Is working in Germany as an American (or a foreigner in general) a feasible option for you? What are working hours in Germany like? If you’re wondering how to work in Germany or how to get a work visa in Germany, you’ll find the answer to all of these questions -and more- in this article.
Let’s start with examining why anyone would want to work in Germany.
Since the country has solidified itself over the past decades as the strongest economy in Europe, it comes as no surprise that it has become one of the world’s biggest destinations for foreigners who are looking for work.
And despite the huge demand Germany has for foreign working force, some people still feel like the process of working in Germany is a big hassle that’s difficult to get into. But today I’m going to disprove that notion by walking you through the entire process step by step:
1. Understand The German Job Market – The German Working Culture and Hours
Long story short: Germany thinks that it is short on workers, and this is good news for you. This is easily proven by taking a look at just how low the unemployment rate is in Germany. The rate as of May 2020 (that’s mid-pandemic) was a measly 3.9%, which is one of the lowest unemployment rates in the world.
According to the German Federal Employment Agency, Germany needs well over 400,000 skilled foreign workers to arrive every year to barely satisfy Germany’s demand for labor. There are a number of reasons behind this huge deficit, most importantly the ever-growing German economy and the aging German population that is struggling to keep up.
Since you could fill a spot from the yearly 400,000 opportunities that Germany provides, you might be wondering:
What are the jobs in demand in Germany? What’s hot and what’s not?
Engineering is a no-brainer, since Germany is one of the biggest industrial countries in the world. The German industrial sector would struggle to survive – let alone grow – without the influx of foreign labor. Domestic talent simply hasn’t been able to keep up with the demands of Germany’s huge manufacturing and IT industries. Just glossing over job websites in Germany will show you dozens of openings in automotive and aerospace engineering, automation, metal and plastic processing, civil and chemical engineering and all kinds of computer sciences. Tech experts have an especially good chance of landing a job in Germany since the IT sector is one of the fastest growing in the country.
Even if you’re not into Engineering or IT, you still have a good chance of finding a job in less demanding sectors like hospitality and tourism which continue to blossom (despite taking a hit recently due to the pandemic). You could land yourself an accommodation related post, a kitchen or waiting job, or, if you’re skilled in this field, you could fill a skilled managerial position.
Other emerging sectors with increasing demand are green technology (solar energy, hydropower, sustainable architecture, biomass) and healthcare. The recent events and the pandemic exposed just how understaffed the German healthcare sector is, and demand has hit an all time high ever since.
What are the salaries like when you work in Germany
You might wonder what kind of pay one can expect when one finally manages to work in Germany. The minimum wage in Germany changes every year, and as of January 2021 it has been 1,221 Euros per month, which places Germany in fifth place among other European countries.
Skilled workers obviously make way more than minimum wage, evident by the average monthly income of 4,021 Euros. And as expected, salaries largely depend on the sector, qualifications, position and even gender, as the gender pay gap was estimated to be 21% in 2018.
Is it difficult to adapt to the German work culture?
The work culture in Germany has a reputation of being completely different to what the rest of the world is used to, and to some degree this is correct. Germans put a huge emphasis on clear communication and punctuality. Working hours are spent on work and nothing but work. Interactions in the workplace are formal and generally speaking Germans keep their personal and professional lives separated.
If you want to learn more about the German work culture, you can check out this article that goes into more detail.
Working hours, labor laws and labor rights
The German work week averages at 40 hours per week, and maxes out at 48 hours. You could still work up to 10 hours per day if you want to, as long as your average hours per day don’t exceed 8 hours over a 24 week period.
As soon as you have managed to find work in Germany, you’re entitled to benefits like an annual statutory holiday, sick pay and maternity pay. In most cases your work will be regulated by a contract that you sign with your employer. You should always go through your contract thoroughly and carefully before signing it to make sure it doesn’t include any unfair clauses that heavily favor your employer.
If the employer decides to terminate your contract in Germany, you’re entitled to a notice period that’s at least two weeks long. Usually this notice period will be four weeks and can extend to several months depending on how many years of service you have with your employer.
It may come as a surprise to you that workers in Germany are entitled to a minimum of 20 days paid holiday leave annually. This doesn’t take into account public holidays or sick leaves, giving the average German worker over 30 days of paid leave every year.
And if you’re thinking that starting a family and trying to balance that with work in Germany might be difficult, then you’ll be relieved to know that Germany has one of the best safety-net maternity and paternity protection systems in the world. You can read more about maternity leave in this article.
