Whether due to redundancy or your work contract not being renewed, anyone can lose their job. Thankfully, the German federal government offers unemployment benefits to anyone without work.
There are two types of unemployment benefit in Germany: unemployment benefit and the citizens' allowance (Arbeitslosengeld and Bürgergeld). Which one you receive depends on whether you have made contributions to statutory unemployment insurance, and how long you have been unemployed for.
Unemployment benefit (Arbeitslosengeld / ALG)
If you are an unemployed worker who has previously been making regular contributions to the German social security system, you may be eligible for the unemployment benefit. Most employees in Germany are obligated to contribute to unemployment insurance, unless, for example, you have a so-called “mini job”. If you are self-employed, you can voluntarily contribute.
If you are eligible, unemployment benefits are provided by the Federal Employment Agency (Bundesagentur für Arbeit) to cover you while you look for a job. The amount you receive, and the duration, depends on how long you have been contributing and the salary you received before you became unemployed.
Unemployment benefit requirements
In order to qualify for unemployment benefit, you must fulfil certain criteria:
- You are unemployed.
- You have registered as unemployed at your local employment office.
- You have made at least 12 months’ worth of unemployment insurance contributions within the last 30 months - not necessarily consecutively (exceptions are made for any time taken out to raise children, to do military service, or due to illness, within the last 30 months).
- You are looking for a job subject to compulsory insurance to work at least 15 hours per week.
- You are an EU, EEA or Swiss citizen, or you hold a valid settlement permit or temporary residence permit that entitles you to work in Germany.
If you were previously employed on multiple short fixed-term employment contracts (shorter than 14 weeks), then you may be entitled to unemployment benefits if you have made at least six months’ worth of contributions in the last 30 months.
If you previously worked in an EU or EEA country before coming to Germany, these periods of employment can be used towards your entitlement to unemployment benefits in Germany. The prerequisite is that you worked subject to social security contributions after arriving in Germany.
If you do not fulfil these requirements, you may be able to apply for the citizens’ allowance (Bürgergeld) - see below.
How much unemployment benefit (Arbeitslosengeld) will I get?
The amount of benefit you receive is calculated based on your average net pay in the 12 months before you became unemployed (known as the “assessment period”), up to the maximum contribution ceiling of 7.300 euros in western Germany and 7.100 euros in eastern Germany. Savings and other assets are not usually taken into account when calculating your benefit, but other income might be.
This amount is divided by 365 to give a so-called “assessment benefit” (Bemessungsentgelt), from which 20 percent is deducted for taxes and social security contributions, just like a regular wage. This includes deductions for:
- Statutory health insurance (7,3 - 8,2%)
- Pension insurance (9,35%)
- Unemployment insurance (1,2%)
- Long-term care insurance (1,525%)
- Income tax
The resulting figure is what’s known as your “benefit payment” (Leistungsentgelt). You receive 60 percent of this payment as your unemployment benefit, or 67 percent if you have children. The unemployment benefit is calculated as a daily benefit and then transferred to you in monthly installments. Your benefit will be transferred to your bank account at the end of each month.
You can use this calculator (in German) to estimate how much unemployment benefit you will receive.
How long can I claim unemployment benefit (ALG) for?
The amount of time for which you are entitled to receive unemployment benefit I depends on your age and how long you have been in employment and contributing to unemployment insurance:
Period of contribution
|12 months||-||6 months|
|16 months||-||8 months|
|20 months||-||10 months|
|24 months||-||12 months|
|30 months||50||15 months|
|36 months||55||18 months|
|48 months||58||24 months|
If you have used up your entitlement to unemployment benefit I and you haven’t yet found a job, you will need to apply for the citizens’ allowance (Bürgergeld) (see below).
How to apply for unemployment benefit (Arbeitslosengeld / ALG)
If you find yourself (soon-to-be) unemployed, you should take the following steps as soon as possible to get help with finding a new position and, if necessary, to receive unemployment benefit.
1. Register as a jobseeker (sich als Arbeitssuchender*in melden)
If you know in advance that your employment is going to end (for instance if you are given notice or your fixed-term employment contract has not been renewed), it is a good idea to register yourself as a jobseeker. This enables your local branch of the Employment Agency to support you from an early stage by trying to find you a new position and preventing you from becoming unemployed.
You can register as a jobseeker online via the Federal Employment Agency’s website. You can also visit your local employment agency or call the free hotline 0800 4 555500. During registration, you’ll be asked to provide information about your qualifications and employment history, before making an appointment to meet with an advisor.
