Generation Emigration

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens abroad

Destination in Focus: Germany

Practical advice on moving to Germany from Ireland, with info on employment opportunities, finding a place to live, useful liks to Irish organisations, and cultural considerations to keep in mind, prepared in collaboration with the The Irish Business Network (IBN) Germany.

Thu, Feb 23, 2012, 19:06

   

Prepared in collaboration with The Irish Business Network (IBN) Germany.

Despite its strong economy and close proximity to Ireland, Germany still ranks behind English speaking destinations in terms of its popularity for Irish emigrants. At the last official count however, there were almost 10,000 Irish people living in Germany. The number of newly arrived Irish people joining the Irish Business Network in Germany in the last two years would suggest that there has been a significant increase in this number.

The Irish who have settled here have generally been drawn by:

  • Employment opportunities in Europe’s largest national economy;
  • Opportunities to up-skill in specialised areas such as manufacturing and engineering (e.g. machinery, automotive, chemicals) and energy (wind and solar power);
  • Lack of visa requirements for EU nationals;
  • Close proximity to Ireland with multiple direct air routes;
  • High standard of living, healthcare and social services;
  • Central position in Europe with an excellent high speed national railway and autobahn network, and extensive local transport infrastructure;
  • Largely temperate seasonal climate with warm summers and cold winters, ideal for skiing and snowboarding.

Despite the negative press Ireland has been receiving about its economic situation, Germans still have a somewhat romantic view of ‘die Grüne Insel’ (the green Island).  They are huge fans of Irish culture and music and have genuine warmth for Irish people.

Find a job

Employment opportunities

Germany’s economy has been largely unaffected by the recession. Jobs are available in almost every sector for suitably qualified applicants, and there are skill shortages in the areas of engineering, IT and healthcare. These shortages are predicted to continue and become even more acute over the next decade as the German economy continues to grow.

The overall unemployment rate in Germany was just 6.6% in December 2011, but there are significant regional differences. Employment is highest in the western states of Bayern (Munich), Baden-Württemberg (Stuttgart) and Hessen (Frankfurt), which are all major industrial centres, with factories producing BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Bosch.

The unemployment rate in former East Germany, including in the cities of Berlin, Leipzig and Dresden, has consistently fallen since 2005 but remains at around 12%. Would-be Irish emigrants thinking of moving to Germany are advised to focus their search on the west.

Cities with the most established Irish communities include Munich, Frankfurt (Rhine-Main), Cologne, Düsseldorf and Stuttgart. There is also a large Irish community in Berlin but employment opportunities are not as good here as in western cities.

Recruitment

Randstad is one of the biggest German recruitment agencies. International recruitment agencies such as Manpower, Adecco and Kelly Services all have offices in German cities. EuroLondon specialises in multilingual recruitment, and for English language positions, try EnglishLanguageJobs.com. Local government-run employment offices (‘Arbeitsagentur’) also provide listings of job vacancies.

Other useful jobs websites include www.jobpilot.de, www.jobscout24.de and www.monster.de. Www.thelocal.de is a German news site in English that has a jobs section listing vacancies with English requirements. Local and newspapers usually list jobs on a Friday or Saturday.

Job applications

The German resume (‘Lebenslauf’) contains quite a bit of personal information, including marital status, age, number of children and a photo. Work experience and education details should be ordered chronologically from earliest to latest. Official qualifications, credentials and degrees carry more weight in Germany than in Ireland and other English-speaking countries.

It is standard to append copies of educational diplomas or degree certificates, result transcripts, reference letters and anything else to support your application to your resume.  It is quite normal for your Lebenslauf to run up to 20 pages once you have appended all these documents.  When sending online applications, these documents should be scanned and merged into a consolidated PDF file.  Official translations of documents may be required by some employers.

In some sectors, especially business and finance, German students are expected to have completed several unpaid or low-paid internships (‘Praktikum’) in their desired area of employment before they will be considered for a full-time position.  Detailed reference letters (‘Zeugnis’) are given to interns at the end of their internship which are included in future job applications.

