Working in Berlin
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Find out how to get a job and work in Berlin
Will you soon be working in Berlin as an expatriate? Good choice! The city offers many opportunities, from global companies to middle-sized businesses or start-ups. Our InterNations GO! guide to Berlin explains business etiquette, visa regulations, and admin issues for expats in Berlin.
Employment in Berlin
- The technology sector in Berlin is strong and a good option for employment.
- Income tax in Germany is progressive and many countries have agreements with Germany, meaning you will avoid double taxation.
- Social security payments will be taken straight out of your paycheck by your employer and are paid by both yourself and your employer.
- The Berlin economy has struggled since reunification, but it is gradually improving meaning you shouldn’t rule out the city for your expat plans.
Working in Berlin is a wise choice, as Berlin has a strong economy due to its weight in the international market and it being the German capital. Its historically close ties with Eastern Europe also mean that many people working in the German capital come from that area, and a fair number of companies of interest for expats are run by Eastern Europeans. In general, the most important sectors in Berlin are communications, IT, education, and tourism, with start-ups also playing a significant role in Berlin’s business scene.
You should note that the great majority of the workforce in Berlin is employed in the service sector. Those who are considering working in the Berlin technology sector will be delighted to know that Berlin has become a leader in implementing new technology fields.
Technology Leads the Field
The city is at the forefront of science and technology in Germany. It puts a lot of emphasis on research and development in the field of new technologies. Berlin’s universities are state-of-the-art and cutting-edge institutes.
You will also find one of the best high-tech developments in the middle of the city. The Adlershof is a community of scientific institutes, a huge media center, and the site of the Humboldt University’s expanding mathematics and sciences departments. All in all it houses over 1,000 businesses and offers work opportunities to almost 16,000 people. Known for its innovative atmosphere, the Adlershof draws many new entrepreneurs to Berlin each year.
German Business Etiquette
Business etiquette depends greatly on the size and type of the company, as well as the staff and the industry or sector. At first, it is always better to be too formal than not formal enough; wear formal clothing and address others in a polite way. For example, if you work in a German-speaking company, you should always begin conversing with colleagues using the formal Sie form, rather the informal du; only once agreed with your colleagues should you use du.
You should also ensure you are punctual when an appointment has been made: Germans do not appreciate tardiness. Be hard-working and focus on the details, things that Germans find very important — don’t worry, if you have done something wrong, you will likely know: Germans are quite blunt in their criticism, but don’t take it to heart!
If you are contemplating working in Berlin but are not from a Schengen area or EU country, nor Swiss, then you need an employment visa and a residence permit (Aufenthaltserlaubnis). For your work visa, you have to prove that you already have a job lined up before coming to Germany. In that case, you need to present a copy of your work agreement to the respective German mission and thus prove you’ll be working in Berlin.
In general, citizens of selected countries (such as the USA and Australia) are allowed to enter Germany without an employment visa and look for work there during a limited period of several months, provided they have enough money to support themselves. Please inquire at your respective German embassy or consulate if this applies to you and don’t forget that this exemption only applies in regard to your entry visa and not when it comes to work and residence permits.
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Expat Info Berlin: Residency and Taxation
Once you have received your employment visa and come to Berlin, you must register your place of residence in Germany and get what is called a Meldeschein. This also applies to EU citizens and even German citizens. You will also have to reregister every time you move within Germany.
To complete this registration, you simply need to take your passport and your rental contract or sale agreement with the address on it to the local Registry Office (Bürgeramt or Einwohnermeldeamt). Once you settle down in Berlin, you will notice that this office becomes crucial concerning things such as driver’s licenses and license plates, income tax cards, German identification cards, and so on.
Only non-EEA citizens need to apply for a residence permit (Aufenthaltserlaubnis). In order to apply you need a valid passport, proof that you are able to support yourself (i.e. a bank statement or an employment contract), proof of health insurance, and your registration certificate for your current place of residence in Berlin. People who are moving to Berlin with their entire families must make sure that their spouse and/or dependents apply for their own residence permits separately. However, if your family members are citizens of an EEA member state themselves, they are not required to apply for a residence permit. Please note, Swiss nationals need to apply for the so-called Aufenthaltserlaubnis-CH or Aufenthaltserlaubnis-Schweiz.