You should register as soon as you find out that your employment relationship is going to end. It is best to register immediately, but no later than three months before your employment ends. This ensures you will avoid financial disadvantages if you later receive unemployment benefits. If you find out at short notice that you are going to lose your job, you should register as a job seeker within three days.
2. Register as unemployed (sich als Arbeitslos melden)
If your employment ends and you have not yet found a new job, even with the support of the Employment Agency, you need to register as unemployed. You are required to do this even if you have already registered as a jobseeker.
You can register as unemployed online, by entering the date of your unemployment and providing some form of digital identity. Note that you’ll need to have activated the online function of your identity card, residence permit or eID card.
Alternatively, you can register as unemployed in person at your local Employment Agency. You’ll need to bring:
- Your ID card or passport (not a driving licence)
- Your certificate of registration
- Your visa or residence permit (if applicable)
You can register as unemployed no earlier than three months before you become unemployed. You must register on the first day of your unemployment at the latest to avoid any financial disadvantages.
After you have registered, you will probably be offered an appointment with a personal consultant. This is an opportunity for you to learn more about your position on the job market and possibly benefit from suitable job offers. In the future, you might be invited to further appointments to discuss progress. You will be expected to demonstrate the efforts you have made to find a job.
3. Apply for unemployment benefit (Arbeitslosengeld beantragen)
You can receive unemployment benefits if you fulfil the requirements outlined above and have registered as unemployed either online or in person at your local Employment Agency.
You can fill out your application for unemployment benefits online via the Federal Employment Agency’s website. Alternatively, you can ask for a paper copy of the form by calling your local agency on the phone.
Once your application has been approved, you will most likely receive confirmation in the post. You will receive your benefit retroactively at the end of each month.
Cases in which unemployment benefit I can be withheld (Sperrzeit)
Note that in certain circumstances your unemployment benefit can be withheld by the Employment Agency for up to three months. This is known as a blocking period (Sperrzeit). This happens if you are deemed to have “willfully” caused your need for unemployment benefit, for instance if:
- You terminate your employment relationship (i.e. you resign).
- You have been terminated for misconduct.
- You have signed a termination agreement and received severance pay.
- You are offered work but do not accept it.
- You do not participate in so-called “integration measures”.
- You fail to provide evidence that you are looking for a new job.
- You do not register promptly as a jobseeker.
Citizens’ allowance (Bürgergeld)
If your eligibility for unemployment benefit expires, you are not eligible to receive it in the first place, or if you cannot ensure your subsistence adequately from all your income or assets, you can apply for Germany’s basic subsistence benefit, known as the citizens’ allowance (Bürgergeld). This benefit is also sometimes given as an income supplement for low-earners.
Unlike unemployment benefits, which are financed directly from unemployment insurance contributions, the citizens’ allowance (also known as basic security for jobseekers) is financed via the taxpayer. It is designed to secure a basic subsistence level for recipients and is made up of two components:
- A standard payment
- A payment for accommodation and heating costs
Citizens’ allowance requirements
You are considered entitled to receive the citizens' allowance (Bürgergeld) if you meet the following conditions:
- You are aged between 15 and the statutory retirement age.
- You are able to work at least three hours a day under “normal conditions”.
- You are unable to meet your own necessary living expenses or those of members in your household, either by working or with help from others.
- You are an EU, EEA or Swiss citizen, or you hold a valid settlement permit or residence permit that entitles you to work in Germany.
If you are not capable of earning (e.g. due to illness or incapacity) but live in a joint household with someone who is entitled to Bürgergeld, you can still receive the benefit.
You must also be demonstrably “in need” to receive Bürgergeld. This means that you should use up your own income and marketable assets before applying for support. This includes:
- Savings, savings bonds, securities
- Items like vehicles or jewellery
- Endowment insurance
- Real estate
In your first year of receiving the citizens’ allowance, assets will only be taken into account if they are considered “substantial” (worth more than 40.000 euros for a single person, plus 15.000 euros for each additional household member). After this initial period, all assets will be taken into account for determining eligibility.
Duration and value of citizens' allowance (Bürgergeld)
Bürgergeld is provided by your local job centre (Jobcenter) as a monthly payment. It is formed of two or three components:
- Standard payment (Regelbedarf) - to cover things like food, clothing, personal hygiene, household items, energy and personal needs)
- Payments for shelter and heating (Bedarfe für Unterkunft und Heizung) - to cover rent, heating and operating costs up to a “reasonable” level
- Additional payments (Mehrbedarfe) - for people in special circumstances, for instance if you’re pregnant, a single parent, or someone with high costs due to a medical condition)
In addition to standard basic needs rates, children and young adults up to the age of 25 are also eligible for various types of education and participation assistance, e.g. for school trips, private tuition, music lessons, or school supplies. To reduce reliance on Bürgergeld, parents can also apply for the supplementary child allowance (Kinderzuschlag).
