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9 Best Cities To Live in Germany For Foreigners

9 Best Cities To Live in Germany For Foreigners titlecard

Moving to a new country is a big step, and picking the city to live in is an essential part of your journey. Each major German city has a different atmosphere, culture, traditions, customs, and of course, people! It can be a hit or miss. Find out the best cities to live in Germany for non-Germans.

The 9 best German cities to live as a foreigner are:

  1. Aachen
  2. Berlin
  3. Munich
  4. Frankfurt
  5. Hamburg
  6. Cologne
  7. Düsseldorf
  8. Stuttgart
  9. Mainz

In this guide, we reveal the best cities in Germany to live in as a foreigner and all the reasons behind our choice. You will also learn where most non-Germans are currently living in Germany. For this article, we’re only looking at major cities – places with populations above 200,000.

Top German cities for foreign nationals

Germany has plenty of cities to choose from, large, middle-sized, and small – there is something for everyone! However, some cities were ranked as particularly good for foreigners.

Factors like the job market, social diversity (age, gender, and ethnicity), access to healthcare, housing options, and costs were considered.

Overall, the survey concludes that expats are very satisfied with their life in Germany. And why won’t they, huh?

Here are the top best cities to live in Germany as a foreigner based on several surveys and statistics.

1. Aachen

Aerial shot of Aachen

Population: 260,000.

Coming as a surprise, Aachen was ranked as the best city to live in and work as a foreigner in Germany.

In international rankings, the city scored even ahead of Sydney and Tokyo. In particular, Aachen is highly recommended as a city to work in, including job and career, job security, and work-life balance. 89% of expats are satisfied with their lives there.

Nearly nine out of ten expats (88%) in Aachen are satisfied with their jobs, and (83%) are happy with their work-life balance. The city is even ranked first worldwide for these two factors.

The North Rhine-Westphalian city also scores highly for its career opportunities. 72% of study participants see their career opportunities as excellent. Moreover, 77% of non-locals are also satisfied with their financial situation.

However, the housing situation isn’t the best in Aachen. Despite how affordable apartments are, they aren’t easy to come by. Most expats find it difficult to find a place to live – only 22% rate it as easy.

However, this score might be less accurate. In the end, with a population of just under 260,000, it’s hard to estimate how great this place for foreigners really is.

In fact, I lived just 20 min away from Aachen and was there 5 times per week in the German school, learning German. I haven’t noticed a big difference between Aachen and many other German cities.

Yet, Aachen has a significant number of foreign nations and is a pretty cool city with several opportunities.

I must say that the best thing about Aachen is its location. You are right on the border with the Netherlands and Belgium. France is also not far away.

2. Berlin

Aerial shot of buildings and apartments in Berlin, Germany

Population: 3,7 million.

Berlin, the German capital, is undoubtedly the most international place in the country, but it also receives many critiques.

Also, surprisingly, it’s landed in 61st place in the global rankings for best cities to work. About 52% of expats complain about limited job opportunities; however, people in tech will have the best chances in the German capital than elsewhere.

Only around three out of five expats in Berlin are satisfied with their work-life balance.

Berlin is also hard to settle in; only two out of five expats describe Berliners as friendly, but they aren’t willing to build close friendships or connections. Besides, only 59% of foreigners feel at home in the city.

Some foreigners complain about the dirtiness and smell in Berlin. There are also too many drug and alcohol addicts.

The Berlin housing market is also a problem for expats. Almost two-thirds (64%) of foreigners living in Berlin have difficulties with it.

In general, the biggest disappointments of new Berliners are:
  • the long apartment hunt
  • the long working hours
  • the poorer work-life balance
  • the amount of poverty
  • the smoking
  • the garbage
  • the public urination

One big positive of Berlin is the number of free-time activities you can immerse yourself in. It by far has the largest offer for recreation than any other German city.

Nine out of ten expats (87%) are happy with all that the city has to offer for their leisure time.

Berlin’s cost of living also scored well, coming in 12th place. Berlin is known for its crazy parties. You won’t find something similar anywhere else. Young foreigners and international students are, in particular, attracted to the city.

