So, our expat World Cup games are well underway. We have seen New Zealand beat out Italy, Chile come out over top over Honduras, and Brazil dominate Portugal. But what will happen when Germany goes head to head with Australia in terms of education, cost of living, health care, ease of buying real estate, climate, and job opportunities? Which country are you placing your bets on for being a better place for expats?
In Germany, education is free and in most types of school is coeducational. Almost all elementary and secondary schools and about 95 percent of higher education institutions are public. Germany also has a long tradition of offering alternative types of education, such as Waldorf and Montessori schools. At every type of school, pupils study a minimum of one foreign language (in most cases English) for at least five years. Surprisingly, though, Germany’s educational expenditure as a percentage of GDP is one of the European Union’s lowest, hovering between 3.3 and 4%. And recent studies by the Program for International Student Assessment have shown that German students are becoming increasingly weak in math and science.
Focus is usually on intellectual education in the schools, and things such as school sports teams are not very common. Only few schools have actual sports teams that compete with other schools’, so expat kids from the states who want the typical All-American experience of cheering at the home games will be out of luck.
Overall, Germany offers quality education, and I would not think twice about educating my children there.
There is a common misperception that Australia offers an easy and laid-back alternative to the UK and USA in terms of studying, and is for non-serious or non-academic students who want to make the most of the good weather and surf. However, Australia offers quality education, governed by a strict regulatory body, which makes sure that standards are not only met, but exceeded.
The Education Index, published with the UN’s Human Development Index in 2008, based on data from 2006, lists Australia as 0.993, amongst the highest in the world for overall educational quality, tied for first place with Denmark, Finland and New Zealand. They have ranked 6th worldwide for Reading, 8th for Science, and 13th for Mathematics.
Expat kids may be surprised to find out that Australia has comparatively strict school uniform guidelines across almost all high schools, both pubic and private. Attitude in the schools is that less importance is placed on outward discipline and memorization of facts that many countries practice. Instead, the emphasis here is on self-discipline, learning through understanding, and generally encouraging a child’s enthusiasm for learning. Children are actively encouraged to express themselves and their opinions openly in class.
Score: Germany 0, Australia 1 (You cant argue first place in the world from the Education Index, no matter how solid Germany is!)
Cost of Living
Although the wages in Germany are generally very high (meaningless if you do not plan on working there), the cost of living is also quite high. Germany also ranks as one of the highest in the world for taxation, with income tax possible at 44%
As for living expenses, some towns and cities are decidedly more expensive than others. For instance, living in Berlin, Bohn, Cologne, or Hamburg is significantly more costly than living in eastern Germany or the Ruhr area.
It is possible to travel easily and inexpensively to other parts of Europe from Germany using the efficient train system, so cheap, culturally-rich vacations while living in Germany are a plus.
Food and utility costs may be similar to what you are used to paying in the US or the UK, possibly a little more, making Germany not the best place if you are becoming an expat to stretch your dollars further (especially given that the dollar is weaker than the euro).
In a recent study, all of Australia’s major cities made it into the top 30 best places for expats based on quality of life vs. cost of living. Although housing prices in some urban markets can be staggering, there are many places, especially towards Western Australia, that still offer amazing housing at great deals. Taxes can be quite high, almost on par with those in Germany. Utilities and food can be very affordable, and some states even offer free water to their residents. In recent years, the cost of living in Australia has been steadily rising, but still is not on par with that of the US or Europe. This coupled with the fact that the US dollar is basically equal to the Australian dollar (currently at 1 to 1.078), makes it a cheaper option overall than Europe.
Score: Germany 0, Australia 2
Germany has some of the finest medical care in the world. There health care is on par and many times above par compared to the United States. There are plenty of modern hospitals, clinics, doctor’s offices, pharmacies and dentists throughout Germany. Even in the outlying region, you will never be too far from medical care. Germany is ranked 8th in the world for number of practicing physicians per person.
Germany does offer universal healthcare for its citizens, and many expats that work for German companies are able to get health insurance through the company that they work for. Legal expats can apply for health care, and for those that are considered tourists, they can easily purchase international travelers insurance to protect from unexpected medical emergencies.
For the most part, Germany’s health care can be expensive if you have to pay for it out of pocket, so many Germans actually leave the country and go to other countries for more affordable care that is cosmetically related. But overall, the care that Germany offers is top notch. Fun fact: Germany has the world’s oldest universal health care system.
Australia boasts excellent medical care and medical facilities which are on par with the United States and Western Europe. For those looking to live or work in Australia, health insurance is usually easy to attain, especially if working for a company. If you are an entrepreneur, you can also easily acquire medical insurance and for the most part the costs are much less than in the United States.
Health Services in Australia are universal. The public health system is called Medicare. It ensures access to hospital treatment and subsidized out-of-hospital medical treatment.
The Federal Government pays a large percentage of the cost of services. Where the Government pays the large subsidy (typically 75% of in-hospital costs, 100% of General Practitioner costs, and 85% of specialist services), the patient pays the remainder out of pocket. Individuals are encouraged to purchase private health services to help cover these costs, and others which are not covered, such as ambulance transport, optometry, and dentistry. This category was a close one, but this referee has to make the call and say that the score is…
Score: Germany 1, Australia 2
Many expats that live in Germany for a long period of time choose to purchase real estate. For the most part, purchasing real estate is simple and straight forward. Laws are clear and the judicial system upholds contracts usually without delay. The only thing that stops many expats from investing in real estate is the high prices. Not only is real estate usually more expensive than many cities in America, the Euro has been very strong the last few years, making prices even more out of reach. Your money will go a lot further in eastern Germany than in other parts.
