Alexandra Sabalier
May 04, 2020
5 min

Unemployment benefits in Germany: Arbeitslosengeld I

It’s okay. You lost your job and you’re what? Having no job sometimes may feel like a frantic period in which you may not know where to start to get back on track. But not to worry, I got your back with the very first step you need to make. If you’re reading this, you are most likely living in Germany and may have been working and contributing to your social security by paying your taxes for the period of time you’ve worked. But let me tell you, even if you have not worked, or have not paid enough taxes to contribute to the social security fund, you may have options to receive unemployment benefit payments in Germany.

Regardless of your case, you may be entitled to unemployment benefits that are offered by the German federal government. And I want to share with you the information you need to get access to these benefits.

The first thing you have to know is that there are two types of unemployment benefits in Germany- Arbeitslosengeld I and Arbeitslosengeld II. Which one you receive will depend on whether you have made contributions to the statutory unemployment insurance, and how long you have been unemployed for.

In general, if you have been employed in the last two years, working at least 15 hours a week, and have paid at least 12 months of unemployment insurance during your time of employment, then you may qualify for Unemployment Benefit I, Arbeitslosengeld I. However, if these circumstances do not apply to you, then you may qualify to receive unemployment Benefit II, Arebitslosengeld II.

Continue to read below for more detailed information on how Arbeitslosengeld I may apply to you, and what you need to do to receive the benefit payments.

To qualify for Arbeitslosengeld I, the requirements are:

  • You are unemployed. (Please note that if you voluntarily leave your job (you quit) you may be denied unemployment benefit payments for up to 12 weeks -three months- after your resignation date.)
  • You are an European Union, EEA or Swiss citizen, or you hold a valid permit or temporary residence permit that allows you to work in Germany.
  • You have paid a minimum of 12 months’s worth of unemployment insurance in contributions in the last 30 months. (This requirement does not apply if the reason why you can’t comply with it is due to maternity leave, paternity leave, or illness)
  • You are in the process of seeking a job position that complies with the compulsory insurance (minimum of 15 hours per week)
  • You registered as unemployed at the Arbeitsamt- the employment office.
  • If you don’t meet these requirements, you may still qualify for Arbeitslosengeld II.

How to apply for unemployment benefit I:

If you qualify to receive Unemployment Benefit I, you should take these 3 STEPS as soon as possible to make sure there is no delay in processing your payments.

1. Register yourself as Unemployed

If you know beforehand that you will become unemployed in the upcoming 3 months, make sure you register before the end of your employment contract. Otherwise, if you do not have a notice period under your employment contract or if you become unexpectedly unemployed, then you need to register at the unemployment office within 3 days of finding out.

You can do this:

2. Show Documentation

When registering as unemployed, you will need to bring:

  • Your ID card or passport- Please note that a driver's license is not accepted as a form of ID for this purpose
  • Your certificate of registration as unemployed
  • If applicable: Your visa
  • Your notice period or employment contract
  • Your Resumé (CV)

3. Fill out the Application for Unemployment Benefit

This Application can be found, filled, and submitted either online or at the employment office. Please be advised that this form is only available in German.

Approximately two weeks after completing this process you will receive a letter of confirmation through the post. It is possible that you will be extended invitations to attend meetings with a counselor at the employment agency to discuss the processes and efforts you're making during your unemployment period to find a new job.

Please be advised that if you decline a job offer, training, or education that becomes available to you, the benefit payments you receive can be either reduced or taken away.

How much do you receive in benefits of Arbeitslosengeld I?

The amount you will get paid is based on your previous average weekly pay during the assessment period, which includes the last 12 months before you became unemployed. The payment you will receive is the 60% of your average wage when you were employed, if you don’t have children, and 67% if you have children. The maximum amount you can receive in unemployment benefits in West Germany is 6,900 euros monthly, and in East Germany is 6,450 euros.

Like a regular salary payment, taxes and social security contributions will be automatically taken from your benefit before the payment is transferred to your bank account.

How long can you receive Arbeitslosengeld I for?

How long you are able to receive the unemployment benefit depends on how long you were contributing to the unemployment insurance before you became employed, and on your age if you are 50 years +. Please be advised that to receive unemployment benefits on Arbeitslosengeld I, you must have been insured for at least 12 months in the last two years before becoming and registering as unemployed.

If you contributed:

  • 12 months contribution period = 6 months benefit
  • 16 months contribution period = 8 months benefit
  • 20 months contribution period = 10 months benefit
  • 24 months contribution period = 12 months benefit

The following benefits depend also on your age

  • If you are 50- 55 years, and have 30 months contribution period = 15 months benefit
  • If you are 55- 58 years, and have 36 months contribution period = 18 months benefit
  • If you are 58+ years, and have 48 months contribution period = 24 months benefit
  • If you have used up your entitlement to unemployment benefit for the maximum period of time, and you haven’t yet found a job yet by the the end of this period, you will be able to apply for Unemployment Benefit II, Arbeitslosengeld II. See my article on Arbeitslosengeld II where I explain in detail what it means, how you can apply for it, and how it may benefit you.

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