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Health insurance in Germany

Germany is often praised for having one of the best health insurance system in the world. It may very well be true but it also very complex! I have also struggled to understand it when first arriving here so i thought i’d share my experience in this overview covering the different types, and what to do if you need one of a residence permit. 🙂

health insurance in germany residence permit

Health insurance in Germany: efficient but complex

In some countries, health insurance is managed by the government as a public service, and in some others it is purely a private service. Germany has a hybrid & interesting system.

The German state has delegated around 300 insurance companies to manage it’s population’s health coverage. They all work under a contract with the state, can be public or private and are called “Krankenkasse”. Now the trick is that you can sometimes choose if you want to insured by a private one depending on your income situation. Let’s try to understand how health insurance in Germany works.

There a 3 kinds of status of health insurance in Germany you can be under: Gesetzlich, Freiwillig or Privat.

1- Public insurance – Gesetzlich (GKV)

Gesetzlich (versichert) also called pflicht(versichert) is most typical coverage as it compulsory for people earning less than 56K€ a year. You have to be insured by a public insurance company that your employer will most likely pick for you if it is your first job in Germany. Your employer will directly take over the payment of the coverage by paying its share and yours through your wage. The rate is set by law at 14.6%.

The good news is that what you pay is directly related to what you earn so if you face a sudden decrease in income, the fee will also decreasing. If you have kids, being with the public system is really good because you can take your kids under your own coverage at no extra cost.

2- Voluntary public insurance – Freiwillig

Freiwillig (versichert) is basically the same at Gesetzlich except that you earn more than 56K€ a year. You will then pay your share directly to your Krankenkasse while your employer adds your half to your gross salary. This can also mean that you are self-employed and choose to stay in the public system, to make use of its advantages, despite the higher costs compare to private coverage.

3- Private insurance – Privat (PKV)

Privat (versichert) means that you choose to insured at a private Krankenkasse provided you earn more than 56K€ a year or don’t qualify for the public system for any number of reasons. The fees applied by private Krankenkasse are usually lower than in public ones for a better coverage if you are a young healthy person, but it increases over time.

Private Krankenkassen have more complex offers than public ones in terms of what get covered and so on, so choose wisely. You also get different advantages like reduced waiting time at the clinic or at-home nurses. However, it does come with drawbacks. If you have kids, you have to pay extra for each them to have them covered. Coming back to the public system after being in the private one is also extremely difficult if not impossible.

Basically, in the public system, the rate depends on what you earn, and in the private system, it depends on your health risks.

The biggest companies for health insurance in Germany are : Techniker Krankenkasse, AOK : Allgemeine Ortskrankenkasse, BKK: Betriebskrankenkasse, IKK : Innungskrankenkasse, LKK : Landwirtschaftliche Krankenkasse, etc…

All in all, depending on your Krankenkasse, you usually pay directly or indirectly minimum 180€ per month to be covered by your health insurance in Germany. The bill can even reach a whooping 500 – 600 € if you are freelancing with decent earnings. I’m coming from a country where social and health insurance is provided for free to all, so it came a bit as a shock the first months as you can imagine.


“If I have enough money to pay rent, transport, and Krankenkasse, I’m on safe side.”

A German friend of mine

A minority of people also decide not to take coverage because they cannot afford health insurance in Germany. However this is illegal and i strongly advise against doing such thing.

Of course when you go home to visit your family and simply go abroad for holidays in Europe, your German health insurance will cover you and giving your reference numbers should be enough to be reimbursed in the end. Be careful though, you will be reimbursed at the rate that is considered normal for that particular treatment in Germany, so while it will probably cover most of the costs, the rest will come from your pocket in some cases.

Health insurance in Germany is efficient, but still costly for individuals.

How to sign up for public health insurance in Germany

There are a number of ways to sign-up once you have made a choice. You could go to one of their offices or download a form on their websites. If you are in a hurry and need a certificate to start working or to apply for a long-term visa, you can sign-up for TK online, in only a few minutes via this form (100% in English).

The Techniker Krankenkasse has consistently been rated the best Krankenkasse for almost 10 years a row. A sure choice. And they are able to offer some guidance in English too, when needed.

Finding the best rates for private health insurance in Germany

Public Krankenkassen offer more or less the same amount of service across the board for roughly the same price. This is however not the case for private Krankenkassen. Think about how internet providers have different plans and different level of services; the market is more complex and more diverse. You need to pay attention, explore the market and pick something that suits your needs. A good place to do that are comparison platforms like TarifCheck or Preisvergleich. It lets you pick options to define what coverage you want. These are:

  • If you want additional coverage like teeth, vision, alternative medicine (Zusatzleistungen)
  • On the financial side, how much deductible you can afford (Selbstbeteiligung)
  • If you have to stop working for a while, when should a daily sickness allowance should kick in, and how much it should be (Krankentagegeld)
  • If you stay at a hospital, do you wish to have a private room, be handled by the head doctor, etc. (Krankenhausleistungen)

If you are an artist, a writer, performer: think KSK

The German government knows it hard to make a living when being an artist. Paying an expensive health insurance on top of everything else is not easy. That’s why Künstlersozialkasse (KSK) exists. If you are able to prove your main occupation is to live from artistic and creative jobs, the KSK will pay half of your current fees every month (only if you are part of the public system). The tricky part is that there is not a clear distinctions between what’s a art job and what’s not so it might be hard to get into it. Some people hire specialists to fill in the paperwork to make sure they tick the right boxes.

Taking on a German health insurance for residence permit or other visas

If you are not an EU citizen and you love Germany so much that you plan to stay to study or for a job, you will need to show that you have chosen an health insurance in Germany. It is required to obtain a residence permit or even enroll in a university. Germany is usually not very good at recognizing non-EU systems so make sure your health insurance is valid for the German system.

For a lot of foreigners applying for a German visa here for all sort of reasons, the solution here will be to sign-up for a German travel insurance provided by a German company. This makes sure that the insurance policy complies with the minimum requirements expected by the authorities. It can be classified as a private health insurance in Germany but for limited stays for up to 5 years.

 

If you want to study in Germany

If you are under 30 and enrolling in a university program in Germany, you have to take on a German public health insurance. This has a lot of benefits and costs only 81€ a month. It doesn’t happen automatically when you register at the university though. You have let the university know which Krankenkasse you picked. This is unfortunately only possible when you have registered an address in the country. If you are not able to join the public system for whatever reason, it is also possible to join a private insurance.

If you are self-employed

If you are running your own show, paying a Krankenkasse with everything else can be major hole in your monthly budget. This is definitely of the drawbacks of the German system; low-earning self-employed people pay a relatively high amount for their health insurance in Germany. If you have been in a public scheme within the E.U recently, you might to choose what is called a Freiwillige gesetzliche Krankenversicherung. This means that you stay in the public system, which is advised for people with kids and spouses.  For others, it is advised to stay with the private system.

I hope this little run-down helped you to understand the German health insurance system and make a better choice for your own coverage. Good luck.

Tip 1 : If you are lost on how to apply to a Krankenkasse and you plan to be a full time employee, you can often ask for help to your colleagues or to any administrative assistant that may exist in your company. They can be very helpful. In reality, you will most likely have to go on the chosen Krankenkasse website and open an “account” there. You will get a document that says that you subscribed to their coverage, you’ll send it to your company and poof ! There you go! Your employer will take care of the rest.

Sources: Ministry of Education & Research, More info on benefits and the state health system on its website here.

Incoming insurance Germany

One way or another, you have started your long quest to gather all documents needed to apply for your visa to Germany. Good luck with that! 🙂

In this long list, there is this pesky health insurance confirmation. German authorities are asking you to prove you can cover health risks during your stay in Germany. So far so good, it makes sense. But then you’ve made research: you are maybe thinking incoming insurance for Germany is the best option for your case. But it’s hard to be sure; this topic is tricky in this country.

But it’s hard to be sure; this topic is tricky in this country.

incoming insurance germany

Come; let’s look at it together, understand what it is and find out if it’s relevant at all for you. Put a nice playlist on: it’s a long read. 🙂

Who is usually considering it

The typical user for an incoming insurance for Germany is one of those non EU citizen profiles:

  • Foreign students coming to study at a German university.
  • People coming to Germany for an internship, language course, as an au-pair or visiting scientist.
  • People coming to Germany on a freelance visa or a job seeker visa.

These profiles all need a proof of health insurance to apply for a visa and come to land of Goethe for a time period shorter than 5 years, hence the name “incoming insurance for Germany”.

What incoming insurance for Germany really is:

Incoming insurance is not really a good name for it and it is sometimes called something else depending on who you talk to. Sometimes it’s called travel insurance too. I personally think it’s best to call temporary health insurance because that’s really what it is.

It’s a private insurance that meets the basic requirements for residence titles defined in the German residence act (section 2 (3)) as you need to prove that you will be able sustain yourself during your time in the country. It should overall meet the same standards as a normal local policy, specifically

  • It should not cap the reimbursements when the insuree is sick
  • It should not contain special contract terms regarding expiration or indemnity related to
    • age of insuree
    • activities or occupation
    • change in residency title
  • It should not ask unreasonable payment excess to the insuree
  • It should not exclude the insuree from standard benefits (as per local definition)

To be clear, it’s not exactly a health insurance as typically defined in a welfare state type of situation. So depending where you come from, you might need to adjust expectations. Think of it more as a money-back guarantee when you have medical expenses in Germany. For example, if you need medication like antibiotics, you would first pay for it out of the pocket, and then send the bills to your insurance company, asking for a refund.

It then usually take 2 to 3 weeks to see the money again on your bank account. As you can see, the experience is not all the same than just showing your national health insurance ID at the doctor and popping to the pharmacy, the rest being taken care of on it own.

You will need to read the small prints in your contract but most often than not, you can expect the following things to be covered:

  • Hospital treatment and emergency services
  • Medical treatment at the doctor and common medication
  • Medical equipment such as walking aids or wheelchairs
  • Transportation to the nearest hospital
  • Burial or transfer expenses

The catch

In plenty of cases, there is a cap on refunds for things like dental treatment, prostheses,
auxiliary remedies or transportation back home. Make sure you ask how those limits are applied for your contracts, in which conditions, etc.

It also sometimes doesn’t cover pre-existing conditions. Again; read the fine prints.

Clarity of fine prints in contracts: a pictural representation 😉

What if i have a major accident?

Life is tough and stuff happens. It’s not a big deal to cure an ear infection, but what if you need a major spine surgery? Emergencies like this are covered too. Such procedures are naturally a lot more costly and this is where we can see the limits of the typical policy for an incoming insurance for Germany.

Why should i see this a temporary insurance only? It’s a lot cheaper than the local policies!

It is something i often hear when discussing this topic with newcomers or on various Facebook groups for expats. It is true that it looks like a bad deal when first looking at it. Both private incoming insurance for Germany and local health insurance fulfill requirements for the purpose of your stay in Germany. Why paying up hundreds of euros more? That’s a lot of nice week-end trips!

As mentioned earlier, although it fills the same purpose, there is a big difference in coverage. A local policy will have no caps and you won’t even need to pay anything from your own pocket. If you run into serious health trouble that can certainly make the difference.

Also, a public local health insurance company will cover you and your spouse and children under one policy, for the same price. An incoming insurance for Germany doesn’t do that by default.

