Laid Off in Germany? Your Unemployment Benefits Guide

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Are you in the challenging position of having lost your job? Even without navigating German bureaucracy, knowing what to do next can be difficult.

Before anything else: apply for unemployment benefits.

Germany boasts one of the best social security systems in the world, with a relatively low barrier to entry and unemployment financial aid (Arbeitslosengeld), which may even include health insurance. 

In this guide, we’ll take you through the eligibility criteria, types of German unemployment benefits, and how to apply.

Use the clickable menu to skip to a specific section!

  1. Am I eligible for unemployment benefits in Germany?
  2. The types of unemployment benefits in Germany
  3. Steps to take to get unemployment benefits in Germany
    1. When to register
    2. Who to contact
    3. Which documents do I need?
  4. Key takeaways

1. Am I eligible for unemployment benefits in Germany?

There are several prerequisites to receiving unemployment benefits in Germany. They range from your citizenship or residency status and the length of your employment to whether you made social contributions before losing your job.

This section looks at general requirements and then split them based on citizenship status (EU versus non-EU citizens).

General eligibility criteria

  • Length of time worked: You must have worked for a minimum of 12 months in total in the last 30 months preceding your job loss and made social security contributions, whether voluntary or otherwise. 

These social contributions are known as unemployment insurance (Arbeitslosenversicherung). They’re calculated at 2.5% of your income. Your employer pays half, and you pay the other half.

You can make voluntary contributions if you’re self-employed, a contractor, or have some other form of employment outside the “normal 9 to 5”. 

If you’ve only had short-term employment, you could still be eligible, provided that each term was not more than 14 weeks and, cumulatively, you worked six months. 

Note that you need to do this at least three months before the termination of your employment. 

If the employment ended later than that, you need to contact the relevant agency and schedule an appointment within three days. 

The latest you can register as unemployed is within the first day of your unemployment. If you don’t register as unemployed, you are denied access to unemployment benefit category 1.

  • Efforts towards ending your unemployment status: you need to be making efforts to find employment, for example, via job applications, interviews, and willingness to work at least 15 hours weekly, and accepting available and reasonable employment.

Unemployment benefits in Germany if you quit your job

If you resign from your job, you can only receive employment benefits after a period of three months. This blocking period is known as Sperrzeit.

Unemployment benefits for EU citizens in Germany 

In addition to the general eligibility criteria discussed above, there are specific requirements for EU citizens in Germany. 

  • Your last job must have been in Germany.
  • You must have paid social contributions.
  • You must have worked in Germany for over a year and become unemployed involuntarily (you didn’t resign). If you worked for less than one year, you’re only entitled to unemployment benefits for six months.
  • Employment periods in other EU countries, the EEA, or Switzerland can contribute towards your unemployment benefits, especially if your last job was in Germany. However, you need to show proof of employment during those periods by filling out a PD U1 form.

The good news is that, as an EU citizen, you can access your German unemployment benefit in another EU country for between three to six months. You can also use your unemployment benefit from another EU country in Germany.

You must confirm any additional requirements with your employment agency before transferring benefits from one country to another.

You also need to register as unemployed in Germany to access unemployment benefits.

Unemployment benefits for non-EU citizens in Germany

Unemployment benefits for foreigners in Germany are highly dependent on residence status. 

You can apply for unemployment benefits with a permanent residency permit, also known as a settlement permit. 

Temporary residence permit holders are also eligible for unemployment benefits. 

You might also be eligible for unemployment benefits as a blue card holder.

  1. You need to inform the Ausländerbehörde (immigration office) about your unemployment.
  2. Confirm whether your blue card is linked to employment, as it may become invalid if you change jobs or lose your current one.
  3. If your blue card is tied to the holder rather than employment, it is still valid for three months in the event of unemployment and six months if you’ve been a blue card holder for two years.
  4. Ensure you register as unemployed with your local Agentur within the required period. Additionally, having someone fluent in German (at least A2-level) with you will be helpful!
  5. Lastly, confirm whether your visa is tied to your former employer, as it may affect your eligibility for unemployment benefits and make it impossible to be placed in a new job.

2. The types of unemployment benefits in Germany

Phew! You’ve found out that you’re eligible for unemployment benefits. But all this talk about ALG 1, ALG 2, Hartz 4, and the citizens’ benefit, as well as all the registration and confirmation you need to do, can be overwhelming.

Let’s try to break it down.

