Unemployment Benefit in Germany – Application Guide for Expats

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In this article, you will find everything you need to know about unemployment benefits in Germany, including unemployment benefit I (Arbeitslosengeld I) and unemployment benefit II (Arbeitslosengeld II/ Hartz IV). You will learn about their differences, how much money you can get, the duration of the benefits, and how you can apply for the benefits.

Moving to Germany or new in Germany? Check out our Support Page for all the resources you need!

Unemployment insurance is deducted from your salary every month

When I first received my payslip in Germany, I was shocked by the big difference between my gross and net income. Where did my salary go? Almost 40% of my gross salary was gone! Well, these are the taxes and insurances. It can be very annoying to know that we are contributing so much every month to the system. However, when shit happens, you will be happy that you are actually enrolled in these social systems.

Do you know that you are paying 2.4% of your salary (in 2020) to unemployment insurance (Arbeitslosenversicherung) every month? Half of this is paid by you and another half is paid by your employer. The unemployment insurance supports you in case you are unemployed.

Being laid off in Germany

Yes, it is not easy to be fired by your employer in Germany (luckily). However, a layoff can still happen (the Corona crisis makes it even more common to happen now). I personally have several friends who are being laid off by surprise. Some of them are even being fired once they returned back from their parental leave! In this case, you must know your right. Usually, the HR department will give you a package and tell you how attractive this package is. Do not accept the package before consulting your lawyer! It may sound very attractive to get 6 months’ salary as compensation. But in reality, you may be entitled to a year’s salary if you fight for it.

You need to have law protection insurance in Germany

That is why I always say: make sure you have law protection insurance in Germany! Without it, you may not be able to afford an expensive lawyer and you may have no choice but just to accept the compensation package offered by your employer.

This website provides a free initial assessment by qualified lawyers on your situation. Simply write your question below. The initial assessment or recommendation is free of charge. If you decide to take further actions, you will get a non-binding offer with the price and you can decide if you want to proceed or not.

Make sure you know your right in Germany

Ok, let’s say now you are really fired. What can you do next? Make sure you check if you are eligible to apply for unemployment benefits in Germany (that’s why you are paying for the unemployment insurance!) One thing I love about Germany is that people don’t have to be too scared if they will be able to survive in case of unemployment.

I grew up in Hong Kong where there are no such things (well, we also pay way fewer taxes on the other hand). Do you still remember the financial crisis in 1997? My mother was extremely worried every day that my father would lose his job (he was our only income source). And unfortunately, my father did lose his job due to the crisis. We had to sell our house and many other assets, and moved to a rural area to save cost and survive. If there were unemployment benefits in Hong Kong, it would have relieved much financial pressure in our family and we wouldn’t have to be so worried every day about our financial situation.

Therefore, I like the sense of security when living in Germany. The taxes and insurances are expensive, but it is worth it. You should make sure you know your right in Germany and utilize the resources when you are in need.

Two types of unemployment benefit in Germany

There are two types of unemployment benefit in Germany and below are their main differences:

Unemployment benefit I

Unemployment benefit II

  – It is provided by the Arbeitsagentur.

  – You must have worked in Germany for some time to be eligible for this benefit.

  – The benefit amount you will receive is based on your past salaries.

  – It is provided by the Job Center.

  – You can be eligible for this benefit even if you have never worked in Germany before.

  – It is usually a much lower amount as this benefit is only supposed to cover your basic needs to survive.

Unemployment benefit I (Arbeitslosengeld I) in Germany

Unemployment benefit I is provided by the Federal Agency (Bundesagentur für Arbeit or Arbeitsagentur). You can find your local employment office by using this link.

The unemployment benefit I is paid out from the unemployment insurance (Arbeitslosenversicherung). Therefore, whether you can receive the unemployment benefit I depends on how long and if you have paid into your unemployment insurance contribution. This contribution is normally deducted from your salary monthly together with other social, health insurance, and pension contributions. 

Read also: Salary in Germany: Are you getting paid enough?

Who can apply for unemployment benefit I in Germany?

  • You have the right to work in Germany by holding a settlement permit or temporary residence permit, or if you are an EU, EAA, or Swiss citizen
  • You are unemployed and have registered yourself as unemployed at the Arbeitsagentur
  • You are available and fit to work
  • You are willing to work together with Arbeitsagentur to actively look for a job subject to compulsory insurance for at least 15 hours per week
  • You have worked at least 12 months in the last 30 months in one or more jobs where you have paid your unemployment insurance contribution. (mini-jobs are not included as no unemployment insurance is paid)

Some exceptions to the 12 months rule:

  • If you have taken time out due to sickness or raising kids; 
  • If you worked frequently in different short term contracts before, you can be qualified for unemployment benefit I if you worked at least 6 months in the last 30 months, provided that most of your work contracts were up to 14 weeks long before.

