Unemployment benefits in Germany

This guide shows you how to get unemployment benefits (ALG I) after you lose your job. ALG I pays 60% to 67% of your previous salary,3 and it pays for your health insurance.

Losing your job in Germany

Who can get unemployment benefits?

You get ALG I when you lose your job. You must apply for ALG I at the Agentur für Arbeit.2

You can get unemployment benefits if:1

  • You are unemployed
  • You can work
    You are healthy enough to work 15 hours per week.
  • You paid unemployment insurance for 12 of the last 30 months12
    Almost all employees pay for unemployment insurance, but most self-employed people don’t. Unemployment insurance payments in other EU and EEA countries also count.20 Sickness, parenting, short-term employment and other factors can shorten this period. If you are not sure, apply for unemployment benefits anyway.
  • You applied for unemployment benefits
    This is not automatic. You must apply for unemployment benefits yourself.

If you can’t get ALG I, you should still register at the Agentur für Arbeit. You could get Bürgergeld, free professional training, job search help or good advice.28

Unemployment benefits for immigrants

You can get ALG I with a residence permit (like a work visa or Blue Card), permanent residence or EU citizenship. Your immigration status does not affect your unemployment benefits.

Some Agentur für Arbeit case workers refuse to give ALG I to people with residence permits. This is wrong, and you can force them to pay unemployment benefits.31

If you currently get ALG I, it can affect your permanent residence or citizenship application.34

If you got ALG I before, it does not affect your permanent residence or citizenship application.32

You can rarely get Bürgergeld with a residence permit. If your Zusatzblatt says “Erlischt mit Bezug von Leistungen nach dem SGB II oder …“, you can’t get Bürgergeld.33

When do I get unemployment benefits?

Usually, as soon as you stop working, except if there is a disqualification period (Sperrzeit). You get paid at the end of the month.

The Sperrzeit

Sometimes, there is a disqualification period (Sperrzeit) of 1 to 12 weeks. During the Sperrzeit, you don’t get ALG I, but the Agentur für Arbeit still pays for your health insurance.27

There is a Sperrzeit when…

  • You choose to leave your job
    This means that you quit your job without a reason, or you sign an Aufhebungsvertrag with your employer. Usually, there is a 3 month Sperrzeit if you choose to leave. There is no Sperrzeit if you quit because of mental health, bad salary, moving for your spouse, and other good reasons.15
  • or you register too late
    If you wait too long to register as a job seeker or as unemployed, the Agentur für Arbeit adds a Sperrzeit to punish you.
  • or you refuse help from the Agentur für Arbeit14
    For example, you refuse a job offer, refuse to take recommended training, or refuse to look for work.

A Sperrzeit means that you get less ALG I in total. For example, if you have 12 months of unemployment benefits and a 3 month Sperrzeit, you only get ALG I for 9 months.

How much money do I get?

60% of your gross income, or 67% if you have children.6 They use your average gross income of the last 12 months, including bonuses.13 They ignore your income above 90,600€ per year.

Unemployment benefits calculator (in German) – Agentur für Arbeit

You pay taxes on the money you get: salary tax, solidarity tax and pension insurance.7 After taxes, ALG I is still around 60% of your net income.

How long do unemployment benefits last?

6 to 12 months. It depends on how many months of unemployment insurance you paid in the last 5 years. If you are over 50 years old, it can last up to 24 months.19

You can get less unemployment benefits because of a Sperrzeit

How to apply for unemployment benefits

Register as a job seeker

Register as seeking employment at the Agentur für Arbeit. You can register as a job seeker online, by phone or in person at the Jobcenter. To register online, you need a valid electronic ID.25 If you have a residence permit, and you did not activate the eID function, you can’t register online.

Register as a job seeker – Agentur für Arbeit

Do this at least 3 months before your last day of work. If that’s impossible, then do it within 3 days after you learn that you will be unemployed.4 If you don’t register on time, you lose 1 week of ALG I as a punishment (15% of your monthly income).

After you register as a job seeker, the Agentur für Arbeit can help you find another job or start a business. They can also pay for German classes and professional training (with the Bildungsgutschein).

Register as unemployed

You must register as unemployed at the Agentur für Arbeit. This is how you get ALG I. You can do this online, by phone or in person at the Jobcenter. To register online, you need a valid electronic ID. If you don’t have one, go to the Jobcenter in person. You don’t need an appointment.25

Register as unemployed – Agentur für Arbeit

Do this in your last 3 months of work, and before your second day of unemployment. If you don’t register on time, you lose 1 week of unemployment benefits as a punishment (15% of your monthly income).5

Go to your Agentur für Arbeit appointment

After you register as unemployed, you will get an appointment at the Agentur für Arbeit. They will tell you which documents to bring.21

If you don’t speak German, the Agentur für Arbeit can cancel your appointment, and make their translator call you instead. You can also bring your own translator to the appointment.26 I recommend Red Tape Translation.

