written by Martin W. Stappen

In this overview I will try to distinguish different ways to work in Germany. It being a brief overview, I am omitting many details as well as niche cases.

The 538-Euro-Minijob

This job is the smallest one, with a maximum gross income of 538 Euros. The good news: This is non-taxable income. The bad news: Nothing else is deducted from your pay either. This means your health insurance isn’t covered and there aren’t payments going towards your pension. Also, you aren’t paying into the unemployment insurance and won’t receive related benefits when your work ends. Even if some employers might think otherwise, normal labour laws of course still apply. This includes protection against dismissal, continued payment if you or a child are sick, maternity benefits and a graded report card at the end, the Arbeitszeugnis. Around 7,5 million people in Germany have such a Minijob, over 4 million exclusively and over 3 million in combination with regular employment.

Working as a regular employee

As a regular employee you will earn more than in a Minijob, but also give money to the state, covering taxes and various insurances. This is the default mode of employment in Germany. There is a variance here as well, of course. Some contracts are connected to larger union contracts, usually providing more benefits and additional job security. We also have temp agencies, where employees then fulfil their contract at other companies.

Working as a Beamter

A Beamter is a public servant on the federal, state, or municipal level. She or he is in a special relationship with the public, set apart from usual employment. Not all federal or state employees have this status however, which conveys quite a few benefits and an even higher job security, alongside limitations and specific demand towards their loyalty. For example, you won’t ever see them on strike. Foreigners looking for jobs in Germany won’t find this very relevant to their own search, but it is listed here nonetheless as there are around 2 million of them in Germany (alongside about 3 million “regular” employees of the state).

Self-employed work

If self-employed you are either a freelancer (Freiberufler) or you own your business (Gewerbe). There are limitations on what jobs can be done as a freelancer and in some fields starting a business is mandatory, prohibiting freelancing. In either case, these are fields with lots of regulations and lots to consider, so some form of support from a knowledgeable source is advisable, to help navigate everything.

Volunteering work

As a volunteer you can develop skills, earn insights, build connections, and practice conversing in German. There are several ways to do this, for instance the Freiwilliges Soziales Jahr (FSJ), a year of voluntary work open also to people outside Germany. Here you’ll only be earning some pocket money but could be provided with free meals and an accommodation.

This is obviously a very brief overview to recognize what people might be talking about. We are here to go into much more detail wherever needed.