Jobs in Germany for Americans: An expat guide

Jobs in Germany for Americans: An expat guide

Jobs in Germany for Americans: An expat guide

Being the geographic centre of Europe and the bloc’s most powerful economy, it comes as no surprise that plenty of American citizens choose to cross the Atlantic to come to Germany. But for those who are considering it, but have yet to make the great leap, there’s bound to be plenty of questions: How do Americans find jobs in Germany? Do they need a visa? And what’s working in Germany actually like?

In this guide, we run through some of the key issues facing American nationals considering embarking on a new adventure in Germany.

Do Americans need a visa for Germany?

First things first, you need to sort out your rights to live and work in Germany. The good news is that, as an American citizen, you have the right to enter Germany without a visa and then apply for a residence permit once you have arrived.

Temporary residence permits are granted for all kinds of different reasons in Germany, with some of the most common being studying, searching for work, or joining a spouse, partner or family member.

As soon as you have arrived in Germany, you can start the residence permit application procedure, if you wish. However, if you are looking for work, the likelihood of your application being accepted is significantly higher if you already have a job offer. You may also wish to consult with a lawyer.

How to find work as an American in Germany

The good news is that finding a job as an American in Germany, even if you don’t speak German, is possible. In fact, it’s more than possible. Being a native English speaker is an asset that many companies are looking for.

At the same time, however, remember that many other people had exactly the same bright idea as you, so there tends to be pretty stiff competition for English-speaking jobs. Determination and perseverance pay off, but there are also some smart, quick fixes that can give you a fighting chance of success:

1. English speaking jobs in Germany

The first step is to target your search: on your average job-search site, less than five percent of the jobs advertised in Germany are in English. IamExpat Jobs, on the other hand, is designed explicitly with expats in mind and only features employers who are on the hunt for English-speaking internationals.

By honing in on recruiters who are looking for expats, you can dramatically speed up your job search and boost your chances of landing a position significantly.

2. International jobs for Americans

Another good option if you’re looking for a job in Germany is to consult with an expert. Multiple recruitment agencies in Germany specialise in matching international talent with German companies.

Rather than filling out hundreds of job applications, only to hear nothing back, working with an expat-focussed recruitment agency takes the stress out of your job search. By targeting your applications to international companies on the hunt for profiles just like yours, they can maximise your chances of success.

3. Tailor your resume to a German audience

One of the most common reasons that Americans and other internationals are overlooked in the German job market is because they have an incorrectly-formatted resume. German CVs follow a very set format, and if yours doesn’t look right, it’s quite likely that it will end up in the trash.

Attaching a picture is standard, but Germans don’t look kindly upon the embellishment, business jargon and buzzwords that tend to fill American resumes. Take a look at our CV guide to get to grips with exactly what German recruiters are looking for. Just a few quick changes to your resume can make a whole world of difference.

4. Freelance in Germany

If you’ve got the right skill set, why rely on finding a job when you can just as easily become your own boss? Setting yourself up as a freelancer in Germany is relatively easy and can be a flexible and rewarding career option for entrepreneurially-minded internationals in Germany.

As an American expat, freelancing also offers a relatively easy way to score a residence permit for the purposes of self-employment. All you need to prove is that you have the right skills, a modest amount of start-up cash to keep you afloat, and a few clients already on board. Take a look at our guide to Going freelance in Germany to see what’s involved.

Largest German companies

Although the backbone of the German economy is made up by the Mittelstand, an economic powerhouse of small- and medium-sized enterprises, the federal republic is also home to no shortage of business heavyweights.

In 2018, 32 German firms made it to the Fortune Global 500, a Forbes magazine ranking of the top 500 corporations worldwide by revenue. Perhaps unsurprisingly, three of them are car manufacturers:

Financial services company Allianz, which focuses on insurance and asset management, also ranked within the top 500, along with industrial manufacturing company Siemens, Deutsche Telekom, Uniper, BASF, Deutsche Post and Munich Re Group.

Other notable global companies which are headquartered in Germany include sportswear brand Adidas, pharmaceuticals company Bayer, shoe manufacturer Birkenstock, energy company E.ON, and popular candy manufacturer Haribo.

Working for German companies as an American

So you’ve worked out your visa and residence permit situation. Maybe you’ve even received a job offer. Good for you! But now comes the unexpectedly tricky part - adapting yourself as an American to German working life. The Germans might not be a million miles away when it comes to working culture, rights and etiquette, but there are a few major differences.

German working hours

Americans tend to work long hours - around 47 hours per week, according to a Gallup report in 2014 - and are some of the worst culprits for checking emails and doing other work-related matters outside of regular office hours. That puts American working hours among some of the highest in the world.

