Unemployment benefits in Germany: All you need to know

Unemployment benefits in Germany: All you need to know

by Anne Walther

Updated November 28, 2022

Losing a job is never fun – but it can happen to anyone. In order to support people in between jobs, the German government offers unemployment benefits to anyone who’s recently lost their income or can’t meet their financial needs with their current wage. In this article, you’ll learn all about the unemployment benefits in Germany, their requirements and how to apply for them.

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The types of unemployment benefits in Germany

The two types of unemployment benefits in Germany are called Arbeitslosengeld I and Arbeitslosengeld II, or in short ALG I and ALG II. The essential difference between the two is that ALG I is granted to people who have lost their job, but previously contributed to the German social security system by paying taxes, whereas ALG II does not require this by default. 

Unemployment benefit I (ALG I)

If you have held a job for at least twelve months in Germany, you will have paid a certain percentage of monthly taxes to the social security system. Should you then lose your job, you can request ALG I. An additional requirement to receive ALG I is that you must commit to finding a job and have a valid residence permit or be a EU, EAA or Swiss citizen. 

How much you are eligible to receive is dependent on your income from the previous twelve months of work. The German Federal Employment Agency offers an online calculator to help you find out how much monthly benefit you can receive. Overall, the amount will be 60% of your recent wage up to a maximum of 7.050 euros per month in West Germany and 6.750 euros in East Germany.

How long you are entitled to receive ALG I depends on your age and your previous employment period:

Period of contribution to federal social security fundsAgeEntitlement period ALG I
12 months6 months
16 months8 months
20 months10 months
24 months12 months
30 months 5015 months
36 months 5518 months
48 months5824 months

Unemployment benefit II (ALG II)

If you are not eligible for ALG I or do not earn enough income to sustain yourself, you might still be able to receive ALG II, often also referred to as Hartz IV since 2005 but its naming and substance are constantly in the discussion. Any EU, EAA or Swiss citizen, or person who holds a valid residence permit above the age of 15 can in principle apply for ALG II – the only additional requirement is that you must be able to work three hours a day under normal conditions and yet not be able to cover your necessary living expenses with your income

Unlike ALG I, ALG II is not dependent on your previous income but rather is intended to cover basic living expenses. This also means that not only adults, but also their children receive a certain amount. As a result, it follows certain age categories:

AgeMonthly value
Singles and single parents aged over 18449 euros
Partners or married couples aged over 18404 euros each
Children aged up to 6 years285 euros
Children aged 6 to 13 years311 euros
Children aged 14 to 17 years376 euros
Young people aged 18 to 24 years360 euros

In addition, there may be financial support for housing, education, special dietary needs or electricity, for example. Overall, the total amount of benefits you may receive depends on your living situation.

How to register for unemployment benefits

In either case, you will have to register at your local job center and apply for benefits at the Federal Employment Agency (Arbeitsamt). Parts of the website of the Arbeitsamt is available in English. Make sure to bring your ID and residence permit for your registration. What will usually happen at the job center in Germany is that you will be assigned a personal consultant who will set up an appointment with you and help you find new employment. Keep in mind that in Germany, your unemployment benefits may be cut if you refuse to participate in finding a new job or have quit your job on your own terms. 

In between jobs? Visit your local job center!

Losing your job is always an unpleasant experience, but thankfully, German federal unemployment benefits are there to help you get back on your feet and bridge the gap between jobs. No matter if you have previously contributed to social security funds or not, consultants at your local job center are available every day to support you in finding new employment and making sure you can meet your living expenses. In order to make finding a job as easy as possible for you, make sure to try and learn German as soon as you are in the country!

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Anne is a German freelance writer and communication consultant. In addition to her job, she is founder and coach of the Dutch non-for-profit organization CLUB Coaching. Due to her work, she resides in both Germany and the Netherlands. Whenever her time is not occupied with communication in all its forms, she spends time with her six pets, gardening or being creative with fashion and design. You can follow her on LinkedIn.

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