So when does it make sense to sign-up for an incoming insurance for Germany?

Although it has some drawbacks, signing for incoming insurance for Germany can be the right thing do for plenty of people. It may make sense in those cases:

Language students wanting to enroll at a German university later

First come for a language course and get the required German level to apply at university. You can get a visa with an incoming insurance but as soon as you enroll at a German university, you will be insured by the statutory health insurance (costing about 80€ per month), and get better coverage. You can also decide to stay with the incoming insurance within 3 months after your enrollment, but you are then stuck with it until the end of your degree.

Students aged over 30 or starting their 15th semester of study

Such profiles are not covered by the student version of the German statutory insurance and must pay full price (around 190€/month minimum). That’s a lot to cough-up but keep in mind what was discussed above, it may makes sense too if you have a family for example. If you are single, then to stay on incoming insurance for Germany may make sense too.

Job seeker visa applicants

You have no income in Germany yet and you aim to find a job here when applying for a job seeker visa. When you do find a job, this means that it will also pay for your health insurance, at which point you can switch to the public statutory health insurance scheme. During your job search, you can be covered under the incoming insurance policy.

Au pair, interns and visiting scientists

Those profiles will be in Germany for a very limited stay so there would be no reason to invest in a more expensive insurance scheme than an incoming insurance for Germany.

The bonus for everybody mentioned above: the insurance confirmation comes fast to have your document presented to the German authorities.

I hope this post made sense out of a confusing and sometimes obscure topic. If something is not answered here, feel free to ask questions in the comments.

Source: 1, 2, 3

How to get a German permanent residence permit

For many of us expats, it has been a long and complicated road to build a stable situation in Germany. You should be proud of yourself for achieving all this. However, in the back of the mind, there is always the feeling that our lives are hanging onto a visa tied to a company, a job or a type of career.

To push this uneasiness away, it’s time to make it official and long-term: let’s get a our German permanent residence permit sorted! Only then are we able to think about the future, without any sword of Damocles hanging over our heads.

German Permanent residence permit

This guide aims at giving you an overview on the topic. Brew yourself some coffee: it’s a long read!

Visa, residence permit, settlement permit… what’re the differences?

Here the problem is that many of these words are used interchangeably. The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge / BAMF) differentiates between several residence titles – documents that state the terms under which you can visit, live in and work in the country. It’s more commonly known as a visa or limited residence permit. In Europe, you differentiate between the EU-level visas, such as the Schengen visa that you’ve likely heard of, and the national visas which are given by an individual country’s government. A settlement permit, on the other hand, is a long-term residence title which has fewer restrictions than temporary ones.

The Aufenthaltserlaubnis (limited residence permit) is your standard Germany visa, which is issued for a specific time period and has restrictions on the type of work the holder can have. In other articles on Settle in Berlin, we’ve covered visas for:

We’re going to focus on the two long-term settlement permits, namely the German permanent residence permit (unbefristete Niederlassungserlaubnis) and EU permit for permanent residence (Erlaubnis zum Daueraufenthalt-EU). If you want to live indefinitely in Germany and the EU, these are the two permits to research. And of course, there is the option of acquiring German citizenship. But that’s a story for another day.

The main difference between the permanent residence Germany provides and the one from the EU is the length of time you need to live in Germany before you qualify. Also, while the latter lets you move around the EU without restrictions, with the former you’ll need to keep your main address in Germany. Let’s look at both each of these options, starting with the EU-level permit.


What are the requirements for the EU permit for permanent residency?

According to Section 9a of the German Residence Act, as a non-EU national, you may apply for unlimited residency to live and work anywhere in the EU once you have lived at least five years in Germany. During this time, you need to have been paying into the health and pension systems (60 months in total) How these 60 months/5 years are calculated depends on your situation. For the permit for permanent residence Germany usually requires you to already have a visa that allows you to work, such as the permits for general employment, self-employment, and the EU Blue Card. If you’re currently a student, completing an internship, or just here to visit a language course, you don’t qualify.

When you apply, you’ll need to prove that you have enough money or a job that pays enough for you to support yourself and your family unit without the need for government assistance. Also, your living space must be big enough. This seems to mean a minimum of 13sqm per person. In addition to these requirements, you should enroll in an integration course or show proof that you speak German at a B1 or better level and that you have the necessary knowledge about German law and culture.

What are the requirements for the German permanent residence permit?

If you are a non-EU national and have lived in Germany for at least 5 years (60+ months of health and pension system contributions), then you meet the first requirement for the German permanent residence permit. The other requirements are the same as above for the EU permanent residence permit: enough money, visa that allows work, enough living space, enough German language and societal knowledge, and no criminal record.

But different from the EU permit, you might be able to get the Germany-issued permit sooner as long as you don’t have a criminal record and you fall under one of these categories as explained by the BAMF:

  • Specialist: In some cases, you might immediately qualify for a permanent residence permit if you are a well-educated specialist in your field. Generally, this translates to scientists, senior researchers, and instructors. You first need to get a job offer in Germany with a high enough salary to secure your livelihood.
  • Graduate of a German university: You now have the “right” degree to be successful here. When it comes to permanent residence Germany wants to keep the best and the brightest, so this will make it easier to get a temporary visa and only need to live 2 years in Germany to qualify for the long-term permit. More specifically, you need to have a job in your field that pays you enough money that you don’t need to rely on government assistance. In addition to working for 2 years in Germany (24 months contribution to the pension system), you’ll need to show B1 German language skills.
  • EU Blue Card holder: There’s a reason this is called the “golden ticket” visa. As long as you meet the standard requirements set for the German permanent residence permit, you can apply for it after only 33 months instead of 5 years. Even better, if you pass the B1 German language exam, you can already apply for the permit after just 21 months! Only those months will be counted when you had the EU Blue Card, lived in Germany and contributed to the social security system. Basically, the government wants to keep you in Germany because Blue Card holders get good salaries, are well-educated, and usually bring much-needed skills.
  • Self-employed: The official requirements are vague, but basically if you meet all of the standard requirements and your business is successful, then you can apply for the permanent permit after just 3 years This only applies to business owners (Gewerbetreibende). Freelancers (Freiberufliche) have to wait the usual 5 years.
  • Family member of a German citizen: In this case, the rules are less strict. If you have learned basic German, have held a temporary residence permit for at least 3 years, and still live together with the German citizen (spouse, partner, child, or parent) then you should qualify for the permit for the permanent residence Germany offers.
  • Asylum seekers and refugees: If you are a recognized asylum seeker or refugee in Germany, you qualify for a permanent residence title like everyone else after 5 years. This can be shortened to 3 years if you can show that you are well integrated and have learned German (C1 level).

More details on the requirements can be found here in English or by deciphering the German legalese.

Life of an expat in Germany: a romantic representation 😉

Permanent Residence Germany Application Process

For the application process for either permit, you’ll need to submit the following documents to your local Foreigners Office (Ausländerbehörde), here using the specific requirements for Berlin residents:

  • Application Form for a permit allowing Permanent Residence Germany or EU (Antrag auf Erteilung einer Niederlassungserlaubnis/Erlaubnis zum Daueraufenthalt-EU) – this mostly confirms that you’ve read the requirements.
  • Valid passport
  • Biometric photo
  • Proof of sufficient income: here they’ll want to see that you and/or your partner are earning enough money to avoid welfare assistance. Employees should bring their contract, a recent statement from the employer confirming they work there, pay slips of the last 6 months, and an overview of social security payments. Self-employed people and freelancers need the most recent tax return (Steuerbescheid) and an audit report (Prüfungsbericht) from a licensed tax consultant. If you’re no longer working due to retirement, you just need your pension statement (Rentenbescheid), but if you’re unable to work you need to bring a doctor’s statement (fachärztliches Attest), assessment from the employment office, or disability statement (Rente wegen Erwerbsunfähigkeit oder Erwerbsminderung).
  • Documentation for any additional funds that you receive, like child money (Kindergeld) or parental leave assistance (Elterngeld).
  • Proof you have health insurance, either through confirmation from the insurance (public) or showing the policy agreement and proof of payment (private).
  • Proof that you (or your partner) are paying into the pension system.
  • Registration confirming that this is your main address (Meldebescheinigung).
  • Rental agreement or purchase contract that shows the monthly costs and total square meters.
  • Integration course or German language certificate with the final exam’s grade listed. There may be alternative ways to prove these conditions are met – ask at your local Foreigners Office.
  • The fee varies depending on the situation, usually between €113 and €124. Note that you still have to pay half as a processing fee if you are denied the permit.

In some cases, you’ll need additional documentation, so check the requirements for your employment category. Here are the links to the Berlin service pages for:

If you’re missing documents or don’t meet the requirements, be ready to get denied the permit. This shouldn’t have an effect on your existing visa unless you no longer meet those requirements either. I highly recommend you find an immigration lawyer or talk to your local migration advisory center (Migrationsberatung).

If you’re missing documents or don’t meet the requirements, be ready to get denied the permit.

Once you get your little plastic card, celebrate! The permit for permanent residence Germany has finally awarded you with lets you live and work in Germany for as long as you like. Your permit is unlimited and won’t expire or need changing when you switch jobs. If you took the longer route and applied for the EU permit, you can now move to any other EU state. But if you live outside the EU for more than a year you may lose the permit. And you’ll want to stay on good terms with the local Foreigner’s Office, especially if you’re working towards citizenship.

I hope this overview helped you to wrap your head around the different topics. Let me know in the comments if you have any remarks or questions.

Starting a business in Germany: the overview you were looking for.

Starting business in Germany

So, you’re flirting with the thought of starting your own business. You’ve got some ideas, plans even, and want to know what the process is to open a company in Germany. Maybe you’ve got some financing options on the table and just need to know how to get things rolling.

Good preparation is key to succeeding with starting a business in Germany. You can’t half-do it here. You should know what type of business you want to create, where it’ll be located, what the market is like, whether you need any permits, and the legal requirements.

You will also need to map out a full business plan and consider your financing options. Go through all the calculations until they are truly realistic. Depending on your goal, you’ll end up taking very different paths, so it’s important to do LOTS of research before launching your new endeavor.

The process to open a company in Germany starts long before you fill in any registration forms at the trade office. While only you and your advisers can figure out your business plan and financing, it’s to look at the requirements and legal structures for company formation in Germany.


Be warned, there’s no way around it – this is going to be some heavy legalese.


The different corporate entities in Germany

PICKING THE RIGHT LEGAL FORM

Company formation in Germany falls under several categories based on the number of founders, available funds, level of liability and business model. Important to know – German corporate law differentiates between the civil code (Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch – BGB) versus the commercial code (Handelsgesetzbuch – HGB). Small and one-person businesses are usually regulated under civil law, while larger commercial enterprises with high turnover are defined as commercial activity and follow commercial law. Also, there is a differentiation between unlimited (unbeschränkt) and limited (beschränkt), the first meaning a partner’s personal funds can be affected (i.e. bankruptcy, legal cases, etc.) and the second meaning that the liability is limited by the initial capital.