Berlin’s start-up industry is the largest and the most successful in the country, offering plenty of jobs and room to grow for international workers.

Many young professionals worldwide are motivated by that fact and make their way to Berlin. You will also find the best career growth in creative industries such as art and music. Berlin is the only place freelancers can receive a residence permit based on their artistic professional activity.

Nonetheless, Berlin can be considered a pretty poor city – economically and financially. Purchasing power is only 952 EUR, way lower than in other German cities, e.g., in Frankfurt, it’s 2,091 EUR.

In the German capital, workers earn an average of 2,424 EUR after tax. However, 37% of this they spend on renting a one-room apartment – 903 EUR – which is pretty pricey.
  1. Berliners rate their satisfaction with salary as 3.4 out of 5, where 1 (very satisfied) to 5 (very dissatisfied).
  2. Compared to other German cities, Berlin has a high unemployment rate of 7.9%.
  3. Berlin’s crime rates are significantly higher than average, currently lying at 13,583 crimes per 100,000 inhabitants. It’s 3,122 crimes, more than the average.
  4. You will get only 9 public holidays per year, which is below the average value of 11.
  5. Finally, some good news: Berliners can look forward to around 100 more hours of sunshine a year than in many other German cities.

The survey has shown that Berlin isn’t perfect, but it has many benefits, especially for young, adventurous professionals looking forward to living the best years of their lives. Artists will also greatly benefit from the job opportunities Berlin has to offer.

Moreover, Berlin ranks well in regard to reasonable rents, an excellent range of leisure activities, and an international atmosphere.

3. Munich

Munich at sunset

Population: 1,4 million.

You probably have heard of Octoberfest. Munich is the capital of Bavaria, and it’s well known for the city’s high quality of life.

Munich is the southern city on our list and the most expensive. But believe me, moving there will be worth it.

The city provides excellent job opportunities for foreigners with the lowest unemployment rate in the country – only 3,3%. Several international companies have headquarters in Munich, including BMW, Siemens, Google, and Airbus.

It’s also Germany’s safest city. It has only 5,836 crimes per 100,000 inhabitants, whereas the average is 10,461.

Munich residents are among the wealthiest; statistics showed high purchasing power among locals and expats. Yet, the cost of living is the highest in Germany – renting a basic one-bedroom apartment will cost you 1,240 EUR.

On average, people spend around 45% of their salary on housing. In Munich, the average net salary is 2,834 EUR, way more than the average (2,377 EUR).

You can expect to spend half of your salary on basic needs while living in Munich.

Finally, in Munich, you will enjoy way more public holidays yearly – a total of 13. In contrast, people working in Berlin get only 9.

Consequently, Munich is the best German city to live in if a high quality of life is important to you. It’s also Germany’s and the world’s most livable city. But one must consider their budget before moving to Munich, so high expenses don’t come as a surprise.

You are also close to Austria and the Alps, making it an excellent location for further explorations.

4. Frankfurt

Building skyscraper in Frankfurt, Germany

Population: 800,000.

Frankfurt is the financial capital of Germany. Despite this factor, the city isn’t expensive compared to other locations in the country.

The city attracts many well-qualified and well-experienced financial professionals from around the world. Frankfurt is home to many German and international banks, most of which have their headquarters there.

Frankfurt’s airport is also one of the largest in the country, making it a perfect hub if you are planning to travel often.

Frankfurt’s labor market is robust, offering various job prospects for skilled workers in different industries. Therefore, its unemployment rate is also low – only 5%. Only Munich and Stuttgart beat this number.

Moreover, Frankfurt’s workers get paid decently too, leaving you 2,970 EUR after taxes. With the low cost of living that the city offers, you can truly enjoy living there.

However, rents aren’t as affordable in Frankfurt as their general cost of living. An apartment close to the city center will cost you 1,055 EUR. It’s 160 EUR more than the average in our city comparison (895 EUR).

The average crime rate (10,461 crimes per 100,000 inhabitants) clearly exceeds Frankfurt, with 12,837 crimes.

