Work in Germany: Guide for Foreign Job Seekers

If you are seeking information on how to find work in Germany, you have come to the right place and at the right time. Germany is with a labour force of 45 million, including 3.3 million foreign employees, and with 1.2 million job vacancies the largest job market in Europe and one that is among the most open to foreign job seekers. To sustain the growth of the German economy the country needs foreign specialists of certain professions. In addition, due to ageing of the population and retirement of the “baby boomer” generation Germany is hiring thousands of healthcare specialists and other skilled personnel from foreign countries. For foreigners with specific in-demand qualifications finding a well-paid job in Germany is now more real than ever.

German Economy and Employment

Germany is the largest European economy and the fourth largest economy in the world, accounting for 5.4% of the global GDP. The growth of the Germany’s technology-driven economy largely depends on exports as Germany is the world’s third biggest exporter, having the largest nominal trade surplus in the world. The total German labour force is about 45 million while the unemployment rate is extremely low at 4.2%. There is virtually no unemployment in large German cities. The only regions affected by unemployment are the rural areas, mainly in the north-east. Hence, it is not surprising that Germany is also one of the world’s largest importers of foreign workforce as 3.3 million foreigners already work in Germany.

The German Job Market for Foreigners

The German job market currently has 1.2 million job vacancies. This alone presents tremendous work opportunities for foreigners. Yet, due to the large size, stable growth and undergoing structural changes in the German economy, hundreds of thousands of new jobs are created each year. The German labour market lacks skilled professionals in several important areas and German government and employers are welcoming foreigners to fill this gap. Moreover, Germany is known for its aging population. It is estimated that by 2025 more than four million Germans will retire. This will create further opportunities for foreigners wishing to live and work in Germany.

Working Conditions in Germany

German Labour Code (which is actually a set of employment laws) provides a high level of protection to all employees. With a five-day working week, the maximum working hours are defined at 40 hours per week while most employees work 38.5 hours a week. All employees are entitled to a minimum of 18 days of holiday per year. However, most employers offer their employees 25-30 days of holiday. In addition, there are nine bank holidays in Germany and six regional holidays celebrated in different federal states. The minimum wage in Germany is 8.84 Euro per hour, that is 1,498 Euro per month.

Personal Income Tax

Germany has a relatively complicated taxation system. The personal income tax rate starts at zero and rises progressively to a maximum of 45% for high-income individuals (earning more than 260,000 Euros a year). In addition, there is a 5.5% solidarity surcharge (low-income individuals pay less or are excluded altogether) and an 8-9% church tax for registered church members that are levied on top of the income tax. Social security contributions (amounting to ca 22% of income until a certain ceiling is reached) are deducted from personal income before calculating income tax. Generous tax allowances are provided to families with children (read this article for more information on personal income tax calculation).

Job Vacancies in the German Economy

In the German labour market there is a continuously high demand for people with certain special skills. These include highly skilled individuals with university education such as physicians, engineers, teachers, natural scientists, mathematicians and IT specialists as well as qualified specialists with vocational education such as nurses, caregivers and skilled traders of different professions. Moreover, millions of Germans will retire over the coming years which will create demand also in areas where there are no shortages yet. Many experts believe that these gaps can only be plugged with foreign professionals enticed to work in Germany.

Which Professions Are Needed Most in Germany?

Healthcare

A lack of healthcare professionals, especially doctors and nurses, is a chronic problem of the German health sector. It is estimated that the German healthcare system currently needs about 5,000 physicians to fill the gap. The starting salary of a medical graduate in Germany is nearly 50,000 Euros a year, the highest among all university graduates. A doctor who has completed a medical training in any country (also outside the European Economic Area) that is equivalent to the medical training in Germany is eligible for a medical licence in Germany.