You can also receive one-off cash benefits or vouchers for things like furnishing your first apartment or buying the things you need for your first child.
Standard payment (Regelbedarf) rates 2023
|Beneficiary||Standard payment rate|
Adults with minor partners
|Partners of legal age||451 euros|
|Adults aged 18 - 24 living at home||402 euros|
|Children aged 14 - 17
Minors with adult partners
|Children aged 6 - 13||348 euros|
|Children aged 0 - 5||318 euros|
Payments for shelter and heating (Bedarfe für Unterkunft und Heizung)
Bürgergeld also covers “reasonable” costs for accommodation, including rent, heating bills and water supply, with the payment for accommodation and heating. The rates for this are usually decided by the local authority, based on costs in your region. Check with your local job centre to find out the rate in your area.
Additional payments (Mehrbedarfe) rates 2023
Some beneficiaries are also entitled to additional payments. For instance, pregnant women from the 13th week of pregnancy are entitled to an extra 17 percent on top of the standard rate, up until the end of the month in which they give birth.
Single parents are given additional money depending on the number and age of their children, as follows:
|1 child under 7 years||36 percent|
|1 child over 7 years||12 percent|
|2 or 3 children under 16||36 percent|
|2 children over 16||24 percent|
|4 children||48 percent|
|5 or more children||60 percent|
How to apply for the citizens’ allowance
The citizens’ allowance is intended as a “subordinate benefit”, meaning that it is only given when all other possible benefits have been paid out. Before you apply, you will be expected to have already applied for any other social security or assistance benefits you might be eligible for, including:
- Child benefit or child allowance
- (Reduced) early retirement pension
- Sickness benefit
- Housing benefit
- Maternity benefit
- Parental allowance
If you have exhausted all the above options - and your marketable assets - and you still cannot meet your own basic living expenses, you may apply for the citizens’ allowance by taking the following steps:
1. Register at your local job centre
It is normally possible to apply for the citizens' allowance online via the Federal Employment Agency website. You will need to enter your personal information, fill out an application form and upload some supporting documents that prove your case as regards your living situation or your monthly income. This varies according to your personal situation, but could include:
- Valid ID like an identity card or passport
- Registration certificate
- Residence permit
- Bank statements from the last three months
- Your rental contract
- Proof of living costs (i.e. bills for utilities)
- Details of your income and assets
2. Wait for a response
Once you have submitted your application, your case will be considered by your local job centre. When they reach a decision, you will be informed in writing as to whether your application has been approved, rejected or only partially approved, or if any changes have been made. Check this document carefully. You can make an appointment with the job centre if there is anything you don’t understand.
You will also be informed of any further steps you need to take, such as attending appointments, applying for jobs, or undertaking training.
Unemployment benefit II (Hartz IV / ALG 2)
Up until 2023, the citizens’ allowance was known as unemployment benefit II (Arbeitlosengeld II, often colloquially referred to as Hartz IV, after the head of the committee whose recommendations in 2002 caused a restructuring of unemployment benefits in Germany). Hartz IV was phased out in 2022 and replaced with Bürgergeld.
Financial support and training for jobseekers
As someone who receives unemployment benefits, you may be eligible to receive financial support from the German government to participate in further training or receive coaching, for instance if you want to upskill or switch careers. Schemes on offer include:
- Application training
- The Activation and Referral Voucher (Aktivierungs- und Vermittlungsgutschein - AVGS)
- Education voucher (Bildungsgutschein)
- Future starter initiative (Zukunftsstarter)
Speak to your local job centre to find out more about these schemes.
Start-up grants for unemployed workers
The Federal Employment Agency also offers a start-up grant to those who wish to start their own business as a way out of unemployment. If you're thinking about starting up your own business or becoming a freelancer, there are also a number of training and coaching programmes available for new entrepreneurs.
Claiming child sickness benefit (Kinderkrankengeld) & Drawing unemployment benefits
All parents in Germany are legally entitled to take time off work if their child falls ill and requires care at home. This applies even if you are drawing unemployment benefits. If you are unable to attend Jobcenter meetings or take part in reintegration programmes because you need to take care of your sick child, you can apply for the child sickness benefit (Kinderkrankengeld) to cover your lost income. Note that claiming the child sickness benefit will not extend your entitlement to unemployment benefits.