How to Survive as an Expat in Hamburg

How to Survive as an Expat in Hamburg

by Adriana Stein

Updated May 10, 2022

Are you moving to Germany soon or already an expat in Hamburg?

It might be daunting to move to a new country with a whole new language and culture, but with the right mindset and preparation, you’ll be able to navigate the change.

From learning German to understanding the public transport systems, here are our top tips to survive Hamburg as an expat!

  1. Learn German
  2. Meet other expats
  3. Don’t skip out on the tourist attractions
  4. Take note of the good restaurants
  5. Buy the right clothes
  6. Get to know the public transportation system

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6 Tips to Survive as an Expat in Hamburg

1. Learn German

While in a city like Berlin, English is much more readily spoken, in Hamburg the situation is quite different.

If you haven’t started learning German, it can be a struggle to do things like sending mail, asking for help to find things in a shop and making doctor’s appointments.

In addition, you need German to communicate for any foreigner’s office appointments, setting up health insurance, getting electricity and WiFi, and finding a flat.

So the biggest piece of advice for expats moving to Hamburg is to learn German quickly, because the longer you don’t speak it, the harder it will be to be comfortable here throughout daily life.

2. Meet other expats

Sometimes, even your most wonderful German friend wouldn’t understand the struggles of living in Germany as a foreigner. Many immigrants face some sort of identity crisis, having to juggle who they were in their home country compared to who they become in a foreign country.

Creating a circle of friends from the expat community is always helpful because you know they’re in a similar situation. Being surrounded by expats who get this is truly what makes Hamburg survivable.

The best resources for meeting other expats are Girl Gone International Hamburg (for females) and Meetup (for anyone).

3. Don’t skip out on the tourist attractions

Hamburg’s beauty is often understated. It’s considered a German-only travel destination because international tourists tend to focus on Berlin and Frankfurt.

But there are just as many awesome tourist attractions here to see, so if you plan to move here, we highly recommend visiting Hamburg’s tourist attractions, not only because you’ll love the city even more, but you’ll also be prepared for when relatives come to visit. 

Here is an overview of some of top sights:

  • Miniatur Wunderland: a huge museum of miniature country models. While this sounds like it’s only for children, I can guarantee that as an adult you’ll have just as much fun. Definitely do book your tickets online in advance, though, because otherwise the wait times can be long.
  • Elbphilharmonie: Hamburg’s opera house. You can visit the top balcony for free and get a wonderful view of the city, as well as cheap last minute tickets to classical concerts if you ask the ticket office.
  • Coffee museum: a museum about the history of coffee and a huge coffee tasting room with a wide selection of coffees to try. They also do desserts well, too!
  • Speicherstadt: all three of the items listed above are in the area known as the Speicherstadt, which is composed of unique brick buildings. This area is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Hamburg, because you can combine many activities together for a full day out, and there are also some great photo opportunities.
  • Reeperbahn: Hamburg’s nightlife area, made famous by the Beatles. If you want a place to have a drink and dance, this is the place to be.
  • Elbe: The river that surrounds the majority of Hamburg and what enabled Hamburg to be a busy port due to the connection with the North Sea. It’s a great place for a picnic in the grass or on the beach.
  • Alster: here you can also have a nice picnic by a lake, but it’s also really fun to go paddling in a canoe through Hamburg’s canals.

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4. Take note of the good restaurants

Hamburg’s food scene is unfortunately not so developed. You do need to be careful where you eat because you can easily end up spending a lot of money on a mediocre meal.

But for foodies at heart, we’ve gathered the top recommendations for Hamburg foodspots according to some expats:

5. Buy the right clothes

Last but not least, one of the most important points of surviving in Hamburg is being prepared for the crazy weather. There is a saying in Hamburg that “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing”.

Sometimes we do have four seasons in a day, so always have your umbrella at your side and wear layers that you can add and remove with the temperature.

In addition, make sure you have at least one high-quality pair of waterproof shoes and a thick waterproof coat to get you through the rainy months.

6. Get to know the public transportation system

Many tourists and even some expats find the public transportation system in Hamburg a bit confusing.

This is another aspect of Hamburg that you need to know German for, because pretty much none of it is in English (even in the central station you can’t really ask staff for help without speaking German).

To navigate Hamburg, you’ll first need to download the HVV app. Although you can use Google Maps to find bus and train connections, they’re incorrect a lot of the time and you also save slightly on the ticket price when using the app. 

Once you’ve got the HVV app, you then need to decide how many stations you’re going through or which zones you need because that determines which ticket you need.

There are also monthly passes for regular commuters and multi-day passes for tourists. When in doubt, just buy a day ticket (9 Uhr Tageskarte) and that’ll keep you safe for going around the city for that day. Also note that if you’re looking for long-distance trains, you’ll need the Deutsche Bahn app, not HVV.

Another local tip to mention is to be aware of the connections that HVV lists between bus and train. Sometimes it lists that a connection is possible within 2 or 3 minutes, but unless you know exactly where that bus is and run there, you won’t make it.

So getting places efficiently does take some experience to know the local areas.


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