Becoming a teacher as an expat in Germany: Some key insights

Becoming a teacher as an expat in Germany: Some key insights

Have you ever contemplated becoming a teacher in Germany? Perhaps you possess the skills to educate or have already worked as a teacher before and want to continue being a part in shaping people’s learning and futures. 

If you are considering going down this road, there’s a few things to consider beforehand. In this article, I am going to share with you my own personal experience of becoming a Lehrkraft in Germany, 11 years after I first arrived in the country. Hopefully you can learn something from my own journey. 

I recently learned - this Friday just gone, to be exact - that I’ve fulfilled the requirements to become a German citizen, giving me the exact same rights as the natives. This is a major milestone for me and will likely positively influence my future career, but I did manage to get this far as an expat. So here we go… 

Step 1: Acknowledge that teaching is not just a job, but a vocation

If you’ve never studied pedagogy, didactics, or anything related to the art of teaching, I strongly advise you to be honest with yourself and take a hard look at what the Germans call your “Schlüsselfähigkeiten”: your key strengths and weaknesses. Remember that, to be a good teacher, you must be flexible enough to shape the information you wish to impart, not only based on how you think and are, but how your students think. 

If you have already worked as an educator, then you have surely learned the ropes and been through the ups and downs - to put it short, you must know what an “energy vampire” teaching can be. 

It’s a long road to becoming a teacher in Germany - especially as a foreigner - and so I think it helps to start with a clear idea of whether this is actually something you want to do. I still reassess this on a monthly basis. 

Step 2: Put your education and experience under the German microscope

So, you’ve got a Master’s degree or even a teaching qualification from a top-class institution in your home country? That’s great, but you need to prepare yourself for the fact that it simply might not wash in Germany. This is a country that surrounds certain professions with walls of requirements - which ensures the system’s integrity, but makes it difficult for anyone without a qualification that is “readable” to Germans to get through. 

I can illustrate this using my own experience. I graduated from a big and relatively famous university in Romania, with a Bachelor’s degree in history. I majored in Romanian medieval history and chose French as a minor. I then proceeded to study for my Master’s for two years, specialising in geopolitics and diplomacy, with the hope of working for a consulate one day. 

When I came to Germany, I discovered that my qualifications didn’t amount to much without having them officially “recognised” by the appropriate authorities. Regulated professions in Germany (which includes teachers in state schools) require proof of a specific qualification. Foreign qualifications can only be recognised if they are seen to be comparable to the corresponding qualification in Germany. 

This process is not easy. It requires a lot of trawling through websites (which are, of course, all in German), tracking your education through databases and, if necessary, providing documentation to the relevant authorities to get yourself recognised. The Anabin website is the place to start with this. 

I cannot stress enough how essential it is to have your studies acknowledged. Imagine studying hard, only to learn that it’s worth next to nothing in Germany. Annoying though it is, it’s worth taking the time to wade through the bureaucracy to get the most out of your hard work - and the salary benefits that come with having a higher educational standing. Once your documents are returned to you, with the official stamp of acknowledgement, consider yourself able to apply to the teaching jobs you’ve been considering. 

Step 3: Analyse your past work experience from the German perspective

Have you worked as a teacher before? I’ll be blunt and say it like a German: if you’ve taught in this country before but not in the state system, your experience will count for nothing. You’ll need to start from scratch. 

Take my experience, for instance: I’ve been teaching in private schools for the last 10 years and yet I found that experience was virtually discarded when it came to applying for other teaching positions in Germany. This was what I was told by the Landesschulamt in my local region. If you’ve worked in the state system before, consider yourself fortunate. 

What if you’ve never worked as a teacher before? No problem. Weirdly enough, Germany also allows people who haven’t completed their Lehramt studies to hop on the teaching train, as what is called a “Quereinsteiger” or  “Seiteneinsteiger” (a “career jumper” or “lateral entry employee”).

In Germany, teacher training is structured into two phases - the first is university-based study, and the second is practical training in a school environment. Quereinsteiger are those who enter teaching without this preparatory background and instead complete training later in life, sometimes while also working. Germans who worked in different professions prior to becoming teachers are considered Quereinsteiger, but so are foreigners who obtained their qualifications abroad - so there is a way in for all kinds of candidates, but the rules vary a lot from state to state. 

Pro tip

I want to end by saying that learning and teaching are never straight lines. I will say it louder for the people in the back: taking in anything new, for that matter, cannot be a clear, straight line. Anyone who says otherwise is either lying through their teeth or has clearly never had to really learn anything.

It is perfectly acceptable to take one step forward and a couple of steps back, as we do not have the privilege of living in a glass bubble, protected from all outside factors. Life happens and it happens fast and furiously. 

So it might not always be easy, but you will get there - just look where I came from, and where I got. Good luck! 

Miriam Mircea


Miriam Mircea

I am a Romanian expat transplanted in Germany for 10 years now, working as a foreign languages teacher, a career mentor pro bono, and a part-time blogger. I am a...

Read more



Leave a comment