Worse yet for Germany, it is estimated that additional 150,000 nursing personnel, who are already in short supply, will be needed over the next ten years in German hospitals and nursing homes. Although not all nurses and other healthcare personnel may have their qualifications immediately recognized in Germany, the Federal Employment Agency (Bundesagentur für Arbeit) encourages foreigners to complete vocational training courses in Germany to become eligible for jobs in the German healthcare industry. As an example, see this project for Bosnia, Serbia and Philippines. For complete guide on the opportunities for foreign nursing personnel in the German healthcare sector read the article “Nursing jobs in Germany”.

Technology

Germany is one of the world leaders in technology and innovation. Its export intensive industry has a growing demand for highly skilled professionals in certain technical areas. These mainly include specialists in the fields of automotive, mechanical and electrical engineering as well telecommunications and information technology specialists (e.g., programmers). In addition to these professions sought after by the industry, many technology research institutes are looking for the so-called STEM graduates (STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics also known as MINT professions in Germany). They include not only the aforementioned engineers and IT specialists but also mathematicians and specialists in different fields of science such as biotechnology or nanotechnology.

The starting salary of a graduate of mechanical or electrical engineering or a STEM graduate in general is in the range of 36,000 – 45,000 Euros a year and it is not uncommon for people with 15 years of experience in the field to earn 70,000 Euros a year.

Who Can Get a Job in Germany?

Citizen of any country can apply for a job in Germany but some nationals will have it more difficult than others to get it. This has to do with German foreign labour regulations.

Who Needs a Work Permit in Germany?

In general, citizens of countries from outside of the European Economic Area (EU and EFTA) need a work permit (that is a residence permit for gainful employment) to be allowed to work in Germany. Thus, as you may assume, there are two categories of foreign job seekers in Germany, those from the EEA and those from outside the EEA:

EU/EEA Citizens

Nationals of the European Economic Area (EEA), which includes the EU and EFTA countries, have an unrestricted access to the German labour market and will be treated the same way as any German national when applying for a job in Germany. They do not need a work or residence permit and their employers do not have to prove to the German labour authorities that the position could not have been filled by a German citizen.

Citizens of the Third Countries

Foreigners coming from countries outside of the EEA need a residence permit for work purposes (also called residence permit for gainful employment) whereas in order to get this permit their employer must usually prove that there were no suitable candidates for the job amongst applicants from the EEA countries. This applies to all non-EEA nationals, irrespective of whether they need a visa to enter Germany or not.

However, exceptions do exist. For example, citizens of the third countries who have earned their university degree in Germany can stay in the country for another 18 months while looking for a job. Once they have found a job that corresponds to their qualifications, they can convert their residence permit for study purposes into a residence permit for gainful employment. In addition, foreign graduates of German universities who left home after completing their studies can still return to Germany for job hunting (see Jobseeker’s visa below).

Likewise, foreigners from the third countries who have completed a vocational training in Germany can have their residence permit extended for another 12 months to find a job that suits their qualifications. During this 12 month period they can take up any job to help cover their living costs in Germany until they find a work they were originally trained for.

Another exception are highly skilled individuals having a binding offer for any specialist job that pays them at least 49,600 Euros a year. Also, there is an exception for certain specialist professions where there is a chronic lack of suitable candidates from within the EEA provided that the candidate has been offered an annual salary of no less than 38,688 Euros. These jobs include doctors of medicine as well as the so-called MINT professions (mathematics, informatics, natural sciences and technology/engineering). All those mentioned in this paragraph are eligible for the EU Blue Card (temporary residence title).

In addition, the Federal Employment Agency has whitelisted jobs with vocational training where shortages exist that are also available to applicants from non-EEA countries.

Jobseeker’s Visa for Germany

University graduates from countries that do not have a visa-free regime with Germany may apply for a jobseeker’s visa at the nearest German consulate or embassy. This visa is issued for six months. Besides a valid passport, other required documents for issuing a visa include a university degree, CV, letter of motivation and a travel insurance policy. Applicants must also prove that they can support themselves financially for six months as they will not be allowed to take up any employment in Germany during their stay on a jobseeker’s visa.

