Working in Germany: Getting a German Work PermitGermany is a great choice for expats looking for a career boost!

In this article, you will find useful information for anyone wishing to work and live in Germany – job search, visa application, work and residency permit, health insurance, taxes, and more.

You can live and work in Germany even if you are not an EU citizen, provided that you meet the set eligibility criteria. To be allowed to live and work there legally, you must have a German work and residence permit.

You don’t have to apply for a German work permit separately from a residence permit; you get them both through a single application at the German Immigration Authority Office (Ausländerbehörde). Most non-EU workers will also have to get a visa from a German Embassy or Consulate abroad.

Categories of Work Permits in Germany

There are different types of German work permits based on your qualifications and employment type:

  • General Work Permit – You can apply for this type of German work permit if you have found a job in Germany which could not have been filled by an EU national. You don’t need to have extraordinary skills as long as you are qualified for the job.
  • Highly Skilled Worker Permit – You can apply for this type of work permit if you are a highly skilled worker with a lot of experience and a high income.
  • The EU Blue Card – You can apply for an EU Blue Card if your salary will be at least €56,800 per year or €44,304 per year if you are in a shortage occupation.
  • Work Permit for Freelancers – You can apply for this type of permit if you are a freelancer or self-employed individual and you can prove you have prospective clients.

Eligible Foreign Workers in Germany

Anyone who finds employment in Germany can apply for a German work permit, but the application process and requirements differ depending on where you come from. There are three qualifying categories, depending on nationality:

  • EU/EEA/Switzerland
  • USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Japan, or South Korea
  • Other non-EU nationals

Foreign Workers from the EU, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Iceland

If you are a citizen of the EU, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Norway, or Iceland, you do not need to apply for a visa nor a permit to work in Germany. The only thing you must do is register your stay if you plan to be there for longer than three months.  To register your say, you must visit the local Residence Registration Office (Einwohnermeldeamt) or Immigration Office (Ausländerbehörde).

Foreign Workers from the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Japan, or South Korea

If you are from the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Japan, or South Korea, you can go to Germany, find work, and apply for the work and residence permit directly from the Ausländerbehörde. You do not need to get an entry visa for employment from the German Embassy in your home country.

Other non-EU nationals

If you are from another non-EU country (outside the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Japan, or South Korea) then the work permit application is a little more complicated. You have to:

  1. Find a job.
  2. Apply for an entry visa for employment purposes from the German Embassy.
  3. Travel to Germany and apply for the work and residence permit at the Ausländerbehörde.

Alternatively, you can also:

  1. Apply for a Job-Seeker Visa for Germany.
  2. Find employment.
  3. Submit your work residence permit application to the Ausländerbehörde.

What you cannot do is enter Germany with a Schengen Visa or through the visa-free agreement and apply for the work permit. Your application will be immediately rejected. You must prove to the Immigration Authority that you have entered Germany with the purpose of employment, not tourism.

Applying for the German Work and Residence Permit

You have to apply for a single permit for work and residence once you enter Germany at the German Immigration Authorities (Ausländerbehörde). Most people also need a visa from the German Embassy to enter the country. The application process is as follows:

  1. Apply for an Employment Visa or Job-Seeker Visa at the German Embassy.
  2. Register your living address at the local Citizens’ Registration Office (Bürgeramt).
  3. Get health insurance.
  4. Make an appointment at the Ausländerbehörde.
  5. Gather the required documents.
  6. Submit the work and residence permit application at the Ausländerbehörde.

1. Applying for a Visa at the German Embassy

You can apply for either an Employment Visa or a Job-Seeker Visa for Germany. The type of visa you apply for depends on whether you have a job offer or not:

  • You apply for an Employment Visa if you already have a job offer from a company in Germany and you want to enter the country to get a work and residence permit.
  • You apply for a Job-Seeker Visa if you want to go to Germany and find a job. It is valid for six months, during which time you have to look for and find work. Once you have found a job, you can then submit your application for the work and residence permit.

The Employment and Job-Seeker Visas are known as long-term visas. You need one so you can enter Germany legally, notifying the authorities that you are travelling for the purpose of setting down and working in Germany.  Before the visa expires, you have to submit the application for a residence permit.

Nearly everyone has to apply for a visa for employment/job-seeking at the German Embassy or Consulate in their home country.

You are only exempt from applying for a visa if you are a citizen of the United States of America, Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Switzerland or South Korea. In this case, you can simply enter Germany, find a job, and submit your application for a work permit – no entry visa required.

You cannot enter Germany through a tourist visa and submit a work permit application!

