Frankfurt, Germany Report of what it's like to live there - 04/01/19
Personal Experiences from Frankfurt, Germany
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No. This was my third. I've lived in Riga, Latvia and Baghdad, Iraq.
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?
Richmond, Virginia is mostly home. There are direct connections from all of the DC area airports to Frankfurt. It is very easy to travel there.
3. How long have you lived here?
I lived there three years.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
The apartments on the compound are big, airy, and mostly sunny. For one adult and one child at the FS-02 level, we got three bedrooms with a separate dining room and very large living room. The compound is a thirty minute walk/bus ride/fifteen minute drive from the Consulate. There is a bike share station at the compound.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Availability is great. Produce is cheap and plentiful. Dairy products, eggs, and chicken in line with US prices. Beef is expensive, pork is cheap. Ordinary US brands can be hard to find and expensive, but as of 2018 we still had access to the Commissary in Wiesbaden. That may change, so if it matters check first.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Chili powder. Taco seasoning. Some TexMex stuff, although the Commissary does have it.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There's great diversity in restaurants and food delivery (GrubHub style apps are popular and work well). Sushi, Asian, and pizza carryout are all close to the compound.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Some folks have mold, but we did not.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO is excellent here. The staff is large, helpful, and kind.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
We hired someone through word of mouth at the consulate to clean four hours each week for 60E. I would say most folks rely on day care rather than sitters/nannies and relatively few hire cleaners, etc.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There is a gym on the compound, many gyms around town, and a Cross Fit box accessible by the train. The prices are similar to the US.
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?
I would say safer than in the US. Skimming is known but rare. Credit card machines come to your table at most restaurants. Cash is still king though and ATMs are widely available and safe.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There are many. Google is your friend on this one.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
None, but "bitte" and "danke" are appreciated. Frankfurt is an international city, so local Germans appreciate the effort, even if the resting disapproval face doesn't always reflect it. Lots of classes, some for free through the city government. Consulate has a good language program. You can probably find tutors, but I didn't know anyone who had one.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Not moreso than in the United States. Germany has similar accessibility laws to the US, although some restaurants and hotels are hard to get to. There is at least one accessible apartment on the Compound.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
The local public transportation is excellent and not expensive.
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?
A relatively small, all wheel drive car. Plenty of people bring their huge SUVs though, so if you have to have it, realize that the parking spaces are small and some of the garages may be too low in clearance.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. Ten days to two weeks. Everyone borrows "a cup of wifi" from neighbors when they arrive, and the wifi is paid for by the community association in the Fieldhouse.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
We had a local provider for my son and I used my work phone. You need to have your diplomatic credentials (Ausweiss) before getting service, so that is super annoying. Once you have it though, any unlocked phone will work great, and the service is US grade. I believe the EU also did away with roaming, but after we left.
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?
There were telecommuters, but I don't know of any spouses/partners working outside the Consulate other than for the community association.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Lots of work with the refugee community.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Take the cue from your work sponsor. There is considerable variation office to office in the Consulate.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Not really. It is a city, if a small one. You should bring your city awareness. I felt comfortable letting my 14-16 yo son out with friends as long as they kept their cell phones on.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Allergies. The tree pollen is killer. Medical care is excellent and affordable. Not aware of what might require evacuation.
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 to excellent air quality with the exception of the pollen.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
Not really, but Frankfurt can be pretty grey. Good news is that the RMO-P is based in Frankfurt.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Wet, mild summers with the exception of about two to three weeks of hot weather. Winter is chilly but not bitter (with the exception of maybe a week or two). A little snow, but more rain. Easy to find snow though fewer than 30 minutes away.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are many international schools in Frankfurt. Our experience with FIS was very good.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
I don't have personal experience, but FIS seemed very accommodating.
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?
There is day care on the compound and "kindergartens" all over the place. We did not use them.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes. FIS also has an active sports program. The soccer clubs can be hard to break into for US kids, but persistence can pay off.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
There are many many expats from all over the world in Frankfurt. I think the mood is generally good. Some folks assigned to the Consulate have never been assigned overseas before, so that can have an impact on their ability to adjust. But for those with some overseas experience, they mostly recognize that it's good living.
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?
I was involved in local theatre, which was fun. There's comedy and improv in English. Lots of music, including jazz. Anyone touring Europe stops in Frankfurt. Street festivals are great ways to spend time with folks. Church provides a social outlet for some.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Yes, yes, yes. The nightlife (especially music) is great in Frankfurt. Germans are a little hard to get to know, but they like to have fun, and most like to practice their English. There is a great deal to do for couples as well and great getaways within easy distances. The compound is a great place for kids where you literally can yell at them to go outside and play and not worry about them. There's a fenced in playground on the compound and all their friends from school will be there....
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I think so, but I have no personal experience. There are several gay bars and there is no real open hostility.
5. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
I think you can. I was a single dad, so didn't socialize too much. There is seemed to be some prejudice against refugees and blacks, but it did not out of line with the United States.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Again, the refugees are experiencing some prejudice and I think they are mostly Muslim. Gender equality is not an issue.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Soccer. Oktoberfest. Street festivals. Wine festivals. The Rhein Valley. Trains to anywhere. Easy flights to anywhere.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
I loved the day cruises on the Rhein. Did them several times and never got tired of it. Experience the Apfelwein culture.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
It's a good place to get some lederhosen that will last you a lifetime. Christmas decorations. There are sponsored trips to Poland for pottery.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
See above. It's a really easy place to live. Great for families and single parents.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
That you can't do anything without your Ausweiss and you just have to be patient about getting it.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Prejudices about Germans not having fun.
4. But don't forget your:
Sense of humor about not knowing how to do things "the German way" at first.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Schlussmacher (The Break Up Man) - Beautiful German scenery and an insight to the slightly different German sense of humor.
6. Do you have any other comments?
Great tour, great post. If you are going, have fun.