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

723 Comments

  • Reply Ali 30/08/2018 at 08:41

    Hi,

    Thanks for your article! I have a question, my boyfriend has to register to the Job Center and as we live together apparently I am supposed to register to the Job Center too, which I find weird because I do have a job. And also we are not married. Do have any informations about it ? Do you know if I really have to register ? Thanks

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 30/08/2018 at 10:32

      Hi Ali. I’m not familiar with that case but i have read somewhere that it might be related to being a freelance or something like that. Sorry i can’t help further.

  • Reply Eliara 29/08/2018 at 18:16

    Hi Bastien,
    Thanks for your great article full of information. I have a situation here where I don’t know if should I apply for unemployed or elterngeld. My contract will expire the end of October, my maternity leave starts 26 of October. My due date is in December. I don’t know what to do, I will have no salary after October. Do you know any case like mine and could give me any advice? Thanks in advance. ..

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 30/08/2018 at 10:42

      Hey Eliara. I would advise to do your own research but here is what i can quickly tell you. One condition to receive ALG 1 is to be available to take on a new job on the market, so in that prospect, you can ask yourself that question again. More info in German here.

  • Reply Ankit 29/08/2018 at 12:08

    Hi Bastien,

    Thanks for the article. I am a PhD student in Munich from a non EU country and receiving DAAD scholarship from the last 4 years. My PhD contract is going to end by the end of next month. I have been constantly applying for jobs after the time left from the PhD completion, but in vain, though I still have some interviews coming up. I have two questions,

    1. I had the knowledge of the contract getting over from about an year, but I didn’t register at Arbeitsagentur because of the lack of knowledge and also because I had the confidence to end up in some job. Although, I have registered on the website of Arbeitsagentur to search for jobs in June. Now that I have sent an email for the registration, is it considered a late registration?

    2. Some friends have advised me to empty my account balance before the registration, and also to keep a maximum of 300 Euros in the account. I have savings in my account equivalent to about 2 months of my present salary, which I did as I was afraid I won’t be able to find a job. Should I consider their advise?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 30/08/2018 at 10:37

      Hi Ankit. 1. I would tend to say yes, but the Arbeitsagentur might think otherwise. 2. Don’t know why they would advise you such a thing? Why?. The Arbeitsagentur doesn’t have access to your financial info and it won’t impact your application for ALG 1.

  • Reply reena kumari 28/08/2018 at 15:07

    hi
    i have moved to Berlin 8 months ago and did an ausbildung here really finding difficulty in finding job what can i do to get some help. i have an eu passport.

  • Reply Nacho 28/08/2018 at 06:46

    Hi!
    Your posts are amazing 🙂
    I was wondering if I could get some advice.
    So i moved to Germany in July and I came already employed, I registered, I got BKK, a bank account etc and by August I had decided I could not take it anymore ( depression related) so I quit and set my self in the career chance path, I will start studying a short private course in october.
    My question is:
    • Since I only worked one month, I am aware that I do not receive unemployment but I wonder if I should register as unemployed? I don’t really need help finding a job now because I will focus on studying.

    •What about health insurance? I told my employer to cancel BKK thinking I could get a private insurance…

    • Lastly, do i need to do something regarding my taxes? I only worked one month but I dont want them come to me asking for a whole year tax!
    I’m Spanish by the way.

    Thank you!

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 30/08/2018 at 10:24

      Hi Nacho. Glad you found the post helpful. To the best of my knowledge: No, you are not obligated to register as unemployed. Regarding health insurance; up to you but be aware that you might to have to pay it on your own now. Taxes; income tax was already taken automatically from the payslip by your employer, no worries there.

  • Reply Ali 23/08/2018 at 12:14

    What if someone gets fired within 6 months of their first job?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 26/08/2018 at 12:14

      Hi Ali. If you don’t gather all conditions to qualify for ALG1, then you don’t qualify.

  • Reply Sowmya 22/08/2018 at 11:53

    Hello,

    I am non EU Citizen living in Germany ( wiesbaden) from the last 7 years , i am an housewife from all the years and i used to work whsen i am in India for around 4 years. As i am taking care of my kids from all these years i did not look for a job though i am qualified and having previous work experience.

    Now, as i am free again to work , i applied recently in Arbeitsamt. Can i now apply for any unemployment benefits?

    Please advice.

    Thanks
    Sowmya

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 23/08/2018 at 16:32

      Hi Sowmya. Probably not. If you need support while you find a job, you may apply for ALG 2 (Harz IV).

  • Reply Georgia Nikolaou 20/08/2018 at 10:45

    Hello,
    My name is Georgia and I am from Greece.
    I will move to Germany in one month and I would like to know if I am entitled to get the unemployment benefit from the German state.
    In Greece I have been working for 20 months in the last 2 years. Do I qualify as a European citizen the unemployment benefit from Germany, that is, the 60% salary I received in Greece? Thanks in advance for your time.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 20/08/2018 at 13:30

      Hey Georgia, you can read the post again. It says how to transfer your benefits from back home to Germany.

