Just Kill Me Now: A Brief Overview of Jobs, Taxes and Health Insurance for Expats in Germany

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“I’m HERE, Germany! You’re welcome.” — Image Credit: Kevin Rhodes (https://www.flickr.com/photos/iamkevinrhodes/) — Subject to CC 2.0 License.

I love living in Germany. I love the people, the culture, the history — pretty much everything except for the long winters and the total lack of customer service. (Warm, friendly customer service is so rare in this country, when you finally do stumble across it, it’s like having an orgasm in public.)

I don’t regret moving to Germany for a second, but there were a few harsh realities about expat life I really couldn’t anticipate until I got here. See, you can spend all day long reading how best to prepare for life abroad, but there’s only so much you can learn before you have to talk to a professional; someone with experience, who knows exactly what you’ll need. And that person is most definitely not me.

Nevertheless, I get a lot of inquiring emails from my blog readers. They ask me big questions my tiny dinosaur brain can hardly grasp, like what kind of visa they’ll need to stay in the country, how to find a job, which healthcare plan they should choose, and how they should go about paying their taxes. I always send them a link to my blog post — How to Become A Permanent Resident of Germany: 6 Tips for American Citizens with German Spouses — but that only covers marriage and the visa process. What follows is my very poor, very lazy attempt to clarify some of the other points you might want to consider before moving to Germany.

Jobs in Germany: How to Find One and Where to Look

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“It’s all fun and games until you freeze to death in winter.” — Image Credit: Morgan (https://www.flickr.com/photos/meddygarnet/) — Subject to CC 2.0 License.

I’ll be real honest with you: I have no idea how to answer this question. I’m a freelance graphic designer, and most of my clients are in the States, so I’ve never had to land a real job here in Germany. That said, I can’t imagine the process is much different than in the States: You update your resume and then blast that mother at every living thing within firing range until something drops. It’s the American way.

But before you unleash your frontal assault on the German job market, you need to figure out if you’re even allowed to work here. Chances are, if your spouse is German, you’re fine: The government knows you’re not going anywhere with that ball and chain wrapped around your ankle. (Just kidding, honey! I love you!) You’ll be given a residence permit (Aufenthaltstitel or Aufenthaltserlaubnis), and this will allow you to work here alongside the rest of the pale, white, humorless drones.

If you’re in Germany because you’re engaged — but not yet married — to a German citizen, you may need to extend your visa until your marriage papers have been filed at the local civil registration office (Standesamt). I doubt you’ll be allowed to work until you’ve got your residence permit in hand, but I can’t imagine it would be a huge problem. It’s not like in the States, where everyone is scared shitless you’re just scheming for a green card. The German government will work with you because they know you’re about to spend the rest of your life with a German person — making life any harder on you would be like throwing rocks at a dude who’s already walking the plank. The sharks are enough, man… the sharks are enough.

So if you know you’re allowed to work in Germany, but aren’t sure where to find a job, check out these resources:

Health Insurance in Germany: Public vs. Private Options

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“We’re here to remove your catheter.” — Image Credit: Peter Kudlacz (https://www.flickr.com/photos/peter-kudlacz/) — Subject to CC 2.0 License.

If you’re going to actually live in Germany — rather than just shamble around the country for a few weeks with white man’s dreadlocks and a smelly backpack over your shoulders — you gotta pop that travel health insurance titty out of your mouth and sign up for the real thing: Krankenversicherung.

Krankenversicherung is health insurance, and in Germany, it’s pretty cool. You can choose between public health insurance and private health insurance, but of course neither one is perfect, and you’re still going to die.

The public health option in Germany actually works: You get sick, you get fixed, and the taxpayers pick up the tab. (You could, theoretically, go to the doctor every single day for the hell of it, but nobody likes an asshole.) With the public option, there’s no paperwork and you’ll never even see a medical bill. You’re 100% covered. Of course you have to pay out-of-pocket for elective medical procedures, like whiter teeth or a new pair of tits. (This is Germany we’re talking about here, not Fantasy Island.)

Now, the private healthcare option is, in my experience, superb. I mean, I haven’t been drilled by a speeding motorist and wound up in the ER yet, but the healthcare I have received has been outstanding. Far less waiting time for appointments, better medication, greater hospital stay benefits, etc. The drawback is you have to pay for all of your medical expenses up front, then send them to your health insurance company for reimbursement. But it’s not the paying or the waiting for reimbursement that sucks — it’s the paperwork. That shit is a royal bitch. Holy Christ on rice.

The lack of paperwork alone could be reason enough to go with the public option, but just remember; you won’t get the same preferential treatment. You’ll have to stand in line with the rest of the shivering convalescents.

Here are some links where you can find some actual, useful information on German health insurance:

Paying Taxes in Germany: Do You Have to Pay the U.S., Germany, or both?

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“HOW ABOUT NEITHER?” — Image Credit: bark (https://www.flickr.com/photos/barkbud/) — Subject to CC 2.0 License.

As for taxes, you have to file your taxes in both countries, but only pay one of them. If you’re going to be physically located in Germany, you’ll be paying German taxes. Are you a self-employed American living in Berlin but all of your customers are in Shanghai? Tough titties; Germany doesn’t give a flying shit where you’re from, where your clients are or in which currency they’re paying. You’re considered a German resident, and by god, you’re gonna pay like one.

Then, after you’ve forked over your tax dollars, you gotta turn around and let America know you already paid your taxes to Germany, and either take your US return as foreign earned income, or as a tax credit. Depends on your situation, but either way, the whole ordeal is about as pleasant as hernia surgery.

Here are some useful links regarding taxes for expats in Germany:

Until the day we die — or forego our citizenship — we American expats will be filing two tax returns. And as a fellow expat, my advice is to get a CPA in America and a Steuerberater in Germany, get them talking to each other, and then prepare to take it in the pooper like the rest of us. Of course, you could also find yourself a big, fancy, one-stop shop international tax preparation firm, but those tend to be crazy expensive — like for large businesses or filthy rich people — and I have a feeling someone with that kind of money isn’t gathering tax advice from dick and fart joke bloggers like me.

But overall, I really do have to award the job opportunities and healthcare choices for American expats in Germany with a slightly annoyed — but totally worth it — 4 out of 5 Merkel Diamonds:

Merkel Diamond from Angela Merkel, Prime Minister of Germany

Have a great week everyone!

— OGM

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18 thoughts

  1. Customer service is awful; we went to a pizzeria in Aalen, and we didn’t receive the Pizza we ordered so when we told the waitress she said; ‘Well eat it anyways”. On the insurance, you said that you pay out of pocket, and then you get reimbursed, is that just for certain procedures?

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      1. Keep in mind that because your wife is probably also receiving “Beihilfe” that might make paperwork more complicated.
        (Are you on her plan?)

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  2. private insurance is not a choice for everybody. You have to be either self employed, spouse of a Government employee or make more money than the average person ( not couple) ( I am gone too long to know the recent amount but somewhere above 36.000/year for 3 years in a row). Private is cheaper for a young single Person and has better coverage, but if you want to have a family one day you should think about changing to a private insurance 2 or 3 times, because as well the spouse ( in times he/she is not working) as every child has to pay extra, while in the gesetzliche Krankenkasse (healthcare by law) the whole family is covered with only one premium and that does not become higher once you are above the limit. You cannot change back to this once you chose private, so again : think about it or you can end up like my father who’s premium now ( he is 84) is higher than his social security. ( he was self employed most of his life) and his wife pays also almost her whole social security amount.
    Also the public option is pretty good as well and you can buy a private supplement insurance , which is not that expensive, but you can opt out any time if you don’t have the money any more . This supplement gives you the opportunity to be treated by the head physician and a better room, but if you do not have it, you’ll still be in good hands.

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  3. Could not agree more on the customer service comments. It’s awful.

    A couple of points re’ Krankenversicherung. I believe there is an min salary level required (56K?) to access the system through work. Additionally, be aware that once you have chosen your route – private or public, then I believe that’s it for good. I chose public and never had a problem with access to services or quality.

    When looking for work the important thing to remember is make sure you keep every certificate from the age of 5 as they will be required when sending your resume (Lebenslauf) to potential employers. In Germany the concept of ‘more is better’ is still a strong maxim and I once received a resume that was 36 pages in length. I shit you not. Additionally, many, many Germany companies will insist you include a current picture (bewerbungsbilder) on your resume – make of that what you will.

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    1. Regarding the public vs. private insurance question: once you’ve chosen private you cannot switch back to public (unless your status changes, i.e. you come off of your parents’ private insurance plan when you enter the workforce/become a student). You can, however, choose public and then at any time switch to private, assuming you make enough money. Getting “stuck” with the one you choose only applies in one direction.

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  4. You know, I’ve always said that German customer service is awful compared to just about anywhere, and this always really upsets my German relatives. Germans really don’t like being told that they’re not good at something. And will then tell you that you’re wrong. Which totally proves the point, doesn’t it?

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  5. I am also married to a German girl. We live in Lemgo, not too far from you. I have to say, I am not in love with the idea of mandatory healthcare but I understand it (My wife has explained to me many times that it’s our duty to pay it even if we are never sick so it will pay for the really sick people.). I don’t think I will ever get used to paying 350 a month though for health insurance that I don’t use. I have been to the doctor exactly 0 times in 2 1/2 years. So basically, I have paid 8000 € for three free inspections at the dentist. Btw, cleanings aren’t free and neither is any other dental work. This really surprised me. Also, private healthcare is only an option if you make “enough” money (at least 53,000 a year). On a side note, I am very excited to be paying for the refugee’s healthcare too. Okay, I don’t want to sound like an a-hole, so, that aside I do enjoy living in Germany.

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    1. I was surprised to find that cleanings are not included in routine dental coverage, too. Some dental work is free under the public system, including a brief check-up once a year and amalgam fillings (those are the metal ones). If you need fillings and want composite or ceramic you will have to pay the difference in price, which for composite is only like 30 euros per tooth. I got two fillings done in the US, with insurance, and ended up paying about six times that, so I’ll take the German system any day.

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    2. Also, keep in mind that those 350 euros per month are paying for any future drastic illnesses or accidents you might have and are ensuring you won’t go bankrupt if something like that does happen. I like the security of knowing that an accident or serious illness is not going to put me hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt like it would in the US.

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    3. I hope nobody in your family will ever have a stroke, heart attack or cancer.
      Insurance is meant for helping everybody and sharing costs. Don’t be so selfish and be happy that you do not need help. If you have a house you also insure it in case it gets burned and you hope that will never happen, but you pay, don’t you?

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    4. Teeth cleaning might be ncluded as “prophylaxis” depending on your plan.
      Talk to your doctor.

      Aside from that year health care costs will be offst by one inflamed appendix, a birth, a ride in the ambulance or a single round of chemo should you need it.
      Your view of healthcare is very shortsighted.

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    5. Well, you got to consider the fact that you’re paying a flat fee for a service that you don’t need to use frequently right now but there are people that are in need now – where their share exceeds most certainly what they pay in right now. That goes mostly for older people, but also for people that suffer e.g. from cancer or chronic illnesses. That could be you any time – usually when you least expect it. I can ensure you that you will appreciate the fact that you won’t be faced with instant poverty because of your potential medical bills like you might be in the States. It’s a system based on the idea of solidarity just like our retirement system. What you pay in terms of social security now goes (right now) towards people being eligible for pension payments right now – whereas in the future, the then younger people are going to pay for your retirement. I generally consider that concept a good idea.

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  6. If you are on visitor’s insurance, you can only use that for 5 years, after which time you MUST get regular insurance. Unlikely that many of your readers will have to worry about this, BUT if you wait until you’re 55 or older to come to Germany, you aren’t eligible for the public health insurance option. You have no choice but to go private. And the older you are, the fewer options you have and the pricier it is.

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  7. XX (Warm, friendly customer service is so rare in this country, when you finally do stumble across it, it’s like having an orgasm in public.) XX You must have a bad attitude, because no one HERE has a problem. In fact, compared to the scumbags in Britain, German customer service are pure angels.

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