2 June 2017

Kari Martindale - Expat in Germany

Kari Martindale - Expat in Germany

We’ve had the chance to talk to Kari Martindale, 41, an American expat who has moved to Germany with her family. Mrs. Martindale who has been living there for almost four years, now works as a writer and ESL instructor. 

Read more about her experiences in the full interview below.


Q: Where are you from originally?

A: Pennsylvania.


Q: What made you move out of the USA?

A: My husband's job.


Q: Where are you living now? How did you come to choose this new country of residence?

A: My husband had the opportunity to apply for a position in Germany. He'd dreamed of returning to Germany ever since he had lived there as a child when his father was stationed there with the Army.


Q: How long have you been living in Germany?

A: We just wrapped up almost 4 years in Germany.


Q: Are you living alone or with your family? If yes, how are they adjusting to the Expat Lifestyle?

A: Our household in Germany consisted of me, my husband, our elementary school-aged daughter, and our dog. My husband had very little issues with the transition, as he worked with English-speaking colleagues. My daughter had a rough first few months. Neither she nor I spoke any German but weren't in constant contact with English-speakers like my husband was. We threw our daughter into Kindergarten after we found a house; she was left to figure out the language and culture the hard way.


Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes? How do you cope with homesickness?

A: I missed home the most during our first winter in Germany. We'd only been in-country for a couple of months when the darkness set in. It was a long, cold winter, and my daughter and I were still trying to figure everything out. Fortunately, technology kept us in touch with family and friends back home. We were able to Skype, Facebook, etc., and I was blogging the experience. One or more of us also flew home at least once a year. It was equally hard for my family, as my daughter is the only granddaughter to my mother and the only great-granddaughter to my grandparents.


Q: What do you think about the locals?

A: The locals in Dieburg were typical of Germans: nice enough, but hard to penetrate as a community. It didn't help that mild tensions grew between the US and Germany shortly after we arrived.


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: We did not socialize with American expats outside of my husband's colleagues. We didn't spend much time with them, either. My daughter made friends through school. I was friendly with neighbors and other parents, but never really became truly close to any Germans. The closest friendship I had was with a woman who became my speaking partner during our second or third year in Germany. She retired as the secretary to my daughter's school when my daughter was in first grade, and shortly thereafter, contacted me about getting together to practice English/German. It was a nice friendship, and we remain in touch occasionally.


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

A: Many things were pretty close in price, although the value-added tax (VAT tax) could hike up a price. Utilities run more expensive than in the States. Communications ran about the same as what I'm paying in the States for cell/internet.

Q: How much is a cup of coffee?

  • A: Depending upon where you are, between $1.50-3.00. I'm speaking in dollars for simplicity, although Germany is obviously on the Euro.

Q: How much is a meal in an inexpensive restaurant?

  • A: You can eat a good, solid meal for about $10/head.

Q: How much is a meal in an expensive restaurant?

  • A: Like anywhere, you can't generalize this. You can have an expensive meal that costs $25/head, $50/head, $75/head. It really depends on the restaurant. Probably the most expensive meal we enjoyed in Germany, including a tasting menu, cost over $200 for just me and my husband. That's not typical, though--that's extravagant. 

  Q: How much is a bottle of wine? How about a pack of cigarettes?

  • A: I don't smoke, so I'm not sure about cigarettes. As for wine, like anywhere, it depends on the wine and from where it comes. You can get a good bottle of Riesling for under $10, or you can pay much more. Meanwhile, and I say this, in all honesty, it was almost always cheaper to order beer than water in Germany.


Q: Do you have any tips for future expats when it comes to opening a bank account in Germany?

A: Make sure you understand the paperwork and any fees associated with your account. If you're considering keeping your American account, be absolutely sure that they can conduct the bank transfers that you need to be able to make in order to conduct a huge portion of your business in Germany.


Q: How will you describe your experience with government paperwork such as applications for Visa and work permits? Why is that so?

A: I did not have to jump through visa hoops because the US Government has a specific agreement with Germany that covered us.  However, when we registered our daughter in the public school system, it opened up a can of bureaucratic worms that took some sorting out.


Q: Would you say that healthcare in Germany is reliable? Any preferred clinics or advice for expats?

A: Yes. We used a local pediatrician for my daughter. It is hard to find what Americans consider OTC medications, without actually speaking to a pharmacist at the Apotheke (pharmacy). However, they're helpful. We never had an issue getting the medication we needed for my daughter or for minor care. As for me and my husband, who is retired Air Force, we were eligible to be seen on American military bases.


Q: Did you secure a health insurance in the US or Germany? What should be the essentials in the coverage for expats, in your opinion?

A: No, and I have no advice in this area.


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: The government chose our movers. Arrival was not an issue, but we had problems on our move back to the States. Movers tried to leave without giving us documentation proving that they'd taken our household shipment, there were some items missing, etc. 

Before a move, speak with the Rathaus (city hall) to see if you need a permit and maybe a no-parking sign for the street, since moving trucks will be blocking the way. Speak to the Rathaus at least 3 days in advance, if not more.


Q: What is the biggest challenge that you have faced as a new expat?

A: The language barrier was our biggest challenge. 


Q: What do you think are the positive and negative sides of living in Germany?

A: The best thing about living in Germany was its central location. A few hours, and you're in so many other foreign countries. The Schengen Zone made travel so easy. The negative side to living in Germany was probably how hard it was to penetrate the community of the small town where we lived. I'd imagine it's easier in a large, multi-cultural city with less-rooted citizens.


Q: What are the best things to do in the area? Any particular recommendations for future expats?

A: I could go on all day about things to do in Germany and surrounding countries. Since most things are closed down on Sundays, it's a great time to explore. You can't live in Germany without visiting its castles. If you like beer/wine, visit a brewery or wine country. There are hiking trails and paths all over the place. Go see a soccer game. 

Make sure to head to festivals and events. Don't miss Karneval--find a city/town that holds a parade. I loved the Dieburg Karneval parade because it wasn't as crazy as a big city. And the absolute best time of year is Advent when the Christmas Markets pop up all over Germany.

One thing I loved to do was take a "brown sign day," where we looked for a brown sign, indicating some kind of sightseeing opportunity, and followed it. 


Q: Do you have plans to move to a different country or back home in the future?

A: We moved back home to the States and plan to stay put.


Q: What tips will you give to expats living in the country?

A: Learn the language. Period. Also, make sure you understand the cancellation terms of any contracts.


Q: Do you have favourite websites or blogs about Germany?

A: I don't read any blogs faithfully. I typically search a specific topic and read what's out there. I do follow a few relevant bloggers on twitter: @bierandcrumpets; @cherylhowardcom; @travelsofadam.

My blog: karilogue.com