Do I need to know German for Jobs in Germany?

The question that everyone who wants to work in Germany wants to be answered, especially those in tech with companies or startups sponsoring a visa. It's complicated but tl;dr - yes, depending on your profession.

Do you require German for work in Germany? Possibly not. Can you have a good social circle/life in Germany without German? Probably not. Even if you manage to find an expat bubble (and that isn't difficult), chances are that you will struggle when you have to deal with the famous German bureaucracy.

For startups or most tech companies in Berlin, English acts as the spoken language. This is also my experience where almost all of the conversation, meetings, the discussion takes place in English. When you're at the coffee machine waiting for your daily hit of caffeine, that's a different story. Or when you want/have to talk to someone from Finance, Accounting, Legal, or outside your tech department, be prepared to try your best in German.

This is also likely the case in most cities like Dusseldorf, Munich, Frankfurt, Hamburg. I'd expect less prevalence of English everywhere else.

No German, no job?

Contrary to what one might say, Germans in STEM and other areas will straight up tell you that they don't speak English and proceed to have a fluent business conversation in English. It does give you a lot of advantages during interviews/apartment hunting if you can speak German or show interest in learning the language when you are in Germany. Most companies offer German courses in the evening or reimburse you for that.

The demand for highly skilled workers is extremely high that companies are willing to hire qualified candidates from abroad. At a minimum, the team you join will speak English comfortably if you're planning to join a company that offers visa sponsorship. These companies tend to help with relocation (a bit more information below) too.

Social Life without German

For the first few months when I moved to Germany from India, I didn't speak a lot of German. The work environment in English was comfortable and restaurants/bars/pubs in Berlin have cashiers & waiters who speak English (at least to a certain degree). Most supermarkets don't need any interaction.

Conversations during lunch can quickly happen in German - I wouldn't blame them. I would imagine that talking in English all day is a drain for a non-native speaker.

To find an English speaking doctor, that is going to be a difficult challenge. Lately, I have been stumbling upon doctors who speak English - this is in Berlin, so take this with a grain of salt if it's a different city. Doctolib has a languages filter, that comes in extremely handy. Beware though, while the doctor may speak English, receptionists certainly won't!

All official documents from the Bürgeramt (Citizen's office), doctor's visits, receipts, etc are always in German. Including your employment work contract from companies, which are usually in both German & English with a clause that indicates the German version takes the preference when in doubt.

Finding an apartment is difficult for a German. Finding an apartment for an aüslander (foreigner) is incredibly hard. The easiest way is to pay an agency (1.5x monthly rent) or find a furnished overpriced apartment till you can move elsewhere.

What can you do to make this easier?

If you have a work contract in Germany, there are some things that can make life easier.

  • Ask your company if they have a relocation bonus or a relocation agency like Meetra or Nomaden Berlin they can put you in touch with. This should help you get settled in atleast the first few weeks especially with
    • a visit to Ausländerbehörde (foreigners office) if you want to extend your work permit / blue card
    • finding & registering an apartment (a guide here on more about renting in Germany)
    • phone / internet
  • Deepl or Google Translate - former is superior and can help you write even decent emails!
  • Join a German language course or school and try to get upto atleast B1 - which should be ok for day to day activities
  • A bilingual friend or partner will do you a world of good! Take them everywhere and buy them some good beer!

I have been in Germany for almost three years. Taking German classes and immersing yourself in the language has made life a little easier here. Almost everyone appreciates the fact that someone is making an effort (almost, because some expect you to magically be fluent on day one) and people are patient enough to help you out of a situation.

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