The adding of a ‘References available on request’ tagline at the bottom of a CV will not work in Germany – you are expected to append any written references or be able to provide the names, titles, company name and phone number of your references when necessary. You should expect to provide up to 3 references in most cases.

Unlike in Ireland where it is quite acceptable to remain at a company for just a few years, Germans typically remain at the same company for 10 years or more, even those starting directly from college. Be prepared to be asked why you “job-hopped”. Germans also are very focused on particular career paths and rarely change industry. Again, be prepared to explain why you swapped from Telecommunications to Insurance, for example.

Sprechen Sie Deutsch? – German language

Although a few of Germany’s larger international companies have adopted English as their official business language, the ‘Mittelstand’ (small and medium sized enterprises) remain the backbone of the German economy, where business continues to be done almost exclusively in German.

Younger Germans generally have good English and are enthusiastic to practise it with an English native speaker, but German is still required when dealing with the authorities, and basic conversational German is commonly a prerequisite for jobs. Irish emigrants thinking of moving to Germany should have basic German or at least a willingness to invest the time to learn.

In Ireland, German classes for adults are offered by the Goethe-Institut in Dublin, a non-profit German cultural association which also has centres offering classes in most major German cities. Affordable classes are offered by Germany’s network of ‘Volkshochschule’ (adult education centres). Free online German courses and resources can also be found on website of the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle. A very useful website for translating German phrases and vocabulary is Linguee.

Find a Place to Live

Germany has a low rate of home ownership (approximately 40%) which means that the majority of Germans are renters and rental accommodation is easily available. Regulations are in place to protect and favour renters as opposed to landlords.

Properties are almost always unfurnished.   In a German context ‘unfurnished’ means totally empty, with no built-in wardrobes, light fixtures, curtain rails, a stove or kitchen. It is normal for outgoing tenants to take the entire kitchen (including cupboards, worktops etc) with them when moving, though many will be happy to sell it on to the incoming tenant if asked. Outgoing tenants are also required to paint the inside walls of the property white before handing it over to the new tenant.

Some furnished flats (möbliert) are available in larger cities with a higher number of expatriates, or for short-term sub leases (Zwischenmieter), though these are usually at the higher end of the market and will be more expensive.

IKEA has stores in most major German cities.  Secondhand furniture can often be found via the ‘Classified Adverts’ section on Toytown German, a forum aimed at Germany’s English speaking community. On Facebook there are Expat Groups for each major city in Germany (e.g. ‘Frankfurt-in-Motion’). People leaving offer furniture for very low prices on these forums, where you can also pick up cheap bikes.

Rent is classified either as cold (‘Kaltmiete’) (you pay separately for heating, maintenance costs and other utilities) or warm ( ‘Warmmiete’) (heating and other costs are included in the rent). Property advertisements always include the number of square metres (sqm) and will usually include the number of rooms. The number of rooms does not refer to bedrooms but all available rooms excluding bathroom, kitchen and hallway (e.g. ‘zwei Zimmer Wohnung’ means an apartment with one bedroom and a living room).

Price will vary greatly depending on the regions and area of the city. The average rental price Germany  in 2010 was €5.50/sqm (Kaltmiete)  however in more popular cities with limited housing supply such as Köln, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt and Munich, average rent was high as €12/sqm. See the following website for an overview.

Useful websites for renting include www.immobilienscout24.de , www.immowelt.de and www.immonet.de . For shared apartments see www.wg-gesucht.de/en/, and for furnished apartments see www.homecompany.de, www.e-rent.de/en and www.zeitwohnen.de/.

The duration of all rental contracts is unlimited with a three-month cancellation period. The standard deposit is three months rent (Kaltmiete). When you look for a property in the newspapers or online, the majority of homes for rent are advertised by real estate agents (‘Makler’) who charge tenants two months’ rent plus 19% VAT as an upfront fee if you successfully rent one of their properties.  This is especially true in the more sought after areas of the bigger cities such as Cologne, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt and Munich. Occasionally there are listings with the phrase ‘Provisionfrei’ (provision free) which means that you don’t have to pay an up-front fee to the real estate agent however such properties tend to go quickly.

For up-to-date tips / areas guides for major cities, search the appropriate subsection on the Toytown forum.

Tax & Insurance

Income tax

Germany has a progressive income tax system meaning the higher the income, the higher the rate of tax payable.  Income tax rates for an individual vary between 15% and 42% depending on your marital, family and job status.

Church taxes

When you sign up as a German tax payer, you’ll see a line on the form asking you for your religious affiliation.  When you fill in a religion on this tax form you’re granting the state permission to register you as a church member and subsequently impose a church tax (‘Kirchensteuer’). The tax is currently levied as a 9% surcharge on your tax bill meaning that pay an additional amount equal to 9% of your income tax (not your income) will be automatically deducted from your salary and given to the church of your choice.

If you do not want to participate in this church funding scheme, simply check off “none” (‘keine’) next to religion when you fill out any registration forms.  Not being an official, taxpaying church member has its consequences and churches may deny you baptisms, church weddings or funerals if you are not a tax-paying member of the religion.

Social contributions

In addition to income tax and church tax (if applicable), all employees are also liable to a number of social contributions:

  • Retirement insurance (‘Rentenversicherung’) = 9.8% of gross salary (employee contribution)
  • Unemployment insurance (‘Arbeitslosengeld’) =  1.5% of gross salary (employee contribution)
  • Long-term care insurance (‘Pflegeversicherung’) = 1.225% (employee contribution) of gross salary  
  • Solidarity surcharge (‘Solidaritätszuschlag’) = 5.5% of normal income tax paid (employee contribution).

The ‘Soli’ has been payable by individual German taxpayers since 1991 to cover the cost of reunification and bringing infrastructure in former East Germany up to West German standards.  This levy is set to remain in place until 2019.

The social contributions listed above are paid up to a maximum monthly contribution amount which varies depending on income tax class (‘Steuerklasse’).

Health insurance

A compulsory heath insurance system exists in Germany which has the world’s oldest universal health care system, dating back to Otto von Bismarck’s Social legislation in 1883.

Public health insurance (‘Gesetzliche Krankenversicherung‘ or ‚GKV‘): Membership in a GKV is mandatory for employees with a gross salary below €45,900 annually (2012).  Monthly premiums are presently set at 8.2% (employee contribution) of your gross salary and are currently capped at a maximum annual payment of €3,825. Under a public health insurer, non-working dependents (i.e. spouse and children) living at your address in Germany are insured at the same level of coverage at no additional cost.

Private health insurance from a German company (‘Private Krankenversicherung’): Employees who earn over €45,900 annually (2012) may opt out of the public health insurance scheme and take out a private health insurance plan offered by a German insurance company.  Premiums may work out cheaper than amounts payable under public health insurance schemes though this will depend on the age and profile of the insured.  It is necessary to pay separate premiums for family members who a covered under public health insurance schemes as non-working dependents. Bear in mind though that even if unemployed, made redundant or on maternity leave, you are still obliged to pay your private health insurance each month.

Private health insurance from Irish providers (e.g. VHI) does not meet the minimum requirements required of German residents and therefore cannot be used in lieu of insurance cover from a German insurance company. Similarly, it is no longer possible to rely on a European Health Insurance Card (formerly the E111 form) issued in Ireland, once you become a resident in Germany.

Personal liability insurance (Privathaftpflichtversicherung)

In Germany it is advisable to take out personal liability insurance which covers you should you by accident or through negligence cause injury or even death to someone (e.g. you hit someone whilst riding your bike or knock someone down the stairs). Having such insurance is not a legal requirement in Germany but most Germans do have it and it is strongly recommended for expats as well, especially as it can cost as little as €40 per annum. Without it you could be liable to lose everything you own and more (i.e. what you will earn in the future) should you cause an accident.

Registration

EU nationals are treated like Germans when it comes to employment and residence and therefore do not need permits.

