Working in Germany as a foreigner: the benefits and requirements

Bas

Sep 01 • 8 minute read

There are many reasons why Germany is a good place to move to, but for many of you, the main reason is to find a promising new job. Whether you’re planning to kick your career into a higher gear, or as just looking for adventure and experience abroad there are a number of requirements you need to meet before you get to enjoy all the benefits that working in Germany as an English speaker has to offer. By the end of this article, you’ll know exactly why Germany is your next professional destination and what you need to get the ball rolling.

Working in Germany: the benefits

Let’s kick things off with some of the advantages of working in Germany brings to the table. We’ll look at the work ethic necessary to thrive, the kind of income you can expect and the benefits that come with being employed here. You’ll also be happy to realise that we took the time to figure out which industries are the most welcoming for international and English speaking job seekers.

Work ethic

‘Erst die Arbeit, dann das Vergnügen!’, the German expression which pretty much means ‘work before play’ is an excellent introduction to the German work ethic. Make sure you do your job, and that you do it well. Once that’s done, though, the Germans have a work hard, play harder attitude. It’s all about having an excellent work-life balance. For example, taking your career seriously doesn’t mean that you don’t get to enjoy the benefits; in fact, Germans take the most days off out of any European country (Reuters, 2015). Additionally, everyone knows it’s common sense to take time off when you’re not feeling well. If you’re sick, you’re sick. Sick time is your right as a German employee, and nobody will think twice if you make use of it. That said, Germans are organised, as always! The Tagesordnung or agenda culture means no spontaneous changes, and, most importantly, no meetings that infringe on Mahlzeit (lunchtime).

Income

In terms of income, a hob in Germany is likely to see you earning more than the European average. With a national average net income of around €2.456 euros a month (Destatis.de) you’ll be able to live quite comfortably! While German taxation is relatively high, it results in a weighty average income with modern, up-to-date infrastructure, a world-class healthcare system as well as higher education that is next to free for pretty much anyone. Naturally, some professions earn more money than others and the same profession might net you a higher income in a different part of the country, so make sure you also check out our in-depth salary analysis for 2020 that takes a look at which industries have the most potential for your particular set of skills

Compared to the rest of Europe, Germany pays quite well. According to Reinisfischer.com, the only countries that out-pay the Germans in terms of gross wages are Luxembourg and Denmark (2020). That said, Luxembourg is a bit of a cheater, being a very small country with a very unique tax status. So, hats off to Denmark in terms of salaries, but unfortunately for the Scandinavians, they can’t offer nearly as many opportunities for English speaking jobs!

However, for most of you, looking at the net salary is the best indicator of how much you’re going to be earning. Let’s put it in perspective with a little table comparing the average net salary with other countries that have a similar gateway position in Europe!

CountryAvg Net. salary (2020)Comparison with DE
Germany€ 2439baseline
France€ 2225-9.6%
the Netherlands€ 2152-13.3%
Belgium€ 2170-12.39%
The UK€ 2288-6.5%

As you can see, working in Germany results in a net salary that is around 10% higher than other nearby expat havens.

Social security

While some of you might baulk at the relatively high amount of taxation in Germany (around 38%), you do actually get something in return. As an employee in Germany, you’ll be contributing around 20% of your salary to the four main social security funds. Don’t be sad, because your employer matches the other 20%! This is where your money is going:

Pension Fund: this is your contribution to future-you! Once you turn 65, you have the option to retire, where you’ll be earning up to 67% of the gross salary you had before your retirement. Don’t worry, if you move to a different country as an expat, you will still be entitled to the pension you built up over your years in Germany.

Health insurance: every employee in Germany is required to have health insurance! In most cases, you’ll be enrolled in a public health insurance plan through your employer. For more information about this, check out our in-depth article on German health insurance for expats and international students.

Unemployment insurance: While you’re working, you’re contributing to the unemployment fund. This fund allows you to, if you’ve lost your job, register with the German Labour Office to receive a percentage of the wages you had in your last held job. How much you get and for how long depend on your age and how long you’ve been working. For you expats out there, you’re eligible for this if you’ve contributed to this fund for at least 12 months in the last 2 years.

Accident & sick pay insurance: This insurance is there in case you fall ill or suffer an accident or injury on the workplace. This insurance should cover the treatment, but also ensure you’ll still be paid during your recuperation or receive a pension if you end up being disabled. But I work in an office, it’s perfectly safe! Well, this insurance also covers your commute to- and from work.

Disability insurance: You also contribute a small amount to the state’s disability fund, which pays for facilities to help people with disabilities participate in the work environment or provides them with income when they are (no longer) able to work. This fund also takes care of people with natural disabilities or disabled war veterans or victims of serious crimes.