Latest Projects Aimed at Attracting Foreign Skilled Labour

  • In 2014, the Germany’s Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs launched a project dubbed “The Job of my Life” aimed at attracting young people aged 18-27 from other EU/EEA countries to come for vocational in-company training to Germany. The goal of this project is to help young people from those EEA countries that are plagued by high unemployment (e.g., Spain) find jobs and so to secure skilled labour for the German economy. Here you can find more information about this project (at the bottom of the page you will find links to PDFs in German and in English).
  • Nationals of Albania, Kosovo, Bosnia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia now enjoy a preferential access to the German job market and vocational training courses. This project called “Arbeiten und Leben in Deutschland” started at the beginning of 2016 and will last till the end of 2020. Citizens of these countries can also apply for non-specialist jobs that are normally not available to citizens of the third countries. More information can be found in this brochure.
  • PuMa (Punktebasiertes Modellprojekt für ausländische Fachkräfte) is the new point-based model project that was launched in October 2016 in the federal state of Baden-Württemberg to facilitate an easier access of foreign skilled labour from countries outside of the EEA to the German labour market. This project enables citizens from the third countries who successfully completed a vocational training recognized in Germany to take up virtually any job in Germany.

Recognition of Occupational Qualifications

It is very likely that foreign job applicants will at some point in time need to have their professional qualifications obtained outside of Germany compared with the German equivalents in order to be recognized in Germany. That is, they will be issued a Statement of Comparability. Some professions in Germany, such as medical specialists or lawyers, are regulated and recognition is necessary. For many others, it is not required but helpful. Smooth recognition of school certificates and university degrees can be expected if these were issued in another EU/EEA country or a country that is a signatory of the Bologna Process. In any case, expect to pay several hundred Euros for this process. For more information check out the information portal of the German government for recognition of foreign professional qualifications and the Anabin database.

Self-Employment in Germany

Besides taking up employment, nationals of the third countries can set up their own business in Germany. The new initiative seeks to recruit business-minded foreigners from the third countries who will create new innovative jobs in Germany. They will, however, need to prove that there is a demand for their products or services in the German market, that their business will benefit the German economy and that they have secured financing for their project either through their own capital or already pre-approved bank loan. Successful candidates are eligible for a residence permit for self-employment. Likewise, talented foreign freelancers can apply for a residence permit for freelance work. This website should help you answer some questions regarding setting-up your own business in Germany.

Searching for a Job in Germany

Whether you are in Germany or not, there are several steps you can take to start a job search. For executive or specialist positions you can hire a reputable international executive search firm or a local recruitment agency (Personalagentur). But, while waiting for the headhunters to call you with their job offers, you can explore the existing opportunities on your own, especially if you are not in the six digit bracket. The easiest option is to check the German job websites. Your first point of reference should be those that are operated by the government agencies but there are also many others, mostly privately owned job portals that are worth a try. Here is quite a comprehensive list to begin with:

Public Employment Agencies

  • Jobbörse der Bundesagentur für Arbeit (Job Board of the Federal Employment Agency) – you will not only find there thousands of job offerings but also advice from the most competent people in the industry when it comes to helping foreigners find work in Germany. Registered users can set up their individual profile so that they can be contacted by potential employers.
  • EURES (European Employment Services) is a project of the European Commission, also called the European Job Mobility Portal. It enables you to search for vacancies in all of its member states. To narrow your search, select Germany at the top of the left-hand sidebar.
  • Job Listings of the Portal – Make It in Germany. This is a joint project of the Federal Ministry of Economy, the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, and the Federal Employment Agency designed to help foreigners seeking careers in Germany answer all their questions. This web portal is a key component of the campaign aimed at attracting skilled professionals from abroad to fill the gaps in the German labour market.
  • Jobbörse des Deutschen Pflegeverbands (Job Board of the German Caregiver Association). This is a portal for nursing jobs, mainly in the care of the elderly chronic sick, some of the most difficult positions to fill in Germany.
  • EURAXESS (Researchers in Motion) is a project supported by the European Commission and the Federal Ministry of Education and Research to promote the exchange of European scientists among its 30 member states. Universities and research institutes are encouraged to post their vacancies to the network to make them available to researchers from other countries. Researchers can also post their CVs to the Euraxess network.

