How to Survive as an Expat in Hamburg
Published on April 15, 2020 / Updated on November 8, 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!
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.