2. Find a Job in Germany
The biggest factor to take into account if you’re trying to find a job in Germany is whether or not you speak German, and how proficient you are in German. If you’re unsure of whether or not your German will enable you to find a job in Germany, you can check here to find out.
If you already speak German well enough, you have a number of gateways that can help you find a job. Public German job sites (like the Make it in Germany website) is a great place to start.
There are also a number of other job recruitment websites (Jobbörsen) in Germany that can help you find the right job for you depending on which sector you’re interested in:
Sites for general jobs:
Sites for specialist jobs
- Academics – academic and research positions
- Jobware – management positions
- Staufenbiel – graduate jobs and internship positions
- Stepstone – graduate jobs and internship positions
Can I get a job in germany without speaking German?
Absolutely. If you look in the right places, chances are you will find an opening for a job in Germany in which you only need to be fluent in English. Sites to start looking for these openings are:
- Craigslist – includes English-speaking jobs in Germany
- English jobs
- The Local
- Toplanguage jobs – English-speaking jobs in Germany (and other languages)
And if you’re a native English speaker, you could teach English in Germany.
There are always opportunities for native English speakers to teach English in Germany to school children, older students in language institutes and even professionally to staff in big international companies. You will need to be qualified to teach by having a degree, some experience in teaching and a TEFL qualification.
Does it Pay to Work in Germany as a freelancer
With the right skill set, you can become a freelancer and enjoy the liberty of deciding your own business path. Becoming a freelancer in Germany is relatively easy and is both rewarding and flexible given you have the entrepreneurial mindset required to make it.
Being a freelancer will help you score a residency permit more easily (which I will get to in more detail) on the basis of self-employment. All you need is to prove that you’re properly skilled and that you have enough resources to stay afloat while your business picks up steam.
3. Get Your Qualifications Recognized
This is a huge step that’s necessary if you’ve decided to look for work in Germany. Having your vocational or educational qualifications from your home country recognized in Germany is useful for most jobs (and sometimes even necessary) .
You can find out how to get your qualifications recognized through the Recognition in Germany website.
4. Apply for a Work Visa and a Residence Permit
Unfortunately one can’t just come and work in Germany. First you need to seek permission to do so. German embassies all over the world issue a variety of visas, like student visas and short stay visas. But for the purpose of seeking work in Germany, the one you should be interested in is the Job Seeker Visa. This type of visa enables you to stay inside Germany for six months while you find a job.
To get a work visa you usually have to be a skilled worker, which means having a higher education that is recognized in Germany and working in the same area that you have studied for.
Don’t let the bureaucracy confuse you: think of all the benefits and everything you can achieve once you land your dream job and start working in Germany. The visa application process isn’t complex at all. You simply gather all the required documents and arrangements and once you’ve ticked them all off of your list, you fill out the application form and submit it to any German embassy or consulate near you.
Three months after your visa application, you will need to attend a short visa application interview, and in less than six weeks, your visa application will be approved. The whole process takes less than five months to complete. And once you have your visa, you can start hunting for jobs immediately afterwards.
Once you’ve landed a job, you will be able to apply for a residence permit. To get the residence permit you need to meet a number of requirements including German proficiency. Another requirement is that you and your employer must prove that the job position could not be filled by other German citizens, EU citizens, or priority workers. Priority workers are those who have been in Germany for a longer time. Additionally, you must get approval from the Federal Employment Agency.
After you have met the requirements, you can apply for a residence permit. Your employment contract will decide how long your permit allows you to stay in Germany. However, as long as you maintain employment in Germany, you can extend your residence permit to meet it.
5. Get Health Insurance
In Germany, health insurance is mandatory, and this applies from the first day of your stay. Having mandatory health insurance ensures that the entire population is covered and this is one of the core factors that help Germany enjoy a high standard of healthcare. You can learn more about health insurance and healthcare services in Germany by clicking here .
Your employer is responsible for enrolling you for German health insurance and other German social security benefits after you start working. This includes the German state pension and for work-related accident insurance in Germany.
Once you’ve enrolled for public health insurance, you will receive your social insurance number. This number will be used for social security and state pension services, and it should be written on all of your payslips and health insurance documents.
As a German resident, you will be assigned a tax identification number (or Steueridentifikationsnummer). This is different from your social security number and is used for tax calculation purposes.
You might also be offered the option of a company pension to add to your state pension benefit, in addition to other in-work benefits.
You can find more details about where and how to work in Germany, get proper training and job opportunities on these websites:
- Federal Employment Agency (Bundesagentur für Arbeit) – find jobs and training spots as well as information on working in Germany.
- EURES – Job portal for Europe.