Independent Job Portals

The most obvious choices for any foreign job seeker looking for work in Germany include JobPilot, JobStairs, Monster, JobWare, Staufenbiel, The Local, Stepstone Germany and Indeed Germany but there are also job portals that specialize in a certain geographic area or type of professions that you should check out such as:

(For more resources, type “Jobbörse” or “jobs in Germany” into Google.)

The more straightforward way of searching for a job is to check the websites of German companies in your field. Most of them have a page called “Jobs & Karriere” or “Offene Stellen” where you can find open positions that often cannot be seen on the job search aggregators. But, do not focus exclusively on the largest employers. There are thousands of small and medium sized firms in Germany looking to hire people from abroad. You can also try to send them speculative applications (Initiativbewerbung), which is perfectly acceptable in Germany. However, this can be quite time consuming.

How to Apply for a Job in Germany

When applying for a job in Germany you will most likely need to provide more than just your CV and reference letters from previous employers. It is still common in Germany to send job applications by post as a folder (Bewerbungsmappe) containing:

  • Cover letter
  • Curriculum Vitae
  • Reference letters
  • Copy of the school leaving certificate
  • Copy of the university diploma
  • Samples of work
  • Passport size photo

Later on, some employers may also ask you to provide a copy of the criminal record but it is typically not part of the application folder. Although traditionally all this correspondence was done by post, many employers now require these documents only in electronic printable format such as PDF. It goes without saying that you should have your documents composed (and translated when applicable) in German or English (if you are applying for an English-speaking job). If your reference letters are in English, it is usually not necessary to have them translated into German.

A quick search in the Internet will provide you with plenty of examples and guidance on how to compose a catchy and professional cover letter and CV. Just type “Bewerbung” or “Bewerbungsschreiben” or “Lebenslauf Muster” or “Bewerbung Vorlagen kostenlos” into Google. Here are a few good examples:

  • Europass enables you to create a professional cover letter and CV online in German, English or any other European language. Documents are not stored on the server, so you need to download them before leaving the editor.
  • KarriereBibel allows you to download free samples of cover letters and CVs in word format that are easy to use at home.
  • Bewerbung offers a free generator that enables you to compose your motivation letter and CV online. They will be sent to your email. You will also find there lots of helpful tips on writing a perfect resume and to prepare you for a job interview.

How to Behave at a Job Interview in Germany

All your hard work has paid off and you have been invited to a job interview. There is no specific advice on how to behave at a job interview in Germany that will guarantee you success as every case is different and a lot depends on the company and a person who will be interviewing you. But in general, when in Germany follow these tips for a successful interview:

  • Be punctual and polite but don’t be boring
  • Dress suitably (better keep your Rolex watch under the sleeve)
  • Keep an eye contact with your interviewer
  • Listen to your interviewer carefully
  • Don’t behave emotionally but don’t be unresponsive
  • Refrain from criticising anyone (especially your former boss or colleagues)
  • Emphasize (and depending on the situation exaggerate) your past achievements
  • Learn something about the company and show it
  • Bring a list of questions to ask
  • Bring multiple copies of your CV and cover letter
  • Take notes (or at least pretend to be taking them)
  • For God’s sake put your mobile device in silent mode

As for Skype or phone interview, do not let anyone to disturb you and make sure you sound as natural as if you were sitting in the company’s meeting room.

We hope you have found this guide helpful and will soon find work in Germany. For further work related information about Germany do not forget to check out the pages “Immigration to Germany”, “Nursing Jobs for Foreigners” and “Salaries and Cost of Living in Germany”.