa. The exceptions are ethnic foods and beef. Both of those are available and affordable in Wiesbaden at the Commissary, for reasonable prices.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
None really. I both US quality cleaners, OTC drugs, and toilet paper at the Commissary.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Food delivery is cheap and reliable. Just about everything is available.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
I did not have a problem, but there are apartments that have difficulty with mold.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Local post works fine, but the Consulate Post Office is awesome and everything comes quickly.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
I hired a member of the char force at the Consulate to clean every other week. He charged me 15E an hour plus supplies and did a great job.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Gyms are kind of pricey, but they are all over the place. There are fancy gyms downtown and a CrossFit box just two metro stops away.
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, yes, and yes. Setting up your bank account can take some time with German/EU identity regulations, but once you have it there is no problem using your German ATM anywhere.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Most are available. Frankfurt is a very international city.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Hard to say. I would guess not too much. There's a lot of English in Germany, although you might get resting disapproval face if you don't understand their German. You can order most delivery food online, so you don't need German for that. The Consulate has an active language program, and the city offers lessons as well that are either cheap or free.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
The EU is pretty advanced relative to accessibility. The trains are accessible.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
German trains FTW. I miss the ease of public transportation in Germany.
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?
A small car good on gas. Many people ignore the advice not to bring their huge SUVs and they make parking on the Siedlung challenging...
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, about two weeks, maybe. But just knock on your neighbor's door to "borrow a cup of wifi" before you get it installed.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
We split the difference. My son got service from the provider in Wiesbaden and I got a pay as you go unlocked phone from one of the big electronics dealers using Tmobile cards. Both were fine. Getting the pay as you go cards means registering which means having your local id, which can take six weeks or so....
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?
There are lots of dogs on the Siedlung, cats too. I am not an expert though...
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 many EFM jobs at the Consulate.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
There's a great deal of work to be done with the refugee community or even volunteering to help in the Consulate community. Plenty of other social services organizations too, but German might be required. If you speak Arabic, you'd be a real asset.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Typical consulate attire, not quite the embassy, but not quite business casual either....
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
I found Frankfurt to be an extremely safe city. With good awareness, you can go just about anywhere. I was comfortable letting my son go to the city center at 15 as long as he had his phone and was with friends.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Seasonal allergies are a bummer, especially with no a/c in the apartments. The med unit is convenient and there are many doctors and hospitals to cover just about any medical situations.
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?
Frankfurt is a city, but a financial one, and a small one, the air quality is really good, except for allergies as mentioned above.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Birch trees are a bear and hard on Southerners, like me, who aren't used to them.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
There are all kinds of people who live on the Siedlung.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Very temperate. A couple of weeks of really cold winter and a couple of weeks of hot summer, otherwise very comfortable. Less snow than I expected, but it snows a great deal within about a half an hour of Frankfurt.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Most kids go to Frankfurt International School, one of the seven founding schools of the IB program. It was a good choice, with a strong athletics program and great facilities. The quality of teaching was uneven, in our experience, but not so much so as to downgrade the schools. There are numerous other choices in Frankfurt and talking to other parents all seemed satisfied with their experience as well, so you shouldn't feel tied to FIS. There is an opportunity to attended the DoD schools, but there are usually limited spaces available, so check early.
2. 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 is a preschool on the Siedlung. I don't know if it is good, but it is certainly convenient. FIS has many after school activities and there is a late bus to return to the Siedlung. With sports, my son was usually returning home after I did...
3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, but you may have to work to get your kid involved. They are very German-centric.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
There are tens of thousands of expats in Frankfurt. It is an international banking and transit hub.
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 activities on the Siedlung. Excellent restaurants, english language theatre and movies. Amateur theatre and improv groups in English. Street festivals, etc. etc. etc.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Frankfurt is a good city period.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Germans are pretty tolerant of LGBT issues. The association is active at the Consulate and there are destinations for LGBT folks around the city.
5. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Germans are northern European, so can be hard to get to know, but they are warm and friendly once you break through. There is some racism and concern about refugees in Germany, but not necessarily more than in the United States.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
There is some unease directed at refugees throughout Europe. Germany admitted more than most other countries, but in Germany, Frankfurt is at least as welcoming as any other community.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Local soccer. Street Festivals. Spring and October Fests. Christmas markets. Honestly, if you can't have a good time in Germany, you might want to rethink whether you want to be an expat anywhere.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Rhein River day cruising. I did it multiple times and took visiting friends on most occasions.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Christmas decorations. Bembels (clay pitchers for apple cider). Octoberfest clothing...
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Safe, clean, great public transportation, great food.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
That Germans have resting disapproval face.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Why are you offering? I'd move back in a heartbeat.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Four wheel drive.
4. But don't forget your:
Patience for being scowled at.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
There are tons of great German language movies on NetFlix.