With an international ranking of second place, expats particularly rate Frankfurt well for its secure jobs and great salary levels. On the global scale, the city does well, too – it’s positioned as 49th, with Cologne at number 50th, Munich 51st, and Berlin 61st.

5. Hamburg

Apartments near a lake in Hamburg

Population: 1,8 million.

Hamburg is the third-largest city after Berlin and Munich. Located further in the North, Hamburg is the capital of the self-named state of Hamburg.

It’s a hub for logistics for the entire of Europe – Hamburg’s port is the largest around. Hence, if logistics is your jam, expect some good job offers!

  • Unemployment in Hamburg is 6,1%, slightly above the average of 5,8%.
  • The average salary in Hamburg is 2,355 EUR net. Overall, Hamburg’s workers are satisfied with their pay, with a rate of 3.47 out of 5.
  • You pay about 911 EUR for an apartment in a central location. That translates to about 39% of someone’s income.
  • Residents spend about 46% of their net income to cover additional expenses like internet, transportation, etc. This puts Hamburg in the second position after Munich regarding the cost of living.
  • The crime rate in Hamburg (10,854 per 100,000 inhabitants) is slightly higher than the ranking average (10,461 per 100,000 inhabitants).

Yet, the weather might not be the best. Many people complain about rain. Hamburg scores well regarding work, public transport, and a good environment.

Overall, Hamburg is a great place to live in if you have a decently paid job since it’s one of the most expensive cities in Germany. Nonetheless, many foreigners move there every year due to the attractiveness of the job market.

6. Cologne

Cologne bridge lights up at night

Population: 1 million.

Cologne is the fourth largest city in Germany and the largest one in North-Rhine–Westphalia. Bonn, another great German city, is just 30 km away.

Düsseldorf is also not far away – 40 km. You are also close to the Netherlands and Belgium. Cologne is one of the best-connected cities on our list.

Cologne isn’t the most beautiful German city as it was destroyed during WW2. But it’s a liveable one. Now, the city has a unique vibe of industrialism, which brings a note of coolness to the place.

Many young people choose Cologne to live in. Besides, there are about 300,000 residents with various immigration backgrounds.

The city offers several employment opportunities to foreigners, from chemicals and pharmaceuticals to mechanical engineering and others.

Unfortunately, residents aren’t very wealthy, showing below-average purchasing power. The city also has lower financial and economic performance.
  • The average salary of Cologne employees is about 2,237 EUR net per month. Yet, locals are pretty satisfied with their earnings, rating it as 3,46 out of 5.
  • Rent for a one-bedroom apartment comes to 819 EUR. You will spend about 37% of your salary on housing.
  • Crime is higher in Cologne than the average (10,461 offenses per 100,000 residents): Cologne has 10,779 criminal offenses.
  • The unemployment rate is 7.8%. This puts Cologne in second place for the highest unemployment rate in our ranking.

Cologne is a lively and dynamic metropolis with numerous cultural sites, arts and cinema, theater, opera, orchestra, jazz, and live music scenes. The city also hosts the largest Carnival (Cologne Carnival) in the country.

Cologne will be a good match if you want a chilled city with a young vibe. Plus, you are next to the Netherlands and Belgium. You will also meet many foreigners in Cologne, mainly from Turkey.

7. Düsseldorf

Population: 600,000.

Düsseldorf is a city in the North West of Germany and is the second-largest city in North Rhine-Westphalia. Despite its small size, Düsseldorf was even ranked among the 10 most popular cities to live in the world.

Foreigners love its high quality of life, good work-life balance, and secure jobs. The only negative part of Düsseldorf is that it’s hard to make friends.

Düsseldorf also has pretty wealthy residents with above-average purchasing power – 1,610 EUR.

  • The unemployment rate in Düsseldorf averages 6,6% percent. With an average rent of 755 EUR, it’s one of Germany’s most affordable large cities.
  • The average salary is also decent – 2,253 EUR after tax. Residents spend only 34% of their income on rent.
  • Düsseldorf scores well in terms of safety – the crime rate of 9,627 crimes per 100,000 inhabitants is significantly lower than the average of 10,461.

