I’ve been spoiled rotten by living in Germany not once, but twice.
We are not IN the US Military, but we work as contractors WITH the US Military in Germany.
Simply put, we get to enjoy the best of both of these worlds: Expat life with military benefits! Living in Regensburg has been the perfect balance of US culture with the military and Expat life abroad.
We have access to the US Commissary grocery store, which really all that translates to is we get Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, Reese’ Peanut Butter Cups, JIF peanut butter, and real chips and salsa (a few staples ANY expat treasures dearly!) We can send our kids to the American school on Base, or choose to have them go to the local German schools. I can have privileges, like having a US mailing address, so our family can send the kids birthday presents at no extra cost than it would in the States, but we also have always chosen to live locally in the communities because we just love German culture.
Here we will explain our story of moving to Germany and advice for expat living in Germany through the lens of an America military experience.
How Living in Germany Came to Be
It all started in 2011 when we first moved to Germany as contractors with one and only one sole purpose of moving here. Travel!!! And that we did! In less than 6 years, we’d explored 45 countries. And Germany itself has SO many amazing travel opportunities right here, such as the Picture Perfect Cinderella Neuschwanstein Castle, riding the roller coasters at Europa Park, or just doing quick day trips like spending 1 day in Munich sightseeing.
After having our first child, we decided we wanted to be closer to home (Nebraska) in 2016. We loved Germany, but we also wanted to be near family to raise OUR family.
But alas, Bavaria had stolen our hearts, so now with two kids in tow, back we went to Germany and are now living in Regensburg.
Getting Approval to Move to Germany as a Military Contractor or Member
One of the “Best” parts of moving to Germany with a military affiliation is we could almost completely bypass getting a Visa to move here
If you are in the military, there is basically nothing that needs to be done to get approval in lines of visas or permits. You will get a SOFA passport in addition to your tourist passport. This Status of Forces Agreement is between the US military and Germany, which allows a service member and their family to have permission to have a temporary (often 2-4 years) duty station in Germany.
This passport/ card is all that is needed for entry into the country but is only good for travel to/from the US to Germany and vice-versa.
Germany can actually be difficult to get a permit or visa to move here. However, as military contractors, we are covered under the SOFA agreement as well, just like a soldier would be.
In addition to the SOFA though, we did have to go through a TESA (Technical Expert Status Accreditation) approval process. This can be quite difficult to get. You must prove no other German can do what you are doing for the job you are applying for and that you are highly skilled and a technical expert in your field. This is a way to ensure that we are not “taking jobs from locals”
While this sounds a bit scary, the contracting company handles most of this paperwork and, if done correctly, isn’t impossible to obtain.
Luckily for us, both times getting our TESA approved was painless and pretty quick. It was a relief knowing we had jobs upon arrival and could stay for at least several months, if not multiple years!
How Long Will We Be Living in Germany?
This part is a bit tricky. As a contractor, you sign onto a company that has a contract for a certain period of time at that particular military installation. Sometimes, that contract is 10 years, sometimes it is 6 months. As a contractor, you get good at not feeling tied to one particular company, so the good news is that if a contract ends with the government and you want to stay, it’s often not hard to find another contract open.
The catch is in the TESA though. By agreeing to these terms, you are also agreeing that you basically are not going to integrate too much into the local life. There is a long checklist of items that they look for when you are up for TESA reevaluation every few years. Things like,
- Are you married to a German
- Do you own property in Germany (bought a home)
- Do your kids go to German schools
- How long have you lived in Germany
If you have too many ticks on the checkboxes, then you most likely will get red carded to be denied another TESA. Without a TESA, you can’t stay (without a proper German work permit)
I have known contractors who have lived in Germany upwards of 20 years though before getting red carded. By that time, they either move to the German system or move back to the US.
