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Working in Germany
Your Guide on Jobs and Finding Work in Germany
Our guide to working in Germany explains how to find your dream job, even if you don’t speak the language. It outlines how to master your application and interview, and explains the kind of culture you can expect in German companies.
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Germany’s job market is competitive, and finding employment is particularly challenging if you don’t speak German. Check out our extensive guide for invaluable advice, from how to find a job in Germany, job opportunities for foreigners, to creating a great CV and cover letter. It also offers guidance on the average salary you can expect in Germany, whether you are employed or working as a self-employed individual. You can also find information about social security, maternity leave, and other benefits you could receive as an employee at a German company.
How to get a Job in Germany as a Foreigner
- Once you move to Germany, you need to register your address at the local registration office.
- If you wish to be self-employed in Germany, you may need to become a member of the relevant Chamber of Commerce.
- There are two types of health insurance — public and private. Depending on your occupation and salary, you might not be able to choose.
Germany is Europe’s largest, and the world’s fourth-largest economy. Germany boasts not only colorful cities and beautiful scenery but decent employment opportunities as well. Whether you want to work in a large multinational corporation, as a researcher at a renowned institute, as an automotive engineer, or something else, Germany has much to offer.
Some of the most in-demand professions in Germany are in science and engineering. People with expertise in those fields might have a better than average chance of getting a job. On the other hand, the most in-demand jobs in Germany are software developer and programmer positions. Electrician roles come second, with healthcare workers third, and IT analysts fourth.
Don’t let worries about unemployment figures, demographic change, and welfare cuts fool you. Most people living in Germany actually enjoy a comparatively high standard of living. Qualified employees are rewarded for their hard work and are paid relatively well.
A Prerequisite for Working in Germany: Residency
While spending part of your career in Germany can be a rewarding experience, it’s important to note that the German bureaucratic system is far from simple. If you want a smooth entrance, be sure to have all necessary information and paperwork ready.
The first step is establishing your legal residency. Without this, it’s nearly impossible to work in Germany. This applies to anyone planning on staying for longer than three months.
Registering Your New Address
EU citizens and nationals from Norway, Iceland, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein do not require a visa or work permit. Nationals from those countries only need to obtain a registration certificate proving their residence in Germany (Meldeschein or Meldebestätigung). This is necessary for every change of address, whether you just move next door, from Berlin to Munich, or from New York to Hamburg.
To complete your registration, you simply need to show your passport and your rental contract or sales agreement at the local registration office (Einwohnermeldeamt). This will suffice as proof of residency, which is a legal requirement in Germany and is also crucial for all sorts of bureaucratic issues, such as opening a bank account.
Permits for Non-EU Nationals
If you’re not a citizen from an EU/EEA country (or Switzerland), you still have to visit the Einwohnermeldeamt and register your new address when you begin working in Germany. You’ll need to apply for a residence permit (Aufenthaltserlaubnis) as well.
Documents required for the residence permit application:
- Your passport
- Proof of health insurance cover
- Proof of sufficient funds to support yourself (i.e. a bank statement or an employment contract)
- Confirmation of your city of residence
The duration of your residence permit will depend on your reason for staying in Germany and the type of visa you hold, but it will typically last at least one year and can be extended.
If you’re moving with a family and you’re a non-EU national, your spouse and/or dependents must apply for their own residence permits separately, based on your approved visa and residence permit.
Residence Permits in General
There are limited and unlimited residence permits for expats interested in moving to and working in Germany. As suggested by the name, the unlimited one is valid for an infinite time without the need to renew it. When applying for your residence permit within Germany, it takes roughly four to six weeks until you receive your eAT (electronic residence permit).
Practical Advice for Job Applications in Germany
There are many websites giving advice on job applications and how to apply for a job in Germany, such as cover letter, interview, and CV tips, and required references and qualifications. You can also hire a consultant to design and write your job application for you. However, you should still be familiar with the expectations of companies in the German jobs market.
When it comes to writing job applications, the actual content is merely a part of the whole. Pay attention to such details as layout, letter type, and spacing.
If you aren’t sure how to design your CV, base your application on one of the many templates available online.
There are a few job search websites you can use to find opportunities:
- The Local
- Berlin Startup Jobs
Your Curriculum Vitae and More
Start your CV (Lebenslauf) with personal details: your contact information, your nationality, your date and place of birth. Personal photos in job applications are normal in Germany so don’t be afraid to include a professional-looking photo at the top of your application.
You may want to consider having professional photographs (Bewerbungsfotos) taken – many Germans do. Make sure to get a digital copy.
Try to keep your CV to two pages and divide it neatly. You would usually put the time period in question (e.g. 01/2008-10/2012) on the left and mention the name of your former employer and your old job title on the right.
