Working in Germany
The job market
Germany has the fourth largest economy in the world (after the US, China and Japan) and the largest economy of any European Union (EU) country. It also has the biggest population of any EU member state and is a major industrial power; it is one of the world's biggest and most technologically advanced producers of machinery, vehicles and chemicals. All of this is supported by a highly skilled workforce. There are plenty of opportunities for UK graduates to experience life in Germany, whether by starting or developing their careers in the country, teaching English, or taking part in a volunteering programme or study scheme.
Numerous companies with headquarters in Germany are known around the world, including Volkswagen, BMW Group, Siemens and Bayer. UK graduates who find jobs with any of these employers may well have the opportunity to spend some time working and gaining experience in Germany. However, small and medium-sized companies are also a vital part of Germany's industrial base. These businesses, known as the Mittelstand, make up 98% of all German companies, employ 80% of the German workforce and are responsible for a significant proportion of its exports.
Germany's population is fairly evenly distributed, with a number of major cities in addition to Berlin, the capital. It has the highest number of immigrants in the EU, many from other EU countries. English is widely spoken and fluency in English is prized, so there are many opportunities to teach the language, including to professionals who wish to improve their language ability for business purposes.
Where could you work in Germany?
The single most successful German industry is mechanical engineering, which is dominated by small rather than large companies. Only around 3% of the German companies working in this sector have more than 1,000 employees. Electrical engineering, automotive manufacturing and the chemical industry are also crucially important to the strength of the German economy.
Medical equipment and pharmaceutical goods are key exports, as are electrical goods, which range from commercial lighting to nanotechnology products and household appliances. Germany has also invested heavily in green energy and related technology, especially solar and wind energy.
- metals such as iron and steel
- electrical equipment
- machine tools
- high precision equipment
- plastic goods.
Multinationals such as Amazon, Google, KPMG and McKinsey have offices in Germany. There are also numerous large employers with German headquarters, many of which are global:
- Adidas (sportswear manufacturing)
- Allianz (insurance)
- Bayer (pharmaceuticals)
- Bosch (household appliances)
- BMW Group (automotive manufacturing)
- Deutsche Bank (investment banking, financial services)
- Haribo (confectionery)
- Hugo Boss (fashion retail)
- Lidl (discount supermarket)
- Merck (the world's oldest chemical and pharmaceutical business)
- Rocket Internet (builds and invests in online start-ups)
- SAP (software development)
- Siemens (industrial manufacturing and automation)
- Volkswagen Group (automotive manufacturing)
- Zalando (e-commerce).
Skills in demand: There are good employment prospects for qualified technical workers such as engineers, IT specialists and health specialists. This includes: doctors; mechanical, automotive and electrical engineers; people with expertise in technology, IT and science, including biologists, physicists and chemists; and experts with vocational qualifications.
You can find out more about which skills are in demand from the Make it in Germany website.
Language requirements: If you speak fluent English, or it is your first language, you may be able to get by in Germany without speaking German. However, your chances of finding employment and of enjoying living in Germany will improve if you have a good grasp of German.
Are UK qualifications recognised in Germany?
Germany has been involved in the Bologna process and is a member of the European higher education area, so there is a system in place for recognising the value of degrees from UK universities and other institutions across Europe. You can find out more about this from the website of ERIC-NARIC.
Some professions in Germany are regulated, including doctors and lawyers. There are arrangements in place for the recognition of vocational qualifications relating to these roles. You can find out more about the regulated professions from the Make it in Germany website.
Teaching English as a foreign language in Germany
If English is your first language and you have a university degree and a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate, you should be well placed to find work. Having some work experience and a grasp of German will be an advantage, but you may be able to get started without. If you have an EU passport you won't need a work permit to take up employment, but if you come from a country outside of the EU you'll need to check whether you need to obtain a visa. Some opportunities may be freelance. You'll need to find out about arrangements for paying income tax in Germany on your earnings.
The British Council language assistants programme provides paid opportunities for undergraduates and graduates from any degree background to work in Germany as language assistants, as long as they have A level German or equivalent. There are also plenty of other opportunities to teach English as a foreign language in Germany, with demand for lessons in both general English and business English.
