Essential Tools For Foreigners In Germany – I’ve been living abroad as a foreigner in Germany for 10 years now.

Something that often happens with those of us who call Germany home, is that it becomes easy to get caught up in the fun and excitement of our new lives as we go about making friends or learning German. For example, as a travel lover, I’ve taken immense delight in jetting around Europe on weekend trips. It felt glamorous and I tended to downplay the realities of what it’s like to live somewhere other than my native country.

While it’s been mostly fine, there’s unexpected difficulties that pop up now again. You may find yourself in an uncomfortable position trying to figure out how to resolve a situation, which can be especially tough if it occurs back home and you’re stuck on the other side of the planet.

Take for instance, the time I was robbed in Barcelona years ago and my wallet was stolen; which just happened to include my Canadian bank card. I wasn’t able to get a new card sent to me in Germany and I eventually had to visit home just so I could get a new one and settle things with the bank. That’s a drastic and expensive way to solve a problem. 

While many countries and corporate institutions like banks seem reluctant to embrace that “mind blowing” concept of globalization, some companies are starting to meet the needs of those living abroad.

What are some of the top tools for foreigners in Germany?

At the moment, I recommend these five essential tools that have made living abroad infinitely easier.

1) Wise

What do I use it for? To send money from my German bank account back to my bank in Canada every month. 

Why do I use it? It’s convenient, cheap, and fast. I can send money using their app or website without visiting a bank, filling out a piece of paper by hand, and dealing with a grumpy bank teller. I also avoid paying a massive sum of cash to wire the money to Canada. With Wise, the money arrives home within a day and I’m able to pay my Canadian bills, deposit money into my savings there, and more.

How much does it cost? On average, I send about €1,000 to Canada each month. The cost of the transaction is never more than €5-6, which is way cheaper than the €30-40 it would cost me to transfer the money home to Canada through my German bank.

Wise also offers plenty of other features like credit cards, borderless bank accounts, and more. Sign up today.

2) iPlum

What do I use it for? To have a Canadian virtual number on my German phone to receive calls and text messages

Why do I use it? My bank in Canada doesn’t allow me to store a non-Canadian number in my profile on their website. Recently, they enforced two factor authentication so after you enter your user name and password, you also need to be able to receive a text to your phone to complete the login process. I got around it for a while by inputting a Canadian friend’s number on my profile but this meant that I had to message him to send me the code he received. Obviously, he didn’t always respond right away, as there’s a six hour time difference between us.  Finally, I found a solution with iPlum and now have a Canadian number to receive calls and texts on my German phone. They’re one of the few companies offering text capabilities for Canadian virtual numbers.

How much does it cost? I’m paying about $20 USD per month for the service, which is on the expensive side, but worth it for the convenience alone. It’s much cheaper if you sign up for an entire year, but I’m reluctant to make a long term financial commitment at the moment.

3) Your Canadian Address

What do I use it for? To have snail mail sent to an address in Canada and then forwarded to me in Germany.

Why do I use it? My bank in Canada also doesn’t allow me to store a non-Canadian address in my profile. While I’ve opted to go paperless for most of my accounts, loans, and investments, there are still times when they send me physical letters. I’m also still enrolled in Canadian rewards programs and get items mailed to me from time to time. Your Canadian Address receives mail, notifies you by email, and presents you with options – they can open the envelope and send you a scan or they can forward it you wherever you are in the world. If you’re dying to have an item from home, you can have the items sent to them, and they’ll forward it as well.

How much does it cost? What I love about My Canadian address is that they don’t charge you a recurring fee. You only pay when they receive something and decide to do something with the piece of mail. They’ve even been kind enough to tell me when I’ve received junk mail and didn’t charge me. To have a letter posted to you via standard mail, it runs about $2 USD + postage, a scan runs you $3 USD for the first three pages, and getting something shipped to you is $10 USD + postage.

Note – I know this service only works for Canadians, but I feel compelled to include these guys here as their service is so invaluable and I couldn’t help but add it to this list of tools for foreigners in Germany.

4) SteuerGo

What do I use it for? To file my German taxes in English and maximize the possibility of getting a refund.

Why do I use it? German tax laws are notorious for being complicated. Taxes are a stressful experience for the average German, never mind a newbie to the country. Our unfamiliarity with the laws, coupled with a lack of German language basics can make filing taxes an overwhelming experience. SteuerGo is best suited to those who work full-time for a single employer (sorry freelancers!) and offer tax services in English. Not only do they guide you through the tax filing process step-by-step but they also inform you about different items you can claim like transit, professional fees, and more. Once you complete your return, they send it to the tax office (Finanzamt) on your behalf. You’ll receive notification by post at a later date, advising of your results.

How much does it cost? One return will run you €29.95.

5) TunnelBear VPN 

What do I use it for? To appear as if I’m physically in Canada to access certain websites or view geo-blocked content. 

Why do I use it? Even with my Canadian phone number and mailing address, I sometimes still need to fool Paypal into thinking I’m in Canada order to access my Canadian Paypal account. I need to do the same if I want to order items from Amazon Canada. Since GDPR went into effect, there are several American news sites that block any viewing attempts coming from Europe. So that’s where TunnelBear VPN services come in – I can access news sites, order from Amazon, and transfer money out of my Paypal account. 

How much does it cost? It’s $9.99 USD per month (or $4.17 USD monthly if you pay one year upfront) for unlimited data. 

We plan for this to be a growing list of tools for foreigners in Germany, that we can build on more and more over time. So be sure to bookmark this list and check back often for updates.

About Our Author

  • Founder of The Berlin Life and career coach helping people move to Berlin and find work. Originally from Canada, I've been living in Berlin for 10 years now. So far, I've held 5 different visas and worked as both a freelancer and permanent employee for various Berlin based companies. I even found a new job during the pandemic.