All new arrivals are required to register with their local city authorities, just as Germans are required to do so when they move to a new city within Germany.  This registration involves going to the local registry office (‘Meldestelle’, ‘Bürgerbüro’, ‘Einwohnermeldamt’ or ‘Ordnungsamt’) or local town hall (‘Rathaus’) and filling out a form with your new address.   Failure to register within three months of moving will result in a fine.

When registering, you should also be given an income tax registration form. Following this initial registration, an income tax card (‘Lohnsteuerkarte’) will be posted to you.  Your tax group (‘Steuerklasse’) will determine your income tax rate, which will depend on your marital, family and job status.

For most Irish people arriving in Germany the number of forms to be filled out may be a bit overwhelming at first, but Germany is a very well-run country and bureaucracy is the price paid for a well-run operation.

Irish clubs, business and social networks

The Irish Business Network in Germany: www.irishbusinessnetwork.de

Deutsch-Irische Juristen- und Wirtschaftsvereinigung e.V.: www.deutsch-irische-juristen.de/

German-Irish Chamber of Industry and Commerce: irland.ahk.de

Ireland Fund of Germany: www.irlfunds.org/germany/

Irish Business Network: www.irishbusinessnetwork.de/

Bayern – Deutsch- Irischen Freundeskreises Bayern e.V.: www.dif-bayern.de/

Bonn – Deutsch-Irischen Gesellschaft: www.deirge-bonn.de/deirge.php?c=deirge

Dusseldorf – Deutsch-Irische Gesellschaft: www.deutsch-irische-gesellschaft.de/

Forschungs-und Arbeitsgemeinschaft Irland e.v.: www.fai-germany.de/

Friedberg – Gesellschaft zur Foerderung der deutsch-irischen Verständigung e.V.: www.deutsch-iren.de/

Höchstadt – Freundeskreis Höchstadt – Castlebar: www.castlebar.de/

Rhein-Main – Deutsch-Irische Gesellschaft: www.digrm.de/

Rhine Valley - Irish Association: www.rvia-online.net/index.html

Stuttgart – Deutsch-Irischer Freundeskreis: www.dif-bw.de/

Würzburg – Deutsch-Irische Gesellschaft: uploader.wuerzburg.de/dig/

GAA clubs:

Assistance

Irish Embassy in Berlin: www.embassyofireland.de/home/index.aspx?id=28734

Irish Consulates: www.embassyofireland.de/home/index.aspx?id=29709

Irish News

Details of upcoming Irish cultural events at the Irish Embassy in Berlin and throughout Germany can be found in a monthly newsletter “Das Irische Monatsbuch”: January / February 2012 edition:  www.embassyofireland.de/uploads/documents/embassy/Berlin%20EM/monatsbuchjanfeben.pdf

‘The Local’ is a news website in English targeted at Germany’s expat community: www.thelocal.de/

Spiegel Online – the website of the popular weekly news magazine ‘Der Spiegel’, has an international site which is available in English: www.spiegel.de/international/

Cultural considerations

A time and a place…..

A key criticism of Germans is that they don’t know how to have a good time.  In fact, Germans are great at having fun, at the right time and place!  When it’s time to work, they work hard. When it’s time to play, they love to play.  As a result Germans are not as spontaneous as the Irish when it comes to having fun and enjoying themselves but are still great fun.

Hard shells but soft inside

Compared to Irish people, Germans are generally somewhat cautious when it comes to getting to know new people and are not as forthcoming at first which may give the initial impression that they are cold and unfriendly. As a result making new friendships with Germans can take time. However, it is worth the time investment as once trust and a sense of security has been established, you will have a friend for life.

Acquaintances / colleagues kept at a distance

It is normal for Germans (especially the older generation) keep those outside their close circle of friends at arm’s length.  It is normal to address acquaintances or colleagues or neighbours (even those who have been known for years) by their Surname (e.g. Herr Müller / Frau Schmidt), never using their first name.

Similarly, the German language has both formal (‘Sie’) and informal (‘Du’) mode of addressing people.  Being addressed by someone other than a friend or family member using the informal mode is still likely to make most Germans feel uncomfortable so care should be taken in this regard.  This distinction is gradually becoming more blurred though for younger generations who are quick to suggest ‘wir können uns dusen’ which means that the informal mode can be used, though it is always the older or more senior person who should suggest this to the younger person and not vice versa.

