5 June 2018

Erin McGann - Expat in Germany

Erin McGann - Expat in Germany

We’ve had the chance to talk to Erin McGann, 40, a Canadian expat who has moved to Germany with her family. Mrs McGann, who has been living there for about two years works as a freelance writer with a personal blog http://erinatlarge.com. Read more about her experiences in the full interview below.


Q: Where are you from originally?
A: I’m from Canada.


Q: What made you move out of Canada?
A: Well, the first time my husband and I moved to the UK with his job, then back to Vancouver, Canada, and then we moved to Germany, again with my husband’s job.


Q: Where are you living now? How did you come to choose this new country of residence?
A: We live in Heidelberg, Germany. It was my husband’s job again, but it was a move we were excited about.


Q: How long have you been living in Germany?
A: This summer will mark two years in Germany.


Q: Are you living alone or with your family? If yes, how are they adjusting to the Expat Lifestyle?
A: Yes, it’s myself, my husband and my school-age son. It took some time, obviously, it always does, but once we made some friends it was much easier.


Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes? How do you cope with homesickness?
A: I wouldn’t really call Vancouver ‘home’, as we’ve lived a few places and I had my son in London, so for me that city is important to me as well. I miss knowing where to find certain ingredients, or favourite restaurants, and definitely my mum being nearby. When these feelings threaten to overwhelm me, I try and make some plans around our new home: plan a holiday, research new restaurants, read a book about the local history. It’s important to find things that interest you about where you live now.


Q: What do you think about the locals?
A: I wouldn’t say you could make a sweeping generalization about any group of people, but we’ve had an overwhelmingly positive experience with local folks here in our little corner of Germany.


Q: Was it easy making friends and meeting people? Do you mainly socialise with other expats in Germany? How did you manage to find a social circle there?
A: I don’t know anyone else from Canada here, and judging by peoples’ surprise when they meet me, I don’t think there are many! It takes time to make friends, I know this from our previous living abroad experiences, so I try to be patient. Having a son in school is really good for meeting people – he’s in a bilingual school rather than the local International school. This means many of his classmates are local kids, and that’s been great. We don’t socialize with many other expats as we’re going to be here long term, and sometimes the mind set of someone only here for two years is quite different.


Q: How does the cost of living in Germany compare to your home?


Q: How much is a cup of coffee?
A: A latte is 2,80€ here, and in Vancouver (and London) it would definitely be more!

Q: How much is a meal in an inexpensive restaurant?
A: You could easily have a schnitzel and a glass of local wine for 10€ or less, and in Vancouver and London that would be nearly impossible.

Q: How much is a meal in an expensive restaurant?
A: Our local go-to for celebration meals would be closer to 25€ with wine for a couple of courses, again that wouldn’t get you far!

Q: How much is a bottle of wine? How about a pack of cigarettes?
A: Wine is an excellent bargain here as we live in the middle of a wine region, I regularly pay 6€ for a decent Wednesday night kind of bottle, maybe up to 12€ if guests are coming over – it would easily cost me twice or three times that to buy a decent bottle in a shop in either Vancouver or London. I have no idea when it comes to cigarettes!


Q: Do you have any tips for future expats when it comes to opening a bank account in Germany?
A: Bring all your paperwork with you showing where you live and your passport. Sparkasse is good as they are big, and have online banking in English (if that’s your mother tongue).


Q: How will you describe your experience with government paperwork such as applications for Visa and work permits? Why is that so?
A: We found it quite straight forward, but were shepherded through the process by a relocation agent. There is a lot of hard copies you are expected to keep track of, so I would suggest buying an accordion file early on!


Q: Would you say that healthcare in Germany is reliable? Any preferred clinics or advice for expats?
A: Oh yes, the healthcare here has been excellent – but like any country, it will depend where you live. There are both private and public healthcare insurers. If you know you are only going to be in Germany for a couple of years, either one will be fine, but if you plan to stay for any length of time, the public coverage is perfectly fine and will cost you less in the long run.


Q: Did you secure a health insurance in Canada or Germany? What should be the essentials in the coverage for expats, in your opinion?
A: I don’t have much experience with health insurance having only lived in Canada and the UK, and as we’re more immigrants than expats, so the local coverage is fine.


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Q: What was the most memorable about the packing and moving process to Germany? Which was the mover you chose and how was your experience with them?
A: We didn’t choose our mover, it was provided as part of our relocation. However, I would really look at your furniture and be ruthless about what is worth rebuying once you arrive. What is definitely worth taking are things that hold emotional value – books, art, quilts, kitchen equipment. That’s what will make it seem like home when you set up in a new place.


Q: What is the biggest challenge that you have faced as a new expat?
A: Learning German. I had some experience of what the rest of the upheaval would be like!


Q: What do you think are the positive and negative sides of living in Germany?
A: Germany is a huge country with incredibly different cultures from one region to another, so it would be hard to answer for the whole nation. From my perspective living in a small university town in the southwest, I would say I sometimes miss the diversity of restaurants and shops to get ingredients, but that’s as much as a function of living in a smaller town as being in Germany. Living in a wine region is amazing, and I love learning about the local vineyards and trying their wares. I know some people find the abruptness of the way some German folks interact as off-putting, but I have quite quickly gotten used to it, and really appreciate the directness to be honest. Sometimes living in London, it would takes years to find out you had been saying something incorrectly because no one wanted to tell you – here, you will always been informed right away!


Q: What are the best things to do in the area? Any particular recommendations for future expats?
A: Castles! There are so many castles to visit around Germany, it’s an embarrassment of riches really. My own town of Heidelberg has one of the most beautiful, I have to say.


Q: Do you have plans to move to a different country or back home in the future?
A: No, we’re quite happy in Heidelberg. I dream of buying a house in the nearby Palatinate, right in among the vineyards, but that’s mostly a day dream!


Q: What tips will you give to expats living in the country?
A: Learn German. Even if it’s just a bit, it makes such a difference. My neighbours, for instance, are the loveliest people, and I never would have got to know them if I couldn’t speak any German. Read about the history about your region – and I’m talking about before WWII – it’s fascinating stuff.


Q: Do you have favourite websites or blogs about Germany?
A: I have to humbly suggest my own, with lots of ideas for places to visit with kids in Germany: Erin at Large (http://erinatlarge.com)
For a funny take on living here in Germany, there’s 40% German (http://40percentgerman.com/) and My God, My Wife is German (http://ohmygodmywifeisgerman.com/)
To learn more about German food beyond wurst and kraut, read A Sausage Has Two (http://www.asausagehastwo.com/)
For the practical side of living in Germany, Live Work Germany is a good place to start (https://liveworkgermany.com/)