If you have worked abroad before…

If you had a formal employment in other EU countries/ EEA states/ Switzerland before, your working time abroad will also be counted as long as you have a regular job after moving back to Germany (even a short one). 

For example, if you have worked in Norway for 2 years, and then 3 months in Germany and become unemployed, you are still qualified to apply for unemployment benefit I in Germany.

Suspension of unemployment benefit I payment in Germany

The suspension is also called a Sperrzeit. This is a period that your unemployment benefit payment is suspended (up to 12 weeks). A Sperrzeit may happen in the following situations:

  • If you quit your job instead of being fired*
  • If you are fired because of improper behavior
  • If you sign a termination agreement (Aufhebungsvertrag) with your employer and receive a severance payment (Abfindung)
  • If you refuse a job offer provided by the Arbeitsagentur
  • If you do not look for a new job actively or do not adopt the associated measures provided by the Arbeitsagentur, e.g. did not attend a reintegration event like professional training or language classes, or did not show up for your appointments with the Arbeitsagentur
  • If you do not register yourself as unemployed or do not apply for the unemployment benefit in time
Tips: 

*There can be exceptions for the Sperrzeit if you have a valid reason for your resignation with documentary proof. For example, if you resign because you are moving to another city to live with your partner.

How much money can you get from unemployment benefit I in Germany?

Your unemployment benefit will be calculated based on your average gross salary per day in the last 12 months. 20 percent will be deducted for payments like social security contributions and taxes, etc. to get to the net amount. Your unemployment benefit amount will be 60% of this net amount, or 67% if you have children.

The good thing is that during the time when you are receiving your unemployment benefit, the unemployment insurance will pay for your insurances like pension insurance, unemployment insurance, health insurance, and so on. So, you don’t have to worry about them and can focus on looking for a new job.

To have a better idea of how much unemployment benefits you will get based on your individual situation, you can use the calculator provided by the Arbeitsagentur here.

How long can you receive unemployment benefit I in Germany?

The answer depends on your age and how long you have contributed to your unemployment insurance. In short, the duration of your unemployment benefit is usually half of your unemployment insurance contribution period. 

For example, if you have paid your unemployment insurance contribution for 24 months, you can receive your unemployment benefit for 12 months. And you can only receive your unemployment benefit for 6 months if you have contributed to your unemployment insurance for 12 months.

Your entitlement period is also based on your age (see below for info in 2020):

Age

Unemployment insurance contribution period

Maximum unemployment benefit I duration

Below 50

12 months 

6 months

Below 50

20 months

10 months

Below 50

24 months or above

12 months

50 – 54

30 months or above

15 months

55 – 57

36 months or above

18 months

58 or above

48 months or above

24 months

If you worked frequently in different short term contracts before…

As mentioned before, you can be qualified for unemployment benefit I if you worked at least 6 months in the last 30 months in this case. It means that your unemployment benefit I duration can start with 3 months already, if you have contributed 6 months in your unemployment insurance. You can see some examples below.

Unemployment insurance contribution period

Maximum unemployment benefit I duration

6 months

3 months

8 months

4 months

10 months

5 months

How to apply for unemployment benefit I in Germany?

You can follow the below steps to apply for the unemployment benefit I in Germany.

1. Being fired

To get unemployment benefit I in Germany, you first need to be unemployed (obviously). There can be different situations if you are fired by your employer. You can be fired with a surprise, or you can be informed that your current contract simply won’t be renewed. 

As mentioned before, if you quit your job instead of being fired, your unemployment benefit payment will be subjected to a suspension for up to 12 weeks.

Termination letter

Make sure you get a termination letter (Arbeitsbescheinigung) from your employer once you know that you are being fired. The termination letter should state the reason for the decision, your last working day, and so on. You will need this letter to apply for the unemployment benefit later. 

Tips:

Even if you are just changing jobs and don’t need the unemployment benefit in Germany, you should always request a termination letter from your employer. It is because you may need it in case you want to apply for unemployment benefit in the future. 

Many people have issues as they cannot provide all the termination letters from their employers in the past, especially if they left their jobs on bad terms. Without the required termination letters, the Arbeitsagentur cannot calculate your unemployment benefit and you may only get a reduced amount. Note that your employer is legally required to give you the termination letter.

Besides the termination letter, it would be wise to also get a reference letter from your employer and decode the meaning behind it. For more details, check out this post: Decoding your Reference Letter in Germany (Arbeitszeugnis)

Notice period

It is important to know if any notice period applies. Your current contract often specifies a notice period so that you cannot be let go immediately. Instead, you usually have to go 3 months after your employer informs you. Sometimes, the notice period is less than 3 months. 

