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Social Security and Employee Benefits in Germany

Updated - January 2015

Expatriates can take advantage of the generous German social security benefits while living here and even, in some cases, when they return home.

Germany has an elaborate social security system that sees to it that its citizens live comfortably even if they're sick, disabled, unemployed or retired. Expatriates can also participate in the system to a large degree.

People with jobs must, as a rule, make payments to four parts of the system, for health insurance, long-range nursing care, pensions and unemployment. These payments will usually come to about 40% of gross income, but the employer normally pays half of the cost, meaning that the employee is out of pocket only just 20% of his income. Other pillars of the social security program are company accident insurance, paid for completely by the employer, and social indemnity, which the state handles.

The premiums depend on income. The greater it is the more must be paid, up to a certain limit. In 2015, the premium is about 14.6% of gross income for the national health insurance, the exact amount depending on the insuring company. Persons earning more than €54,900 per year (€4,575 monthly) may be able to choose their own private health plan if they meet certain criteria. For long-range nursing care insurance the payment is 2.55%, also up to €4,575. The 2015 yearly income limits for pension and unemployment insurance are €72,600 in the former West Germany and €62,400 in the former East Germany. The charges are 18.7% for pension insurance and 3% for unemployment insurance.

Health insurance. About 85% of the German population is insured under the Gesetzliche Krankenversicherung (GKV), the German version of a national health system. It covers such things as hospital stays, dental care, routine doctor visits, drugs, eyeglasses, immunizations and x-rays. It also compensates persons for loss of income due to illness.

Employed persons making more than €4,575 monthly have the option of either remaining in the statutory health insurance plan or taking out private insurance. The employer still will, with certain limitations, pay half the premiums of the private insurance plan. Self-employed persons can, under certain circumstances, also be insured under the statutory plan, or they may take out private insurance regardless of their income.

Persons in both the statutory and private health plans are automatically enrolled in the long-range nursing insurance (Pflegeversicherung) plan, covering health costs resulting from old age or disability. (For more information, read our article on Health Insurance.)

Pension insurance. This statutory old age insurance fund ensures that employees can maintain an appropriate standard of living when they retire. Payments are generally made from age 65, and the maximum payout currently amounts to some 67% of average net income during the insured's working life. (The retirement age is to be gradually increased to 67 over the next 20 years.) It is not unusual for persons to receive retirement payments from two or more countries. When expatriates return to their homeland any German pension entitlement can be sent to them there. (For more information read our article on the German Retirement System.)

Unemployment insurance can be received by persons who have paid their premiums for at least one year during the past five years. They must register with the Labor Office (Bundesagentur für Arbeit) and be available to its placement service, agreeing to accept a job found for them if it is consistent with their training and experience. And they must check regularly with the Labor Office. If they do this they will receive a percentage of their most recent net income. The exact payment depends on the individual's circumstances.

These payments will continue for six months to two years, depending on your age and length of employment. After that state assistance kicks in. The unemployed person gets a monthly sum plus allowances for housing and certain other things. But they only get this money if they need it. They may get less, or none at all, if they have independent means or if their spouse works.

Accident insurance. The statutory accident insurance system offers protection and assistance in the event of mishaps at work, or on the way to and from work. And it provides the same for your children at school or on the way to or from school. It also covers any job-incurred illnesses. Payments cover the costs of treatment and recuperation, pensions in the event of invalidity and funeral costs in the event of death. The employer pays the premiums on this one in their entirety.

Social indemnity is for persons whose adverse condition is considered the responsibility of the community, and is paid by the state. Those covered include disabled war veterans, war widows and orphans, soldiers with service-incurred health problems and the victims of violent crime.

Some exceptions to these insurance plans may be made in the case of foreigners. For example, if you know you are only working temporarily in Germany you may be able to get a special health insurance plan with very favorable premiums. You could possibly also bring your health or long-term nursing insurance coverage with you from your homeland, and be partially or entirely freed from these obligations in Germany. You can also continue to receive any retirement or unemployment payments that are due you in Germany even if you return to your home country.

Children's Allowance - Kindergeld

Taxpaying expatriate residents of Germany are, like Germans, entitled to Kindergeld if they have children. This is an allowance from the German government to help defray some of the cost of raising children. It can run from €164 to €195 per child per month, and is usually made by a fund transfer into a German bank account.

Just about any taxpayer with children can get the Kindergeld, whether employed, self employed or independent. You get it as a rule until the children turn 18, though it can continue until they are 25 if they are still in school. You get €164 per month for each of the first two children, €170 for the third child and €195 for each subsequent one.

Adopted and foster children qualify you for the Kindergeld, as do children of your spouse and your grandchildren if they live in your household. People living abroad can also get it if they have an unrestricted obligation to pay German income taxes.

In most cases it is the parents who are entitled to the money, not the children, though an exception can be made in the case of orphans, or parents whose whereabouts are unknown.

You apply for Kindergeld at your local labor office (Arbeitsamt), with a written form that must be signed. Another party can make the application if you grant them power of attorney.

A downloadable copy of the application is available here. An oral application, as with a phone call, or an application by e-mail is not possible. Take with you the original birth certificates of your children, translations of them if they are not in German, your passport and €5.

Be sure to report it if you are getting child support money from another country. If a child has an income of more than €7,680 per year through a trust fund, employment, etc. the parents are not entitled to Kindergeld.

Once your employment ends or you or your children leave Germany, you must notify the agency that pays you Kindergeld to stop the payments. Failure to make such notification will give rise to claims for repayment of any amounts improperly received.

For information on Kindergeld (in German) check www.dz-portal.de, or www.sozialleistungen.info.