The bureaucracy of starting a job in Germany - Part 1

10th January 2014

Getting a job is the first hurdle is starting your academic career. This can be a challenging experience, but for the lucky and determined it can be extremely rewarding. I am really happy about getting a job in Germany with a research group that I am very interested in working with. However, there are many bureaucratic hoops that must jumped through before you can commence that academic position.

Getting a job...

It turns out that this is the easy part. Well, you will only be entering into the following bureaucratic steps with the successful completion of this one. So, really there is not too much that you need to worry about here. However, who your employer is greatly affects how you go about getting a work permit and completing the move to Germany.

In Germany, it is common for postdoctoral positions to be supported by the government. This means that you will be paid a salary directly from them. Given that your salary comes from the government, there are very strict levels of pay. I assume that this is also the case for government jobs in many different countries. I know for a fact that a very similar, and equally strict, pay scale is employed in Australia for public service positions (but this does not cover jobs at universities). So, as a postdoc in Germany you will be paid either on the TV-L 13 or TV-L 14 pay scale. It becomes incredibly important that you negotiate your pay within these rates, because your contract will indicate your actual salary as given by one of five different Stufe's. The Stufe that you are given depends solely on your experience and, depending on who you ask, your research experience for the TV-L 13 level includes the time you were completing your PhD. From my reading, there seem to be many varied reports from people in regards to whether their PhD was included as experience and the Stufe that they were given. The best advice that I found was to get your PhD supervisor, or the head of the department, to write a letter stating you were engaged in full time research during your PhD and that you were receiving a salary. This is also important for the TV-L 14 level, but the research experience is related to your time as a postdoc. My advice is to make sure you get a letter from your supervisors stating your postdoc experience. Getting the right letter and subsequent approval of this from HR at your new job will probably mean the difference of a few hundred euro a month.

Getting German health cover - Public or Private?

All this talk about pay leads me to the next part of the bureaucracy. You need to get health insurance in order to apply for a work permit. Every country does health insurance differently and you really only have the experience from your own country to draw upon. In Australia, the government provides health cover to all citizens through a program called Medicare. I am not sure what foreigners have to do in regards to health cover, because they may not have access to Medicare. As an Australian citizen you are automatically covered by Medicare and all you have to do is get a Medicare card to be able to access all the related services. In short, Medicare is a department of the federal government, so there is only one public health care provider.

Upon being offered a job in Germany, I found out that your salary determines whether you can choose public or private health insurance. If your salary is below a certain threshold, then you must take public health insurance. While there was a lot of talk about salary previously, on TV-L 13 pay scale it is likely that you won't be paid enough to choose private health cover.

Your taxes pay for public health cover, so you don't have to pay anything to your health care provider. Now, I use the term "your health care provider" very carefully, because the situation in Germany is different to Australia whereby there is more than one organisation providing public health cover. When I started this bureaucratic process, I assumed that public health cover was similar to Australia, one government organisation that provides the health cover for the entire population. So, I thought you didn't have to do anything to be covered by public health. I found out, not very quickly mind you and with a lot of internet searching, that paying your taxes for health cover does not mean that you have a health care provider. What I mean is that while you are paying for the health cover, you still need to sign up to one of the many private companies that provide public health cover for the government. It appears to me that health care has been privatised, so even though you are covered by public health you still get a choice of provider. Good news, there are only a handful of big health providers, so it is not too hard to choose. I went with TK, which was recommended to me by a friend.

Applying for your health cover

Since you need adequate health cover to be granted a work permit, it is beneficial to get this sorted well before you get to Germany. The health care providers are more than willing to help out, and you are able to apply for cover from you home country. It is important to get this process started early because they will send all the required documents to your current address. You don't want the situation where you are on the plane heading to Germany and your documents are being sent the opposite direction.

What next?

So each of these stages are a necessary part of getting a work permit in Germany. What follows is a number of appointments that must be made and paperwork that needs to be completed. In the next part of this blog I will run through the process that you must follow to finally get that work permit in Germany.