2. Register yourself as a job seeker

The length of your notice period is important concerning the application for unemployment benefit I. This is because you must register yourself as a job seeker in Arbeitsagentur 3 months before the last day of your employment. In case your notice period is less than 3 months, you must register within 3 days after you are informed by your employer.

If you register yourself later than this deadline, you may lose some money as the Arbeitsagentur may pay you the unemployment benefit later or in a shorter duration.

Registration can be done online at the Arbeitsagentur website. Or you can also call them or go there in person.

3. Register yourself as unemployed

On the first day without work (at the very latest), you have to register yourself as unemployed at the Arbeitsagentur. Normally, this must be done in person in the Arbeitsagentur office. Due to Corona, you can also choose to verify your identity online now instead of going to the office in person.

The following document would usually be needed for the registration:

  • ID card or passport
  • Certificate of registration (Meldebestätigung)
  • Visa or residence permit
  • Your CV
  • Termination letter from your employer and your work contract

4. Fill out the application form 

To apply for unemployment benefit I, you need to fill out an application form called “Antrag auf Arbeitslosengeld”. 

You can find this form on the Arbeitsagentur website, or you can also get a paper form at your local Arbeitsagentur office.

In the form, you have to provide personal information like your reason for application, if you have kids, etc. This is for the Arbeitsagentur to assess if you are qualified for the unemployment benefit I.

After sending your application form, you will usually receive an official confirmation by post within 2 weeks, stating how much unemployment benefits you can get in Germany and the duration. 

5. Work with Arbeitsagentur to look for a new job

You will be invited to meet with your counselor at the Arbeitsagentur afterward. During the meeting, you have to show that you are making your efforts to find a job. Therefore, you should have your updated CV ready and show your counselor that you are applying for jobs or going to job interviews. 

Make sure you have a good relationship with your counselor. Note that the Arbeitsagentur can stop your unemployment benefit in Germany if you do not show up in your meetings with the counselor, turn down job offers, or other training opportunities. You should also report to the Arbeitsagentur any changes in your personal situation that can impact your unemployment benefit in Germany, e.g. if you have found a new job.

In case you are looking for work in other EU countries, the Arbeitsagentur can also refer you to a specialized advisor from the European Employment Services (EURES).

Read also: How I found my permanent full-time job in Germany without speaking German

You may be able to get an advance payment in urgent cases

If you are urgently in need of money, you may be able to get an advance payment from the Arbeitsagentur. For example, if you are eligible to receive unemployment benefit, but the Arbeitsagentur has not yet approved your case officially as some documents are still pending. Or, if the Arbeitsagentur still needs more processing time until it can confirm your entitled unemployment benefit amount.

In these cases, the Arbeitsagentur can give you a preliminary decision and starts paying you with unemployment benefit based on this decision. On the other hand, you can also apply for advance payment when applying for the unemployment benefit.

It is important to know that in case your application is not approved or the approved benefit amount is less than the advance payment you received, you will need to pay back the difference.

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Unemployment benefit II (Arbeitslosengeld II or Hartz IV) in Germany

Unemployment benefit II in Germany is for people who do not have enough money to meet their basic needs. For example,

  • If you are not eligible for unemployment benefit I
  • If you have used up your entitlement for unemployment benefit I 
  • If your income or the money you receive from the unemployment benefit I is not enough to cover your basic living expenses

Note that unemployment benefit II is for people who are not going to survive without support. Therefore, whether you are eligible to apply depends on your income and assets (your savings, life insurance, etc.). If your income and assets are over the threshold, you will first need to use up your asset before you can get unemployment benefit II.

Unlike unemployment benefit I, unemployment benefit II is provided by your local Job Center.

Who can apply for unemployment benefit II in Germany?

  • You are at least 15 years old and have not yet reached your retirement age
  • Germany is your main place of residence
  • You can work for at least 3 hours a day and are looking for jobs
  • You or other members in your household need help to pay your basic living expenses
  • You have the right to work in Germany

People who are not fit to work (e.g. sick or disabled) will not be supported by unemployment benefit II. If they are living in the same household with someone who is entitled to unemployment benefit II, they will receive a social benefit (Sozialgeld).

Read also: Sick Leave In Germany – Everything you need to know

How much money can you get from unemployment benefit II in Germany?

The amount of money you will receive depends on your personal situation like marital status, age of your children, etc. Below is the amount for the year 2020.