For us, we are playing it by ear. We know that we may have to leave within several months if our current contract isn’t renewed with the government, so that just means to love every minute we have here while we can. With that being said, we also fully intend on figuring out ways to stay as long as we can, have our kids continue in the German schools, and for this to be home for the foreseeable future.
Living in Regensburg as Military Expats
We now call the absolutely picture perfect city of Regensburg home. In fact, many military members choose not to live on Base and instead integrate more with the local community and Regensburg has it all!
Back in our younger, more vibrant days, we would take the train here from our small village 30 minutes down the track for fests, nights out in a pub, or for some good sushi.
Today, with a family, I love the bike friendly town, where we can hook up the kids’ trailer and go find awesome playgrounds, a biergarten with a play area, or hopping on the train at the Hauptbahnhof and exploring Germany and Europe! We absolutely love saving money as a family using the Bayern Train Pass, which gets us all over the Bavarian region.
I was quite nervous about moving to a more expat community, considering the embarrassing fact that we had lived here for almost 6 years previously and still don’t speak German (a MAJOR con to staying so connected to the Military scene when living abroad).
I had no idea how I would meet friends or if I’d be able to get by with barely any German.
But alas, a friend that I had from our previous time here, added me to a local “English Speaking Mamas” WhatsApp chat and I joined the Regensburg English Stammtisch Facebook group, and between the two of them, I found myself meeting plenty of like minded moms and new people. Within a few short months, I had already started to build my new home here where I actually felt a part of life in Regensburg!
I enjoy the English Native Speakers Thursday morning meet ups with other families, where the kids can all play and the moms can commiserate or celebrate (depending on the week!) life as an expat together. There’s women from Australia, England, the US, Singapore, Germany and Malaysia all in the group, so potlucks are especially fun (and delicious!)
Finding a Place to Live in Regensburg
We also absolutely love the location of our apartment. We knew from the last time living in the region just how hard it was to find apartments, and this was no exception.
As soon as we knew the rough dates we would move, I started looking for apartments, as you typically need to snatch them up AS SOON as they get listed. You either need to go through a real estate agent (hard for us since we were not here yet) or use an App (we used Immobilien24), which didn’t have as many options available, but was easy enough to navigate.
The last time we were living in Germany, we had a small, 2 bedroom apartment.
This time, with two kiddos, we wanted something slightly bigger, but nothing in the 3 bedroom range was popping up. As soon as a 4 bedroom showed up in my notifications, I knew we needed to act fast.
It was a huge risk taking a (more expensive than I originally budgeted for) apartment we had never seen in person, but it was either that or risk not having an apartment for upwards of 3 months after arrival in Germany…nothing I wanted to do with small children!!!
However, we lucked out. Our part of town “The West” is a growing part of the city. It is just a 5 minute bike ride into the Altstadt, there are tons of playgrounds, schools all around, and easy access to the Autobahn, all things we knew we wanted in a great location!
Work Life in Germany
My husband still works for the Hohenfels American Army Base, which runs military exercises year around at the training facility. Luckily, as a computer programer, he is still able to maintain a mostly normal work schedule, even if it means a lot of shift work. However, soldiers and many other essential workers for the trainings often find themselves working countless days on end.
For me, I love sharing my love of travel and get to freelance write for other travel blogs. I myself also run three separate blogs for various travel themes. One for our travel hacking and budget travel tips at EconomicalExcursionists.com, one for travel back in Nebraska, and finally, a brand new one that is dedicated solely to everything to do, experience, and know about travel in….you guess it, Germany!!!! Blogging has allowed for me to work on my own schedule as we travel.
Learning German While Living in Germany
I try to not live my life with regrets, but my biggest regret was NOT learning more German the first time we lived here! At the time, I thought we were only going to be here for a few years and that I would be working mostly on Base, speaking English with Americans.
I now hang my head in shame when people ask how long we’ve lived here and yet all I can basically speak is what I call “Restaurant German” (aka I can order myself a beer, schnitzel, and get the bill!)