A partnership is probably the right legal form if you and at least one other person or entity are creating a company together. Here is a quick overview in this table (adapted from gtai.de), with more details underneath:


Legal/Establishment Form

Minimum Number of Partners

Minimum Share Capital

Legal Liability

Establishing Formalities

Civil Law Partnership (GbR)

Two partners

Not required

Personal unlimited liability

Very low

General Commercial Partnership (oHG)

Two partners

Not required

Personal unlimited liability

Low-moderate

Limited Partnership (KG)

Two partners: general partner and limited partner

Not required

General partner: personal unlimited liability Limited partner: limited share liability

Low-moderate

GmbH & Co. KG


Two partners: general partner (GmbH) and limited partner (the general partner is typically the limited partner of the KG)

Not required


General partner (GmbH): personal unlimited liability Limited partner: limited share liability

Moderate-high
  • Civil law partnership (Gesellschaft bürgerlichen Rechts – GbR) is the simplest form of a partnership and has fewer rules than the rest. As a result, this entity only allows you to conduct small trade business up to a certain level of commercial activity (capital, profit, number of employees, etc.). Once you pass that level you need to “upgrade” to a commercial law partnership, such as those below. Partners equally share full liability for the business and there is no minimum starting capital. There are countless examples of this legal form in use, such as designers, bands, doctors, and handymen.
  • General commercial partnership (OffeneHandelsgesellschaft – oHG) expands upon the GbR framework, but falls under commercial law, meaning that it must be registered in the Handelsregister. All partners are fully liable for debts and liabilities and there is no minimum starting capital. This is a good option if you and a few friends want to sell something at a higher profit than allowed with a GbR without founding a corporation.
  • Partnership companies (Partnerschaftsgesellschaft – PartG) is basically the GbR but for freelancers or small business owners that want to work together at a commercial level while being individually responsible instead of merging together as one company. Examples include doctors, lawyers and accountants. For some professions, it is possible to limit the liability to the partnership’s assets (PartG mbB).
  • Limited partnership (Kommanditgesellschaft or KG) is like the oHG but with at least one limited or silent partner (Kommanditist). The general partner (Komplementär) is personally liable while the limited or silent partners are only liable for their part of the capital. This means investors can become limited partners with less risk to themselves. No minimum level of capital is prescribed, but an amount has to be set in the partnership agreement. It is often used to attract more investors without making them fully liable.

Relevant for most people: the German LLC

A corporation is a better fit for larger, commercial enterprises. Generally, there are different shareholders that each have a stake in the company and work toward its success. The basic legal form is the equivalent of an LLC (Gesellschaftmitbeschränkter Haftung – GmbH) which represents a separate legal entity from its founders. This is the most popular legal form and works well for most industries. The main requirement is €25,000 in starting capital. Alternatively, if you are low on funds you can choose the “mini GmbH” option and form a limited liability entrepreneurial company (Unternehmergesellschaft haftungsbeschränkt – UG), which has a €1 minimum starting capital per founder. But you still need to reach the €25k eventually, because until then you need to set aside ¼ of your profit each year. Good news, once you reach that point you can upgrade to a full GmbH!

Starting a business in Germany with more money and a large group? A stock corporation (Aktiengesellschaft – AG) is another limited liability option if you can raise at least €50,000 in share capital. The company will then represent a legal entity and must have a supervisory board (Aufsichtsrat) as well as management board (Vorstand). You’ll have many more business opportunities as an AG but be ready for piles worth of paperwork.

And there’s more! If you’re interested in forming a non-profit, then you should look into the gUG and gGmbH legal forms, which are the non-profit (gemeinnützliche) versions of the UG and GmbH. There are also hybrid legal structures for company formation in Germany such as the Ein-Person-GmbH and Kommanditgesellschaft auf Aktien (KGaA). If you’re unsure about which legal form fits your business plan best, talk to a business consultant, especially for GmBH and AG forms.

Going solo? there is another guide for that

If it’s just you running the company, you’re probably self-employed (Selbständiger), as a freelancer (Freiberufler) or business owner (Gewerbetreibender), which I explain in-depth here. As a business owner without any partners you are considered a sole proprietor (Einzelunternehmer). This means that you are fully liable for your business activities, have full control over your activities and are funded by your own assets. Sole proprietors usually follow the civil code, with some exceptions.

A registered merchant (eingetragener Kaufmann – e. K.) is someone who want to sell items as a one-person business under the commercial code. This type of company has additional rules, including being on the commercial register, but the owner is still fully liable for the business. None of these legal forms has a minimum capital requirement and generally require less paperwork than other types of company formation in Germany.

How to pick the right option?

There is an excellent overview of the most important criteria for selection made by the Ministry of Economy. Find it hereafter


How to register a business in Germany

DOWN TO FORMALITIES

This is where the country gets its reputation for being overly bureaucratic. To open a company in Germany, you’ll need to fill out form after form and visit various government institutions as well as banks, notaries, and probably legal or financial professionals. Freelancers and small business owners have to follow less steps, as explained here.

1. Pick a company name

The regulations start with what type of name you can give babies – both human and corporate ones. The rules are pretty straightforward though. Small businesses that aren’t in the commercial register must include the owner’s first and last name in the official business name (Unternehmensbezeichnung) but can be a bit more creative with the trade name (Geschäftsbezeichnungen). A registered merchant on the other hand doesn’t need to include their own name, but still needs to pick a distinctive, descriptive name. The reason has to do with the differences between commercial and civil codes.

For other types of companies, you’re free to make up a business name as long as you include the legal form. The only conditions are that the name must be unique, in the sense that customers can identify your business through the name, and it should not lead to confusion about the nature of your business. For example, “Berlin Lawyers GmbH” and “Finance Institute AG” will likely not be allowed because they’re too general and potentially confusing to customers.

Once you have a name that works well, you can check with the commercial register (Handelsregister) if the name you have chosen is already in use and with the local court (Amtsgericht) as to whether you’ve fulfilled all the naming requirements. If you and more than one person is forming a company, you should also sit down with everyone involved to outline the company objective (Unternehmensgegenstand). The Chamber of Industry and Commerce (Industrie- und Handelskammer, IHK) offers a free check of your company name and objective, so take advantage of this service!

Worried someone might copy your name or brand? Talk to the German Patent and Trade Mark Office (DPMA) about protecting your intellectual property.

2. Visit a notary

An important step for starting a business in Germany is drawing up the articles of association (Gesellschaftsvertrag). This outlines the type of business, founding members, startup costs, any shareholders, how profits are distributed, and more. In some cases, you’ll need to have these articles of association notarized. They’ll confirm that everything, especially the financials, are in order and register you with the commercial registry (Handelsregister). This step is required for all commercial businesses meaning that freelancers and small businesses under civil code (such as the GbR) are exempt. Registration costs differ by type of legal form due to the different requirements, but expect to pay between €150 and €500, in addition to notary fees.

You can find a notary that speaks your language here.

3. Go to the trade office (Gewerbeamt)

This is where you apply for a trade license (Gewerbeschein) by presenting a thorough description of your company, as well as necessary permits. It’s required for all types of business except sole proprietors that are Freiberuflich, who can skip right to the Finanzamt step.

You may need special permits if you’re a liberal professional (doctor, chemist, architect, engineer, etc.), which you can find out from your respective chamber for liberal professions (such as the Architektenkammer or Steuerberaterkammer). For craftsmen (carpenter, glassblower, etc.), look into the master craftman’s certificate (Meisterbrief) from the Chamber for Skilled Crafts (Handwerkskammer – HWK). Also, if your business requires good hygiene (food services, working with minors) you may need a health certificate from the Public Health Office (Gesundheitsamt). If you’re unsure whether you’ll need a permit, speak directly with the IHK.

Regardless of your legal form, you need to bring the following to register a business in Germany:

  • Valid ID card or passport and visa for each founder
  • Meldebescheinigung (confirmation of address registration/residence) for each founder
  • Gewerbe-Anmeldung (business registration form) for your municipality
  • Registration fee between €10 and €40
  • Any mandatory permits or certifications (such as a craftsman license)
  • Police clearance (Führungszeugnis) if required
  • (Notarized) articles of association for corporations and partnerships

Don’t speak much German yet? In some states, such as Berlin and Hessen, you can fill out the necessary forms in English.

4. Register with the Finanzamt

Lastly, to register a business in Germany, you need to visit the local finance office (Finanzamt) with the filled out the tax questionnaire (Fragebogen zur steuerliche Erfassung). Corporations and partnerships will need to show copies of the articles of association, trade license, and entry in the commercial registry. Once everything is checked through, the Finanzamt will either ask for additional documents or provide you with a business tax-ID (Steuernummer) and a VAT ID number (Umsatzsteuernummer – Ust.-IdNr.) if you requested one.

Once you receive the VAT ID number in the mail – open the champagne! You can now finally start invoicing.



Starting a business in Germany: taxes, hiring, insurances, banking

GETTING THE BASICS RIGHT

You can’t open a company in Germany unless you understand the tax system. It will affect your profits and bookkeeping, regardless of business size. In addition to the taxes that you as an individual need to pay on your income, you should also learn about the value-added tax, corporation tax, and trade tax systems. Freelancers and small businesses are freed from some of these, so make sure to do your research.

The first step is setting up your accounts, preferably with the help of a licensed accountant or bookkeeper. You’ll need to establish an opening balance sheet (Eröffnungsbilanz) and at the end of the year a report of accounts (Jahresabschluss). Many of the things and services that you purchase for your business can be deducted from various taxes, including bookkeeping software, tax consultant, software, hardware, office supplies and furniture, tools for doing your work, etc. During the year, you should receive a statement from your accountant of your current business financials (Betriebswirtschaftliche Auswertung – BWA), from which you can also calculate your tax rates.

VAT

In Germany, most invoices require a 19% or 7% value-added tax (VAT), which is either called Mehrwertsteuer (MwSt.) or Umsatzsteuer (Ust.). When you pay this tax on goods and services you have purchased, it is called an input tax (Vorsteuer). You can deduct the input tax you pay as a business from the VAT you charge customers through the VAT return process (Umsatzsteuer-Voranmeldung). When you register, you choose between Soll- and Ist-Versteuerung. The first means you pay the VAT on invoices once you send them to customers and the second means you pay the VAT only once the customer actually pays the invoice. If you’re doing business across Europe, make sure you look into the VAT reverse charge and VAT recovery, two regulations for business across different EU countries. NOTE – as a freelancer or small business owner you can be exempt from the VAT if in your first year your profits were less than €17.500 and the following year they were under €50.000 (Kleinunternehmerregelung).

Income tax

If you are a sole proprietor or part of a partnership, you’ll be charged an income tax (Einkommensteuer) on your company profit. For small businesses, your income can be calculated based on an Einnahmenüberschussrechnung (EÜR), a simplified revenue and expenditure statement. For most other legal forms, you might be paying yourself a salary or earning income from shares, dividends, sales, etc. Regardless, you must report your income to the Finanzamt.

Corporation tax

As a corporation, you’ll be paying the corporation tax (Körperschaftsteuer) on your global taxable income. You may also need to pay a 25% withholding tax (Kapitalertragssteuer) on dividend payments if you have a parent company and a 25% final withholding tax (Abgeltungssteuer) on profits distributed to private shareholders.

Trade tax

The trade tax (Gewerbesteuer) is applied by the municipality to all commercial businesses (not civil) and varies between 7% and 17% depending on the local rate. Partnerships can offset this tax against the personal income tax, but still need to pay the full trade tax to the municipality.

If you want to open a company in Germany properly, get your books in order from the start and don’t put off finding a good accountant!