Unemployment benefits in Germany are divided into two main categories: Arbeitslosengeld (ALG 1) and Arbeitslosengeld 2 (now known as Bürgergeld). You can also get fully-funded training, which includes some financial support. 

The Bürgergeld replaced Arbeitslosengeld 2, also known as Hartz 4, at the beginning of 2023. 

The two unemployment benefit categories have different eligibility requirements. They also differ in the benefits available and the period for which they can cushion you. 

Understanding the categorization will help you know which one you qualify for. If you’re unsure which category best fits your circumstances, contact your local Agentur. 

Let’s discuss the unemployment benefit categories in more detail.

Unemployment benefit 1 (Arbeitslosengeld 1)

Arbeitslosengeld 1 (ALG 1) is the first unemployment benefit category you can apply for (if you’re eligible). 

To do so, you must have paid unemployment insurance for 12 months in the last 30 months.

The Federal Employment Agency (Bundesagentur für Arbeit) makes ALG 1 payments monthly. 

The amount of contributions you have made and your previous average net salary in the last 12 months preceding your unemployment determine the amount you’ll receive. 

The maximum contribution cap (7,300 EUR in Western Germany and 7,100 EUR in Eastern Germany) and other income sources may also be considered.

It’s important to note that ALG 1 has deductions, just like any so-called normal income. You still pay taxes, insurance, and social contributions—but the Agentur makes the contributions on your behalf.

The Agentur provides an unemployment benefit calculator to help you calculate the amount you’ll receive.

  • Your final unemployment benefit amount will be 60% after deductions or 67% after deductions if you have children.
  • Your age, the number of years you’ve worked, and the amount of unemployment insurance contributions you’ve made all affect how long ALG 1 cushions you for. 

ALG 1 covers you for half of the time you’ve contributed. The longest period is 24 months if you’ve contributed for 48 months and are aged 58 and above. If you’re less than 50 years old, your ALG 1 coverage period is capped at 12 months.

Bürgergeld (formerly Arbeitslosengeld 2)

The Bürgergeld (citizens’ benefit or allowance) has seemingly fewer restrictions when it comes to having worked in Germany and contributes to unemployment insurance. However, it also has fewer benefits, for example, regarding the disbursed amounts.

You can apply for the citizens’ allowance if you’re no longer eligible for ALG 1; for instance, if the ALG 1 period has expired and you still haven’t gotten a job. 

Unlike ALG 1, your main point of contact will be your local job center.

The main requirements to qualify for the citizens’ benefit include:

  • A permit to work in Germany.
  • You’re able to work for a minimum of three hours a day.
  • You cannot meet basic needs (food, clothing, healthcare, and housing) with your current income.
  • You’re between the age of 15 and the official retirement age in Germany.

EU, EEA, and Swiss citizens must have previously worked in Germany and lost their employment. They may not be considered if the job loss was due to misconduct.

The residence status of third-country residents will determine their eligibility. In addition, they may be required to fulfill one of the following:

  • Having previously received ALG 1 and the benefits ran out.
  • Having worked for at least three months in the last six months preceding your unemployment.
  • Having been a registered German resident for at least five years.

Note that you aren’t eligible if you’re already receiving financial support from another program, for example, as an asylum seeker. If you have a job seeker’s visa whose sole goal is to seek employment in Germany, you aren’t eligible for the Bürgergeld.

Freelancers, self-employed people, and people with “mini-jobs” that have low income can also qualify for ALG 2. 

The Bürgergeld comprises a monthly payment, “standard support”, and an extra amount for heating and accommodation. Standard support is calculated at 502 EUR for a single person and 451 EUR for each person in a couple.

There is a chance that you might be required to move to a cheaper apartment to make the accommodation costs more reasonable. 

You might get a public transportation discount. The exact amount and range of benefits may vary depending on your circumstances, such as age, whether you live alone or with others, are pregnant, or are a single parent.

Children and young adults up to age 25 might be eligible for additional support for private tuition, school supplies, and extra lessons like music and school trips.

You might also benefit from one-off payments, such as buying items for your child and from benefits per child. 

The citizens’ allowance is designed to help those in need, referred to as a “community of need”. For example, parents and their children or a couple living together.

You might be eligible for the citizens’ benefit if you’re unable to earn, for example, due to illness and are part of a “community of need”. 

The Bürgergeld requires you to have used up your income and assets before qualifying. However, they refer to assets worth 40,000 EUR for an individual and 15,000 EUR for every additional member of the “community of need”. After the first year, all assets will be considered. 

You can use the citizens’ benefit calculator to get an approximate unemployment benefit 2 amount.