Germany is hungry for skilled expats

Germany is the economic powerhouse of the EU, and that means the country runs on its workforce. However, in the coming years, there will be a significant portion of the workforce that is only a few years or months away from retirement.

In fact, by 2020 Germany has three workers support every person aged over 65, but by 2035 this ratio will have dropped to ratio will be one worker to one pensioner (ft.com). In other words, Germany is going to be looking for a large number of skilled foreign workers to keep its economic muscles bulking.

With an event like the Corona pandemic, the number of jobs available might seem like it’s on low for a while but don’t be fooled. Why? Employers don’t always communicate properly with the government, resulting in the fact that “in Germany, it is estimated that there may be twice as many unfilled vacancies as those provided by the public statistics” (European Commission).

Top German industries with vacancies

So, where are all these vacancies?! Where do I pluck my job from the magical job tree? Well, you don’t. Not just like that, anyway. Most of the growing number of vacancies are in critical industries, upcoming industries and the highly specialized industries. So, make sure your talents are a good match for the German market, or take some time to develop new skills in the areas that will improve your job prospects in the future.

Here are a number of industries that really need additional personnel:

  • IT & Engineering: skilled IT workers are required in almost every company in any sector. Software developers and programmers will have an especially easy job hunt, as their skills are always highly sought after. So if your skills are on this list, you could have a pretty good shot!

  • Automotive engineering

  • Electrical engineering

  • Structural engineering

  • Computer science

  • Mechanical engineering

  • Telecommunications

  • Medical professions: As a generation is about to retire, the country’s medical care is going to be under pressure. Since 2012, professionals with a foreign medical degree can obtain licenses and permits to practise in Germany, as long as your degree can be recognised and linked to an equivalent German medical degree. So, doctors, nurses and surgeons, pack your bags! Incidentally, doctors are also among the highest earners on the German job market.

  • MINT: a collection of high-tech industries including mathematics, information technology (mentioned above), natural sciences and technology. If you’re skilled in these areas, you‘re not just a nerd (come on, you know it), you also have pretty great prospects in Germany! The country has many leading research institutes and high-tech private companies that are hungry to put your skillset to use!

If you work in one of these industries, you may be working in what is classified as a ‘shortage industry’, meaning the requirements for a visa (discussed later) are lowered.

Working in Germany: the requirements

Hold on, before you start updating your resume right away, you first need to know about the requirements for working in Germany that might apply to you. We’ll take a look at the permits or documents you’ll need to work in Germany, both as an EU citizen and as a non-EU expat. Let’s take a look at an overview of the requirements.

Working in Germany as an EU resident

Shorter than 3 months If you‘re already an EU citizen, it will be a lot easier for your to find your way into a job. In fact, you don’t need a visa at all! Since you enjoy the benefits of freedom of movement in the EU, all you need is your ID or passport to enter the country. After that, you’re free to stay and work in the country for the next 3 months. After those 3 months, though, you need to be able to prove that you’re able to sustain a long stay in Germany. Also, don’t forget to register your german address with the local municipality!

Longer than 3 months If you plan to stay for a period longer than 3 months, you’ll need to apply for a certificate of residence. Once you get this certificate through your nearby Ausländerbehörde (Foreign Nationals' Authority), you can pretty much stay as long as you like. It might be dated to the length of your employment contract, but it can easily be extended. Also, if you live in the country for longer than 5 years, you can apply for German citizenship!

Working in Germany as a non-EU resident

First of all, German visa applications can take between 6 weeks and 3 months to be approved, so make sure you get this particular ball rolling at least around four or five months before you plan on moving to Germany. If you’re moving to Germany for work, you’ll most likely do so based on one of four visas or permits:

  • Temporary residence permit: You’ll probably start out with this permit. It generally starts at one year and should be renewed according to your employment status.

  • Self-Employment Visa: If you plan on opening your own business, there’s a special visa for that, with some extra requirements.

  • Skilled worker visa: If you work in a shortage industry or a highly sought after position, you might be eligible for a skilled worker visa. There are some hefty requirements but also some pretty nice benefits, such as little to no wait-time and a fast track to German citizenship.

  • Permanent settlement permit: Once you’ve been in Germany for 5 years, you get to apply for one of these. These basically allow you to settle and work in Germany permanently!

  • EC long-term residence permit: A slightly fancier version of the permanent settlement permit. With this permit, you can fast-track your application for residency in other EU countries.

In short

The amount of foreign workers required to keep Germany's economy booming is only going to increase over the years. So it's up to you to get in on the action early on! Enjoy Germany's work hard, play harder work ethic and enjoy its social security benefits by finding out which type of visa is right for you!

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