Requirements for hiring employees

Honestly, this is a whole article on its own, much like the legal and tax sections above. I’ll keep it short and sweet.

If you want to hire staff to work for you, register with the Federal Employment Agency (Bundesagentur für Arbeit) to receive an 8-digit company number (Betriebsnummer) for payroll (Lohnabrechnung). For each employee, you’ll be required to draw up an employment contract and pay your part for social security, health insurance, nurse care insurance and unemployment insurance. You will also need to calculate and withhold the income tax (Lohnsteuer) for your employee based on their tax class, in addition to the church tax and solidarity surcharge tax (Solidaritätszuschlag).

Make sure you understand the laws around work hours, sick pay, maternity leave, vacation and union representation – all covered in depth here.


Company formation in Germany for foreigners

You don’t need to be a German citizen to open a company in Germany, but you’ll need the correct visa or residency permit. If you only need time to set everything up with your German business partner, consider the 90-day Schengen visa for non-EU nationals. If you want to live and work in Germany, you’ll need a visa allowing self-employment (Aufenthaltserlaubnis für selbständige Tätigkeit) or full residency permit (Niederlassungserlaubnis).

You may need to provide additional paperwork when starting a business in Germany and must be present for the notary appointment. If that is not possible for foreign investors, you can look into legalization options. There may also be some difficulties registering for a business bank account as a non-EU national.

Ok, that sounded rather depressing. But the truth is, Germany wants foreign investors and companies if they’ll bring new jobs and money into the country. Look into the incentive programs and migrant entrepreneurship assistance. Also, you can set up a virtual office office through a lawyer if you prefer working remotely but want to have a nice business address – separate article to follow!


About insurances

Well, you’ve made it this far. Congratulations! You’re definitely hartnäckig, a great German word for stubborn. Oh, and you’re brave. How do I know that? Well you’re taking a risk by starting a business in Germany and being your own boss. But you don’t have to take on TOO many risks if you sign up for a few key insurances.

For self-employed people

  • Health insurance (Krankenversicherung) and nurse care (Pflegeversicherung) – choose between private or public
  • Pension insurance (Rentenversicherung) – choose between private or public
  • Daily sickness allowance (Krankentagegeld) – covers sick days, where you might otherwise lose income
  • Occupational disability insurance (Berufsunfähigkeitsrente) – basic income in case you’re unable to work anymore

For businesses

  • Corporate liability insurance (Betriebs-Haftpflichtversicherung) – covers potential mistakes of your employees, problems with suppliers, etc.
  • Professional liability insurance (Berufs-Haftpflichtversicherung) – this is important for freelancers and consultants, covers mistakes or bad advice with financial consequences
  • Business interruption insurance (Betriebs-Unterbrechungsversicherung) – covers wages, expenses and running costs in times without business income
  • Occupational accident insurance (Berufsgenossenschaft) – covers accidents in and around the office and for employees while working

You can read more about these and other insurances here.


About banking

A separate business bank account (Geschäftskonto) is required for legal forms incorporating capital (GmbH, UG, AG und KGaA). It will be used to process any ingoing (expense) or outgoing (revenue) invoices. That’s where the starting capital is located too. All banks offer a business account but conditions may vary widely. Common costs associated with business bank accounts are the following:

  • Costs for outgoing or ingoing transfers (Einzahlung oder Auszahlungen)
  • Monthly costs (Kontoführungsgebühr)
  • Costs for company credit cards (Kredit Karte Gebühr)
  • Bank transfer costs (Beleglose Buchungen)
  • Cash and check processing costs (Beleghafte Buchungen)

Self-employed people can use a normal bank account.


Helpful resources for starting a business in Germany

For in-depth guides, information, definitions, checklists, calculators, and forms that cover every little part of how to open a company in Germany, look through the following sites:

  • Existenzgründer – especially the key agencies and checklists (German)
  • Make it in Germany
  • Gründer Platform
  • Wir Gründen in Deutschland
  • Für Gründer
  • Federal Employment Agency

Hope this overview helped. Don’t hesitate to ask questions in the comments.

Life with pets in Germany: what you need to know

Moving to Germany with your family is sometimes not just about human relatives. It’s also about your most cherished companion of all. Whether you are a cat person or a dog person, it’s simply impossible to move countries without taking your pets with you. In case you are already in Germany, you might also wonder what are the most important things to know when adopting and taking care of a pet.

Life with pets in Germany

These sort of questions might be sometimes overlooked by current or prospective owners. This little guide gives you the overview you need.

Bringing pets into Germany

The EU has strict rules about the transportation of animals from non-EU to EU countries for both personal and commercial reasons. I’m going to give a brief overview for non-commercial situations.

Up to 5 dogs, cats or ferrets may be brought per person when moving to Germany and will be controlled by the Zollamt (Customs Office). There are restrictions as to when and how the animals can enter the country, so make sure to read them carefully. The most important thing to know is that each animal will need a microchip, up-to-date vaccinations, and a German pet health certificate (or EU vet certification). The timing for each of these matters! Your airline will also have very important rules when bringing pets into Germany about the types of pet containers permitted, sedation, animal size, and more.

The rules are more specific about birds limiting you to 5 total and sometimes putting them under quarantine. Rodents are much easier to bring with you but are usually limited to 3 per person. For all other animals, check with your local German embassy to find out the exact rules and regulations.

Overwhelmed? Check out one of the companies specialized in pet relocations to figure out how to best bring pets into Germany.

Adopting pets in Germany

There are several good ways to get a new pet in Germany, as well as some bad ways.

What do I mean by bad ways? There is a black market for pets, often online or around the borders to Germany. Puppies and kittens taken too early from their mothers, without proper food or water, and sickly birds… it’s heartbreaking and often fatal for the animal. Things to watch out for: sketchy online advertisements, no visit with the mother, no proper license to show you, meeting on the street and demanding immediate payment, or even hidden areas at markets. Be careful and report suspicious activity to the police!

Good ways to adopt pets include: animal shelters (Tierheim or Tierschutzverein, meaning animal protection association), licensed breeders (Züchter, for dogs look at the VDH association) or your local pet store (Zoohandlung or Zooladen). You can also search online through different web portals and social media, but be very careful to check the pet’s paperwork, mainly the vaccination records. Responsible sellers will charge you a fee for each animal and sign a purchase contract (Kaufvertrag). Also, most shelters will require extra paperwork and sometimes home visits. All in the name of responsible pet ownership.

Good boi in sight

Living with pets in Germany

Before getting a pet, check for permission with your landlord. While recent court decisions say that pets can’t be banned outright in the lease, landlords usually require that you get permission. The most common restrictions are on certain dog breeds that are considered dangerous. Owning a cat in Germany is much easier, but still requires that you check with the landlord. Kleintiere (small animals) may not be banned and don’t require additional permission.

Visits to the vet

Every pet owner hopes to never have to visit a Tierklinik (animal clinic) for an emergency or major surgery. But you’ll definitely need to find a local Tierarzt (veterinarian). Some of the more common reasons to visit the vet include: spaying or neutering, yearly vaccinations, teeth maintenance, injuries, poisoning, flea and tick prevention, and diagnosing illnesses. There are no compulsory procedures, with the exception of several required vaccinations (such as rabies for puppies), but every animal has its own typical medical issues.

Ask your vet for Germany pet passport documents if you have a dog, cat, or ferret. It’s required for EU travel and lists the animal’s microchip number, owner contact info, and vaccination history.

In public transit

Many public transportation systems in Germany are fine with pets accompanying you. Double check if you need an additional ticket for them or if restrictions apply. Most will require that you keep your dog on a leash and muzzled, with all other animals secured in carriers. Car travel has the extra requirement of a carrier or even seatbelt for dogs.

Pet supplies

There is a huge market for pet food, supplies, and services in Germany. You can find most anything online, as well as pet stores across the country, such as Fressnapf and Futterhaus. Whether you need a dog trainer, a cat sitter, dog hotel or want to get raw meats at the local Hundemetzger (butchers for dogs, also known as B.A.R.F. stores) – you can find just about anything by googling.

I recommend joining one of the many Facebook groups in your region for pet owners to ask specific questions, get help finding a lost animal and share cute pet photos.

About pet health insurance in Germany

Dogs, cats and horses are also vulnerable to injuries and sickness, just like you. Small things like an eyes or mouth check are often fairly limited in costs. Bigger surgeries or treatments can however amount to a lot.

Since medical costs can get pretty expensive, consider signing up for German pet health insurances (“Tierkrankenversicherung”). You’ll still need to pay for vet visits out of pocket, but your insurance will then refund you for standard procedures and operations. Those can be:

  • Prevention treatment
  • Castration
  • Surgery
  • Travel insurance

In terms of costs for pet health insurance in Germany, it’s anywhere between 130€ and 300€ for a cat, and minimum 250€ for dogs per year. Make sure to read the fine prints because policies are often quite limited (maximum coverage limited to 2000€ for example, or a 20% deductible/excess). Some companies are also covering vaccination.

A good alternative for some pet owners: instead of a pet health insurance in Germany, consider a “surgery insurance” for your companion. It’s called “Operations­kosten­versicherung”, covering only heavier surgeries, but costing less at about 130€ per year.

Owning a dog in Germany is more complicated…

Man’s best friend can be as small as a rat or as large as a pony. Maybe that’s why there are so many extra rules for them?

There are strict regulations for importing Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, Bull Terriers, and in some places Rottweilers. These breeds are considered SoKa “Sogenannter Kampfhund” or fighting dogs. If you own any of these, check the full list of breeds for more information.

Regardless of the breed, there are some rules every dog owner must follow:

  • Register your dog at the local Bürgeramt and pay the mandatory dog tax (“Hundesteuer”). You can calculate how much here.
  • Pick up their poop and follow local leash laws. For the latter there is some flexibility if you get the dog handler’s license (Hundeführerschein), which is the closest thing to a “TüV” for dog ownership.
  • Every owner is responsible for damages to persons or objects by their dog. It makes sense to get liability insurance (Hundehaftpflichtversicherung) to cover potential costs.

Lastly, always check if there is a sign at the front door of an establishment prohibiting dogs. They’re not allowed in supermarkets and many public buildings, but most restaurants, hotels, and cafes allow dogs. Ask nicely, and the waiter will even provide you with some water for your furry friend.

Source: the Shelter pet Project on Giphy

I hope this little introduction to life with pets in Germany was useful. Don’t hesitate to ask questions in the comments. 🙂

Liability insurance in Germany, the other essential coverage.

3569 euros.

That’s how much i could have saved if i had signed up for German liability insurance, on a fateful night of May.  That’s as simple as that. Getting that vital coverage could have avoided me a big hole in my budget and a whole lot of stress. 

And guess what: sh*t happens. Some may even argue that life is only a series of accidents. While nothing can protect you from questionable career choices, you should prepare for random adverse events in your everyday life.

Basically it looks like this:

Health insurance makes sure your body doesn’t suffer the consequences of those events.
Liability insurance makes sure you don’t pay the price for the rest.

Both are very essential and you will learn here what to pay attention to when picking a liability insurance Germany.

liability insurance Germany

(You will also learn what happened to me on that night at the end of the post *suspense music starts*)

Back to basics: how is German liability insurance defined?

Haftpflichtversicherung. That’s the (long) word you are looking for.

The term refers to the personal liability insurance Germany recommends for everyone, meaning that in situations where the insured person caused Personenschäden (person damage), Sachschäden (object damage) or Vermögensschäden (wealth damage), the insurance pays the costs incurred. Accidents happen, but without personal liability insurance you could risk personal bankruptcy after an accident.

People should know: an impressive 85% of Germany’s residents have this type of insurance!

Most German liability insurance contracts cover the person signing the contract (Versicherungsnehmer) as well as family and household members. This means that if your children or spouse accidentally damages something while visiting friends or thinks it’s funny to summon the fire department when there’s no emergency, the costs are covered. Be sure to to check the legal restrictions for coverage of children through!

Basic German liability insurance costs between €50 and €100 a year and the premium calculation (Beitragsberechnung) is based on the extent of coverage (Deckungssumme), whether you’re single/married and have children (Zielgruppe), the amount of your deductible (Selbstbehalt), and services you want included (Leistungseinschlüsse).

What types of situations are covered by personal liability insurance Germany?

Accidents can happen anytime, anywhere and yes, even to you. For example, during your morning run you could bump into someone who falls and breaks their wrist (damage to persons). Or you accidentally drop your friend’s laptop and they can’t do their freelance work for several days (damage to objects and wealth). Travelling to the airport your suitcase could roll in front of a moving tram, causing an accident that injures several people, damages the tram and keeps dozens of people from getting to work appointments (damage to persons, objects, and wealth).

The last is a case where good coverage is really important, because accidents involving public transportation can cost hundreds of thousands, if not millions! That’s why it’s expected that everyone gets German liability insurance to cover these types of situations.

Finanztip recommends that you select an insurance with at least €50 million in total coverage and €10 million per injured person. Your friend might think they’re worth more, but that’s probably enough to cover any damages to their person, if not their ego.

As with all insurance, some important aspects require you to sign up for additional coverage packages (Zusatzpakete):

  • Schlüsselverlust (loss of work or private keys) – This policy covers the cost of replacing the building’s locks, which can get expensive for high-security facilities or large apartment complexes.
  • Forderungsausfalldeckung (default on payment coverage) – If someone causes damages to you, but isn’t insured and can’t pay, then your insurance covers the costs instead.
  • Tierhalter-Haftpflichtversicherung (pet liability insurance) – This is often required by dog training schools or landlords to cover damages by your pet.
  • Passiver Rechtsschutzversicherung (passive legal insurance) – If someone unjustly claims you caused damages and tries to collect, this covers the legal costs for your defense.
  • Auslandsaufenthalt (coverage abroad) – This policy often differentiates between EU and worldwide travel.
  • Haus- und Grundbesitzerhaftpflichtversicherung (house and property owner liability insurance) – Very important if you own your apartment!
  • Coverage for your house construction project, like Bauherrenhaftpflicht and Bauleistungsversicherung, which cover damages to and on your construction site.
Protect yourself from terrible breakdance battle accidents 😉 (Photo by Fred Mouniguet on Unsplash)

What is not usually covered by German personal liability insurance?

When you have liability insurance Germany becomes a much safer place, with protection against debilitating costs from an accident. But it’s also important to know which situations are NOT usually covered:

  • Damages by psychologically unsound persons (deliktunfähige Personen) and young children, because the law does not consider them liable
  • Liability when driving or in motion, which is instead covered by your car insurance (Kfz-Haftpflichtversicherung)
  • Damages to your home, which are covered by a home-owner’s insurance (Hausratsversicherung)
  • Situations where family members accidentally injure each other or themselves, which is instead covered by an accident insurance (Unfallversicherung)
  • Damages related to your job, workplace, volunteer work, or company
  • Most extreme sports or risky hobbies
  • Fines and penalties

How do I sign up for one?

As you can imagine, there are thousands of options out there, which can be pretty overwhelming since everything is in German. If you want a little bit of guidance, transparent pricing and good coverage, all of it 100% in English (also for claims), i would recommend providers like GetSafe. Sign-up in a few minutes, get a confirmation right away and use an app to manage your contracts. It’s one of those of new players that don’t make you hate insurance ^^.

If you decide to go shopping on your own however, you can also turn to more traditional comparison platforms like TarifCheck for example. Before you sign a contract, make sure you know these other common terms:

Before you sign a contract, make sure you know these other common terms:

  • Echter oder unechter Vermögensschaden: also referred to as „direkt oder indirekt“- damage to wealth can happen through theft (direct) or when someone misses work or loses income due to the damages (indirect)
  • Schmerzengeld: compensation for physical or psychological damages to a person
  • Gefälligkeitshandlungen: compensation for physical or psychological damages to a person
  • Beitragsfrei/beitragspflichtig mitversichert: no extra charge for coverage, or only offered for an extra fee
  • Begrenzt/unbegrenzt: limited or unlimited policy coverage, check this in the small print
  • Allmählichkeitsschäden: long-term damage, such as an injured person needing further treatment after an accident
  • Best-Leistungs-Garantie: a best services guarantee is a promise from your insurance company to treat you at least as well as any other German insurance would

Tip: You can switch your insurance each year for cheaper or better options but pay attention to the deadline for cancellation (usually 3 months before the contract ends).

Tip 2: It’s usually cheaper to pay annually, versus monthly or quarterly. So, do yourself a favor and save some money with a yearly payment!

Hope this intro on the topic helped you towards the best liability insurance Germany has to offer for your needs. Don’t hesitate to ask questions in the comments. And here is what happened to me:

The night was still young as i was rushing to park my bike in front of my friend’s house. There was a house party and excitement in the air. A little accident happened just then and killed the mood right off. In the hurry to lock my bike up, i didn’t take to stabilize it enough and it fell hard onto an old motorbike next to it, which also fell in turn. Damages weren’t too bad but the motorbike was a rare model; spare parts and workforce don’t come cheap. Goodbye 3569 euros. I still consider myself lucky though, it could have been much, much worse considered i had no liability insurance Germany.

Source: Giphy.com

Sources: 1, 2, 3,

Preparing an A+ application for your freelance visa Germany

Freelance visa Germany. A few words full of promise and paved with hurdles. The golden tri-force of your new life here. Well, you’d better buckle up!! This isn’t the easiest visa to get, unless you have the right skills and enough resources to convince the foreigner’s office that you’ll do well in Germany.

But, remember, you’re not alone!  To help you with that, we’ve gathered the latest information on the process, required documents and what you can expect when applying. Consider this an educated foreword before you dive hard into the topic. Probably one of the best intros out there. (You might want to make a coffee for this though 🙂 )

freelance visa germany

What is the German freelance visa for?

Unless you’re an EU or EEA citizen, you need permission to live and work in Germany. With the Aufenthaltserlaubnis zur freiberuflichen oder selbständigen Tätigkeit (in English the visa for freelance or self-employed work) you’re permitted to work in Germany in a specific line of work for a limited period. Different from the other types of work visas, this one isn’t tied a specific contract, but rather to a specific profession or business. Once approved, your visa is generally valid anywhere from 6 months to 3 years and allows you to travel in the Schengen area.

If you’re an artist, then you might qualify for the artist visa and skip parts of the visa process. This will be covered in a different article.

Before you start: make sure your profile matches the basic requirements

Aside from living in Germany, the freelance visa requires that you attend a personal interview and fulfill a regional or economic need. But due to the large number of documents and details you need to provide, it’s best to first do some in-depth research and ask yourself some important questions. The following ones are based on suggestions from applicants who have gone through the application process for a freelance visa in Germany.

Can you provide your work on a freelance or self-employed basis under German law?

In Germany, you have two categories of self-employment (“Selbständigkeit”); either your are Freiberuflich (Freelance) or Gewerbetreibende (business owner).

Freelancing is a category of self-employment, meaning that you are your own boss, offering services or products to clients. The German tax law specifies what type of work can be provided on a freelance basis, including categories such as: scientist, artists, educator, writer, lawyer, doctor, engineer, architect, tax consultant, accountant, health care provider, journalist, guide and translator. And that’s about it!

Everybody else has to open a business (“Gewerbe”). For most people working on their own, they will choose to be a one-person business (“Einzelunternehmer”). I actually wrote a little guide on everything you need to know when starting as a self-employed person in Germany this way.

Before applying, you should know whether you need a special permit, insurances or certification to do this work in Germany. Do your research and don’t hesitate to reach out and ask local associations (like a local chamber of commerce) or people in your industry on what you need to start working here.

Do you have enough assets with which to support yourself for 3-4 months?

Unlike a full-time work contract, freelancers and businesses don’t always have enough clients or work each month to pay the bills. This means that you need to have enough savings or earnings in other months to cover the dry spells, without having to look for additional income from a job, loan or relatives.

Is there a market for you in Germany and potential clients?

It’s important that know that you’ll have work once you get here and how to develop your business. Do you have the right qualifications and experience? What’s the competition like? Will you need to speak German? You’ll also need to have more than one client, so you don’t fall into a pseudo-self-employment situation (Scheinselbststandigkeit). Yeah, this topic confuses Germans too. But, if you have several paying clients, then you’re usually fine. Proving that there is a need for your skills on the local market can be done very differently depending on your profile. For example, there is a very well-know shortage of software engineers in Berlin. In this case, the market is very defined and it’s easy to prove that you are needed. In doubt, you can ask for assistance at the local chamber of commerce (IHK: “Industrie & Handelskammer”), who can help you to prove that.

Do you know what you can charge clients and what your expected expenses would be?

Your monthly profit will influence the type of bank accounts you’ll want to get, health insurance costs and most importantly – whether your German freelance visa application is approved. The institutions reviewing your freelance visa application in Germany want to know that your line of work pays well enough to support you. So, do some market research and check what the standard rates are for your skills, qualifications and services.

Don’t stop believing!

Freelance visa in Germany; application process overview

Once you’ve done your research, it’s time to get started with the German freelance visa application process. As with the standard work visa, you will probably need to first apply for a visa that lets you enter Germany. You may be eligible for a 90-day tourist visa if you’re a citizen of Australia, Israel, Japan, Canada, New Zealand, South Korea or the USA. It’s best to check with your local German consulate in advance.

Don’t worry, we’re here to guide you through this long process. Grab a chair, sip on a nice glass of wine and take some notes. Let’s go!

  1. Secure an entry visa and travel to Germany.
  2. Make an appointment with the Foreigner’s Office (Ausländerbehörde) in Berlin (or if you live somewhere else, find your local office here). It can take a couple months to get an appointment, so schedule one ASAP and while your temporary visa is still valid. While it’s sometimes possible to show up early in the morning and get an interview the same day, it looks better if you schedule one in advance.
  3. Get your life set up! While there’s no exact order to these, it might feel like a catch-22 when it comes to having the right paperwork at the right time. (Or like you’re looking for Permit #A38.) You need to have this sorted out
    • Find a place to live – It’s a requirement for the freelance visa in Germany that you have your main home here. This can be difficult without an existing financial history in Germany. One common option is to move into a shared flat(Wohngemeinschaft/WG). Make sure you get a proper rental contract and that your landlord fills out the confirmation form (Wohnungsgeberbestätigung).
    • Register Your Address (Anmeldung) – Appointments at the local administrative office (Bürgeramt) are very limited, so don’t put this off for too long.
    • Open a German bank account – Keep your personal and business accounts separate and document your money transfer.
    • Sign up for Health Insurance (Krankenversicherung) – Travelers insurance isn’t enough for German freelance visa. You can either sign up voluntarily for the public insurance (freiwillige gesetzliche Krankenversicherung), which guarantees sufficient coverage, or go with a private insurance company (private Krankenversicherung). If you go private, you need the details of coverage to show that it’s comparable with what you would get under public insurance.
  4. Attend a personal interview to submit your application and necessary paperwork. It will probably last 10-15min, conducted mostly in German. Be sure to arrive early as the building is relatively big and confusing. If you don’t feel confident with your German skills (and that’s fine), bring someone who is with you.
  5. Wait for an answer to your application. That can happen on the spot, 2 weeks or 2 months after the appointment. There is no rule for this. Patience is a virtue.
  6. Finally start working with the freelance visa in Germany!

This video is quite helpful as well to wrap your head around the freelance visa Germany application process too (source: make-it-in-germany.com).

Paperwork to bring to your personal interview:

Every applicant needs to explain their work, provide financial information, and show that they have potential clients. If you are starting a company, operating as a sole proprietor, opening a new business location or a managing director in a partnership or corporation, then you’ll need to prepare some additional documentation before and after you arrive in Germany. It’s best to review all this with an adviser if possible, to make sure you’ve done the right research and preparations.

The basic stack

The following list of documents is required:

    • Application for Issuance of a Residence Permit form(Antrag auf Erteilung eines Aufenthaltstitels)
    • Biometric Photos
    • Valid Passport
    • Fee – This will be anywhere from €56 to €100 (unless you’re a Turkish citizen) and is payable in-person via cash or debit. You may also be charged for document copies.
    • Proof of Health Insurance – see above
    • Apartment Lease (Mietvertrag) or Proof of Home Ownership (Nachweis über Wohneigentum) – This document should include the monthly costs of rent and utilities.
    • Landlord Confirmation (Wohnungsgeberbestätigung) or Registration (Anmeldung) – see above
    • Proof of an Adequate Pension Plan (Altersversorgung) – This is only required for applicants older than 45, except for citizens of the Dominican Republic, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Turkey and USA. Though if you are working towards a permanent residence in Germany, you will need this regardless of your age or nationality.
      You will need to provide an offer from a private pension or life insurance plan, which when you turn 67 will provide you either with a monthly pension of €1.188,92 for 12 years or at least €175.068 in total. Alternatively, you can provide proof of sufficient private assets for retirement.

The advanced stack

    • Finance plan and bank statements – Provide an overview of your current finances and bank statements to back up those numbers. Here you can also show if you’re getting any regular income from parents, alimony payments, or other work.
    • Revenue forecast – Prepare a document that shows your projected income and expenses, as well as the financials of your freelance business, for at least the next year. Do your research and budget wisely to show that you can make it in Germany with your intended clients and work. Be sure to include the costs of setting up your business and projections for profit or loss.
    • Curriculum vitae (CV) and cover letter – Display your relevant past work, experience and education. The cover letter, while not required, gives you the chance to explain why you want to live and work as a freelancer in Germany. It also helps to provide letters of recommendation from past clients or sponsors.
    • Proof of diplomas and certificates – This is especially important if you’re legally required to have a permit or certification for your profession, but in general it’s good to have this paperwork with you to back-up the information on your CV.
    • 2 letters of intent (Absichtserklärung zur Zusammenarbeit) – These should ideally be written by local clients and explain the type and amount of work they want to hire you for. This shows that there is a need for your services and that you have potential clients. Even if you already work with non-german remote clients through Upwork or similar platforms, you need to be working with local companies for your application.
    • Current contracts – If you’ve already got clients signed on to work with you, bring this along to show your earnings and type of work you provide.
    • Work samples – Experienced freelancers in Germany recommend bringing printed copies of 4-6 examples of your work.

Additional stack for business owners/Gewerbe only

Those documents following here are only required for business owners, while the rest are required for both freelancers and self-employed business owners applying for the visa application in Germany.

    • Business Plan – A full overview of your company and concept, your educational background and career (CV), information on the capital required to start the business, a detailed budget and predications of income, costs and any profits/loss.
    • Company Profile – For this form, you’ll need to dive in deep. Provide the company name, contact information, registration, function and details about your company management, licenses, sister companies, board of directors, assets, worldwide income, staff numbers and an overview of the business’ activities. If you are a daughter company, provide all the information about the parent company as well as your location in Germany.
      You’ll also need to give details about your role in the company, education background, language skills (English or German is required) and career.
      Important: You’ll need to provide two copies of each required document in German or English.
    • Business Concept – Describe the products and services you’ll be providing, the industry and market conditions, target client group, your marketing and sales strategy, any partners or staff, company legal form, as well as information on your office space and location.
    • Capital Requirement Plan – Outline your initial investments and startup costs, as well as working capital for operations.

Here is a reminder of how the whole process looks like (click here for a hi-res version):

Source: https://www.make-it-in-germany.com/

What happens next?

If you don’t get immediate approval for your German freelance visa, then prepare to wait 3 to 4 months. During this time you’re probably not legally permitted to work in Germany. If your visa expires soon you may receive an extension (Fiktionsbescheinigung), so you can stay in Germany until you get an answer.

When you receive your visa, you can move to register yourself as a self-employed person. A detailed guide that way to do this.

How to get help to understand what i did wrong the first time around?

Because all freelance visas in Germany are approved on a case-by-case basis, it’s not always clear what helped or hurt each individual application. But there are some common mistakes that you need to avoid: missing deadlines, asking for lots of exceptions, insufficient funds or projected income, missing paperwork (always check if an original is required!) or insufficient health care coverage. If you’re worried, there’s also the option to talk to a visa consultant. They can look over your paperwork and advise you on the requirements and next steps for becoming a freelancer in Germany.

However your specific case goes, know that international freelancers have had many different experiences navigating their way through the seemingly endless bureaucracy tunnel.

I can recommend that Facebook group too, where people seem to be actively exchanging their experiences on the matter and don’t hesitate to give each other a hand.

Freelance visa Germany application experiences

Sometimes, it can really help and give you confidence to read what others have gone through. Some people have posted their experiences. Here are a few links

How i can get help or guidance?

You can of course decide to talk to immigration specialists. For more general questions, you can also call a dedicated hotline setup by in cooperation with many different German administrations. They can answer your questions in English. More info about this hotline this way.

Tip: Be sure to get as much paperwork prepared before you head over. You don’t want to realize  that you need a bunch of paperwork from your last country of residence! Having the necessary documents mailed internationally can slow down the freelance visa process in Germany significantly.

I hope this massive intro helped you to get a plan together. Don’t hesitate to ask questions in the comments and share your doubts/experiences. Good luck with your application!

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4

Student visa Germany application

Congrats on deciding to study in Germany! As with all new beginnings you are probably going from excitement to anxiety and from being full of anticipation to being overwhelmed. Don’t worry, we’ve all been there! You’ll be fine! So, lets take a deep breath and tackle this step by step!

We put together a guide, on how to apply for your student visa in Germany, so you can start the process of your application organised and hopefully hassle free!

student visa Germany

What kind of student visa Germany has to offer?

Lets jump right into it and use the different types of student visas to practice a little German, shall we?

Visum zur Studienbewerbung (student applicant visa)

If you don’t have a confirmation of admission from your university yet, you should apply for this visa. It will give you three months in Germany to either wait for the confirmation or to apply for further universities, until you get into one of them. It can be extended for another three months, in case you need more time. Once you get admitted, you can apply for a student visa.

Visum zu Studienzwecken (student visa)

Your university of choice has already confirmed your admission? Then this is the visa you should apply for. Those visas are valid for three months as well. During this time you will have to apply for an extended residence permit at the Alien Registration Office in the town you are studying in. The guide that follows will concentrate on this case.

Language course visa

If you want to come to Germany to take a language class, you can apply for this visa. It is only valid for the duration of the language course but it doesn’t require to prove any German skills, or any previous academic performance. Note, that it can’t be converted into a student application or student visa once you are in Germany! If you would want to get any of those two visas after, or during the language course visa, you would have to go to your home country to apply for it.

Research visa

There are a few advantages with this kind of visa. It is especially designed for researchers coming from non-EU/EEA countries to work and stay in the EU, in order to pursue their research. These visas are normally processed faster and also provide advantages for researchers bringing family members with them. People granted the residence title “researcher”, under §20, can also teach at higher education institutions.

What are the basic requirements for a student visa in Germany?

First of all: take your time for the student visa application!

Germany is notorious for its bureaucracy for a good reason and a visa application is a lengthy process. It is also important to choose the right visa for yourself, because you can’t change a visa for another, once you’re in Germany. So keep that in mind when you choose what to apply for! In order to get your visa eventually, you will need the following five things:

1. Good enough financial resources ⚀

Because students are only allowed to work a certain amount of hours, you will have to proof how you’re going to support yourself financially. In order to do so, you will need to provide a document called “Finanzierungsnachweis” (proof of financing). It can take different forms;

  • A blocked bank account that holds at least 8700 € per year available to you
  • Your parents’ proof of income
  • A guarantee by a permanent resident in Germany to cover your expenses
  • A bank guarantee
  • A scholarship award notification

Document needed to fulfill that requirement: an official-looking piece of paper from your bank, your parents’s bank or from a scholarship satisfying the minimum financing threshold per year for your time in Germany.

2. University-entry qualification and university admission ⚁

Time to learn your first German compound noun I guess: “Hochschulzugangsberechtigung”. Beautiful, isn’t it? It basically means “university entrance qualification”. This school leaving certificate is mandatory to study at a German university. In some cases, your secondary-school certificate might be insufficient in Germany. So first of all you will need to find out whether that is the case or not. Because if it isn’t valid, you will need to attend a foundation course (“Studienkolleg”) before you are allowed to enroll.

To check if your school leaving exam is valid in Germany, or not visit the DAAD data base.  If you type in the country where you gained your school leaving certificate you should have your answer in no time.

If you want to apply for a student visa you will also need the admission confirmation from your university like the enrollment certificate or a letter of admission. You can also provide an official confirmation from the university that you have high chances to be admitted.

Document needed to fulfill that requirement: A letter from your German university stating that you got in and a school leaving certificate recognized by Germany.

3. Sufficient German skills ⚂

Whether or not you will need to proof your German skills and make a test, depends on the classes you want to enroll in and on your existing academic experience with the German language.

If you choose a study program that is taught in German, naturally you will have to prove your skills. You can do so by taking a language test such as TestDaf  or DSH.

However, you won’t need to take a separate test if:

If you enroll into an international degree programme or a special post-graduate course, German skills aren’t mandatory in advance. You can enroll into a German classes after your arrival, if you want to.

Document need to fulfill that requirement: a test score-card or an appropriate language certificate.

4. Appropriate health insurance ⚃

It is mandatory to have health insurance in Germany for the whole duration of your stay. There are 2 possible ways to go; public or private. When enrolling into a German university, you will have go public. You will also need the confirmation when applying for your residence permit. It is important to take care of your health insurance situation before you come to Germany. Public health insurance for students costs about 80€/month until you reach the age of 30.

If you fall in the following categories, you are allowed go for (cheaper) private insurance:

  • language students (e.g. in preparation of a language test)
  • practical trainees
  • scientists
  • internship students
  • students above 30

In some cases the insurance of your home country might be valid. Germany accepts the health insurance of some other countries. Such as all member states of the European Union, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Israel, Liechtenstein, Morocco, Macedonia, Montenegro, Switzerland, Serbia,
Tunisia and Turkey.

If you are form any of these countries, all medical treatments should be covered through your current insurance. Figuring out your health insurance is probably one of the first things you should take care of, as you will need it in your application. Far more details on how to get health insurance in Germany for a visa application this way.

Document needed to fulfill that requirement: a certificate from an insurance company satisfying minium coverage requirements.

5. A residence permit (in most cases)⚄

On top of the German student visa, you will have to apply for a residence permit if you are not an EU/EEA citizen and intend to study longer than 90 days in Germany. For the resident permit application you will need to bring the following documents to your appointment at the Foreigners’ Office:

  • Confirmation of registration from your local registration office “Bürgeramt” (More info: Meldebescheinigung)
  • Confirmation of health insurance coverage
  • Student ID from your German university (certificate of enrollment)
  • Proof of financial resources if you somehow didn’t show one while applying for a student visa
  • Valid passport and current visa, if you have one already

A resident permit is valid 2 years and can be extended if needed. You need to do this application within the first 3 months after your arrival in Germany. Make sure you book an appointment at the Foreigners’ Office in advance then (Book here for Berlin office).

Satisfy all requirements and you will walk out of there with the precious gem! 🙂

Student Germany visa: Can I work with it?

If you are from a EU or EEA country, you can work in Germany without any restrictions or time limit. Non-EU or EEA students can work 120 full days or 240 half days per year. That means 20 hours per week during the semester. If you’d want to exceed this time limit, you can apply at the
“Agentur für Arbeit” (Job center) authority for a work permit.

Why could my student visa application for Germany be rejected?

Rejection hurts and in case of a student visa rejection it can be really time consuming and nerve wrecking on top! We summarized five major reasons why you could get rejected and how to avoid them.

Poor grades

The grade standards in Germany are high! If the people at the embassy see your grades and think they are not suitable for the German academic world, they might reject you, as they might think you can’t succeed in your studies in Germany. In case you don’t have the best grades, you should
probably try to make up for that in your interview. Convince them why you are the perfect candidate nonetheless.

Insufficient German skills

If they are mandatory and you can’t prove you have them, it could be a reason for rejection. If you are aware that your language skills aren’t good enough, it would be wiser to postpone your application. Better to do your homework properly, than being rejected for that reason!

Irrelevant or inconsistent program choice

To switch careers after finishing a bachelor’s might make sense to you, but to see an applicant with a BA in Fine Arts, applying for a Master’s in Engineering, might seem strange and inconsistent to the people reading the application. Of course it would be easier and recommended to apply for a master’s program, that is related to your undergraduate studies. If you want to switch careers though, justify the change and bring some proof of work experience within the new field.

Wrong profile

Unfortunately Germany is targeting some specific groups. You should be young and skilled and have the potential to improve the economic landscape of the country. To avoid being rejected for not fitting meeting these requirements, do some research on where people in your profession are wanted. In case of Germany, anyone with an Engineering and IT background hast great chances.

Bad interview performance

Prepare, prepare, prepare! You interviewer might ask you all sorts of questions and test your German skills. Do a little research on what you can expect in the interview for your student visa application in Germany.

Watch out for the red lights during your application!

Is there someone i can talk to for guidance?

You can of course decide to talk to immigration specialists. For more general questions, you can also call a dedicated hotline setup by in cooperation with many different German administrations. They can answer your questions in English. More info about this hotline this way.

TL;DR: How to approach the German student visa application best?

  • Like I already said in the beginning: take your time for the German student visa application!
  • Figure out which university you want to apply for and apply.
  • Make sure to apply for the right visa. You can’t change it later! With the wrong visa you might be forced to go back home to apply again from there.
  • Check, double check, idiot check! Make sure all your forms are filled out correctly and all documents are valid and provided. Your passport for example should be valid for your entire stay.
  • Also take some time to arrive in Germany properly! Give yourself enough time to enroll and care of some administrative tasks.

Good luck with your student visa Germany application and feel free to leave any questions in the comments.

Sources: 1, 2, 3

Kindergarten & Kitagutschein in Berlin for beginners

The ways of the expat life are often convoluted.

What started as a few-months stay in the city for me has now been a several-year journey which keeps on bringing new challenges.

Back in the days, i just had to worry about if i could afford another week-end out or if i had enough time to check all those abandonned sites around the city in the summer.

Fast-forwarding a few years, now a married man, i need to juggle between a side-project (this blog), a brand new job and the duties of a young father. Oh, gone are the days of simplicity and innocence ;).

I need to think about how this new life is impacting our respecting careers. One of the keys to a smoother sail in the near future is the possibility to leave our child at the kindergarten, while mummy and daddy can resume a more normal routine. There is perhaps no other more important commodity that can make such a drastic change on parenthood and work life.

This is why i thought i would round-up the process to find a kita spot for your child in Berlin.

 

You should know this:

The current situation: why it’s difficult to find a Kindergarten in Berlin

The simple reality is: there is a steep shortage of kita spots in the whole city. Prepare yourself to a hard-ride.

Why? To put it in the nutshell: Berlin’s population is currently experiencing a sharp increase, after years of stagnation. What’s more: young people have been flocking to the city because of (once) cheap rents. Most of them eventually settle down and start having kids.

The demand is increasing while the offer is not following, also because it’s hard to find Erziehern (caretakers) to take care of the kids.

Result: It was usually not easy to find a kita spot in Berlin, but recent events is making the matter more complicated.

Elephant in the room: start early

With this in mind, let’s start with the most important factor to find a kita spot in Berlin first: timing. It’s no secret. The earlier you start contacting Kitas, the better your chances are.  The current shortage forces you to sign-up for waiting list as early as possible.

How early you ask? It used to be enough to start looking at this at birth or so. Nowadays, it’s not rare to have parents start the process in the middle of the pregnancy. This makes sense because most kitas will take kids only from 1 year-old. This accounts for the all too common 2 years waiting time.

 

Picking your Kita: know the difference types

The term Kita (Kindertagesstättecovers different types and forms of childcare in Germany. This is a quick overview to understand the different types:

Krippe vs Kindergarten

You will encounter both terms during your search. Put simply; Krippe is where kids under 3 years old go. They then go to Kindergartens until they are old enough to go to school. Some Kitas have both groups within their buildings, some have Kindergartens and not Krippe. They often also have different opening times.. Depends.

The different “operators”

Privately operated  (Freie Träger)

Associations

These institutions are offering different approaches concerning pedagogy with kids, often coming from their particular nature/history. They are operated by associations, religious communities or charities. If you want your kid to be educated within a certain community, this might be good option. Some examples:

  • Deutscher Paritätischer Wohlfahrtsverband – Dachverband vieler kleiner Träger
  • Deutsches Rotes Kreuz
  • Arbeiterwohlfahrt
  • Diakonie
  • Caritas
  • pro familia
  • SOS-Kinderdörfer
  • Zentralwohlfahrtsstelle der Juden in Deutschland e.V.
  • Internationaler Bund – Freier Träger der Bildungs-,Jugend-, und Sozialarbeit e.V.
Eltern Initiative

When there is a need for more spots and parents talk to each other, they might want to start organizing their own KiTa. This is what the term “Eltern Initiative” (Parents’ Initiative) covers. It’s then operated through an association (“Verein”) managed by the parents themselves. This also allows for greater flexibility in the education and in some cases, a higher level of care. However, there is a catch. One of the conditions to get a spot is often to contribute your own time and resources to run the whole thing (buying supplies, bookkeeping, gardening, renovation works, etc.). It’s a great way to be involved in the community.

For profit companies (GmbH)

Although it might be unusual to place kids in a structure run by a company, they offer equally good environments for the development of the child. Their operations are under scrutiny by local authorities and must provide a strict standard of service as well as a pedagogy framework.

Kindertagespflege – Tagesmutter

This another form a childcare provided by single persons, often women, hence the term Tagesmutter. They provide childcare in the environment of their own home, often along side their own children. It usually offers a greater time flexibility and a somewhat more personal approach. It won’t be a group of 10 or 15 kids.

City operated  (Öffentliche Träger)

KiTas that are working under direct contract with the local authorities.

 

—————

Picking your Kindergarten in Berlin​ : Pedagogy and education style​

Regardless of the structure, the Kita must follow a basic set of requirements, when it comes to educating and stimulating kids. It is a framework defined by the Berlin senate around 6 themes; health, social and cultural life, communication, arts, amtehmatics, nature & environmentYou can find more info about it in mutliple languages here.

However, each Kita has the freedom to set their own ways to get there. This is why you must not hesitate to ask about how they do things, the daily routine, the outings, etc. This is why you will probably encounter different methodologies such as Montessori or Waldorf. Here are the most common ones and very short summaries.

  • Situationsansatz: This is about letting the kids decide what to do, depending on their current interests and their own curiosity
  • Montessori-Kinderhaus: The focus is to develop a sense of own responsibility with each child, by providing a supportive learning environment
  • Freinet-Kindergarten: One trusts the instincts of the child and build upon them, about cooperation too
  • Waldorf-Kindergarten: Focus on intellectual, artistic development
  • Reggio Emilia-Kindergarten: Priority given to experimentation
  • Waldkindergarten: Nature Kindergarden in the outdoors
  • Bewegungskindergarten: Pushing for physical activities and movements

How to find KiTas in Berlin around you

A good old Google search, paired with a physical scouting of your area and recommendations from friends can already do wonders. Added to that, you can turn to 2 great websites/databases:

Kita-Suche is a great project that allows to search for a kita visually on a map!

Getting a Kita Gutschein in Berlin:

What is a Kita Gutschein

It is basically a “pass” provided by the city that states how much childcare your kid will get at a Kita. This is how the KiTa knows how much money they will get from the city in return, when taking on your child. It is the paper connecting you, the Kita and the city. Some Kitas won’t accept you on the waiting list unless you have one already. Although, considering the dire situation, i have found that many Kitas don’t have this requirement. You can get one maximum 9 months before the child care starts and need to have it sorted at the latest 2 months before.

Applying for a Kita Gutschein

The process for getting a Kita Gutschein in Berlin is fairly easy in nature and it can be done online here. It is essentially a form asking you how many hours ( 4-5 hours, 5-7 hours, 7-9 hours or 9+ hours of childcare per day ) , what your resources are, who the legal guardians are, etc. One still has to justify income (because before, one had to contribute a fee based on their income) and your working hours, which is easy for employees but a bit annoying for freelancers as you can’t just give in your employment contract for proof. You will also need to provide basic documents such as birth certificate, Meldebescheinigung & a copy of ID card/passport.

When your application has been accepted, the Kita Gutschein in Berlin remains valid only for a few months, which means you will need to apply again if you haven’t gotten a contract with a Kita in that time span. Without it, you can’t sign a contract.

 

———–

Some others tips

Staying on the top of the waiting list

Make sure to ask the KiTa manager how to proceed there. It’s usually best practice to call every 3 months or so, to confirm again that you are still interested in a spot. However, some don’t like this.

About costs

To that regard, we are pretty lucky in Berlin because it was made completely free for all kids. This is not the case everywhere in Germany. The only part that you have to pay is a contribution for the food; about 25€ per month, and sometimes small additional fees for extra activities.