ALG 2 can cushion you for up to 12 months and six months for freelancers. You can consult with your local job center if this period expires. 

Fully-funded vocational training (Bildungsgutschein)

In addition to the main unemployment benefits, you can access fully-funded vocational training with the Bildungsgutschein.

Unlike ALG 1 and the Bürgergeld, the Bildungsgutschein has less stringent requirements. It’s a helpful way to upskill, and you’re likely to get gainful employment far sooner.

To be eligible, you need to be living in Germany and have proof of residency. The Bildungsgutschein gives you a voucher that allows you to undergo vocational training in an accredited institution such as CareerFoundry.

And you don’t need to forgo your unemployment benefits. There might even be additional benefits, depending on your circumstances.

Learn more about the Bildungsgutschein and how to use it in this article or watch this video!

3. Steps to take to get unemployment benefits in Germany

This section looks at the steps to make your unemployment benefits application process as smooth as possible. 

The first step you need to take is to register as a job seeker. If you don’t register within the stipulated time, you risk facing a blocking period known as Sperrzeit or exclusion from benefits for an entire week. 

Next, you need to register as unemployed. This helps to ensure that you can begin getting financial support early on if you don’t get a job.

Finally, you need to apply for your unemployment benefits.

Let’s look at the entire process in detail, including registration deadlines, the offices to contact, and the documents you need. 

1. When to register

It’s important to note that there are two types of registrations that you need to make—as a job seeker and as an unemployed person—before registering for unemployment benefits. 

When to register as a job seeker in Germany

The earliest you can register as a job seeker is three months before the end of your unemployment. 

If there wasn’t any prior notice, you need to register within three days of learning about your unemployment. 

If you fail to meet these deadlines, you’ll be excluded from benefits for an entire week. 

When to register as unemployed in Germany

You need to register as unemployed as soon as you learn about unemployment. The final date you can register as unemployed is on the first day of your unemployment. 

Even if you registered as a job seeker, you still need to register as unemployed.

Registering for unemployment benefits

You need to register for unemployment benefits three months before losing your employment if you have that much advance notice, but regardless, you need to do so at the earliest possible date. This could be as soon as your employer gives you notice or informs you that your contract might not be renewed.

If you didn’t know about the job loss in advance, you must register within three days of learning about it.

2. Who to contact 

To apply for unemployment benefits, visit the Agentur’s website, or your local Agentur, or call the free hotline (0800-4 555-500). You can also inquire about the prerequisite unemployment registration or registration as a job seeker.

You’ll still need to go to your local Agentur to complete the registration process. This should be done on the first day of your unemployment, at the very latest. You may need a translator if you’re not fluent in German.

Eventually, you’ll be asked to book an appointment with a counselor at your local employment agency. 

The counselor will evaluate your qualifications and help you develop possible job search options, of course, with the support of the Agentur, for example, via their job board or even the Bildungsgutschein.

3. Which documents do I need? 

When applying for unemployment benefits, you need the following documents:

  • Identification documents (ID card or passport, which should show your visa information). If applying online, ensure that the online function of your identity card, eID card, or residence permit is activated.
  • Proof of living costs, for example, utility bills.
  • Income and asset information and documentation.
  • Bank statements (last six months).
  • Termination letter.
  • Employment contract.
  • Your unemployment benefits application.
  • Proof of residence, for example, a rental contract.
  • Your health insurance card. 

You should expect a decision within two weeks. If approved, you should get a confirmation via mail and receive your unemployment benefit monthly via bank account.

4. Key takeaways

Unemployment benefits in Germany are a fantastic help when you lose your job—or are about to. 

The most important thing is to ensure that you register as a job seeker and as unemployed and begin your unemployment benefits application within the laid-down deadlines. 

This will smooth the process and avoid delays and penalties that could affect your penalties.

You also need to understand your eligibility and the different unemployment benefit categories you qualify for. 

Residency status highly impacts unemployment benefits for foreigners in Germany. If you aren’t a German citizen, ensure you have the proper paperwork in place. 

As an EU citizen, inquire about previous social contributions and work periods in other countries that can be transferred to Germany and vice versa. 

We hope this unemployment benefits guide answered many of your questions and that you’re ready to begin the application process or help someone else with theirs. If you want to find our more about living in Germany, be sure to read our complete guide.

If you’d like to learn more about how to go about getting an educational voucher (Bildungsgutschein) that you can use for the CareerFoundry programs, check out the following guides:

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