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. Here are the conditions to meet:

  • Current registered residence in Germany.
  • Worked at least 12 months in the past 30 months in a job (or several jobs) that pays into social welfare (versicherungspflichtig). This excludes mini jobs paid under 450€/month.
  • You are registered at the Arbeitsagentur.
  • You are available and proactively looking for new employment.

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. In terms of support amount, you will receive 60% of your net salary, 67% if you have children. In terms of support duration, 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.

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, please refer to this detailed guide about ALG 2 benefits in Germany instead.

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. Registering online is only about saving time however, it is still required to book an appointment at your local office to finish this step.

3 – Registering in person as being unemployed

Update 03.04.2020: due to the current Corona virus situation, this step can now be done online or via phone. Please reach your local Arbeitsagentur for more details.

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.

When you complete the process, you will have access to the portal with your own account as well, where you will be able to most of the document filling online, receive electronic copies of the documents issued by the authorities and adjust communication preferences.

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 30 months. Thus, you can still receive benefits if you apply less than 18 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.

Do unemployment benefits decrease chances to renew or prolong my visa in Germany?

In the case you don’t have permanent residence yet, this might be a question. Trusting this source, it seems that being on ALG1 does satisfy the prerequisites to prove you have enough means to support yourself during your time in Germany. Being on ALG2 does not. However, this means that your new visa’s validity might be limited in time, to the point your benefits run out. Or simply, you might only obtain a Fiktionsbescheinigung for now.

A strong indicator there might be negative consequences is the following sentence on your current residence permit:

Nebenbestimmungen: […] erlischt beim Bezug von Leistungen nach dem SGB II / XII

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.

Can I benefit from unemployment benefits as a freelancer?

Yes, but only if:

  1. You have been employed at least 2 years before starting as a freelancer, or if you were already receiving ALG1 before starting out as a freelancer.
  2. You agreed with your local Arbeitsagentur to pay voluntary contributions within the first 3 months of your freelancing.

Rules for how much you pay and how much you get aren’t the same as with employees, but you can still get ALG1 and work, provided you work less than 15 hours a week. Detailed info about this on Impulse.de in German.

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.

I have been on Kurzarbeit lately, how does that impact calculation?

Shortly put, it doesn’t. Your time spent on Kurzarbeit will be considered normal working time, thus benefits will be calculated as if you were working all hours. That is true for duration of benefits as well. There is no drawback going from Kurzarbeit into unemployment. Welfare state powa!

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, 5

678 Comments

  • Reply Usman 25/10/2020 at 01:53

    Hi Bastien,
    If a full time employee on a blue card has used up all his annual vacation days,. can he have unpaid leave? What will be the impact on his visa status and how will it effect health insurance and pension and who will pay that?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 26/10/2020 at 10:32

      Hey Usman. If your employer agrees to unpaid leave, then it’s certainly possible. It’s not related to your visa as you are still under employment contract. Your health insurance is still paid by your employer provided it doesn’t last more than a month. Source.

  • Reply Kumar 21/10/2020 at 18:24

    Hello Bastien,
    I am currently receiving unemployment benefits from germany. I am planning to move back to India permanently, my question is if i am moving back say mid november, do i get paid for the month of november ? is there something i should do to get this process approved ?
    Regards,
    Kumar

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 24/10/2020 at 13:08

      Hey Kumar. You need to discuss this with your Berater/in directly.

  • Reply Renz 20/10/2020 at 13:09

    Hi Bastien,
    Hope you’re well! I am currently on ALG1 until next year. On a separate note, a close family member died recently which means I might receive some inheritance money. Does my inheritance reduce my income of ALG1 or are both completely separate? I am aware that, for the amount I receive, I will not have to pay inheritance taxes, but do I still need to report this inheritance with the tax office? In case I receive the money and decide to put it into a savings account in Germany, will the Agentur für Arbeit be notified of this transaction, or do they have access to my banking details? Or should I communicate this myself?
    Thank you so much for your help!!! And for sharing all of this info here with us.
    Beste Grüße

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 20/10/2020 at 15:18

      Hey Renz. The two are not related. Current amount of resources or assets is not part of criteria for ALG1. For ALG2, that’s another story.

      • Reply Renzo 21/10/2020 at 19:34

        Thanks a lot for the help!

