General facts about Germany

The Federal Republic of Germany (Bundesrepublik Deutschland) has a population of around 82 million and GDP per head of around €25,000.

The exchange rate currently stands at around €1:S$1.6 as of April 2012.

It is situated in the heart of Europe, giving ample opportunities to explore the continent.

The Singapore passport is valid for travel lasting less than 90 days in most countries of Eastern and Western Europe, especially for countries which are part of the Schengen Area. But if you are a student, you must have a valid student visa at any time if you are staying in the  country for more than 3 months. Arrange for your visa at least 2 months in advance. The student visa also allows you to travel within the Schengen Area freely; please check with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website for information on travelling to non-Schengen countries. According to the 1999 Amsterdam Treaty and current EU laws, all but two EU countries (viz. Great Britain and Ireland) are required to implement the rules of the Schengen Agreement, although there are notable exceptions for newer EU member states such as Bulgaria, Romania and Cyprus. There are currently 26 countries party to and enforcing the Schengen Agreement: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. Do note that some autonomous territories of the aforementioned countries are excluded from the Schengen Agreement and it is best to always check for the latest updates and requirements before your departure.

Weather conditions fluctuate greatly. Germany has 4 seasons, with spring beginning in middle February. Each season lasts for about 3 months. In a harsh winter, temperatures plunge well below -10°C, leaving much of the country blanketed by snow. In summer temperatures vary between 20-35°C. Our advice for Singaporeans: Unless you have spent 6 months here and experienced the changes, do wear a jacket for the chilly nights and early mornings. The air is also much drier here compared to Singapore, so apply tonnes of Nivea and Oil of Olay!

Between late March and late October Germany has Daylight Saving Hours. Starting from the last Sunday of March, we are 6 hours behind Singapore (GMT +02:00). From the last Sunday of October, we are 7 hours behind (GMT +01:00). This change in the time will affect all transport schedules and is announced over the media a day before.

Food and groceries may be more expensive here than in Singapore, though house-brands offered by the various supermarkets may offer great deals (some even cheaper than Singapore prices!). For Muslims, halal supplies are readily available at Turkish as well as Arab grocers; some brands such as Wiesenhof also carry several halal-certified products at major supermarkets. Other options such as vegetarian food as well as kosher options can also be commonly found in Germany. The Germans have a big selection of sausagues, dairy products and beers. Seafood, especially outside of the northern coastal area, can be very rare and expensive. Foodstuff require no special cleaning or handling other than what you would normally do in Singapore. Do note that plastic bags are not provided free-of-charge in most supermarkets as an environmentally-friendly measure to reduce wastage; you would either have to buy them or bring your own shopping bag along! Also do look out for the Pfand or Ein-/Mehrwegflasche sign on glass and plastic bottles, as well as metal cans; returning these items would return you the deposit paid for these recyclable items!

In general the opening hours of all German shopping centres, supermarkets and shops (except for restaurants) are from 08:00 to 21:00 on weekdays and Saturdays, though this may vary across cities and states. All shops are closed on Sundays and public holidays! In case you are really starving, only petrol kiosks and shops near the train stations or airports are open on Sundays.

Museums are opened on Sundays, but closed on Mondays instead. Students can usually get a discount if they show their student passes or ISIC cards when purchasing tickets. Some art museums in Germany and Europe (such as those in Munich) offer students of fine arts, culture and art history free admission – make sure you bring a document proving that you are a student in either of these fields!

SchutzkontaktGermany has a 230V, 13 A electrical supply, i.e. compatible with Singapore appliances. ‘Schuko‘ (Schutzkontakt) electrical sockets with side grounding contacts are used here, like in much of continental Europe. Adapters can be bought here or in Singapore. Make sure the salespeople do not mislead you; they are often unclear about what it looks like!

Tapwater in most German cities is safe to drink. The water in Germany is ‘hard’ (i.e. they have a high calcium content) and may result in chalk residues or limescale on electrical appliances after boiling the water. You may therefore want to buy a “water filter” (actually an ion-exchanger) to filter out the calcium content – Brita jugs are popular and commonly found water filters in Germany and several other European countries.

It is a habit to tip for service in Germany (haircuts, meals, taxi fares, etc). There is no fixed rate, however a acceptable guide would be around 10%. Alternatively you can round up to the next Euro. In general, services are more expensive here than in Singapore, so expect to pay around €15 for a normal decent haircut.

The transport network is very highly developed, with good connections between buses, trams and trains. Cycling is also a popular mode as the cities are normally compactly built.

Driving is on the left side of the vehicle, different from Commonwealth countries like Singapore. A Singaporean driving licence can only be used for 6 months, after which, it must be converted to a German licence; Singapore driving licences can be converted to a German driving licence with the need for further tests thanks to a special arrangement between Singapore and Germany – do check with your Rathaus, Kreisverwaltungsreferat or Stadtverwaltung to find out more as to how you can go about converting your Singapore driving licence. German driving licences are valid throughout Europe and do not require annual renewal.