Frankfurt, Germany Report of what it's like to live there - 03/30/14

Personal Experiences from Frankfurt, Germany

Frankfurt, Germany 03/30/14

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

I've also lived in Bucharest, Milan, Singapore, Kathmandu, Kuala Lumpur, and Port Moresby.

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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?

Portland, OR 10-12 hours with connections in Houston sometimes. Or, you can fly direct as well.

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3. How long have you lived here?

I have lived here for two years in a three-year tour.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Foreign Service Officer.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

We are all put up in very lovely, large apartments on a huge housing complex. It is accessible to all so it feels like you live in a big city housing park. It is remarkable to me that people complain about the housing here. There is no way that the average FSO salaried person could afford to rent places this big in Europe for even a night, much less live in them for three years! People are respectful of one's privacy and space. It is great to live in big apartment in a European city. We have had more visitors at this post than any other in the 16 years I have been overseas. Commute by bus is about 15 minutes but you can walk or bike as well. Great location and centrally located to everywhere.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Very cheap because of the ability to use the Commissary. Great local grocery stores as well. We have not found it too prohibitive at all. Just have to be a smart shopper. You can also order stuff through Amazon and other vendors on-line. Costco, etc.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Nothing. You can get everything here.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Loads. McDonald's, Burger King, Chilli's, etc. All expensive, of course unless you go to the ones at the Commissary/Exchange.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

None. I have never seen an insect here except for butterflies.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

DPO and sometimes dip pouch.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Available but expensive. A lot of Croatian women work as domestics for approximately 12 Euro per hour.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

There is a perfectly adequate gym in the housing complex that his relatively inexpensive. There are loads and loads of public pools as well.

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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?

Credit cards not used as much as one would think for a fully developed economy. Make sure yours is "chipped" or it may not work at all. ATMs can be used everywhere and the Consulate is moving to an ATM based cash system.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Lots. Seems like every denomination has an English speaking service.

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6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

I don't speak a word of German and do fine BUT lots of folks that speak German have a much richer cultural experience and the Germans DO appreciate you trying to communicate in German. They all learn English in school but loath to speak it unless they can do it well. They are a proud people.

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7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Yes because there are lots of cobble stoned roads and sidewalk. None of the housing complexes are very accommodating. I think there are only a couple of ground floor apartments that have ramps.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Trains, buses, trams all cheap and safe. Taxis safe but expensive.

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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?

Any...A lot of middle aged men bring their "muscle cars" because you can drive as fast as you want to on the Autobahn. So if you have always wanted a Corvette but never bought one because the speed limit in New Jersey is 55 miles per hour, now is your big chance! There are buyers incentives through the military card holder program for FORD and BMW and lots of folks buy them here. We have a small SUV and love it. Owning a car here is like owning one in America except that you can drive WAY faster. You cannot wash your car here though as you will be fined. You MUST go to a car wash.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes and moderately pricey. Like the USA I think.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

I use my work one so no. Every European carrier is here though: from T Mobile to O2.

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Pets:

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?

No. Good pet care is available locally but expensive. Forget about grooming! Minimum is 100 Euro for a dog grooming.

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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?

Not sure. There are a lot of jobs at the Consulate it seems. I think you have to be able to work in the EU to work on the Economy. I know one college-aged kid whose mother is Swedish and father is an FSO and she is working at Urban Outfitters for example. There are loads of multi-national corporations here, pharmaceutical companies and banks so there are opportunities I think but maybe not for those with a Dip Passport.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Lots. Unlimited really.

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3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Business casual is how I would describe it. It is a Consulate and not an Embassy after all!

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

No. The German Police are very effective at keeping the crime in check. My kids go everywhere on their own by train and public transportation. You can see 6-8 year old kids on the buses alone all of the time. There ARE pick-pockets though. I did get pick-pocketed by a Roma but if you are aware of the Roma pick-pockets and are not stupid about it (like I was when I bought earrings from a Roma silver dealer only to have them stolen a few minutes later without knowing about it until much later!!)...anyway...just use common sense.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Lots of serious allergy and asthma problems. Local hospitals are good but very different from American hospitals. Lots of people deliver their babies here and complain about the lack of pain medication. There is an excellent Family Practice Clinic at the Consulate that can do everything you can get done at a doctors office in America. Plus more because they have a psychiatrist as well as two American doctors: one woman and one man. I go there all the time and love the nurses there who are great with shots and helping get appointment to dentists, etc. We are fortunate to have such a great clinic and it is free! They are very busy all of the time but you can still get an appointment the same day, in my experience. I haven't used places on the local economy but I have friends who do and local care seems good too.