Alternatives until you get a spot

​If you haven’t planned ahead, it’s unlikely you will get a kita spot right away (unless you have good connections or ​a ridiculous amount of luck). In the meantime, you will have to come up with a plan B until you obtain the holy grail. As foreigners away from home, we cannot rely on the help of close relatives like grand-parents. You can instead turn to the following options.

Krabbel- und Spielgruppen

​Meaning “crawling and play” groups, they are simple initiatives from parents​ meeting in cafes or other public places to let babies socialize with one another. I grant you; it won’t free up your time since you have to keep an eye on your child. However, it will make up for the lack of social interactions with other kids your child may experience, especially if it’s your first child. It will also allow you to chat with other parents, exchange experiences and tips. Sometimes, you may also hear about neighboring Kitas, how good they are, what you should do to get in, etc. It’s a good entry point into your local neighborhood and you might feel less alone in the impossible task of finding a kita spot in Berlin.

You can search krabbel groups in Berlin on this page, or these Facebook groups: 1 and 2.

Tagesmutter

As mentioned above, Tagesmutter could prove to be an excellent alternative if you need a helping hand, with added flexibility. There is a search engine for this here and plenty of other websites such as this one here. Beware though: for a lot of people, this is the next best option after getting a Kita spot in Berlin. There is also a high demand for that. It might also be clever to start your search and make calls early.

Babysitters

Not a lot of people know this but if you are registered with the Jugendamt, you can ask for a babysitter to be paid while you are looking for a Kita. They help you to pay a babysitter at a rate of about 600€ per month! That could be huge help to bridge the gap. Take advantage from this! More info there.

Making the situation change

​This situation sucks, there are just enough kita spots in Berlin. Every year, thousands of kids aren’t able to find a spot. If you want to commit and make the situation change​, you can go sign the petition and demonstrate. More info here.

I wish you all the best for you and your child. Don’t hesitate to ask questions in the comments.

Sources: 1, 2, 3

Simple step by step guide to unemployment benefits in Germany

If your life in Germany is mostly filled with new and exciting experiences, there are times where it doesn’t turn so much in your favor. One of these times can be to learn one day that you are going to be out of a job soon. In this case, you are faced with different options. Either you saw it coming and you have already secured your next job, or it came out of the blue and you best option will be to claim unemployment benefits in Germany.

Although i do have job again now, i did go through all the steps in order to gain those. I thought i would lay it out clearly for you how it happened. It can be quite challenging, especially if you don’t speak German. However, i have found that it’s relatively simple if you know the way.

Who qualifies for unemployment benefits in Germany?

Before taking an attempt at claiming your Arbeitslosengeld (Unemployment money), you should probably find out if you have any. As a rule, it is any registered person that has worked at least 12 months in the past 2 years. However, self-employed people don’t have this kind of protection and can only claim an allowance (more on that later). Employees who have resigned on their own initiative can also claim those benefits but must first wait 3 months after registration.

How much can I claim?

In terms of support length: the rule is pretty simple here. You contribute twice as long as you can receive. For example as an employee (aged below 55), you need to work 24 months to be able to claim a full-year worth of benefits (ALG 1). You cannot claim more than one year if you are aged under 45. In terms of support amount, you will receive 60% of your net salary, 67% if you have children. Also remember that your health insurance will be covered too during that time.

The difference between Arbeitslosengeld 1 (ALG 1) & Arbeitslosengeld 2 (ALG 2)

If you have made a bit of research or talked to your HR department, you might have seen ALG 1 or ALG 2 already and wondered what it meant. They are different types of unemployment benefits in Germany. Just to be sure:

What is Arbeitslosengeld 1:

Arbeitslosengeld 1 are unemployment benefits you can claim after having worked as an employee in Germany for at least 12 months. It equals to at least 60% of your net salary. You refer to the Arbeitsagentur. This is what we help you to get in this guide.

What is Arbeitslosengeld 2:

Arbeitslosengeld 2 is an allowance (also called Hartz 4) you can claim after your ALG 1 rights have ran out and you still haven’t found a job or alternatively, if you never worked in Germany before. This benefit equals to a much lower amount of money than ALG 2 and comes with further restrictions. You refer to the Job Center. We will not talk about this on this page. You will find more info in English about it here.

ALG I & ALG II: Like pears and apples.

How to apply for unemployment benefits in Germany (ALG 1):

1- Learning the news

This is happening between your employer and you but it’s still an important part of the process. It’s something that defines what’s next or to be more accurate: it defines the timing with which you will register at the Arbeitsagentur. This founding administrative step is really important and when you do it changes depending on your situation.

Situation 1: You are fired without any warning – your contract ends. A notice period applies.

You boss announced the news personally or over email: you’ve been let go and the notice period written in your contract applies (usually 3 months). In this case, since you have now knowledge you will be jobless in the near future, the Arbeitsagentur will ask of you to plan ahead as well and already register yourself. Same if your contract is simply not renewed. You must register as soon as possible, up to 3 months prior the last day of employment.

Situation 2: No notice period applies.

In some cases, it’s not possible to know that the end of the contract is so near. Maybe the contract has a shorter notice period or maybe you have agreed to a voluntary resignation type of deal. In any case, if your employment ends in less than 3 months, you need to register at the latest 3 days after you have had knowledge of that decision.

In both cases, make sure to obtain a termination letter that indicates the reasons of the decision, when you became aware of it and when your last day was (Arbeitsbescheinigung). If you are just quitting your job, please note that you won’t be able to receive unemployment benefits in Germany for a period of 3 months after your registration at the Arbeitsagentur.

What happens if you fail to register in time

The Arbeitsagentur is incentivizing a pro-active approach to doing everything in time by threatening an exclusion of those benefits for a few weeks. In short, if you fail to register in time, be prepared to lose money.

Failure to register in time will result in losing money.

2 – Registering (online or not) as looking for a job

It is recommended to use the online platform to register yourself as soon-to-be out of a job. You can do this very easily by following this link. You will need to first create an account on the platform (scroll down to “Noch nicht registriert“, tick the disclaimer boxes and click “Registrieren als Bewerber“). Once you have confirmed your account, you will be able to complete the rest of the process. If you are unsure about what to do, you can always call the hotline and get help in English if you have any questions about unemployment benefits in Germany.

3 – Registering in person as being unemployed

Once you have completed the first step, you will need to free up a few hours of your time to also go on site and register yourself as “properly” unemployed. This is to be done at the very latest on the first day without a job. You will go to your local Arbeitsagentur for that. If unsure where it is; use this form. Make sure to bring all the following documents with you:

  • Passport
  • Meldebescheinigung (Registration certificate)
  • Visa (If applicable)
  • Your Krankenkasse card
  • Termination letter from your employer (and contract)
Do prepare for some queuing (Credits: Pexels.com)

You will obtain a number to wait in line and a person working there will process your case and give you more instructions. Don’t hesitate to ask questions, especially if the person talks fast.

So far so good. Well done. But it doesn’t end there.

4 – Filling in the application document

This is what you came for and it’s the last step to take in your quest. Once you are registered as having no job, you will have now have to ask for support from the state during these hard times. To do that, you will fill in the “Antrag auf Arbeitslosengeld” (Application for unemployment money in Germany). This is can be done on a good ol’ fashioned paper form that you can obtain at the Arbeitsagentur directly, or it can be done online on this page. Simply use the account you created on step 2. If you are a bit lost while doing this, you can refer to this guide, which explains in simple German what is expected of you.

This form is mainly asking of you more details about your personal situation (kids too, if applicable), why you are applying, which resources you have at the moment, where your insurance is and more. All those details are needed to measure whether you really qualify for unemployment benefits in Germany.

5- Receive confirmation at home

Once your application is sent, it will processed by the Arbeitsagentur relatively fast; usually within 2 weeks. You will receive an official confirmation by post which puts together your unemployment benefits in Germany. Among other things; how much you will get (per day, that’s the way it’s done), when it starts and finishes,  where the money goes, etc.

6- Fulfill your duties and prepare the transition

Now that you don’t need to think about how you will pay your rent, you can start to plan again. Soon after having registered at the Arbeitsagentur, you will receive a convocation to meet your counselor there. It is compulsory to attend in order to communicate what your plan is. Make sure to come prepared with an updated CV and already some applications for jobs in the pipe. If you are planning to become a freelancer, show that you have done your research too (which can start here btw 🙂 ) and that you need time to prepare it. It’s important you establish a good relationship with your counselor.

Prepare for a bumpy ride (Source: Giphy.com)

You can find on this page here all the steps we just covered on the Arbeitsagentur’s website. It’s well laid-out and explains again the different steps to get unemployment benefits in Germany. I strongly advise you to have a look to get familiar with all the terms. Part of the platform is also available in English.

FAQ

Can i transfer unemployment benefits earned back home to Germany?

Yes. If you have been working long enough in another E.U country, you have the legal right to have your unemployment be transferred to Germany when registering. This involves asking for an authorization before leaving your country and submitting this authorization when you register in Germany. More info on how to transfer unemployment benefits to Germany this way.

After working in Germany, i plan to be abroad before coming back. Can i still apply for ALG 1 then?

In the case you were eligible before leaving Germany, you can still get ALG1 if you do the timing right. You are eligible if you contributed at least 12 months in the past 2 years. Thus, you can still receive benefits if you apply less than 12 months after your departure.

Example: you stay in London 15 months after your time in Germany. You come back to Germany, this time frame rule won’t let you have ALG1 (15 months in the UK + 9 months in Germany before that = 24 months)

Can i calculate in advance how much i will be getting?

Yes. You can get a rough idea with this small calculator provided by the Arbeitsagentur here.

I am in Germany on a Blue card or working visa, can i still get ALG1 benefits?

Yes, but it lies in the hands of the foreigners’ office. When you lose your job, you have to notify the immigration authorities (section 82 subs. 6 of the German Residence Act) and they make a call on whether or not you qualify.

The foreigners’ office can decide to extend your residence permit by 6 months to give you a chance to find a job again, while getting ALG1 too.

What helps in that case:

  • That you have been in Germany under a work visa or blue card long enough (about 2 years).
  • That your visa is non employer-dependent.

Please bare in mind that i am no immigration specialist. Interesting thread on this matter here.

I have a mini-job or freelance opportunity: can i still have a small side gig and ALG1 at the same time?

Yes, this is possible but often times not a very attractive option. Here are the limitations:

  • You are not allowed to work more than 15h a week (since you need time to find a real job again)
  • You can’t earn more than 165€ per month (eg: if you earned 300€ that month,  135€ will be deducted on your ALG1 amount for that month)
  • You must let the Arbeitsagentur know before it starts.

Who pays for my Krankenkasse while the 3 months waiting period applies?

If you are with a public Krankenkasse, there is a month after you quit that is part of normal coverage (=no need to pay yourself), then the Arbeitsamt covers those costs for the rest of the time and also after, while receiving ALG1.

If you are a private Krankenkasse, there is a also a month “free” included after you quit, but then you ought to pay yourself, until you receive ALG1. More info here.

Please note that this post is aiming at providing an overview of the process and that i made it to the best of my ability based on my experience. I believe it to be accurate but cannot be held accountable for any wrong-doings or wrong decisions you might do on this information. Feel free to correct me or give more details about to best get unemployment benefits in Germany in the comments.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4