  A single person or single parent

432 €

  Partners or married couples aged over 18

389 €

  Young people aged 18 to 24

345 €

  Children aged 14 to 17

328 €

  Children aged 6 to 13

308 €

  Children until 5 years old

250 €

The amount of money is supposed to cover your basic needs to survive in society. On top of this, the unemployment benefit II will also cover the below expenses:

  • Health insurance contributions
  • Nursing care insurance
  • Accommodation and heating (if the amount is reasonable)
  • Mandatory license fee for public service broadcasting “Rundfunkbeitrag”
  • Discount on public transport ticket, zoo, museums, and other cultural events 
  • Support for children and young adults, e.g. school necessities, school trips, culture and leisure activities, etc.
  • One-time expenses for special needs like giving birth or moving to a new home (to save cost)

You can use this unemployment benefit II calculator to estimate how much you can get.

How long can you receive unemployment benefit II in Germany?

The unemployment benefit II in Germany is usually paid out for 12 months. However, if you are self-employed or have a very volatile income, you will only receive the benefit for 6 months.

At the end of the benefit period, if you are still in need, you can apply again for an extension. The Job Center will reassess your situation to see if you are eligible to apply for the benefit again.

How to apply for unemployment benefit II in Germany?

Before applying for unemployment benefit II in Germany, you need to check if you are eligible for other social benefits first, e.g. maternity benefit, sickness benefit, child benefit, etc. You should only apply for unemployment benefit II if you still cannot meet your end needs after using all other social benefits. 

Normal steps to apply for unemployment benefit II in Germany

1. Register at your local Job Center

To apply for unemployment benefit II in Germany, you will need to register at your local Job Center. You will talk with an advisor there about your current situation.

2. Fill in the main application form

Then, you need to fill in the main application form to provide your basic information and state your current situation. You have to submit the completed form to the Job Center.

3. Hand in other support documents or forms

The Job Center will inform you of what other documents it needs to prove your eligibility. The required document varied case by case. You will usually need to provide your bank statement, proof of your income and asset, your rental contract, etc. You will find all the other forms you may need during your application here.

4. Getting the result

After the application, you will receive a notification from the Job Center per post about the decision. If your unemployment benefit II gets approved, you will see a schedule of payment in the notification. You will also find all the next steps you need to take, e.g. applying for jobs, attending professional training, etc.

Simplified steps to apply for unemployment benefit II in Germany during the Corona time

The Corona crisis has put many people in a difficult situation. Social help is needed urgently and therefore, the Job Center has simplified the application steps for unemployment benefit II during this time.

1. Apply online at the Job Center website

The simplified application process now allows you to apply directly online. Go to this link and put in your postal code. Follow the instructions and finish the application steps.

During the online application, you will need to download a simplified application form, fill it in, and upload it online again. You may need to fill in other forms as well (see the instructions in the simplified application form). You can find all the other forms here. All the necessary forms and support documents need to be uploaded online.

2. Notification from the Job Center

The Job Center will inform you in case any more documents are needed. If it needs more documents, you will need to go to the Job Center’s website and upload them again.

If no more documents are needed, the Job Center will inform you about the decision whether you will get unemployment benefit II or not.

If you are not satisfied with the result…

If your application for unemployment benefit II is declined, or the amount of benefit granted is too low, you should ask for the reason why. If you do not agree with the decision, you can file an objection and try to reverse the decision. You can hire a lawyer free of charge here who can help you to file an objection.

Your duties when receiving unemployment benefit II

If your personal situation changes, e.g. if you get more income, you should inform your Job Center immediately. You need to report to your Job Center regularly and show your proof of job searching upon requests at any time.

Before you travel to other cities (on holiday), you need to first inform your Job Center to get its approval. You are not allowed to leave the city you live for more than 3 weeks in a year, when you are receiving unemployment benefit II.

Your Job Center may require you to join some training or education to increase your chance to find a job. You should be ready to take any job offers.

If you fail the requirements above, you will risk losing your unemployment benefit II in Germany.

Read also: Job interview in Germany: 6 tips to boost your chances of getting hired

Do you consider becoming self-employed?

One good thing to know is that if you are unemployed and would like to start up your own business, the advisor from your Arbeitsagentur can provide you with a consulting service about setting up your business in Germany. If you meet the requirements, you may even be able to get a start-up grant from the Arbeitsagentur. 

For more information, you can have a look at the Arbeitsagentur website here. You can book an appointment with an advisor from Arbeitsagentur here.

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Please be aware that this article is only intended to provide an overview of unemployment benefits in Germany. We will try to keep the information in this article updated regularly. In case you see any outdated information, please let us know and we will update this article accordingly. Our blog accepts no liability in any case. If you need any more details or the most up-to-date information, please refer to the Arbeitsagentur and Job Center websites directly.

Have you applied for unemployment benefit I or unemployment benefit II in Germany? Do you have any tips regarding the application? Leave a comment below and share your experience!

 

Moving to Germany or new in Germany? Check out our Support Page for all the resources you need!

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