Frankfurt, Germany Report of what it's like to live there - 10/25/21
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?
Previously served in Johannesburg, second overseas tour with State.
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?
Home is the midwest of the US. The airports in Frankfurt make travel to anywhere in the world fairly easy.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What years did you live here?
5. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
State Department (US Consulate in Frankfurt).
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
We live on the large apartment complex known as the Siedlung. Some lived off the complex it nice/modern places, but it would easy to feel isolated there if you didn't speak German. Most of the community events are based around the assumption that "everyone lives on the Siedlung".
Apartments were adequately-sized with generous storage/closets, on compound street parking, indoor and outdoor bike parking, and decent size storage in the basement. The interiors felt a bit cheap but were well-maintained with a very response facilities to repair things. We had a fridge die, and they replaced it the next day.
Walk: 40-60 minutes
Drive: 8-20 minutes
Bus: 15-20 minutes
Bike: 8-11 minutes (my preference)
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries can be bought at the Commissary (35-45 drive minutes away) or at the local stores. You can find pretty much anything you want at Rewe, plus a whole lot of interesting things you may not have tried before. Prices seemed to be about the same as Washington, DC, except beef was much more expensive (but beer was much cheaper)!
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Definitely a weak point of living on the Siedlung. Although you can get most things delivered we don't have a whole lot of good options that are within walking distance. Of course their is the fieldhouse in the middle of the complex and you can get some incredible food there but it's NOT health food and even good food gets old after awhile.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
None for us, some people had minor any problems.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO/Pouch. Frankfurt is the hub for Europe so shipping times are excellent and mailroom is very responsive.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Most people didn't seem to use a housecleaner, however we didn't have much trouble finding someone to come once a week for about $12/hr.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
On the compound, you have a gym, tennis courts, basketball courts. The Consulate has a gym as well. If you are housed off- compound you'll likely find high quality facilities easily available as well. Frankfurt has amazing green spaces and excellent biking infrastructure, so that seems to be a common way to get in exercise.
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?
The Germans don't like credit cards as much as the rest of Europe/US and their ATMs tend to be behind locked doors... However, the pandemic has changed a lot of that although I can't speak for how much.
We didn't have too many troubles using our Visa for about 80% of our major purchases but one should carry a few hundred euros with you just in case.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
English is spoken by many younger and professional employees, however our experience is the Germans are either put off by having to speak in a different language or too much of a perfectionist to try. Courses were offered while I was posted there, but they seemed to be low quality.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
For a major European city, I think they do well but it would still be far more challenging then being in the US.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Public transport is excellent and affordable. Taxis are safe, but fairly 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?
You can bring whatever you like (or nothing at all). We were given a "esso gas card" which meant we paid US prices for fuel (about 1/2 the German price) and we really only used are car for road trips. I would recommend whatever is comfortable for a long road trips. If you don't plan on taking road trips, then you likely don't need a car and can enjoy the incredible train network across Europe.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Internet is now activated before arrival! This is a huge win for people who used to have to wait two to three months for internet. It's not ultrafast, but it's good enough for streaming.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Lots of options. You can get a local contract but cancelling it will be challenging! Getting a contract from T-Mobile at the base is the most expensive and simplest option.
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?
The Germans love dogs, so I assume their is good care however we didn't have a pet.
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 are some jobs at the school and some EFMS choose to telework. However, most people who wanted to work did so at the Consulate doing anything from escorting locals to managing programs. There are also many lower paying jobs working for the American association (CSA).
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Minimal English-language opportunities.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
As it's a Consulate most of travelling technicians, the dress code at work is the most casual I've seen overseas. Even the SFS/SES at post seem to rarely wear a tie.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
None, safest I've ever felt.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Excellent medical care if you can find an English-speaking GP via referral. The Med Unit is good for simple medication refills or vaccinations.
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?
Excellent air quality with some serious pollen in the spring.
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)?
You'll notice the mood across the whole city lift as you leave the darkness of winter. It can be a real challenge to get through a long, dark winter in particular if you are from a place year round sunshine.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
As someone from the Midwest, I found the German winter very temperate and was pleasantly surprised that it didn't snow much in the winter. The summer can get a bit warm, but nothing that a clever use of window shades and fans can't overcome. GSO is issuing ACs now, which should alleviate most issues.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
FIS is good but it's a long commute for the kids. I've heard many of the younger kids moan about the 40-50 minute commute. Other schools with instruction in English are available, but I am not sure of their quality.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
I've heard of a number of special need kids rejected from FIS. Seems to be a real problem.
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?
Kindergarten, ages 3-6, is free in Frankfurt! (If you want you child to learn German). We sent our daughter to one of these Kitas and had a wonderful experience as well as having a bilingual 5 year old at the end of the tour.
The CSA preschool is really just daycare. The classrooms are small and the teachers rotate to expect any kind of quality. We really didn't enjoy our short time at the CSA school, however it is amazingly convenient and is adequate for really young kids.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Soccer, volleyball and tennis on the compound. Most anything else will be in German.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Large community at post, but because they are from all over the Federal Gov spectrum, and I feel one should expect them to be more insular than at other diplomatic missions. Some people hate their time in Frankfurt and treat the tour like a deployment but those who are willing to "try the German way" tend to love it.
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?
Socializing is easy, step outside and walk to the bar in the middle of the complex.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Great for families! I am not sure I'd want to be post to Frankfurt as a singleton or as part of a couple though.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
It can be hard to make local friends unless you REALLY try. You will likely live/work/school with just Americans from the Consulate. We made friends through my daughter's German school, but I don't know how else you would do it unless you put yourself out there regularly.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Yes, widely accepted and seems to be venues that cater to everyone.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Frankfurt is the best for young families and we'll never forget all our amazing weekends spend biking around the city and the greater Frankfurt area.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
We loved going for bike rides into the country, exploring nearby towns and of course the German Christmas markets!
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Decent weather, minimal tourists, great biking infrastructure.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
There are 110v sockets in the kitchen (Siedlung only of course).
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. But don't forget your: