The Ultimate Guide To Claiming Unemployment In Germany

Perhaps not the topic you wanted to think about while living in Germany, but if you’re reading this article, that time has problem come for you. If you’re likely to be unemployed whether it’s against your will or not, then this article is the right place for you.

Being unemployed in Germany is hardly the end of the world and there is a variety of social policies the country employs to ensure its people are taken care of and their basic needs are met. The process can be a bit arduous to apply for unemployment benefits but it’s certainly no worse than many of the other bureaucratic processes that one has to go through while living in Germany. 


What is the unemployment system in Germany?

Unemployment benefit is financed from unemployment insurance. This means: When it comes to unemployment benefits, it usually depends on whether and for how long you were insured under unemployment insurance .

Unemployment insurance is one of the social insurances, such as the statutory pension insurance. As an employee, contributions for unemployment insurance are usually deducted – technical term: insurable employment.

The following conditions essentially apply to the entitlement to unemployment benefit:

  • You fulfill the qualifying period. This usually means: You were employed subject to compulsory insurance for at least 12 months in the 30 months before you registered as unemployed . Several occupations can be added together.
  • You have registered as unemployed with your employment agency .
  • You are unemployed, but you can work subject to compulsory insurance (at least 15 hours per week).
  • You are looking for a job that is subject to insurance and you are working with the employment agency.


How much unemployment benefits do I get?

This is how the unemployment benefit is calculated (simplified):

The calculation is based on your gross wage (salary) for the past 12 months. This amount is divided by the number of days in a year, i.e. 365. The result is your gross wage per day.

Wage tax, the solidarity surcharge and a lump sum for social security of 20 percent are deducted from this. (These deductions are only used for calculation and are not actually paid.) The result is your net pay per day.

60 percent of this net income is the amount you receive as unemployment benefit per day. It increases to 67 percent if you or your spouse / partner have one or more children.


Use the unemployment benefit calculator

Use the self -calculation program , the unemployment benefit calculator of the Federal Employment Agency, to calculate the amount of unemployment benefit individually. To do this, first select the year in which the claim arises or arose, for example 2020. The result is non-binding and only serves as a guide.

Here is an example of using the calculator for a married person.


How long does the unemployment benefit last?

The length of time you receive unemployment benefits depends on 2 factors:

  • how long you were subject to compulsory insurance, for example in the form of compulsory employment, and
  • how old you are.

The periods that are subject to compulsory insurance must usually be within the past 5 years. Several periods that are subject to compulsory insurance can be added together.


Benefit period for unemployed up to 50 years

If you are under 50 years of age, you can receive unemployment benefit for a maximum of 12 months– provided that you were previously obliged to have insurance for 24 months or more.

Another example: If you were required to have insurance for a minimum of 12 months, you can receive unemployment benefit for up to 6 months.


Period of benefit for unemployed people aged 50 and over

From the age of 50, the benefit period increases in several steps up to 24 months . This maximum benefit period applies to unemployed people who are 58 years of age or older . Prerequisite: You had to be insured for 48 months or more.


Period of benefit for temporary employment

If you meet the requirements for the shorter qualifying period , the following applies: For example, if you have 8 months of compulsory insurance, you can receive unemployment benefit for up to 4 months.


Termination based on conduct

If you are terminated because of your conduct. In other words, your termination is not because of the company (restructuring, going bankrupt, etc.), you will need to wait three months before receiving any benefits. This means, if you are entitled to 10 months of unemployment, you will only be paid for 7 of them.

I suppose this is to discourage people from purposely trying to get let go and living off of the state.


Steps for applying for unemployment

If you do become unemployed in any way, these are the steps you need to take. Just make sure you keep all the documentation you get from your work and the Arbeitsagentur. Germany loves its mail and you won’t want to misplace something because it will take you forever to replace.


Register immediately as a Job Seeker

After you’ve become unemployed whether it’s from taking a severance package, quitting, or being fired, you will need to immediately register with the Arbeitsamt that you are a job seeker. This does not mean you are looking for unemployment cash payments but just simply you are no longer employed and are a “job seeker”.