For highly-skilled workers, the so-called EU Blue Card is of particular interest. However, it is only issued to those with higher education and an annual income at their job in Germany of over 49,600 EUR or 38,688 EUR in case they work a job where there is a shortage of applicants. Please note, while these salary thresholds are correct as of 2016, they are adjusted yearly.
In general, there are two types of residency permits that may be obtained: limited and unlimited. As their names suggest, one is valid for an infinite time and need not be renewed. Government officials only rarely deny residence permits for Germany since the majority of non-EU nationals need a successful visa application for coming to Berlin anyway.
Taxation of an individual’s income tax is progressive in Germany, meaning the higher the income, the more taxes are taken. In order to avoid double taxation, Germany has reached tax agreements with over 90 other countries, for example with the United States and the United Kingdom. As each country’s double taxation treaty differs, it is easiest if you check with your local tax office to find out whether or not you are exempt from taxes in your country of origin while working in Berlin.
Regardless of whether your native country has such an agreement with Germany or not, you need to register at your local Finanzamt (tax office) in order to pay your income tax. You may be able to take care of this while registering your residence. For employees, the taxes will then be automatically taken out of your gross wages upon payment.
For self-employed expats, the process is somewhat more complicated. In this case, we definitely recommend seeking advice from a tax consultant, especially one with experience concerning international taxation issues.
Health Insurance and Expat Jobs in Berlin
Germany has an extensive social security system covering illness, unemployment, old age, industry accidents, and the need for long-term care. As soon as you begin working in Germany, your employer will take the necessary steps to register you for social security — you’ll only have to handle the choice of healthcare insurance provider yourself. Your employer is also responsible for calculating and paying your contributions every time your salary is paid.
Your contributions will be a fixed percentage of your income and are, with the exception of the occupational accident insurance (i.e. gesetzliche Unfallversicherung), split between yourself and your employer. The Unfallversicherung is covered in full by your employer. If, however, you are self-employed, you will pay the full contributions to all the different social security funds.
The health insurance system in Germany is the world’s oldest universal healthcare system, dating back to 1883. There are two types of healthcare in Germany, the gesetzliche Krankenversicherung (public) and the private Krankenversicherung (private). All citizens and legal residents of Germany are entitled to healthcare. It has in fact become illegal not to be insured and it is thus a requirement when applying for a job.
All salaried workers in Germany whose gross monthly income is less than 4,687.50 EUR (as of 2016), have to be publicly insured. The percentage they owe to the state healthcare system is taken out of their monthly pay.
If you are self-employed, work as a German civil servant, or you have a job in Berlin that earns you more than 4,687.50 EUR monthly gross income, you can opt for private healthcare.
Tracking Down the Perfect Job
Finding a job in Berlin pretty much requires the same technique as in other cities around the world. Look at the website of the Bundesagentur für Arbeit for a list (in German) of job offices. Next to offering lists of vacancies, their employees may be able to help you improve your resume and tailor it to fit German standards. If you are interested in how an interview in Germany works, have a look at this overview of typical (and tricky!) questions and answers for job applicants (German only).
Looking in the classifieds section of newspapers, such as the Frankfurter Allgemeine or the Handelsblatt, is usually also very helpful. Local Berlin newspapers also offer a number of job listings, as well as online job sites such as monster.de or JobBörse (both websites in German only) — the latter is the official job portal of the Bundesagentur für Arbeit.
Berlin also hosts many trade fairs. It would be wise to check out the career fairs where you can make connections with potential employers and pass out your resume.
The Economy and Job Market
While the economy of Berlin isn’t the strongest in the country, the city may still be a good place to find a job.
Berlin struggled in comparison to other German cities after the reunification of the country in 1990. The city had been governed under two different regimes following the Second World War, and the different sides of the city struggled to adjust economically for this reason. Other cities in the country have a specific market — i.e. finance in Frankfurt am Main — which is not the same in Berlin, meaning growth took longer. Indeed, the unemployment rate rose sharply after reunification and is still high at 10.7% compared to the national rate of 6.7% in 2016.
There is, however, a positive side of the coin, with quite a bit on offer in terms of careers in the city. The science and technology sector are particularly strong and the city has a good infrastructure. The tourism sector is also booming, as the city becomes ever more attractive among young people attracted by the hipster vibe and clubbing scene. Unfortunately, this upturn in the economy means that although you may find it easier to get a job in the city, rents may be higher than in the past.