Unemployment

four human figures representing different occupations and the skyline of Berlin in the background

According to its constitution, Germany is a social state. This means that certain life risks are covered collectively by the community of all citizens. This includes the risk of job loss and a period of unemployment. During this period, you can obtain benefits from the unemployment insurance or from the state to secure your existence.

How do I register as unemployed?

Those who lose their job and have been in employment subject to compulsory insurance for at least twelve months in the previous two years receive unemployment benefit I for the duration of up to one year (even up to two years for older employees). In this period, the unemployment insurance into which all employees pay monthly contributions from their income continues to pay 60 % of the previous net salary. If child benefit is received for a child in the household, it is 67 %.

To receive unemployment benefit I, you must register as unemployed. The application can be made online or in person at the employment agency in your area.

The unemployment registration must be submitted on the 1st day of unemployment but can be done even before the unemployment (maximum of three months before). You need the following documents for this:

  • Identity card / passport with registration certificate
  • Notice of dismissal or fixed-term employment contract if applicable

Three months before the end of your employment relationship, if you know already that you will become unemployed (within three days becoming aware in the event that you become aware later), you are also obliged to register as a job seeker so that the employment agency can send you appropriate job vacancies from that time.

Unnecessary periods of unemployment should thus be avoided. If you register too late as a job seeker, this may be penalised with a temporary block on unemployment benefit. The deadline can also be met with a telephone call or an e-mail. You will then receive an appointment for a personal consultation, which it is essential for you to keep; otherwise your benefits may be reduced.

How can I return to employment?

If you register as a job seeker, you will receive help from the employment agency. Further information can be found under work.

Can I receive financial support for the cost of living?

If you have not worked a complete year before losing your job, if were never employed or if you have already received unemployment benefit I for a year, you are no longer entitled to unemployment benefit I. However, you are then essentially entitled to benefits to cover the cost of living if you otherwise have no income or assets from which you can finance your cost of living.

The following must be distinguished here:

  • Unemployment benefit II (“Hartz IV”) is received by people who live in Germany legally in the long-term (i.e. German citizens, under certain conditions EU citizens, or non-EU citizens in possession of a residence permit), if they are older than 16 years, not yet of retirement age and fit for work. In addition to the (cash) benefits to secure existence, recipients of unemployment benefit II are entitled to help with reintegration into the job market.
  • Social welfare or basic provision for old-age and in the case of incapacity for work is received by those who are part of the same group of people but who are either already of retirement age or unfit for work on health grounds, i.e. unable to work for at least three hours per day. The amount of the benefits is identical to that of unemployment benefit II.
  • Asylum seeker benefits are received by those who live in Germany as asylum seekers, those with permission to remain until deported or holders of certain humanitarian residence permits. Asylum seeker benefits are significantly below the level of the other benefits to secure existence. Moreover, in the first 15 months, only limited healthcare applies.

If your immigration as an EU citizen was exclusively to seek work, you will receive no unemployment benefit II. However, if you take at least marginal employment, you can receive supplementary benefits.

Furthermore, newly arrived EU citizens have no entitlement to unemployment benefit II during the first 3 months in Germany. The same applies for non-EU citizens unless their immigration is for the purpose of family reunification with German citizens.

Asylum seekers and those with permission to remain until deported have no entitlement to unemployment benefit II. However, they are entitled to money under the asylum seekers’ benefits act.

More information can be found in the chapter on the asylum process. Refugees with a recognised residence permit, refugees, people with asylum status and people granted subsidiary protection are entitled to unemployment benefit II. Translations of the notifications, forms and leaflets in many languages can be found on the website of the German federal employment agency.