2. Registering your living address in Germany

Once you find accommodation in Germany and move in, you must go to the local Resident’s Registration Office (Bürgeramt) and register your address. The process is as follows:

  1. Contact the local Bürgeramt and make an appointment. If you are not sure where that is or how to get in touch, simply look up “Bürgeramt + the name of your city” online.
  2. Complete the registration form. You can get the form in a physical copy at the Bürgeramt or download it.
  3. Collect these documents:
    • Rental agreement
    • Confirmation from your landlord that you have moved in at your address.
    • Your passport.
  4. Submit the documents at the Bürgeramt on the date of your appointment.
  5. Get your Residence Registration Document (Meldebescheinigung). You need this document when you apply for a work and residence permit at the Ausländerbehörde. You will usually receive it within the same day you apply.

3. Getting health insurance

Once you get a residence permit for work, you can enrol with German statutory health insurance. However, you still need some form of insurance when you submit the application. Because public health insurers will likely not accept to cover you if you don’t have a proper residence permit yet, your best option at this time is to get an insurance plan from a private company.

Once your application is finalized, you will be eligible for the statutory health insurance scheme.

4. Making an appointment at the Ausländerbehörde

Once you have registered your address and gotten health insurance, you should make an appointment at the German Immigration Authorities (Ausländerbehörde). There are different Ausländerbehörde offices based on the region, so just find the website of the office you must go to, and follow the instructions for booking an appointment.

For example, if you are settled in Berlin, you can book an Ausländerbehörde appointment here.

After you book an appointment, you will usually get a confirmation email that includes the date and hour of the appointment, the address, as well as an appointment number.

Sometimes, you may be able to go to the office directly (without an appointment), get a number, and wait in line, but most German immigration offices have abolished this option after the coronavirus outbreak. You will most likely need to make an online appointment.

5. Collecting the required documents for a residence permit for work

The documents you need when applying for a work and residence permit in Germany include:

  • Your passport.
  • Passport-size pictures. They must follow the ICAO visa photo guidelines.
  • The application form for a residence permit. In German: Antrag auf Erteilung eines Aufenthaltstitels.
  • Declaration on the Employment Relationship. This is known as the Erklärung zum Beschäftigungsverhältnis and has to be completed by your employer. You can find it on the website of the German Federal Agency for Work (the form is in German).
  • Your work contract or offer. It must state your position, the duration of your employment, as well as your salary.
  • The Certificate of Registration (Meldebescheinigung).
  • The housing lease along with a written confirmation letter of residency from your landlord.
  • Your university or college diploma. Original copy.
  • Proof of health insurance. If you have statutory insurance, submit the electronic health card and a confirmation of health insurance. If you have private health insurance, you must submit a certificate from your health insurance provider, proving that you have paid your contributions and mentioning the details of your insurance. We would recommend DR-WALTER’s health insurance plans!
  • A Curriculum Vitae (CV).
  • Bank statements.
  • Cover letter. It must state the reason you are applying, the work you will do, and give an introduction of yourself.
  • Any other required documents that the Ausländerbehörde may ask for.

6. Submit the application for a residence permit for work at the Ausländerbehörde

Once you have collected all the required documents, you can submit your completed application at the Ausländerbehörde on the date of your appointment. As with all bureaucratic matters, you may have to wait a while until your number is called, but you should still arrive a little early. Keep in mind the following as well:

  • Dress appropriately, even if it’s more on the “formal”, office style side.
  • Keep your documents in a folder or binder and well-organized.
  • You may also have to pay an application fee, so take some cash or your credit card with you.

From the moment you submit the application, it will take a few weeks to receive an answer. If the waiting period is longer than the validity of your entry visa, it is not a problem seeing as the fact that you are awaiting a decision makes your stay legal.

Once you receive your residence permit, you can start working in Germany!

Health Insurance for Employees in Germany

There are two types of German health insurance schemes: public and private. If you are employed in Germany and earn less than €60,750/year (5,063/month), then you are obligated by law to enrol under a public health insurance scheme (hence why it is also referred to as “statutory insurance”). Every month, 14.6% of your gross salary goes towards your health insurance contributions; you pay half while your employer pays the other half.

If you earn more than €60,750/year, you are allowed to unsubscribe from statutory insurance and get a private health insurance plan instead. This is an option mostly preferred by single, young, healthy, and high-income workers. That’s because they can find a private health insurance plan which would cost them less than a statutory one.

Taxes You Have to Pay as a Foreign Worker in Germany

Once you have a German work permit and start work, you will have to pay income tax. The income tax rate in Germany starts at 14% to a maximum of 45%, based on how much you make; if you make less than €9,744 per year, you are exempt from paying income tax.  Here is the income tax rate, depending on your salary:

SalaryIncome tax rate
Up to €9,744 per year0%
Between €9,745 – €57,918 per year14% to 42%
Between €57,919 – €274,612 per year42%
Over €274,613 per year45%

 

There are also other types of taxes, which do not necessarily affect you as an employee. For example:

  • Value Added Tax – VAT. Businesses and freelancers have to charge Mehrwertsteuer (value added tax) on their products and services, which they submit to the German state through the Finanzamt. The VAT rate in Germany is at 19%, while a reduced rate of 7% applies to products like food.
  • Church tax. The Church Tax in Germany is at 8% to 9% of your income tax, but you only pay it if you want to become a member of Germany’s established churches.