If you want professional training, ask for it during that appointment. Find courses that interest you before your appointment. Explain your career plans, and why these courses will help you. The Agentur für Arbeit can pay for professional courses, German lessons and career coaching. They will give you a Bildungsgutschein that pays for your training. It takes around 1 week.25

List of courses (in German) – Agentur für Arbeit

Wait for your Arbeitsbescheinigung

Before you get ALG I, your employer must send your Arbeitsbescheinigung to the Agentur für Arbeit.22 Your employer can do this online; you might not get a copy.25

If your employer takes too long, tell your case worker at the Agentur für Arbeit. They will pressure your employer, and can fine them up to 2,000€. This can still take a few weeks.23

If you can’t wait for your Arbeitsbescheinigung, ask the Agentur für Arbeit for a preliminary approval of your employment benefits (vorläufige Bewilligung).24 You will get unemployment benefits faster. Use this template to make the request.

Your employer can also put false information in your Arbeitsbescheinigung. This can affect how much ALG I you get.29

Receiving unemployment benefits

ALG I is paid on the first business day of the next month.16 For example, if you get ALG I in May, it’s paid on June 1.

ALG I is paid by bank transfer, so you need a bank account.17 You do not need a German bank account; just an account that accepts SEPA transfers.18

Conditions to get ALG I

When you receive ALG I, the Agentur für Arbeit is your boss, and finding work is your full time job.

The Agentur für Arbeit really wants you to work. At first, they are nice and patient. After some time, they are more forceful.

To get ALG I, you must…

  • Try to find work8
    You must actively look for another job. You must prove that you are looking at job offers and applying for jobs.
  • Be reachable9
    You must answer your phone and read your mail. If you travel and you can’t read your mail, you must tell the Agentur für Arbeit.
  • Be flexible
    You must be ready to accept jobs that are not exactly what you want.

If you don’t meet those conditions, you can lose your ALG I, sometimes retroactively.10

Vacations and travel

When you get ALG I, you are supposed to search for a job. If you want to travel and have fun, you must ask the Agentur für Arbeit. They give you 20 paid vacation days per year. You must book vacations in advance.

In reality, people travel without telling the Agentur für Arbeit. Usually, they don’t notice.

You can also pause your ALG I and take a longer unpaid vacation.30

You can travel to find work in another EU or EEA country. You must ask the Agentur für Arbeit first.8 You receive ALG I while you travel to find work.

People often travel without telling the Agentur für Arbeit. If they call you for an appointment, and they learn that you are on a beach in Spain, they can cut your unemployment benefits. This rarely happens; the Agentur für Arbeit books appointments weeks in advance.35

Sickness and pregnancy

If you are sick, you can take sick days. You need a sick note from a doctor (Krankschreibung).11 When you are healthy again, you must tell the Agentur für Arbeit. You can also take time off when your children are sick.

For the first 6 weeks that you are sick, you get ALG I. After 6 weeks, you stop getting ALG I, and you get Krankengeld from your health insurance instead.

What to do next

Look for work. ALG I depends on it.

How to find a job in Berlin

Sources and footnotes
  1. Arbeitsagentur, betanet.de, Red Tape Translation 

  2. Red Tape Translation 

  3. hartz4.de, Section 4.3 

  4. Arbeitsagentur, Arbeitsagentur 

  5. berlin.de 

  6. Arbeitsagentur 

  7. Arbeitsagentur ALG I calculator 

  8. Section 2.4, arbeitslosenselbsthilfe.org 

  9. Section 2.5 

  10. Section 2.4, 2.5 

  11. Section 2.5 

  12. Section 3.1 

  13. Section 4.1 

  14. Section 6 

  15. Section 6, Red Tape Translation 

  16. jobrecht.de, sozialleistungen.info 

  17. sozialleistungen.info 

  18. Section 1.1 

  19. bmas.de 

  20. Agentur für Arbeit 

  21. arbeitslosenselbsthilfe.org 

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

  23. §404 Abs. 19 SGB III, Section 3.1, mitfugundrecht.de, clockodo.com, papershift.com, Reddit, Reddit 

  24. Rotwang Law (June 2023), Rechtsanwalt Köper, ali-whv-fri.de, kanzlei-hallermann.de, §328 SGB III, NRW Agentur für Arbeit, Agentur für Arbeit 

  25. Interview with an unemployed person (July 2023) 

  26. Kathleen Parker at Red Tape Translation (July 2023), interview with an unemployed person (July 2023) 

  27. Kathleen Parker at Red Tape Translation (July 2023), Techniker Krankenkasse 

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

  29. Rotwang Law (July 2023) 

  30. Rotwang Law (July 2023) 

  31. Flüchtlingsrat NRW, Agentur für Arbeit, page 14 

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

  33. Zusatzblatt example, Ina Bozhilova at Noah Mobility (July 2023) 

  34. Ina Bozhilova at Noah Mobility (July 2023) 

  35. Ina Bozhilova at Noah Mobility (July 2023)