Proof of Qualifications and Work Experience
In Germany, you’re expected to provide proof of the professional experience, academic degrees, and official qualifications mentioned in your application. However, you may omit proof of preliminary degrees if they were later followed by higher degrees.
If you speak German, you can find more information on job applications in Germany, including best practice examples and excerpts, at Jova Nova.
When you’re invited for a job interview, you should dress formally, although the dress code for many jobs has become more casual in recent years.
Employers are not allowed to ask just any question. When you’re asked an inappropriate question, you do not have to answer it. Furthermore, German labor legislation explicitly allows you to lie to avoid ruining your job prospects.
Inappropriate questions include inquiries about family planning, pregnancy, sexual orientation, religious faith, political affiliation, and membership in trade unions. However, there are certain exceptions to the rule, e.g. if you apply for a job as a translator at a political party convention or as the accountant for a local parish church. Questions about a certificate of conduct, about past illnesses, or your former salary, can be subject to legal restrictions too.
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Minimum Wage and Average Salary
The national minimum wage in Germany is 8.84 EUR per hour and 1,498 EUR per month. These figures are expected to be reviewed again in January 2019.
Find below the average salaries in Germany for a range of different jobs.
|Job||Average salary (EUR)|
|Supermarket sales assistant||17,000|
|High school teacher||40,000|
Liberal professions include workers, such as lawyers and psychologists, freelance artists and writers. On the other hand, Germany’s trade regulations apply to you if you intend to start a business as a producer of goods, an artisan, etc.
The difference between setting up a trade and working as a self-employed professional in Germany influences the legal framework of your new status, the process of registering your business, and even your taxes.
The legal situation for the self-employed, as well as for expats planning to start a business in Germany, is rather complicated. This article provides you with an initial overview of self-employment and starting a business in Germany. However, for more detailed information, it’s best to consult an expert for Germany’s immigration, business, tax, and labor laws.
Visas and Residence Permits
Before beginning a new career as a self-employed person or business owner in Germany, you should check if you need a German residence permit (Aufenthaltserlaubnis) for taking up self-employed work. If you’re an EU national, you may move freely within the European Union for the purpose of self-employment.
If you’re a national of a non-EU country, you need a residence/work permit to be legally self-employed in Germany, and you’ll have to apply at the German embassy. The permit will only be valid for a certain period of time, and the local immigration office is then responsible for renewing it. If you already live in Germany, get in touch with the local immigration office (Ausländerbehörde) and they can advise you on what to do next.
Whether a permit is granted in the first place could depend on the following criteria:
- Your business plan
- Your qualifications and previous experience
- Your financial investment
- Your company’s impact on employment and vocational training
- Your contribution to the national or regional economy, innovation, and research
- Competition with established businesses
Self-employed immigrants who want to invest a minimum of 250,000 EUR in Germany, thereby creating at least five new jobs, obtain a residence permit almost automatically.
If you just want to set up a business in Germany but not be based there permanently, a Schengen visa might be enough.
Freelancers and Business Owners
In Germany, you’re considered self-employed if you’re:
- A managing partner or managing director of a company
- An executive of a joint-stock company (Aktiengesellschaft)
- An authorized signatory (Prokurist)
- A majority shareholder of a limited liability company (GmbH)
- A businessperson who wants to run a trade (Gewerbe), for example, as an artisan, caterer, or producer of goods
- An officially recognized freelancer, belonging to a liberal profession, due to your activity (so-called “activity professions” or Tätigkeitsberufe), or on a case-by-case basis
- A member of the so-called “catalogue professions” (Katalogberufe), i.e. traditional liberal professions in Germany:
- Healing (doctors, dentists, midwives, etc)
- Scientific (engineers, architects, etc)
- Linguistic (journalists, translators, etc)
- Legal, tax and business consultants (lawyers, tax advisors, accountants, etc)
Make sure to have sufficient German language skills and to get your professional qualifications recognized in Germany (via ZAB, the Central Office for Foreign Education and Training).
The distinction between freelancers and businesspeople makes a big difference when it comes to registering your business, your membership in professional associations, and paying taxes.
Freelancing and Running a Business
If your legal consultant and the local tax office have confirmed that you count as a member of the liberal professions under German law, things are a lot easier. As a freelancing professional, you simply need to follow these steps:
- Register with the tax office (Finanzamt) to get your tax number.
- Consider joining a professional association. Visit Bundesverband der Freien Berufe, the Federal Association of Liberal Professions, for more information.
- If you have any employees, sign them up with an accident insurance company. Make sure to get their health insurance information and tax number as well.
- Start the bookkeeping by yourself or hire an accountant to help you with revenue surplus statements and tax returns.