If you are receiving some sort of severance package, you still need to register as a job seeker because you are not employed. You will just wait to apply for the unemployment cash benefits until after your severance package runs out.

This is the first step you need to complete before being able to register for unemployment benefits.


Register as unemployed

The next step is to register as unemployed. This step is where you go to apply for cash benefits. You’ll have to fill out a few pages worth of answering questions about your previous employment, why you separated, etc. This will notify the Arbeitsamt that you are no longer employed and may be seeking unemployment benefits soon.


Fill out the application for unemployment

Finally, you’ll need to fill out the application for unemployment benefits at this time. This is the step that they will ask you about your previous work situation, why you separated, your health insurance status, etc.

There are many pages here and it’s only in German. I simply just used Google Translate to switch to English in order to fill it out. Sometimes, you’ll need to translate it back to German in order to progress to the next page.

Verify your Identity

After all the applications are completed, the Arbeitsamt will request you verify your identity. During Coronavirus times, they will probably be doing mobile verifications using Apps where you show your passport and take selfies with some service.

In normal times, you have to physically go to the Arbeitsamt and verify your identity there.


Bonus: Have a German speaking friend

It’s inevitable that somewhere along the process you will be confused. The surprising thing is the Arbeitsamt is actually quit easy to get ahold of. The wait times are not extreme and you can speak to someone if you are stuck somewhere, or just want to check on the status of applications.

The one caveat? As always, they “only” speak German. Of course they know how to speak English but it’s likely they won’t do it because they’re under oath not to (I’m not sure). What will help is to have a German speaking friend communicate with them and answer all your questions. The Arbeitsamt allows someone to speak on your behalf. They will ask you a few questions to verify it’s you, and then ask if they have your permission to speak to your friend. Of course, do this and you are good to go.


Make sure to check your mail

As with anything in Germany, all the documents will be sent to you by mail so make sure you are constantly checking. You will receive lots of confirmation documents about the process and verification of your status and how much money you will receive. This process will take 1-2 weeks.


Start looking for a job

After you’ve filled this out, it’s time to look for a job. The Arbeitsamt has an internal jobs posting portal which has more jobs than you might expect depending on your field and experience!

In addition, you will be assigned someone that looks over your case. They may reach out to you in person to understand your situation, and provide any assistance they can offer.


Attend meetings with the Arbeitsamt

Once you start receiving your unemployment benefits, you will also need to attend meetings with the Arbeitsamt on a regular basis to update them on your progress. In Germany, unemployment is taken with a very hands on approach. They want to see if you’re making progress and offer any help and guidance along the way. A bit crazy of a concept for many but that’s how it is here.

These meetings are mandatory to receive the arbeitslosengeld and you need to provide some sort of proof that you are actively trying to find jobs (by showing job applications). It’s not a painful process but the state wants to know you are making the effort. It’s also a good way for the state to make sure you’re not just traveling around the world while being paid unemployment insurance.


Receiving Unemployment Money

Once you’ve filled out your application, it will undergo a review process which takes a few days. The Arbeitsamt might attempt to call you to verify details or identity. You can track your status online as well.

Within a week or two, you will receive by mail (of course everything is by mail in Germany) a document which will list out exactly how much money you are entitled to, and for how long. Once you’ve received this document, this means you have been approved and you should expect to see your Arbeitslosengeld in your bank account at the end of the month every month.


Unemployment benefit and unemployment benefit II – important differences

If your unemployment benefit expires and you have not yet found a job, you can apply for unemployment benefit II. You have to meet certain conditions: Unemployment benefit II – requirements, income and assets

Unemployment benefit and unemployment benefit II differ considerably:

Unemployment benefit is financed from unemployment insurance contributions. How much unemployment benefit you receive depends mainly on your last average earnings.