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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 BUT everything blooms at once causing very heavy pollen concentrations. Everyone who has a history of asthma or allergies WILL have problems here. It's best to get loaded up on your allergy drugs before you come.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Winters suck. Lots of darkness, dampness and cold blowing snow. BUT last year, the winter was fabulous! Mild and virtually no snow. It is a blessing and a curse because there was no snow in the Alps either.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

My kids are at the Frankfurt International School which we have liked. Good education but not much school spirit so if they are athletes, as mine are...they may be disappointed in the lack of school spirit. They play other schools in Europe which is great fun for them and the tournaments are a blast. I hear that FIS has a fantastic Drama and Music program as well. One word of warning, NONE of the International Schools in Frankfurt will accept ANY LEVEL of special needs! DO NOT come here with a Special Needs Child unless you and your kid are fluent in German. Seriously. You will be up a creek without a paddle as the DOD school no longer accepts Consulate kids due to over-subscription of military families and construction restraints on space.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

ABSOLUTELY NONE! Do NOT even think about coming here. NONE of the International Schools in Frankfurt will accept ANY LEVEL of special needs! DO NOT come here with a Special Needs Child unless you and your kid are fluent in German. Seriously. You will be up a creek without a paddle as the DOD school no longer accepts Consulate kids due to over-subscription of military families and construction restraints on space.

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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?

Yes, in fact, right on the Housing Compound.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Lots. There are many clubs and school-based activities.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

GIGANTIC! There are many Americans married to Germans who stay here forever. There are a lot that work in the Consulate as Local Hire Staff and a lot of those have HUGE chips on their shoulders about having an FSO boss when "I have worked here for 14 years>>>>blah blah blah". Most don't have the education to join the Department of State as a Direct Hire and/or don't want to leave Germany to travel around the world...but they will complain endlessly about the benefits FSO's get ("free housing, free schools"). Meanwhile they get three years off for maternity leave as well as unlimited sick leave....So it is an issue. For FSO's, it is great to be able to live in Europe so those that see the glass as half full will love it here and the pessimists will not.

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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?

Anything and everything you would find in any big Western Economy city.

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3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Great for all and this housing complex is wonderful for those with little kids as there are great playgrounds and lots of space to run around.

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4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Absolutely. Lots work at the Consulate both Local Staff and FSO's.

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5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Not that I can see. I am Asian and I haven't experienced any.

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6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Travel opportunities, great biking trails and beautiful outdoor cafes.

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7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Bicycle trips with stops to small cafes and bars. Walks downtown and up to the Galleria to see the panorama view of Frankfurt, day trips to small villages and towns and the Rhine River.

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8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Cuckoo-Clocks from Bavaria, every type of beer known to man kind, and all the trinkets and dust collectors you can purchase at the endless Christmas and Easter Markets as well as festivals.

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9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Gorgeous city with walks along the river, great bike trails and access to about anywhere in the world. You can save money due to the availability of the USG Mil Gas card allowing one to purchase gas at U.S. prices AND access to the Base Commissary where food is often cheaper than it is at Safeway or Giant. So if one is thrifty and careful, you can break even or perhaps squirrel away some pennies.

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10. Can you save money?

If you are really thrifty and frugal....perhaps you can....but I haven't.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

Wish I knew that there are ZERO services for Special Needs. Also, we have had more visitors than any other post EVER. I wish I had known how popular it would be for folks to come here and I would have started a "Visitors Book" to record the dozens of friends and family who have come through. I regret not having that as we have had at least 20 visitors thus far.

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2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Absolutely! When can an American actually live in Europe?? It is a blessing and a privledge to be able to live and work here.

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3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Car washing supplies. Cannot wash cars outside due to strict environmental controls.

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4. But don't forget your:

Bicycle and all the attachments: You will need a front and back light and a bell/horn to be legal here!

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

Watch movies. There are a ton of them and all good. Hitler's Children
, The Book Thief.

Lonely Planet Germany (Travel Guide) is excellent and every restaurant in there is fantastic.

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7. Do you have any other comments?

This is a great post for everyone and you WILL have lots and lots of visitors!

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