It is important to note that for many homes and apartments, the size will be smaller than most Americans are used to, but they are more than adequate.
Buying and investing in real estate in Australia is fairly straightforward and low risk. Prices vary just as in the United States and can be low to astronomical depending on location and type of property.
For those looking to purchase a single family home, prices range from about $100K in US dollars and up, however bargains can be found, and condos and apartments can be less. For desirable real estate expect to pay prices that are similar to in Europe and America.
Buying real estate in either Germany or Australia will be fairly similar, and not too much different than if you were buying in the US or UK. There are no huge red flags, no huge points that makes one any better than the other, so no points are awarded.
Score: Germany 1, Australia 2
Germany has a climate with four distinct seasons, similar to many states and cities in the US. It should be noted that for the most part, the climate in Germany is less extreme (no hurricanes, tornadoes, etc. here). Germany has mild summers that occasionally creep up in the high 80’s; however they mostly hover in the 70’s and maybe the low 80’s during the afternoon.
Because most of the country is far away from the sea and ocean, the winter tends to be colder since it is not warmed by the sea. Snow is extremely common and part of life in many places. In addition, during the fall time, the temperatures can drop abruptly. During the spring, the temperature tends to be mild, but rainy at times. However, for the most part the climate in Germany is very comfortable and accommodating.
The climate in Australia is classified as tropical and temperate. Since this island continent is very close to the equator, the northern part of Australia falls into the tropical zone and the southern end is considered to be temperate.
The tropical states have warm temperatures year round. During the winter time (June to September), the temperatures drop to about 68 degrees, with most temperatures in the 70’s. In the summer time, the northern part of the state can have hot and wet temperatures that can hover in the 90’s or higher.
The winter time in the southern states is cooler than the north, with temperatures as cold as the upper 50’s, but temperatures are still warm and can get as high as the middle 70’s even during the dead of winter. During the summer time in the southern states, temperatures are very warm, but the climate is relatively dry. Snow can occur in the southern states and there are even ski fields present, however snow only falls about once every ten years or so and mostly in the Great Dividing Range.
The water surrounding Australia is consistently warm and perfect for surfing. For those that love marine life, Australia is of course home to the Great Barrier Reef, ideal for getting outside and enjoying the amazing climate here.
Score: Germany 1, Australia 3
For many foreigners, Germany has fabulous working conditions. German employees receive some of the highest salaries in the world, get offered generous benefits and state-mandated job protection. In some industries, working hours have been reduced to 35 hours per week and vacation days of 30 days per year is not uncommon.
On the downside, Germany suffers high unemployment, around 12%. Today, the country has around 5 million unemployed. High unemployment means that finding a job is difficult, especially for foreigners not speaking absolutely fluent German. A huge range of occupations are regulated in Germany, with many jobs requiring formal qualification. The country has an apprenticeship system that requires most young workers to pass a 2/3 year training program before entering the real labor market, which ensures they have first-hand experience in the job. For expats, this can mean you might be prevented from working in a job in which you have experience at home, for example, electrician, computer technician, etc.
If you do have a formal qualifications, such as for doctors, teachers and nurses, etc., it will need to be certified by a competent German authority (usually a guild, trade or professional association). The work visa issue for expats in any part of Europe can always be tricky, as they tend to hire locals much more than expats, and the process to get a visa can be lengthy and requires much cooperation from your prospective employer.
You may have to take a pay cut to gain valuable experience and contacts in the Australian market. They are fiercely patriotic and employers can reserve the right to deny applications of non-nationals.
Depending on your previous work experience, you may find job prospects better in one part of Australia than elsewhere. If you have a background in manufacturing, you will have more chance of finding a suitable job in Melbourne, and to a lesser extent in Adelaide. If you’ve worked in finance companies, Sydney is the major center of employment, while those with a background in resources should look at Perth. The country may be huge, but job markets are on a much smaller scale.
Australia does offer many different types of work visas, which is interesting. If you are under 30, you can apply for a holiday working visa, meant for gap year students or tourists that want to live or travel in Australia and support themselves by working, mostly agricultural jobs or short term odd jobs. For jobs that may make you more money, you may have to apply for a skilled visa, proving that you have something of worth to offer the job market there. There is also the regional sponsored migration scheme. It is a sponsorship visa solution specifically for people willing to settle in remote areas of Australia. The requirements are nowhere near as difficult to meet as for other sponsorship visas, because the Australian government wants to encourage skilled people to settle outside the major metropolitan areas.
Overall, the job market in Australia has stayed fairly stable during the global financial crisis, and bosses are already budgeting for pay increases of 4% over each of the next two years.
Hmm…Australia may be easier to land a job in, and is more flexible on visas, but you may like the jobs, pay, and benefits that Germany offers. Tie.
Score: Germany 1, Australia 3
So while Australia has the international reputation of being laid-back and easy going, they came to this game pretty fierce, surprisingly. Do you agree with the outcome? Do you think the referee is way off mark? Share your comments and opinions with us!
About the author: Cathy Brown is a mother, writer, artist, teacher, traveller and explorer originally from Michigan. She has a serious case of wanderlust and currently lives in Argentina with her three amazing children, ages nine, seven, and five. She writes for and maintains Expat Daily News – South America and Expat Daily News – Central America