Frankfurt, Germany Report of what it's like to live there - 06/27/14

Personal Experiences from Frankfurt, Germany

Frankfurt, Germany 06/27/14

Background:

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

No - Seoul, South Korea.

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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?

Washington, DC. Frequent direct flights (two nonstop daily flights on United, one nonstop daily flight on Lufthansa), only about 8 hours.

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3. How long have you lived here?

One year.

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

Foreign Service Officer on a two-year tour.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

OK this has been my one complaint about this post and it's one that almost led me to curtail - housing is TERRIBLE here. The other reviews address the available housing pretty well, and I feel that while it's old, badly designed, and poorly furnished, it is in a nice location and is maintained well.

My complaint mainly has to do with the assignment process. Post policy is that singles and childless couples get only two bedroom units without regard for size or square footage, although the layout of the apartments can vary significantly. As a result, my wife and I were assigned a tiny (approx 600 square foot) "two bedroom" apartment - so cramped, we could not open drawers and literally have to crawl over the Consulate-provided furniture (that they refuse to take back) in order to get in and out of bed each day. Meanwhile, several of my single co-workers had the larger (approx 900 square foot) two-bedroom units, and anyone with children receives even larger 3 or 4-bedroom units.

So if you have kids, you'll love it. If you're single, you'll at least find it tolerable. If you're married and don't have kids, expect to be severely disappointed.

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

There is a commissary and PX about 30 minute's drive away. The commissary isn't the greatest but does the job. Local grocery stores are plentiful, with cost similiar (or a tad higher) than DC-area prices.

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

None, everything you need you can get here.

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

Pretty much anything you could find back in the States. Cost is pretty close to DC prices for the most part.

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

Not many, although note that many buildings and apartments don't have bug screens.

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Daily Life:

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

DPO is usually fast, about 1-2 weeks to ship stuff from the States.

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2. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

No issues, plenty of ATMs here and they seem pretty safe.

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

Not much, but Germans will appreciate it if you at least learn the basics.

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

Not at all, this is a very accessible city.

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Transportation:

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

Extremely safe. Cost is reasonable, particularly if you buy a job ticket through the Consulate.

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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?

Parking is very limited and tight, so bring something SMALL! Leave the SUV at home.

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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, about US$80/month or so for cable and internet through UnityMedia.

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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?

Get an unlocked phone and a pre-paid SIM, way cheaper than signing a contract. I have service through Blau.de, and pay only ~15-20 Euros/month for data and a basic call plan.

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Health & Safety:

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

No, this is a very safe city.

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2. 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?

Very good, better than most major cities I've been to (including DC). Germans take green technology and emissions controls pretty seriously, the rest of the world could learn a thing or two from them.

That being said, seasonal allergies are a BIG issue here. For whatever reason, Frankfurt (and particularly the Siedlung) seems to have extremely high levels of pollen. Not terrible, but definitely bring some medication if it's an issue for you.

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

Very nice! Summer days are generally mild, with low humidity and lots of daylight. The occasional heat streak does hit but it's a dry heat and usually doesn't last more than a few days. Winters are not terribly cold but very dark - cloudy all the time, and dark by 5pm at the latest. Consider bringing a SAD lamp.

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Schools & Children:

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

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

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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?

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

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Expat Life:

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

Great for all except for the housing issues mentioned above. Also, the housing compound seems to have a very mommy-club/family vibe as well. Expect to look for entertainment elsewhere if you don't have kids.

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

Germany is much more forward-thinking on LGBT rights than the U.S., no issues whatsoever.

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

No.

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

Touring old Rhine valley castles, checking out the frequent street festivals, weekend trips to France, Switzerland, Prague, Munich, etc. Cheap and plentiful beer, and pretzels sold almost everywhere :)

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

Frankfurt is a great (and under-rated) town, lots of good cultural events, museums, shopping, etc. Quite a few international corporations and banks are based here, so the expat scene is pretty diverse. If you get tired of the city itself, there's plenty else to see within a two-hour drive: Mainz, the Rhine Valley, Heidelberg, Cologne, etc. Transit connections are frequent and not terribly expensive, making it a great base to explore the rest of Europe.

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