In contrast, the average working week in Germany is between 36 and 40 hours, with a full 30 minutes’ lunch break (less eating at your desk here). You are not permitted to work more than 48 hours per week, and new EU legislation on working hours will soon start to enforce this. Work tends to finish at five or six on the dot and sending or answering emails after work is more likely to be frowned upon than praised. Germans generally maintain more of a strict work / private life divide.  

Holiday leave in Germany

Compared with other countries worldwide, Americans have come off with a raw deal when it comes to holiday leave: while most companies standardly offer two weeks of paid vacation, many employees take even less than that. According to the career website Glassdoor, the average American employee only takes 54 percent of their leave entitlement each year.

It may come as a surprise to Americans, therefore, that workers in Germany are legally entitled to a minimum of 20 days’ paid holiday leave per year, with 27 to 30 days plus public holidays being common. And it’s normal to actually take it! Having two weeks off during the summer where you don’t even check your mobile phone is not only allowed but practically encouraged!

Maternity & Paternity leave

Parental leave in America also leaves much to be desired: only unpaid leave is guaranteed at federal level and paid leave is left up to individual employers to decide. No surprise then, that parents in America take less time off after having a child than they do in Germany.

If you’re thinking of starting a family in Germany, you’ll be pleased to hear that the federal republic has one of the most generous allowances in the world. While new mothers are legally entitled to fourteen weeks’ maternity leave and maternity benefit, both parents are also given up to 24 months of parental leave and parental allowance to share between them as they see fit.

Employment contracts in Germany

Inevitably, there must be some sort of trade-off to receive all of those benefits. The most significant thing to note is that notice periods on German employment contracts tend to be much longer than in America. Depending on how long you’ve been working for a company, you can count on having to give at least one months’ notice if you wish to change jobs.

On the other hand, this notice period applies to both workers and employers and so provides you with extra protection in the case of dismissal.

German working culture

German working culture may also come as a surprise to newly-arrived American expats. Unlike Americans, Germans don’t tend to sugar-coat things and can come across as disarmingly blunt in their willingness to directly point out problems and mistakes. They don’t tend to respond well to smooth-talking, glossing-over or high-pressure selling tactics.

Working relationships also tend to be fairly formal, with Germans usually sticking to the polite “Sie” form in conversations at work and being less likely to divulge personal details. Small talk is not generally considered a big thing, so don’t ask someone “How are you?” unless you are prepared for a brutally honest answer!

On the plus side, taking time off when you are sick is not frowned upon in Germany. The general thinking is, it’s better for you to stay at home for a day or two rather than make the whole office sick with you! And an even bigger plus is that, although Germans tend to be reserved to start with, the emphasis they place on personal connections and business relationships means that they are extremely loyal. Once you have broken through, you will have a friend for life!

Taxation for Americans living abroad

So, you’ve found a job, you’re adapting to the German working culture, and you’re even paying your German taxes and social security. But what about your tax affairs back at home in the United States? Well, the bad news is that, while you are living in Germany, even if you haven’t stepped foot in America in a long, long time, you must continue to report your worldwide income to the IRS every year.

Yes, filing your US taxes on top of your annual German tax return is a real headache, but with fines of up to 10.000 USD payable, if you fail to submit, you don’t really have a choice. However, consulting with a tax advisor can really take the stress out of the situation. And you might even be entitled to a hefty refund!

Jobs for Americans in Europe

One final observation: if you’re considering making the big leap over to Europe, you don’t necessarily have to limit yourself to Germany. Granted, the visa waiver does make it a lot simpler for Americans to come over and find a job in Germany: not only can you easily attend interviews, but prospective employers then have fewer concerns about the impact of you relocating for the job.

However, that being said, Europe is a big continent, and there’s a whole lot of variety out there, just like in the USA. Depending on whether you want a bustling city or the tranquillity of the countryside, you have plenty of options as to where to set up your new home.

If you’re concerned about the language barrier limiting your employment prospects or just putting a damper on your social life, the UK and Ireland might be good choices. However, English language ability is generally high across Europe, and our ever-globalising world means that there are more and more international companies operating in English. For example, there is a perhaps surprising amount of English-speaking jobs in the Netherlands and Dutch and international recruitment agencies.

Wherever you’re considering moving, it’s important to remember that as an American citizen, you do not have the same working rights as Europeans. Some countries, like Germany, may allow you to enter without a visa, while others will require you to apply for permission to stay before you even set off. Make sure you are clued up on your rights before you plan anything else.

Ready to start your European adventure?

Making a new start in Europe is an exciting prospect - and for Americans, not too daunting, either. Just a little bit of planning and perseverance at the start will ensure that your big German adventure is a grand success. Good luck!



Abi Carter

Abi studied History & German at the University of Manchester. She has since worked as a writer, editor and content marketeer, but still has a soft spot for museums, castles...

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