As a self-employed person, you’re not part of Germany’s state-funded social security system. Therefore, you need to pay for private insurance plans to cover the following:
- Healthcare (including nursing care for the elderly and infirm)
- Income protection for people with disabilities
- Life insurance
- Your retirement pension
Certain freelancers can, however, pay contributions to a state-funded insurance program for artists: if you’re self-employed in a creative profession and earn more than 3,900 EUR a year, you might be entitled to a cheaper public insurance plan from the Künstlersozialkasse.
Taxation of Freelancers
As a freelancing professional, you don’t have to pay trade tax (Gewerbesteuer). Even if you’ve entered into a non-incorporated partnership with other liberal professionals, you declare your earnings as part of your personal income taxes in Germany.
You have to pay your tax in quarterly installments. During the first year, the taxation is based on estimates of your annual income; afterward, it’s adjusted to match your income from previous years.
However, you always have to pay value-added tax (Umsatzsteuer or Mehrwertsteuer). This means that you add a percentage of your net fees (between 0% and 19%) to the price for your services. Your clients and customers pay it to you, but you have to pass it on to the tax office on a monthly, quarterly, or annual basis, depending on the total amount of VAT.
However, if you pay VAT yourself (e.g. when purchasing a new computer for your doctor’s office), this so-called input VAT (Vorsteuer) is then deducted from the VAT you forward to the tax office.
Setting Up a Business: Legal Entities
The first – and probably most important – decision for entrepreneurs and business owners is the legal form for registering your company. Your choice of legal structure influences your legal liability, the number of people you need to set up the company, the amount of capital required, and the formalities involved. German business law recognizes the following legal forms a business may take:
- Private limited liability company (GmbH)
- Limited liability entrepreneurial company (Mini GmbH)
- Stock corporation (AG)
- Civil law partnership (GbR)
- General commercial partnership (oHG)
- Limited partnership (KG)
- Corporate partnership (GmbH & Co. KG)
- Dependent branch office (unselbstständige Niederlassung)
- Autonomous branch office (selbstständige Zweigniederlassung)
Registering Your Business
Once you’ve decided on a suitable legal form, you have to register your business with the commercial register (Handelsregister). The only exceptions to this rule are civil law partnerships and dependent branch offices. You have to submit these registrations with a German notary, who will take care of the procedure at the local court (Amtsgericht).
After that, you have to register your company with the local trade office (Gewerbeamt). This applies to civil law partnerships and dependent branch offices too. Some trades might require either a business license (Gewerbeerlaubnis), e.g. a restaurant, or a craftsmen’s card (Handwerkskarte), e.g. a carpenter’s shop.
To find out more about the craftsmen’s card, please contact the local Chamber of Skilled Crafts (Handwerkskammer). If you’re worried about any additional qualifications or entry requirements you might need for your business, you can always ask the German Chamber of Industry and Commerce (IHK).
The trade office forwards your registration to the tax office, the respective professional associations, the Chamber of Industry and Commerce, or the Chamber of Skilled Crafts. Membership in these chambers is mandatory in Germany.
In partnerships, only the individuals involved have to file personal income tax returns, including their business profits. However, corporations are subject to corporate income tax.
All commercial business operations have to pay trade tax, and if you’ve purchased some property for your company, you have to take real estate tax into account too. The general rules concerning VAT apply to commercial businesses as well (see above).
To start your working relationship with a company in Germany, you have to arrange an appointment first.
Arranging a Meeting
Arrange the time and date of your meeting about two weeks beforehand. The holiday seasons around Christmas and Easter, as well as August (popular among Germans for their summer vacation), are not a good time for important negotiations or for a work-related trip.
Please note that German business culture favors the European convention for writing dates and numbers. Correspondence is often rather formal, and you should use the correct title and form of address.
Business Communication in Germany Via Email
- If you speak German, use formal greetings and titles and the polite kind of address (Sie).
- Make sure your subject line is easy to understand and to the point.
- Include a signature with your job position, contact information, and e-mail address.
- Don’t send any unsolicited e-mail attachments.
If you prefer direct communication, just make a phone call. In Germany, always start by saying your own name before asking to speak to another person. Receptionists and office assistants usually speak English, but this may not always be the case. Check which option your contacts prefer and if you need an interpreter or translator.
As in job interviews, when you prepare for any professional meeting in Germany, you’ll want to respect the dress code. Here’s a basic idea of what to wear:
- Men often wear a dark suit with a white or light-colored shirt and a tie.
- Women go for a pantsuit or blazer and skirt in black, navy, or beige, with a simple blouse. Don’t forget the pantyhose!
- Both genders should avoid ostentatious jewelry, as well as visible tattoos or piercings (a pair of earrings for women is fine).
- Choose neat, clean clothing and well-polished, sturdy shoes. Women usually wear closed pumps with lower heels in black, dark blue, brown, or beige.
