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Germany has a modern and efficient transport system and most people use public transport for getting around, with trains being the fastest and most economical way of travelling in Germany.
Expats living in major cities such as Berlin, Munich or Frankfurt won’t need a car for local travel. And on occasions where they do decide to travel through the countryside, they can carpool or hire a car for a few days.
Public transport in Germany
Public transportation in Germany consists of trains and buses and, in major cities, trams too. With such a comprehensive railway network, long-distance buses aren't necessary, but are a good alternative for expats on a budget.
Germany has an efficient and reasonably priced rail network that covers most of the country.
Trains are the most popular mode of transport in Germany as they're considerably faster than driving. For example, driving from Hamburg to Munich takes eight hours while the equivalent train ride only takes six.
Long-distance and regional trains in Germany are run by Deutsch Bahn and there are various services for expats looking to travel around Germany.
All of the major cities are linked to one another by InterCity Express (ICE) trains. These trains are operated at high speeds of up to 205 mph (330km/h), but tickets are pricey.
Regular InterCity (IC) trains are more affordable. They're not as modern or as fast as the ICE trains but are still reasonably comfortable.
Both ICE and IC trains run approximately every hour during the day on the most popular routes. But expats should be aware that while the network is fast and modern, delays are known to happen – so it's best to avoid booking connecting trains that are less than 20 minutes apart.
If expats are organised and plan their trip in advance they can make considerable savings. Reservations aren't always necessary, but pre-booking seats for travel on weekends or public holidays is a good idea. Ticket prices vary depending on the route and type of train. For those who plan on using trains regularly, getting a Bahn Card is a great investment. It is valid for one year and offers various discounts. Tickets for trains in Germany can be purchased at stations, on board the train and at an authorised vendor. However, for the most affordable rates, expats should purchase tickets online and as far in advance as possible.
Apart from extensive bus services in all major cities and towns, there are also a handful of intercity bus routes in Germany, and most of them travel to or from the capital, Berlin. The major advantage of travelling by bus in Germany is the price.
For those booking in advance, the Neun-Euro Bus allows passengers to travel on any service connecting Hamburg, Hanover, Kassel, Frankfurt, Mannheim and Heidelberg for a set price.
Taxis in Germany
Taxis are plentiful in Germany's major cities and are cheaper than in many other large European capitals. Most drivers speak English and are generally helpful.
Expats can either flag one down in the street or find a taxistand (taxi rank). While taxis are easy to find in city centres, if travelling to or from the suburbs it is best to pre-book a vehicle ahead of time.
Travelling by taxi can be useful late at night, and it becomes a cost-effective method of transport if a single vehicle is shared by a group of people travelling in the same direction.
Ride-hailing services such as Uber and Free Now are also a super convenient way to get around. Expats can simply download the app, link their credit card and start riding.
Domestic flights in Germany
While it's often more straightforward to use trains in Germany, competition between budget airlines can make flight prices very competitive. Sometimes travelling by plane can even be cheaper (and is definitely faster) than the equivalent train journey.
However, expats should be aware that budget airlines often use smaller airports that aren't always conveniently located, so they might end up spending extra time travelling by bus or train to their final destination.
Driving in Germany
Driving in Germany is made easy by the country’s world-famous network of excellent roads and motorways, including the Autobahn. There are no toll fees for cars but taxes mean that petrol prices are high.
Foreigners are allowed to drive for a period of six months on any foreign or international driver's licence before they're required to get a German licence. Expats who plan on hiring a car in Germany should be aware that most cars are manual and requesting an automatic car can be considerably more expensive.
Germany’s national roads are in excellent condition and signage is easy to understand. But parking can be expensive and hard to find in major cities. While there are generally no speed cameras on motorways, there are a large number on smaller roads. Getting caught will result in costly fines. Drunk driving isn't tolerated and law enforcement is particularly strict and visible around holiday time.
Carpooling is also popular in Germany. It's an environmentally friendly way to save money and numerous websites allow people to contact others who are travelling to the same place. Some websites do charge a small fee for their services.
Cycling in Germany
Germany's major cities all boast bike paths, dedicated bike lanes and combination foot/cycle paths, and many locals find that getting around cities by bicycle is a cheap, healthy and feasible way to travel.
Cycling in German cities is a pleasant experience, as most drivers are aware of the large numbers of cyclists on the roads and are therefore cautious and courteous.
Expats who wish to cycle in cities will have a range of bike-hiring options to choose from. Alternatively, it is also possible to buy a second-hand bicycle quite cheaply.
Walking in Germany
Often the best way to explore city centres is on foot, and walking is sometimes the simplest way to travel short distances.
While there are plenty of pavements available for pedestrians, newcomers should be careful not to mistake them for the red-brick cycling paths, which are for cyclists only.
Jaywalking is illegal and most pedestrians in Germany stick to the rules.
►See Healthcare in Germany for an overview of the healthcare system.
"Where I live, it is better to own a car. If you lived in a bigger city, then public transport is preferable. However, I live in German wine country and about a 45 minute drive from work. I could take public transport but it would take longer. So while it is feasible, it’s just not very convenient."
For more on Marisa's experiences as an American expat in Germany, read our interview with her.
Are you an expat living in Germany?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Germany. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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