Similarly, in professional situations or social occasions where you do not know people, avoid asking questions about personal life or family. There are very clears rules about what is a taboo topic here – for example keep your small talk to the weather, the traffic and stay well away from politics.

Refreshingly honest

German’s speak their mind and can be refreshingly honest and direct.  Small talk is not favoured, neither it is a skill as Irish see it.

Similarly, compliments and positive feedback are not given as freely as they are in Ireland and other English speaking countries.  These are considered “Flosken”… empty words. To a German, a compliment is something with meaning so overusing them cheapens the compliment.

Likewise, Germans will expect you to keep your word – a comment such as ‘we should meet up for a drink some time’ will be taken at face value and a German will expect to hear from you soon to make arrangements to meet.

Pünktlichkeit

The stereotype is true! Being late in Germany just doesn’t cut it. This goes for business meetings as well as social situations. If the party invitation says 8pm don’t arrive Irish style after 9 o’clock.

Busses and trains tend to run on time and to their timetable too.

Getting the bill

When in a bar in Germany, expect to pay for your drinks altogether when you are leaving (i.e. you automatically get a tab) and not as you order them.  As a result no ‘rounds’ system exists as in Ireland. When it comes to leaving and you ask for the bill, the waiter or waitress will ask ‘zusammen oder getrennt’ (together or separately).  Each person in the group will usually pay for their drinks separately.

The same goes in restaurants where Germans will pay separately for exactly what they ordered and will rarely split the bill by the number of people at the table.

Look me in the eye

When clinking glasses in a toast, it is etiquette to say ‘Prost’ (cheers!) or ‘Zum Wohl’ (Slainte!) giving every single person at the table a quick glance, always making eye-contact.

You pay on your birthday

While in Ireland, everybody buys you drinks on your birthday, in Germany it is the only day of the year that you have to buy drinks for everyone else.  In German offices, it is common to bring a self-baked cake to work on your birthday, to be shared by your colleagues.  Also, it is considered bad look to wish someone happy birthday in advance so wait until the day itself.

Law abiding

Germans obey the rule. A red light at a pedestrian crossing will be obeyed, with those crossing choosing to stand and wait for the green man, even if there is no traffic in sight.

Business Etiquette

The typical Irish phone call or meeting starts with a generous round of “how are you?”, or “how is the family?”, this is generally not the case when working in Germany or with Germans. Meetings have a set agenda, run on time and get to the point quickly – best to keep pleasantries to a minimum. Germans also value proof and statistics.

Other useful information

For info on integrating into German life from the Federal Office for Migration, see http://www.integration-in-deutschland.de. General guides for expats / newcomers in Germany include www.justlanded.com/english/Germany and www.newcomers-network.de.

Practically any question a would-be Irish emigrant to Germany could have has probably  already been asked and answered on the Toytown Germany, a forum website aimed at ‘Germany’s English speaking crowd’.

The Irish Business Network (IBN) Germany is a non-profit registered association (“eingetragener Verein”) which was established in 2006 and relaunched in 2011 to provide a networking forum for both Irish professionals living and working in Germany and other members of the German business community who have strong business/personal links to Ireland.

IBN  Germany currently has over 600 members working throughout Germany in a cross section of industries including Automotive, Automation, Aviation, Chemicals, Imaging, Financial Services, Life Sciences, Public Sector, Recycling, Retail, Software, and Telecommunications. Membership is free.

The association is managed by a voluntary executive board, an advisory panel comprising senior Irish professionals working in German industry, and four local committees which organise regular networking, guest speaker and social events in Berlin, Cologne / Düsseldorf, Frankfurt / Stuttgart and Munich.

The IBN has the full support of Enterprise Ireland, the Irish Embassy in Berlin and the Irish Ambassador to Germany.

For further details see the IBN website  www.irishbusinessnetwork.de, join the LinkedIn Group ‘Irish Business Network in Germany, Austria and Switzerland’, or email info@irishbusinessnetwork.de

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