I will travel soon to Germany to attend a workshop at a university in Würzburg. The workshop is taught entirely in English. This is my first visit to Germany and I speak very little German.

I was wondering if the officer at the passport control would ask questions only in German? If this was the case, could anyone please tell me what I should do then?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – JonathanReez Sep 14 at 22:13
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    Try to say "Morgen" when you say hi to them and "Danke" when you are finished. It's not hard to learn those 2 words of German! They speak English perfectly. – Fattie Sep 15 at 4:44
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    @Fattie Initiating the exchange with "Morgen" indicates that you would prefer to speak German, and just makes the transaction less efficient. – 200_success Sep 16 at 1:07
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    @200_success - fortunately no it doesn't, it's 100% crystal clear to the native german speaker, that you're an English speaker just using one polite word of deutsche. – Fattie Sep 16 at 3:07

As at most international airports in Europe, all of the passport control officers will speak English. I was there a month ago, speak no German, and had no problem communicating with them.

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    Peculiarly, every time I've entered non-English-speaking Europe (France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland), the border officer hasn't said a word to me - just looked at me and my passport and let me in. – Jim MacKenzie Sep 12 at 19:48
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    Not only do the passport control officers speak good English, but so do the folks at security. I, unfortunately found out when I took a wrong turn, left the airside area and had to go back through security when changing planes. The airport police also speak great English as I found out while they were going through my bag one item at a time because the little machine tested it positive for explosives... :( It was a nice, friendly chat with the police - they were there on standby, I wasn't in cuffs... – FreeMan Sep 12 at 21:04
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    I would also say that there is usually no communication whatsoever aside from handing over your passport, saying "Hello", taking it back and saying "Thank you". – Eric Sep 13 at 1:28
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    @FreeMan the machine picks some luggage at random for detailed verification even if it is not really positive tested. From the passenger perspective this looks the same. I don't know if there is any difference for the security officer. – Ister Sep 13 at 8:34
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    There is also a high chance that when you deal with more than one officer, one of them speaks Turkish as well as German and English. By now the Police force as well as Bundespolizei has a lot of people with ethnic Turkish background, simply because there is a significant percentage of the German population that descended from Turkish immigrants, second, third and fourth generation. – simbabque Sep 13 at 9:07

As soon as you give your passport to the officer, he/she will know whether you are a German citizen or not. If you are a non-EU/EFTA citizen and on the right queue, the officer doesn't need your passport either to start talking in English.

The questions generally include the following topics:

  • Purpose of your visit
  • Duration of your stay
  • Your return ticket
  • Your travels to other places (during your stay in the Schengen Area)

I had about 10 visits to Germany, two of them were to Frankfurt, I have never got a question in German from the officers. Maybe I said "danke" at the end of the conversation, that's all.

Being a German citizen, I can't really speak for travellers coming to Frankfurt from outside the EU. However, most people you will get in touch with at a German airport will be able to communicate in English, at least at a basic level. As others pointed out already, communication with officials may be minimal.

There is an article that describes the experience of arriving at Frankfurt Airport - How to Navigate Customs and Passport Control.

I've been to Germany many times as an exchange student and to visit friends, my experience of Hamburg and Cologne international airports was that they spoke English just fine, I doubt Frankfurt Intl is much different.

Mainland Europe has a substantially better education in foreign languages than England does, as a rule most people you encounter there will speak at least two languages.
I believe it's actually a major factor in being hired at international airports that you speak as many common or uncommon languages as possible, English being a pretty high priority.

If, by some terrible run of bad luck you encounter the one member of passport control who doesn't speak English, their first reaction will be to fetch someone who does.

In short, Don't worry about it. You'll be fine.

What you should definitely be thinking about is your over-land travel arrangements to get from Frankfurt to Würzburg, I recommend compiling some common and emergency phrases on paper.
You'll probably still be fine, but the further east you go in europe the less likely the people you meet are to speak fluent english. Particularly bus-drivers and shop-keepers.

As already answered by others most if not all international airports have an English-speaking staff and especially posts like pass control/customs/immigration/check-in and other directly exposed to various travelers will speak English without any problem. I haven't been in Frankfurt but in Munich that works and that would be very surprising to be any different in other major German airports.

I recommend greeting the person in English when you approach them. This way you clearly signal this is your preferred communication language. I always do that and never have been responded other than in English. This stands not only in the EU but also other major international airports (in my case these were Moscow Sheremetyevo and Kiev Borispol).

As a non-EU resident of Germany, I conversed in English with all the immigration officers I met in different airports of Germany in the last 3 years. They include Frankfurt, Munich and Berlin.

As pointed out by others, this is also the case with many other big cities of Europe. I have had officers who spoke in English in the airports of the following cities: Milan, Naples, Rome, Madrid, Barcelona, Paris, Porto, Sofia, Bucharest and Saint Petersburg.

In Saint Petersburg though, a lady officer struggled to speak certain words and just got a dictionary from somewhere and told me whatever she wanted to convey. So, no worries, they will always figure a way out to make sure the needful is done. Safe trip!

I just came back from Europe.

The only place the officers didn't talk in English as soon as I got to them was in Spain, though they'd probably speak in English if i asked them to.

So i think you'll be ok. At Frankfurt airport, every officer, security and shop i've been, they all spoke very good English.

I travel a lot (maybe 15 times in last 3 years) to Kiev (Ukraine), Sofia (Bulgaria), and sometimes go through Frankfurt and other times Amsterdam. I have never had an issue with English not being spoken even in the two destination airports. Europe is more and more becoming an English-speaking area.

  • "Europe is more and more becoming an English speaking area"???? – Pierre Arlaud Sep 14 at 9:29
  • @PierreArlaud Brexit notwithstanding. It will be interesting to see whether Brexit changes the position of English in EU affairs, but surely the UK's membership in the EU was far from the only factor that led to its prominence in the first place. – phoog Sep 14 at 14:40

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