Working in Germany offers a good work-life balance, although unless you are from the EU/EEA or Switzerland you'll need a German work visa and permit.
Work in Germany averages about 1,371 hours per year, or an estimated 26.3 hours per week, the lowest in the world according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). However, Germany also consistently ranks in the world's top 10 productive countries. Added to this is a minimum requirement of 20 paid vacation days per year (though the average is 30) and up to 13 public holidays, meaning Germany is a work hard, play hard culture.
Getting a work visa in Germany isn't always easy, less so for non-EU/EEA/Swiss citizens, who typically need a residence permit with work authorisation. The right to work in Germany – and to what extent you can work -– will be detailed on your residence permit.
If you're joining a relative who has permission to work in Germany, you will also be allowed to work. However, in most other cases, citizens from countries outside of the EU/EEA/Switzerland can only work in Germany if the position cannot be filled by an EU worker, or if they are highly skilled or highly qualified.
As Germany is keen to attract professionals into the country long-term, such as natural scientists (biologists, physicists and chemists), engineers, IT specialists, other senior personnel and academics, these people are granted preferential approval for a German work visa or permit.
Before checking how to apply for a work permit in Germany, it's important to understand the different German work visas available for foreign nationals.
Permits for general employment:
If you are coming to work in Germany in general employment (ie. a job that does not require you to be highly skilled or highly educated), you will need to apply for a German residence permit for the purpose of general employment (essentially a German work visa and German work permit), and you will only be eligible if the position cannot be filled by a worker from the EU/EEA or Switzerland.
Before applying for a German work permit, you will need to have a vocational qualification and a firm offer of a job in Germany; you will need to show both evidence of your qualification and an employment contract or letter of intent in your application. Find information on German recognition for foreign vocational qualifications here.
The permit is usually granted for one year and is extendable as long as your situation remains the same. After five years of working in Germany, you can apply for a settlement permit or EU right of residence in order to stay in the country indefinitely.
Permits for university graduates (JOB SEEKER VISA):
Do you have a university degree? If you're a foreign graduate coming from abroad, hold a recognised university degree and have sufficient funds to support you during your stay, you can come to Germany on a six-month residence permit to look for work, known as the jobseeker's visa. You are not permitted, however, to undertake any work in Germany while looking.
Foreign graduates from German universities who want to stay and look for work can apply to extend their existing residence permits for up to 18 months (and work unrestricted), as long as they have evidence of their degree, have health insurance and can support themselves financially.
Once you have found employment you can apply for a German work permit. As from August 1, 2012, if you have a recognised university degree comparable to a German degree, and a firm job offer with annual gross earnings of least EUR 50,800 (or in the case of highly qualified people in mathematics, natural sciences or technology, or medical doctors, a salary of EUR 39,624), you can apply for an EC Blue Card (Blaue Karte EU). If you don't meet the income requirement, then you will have to apply for a residence permit (as above).
This is usually granted for four years (or the duration of your contract) and gives you certain benefits, such as the ability to apply for a settlement permit after 33 months instead of five years (or 21 months if you can prove a B1 level of German proficiency) and immediate access to work in Germany for spouses.
Permits for highly skilled workers:
Those who fit this category (plus earning more than EUR 84,600) can apply for a settlement permit, entitling you ¬– and your family members – to live and work in Germany indefinitely (if you were to come to Germany on a regular residence permit, you would have to be resident for five years before applying for a settlement permit). You will need to have a specific job offer and the permission of the Federal Employment Agency.
Permits for students:
Do you want to undertake a professional or vocational training course?
You can be granted a residence permit to come to Germany for professional or industrial training (which must also have been advertised to German nationals or privileged foreign nationals) with the approval of the Federal Employment Agency. If you're a graduate of a German college abroad you may be granted the same permit without the approval of the Agency.
You can work up to 10 hours a week on this permit, which lasts for two years (or the duration of the training, if less than two years). You can extend your residence permit for another year while you seek work. For more information see our guide to German student visas.
Permits for self-employed/freelancers:
If you want to come to Germany to set up a business, you can apply for a residence permit for self-employed business purposes. It is valid for three years and can be extended if the business is successful. Read more about how to start a business or freelance in Germany.
You need to prove that the business will fulfil a need in Germany, benefit the country economically and be fully financed by a bank loan or your own capital. You'll need to have a viable business plan, relevant experience, and show how your business will contribute to innovation and research in Germany.
When you apply, you will have to provide evidence of all of these things, plus proof of pension provision if you're over 45, guaranteeing a monthly amount of around EUR 1,110 after the age of 67; citizens from Dominican Republic, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Turkey and the United States of America do not need to provide proof of pension.
Freelance workers in Germany can also apply for a residence permit for self-employment. Freelancers include those with traditional liberal professions called 'catalogue professions' (Katalogberufe), including self-employed people working in science and engineering, the arts, professional writing or teaching, or who offer a professional service, such as a doctor, dentist or lawyer.
You will need to provide evidence:
that there's a need for your services in Germany;
of your qualifications; and
that you can finance yourself.
Partners and relatives – who can work in Germany?
If you have come to Germany to join a family member or partner, you will also be able to work if your relative/partner has been authorised for employment, has a permit for research or an EU Blue Card, or is a highly skilled worker with a settlement permit.