Unemployment benefit II (also: basic security for job seekers) is financed from tax money. It secures the subsistence level . At a fixed standard rate , part of the unemployment benefit II is paid for housing and rent . The job center will only cover the costs for your accommodation to a reasonable extent. In addition, under certain conditions, you can receive further financial aid for so-called additional needs for unemployment benefit II .


Do I have to accept any work on Unemployment II

You must accept any kind of reasonable work. What constitutes a reasonable work is beyond me but I’d assume anything you’re physically capable of doing is in this category.

A supposedly reasonable job can be rejected if you have an important reason for it and can prove it. You do not have to accept work that violates the law or offers that are below the minimum wage.

Activities are unreasonable

  • of which you are physically, mentally or emotionally incapable or
  • which make it more difficult for you to return to your previous job because, for example, special physical skills would be lost when performing the new job.

Your job center will advise you if you have any further questions .


Health Insurance on Unemployment

Like everything in Germany, just because you are unemployed does not mean you are no longer on the health insurance system. The most important thing in Germany is its health insurance and everyone, regardless of employment status, must have health insurance. 

In the application, you will denote whether you are on public or private health insurance.  If you are on the public system, you simply need to submit your policy with your insurer and the Arbeitsamt will cover the portion your employer paid for.

If you are on private insurance, then you can continue to keep your private coverage even while you’re unemployed and the Arbeitsamt will again cover the portion your employer covered before. I think even after your unemployment benefits run out and you’ve not found a job, they will still cover your benefits if you apply for unemployment benefits II.


Unemployment while on a Residence Permit

If you’re in Germany with a non-permanent residence permit, then you may need to take slightly different steps in claiming unemployment. I am in Germany on a Blue Card that was tied to my employer. The Blue Card is one of the best residence/work permits you can get in Germany as I’ve detailed in my Blue Card post.

It was very difficult to find information online about claiming unemployment while being a lawfully residing foreigner but if you are also on a blue card and will be unemployed, you’ve come to the right place.

If you’re on a blue card, rest assured, you are entitled to the standard unemployment benefits after you’ve contributed for 12 months into the unemployment system. I’m not sure if you get any benefits if you have done less than 12 months but I suspect it will be a case by case situation.


Meeting with your unemployment advisor

After you’ve submitted your application, you will receive contact either by mail or email (or both) from a representative from the arbeitsagentur. He/she will request to speak to you for a half hour as a way to introduce yourselves to each other.

This person is your personal unemployment advisor and in fact, they are your career counselors who are actively tracking your progress in finding a job. They actually help you find a job like you’re some sort of college student. Of course, depending on your industry, this will be either effective or not so effective.

The fact that there is actually a living breathing individual that helps you with finding a job because you’re unemployed is a bit crazy to me to begin with. In America, if you’re unemployed, the only person you may speak with is to complain to someone about not receiving your unemployment benefits. They fact that they have someone dedicated to helping you is just crazy. Gotta love the German and socialized system that ensures people aren’t left in the dust.


Taking holidays while on unemployment?

While you’re on unemployment, you are entitled to 21 days of vacation or time away from your home location. If you are planning to take time to go on a vacation or see family, you must inform the Arbeitsamt.

There is a tool in the online portal to do so which simplifies the process greatly. You just need to fill in dates that you’ll be gone.

If you are gone for more than this time, then the Arbeitsamt can withhold payments for a specific time period since you are not spending your time looking for a new job.

If you are receiving unemployment benefits, you can apply for your absence online as a customer of the employment agency . For more information, see the Vacation and Moving page .

If you receive  unemployment benefit II , you must apply for your absence personally at your job center . You can find out more on the Availability and absence page .

You can apply for a leave of absence for a maximum of 21 days per year – a total of 3 weeks – without your income being affected. Weekends and public holidays also count. This means: If you have already been away for a total of 21 days in one year, you will no longer receive any financial support if you are absent again.

If you are also unavailable for more than 6 weeks at a time, you are not entitled to unemployment benefit or unemployment benefit II for the entire period. In such a case, you will have to apply again after your return .


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