Who Pays the Taxes?

Your employer automatically deducts income tax every month from your salary; you pay half the tax contribution yourself while your employer covers the other half. Freelancers, on the other hand, usually pay all the contributions themselves.

At the end of the tax year, you have the option to file for tax returns at the Finanzamt, through the ELSTER portal in case you have paid more than you should. However, as a salaried employee, it is very rare to receive reimbursement on your taxes.

Getting Together With Your Family

If you have a German work and residence permit, you can bring your immediate family members to live in Germany with you, through a Family Reunion Visa. An immediate family member is:

  • Your spouse or registered partner.
  • Your minor children, including adopted children.
  • Adult children, who are dependent on you.
  • Your elderly parents, who are dependent on you.
  • Any siblings, who are dependent on you.

Your family may apply for their visas at the same time as you or after you have already settled in Germany. The process is similar to the German work permit application, so:

  • If your family members have American, Australian, Canadian, Israeli, Japanese, New Zealand, Swiss or South Korean citizenship, they can apply for a residence permit for family reunification after they come to Germany.
  • If your family members are from another non-EU country, they have to apply for a permit at the German Embassy in their home country.
  • If your family members are from an EU/EEA country, they do not need a visa or residence permit at all. They can simply move to Germany with you and register their stay.

Finding a Job in Germany

Finding a job in Germany when you are from another country is undoubtedly going to be challenging. However, the German Government has facilitated the job hunting and application process for third-country nationals, through online job listings and a “quick check” quiz to find out your eligibility for a work permit. If you want to know what your chances of finding a job and see job openings, you will find the following sites useful:

  • Quick-Check – This is a website from the German Federal Government which allows you to find out how much of a chance you have to immigrate to Germany as a qualified professional. You have to answer about your academic background, whether you have a job offer, and so on.
  • The Job Portal of the Federal Employment Agency (BA) – This is the biggest job market in Germany, and is updated daily. You can open a profile and post, which allows employers to contact you as well.
  • “Make it in Germany’s” Job Listings – This site lists job vacancies that are initially posted on the website of the Federal Employment Agency (BA). You can search and filter out jobs through profession or qualifications.
  • EURES – The European Job Mobility Portal (EURES) is a network of Employment Agencies throughout the EU, promoting job openings and advisories. The German Federal Employment Agency (BA) is part of EURES.
  • Recognition in Germany – This is a portal of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, for the recognition of foreign professional qualifications. It offers a guide (available in 11 languages) on how to get your qualifications recognized in Germany.

What You Need for a Job Application in Germany

You can usually apply for a job online, through an application portal or by sending your CV and other required documents via email. The documents you may be asked to provide include:

  • Curriculum Vitae (CV).
  • Cover letter.
  • Work samples.
  • Education certificates.

You should attach the documents as PDF files. If you do not have electronic copies, scan them but make sure it is high quality and easily legible scan. Also make sure the file names include your first and last name, not simply CV, Cover Letter, etc. The recruiter is likely looking at dozens of CVs and cover letters, so you want to stand out.

Attending the Job Interview

If your application impresses your potential employer in Germany, you will likely have to attend a job interview.  The job interview is the time for you to make a good impression and prove that you would be an important asset to the company. Dress appropriately, be on time, listen to the questions carefully and take your time to formulate your answer. Make sure your answers are compatible with the information provided in your application.

In some cases, German companies pay for your interview costs. In case you cannot physically attend the interview – for example, you are in your home country – you should contact the company and request a phone or virtual interview. If the company requires your physical presence, inquire whether they will cover your travelling and accommodation costs.

Either way, once you have attended the interview it is highly impressive to the company if you write an email thank you letter for the offered opportunity to attend the interview. Within the letter reaffirm key discussions made during the interview, to remind you why you make the best candidate for the job.

When Employed

After the interview, you will likely hear back in a few days whether you have been selected and you will be presented with a job offer or a work contract. You need a work contract or job offer with the following information in order to successfully apply for the German work permit:

  • Your name and address
  • Your employer’s name and address.
  • The period of time that the contract is valid.
  • The time that you will spend on a company is a probationary period.
  • Where you will be working. Will you work in the same place or move to different working places during the contract term?
  • The scope of work and all detailed description of the position.
  • Your salary, including the time of salary receipt, overtime payment, weekend payment and holiday payments.
  • Your working hours.
  • Recognized holidays.
  • Notification term.