On Saturday, October 30, 2021 I left for Germany from Boston. The following day I arrived in Zürich after a short layover in Iceland and hopped in a rental car for the Bodensee.

Finance

Note that you must open a separate PayPal account for each country in which you reside.

Net exchange rates

Monito is a website that compares various ways of transferring money between currencies in various countries. For example, Google (using Morningstar) states that 1 USD is equal to 0.86 EUR, while monito states that 300 USD can be transferred using WISE to 245.45 EUR or 0.85483 EUR/USD.

Oddly, the information listed by monito does not match WISE’s website. For $500 there is a $0.80 fee for a bank debit and then a $2.67 fee at a 0.873750 exchange rate. The ECB current exchange rate is currently 0.873515. The problem appears to be that monito didn’t subtract the fees before applying the exchange rate. So although MoneyGram is listed below WISE on monito, it would transfer about 1 EUR more for $500 since there is no fee for direct bank payments and an exchange rate of 0.8690. Unfortunately, MoneyGram rendered a blank page in Firefox even with Private Browsing enabled.

The actual $500 transfer using WISE resulted in 433.84 EUR in my German bank account, which is an exchange rate of 0.867679. Subtracting the above fees from the original balance before converting the currency ends up roughly matching the quoted exchange rate.

International wire transfers from my bank in the US are very expensive and slow:

Outgoing International wire transfers can take up to 15 calendar days to post to your recipient’s account and have a $45 fee ($20 International Outgoing fee + $25 International Wire Service fee).

See European Central Bank exchange referene rate (USD) for the current exchange rate.

Example exchange rates

Interestingly, charging 26.05 CHF on my Chase card at the Zürich airport resulted in a $28.62 transaction, which is only 16 cents or 0.56% more than the exchange rate returned by Google. Similarly, a charge from Hertz was 0.56% higher.

IKEA presents an interesting way to compare prices between Germany, Austria and Switzerland. A set of three knives costs 7.99 USD, 7 EUR (Austria), 9.99 EUR (Germany) and 9.95 CHF. The price in Austra is 10 cents cheaper than the United States at the current exchange rate. IKEA Abholstation Wolfurt is a 53 minute drive away.

An Amazon order included a 0.42 USD fee to guarantee an exchange rate. They also mention a 2.45% “exchange rate guarantee above European Central Bank reference rate”.

Bank accounts

WISE offers a debit card with no transaction fee for less than 200 Euro twice month, but it will charge a 0.24-3.69% conversion fee and doesn’t not cover the cost of any ATM fees.

Housing

Given the tight housing market, a sublease (i.e. Zwischenmiete) may be another option.

Ferry

If I live in Konstanz I would need to commute using the Konstanz-Meersburg ferry. It runs 4 times every hour from 9AM to 7PM. Certain times before 9AM are only available during the work week. A single adult ticket is 3,3 EUR or 11 EUR with a bicycle. The annual bicycle card costs 336 EUR. The trip takes about 15 minutes. The ride from the ferry to the office is 3.8 miles and should take about 10-15 minutes.

Tax

There are two exclusions for foreign income that may be used exclusively; Foreign Earned Income Exclusion and Foreign Tax Credit. The FEIE allows me to exclude foreign earnings from income up to an amount that is adjusted annually for inflation (e.g. $108,700 in 2021). Foreign income tax may reduce U.S. tax liability, typically in the form of a tax credit. I will be granted a automatic 2-month extension (i.e. June 15) to file my return and pay any amount due.

Note that the credit is only towards foreign income so it may not be used towards U.S. income. To use the credit one must earn foreign income that is taxed abroad at a rate lower than in the United States.

Exchange rate

The IRS does not maintain an official exchange rate. That rate may be the yearly average exchange rate or the exchange rate on specific days of individual transactions.

American capital gains

The American capital gains tax rate is determined by total taxable income. There is no capital gains tax below $40,400 and then 15% until $445,850. In Germany capital gains from financial investments are subject to a flat tax of 25% plus a solidarity surcharge. The Foreign Tax Credit means that the difference will be credited by the United States.

Foreign income

Income earned abroad while residing in Germany must be reported and taxed. Two methods exist to prevent double taxation. Foreign tax is credited when calculating German taxes. Alternatively, the income is tax-exempt, but it is subject to Progressionsvorbehalt.

Independent consulting

Income earned as an independent consultant in the United States is subject to normal income tax (e.g. 20-25%). Then there is a 15.3% tax on the remaining amount, which goes to Social Security and Medicare. That results in roughly 36% tax on net income.

While residing in Germany that income plus any income earned in Germany needs to be reported to Germany tax authorities.