Düsseldorf is a very good option for foreigners to live in. There is a considerable number of expats from around the world already happily enjoying their lives in the city.

Although it’s much smaller than major German metropolises with millions of inhabitants, the city still shows good economic strength and a reasonable cost of living.

8. Stuttgart

A village in Stuttgart

Population: 600,000.

Stuttgart is the largest city in the region of Baden-Württemberg, one of the richest in the country. The town is mainly known for its strong automotive industry. It offers excellent job prospects for all engineers out there.

Moreover, it has the second-lowest unemployment rate in the country, currently sitting at 3,65%. Only Munich does better than that.

  • In Stuttgart, workers earn an above-average salary of 2,391 EUR after monthly taxes.
  • Consequently, most employees are satisfied with their salaries in Stuttgart, rating it as 3.58 out of 5 points.
  • The city’s cost of living is reasonable, where a one-bedroom apartment costs 929 EUR to rent.
  • Nevertheless, Stuttgart residents spend 39% of their net income on rent, above the recommended value.
  • Employees are more rewarded in Stuttgart by getting 12 public holidays a year and official vacation days. The German average is 9-10 days; only in Munich do you get slightly more days off.
  • An additional bonus for Stuttgart is hours of sunshine per year. It’s above average, about 100 more hours than in other German cities.

If you dream of working in the automotive industry, Stuttgart is a place to move to! Three global players – Porsche, Daimler, and Bosch have their headquarters in Stuttgart.

Foreigners have good chances of employment since competition is lower than in other places, e.g., Munich.

Stuttgart scored high in many indicators of a great city to live in, especially if you are looking for a city with a high quality of life. So, check that out!

9. Mainz

People walking around the suqre in Mainz

Population: 200,000.

Located in the (Rhineland-Palatinate) Rheinland-Pfalz region, Mainz is also the capital of this Bundesland. The city has a history that dates back over 2,000 years, which can be seen in the Old Town – the perfect place to grab a beer and chill out on a sunny day.

Mainz is famous for its university, Roman heritage, and an incredible amount of bicycles for its small population. It’s also a German wine capital. Mainz is a relatively small but cozy city.

Overall, it’s a compact and beautiful city where you can manage everything on your feet. Besides, the cost of living is relatively low because it’s a student town.

From an employment standpoint, it doesn’t offer the same opportunities as the cities mentioned in this article.

Yet, you won’t be sitting without work, either. There are several large companies securing jobs for locals, such as:
  • University clinic
  • ZDF
  • Schrott AG
  • DB Cargo AG
  • Volksbank and others

Ultimately, Mainz is a city for someone willing to enjoy their time in a relaxed place where everything is close, plus connectivity is also great – just hop on a train, and you will be in Frankfurt in 40 min. The larger city of Wiesbaden is next to Mainz.

Finally, here is the full list of the best German cities you might consider living in (plus population):
  • Munich – 1,4M
  • Frankfurt – 730,000
  • Berlin – 3,8M
  • Hamburg – 1,8M
  • Freiburg – 230,000
  • Heidelberg – 150,000
  • Nurnberg – 520,000
  • Regensburg – 140,000
  • Mainz – 200,000
  • Bonn – 330,000
  • Potsdam – 160,000
  • Aachen – 260,000
  • Hanover – 530,000
  • Dresden – 530,000
  • Stuttgart – 610,000
  • Leipzig – 540,000
  • Düsseldorf – 590,000
  • Cologne – 1M

The source we used for statistical data: avantgarde-experts.de.

German cities with the lowest unemployment rate

Cities with low unemployment rates have some of the best job opportunities including for foreigners. These are:

  1. Munich: 3,3%
  2. Stuttgart: 3,6%
  3. Frankfurt: 5%

Where do most foreigners live in Germany?

As a foreigner, you might also want to know where other foreign nationals are living in Germany. We have collected the most accurate data on preferred cities among internationals. Firstly, Germany is home to around 8.2 million people with foreign passports. It’s about 10% of the country’s population.

On a map, you can see the percentage of non-German cities across Germany, where 37% represents the highest share and 2% is the lowest.

