Pros and cons of commuting in Germany: An expat guide

What are the best German cities for commuting and what are the pro's and con's of doing so? Here we'll break down commuting in Germany.


3 minute read
Updated on 19 May 2023

Most people like to live as close to their workplace as possible, but others feel like the benefits of a daily commute are worth more than a few extra minutes of sleep in the morning. So, do Germans like to commute? Is living in a German commuter town viable? Or should you instead be living in the larger German cities most other expats gravitate to? Let’s find out more about which German cities are commuter friendly and what actually makes so many people choose the commuter’s life.

Do Germans like to commute?

Just to be sure, we’ll define commuting as leaving your community to get to work, so either leaving your city or even your district to do so. So, is commuting popular in Germany? We’ll take a look at some data to find out. According to the Federal Institute for Building, Urban and Spatial Research (Known as BBSR in Germany) the number of commuters in Germany grew from roughly 9.3 million in 2000 to over 19 million in recent years.

To put that in perspective, Germany had around 45.6 million people working in total in 2023. That means almost half of the German working population travels quite a considerable distance to get to work! The BBSR also found people traveled further than before, with an average of around 17 kilometres. With those numbers, the average commuting time for Germans who do commute comes down to around 40 minutes a day.

In some Eastern states, the commute distance can be as far as 30 km! The east-to-west commute seems to be a remainder from when Germany was still divided into East- and West-Germany, with roughly 400.000 people commuting to the west, versus only 178.000 people commuting to the east.

So where are people commuting to? It’s mostly towards the major German cities as hubs of industry and employment. However, there also seems to be movement from people living in a larger city and working in an outlying town or City. So, if you are looking to commute, which cities are the most popular?

Top cities for commuters

This list isn’t going to hold many surprises, as a large part of the commuting community is heading towards a more populous zone of employment. What might be surprising, is the order in which this list is ranked. Let’s take a look at the most popular cities for Commuters in Germany.

  • #1 Munich: the number one city for commuters is Munich, which, despite its beautiful neighbourhoods, sees around 390.000 workers travel to the city from outside the direct Munich area. Munich on #1 might not be a surprise, as it’s also Germany’s most expensive city.
  • #2 Frankfurt: The country’s main financial centre Frankfurt isn’t far behind, with over 370.000 commuters traveling into the city on a daily basis. Frankfurt symbolises an metropolitan lifestyle and not everyone wants to spend their Frankfurt salary on Frankfurt rental prices alone.
  • #3 Hamburg: As a port city there’s plenty of work to be found in Hamburg! IT houses various well-paying multinationals and, as a result, had the highest density of millionaire inhabitants in Germany! This means it’s a really nice place to live, but also makes it a rising star on the list of most expensive cities in Germany.
  • #4 Berlin: Surprisingly, the German capital itself is only at #4 on the list! How come? Well, it certainly has a lower cost of living than the other cities in the list. And with close to 4 million residents, it can be hard to find a suitable place to live, even if you do love the diverse personality of Berlin’s many Neighbourhoods.

Pros and cons of commuting for Expat

So, why, as an expat, would you choose to commute to work in major German cities? Well, the short answer to that is equilibrium. There has to be something that makes it worth investing time, effort and, let’s be honest, stress into having to get up earlier than some of your colleagues who live a short walk away. There are a thousand reasons why commuting would, or would not be the best solution and they’re personal for everyone. But, according to the report on Commuting and Life Satisfaction in Germany, these are the most reliable pros and cons:

Commuting Pros

  • Lower cost: the financial and psychological cost of the commute outweigh the higher cost of living that comes with living closer to work.
  • Relatively high wages: Wages in Germany are relatively high, and commuters seem to feel sufficiently compensated for the cost involved in their commute.
  • Germany has excellent public transport: There is relatively low friction in the commute to the target city
  • Suitable housing and amenities: In order to find the desired housing types and amenities, the reasons mentioned above culminate in a desired equilibrium state for the worker.

Commuting Cons

  • Exposure to stress factors: such as: noise, crowds, pollution and weather conditions. Even more stress is induced by factors you can’t control, such as delays, dense traffic, etc.
  • Cost: Public transport, gas and/or a vehicle all represent an investment in the commute.
  • Time: Let’s be honest, while you’ll often be compensated for the cost incurred, hours on the road or on the train aren’t reimbursed. The BBSR indicated that people who commute for more than 30 minutes have an ever increasing chance of it becoming a mental and physical burden.

Expat specific issues:

  • Living outside larger cities can make building social ties with other expats more difficult. Communities become less international the further you move away from the hubs that feature expatriate communities.

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