Questions

Healthcare

There’s an automatic exemption from the ACA requirements as part of the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion.

COVID

The Robert Koch Institut has developed an app that displays a QR code to confirm vaccination. They responded to my inquiry with the following:

Um in Deutschland ein digitales COVID-Zertifikat der EU zu erhalten, müssen Sie einen Impfanspruch laut Impfverordnung (Verordnung zum Anspruch auf Schutzimpfung gegen das Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 „Coronavirus-Impfverordnung – CoronaImpfV“) haben.

Dazu muss einer dieser Anknüpfungspunkte mit Deutschland vorhanden sein, z.B.: - Arbeitsvertrag - Mietvertrag - Krankenversicherung - Wohnsitz

Zwischen EU-Bürgern und Nicht-EU-Bürgern gibt es keinen Unterschied.

Sie müssen mit einem in der EU zugelassenen COVID-19-Impfstoff geimpft worden sein. Eine aktuelle Liste von in der EU zugelassenen COVID-19-Impfstoffen wie auch Informationen zur notwendigen Anzahl an Impfdosen sind auf den Internetseiten des Paul-Ehrlich-Instituts zu finden: https://www.pei.de/impfstoffe/covid-19.

Laut Verordung SchAusnahmV §2 Absatz 3 ist ein “Impfnachweis ein Nachweis hinsichtlich des Vorliegens einer vollständigen Schutzimpfung gegen das Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 in deutscher, englischer, französischer, italienischer oder spanischer Sprache in verkörperter oder digitaler Form…”.

Das Zertifikat können Sie sich in teilnehmenden Apotheken ausstellen lassen.

Unfortunately, by the time I went to a local Apotheke nearly a month later the rules had changed. Apparently, a spike in fraud meant that Apotheke are no longer issuing certificates for vaccinations that were not administered on site. I could get a certificate for a booster, but to receive a booster I would need a Gesundheitskarte from a Krankenkasse.

See Aktuelle Regelungen for a definition of 2G and 3G

Gesetzliche Krankenkassen

hkk Krankenkasse (362,57 EUR) is the cheapest while BARMER (389,42 EUR) has the best service. Techniker Krankenkasse (382,16 EUR) is strong all around. BARMER and hkk have a Auslands-Notrufservice and a Jährlicher Transparenzbericht. Perhaps critically, BARMER has Antrag und Beratung auch auf Englisch. Techniker supports Haut-Check online.

Note that as an independent contractor (i.e. Selbstständiger o. Freiberufler) you will need to pay the aforementioned cost as well as the additional half normally paid my your employer. The rate is paid monthly and calculated by your annual income. The top tier costs roughly 900 EUR per month.

German

Motor vehicles

Rental car

A two day van rental from Europcar in Überlingen starts at 227 Euro. A wagon or sedan starts at 168 Euro. The Sixt website wouldn’t load any locations. The cheapest rental listed on check24.de is a Fiat 500 for 124 Euro.

Speeding tickets

There are speeding cameras everywhere. Beware! The person or company who has registered the vehicle will be contacted by mail. Typically it is possible to respond online using a URL, username and PIN provided by the letter. Note the small “Weiter” link on the main page that contains a PDF copy of the letter.

Google Maps does not track speed cameras, but Waze does (see wazeopedia: Blitzer einpflegen). Additionally, Waze recognizes Austria and Swiss Vignette.

Land Autobahn Land-/Schnellstraße Ortsgebiet
Deutschland 100/∞ 50
Österreich 130 100 50
Schweiz 120 80/100 50
Italien 110/130 90/110/130 50

See Wikipedia: Generelle Geschwindigkeitsbegrenzung

License

Kfz-Zulassung

Rules of the road

Right of way is often determined at smaller intersections using the “right before left” rule.1

Tolls

The Italian Telepass transceiver provides a service for several other European countries, but purchasing it outside of Italy can be difficult. The maut1.de Mautbox is based on Telepass, but can be purchased in Germany. ADAC has also partnered with maut1 to provide the Mautbox to their customers.

Housing

Bedding

The dimensions of bedding are naturally different. I purchased a 160x200 cm mattress from Ikea and confusingly was recommended a 155x220 cm wide duvet in the store. The fact that people often use two duvets on larger mattresses contributed to that confusion.

Rather than selecting a duvet size based on the mattress size, it is based on the size of the person and whether two people will share a duvet.2

I think I’ll buy a 240x220 cm for my current mattress and use the 155x220 cm for guests.

International shipping

Shipping into Germany is subject to customs taxes. When sending from the foreign country, a customs declaration form (i.e. Zollinhaltserklärung) must be filled out and attached to the package.

General questions about German customs can be answered by the following: