Changing or losing your job in Germany

This guide shows you what to do when:

  • You get fired (your employer is not happy with you)
  • You get laid off (your employer has no work for you)
  • You quit (you choose to leave)
  • You change jobs

It only applies to employees, not freelancers.

If you quit your job

Calculate your notice period

Your job has a notice period (Kündigungsfrist). It’s written in your work contract. If you quit, you must work until the end of your notice period.

Your notice period can be very long: 3 months is normal for some jobs.9 To leave sooner, negotiate a shorter notice period with your employer.40

How the notice period works ➞

Give your resignation letter

To quit your job, you must give a resignation letter (Kündigungsschreiben). Your resignation is only valid when your employer receives your letter. That’s when your notice period starts. There are rules on how you write and deliver this letter.

How to write and send a resignation letter ➞

Resignation letter generator ➞

If you did not choose to quit your job, do not give a resignation letter. Your employer can’t force you to resign.

See a doctor

If you quit for mental health reasons (burnout, depression, stress), get a note from a doctor. This proves that you had a valid reason to quit.12 If you don’t have a sick note, this is harder to prove.

If you quit without a reason, you lose 3 months of unemployment benefits.

If you get fired or laid off

If your employer does not need you, you can get laid off. If your employer has financial problems, they can also put you on Kurzarbeit.

If your employer is not happy with your work, you can get fired. You can’t get fired without a good reason, except during probation period. You get written warnings before you get fired, except for very serious reasons.

Resist

During your probation period, you can be fired without a reason.

After your probation period ends, your employer needs a valid reason to fire you. If you don’t agree with the reason, you have 3 weeks to resist with a Kündigungsschutzklage.30 Get legal help for this.

Calculate your notice period

Your job has a notice period (Kündigungsfrist), even during your probation period. If you get laid off, you get paid until the end of the notice period. During your notice period, your employer can make you work, or send your on garden leave. If you have unused vacation days, your employer usually forces you to go on vacation.

If you get fired for misconduct, there might be no notice period.10

How the notice period works ➞

Negotiate severance pay

If you get laid off, ask for severance pay (Abfindung). Usually, you must sign a termination agreement (Aufhebungsvertrag) to get severance pay. In other words, your employer pays you to leave without suing them.

You can negotiate how much severance pay you get.26 Severance pay in Germany is lower than in North America. You usually get 0.5× your gross monthly income for each year of employment.21 For example, if you work 5 years for an employer, your severance pay is 2.5 months of income.

A labour lawyer can help you negotiate better severance pay, because they know how much money you can get.

English-speaking lawyers in Berlin ➞

Severance pay can affect your unemployment benefits. If your severance pay is really high, you can lose 3 months of unemployment benefits.25 Sometimes, it’s better to refuse severance pay and get unemployment benefits. If you are not sure, ask a labour lawyer.

How unemployment benefits work ➞

If you are over 50 years old and plan to retire soon, you can ask for pension payments instead of severance pay. It might be a better deal for you.

Do not sign an Aufhebungsvertrag

Your employer can suggest a termination agreement (Aufhebungsvertrag). If you sign it, you don’t get fired; you agree to leave. This is not always a good idea.

If you sign a termination agreement…19

  • You lose dismissal protection (Kündigungsschutz)
    You can’t sue your employer for firing you, because you agreed to leave. Your employer wants you to sign an Aufhebungsvertrag because it’s safer for them.
  • You can negotiate better severance pay (Abfindung)
    Usually, severance pay depends on signing an Aufhebungsvertrag. This is the biggest benefit for you.
  • There is no minimum notice period
    You can agree to leave sooner. This is good if you already found another job.
  • You can lose 3 months of unemployment benefits
    Since you choose to leave, you can lose 3 months of unemployment benefits.24 It depends on what’s in your Aufhebungsvertrag. – How unemployment benefits work

When you sign an Aufhebungsvertrag, you make a deal with your employer. You get more money, they get less problems.

You can accept, refuse or negotiate this deal. Your employer can’t force you to sign an Aufhebungsvertrag.20 If you are not sure, get legal help.

Before you stop working

Register as a job seeker

When you know that you will be unemployed, register as a job seeker at the Agentur für Arbeit. You must do this 3 months before your last day of work, or 3 days after you learn that you will be unemployed. If you wait too long, you get less unemployment benefits.

How to register as a job seeker ➞

Tell the Ausländerbehörde

If you have a residence permit like a work visa or a Blue Card, tell the Ausländerbehörde that you will be unemployed. Do this as soon as know that you will be unemployed. Do not wait more than 2 weeks.11

To inform the Ausländerbehörde, you must…

  1. Choose the right department to contact
  2. Write a letter in German. It must include:
    • Your full name
    • Your date and place of birth
    • Your nationality
    • What kind of residence permit you have
    • When your employment ends
  3. Include these documents with your message:2
  4. Send your letter with the official contact form. They will reply around 4 weeks later.36 You do not need to go to the Ausländerbehörde in person.
  5. The Ausländerbehörde gives you 3 to 12 months to find a job.5 It’s different at every Ausländerbehörde.8 They will tell you by email or by post.

If you are changing jobs, you might need permission from the Ausländerbehörde to work for a new employer. It depends on your residence permit type, and how long you had it for.

What happens to your residence permit ↓

Register as unemployed

When you know your last day of work, register as unemployed at the Agentur für Arbeit. You must do this to get unemployment benefits. Do it in your last 3 months of work.

How to register as unemployed ➞

Tell your health insurance

When you are unemployed, you keep your health insurance. The coverage does not change, but the price can change.6 If you have private health insurance and you get unemployment benefits, you must switch to public health insurance.

What happens to your health insurance ↓

Get a letter of reference

A letter of reference (Arbeitszeugnis) is a proof of the work you did for your employer. It can help your job search. Your next employer can ask for it.31

Your employer is required to give you a letter of reference.15 Ask for it in your resignation letter. Apprentices, working students, temporary workers and minijobbers can also demand a letter of reference.

The letter must clearly explain the type of work you did, and for how long. Your employer must give you a paper version, not an electronic version. It must not have information about your health, your salary, your other jobs, your union membership, or your political affiliations. Your employer needs your explicit permission to mention why you quit or got fired.16

If you worked for more than 6 weeks, you can demand a qualified reference (qualifiziertes Arbeitszeugnis). It includes an evaluation of your performance, and the reason you left the company.

Get an Arbeitsbescheinigung

Before you get unemployment benefits, your employer must send your Arbeitsbescheinigung to the Agentur für Arbeit.13 Some employers take a long time to do this.

How to get your Arbeitsbescheinigung ➞

Get an Urlaubsbescheinigung

A vacation certificate (Urlaubsbescheinigung) shows how many unused vacation days you have. It tells your next employer how many vacation days you should get this year.34

Your employer is required to give you an Urlaubsbescheinigung, but you must ask for it.33 Ask for it in your resignation letter.

What happens to your vacation days ↓

Get all other documents

You must get your salary tax statement (Lohnsteuerbescheinigung) and your last pay slip (Gehaltsabrechnung or Lohnabrechnung).27 You should get them shortly after your last paycheck. The Agentur für Arbeit might ask for them. These documents help the Agentur für Arbeit calculate your unemployment benefits.

What happens to your residence permit

Work visa or Blue Card

After you inform the Ausländerbehörde, nothing happens. Your residence permit does not expire, but they can shorten it. The Ausländerbehörde will give you 3 to 12 months to find another job.5 It depends on the Ausländerbehörde.

When you find a new job, you might need permission from the Ausländerbehörde to start working. It depends on your residence permit type, and how long you had it for.

  • If you have a Blue Card
    You can start a new job. You don’t need the Ausländerbehörde’s permission. Contact the Ausländerbehörde, and send them a copy of your new work contract. They have 30 days to object. If you had your Blue Card for over 1 year, they can’t object.38
  • If you had this residence permit for at least 2 years
    You can start a new job. You don’t need the Ausländerbehörde’s permission. Email them a copy of your new work contract.4
  • If you had any residence permit for at least 3 years
    You can start a new job. You don’t need the Ausländerbehörde’s permission.42 Email them a copy of your new work contract. Time with a student visa counts as half, for up to 2 years.4 For example, 1 year on a student visa counts as 6 months.
  • Everyone else
    You need permission from the Ausländerbehörde to start a new job.41 You must basically apply for a new work visa or Blue Card.37 This can take a few months.39

If you can’t find a job in 3 to 12 months, your residence permit expires, and you must leave Germany. There are ways to stay longer. For example, you can get a language course visa and stay up to 12 months longer.29

If your spouse and children have a family reunion visa, it expires at the same time as your residence permit.43 Your spouse could get a work visa and sponsor your family reunion visa.35

Where to get immigration help ➞

Family reunion visa

If your spouse and children have a family reunion visa, it’s tied to your residence permit. If you can stay in Germany, they can stay in Germany. If your residence permit expires, their family reunion visa usually expires too.

If your spouse is employed, you can switch roles: your spouse gets a work visa, freelance visa or Blue Card, and you get a family reunion visa.35

EU citizens and permanent residents

Nothing happens to your permanent residence or citizenship. You have the right to stay in Germany, even if you are unemployed.

It should not affect your permanent residence or citizenship application.28 Your application could be delayed until you find a stable job.44

What happens to your health insurance

With public health insurance

Your public health insurance becomes cheaper or free. The coverage stays the same.

In some cases, your health insurance is free for 1 month after you lose your job (nachgehender Leistungsanspruch).18 This happens automatically; you don’t need to apply for it.

With private health insurance

Your private health insurance becomes more expensive, because you employer stops paying half of it. The coverage stays the same.