There are private language schools in towns and cities across Germany. Some are part of larger chains or groups, which may supply you with their own teaching materials. Students at these schools tend to be adults, but there may be opportunities to teach children or teenagers. Some companies hire teachers of English to improve their employees' language skills, and you might also be able to find a position as a private tutor, possibly with accommodation provided by a host family. Another option is seeking a job at language summer camps for children.
You'll find there's more competition for jobs in cities such as Berlin, Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Dusseldorf, and Wiesbaden than in smaller cities. However, there may also be more opportunities, particularly for teaching business executives who are looking to improve their English.
You need teacher certification to teach in a German primary or secondary school, which can take time to obtain. If you already have a teaching qualification, you may be able to demonstrate that it is equivalent to German teacher training. You can find out more about recognition of overseas professional qualifications from the Recognition in Germany website, which is supported by the German government.
What is it like to work in Germany?
- Working hours: These can be up to 48 hours a week, but the average for full-time employees is around 38 hours a week.
- Holidays: Holiday entitlement is relatively generous. Full-time employees can expect on average 30 days of paid leave plus 10 days of public holiday per year.
- Income tax: Germany operates a progressive income tax system, with lower rates of tax for lower earners. Income tax is relatively high, with a rate of 14% on earnings above around £8,000, rising to 42% on earnings above around £50,000 and 45% on earnings above around £230,000. There is also a 'solidarity surcharge' (Solidaritaetszuschlag), an additional 5.5% levy on income, which was brought in after German reunification to help support the economy of the former East Germany. Income tax returns are filed annually with the local tax office.
Don't forget to check your UK tax and National Insurance position with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) to ensure that you are not losing any UK pension rights.
Where to find jobs
EU citizens are entitled to enter Germany to look for work – see the advice on visas for more information.
You can search for graduate jobs abroad on TARGETjobs.
Take a look at the websites of companies that interest you, as they may include information about vacancies and internships.
The Make it in Germany website, which is supported by various departments of the German government, has useful information about visas and job hunting. You can search for vacancies in specialisms where there is a shortage of qualified professionals using the 'Make it in Germany' website job listings.
The Federal Employment Agency (Bundesagentur für Arbeit, or BA) Germany's largest official job portal, and is available in a number of languages, including German and English (although most of the job descriptions are in German only). There are also local branches of the Federal Employment Agency in most towns and cities in Germany, and the service they provide is free.
If you have questions about your job search or work in Germany, the Migration Support Centre, part of the Federal Employment Agency, can give you support in German or English.
The website of EURES, the network of European employment agencies, includes listings of jobs based in Germany.
Job fairs are an important part of the recruitment process in Germany. They take place in towns and cities across the country and are typically open to the general public. Some are specifically aimed at graduates and young people, while others focus on specific areas such as digital business or engineering. Before you go to a job fair, check which companies are attending and then make sure you talk to recruiters for organisations that interest you.
Newspapers with vacancies
Vacancies may be advertised in the following newspapers, which are all in German:
- Die Welt
- Die Zeit
- Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
- Frankfurter Rundschau
- Süddeutsche Zeitung
You can read German news and browse for jobs in English on the website of The Local.
CV, application and interview tips
You will usually need to provide a CV (lebenslauf) and covering letter (anschreiben), rather than submitting an application form. If you submit your CV in German the employer may assume you are willing to be interviewed in German, so unless your written and spoken German are both of a high standard, think carefully about whether this is necessary.
German employers tend to place a high value on accurate spelling and punctuation in CVs and covering letters. They also look for a continuous account of how you have spent your time, so conspicuous unexplained gaps are to be avoided. This is probably not the time to submit a quirky or wacky CV in the hope of garnering the recruiter's attention, or to experiment with unusual fonts or bright colours. Sticking with a clear, simple layout may serve you better.
In Germany, as in other European countries, it is commonplace to include a headshot of yourself in your CV. If you do this, make sure the picture you choose looks professional and is a good representation of you. Your CV should be no longer than two pages long. Typical sections for a CV in Germany include the following:
- personal details (your name, address and contact information – you are not required to include your date of birth, although applicants in Germany sometimes do).