“Oh, just take a language class, LeAnna!” you might say. And here lies my regret. Why oh why did I not dive head first into a language intensive class last time I was here….at 23 years old…..with no kids….and plenty of time on plate!? Now, with running my own businesses and somehow managing to keep 2 minions alive, the time, energy, and cost of an intensive language course feels daunting and mentally painful. BUT, I know that is what must happen!
After all, it’s times like when my neighbor yelled down to my balcony (in German) during a girls night that we were a bunch of cackling hens that needed to be quiet (luckily, the gals in the group knew what he was saying and gave a swift rebuttal!) or when the IKEA delivery men said on my intercom something about the delivery, so I went down, but they came up, leaving us both in the wrong location, or the fact that when my son’s school asked me where his hat was and I misunderstood and instead told them he was two years old, that I knew putting off learning German if I want to truly be an expat here needed to stop.
Now, to stop making up excuses and just do it, already!
Staying Connected Back "Home"
The best thing my husband and I did when we first found out we’d be moving to Europe was we got into Travel Hacking. We now have over 4 million points and miles between the two of us, which has literally afforded us to travel the world on just points and pennies. For us, that means setting aside a trip home at least a few times a year.
For many expats either finances or work schedule (or both) are the main deterrents from getting to go home so much, and luckily, with basically unlimited free flights, finances aren’t an obstacle for flying home anymore for us.
Since we now have kids, doing an almost 24 hour journey just to get to our home city in and of itself is an adventure (and not always the good kind), so before moving back for the second time, we arranged to have a Grandparent fly out to Germany on our points and miles almost every three months…..and then 2020 happened. Damn you, Covid!!!!!!
However, once the borders open back up, the first thing we will do is book a flight for all our parents on our points to come see us and the boys.
For Military members, they have access to Space Available flights. Most of these in Germany are out of Ramstein Airforce Base. Certain flights that the military takes will open up a few seats to military members and families to fly FOR FREE back to the US. There are a lot of nuances to this however, such as there are limited flights, they only fly to certain military installations in the US, service members on orders have priority, you can’t actually book tickets (its a Stand By system), etc. Some service members and families have had tremendous success using Space A flights, while others don’t even waste their time.
The Cost of Living in Germany
I love the cost of living in Germany!! When we moved back to the US, I would want a nice cheese plate that would end up costing me $40. That same, delicious cheese plate here? Oh, only 15 Euro!!! Organic (Bio) food is often not a price gauge in comparison to non-bio food, making healthy eating so much more affordable here as well. And wine?? I’ll never forget when a German laughed and told me that my 8 Euro bottle of wine was “expensive!” (you can get really decent wines for 2-4 Euro). Here are a few other rough prices for Regensburg
- Monthly rent, 2 bedroom apartment in the Altstadt: Approx € 600-€ 800
- Coffee from a local cafe: €2.50-€3.50
- German Pretzel From the Backerie: €0.50-€1.50
- Beer from a local bar: €2.50
- Doner Kebab: €5
- Nice dinner for two, with drinks, appetizer, and dessert: €60-€70
Living in Germany as an Expat with the military has afforded us some amazing insights into different cultures of the world, amazing travel opportunities, and will forever hold a special place in our hearts.
LeAnna Brown is a full time mom, part time blogger and a wannabe cheese connoisseur. Traveling the world, experiencing new cultures, and eating copious amounts of ethnic foods is something she was destined to do all her life, and that hasn’t stopped just because she totes around 2 (adorable) kids. Whether it’s paragliding over Neuschwanstein Castle, or hiking in the Alps with a baby on her back, LeAnna WILL find a way to see the world, and then share her tips, tricks, and insider info with you!
You can plan your Germany Trip using her blog WanderInGermany.com, see where they are today in Germany on Instagram, or get travel inspiration on Pinterest.
If you’re moving to Regensburg, currently living in Germany or just curious about travel and life abroad there, leave your questions for LeAnna in the comments below.
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