Being an Expat in Frankfurt: A Guide to Housing, Jobs, and German Culture
Moving to Frankfurt can be an adventure, but it’s not without its challenges. German culture can take some getting used to, from the language to the paperwork involved in setting up your new life.
13 min read
As a financial metropolis, Frankfurt is one of Germany’s most popular cities for expats. The city offers lucrative jobs, a high standard of living, and a buzzing cosmopolitan center — so, it’s no surprise that rents in this Hessian city are among Germany’s highest.
It may not be known for its tropical weather or laid-back lifestyle, but make no mistake: There’s a lot to recommend about Frankfurt (and Germany in general). Expats in Frankfurt benefit from affordable education and a strong public healthcare system, not to mention some of the best job opportunities in all of Europe. Sure, mountains of paperwork and a tricky housing market can darken your mood faster than a German winter, but plenty of expats find Frankfurt’s charms to be worth the extra effort.
With that in mind, let’s look at everything you need to know about being an expat in Frankfurt.
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The expat community in Frankfurt
Frankfurt is quite open and international, which makes it a popular city for expats. On top of that, a healthy economy and job market are likely to make Frankfurt even more attractive for expats in the coming years.
So, how many expats actually live in Frankfurt? According to Toytown Deutschland, 7,300 of Frankfurt’s residents are expats or foreign-born. That all adds up to a robust community of people to meet and interact with, and you should have no trouble finding bars and events that cater to the expat crowd. Toytown Germany is a good place to start, though most social-media platforms have groups and networks you can join that specifically cater to expats living in Frankfurt. And don’t forget to discover all the different sides of “Mainhattan.” Frankfurt is so much more than just a financial center and an airport: Beyond its skyline of high-rises, Frankfurt is home to a stunning old town area full of little alleyways, plus a whole host of parks and green spaces. If that weren’t enough, there are also cultural attractions to suit anyone and everyone, from the English Theatre to the house where Goethe was born and the Apfelweinviertel.
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Housing for expats in Frankfurt
The housing market in Germany works a bit differently for renters than what you might be used to. For one, Germany has an extraordinarily high rentership rate for a developed country. In other words, lots of people rent here and buying a home is less common.
Because you may be interested in either renting or buying, let’s look at some key facts about how both housing options work in Frankfurt.
The basics of renting in Frankfurt
The outsized demand for rental properties means that the market in Frankfurt can be especially competitive for renters, and you may need to consider living in a neighborhood that isn’t your first choice. The good news is that typical rental contracts are renter-friendly, and often offer long-term security and even rent control.
Before signing a rental agreement in Frankfurt, make sure you’ll be able to officially register the address where you intend to live. This process is called Anmeldung — the German word for registration — and every person who lives in Germany is required to do it. It’s not too difficult — once you have all your registration documentation in order, you can apply for an appointment at your local Bürgeramt, or civic office, in Frankfurt. Appointments can be difficult to come by, but try to do it at soon as you’re able.
Feeling intimidated? Many expats living in Frankfurt have navigated all this confusion before, and you’ll probably feel like a pro in a few years’ time. Until then, check out our tips on how to rent an apartment in Germany, which includes the most important terms and information you’ll need to know.
The basics of buying a home in Frankfurt
As we mentioned above, buying is not as common in Frankfurt as it might be in other cities and countries across Europe.
In general, owning a home in Germany is not heavily subsidized by the government. As the Brookings Institution notes, certain items such as mortgage interest can only be deducted from your income taxes if you rent a home, as opposed to occupying it yourself.
The average price per square meter in the metropolitan Frankfurt area is around €5,800 — definitely cheaper than in Munich. However, it really depends on what you’re looking for. The price per square meter in central districts like Westend-Süd or Bornheim is in the region of €8,000, and properties don’t tend to stay on the market for long. Prices in outer districts like Kalbach-Riedberg or Schwanheim start at around €4,300, but have shot up recently due to the uptick in demand. Plus, you should include financing costs and other expenses in your calculations, alongside the purchase price of the property itself. These may include:
- Estate agent fees
- A property transfer tax (in Frankfurt, it’s 6% of the purchase price)
- A notary and land registration fee (usually up to 2% of the purchase price)
- Other fees and closing costs
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The best places for expats to live in Frankfurt
The most popular and desirable neighborhoods in Frankfurt include:
- Sachsenhausen: Despite its central location, Sachsenhausen is far-removed from all the hustle and bustle. You can wander along the cobbled streets, cycle along the banks of the river Main, and make friends with other expats — there are a few international schools based here.
- Bahnhofsviertel: If you’re looking for an up-and-coming central location, the Bahnhofsviertel is for you. You’ve got all the sights on your doorstep, from the Römer to Frankfurt’s town hall and cathedral. Plus, rents are comparatively low, and you’ll meet lots of trendy young people.
- Ostend: This district is multicultural, relatively affordable, and cozy, which is why it’s home to lots of expats, young families, and young professionals. This on-trend neighborhood also features plenty of sights, like Frankfurt Zoo and the Schwedlersee.