- education – it is usual in Germany to include results for qualifications taken immediately before going to university, such as A levels.
- career history or work experience.
- skills and extracurricular activities.
- personal interests (this might include extracurricular activities, or you could cover these in your skills section).
It is not usual in Germany to start your CV with a personal statement or a description of your career objectives. You can find out more about how to write an effective CV and adapt it for different roles from our advice on how to use our CV template.
Work experience, internships and exchanges
Many students in Germany undertake internships (praktika) before graduation, and these placements are often advertised on company websites. Your university careers service will be able to give you information about exchanges, and you may also be able to find out about internships through networking and attending job fairs in Germany. Students from countries outside of the EU may need a visa to undertake an internship in Germany.
The following exchange programmes enable students and graduates from other countries to study or gain experience in Germany:
- Erasmus+, the EU programme for education, training, youth and sport for 2014 to 2020, is open to participants from European countries and beyond. It covers student exchange, work experience and volunteering opportunities and enables both undergraduate and postgraduate students to take up study opportunities lasting for 3 to 12 months.
- IAESTE, the International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience, offers science and engineering students paid industrial placements lasting between 6 and 52 weeks.
- ELSA, the European Law Students' Association, offers international traineeships lasting between two weeks and two years to law students and young lawyers.
- IFMSA, the International Federation of Medical Students' Associations, offers four-week professional or research exchanges for medical students.
- The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) provides scholarship funding to enable applicants from around the world to study in Germany.
The Voluntary Social Year is an official government-funded voluntary scheme in Germany. It is open to young people up to the age of 27, including German citizens and those from both EU and non-EU countries. It provides placements in the social sector that are usually 12 to 18 months long. The Voluntary Ecological Year is a similar scheme that provides placements in the environmental sector. You can find out more about this from the Young Germany website, which is supported by the Federal Foreign Office.
The European Voluntary Service (EVS) offers people aged 18–30 the opportunity to volunteer in a range of countries, including Germany, for a period of 2 to 12 months.
Do you need a visa to work in Germany?
Citizens from the EU, EEA (European Economic Area) or Switzerland don't need a visa or permit to work and live in Germany. However, you will still need to register your address in Germany within three months of entering the country. You are likely to need to bring your passport and rental contract or proof of residency when you register.
Once you have registered, you will receive a certificate of residence. You will need to register any subsequent changes of address, and when you leave Germany you will need to deregister. Each city has its own residents' registration office. You can find out more from the Federal Foreign Office.
If you are not a citizen of an EU member state, you should contact the German embassy in the country where you are to find out about visa regulations. A list of German embassies is available from Federal Foreign Office website. You are likely to need a residence permit with work authorisation. If you are a university graduate, you may be able to enter Germany on a six-month residence permit to look for work, but you will not be allowed to work while looking. Once you have found work, you can apply for a German work permit.
Living in Germany
Cost of living: generally speaking, the cost of living is slightly lower than in the UK, although it is typically higher than in eastern European countries. Rent varies from region to region and some cities, such as Cologne, Düsseldorf, Hamburg, Munich and Frankfurt, are more expensive than average. Berlin is one of the more affordable capital cities in western Europe.
Healthcare: Germany has one of the highest standards of healthcare in the world. If you work in Germany, compulsory health insurance is automatically arranged by your employer and both you and the employer will contribute to the cost.
Laws and customs to be aware of: Germany is a tolerant and liberal society by international standards. For example, sexual orientation is regarded as a matter of private choice and same-sex marriage is legal. Laws on issues such as drug use are broadly similar to the UK. Business culture is relatively formal and punctuality is highly valued.
Major religion(s) : Christianity, both Roman Catholic and Protestant. There is also a well-established Muslim community and a number of other faiths are also practised.
Type of government: federal parliamentary republic with two houses of parliament: one is elected using proportional representation, while the other consists of representatives of the federal states, appointed to reflect the political make-up of the federal governments.