- Office workers without customer contact often dress less formally.
Most meetings take place during office hours, i.e. between 8.00 or 9:00 in the morning, and 17:00 or 18:00, although employees have some flexibility in scheduling and structuring their work day. Please also note that while local culture places an emphasis on hard work, Germans often prefer to keep the evening free from business commitments.
Social Security and Benefits in Germany
The public benefits system in Germany is supported partly by taxes, but mostly by financial contributions deducted from payrolls. Employers and employees equally share this monetary burden; it is collected and administered in self-governed funds.
How to Apply for a Social Security Number in Germany
To get your affairs in order before you start a job in Germany, you should ideally have a social security number (Sozialversicherungsnummer). You’ll have to apply for it at the State Pension Fund office, with your passport or residence permit as well as your residency registration certificate, which you can collect from your town hall.
Challenges Facing the German Social Security System
At the moment, the German social security system is facing severe pressure due to the demographic change in the population. On the one hand, an increasing number of old people require a large part of the funds for pensions, healthcare, and nursing care. On the other hand, the number of younger, active contributors is shrinking, putting a strain on the system.
The birth rate is steadily declining; it can’t compensate for all the retirees from the population boom of the late 1940s and 1950s. Another issue facing the country is the harmonization of social policies and welfare systems across the European Union.
Who Benefits from German Social Security Contributions?
If you’re employed, social security contributions are based on your income and are automatically deducted from your gross salary. Most self-employed people also have to contribute financially to various insurance funds. Of course, nearly everybody is entitled to social benefits as well.
Many expats can also claim benefits. For example, expatriate families in Germany may apply for a child allowance (Kindergeld) from the government. And if you have worked in Germany for at least five years, you can receive retirement benefits in Germany.
Various Types of Social Security
Generally, there are three categories of benefit funds: funds paid solely by the employer, welfare funds where employer and employee share the costs, and tax-based benefits.
The most important fund in this category is work-related accident insurance (Unfallversicherung). The coverage extends to work-related illnesses and to accidents which happen on your way to or from work. All resulting disabilities, however, are covered by a separate fund.
Benefits Shared by Employers and Employees
The most expensive parts of the German system, healthcare and pension insurance (Rentenversicherung), with their considerable financial burden, are shared between employer and employee.
All employees contribute 9.45% of their gross income to the retirement and pension fund. Health insurance follows, with 7.3%, and nursing care with 1.025%. Your employer contributes roughly the same amount.
Unless you’re self-employed, you’ll have a German social security number, and these social security contributions are automatically deducted from your salary or wages every month. The amount that was deducted from your gross salary will be recorded on your payslip.
Depending on how long you contribute to the fund, you should receive up to 67% of your average net income as a pension when you retire. The legal retirement age in Germany is now 67 years.
Unemployment Insurance in Germany
Social security in Germany also provides unemployment insurance (Arbeitslosenversicherung), to which both the employer and the employee contribute 1.5% of the employee’s gross income. Unemployment compensation is a combination of subsistence allowance and contribution-based claims. You’ll receive about 60% of your previous net income for a period of six to 24 months of unemployment.
After this period of up to two years, everybody receives welfare aid (ALG II or Hartz IV, as it is more widely known), a standardized subsistence allowance. A condition for receiving this allowance is your willingness to accept all job offers, even low-paid ones or menial tasks. Since its introduction in 2004, Hartz IV has drawn a lot of criticism and sparked plenty of debates.
Social Security Benefits for Families
The most important tax-financed benefits within the German social security system are the child allowance (Kindergeld), maternity benefits (Mutterschaftsgeld), and student loans for universities in Germany (Bafög).
The child allowance is of interest to expat families. After living in Germany for 12 months, every resident can apply for it at the local employment agency (Arbeitsamt). Parents receive between 184 EUR and 215 EUR per month for each child. Even children between 18 and 25 years of age can receive this kind of allowance if they attend school or university.
In order to apply for the child allowance, you need your residence permit, your local registration certificate, an application form, and your children’s birth certificates.
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Germany has many laws to protect pregnant women and new mothers. Expecting mothers have the right to temporarily stay home from work for six weeks before childbirth.
New mothers are forbidden to work for eight weeks after childbirth. (If you’re having twins or if your baby was born prematurely, you may stay at home for three months after giving birth.) An expecting mother only has to inform her employer, and she’ll be put on paid maternity leave.
Protection for Women During Pregnancy
- Pregnant women benefit from complete contract protection from the moment they inform their employer of their situation until at least four months after the birth of their child or children.
- If during her pregnancy a woman suffers any health-related issues that mean she can’t work, she’s entitled to a full pay regardless.
- Women are paid their full salary from six weeks before they give birth until eight weeks after.
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