  • Reply Olga 20/08/2018 at 00:33

    Hi there. My husband had been working in Austria before for a number of years , and when we moved to Germany he became unemployed. Is it possible to get some allowance or at least insurance coverage in this case ? I read the FAQ but it talks only about the transfer of benefits when the person was already unemployed before coming to Germany, which is not our case. Thanks a lot in advance.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 20/08/2018 at 13:32

      Hi Olga. I think the process requires that you are unemployed and receiving before you come to Germany but maybe check what the Austrian services say about this.

  • Reply Diana 12/08/2018 at 23:44

    Hi Bastien,
    I have a 1 year contract that ends soon and it might get renewed, however I would like to leave my job in order to learn German and apply for Uni.
    Do you know if it’s possible to get benefits when you did not receive a termination letter? as in there is a possibility for a contract renewal?
    Also, does the amt support in this period the self development approach, like allowing a language course instead of looking for another employment? As in , would I be forced to find a new job asap or will I be able to finish language first.
    Thank you very much 🙂

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 14/08/2018 at 21:55

      Hey Diana. They would support that approach, however the 3 months-rule would apply still probably.

  • Reply Iswarrya 02/08/2018 at 15:26

    Hi Batien,

    I have a query. My husband and myself both work in Germany. I currently have a one year contract. My question is on whether I will be eligible for unemployment benefits if my contract is not extended. Thanks

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 06/08/2018 at 22:10

      Hey Iswarrya. Conditions for eligibility are listed in the post. you can refer to them.

  • Reply Paul 01/08/2018 at 17:25

    Hi Bastian,
    I was employed in Germany from February 2017 through July 2018. Previously I was in the USA and came to Germany as an expat. My Visa specified the employer and position I came for. I applied for Unemployment monies in May when I found out that my contract was being canceled. The Arbeit now says that I can not receive money because I am only authorized to work for my old employer in my old position. The Alien office indicates that I can not change this visa status, unless I find a new employer to transfer my visa to. This makes sense, but why would I be ineligible for unemployment benefits? I have read elsewhere that since I paid into the unemployment insurance system for greater than 18 months (I did), then I should be eligible for 6-months of benefits? Do you think I should get an attorney to help?

    • Reply Paul 01/08/2018 at 17:31

      Hi Bastian,
      I used the word visa in my comment but I meant my work permit.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 06/08/2018 at 22:16

      Hi Paul. This is a strange situation indeed. It’b better to ask an expert directly yes, i’m afraid.

      • Reply PAUL 03/09/2018 at 12:53

        Just a quick follow-up. I did engage an attorney, and one letter later I am receiving my benefits. My take-away is to not be afraid to push back on the German authorities. It feels like they try with expats to take the easy route first in hope they will go away and they will thus save the money.

    • Reply Derek 13/08/2018 at 15:39

      Hi Paul,

      I actually have the same situation now, I’ve been working for an employer for more than 24month and am eligible to get the benefit, however, the arbeitamt said that I can’t get my money because my contract is over now. then can only pay me when my visa is changed to some permit that you can work here.
      My question was then If I change the permit to self-employment can I still get the benefit?
      let’s share the mutual experience to help each other. please email me Paul about your process.

  • Reply Karru 31/07/2018 at 22:50

    Hi there my husband and I are both eu citizens- moved to Germany from the Uk- I am working full fine but my husband is unable to find work due to not speaking german- he has always worked back in the UK is he able to get some help towards the bills here?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 01/08/2018 at 09:52

      Hey Karru. Look at the FAQ on how to transfer rights from back home to Germany.

  • Reply Claire 30/07/2018 at 13:41

    Hello Bastien,
    Thanks for the article!
    I worked in Germany for two years then got unemployment benefits for 8 months and worked again for 14 months. For how many months can I get the benefits now? is it only based on my last job or does it also add the 4 months that remained from my previous job?
    thanks & best,
    Claire

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 31/07/2018 at 22:43

      Good question Claire. If you want to find out how much you will get, you can use this small calculator, provided by the Arbeitsamt here. But otherwise, it is calculated on what you earn the year you make the Antrag.

  • Reply Nikos 26/07/2018 at 17:08

    Hello Bastien, I was working for couple of years in Belgium but my origin is from Greece and I moved in Germany last June. I am afraid that my company will end my probationary period. Doni have also the same right as I worked in Germany ? If yes how should i prove my working life in Belgium?

    Thanks for the great job of this article

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 27/07/2018 at 22:45

      HI Nikos. If you want to transfer your rights from Belgium to Germany, you will need to research a little bit how it’s done from the Belgian side. More info here. Good luck !

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