  • Reply Shikma Sharon 20/10/2020 at 12:24

    Hey Bastien,
    It’s really great to have this information accessible, in English. Thank you for the time and effort invested!
    I have a few questions after reading the article:
    1. Is it possible to travel abroad during the time of receiving the unemployment benefits?
    2. Is it possible to postpone the date of signing (meaning, not immediately after being fired) – from what I understand from the above, the answer is yes, but I would love to know if this will influence the duration and amount of receiving the benefits?
    3. Is there an option to pause the unemployment for a certain period for traveling and then go back to receiving the benefits?
    So basically, I’d love to know what will be the best approach if I would like to travel for a month or two, as I feel like I’ve been given a rare opportunity to do so before I go back to the mouse race

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 20/10/2020 at 15:28

      Hello Shikma. 1. As a rule, this hasn’t been possible since the Arbeitsagentur tends to think you need to be physically located in your search area. Otherwise, you might not be considered as “available” to look for work. However, in the current Corona times, this perception might have changed and the rule relaxed. 2. What do you mean by signing? 3. This source tells me you can “pause” up to 6 weeks. Beyond 6 weeks, you’d need to apply from scratch.

      • Reply Shikma Sharon 20/10/2020 at 17:45

        Bastien, thank you for your prompt response. To your question, in #2 I mean registering. And the source is very helpful!

        • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 21/10/2020 at 09:48

          Again: do you mean registering as looking for a job, or registering for to get ALG1?

  • Reply Enid 19/10/2020 at 15:47

    Hi Bastien , i already work in Berlin since 16 months now. After i finish my 24 months of work in the same firm , can i be registered in Arbeitsamt? So when i make 24 months i can change my work ? I am non EU citizen

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 20/10/2020 at 15:08

      Hey Enid. The prerequisites are listed in the post, your citizenship is not a criteria.

  • Reply Rash 15/10/2020 at 12:50

    Hi,

    I am in Berlin from Nov 2019 on work permit. I got local contract from 01 October in another company. Now I have a job but cannot work as I am waiting for the blue card. So logically I am on unpaid leave.I have health insurance with my new company. Is there any policy which can help me with my expenses?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 16/10/2020 at 14:30

      Hey Rash. Not sure I understand the question. You want to know who is going to pay for health insurance?

  • Reply Varun 14/10/2020 at 11:09

    hi, Can you start to study in your unemployment benifit time.will you yet receive unemployment beniifits?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 14/10/2020 at 15:35

      Hey Varun. Unemployment benefits are given to people who are available at least 15h a week to search for a new job, which is difficult to achieve when they are studying at the same time. Most agencies consider that students must dedicate 30h per week for their studies. So you can always try to apply for ALG1, but it’s up to the Arbeitsagentur to decide whether or not you do qualfiy.

  • Reply Maria 14/10/2020 at 09:31

    Hello Bastien,
    I have a 10 months contract,my boss would not extend my contract any more because of corona situation,I am not Eu citizen, can I get an umployment benefit?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 14/10/2020 at 15:32

      Hey Maria. Citizenship is not a relevant criteria. Look them up in the post again and see if you tick those boxes.

  • Reply Maria de la 0 11/10/2020 at 16:27

    Hi Bastien,
    As everyone else say, thank you very much for such a detailed and informative post.

    I have worked in Berlin, nonstop. for the past 5 years. I recently quit and I have applied for Arbeitslosengeld. However I would love to try going into freelancing or go into consultancy and open my own company.
    My 2 question are:
    1. Let’s say that the following scenario is real:
    I got granted the unemployment money and since I quit they will start paying me 3 month from now, shortly after receiving the money I get a freelancing job but it is for a short period of time, since I need to notify the arbeitsagentur, does it means that after finishing the contract the unemployment benefit will be deny because after that ‘new job’ I haven’t worked for the 12 months?

    2. If I go into freenlancing or entreprenarship, can I still receive the unemployment money until I start earning anything again or do I need to apply to a different benefit squem?

    Thank you very much for your time and answers!
    Really appreciate it!

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 13/10/2020 at 10:37

      Hey Maria. 1. This would apply if I understand you correctly. 2. You could make use of the Gründerzuschuss, which the Arbeitsagentur still giving you ALG1 while allowing you to start your own business and generate income. More info about that here.

  • Reply Oskar 11/10/2020 at 14:30

    Hello Bastien,
    I’ve been working only for 4 months on a part-time job contract in Germany by now. I worked and paid my unemployment insurance etc. for years in Spain before moving to Berlin. Am I entitled to receive Arbeitslosengeld in case I would got fired now? Thank you very much!

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