- Nordend: Probably Frankfurt’s most popular neighborhood, it attracts lots of young people — it really comes to life at night. From jazz clubs to restaurants to trendy pubs, there’s always a nightlife spot open somewhere in Bornheim, the district’s eastern portion.
Finding a job in Frankfurt
We’re many decades removed from the Wirtschaftswunder (“economic miracle”) of the 1950s, but the German economy continues to hold strong relative to many other European countries. Burgeoning industries such as finance and tech make Frankfurt an especially attractive place to look for work, and companies such as Fraport AG, DB Regio, and the Radeberger Group are headquartered in Frankfurt. They’re among the top employers and seem to always be looking for local talent. At the airport alone there are more than 80,000 people working for around 500 companies, not to mention all the lucrative jobs in the banking district.
The problem for some can be, well, becoming a local. If you’re a non-EU citizen looking to move to Frankfurt for work, you’ll likely need to find a job and company to sponsor your resident permit or visa application. Ideally, you’ll do this before you move, though Germany does offer a job seeker visa that allows some skilled foreign nationals to stay in the country for a certain amount of time (usually six months) while they search for employment.
Of course, finding a job is only one part of the challenge in Frankfurt. You’ll also probably want a job that pays well. So, what’s a good salary in Frankfurt? According to ERI’s Global Salary Calculator, the average base salary in Frankfurt is €56,440 per year, which works out to an average hourly rate of €27. This is higher compared to the average base salary across the rest of Germany, which is €49,428 per year.
If you’re looking for a job in Frankfurt, keep in mind that a place can seem more or less expensive depending on how much money you’re bringing in. If you can, you may want to negotiate a salary that matches or exceeds the average salary for Frankfurt.
The cost of living in Frankfurt
Living in a big city like Frankfurt doesn’t automatically mean that you’ll save more money. People who live in Frankfurt tend to earn higher salaries than their suburban or rural counterparts — but they also tend to pay more for essentials such as rent and food. Salaries are indeed higher in Frankfurt than in, say, Berlin or Hamburg. As a result, living expenses like rent, food, and leisure activities also cost more. As a single person in Frankfurt, you’ll spend an average of €2,121.18, including rent, per month, with a four-person family coming in at around €5,412. This makes Frankfurt am Main the fifth-most-expensive city in Germany — not to mention the fact that some prices have shot up due to current inflation levels. Luckily, there are lots of budget-friendly activities in Frankfurt. You can take photos of the imposing skyline from the Deutschherrnbrücke bridge, marvel at the half-timbered houses in the old town, climb the cathedral tower, or taste Apfelwein (apple wine) and other treats in the Kleinmarkthalle. Soak up some holiday vibes in the Chinese Garden, the Botanic Garden, and the Palm Garden, while the Schwanheimer Dünen park is perfect for an extended stroll.
Keep in mind that the cost of living in Frankfurt includes not only essentials but also activities that let you really explore the local scene. If you’re looking for a quick way to balance your major expenses, check out our 50/30/20 calculator, which is designed to help you split your income among three major categories: basic necessities, disposable income, and savings/debts. Or, you could input your specific expenses into our monthly budget calculator to get a clearer picture of your monthly spend.
Healthcare in Frankfurt
If you live or work in Frankfurt or anywhere else in Germany, health insurance is mandatory. Most Germans and expats living in Germany opt for statutory health insurance, which is financed primarily through shared employee and employer salary contributions.
The monthly contribution is generally around 14.6% of the gross salary, although a cap applies for those who earn more than the maximum contribution amount. Since freelancers and other self-employed workers don’t have an employer to split the contribution with, they typically have to pay the full cost of their insurance.
You may also have the option to purchase private health insurance from a number of different companies, in which case your costs will vary depending on the type and quality of insurance you choose.
Check out our full guide on how to get health insurance in Germany, which includes everything an expat living in Frankfurt needs to know.
Education in Frankfurt
Here’s a bit of good news if you’re planning to study abroad in Frankfurt as an expat — statutory tuition fees in Germany don’t exist! Whether you’re German, European, or from anywhere else in the world, you can study at most German public universities without paying tuition. (Of course, there can be exceptions.) Other small fees and costs may apply, but this makes Frankfurt an extremely compelling place to live while studying.
This is especially true when you consider Germany’s stellar international reputation for education, which owes in part to renowned local universities such as:
- Goethe University Frankfurt: Germany’s sixth-largest university, it offers 158 different courses. Its central campus is located in the Westend district.
- Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences: Based in Nordend, this university has four faculties — architecture, IT, business, and social work — and is home to around 15,000 students from 100 countries.
- FOM Hochschule für Oekonomie und Management: This private school has its headquarters in Essen and operates more than 30 sites, including in Frankfurt am Main. Its courses are primarily aimed at professionals and trainees.