  • If you get unemployment benefits
    You must switch to public health insurance. The Agentur für Arbeit pays for your health insurance, so you are covered for free.1 In some cases, you can keep your private health insurance.2
  • If you don’t get unemployment benefits
    You keep your private health insurance.3 Your employer does not pay half of it. For example, if your private health insurance costs 500€ per month, your employer paid 250€, and you paid 250€. If you lose your job, you pay 500€ alone without help.

Who gets unemployment benefits ➞

What happens to your pay and bonuses

You get paid until your last day of work, at the end of your notice period. Your employer must pay your full salary, even if you have no work to do.23

After your last day of work, you might get severance pay or unemployment benefits. This gives you financial support while you find another job.

If your employer gives performance bonuses, you should get that bonus even if you leave the company.22 Your bonus can be prorated. For example, if you should get a performance bonus every year, but you leave in September, you should get 75% of the promised bonus. Bonuses are usually paid at the start of the next year. If you don’t get your bonus, talk to a lawyer.

What happens to your unused vacation days

You usually take your unused vacation days during your notice period.14 In some cases, your employer pays you for your unused vacation days.

During your notice period, you can still go on sick leave.

Vacation days when you change jobs ➞

After you leave your job

Get coaching or training

If you get unemployment benefits, you can get free professional training, coaching and language lessons. The Agentur für Arbeit pays for it with a Bildungsgutschein or an AVGS voucher.

Ask about it during your unemployment benefits appointment at the Agentur für Arbeit. Your case worker will decide if you can get free training.32

Find a new job

How to find a job ➞

You can also start your own business and become self-employed. The Agentur für Arbeit can help you with free training and extra money (Gründungszuschuss). You might need a different residence permit for this.

How to start a business ➞

Make a tax declaration

At the end of the year, make a tax declaration (Steuererklärung). Your job search expenses are tax-deductible. – More information.

  • If you get unemployment benefits, you must make a tax declaration.
  • If you don’t get unemployment benefits, you should still make a tax declaration. If you were unemployed for a few months, you probably paid too much taxes. Make a tax declaration to get some money back.

German tax software ➞

English-speaking tax advisors in Berlin ➞

Ask for a pension refund

When you work in Germany, you pay 9.3% of your salary for pension insurance. If you leave Germany, you can get that money back.

This calculator tells you if you can get a pension refund, and how much you can get back.

How to get a pension payments refund ➞

Checklist

Need help?

If you need help, get legal help. In Germany, it’s normal to hire a lawyer. It’s not an aggressive move.

Where to get legal help ➞

Sources and footnotes
  1. Feather 

  2. Feather 

  3. Feather 

  4. §9 Abs. 3 BeschV, berlin.de 

  5. §7 Abs. 2 AufenthG, 7.2.2 VAB, David Kremers, anwalt.de, make-it-in-germany.com, Facebook, Charlott Posch of the Willkommenszentrum (June 2023), Beratungsservice of the Ausländerbehörde (June 2023), Kathleen Parker at Red Tape Translation (July 2023), Carina Senf at Rotwang Law (July 2023), BAMF 

  6. Techniker Krankenkasse 

  7. Techniker Krankenkasse 

  8. Ina Bozhilova at Noah Mobility (July 2023) 

  9. wiwi-treff.de 

  10. Finanztip 

  11. §82 Abs. 6 AufenthG 

  12. Red Tape Translation (July 2023), personal interview (June 2023) 

  13. kanzlei-hallermann.de, §312 SGB III, Agentur für Arbeit 

  14. spiegel.de 

  15. verdi.de, §109 GewO 

  16. karrierebibel.de 

  17. aok.de 

  18. Finanztip 

  19. arbeitnow.com, Finanztip 

  20. Finanztip 

  21. §1a KSchG 

  22. roedl.de, fachanwaltfürarbeitsrecht.net 

  23. anwalt-martin.de, dr-drees.com 

  24. Finanztip 

  25. Finanztip 

  26. kanzlei-chevalier.de 

  27. §41b EStG, prokontex.de, bewerbungen.de, Red Tape Translation (July 2023), Rotwang Law (July 2023) 

  28. Red Tape Translation (July 2023), Rotwang Law (July 2023), reddit.com, reddit.com, reddit.com 

  29. Ina Bozhilova at Noah Mobility (July 2023) 

  30. §4 KSchG 

  31. bewerbungen.de 

  32. Alexander von Engelhardt (July 2023) 

  33. §6 Abs. 2 BUrlG, karrierebibel.de 

  34. vangard.de 

  35. Red Tape Translation (July 2023) 

  36. Reddit 

  37. Fiona Macdonald (August 2023) 

  38. §18g Abs. 4 AufenthG, Charlotte Forestier at Expat Management Group (December 2023) 

  39. Fiona Macdonald (August 2023) 

  40. karrierebibel.de 

  41. §4a Abs. 3 Satz 4 AufenthG 

  42. §9 Abs. 3 BeschV, berlin.de, Charlotte Forestier at Expat Management Group (December 2023), Victoria Messer (December 2023) 

  43. Alexander von Engelhardt (July 2023) 

  44. Alexander von Engelhardt (July 2023)