A map of non-german cities across Germany
Source: demografie-portal.de

Many Italians live in Wolfsburg due to the Volkswagen factories where they have worked since 1962. Most of them reside in industrial German cities and regions such as Munchen, Stuttgart, and North Rhine-Westphalia.

Besides, Romanians were drawn to Bavaria and Americans to the Kaiserslautern area. Germany also has a large number of Turkish and Polish nationals living across the country.

From the mid-sixties, many people from Yugoslavia and Turkey came to Germany to work in the automotive, iron, steel, and textile industries. Many remained and invited their families to join them. This is still noticeable today.

Romania joined the EU in 2007, which has caused an influx of Romanian workers in Germany. They usually work in the meat and food industries. Hence, Romanian citizens also live in the regions where those sectors are prevalent.

Nonetheless, most foreigners prefer to live in the central German cities and surroundings, e.g., Berlin, Munich, and Cologne. Surprisingly, the city of Offenbach has the highest number of foreigners – 37% of the total population!

The proportion of locals vs foreigners is also significant in Frankfurt – 30%.

In contrast, only a few foreign nationals live in rural areas and Eastern Germany. East of the country is known for high unemployment rates and low salaries. So maybe it’s one of the reasons.

In several Eastern German regions, non-Germans’ population is less than 4%. The lowest number of foreigners is in Saxony. So, if you don’t want to feel isolated, don’t choose East Germany as your new home.

Not surprisingly, foreigners are drawn to cities with good job potentials and high quality of life.

Best cities in Germany for international students

What German cities are the best to live in as an International student? Here, you need first to determine at which university you want to study.

For instance, some of the best universities in Germany are located in Munich, Berlin, and Heidelberg.

1. Berlin

International students are mostly attracted to the German capital since the city offers the country’s best nightlife and leisure activities. In short – Berlin never sleeps.

Berlin is home to some of the best universities in the country:

  • Free University of Berlin 
  • Humboldt University
  • Technical University of Berlin
  • Berlin University of the Arts

Berlin has five major public universities and around 20 private, professional and technical ones. Moreover, it has some of the world’s top business schools.

You will find plenty of students from various countries in Berlin. It’s one of the popular choices among full-degree and exchange students.

2. Munich

Munich is the third-largest city in Germany, after Berlin and Hamburg, and one big student hub for internationals and locals alike. It’s also a center for technology, innovation, business, and tourism.

Munich is home to the largest international companies, making it a very opportunistic place for graduates.

Yet, international students must be aware of high living costs and should budget at least 1,500 EUR per month while living in Munich.

Some of the best universities in Munich are:

  • Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich
  • Technical University of Munich
  • Munich University of Applied Sciences
  • Munich Business School

Two of the best German universities are located in Munich: Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich and the Technical University of Munich.

3. Heidelberg

Small city Heidelberg University is home to the oldest German university – Heidelberg University. It’s one of the favorite universities to study among international students.

And it’s shown in the numbers – Heidelberg University has one of the highest ratios of foreign students in Germany.

4. Aachen

Aachen isn’t the only best place to live as a foreigner but also one of the best places to study.

Aachen is a cultural city thriving in its innovation and technology. It’s a small city near Germany’s borders with Belgium and the Netherlands.

RWTH Aachen University is a large university and one of the best technical colleges in Germany. It’s a place where many researchers and scientists can excel. If you are striving for an international tech career – this is the place to be!

Another major advantage of studying in Aachen is its affordable cost of living. The city has the lowest expenses among all the other places mentioned above.

Best cities to live in Germany for families

Are you moving with your family to Germany? Then your choice of where to live might differ. According to several rankings, Munich and its surroundings are the best city for families.

Yet, it might be pretty expensive for a family to live in. For example, in Munich, families spend 500 EUR per month more on childcare than in other German cities.

Other great places in Germany to live as a family are:

  1. Hamburg
  2. Stuttgart
  3. Hannover
  4. Frankfurt
  5. Dresden
  6. Berlin
  7. Düsseldorf
  8. Leipzig
  9. Cologne

Source: familie.de.

Read more about the cost of living for families in different German cities.

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