Getting around in Frankfurt
As a major transportation hub, Frankfurt is well-connected to the rest of Germany. This makes it an ideal jumping-off point for expats wanting to explore the country. Frankfurt also boasts a modern network of trains, buses, and trams to get you around pretty much anywhere within city limits relatively quickly.
Whether you stay close to home or wander afar, transportation in Frankfurt is quite affordable. Unveiled in 2023, the Deutschland-Ticket (D-Ticket) dramatically reduced the monthly cost of local transit in Frankfurt and other cities across Germany. For only €49 per month, this ticket offers unlimited travel on local and regional public transportation. This can be a fantastic way to decrease the cost of living in Frankfurt — as can buying a bicycle.
How you live and where you work will likely determine the best transportation option for you. In general, you can expect to pay more for transportation if you buy and own a car. As a major German city, Frankfurt isn’t the easiest place to drive around, with lots of zoning restrictions and high fees for parking and traffic violations. If you need to travel long distances across the city for work or play, we generally recommend taking advantage of the Deutschland-Ticket. It’s popular for a reason!
Cultural differences in German and Frankfurt
Frankfurt is a big, multicultural city with lots of people living together in relative harmony — but that doesn’t mean German culture isn’t strong here.
Some expats have trouble adapting to the German way, which can seem extremely practical and “common sense” in some ways and random in others. For example, Germans are known for respecting rules, and crossing a street in Frankfurt at a red light may get you a few stern looks. On the other hand, Germans are deeply superstitious about wishing someone “Happy Birthday” prior to that person’s actual birthday.
As expats everywhere will tell you, it may take some time to get used to the local way of doing things. Other things that expats find to be a bit jarring in Frankfurt include:
- German honesty, which can seem quite blunt and cold to an outsider. But trust us, you’ll get used to it after a while!
- Stöffche and Bembel: Frankfurt has some unique culinary delights, such as Stöffche, also known as Ebbelwoi, Äppler, or just Apfelwein, meaning “apple wine.” Frankfurt natives don’t drink this from a wine glass but from a Geripptes, a glass without a stem. Apfelwein is served in a Bembel, a grayish-blue porcelain flagon.
- Wasserhäuschen vs. Kiosk: In Frankfurt, Berlin’s Späti and Düsseldorf’s Büdchen are called Wasserhäuschen. These kiosks have a rich history and nowadays sell candy and tobacco, as well as drinks.
- Self-mockery and Gebabbel: people often say that the Germans have no sense of humor. It’s a very different story in Hesse, where people like to poke fun at themselves. However, there’s one thing they don’t like to joke about: the suggestion that there’s only one Hessian dialect. The regional differences are simply too great. However, the Rhine-Main area is known for its Gebabbel, the relaxed way in which people from Hesse pronounce their words.
- The intensely fast pace at which Germans bag their groceries. Also, the fact that most Germans bring their own grocery bags every time they shop.
- The relatively complex trash-sorting system, which includes bins for paper recycling, plastic and metal recycling, glass recycling, and general waste.
- The German language, which can be difficult to learn but is worth the effort if you want to make friends with locals.
- German honesty, which can seem quite blunt and cold to an outsider. Once you get used to it, though, you may appreciate it and even learn to love it.
Managing your money as an expat in Frankfurt
If you’re getting ready to move to Frankfurt, you may have some stress about how to keep your saving habits up in a different city and country. The good news is that N26 has you covered. With our fully online bank account, you can set daily spending limits to help you stay on track with your budgeting goals and use Spaces to create sub-accounts for different needs.
Oh, and speaking of bank accounts, you’ll want to get on that. Check out our guide to how to open a bank account in Germany for a full rundown of the process.
Is Frankfurt a good city for expats?
Frankfurt is a great city for expats. Alongside strong professional opportunities and high salaries, Frankfurt offers an exciting blend of skyscrapers and half-timbered historical buildings, not to mention local specialties like Apfelwein and a diverse population of people hailing from 179 different countries. Plus, English is used day to day in this financial metropolis, so you’ll be able to find your feet quickly and make friends.
Where do expats live in Frankfurt
Expats in Frankfurt live all over the place, but bigger concentrations of expats tend to live in international-friendly neighborhoods like Nordend, Ostend, and Sachsenhausen.
Can I live in Frankfurt without speaking German?
You can certainly live in Frankfurt without speaking or understanding German, but you won’t get a full experience of the local culture. You may also find basic tasks such as grocery shopping, filing your taxes, and getting around the city more challenging. With that said, many Germans in Frankfurt have some knowledge of English and some public services are available in English, as well.
Is Germany (Frankfurt) friendly to foreigners?
Germans tend to be quite friendly to foreigners. Even so, it’s a good idea to go out of your way to learn the language and respect the local customs. Germans who see you at least giving it a try will likely be impressed and warm up to you more quickly.
Can I live and work in Germany if I have an EU passport?
Yes, you can live and work in Germany if you are a citizen of another EU country
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