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Unemployment benefits in Germany (Arbeitslosengeld)

Unemployment benefits in Germany (Arbeitslosengeld)

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 I and unemployment benefit II (Arbeitslosengeld I and Arbeitslosengeld II). 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 I (Arbeitslosengeld I / ALG 1)

If you are an unemployed worker who has previously been making regular contributions to the German social security system, you may be eligible for unemployment benefit I. 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 I requirements

In order to qualify for unemployment benefit I, 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 (exceptions are made for any time taken out to raise children, to do military service, or due to illness).
  • You are looking for a job subject to compulsory insurance that covers 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 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 unemployment benefit II (see below).

How much unemployment benefit I (Arbeitlosengeld I) will I get?

The amount of benefit you receive is based on your average net pay in the 12 months before you became unemployed (known as the “assessment period”). Your benefit will be 60% of your previous average wage (or 67% if you have children), up to a maximum of 7.050 euros per month in West Germany and 6.750 euros in East Germany.

Your benefit payments will then be subject to taxes and social security contributions, just like a regular wage. These will automatically be taken from your benefit by the employment office before it is transferred to your bank account at the end of each month. This includes deductions for:

You can use this calculator (in German) to estimate how much unemployment benefit you will receive.

How long can I claim unemployment benefit I (ALG 1) 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 before you become unemployed:

Period of contribution

Age Entitlement period
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 unemployment benefit II (see below).

How to apply for unemployment benefit I (Arbeitlosengeld I / ALG 1)

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 (Arbeitssuchend 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 (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: 

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 benefit 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.

Unemployment benefit II (Arbeitlosengeld II / ALG 2 / Hartz IV)

If you are not eligible for unemployment benefit I, or if you cannot ensure your subsistence adequately from all your income or assets, you can apply for a basic subsistence benefit, unemployment benefit II (Arbeitlosengeld II or ALG 2, 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). This benefit is also sometimes given as an income supplement for low-earners.

Unemployment benefit II (Arbeitlosengeld II) requirements

You are considered entitled to receive unemployment benefit II 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.

You must also be prepared to take part in “integration” measures designed to ensure your return to the workplace. This might include vocational training, further education or work opportunities. If you reject an offer of employment or a place on a training course, your unemployment benefit might be reduced or stopped altogether.

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 unemployment benefit II, you will receive social benefit (Sozialgeld). Both benefits are essentially the same in their basic components.

Duration and value of unemployment benefit II (ALG 2)

Unemployment benefit is provided by your local job centre (Jobcenter) as a flat cash benefit, intended to secure basic subsistence. The benefit is paid monthly, in advance, and you can usually receive it for 12 months before a re-assessment is necessary. The exact amount you will receive is dependent on your income, assets and family situation.

Individuals receive unemployment benefit II in the form of a “basic needs rate” plus assistance with any additional needs, including accommodation and heating. The standard basic needs rates vary according to age:

Age Value (per month)
Singles and single parents aged over 18 449 euros
Partners or married couples aged over 18 404 euros each
Children aged up to 6 years 285 euros
Children aged 6 to 13 years 311 euros
Children aged 14 to 17 years 376 euros
Young people aged 18 to 24 years 360 euros

In addition to standard basic needs rates, children and young adults are also eligible for various types of education and participation assistance, e.g. for school trips or supplies. To reduce reliance on unemployment benefit II, parents can also apply for the supplementary child allowance (Kinderzuschlag).

Additional support is also provided for:

  • Pregnant women
  • Single parents, according to the age and number of children
  • Anyone with a disability who is capable of working
  • For food, in cases of special dietary needs
  • For water heating, where necessary
  • Housing costs (if you receive unemployment benefit II for accommodation expenditure, you cannot apply for housing benefit)

How to apply for unemployment benefit II (Arbeitlosengeld 2)

Unemployment benefit II 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:

If you have exhausted all the above options and you still cannot meet your own basic living expenses, you may apply for unemployment benefit II by taking the following steps:

1. Register at your local job centre

It is now normally possible to apply for unemployment benefit II 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:

  • Bank statements from the last six 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.

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. 

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