Types of jobs in the German civil service
The German civil service is the largest employer in Germany. According to the Federal Statistical Office, around 4.9 million people were employed in the civil service in 2019. Of these, around 1.7 million were civil servants and judges, 170,000 were soldiers and three million were public employees.
There are two types of staff: civil servants and public employees. Civil servants are recruited to a particular career (lower, middle, higher and senior civil service) and usually get tenured for life, whereas public employees are recruited to a specific function or job.
Is it possible to work in the public sector if you are not a German citizen?
In principle, public service positions are open to German citizens who have the necessary skills and qualifications to perform the tasks. Some jobs are reserved just for them, for example in the armed forces, the diplomatic service, or in the judiciary, or tax offices.
Civil service jobs are also open to citizens of an EU member state, along with all citizens of Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway (European Economic Area (EEA)) and Switzerland providing the tasks in question are not reserved for employees with German citizenship.
Citizens of other states (with the exception of those named above) can only complete a qualified vocational training course or take on a job in the public sector if they have a residence permit which permits them to do so.
R&D: Working in research and higher education
As mentioned above, most of the universities and higher education institutes as well as many research institutes are part of the public sector in Germany. So there are many different opportunities within academia for internationals in the civil service. Doctorands can strive to become research assistants and post-docs (junior) research group leaders. Leading scientists on the other hand are eligible for professorships.
Good to know: German universities are rated among the best on the planet; Germany is one of the most attractive countries when it comes to research and higher education. As for academic publications, Germany is also among the top five in the world. Major research institutions such as the Max Planck Institutes and the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft are also reputable worldwide.
Furthermore, if you and your partner both want to come to Germany and you’re both highly qualified, you can receive special support from so-called "dual career" networks at universities. Right now, around 40 universities are represented in the Dual Career Network Germany (DCND). If the institution you want to work for is not on this list, you should ask them about their family support services.
Requirements for working in the German public sector
In order to be able to work in the German civil service you have to fulfil a number of requirements. Along with fulfilling the basic requirements such as getting a residence permit, visa, health insurance, holding a valid passport or obtaining language skills, special requirements may apply depending on the type of job you want to do. For civil servant jobs, for example, there is a series of complicated selection procedures involved, so you should research these fully. You can find the information about the requirements for each specific job in the job advertisement or by asking the employer directly.
What kind of visa do I need?
If you’re not a citizen of the EU, then you will need a residence permit or visa in order to be able to work in Germany.
In 2020, Germany changed its rules for non-EU workers. So, if you attended a higher education institution or received qualified vocational training outside Germany (for at least two years), you can receive a residence permit, in accordance with Sections 18a and 18b (1) AufenthG (German Residence Act), that enables you to obtain employment in Germany as a qualified professional.
For scientists applying for a job in the German civil service there are specific rules. If you want to work at a German university, higher education institution, or research institute, and need a visa to work in Germany then you have two options: You can either apply for a visa for research or the EU Blue Card. Before you decide which one to apply for, check the requirements for each and see if you fulfil them.
Or, if you want to move to Germany straight after graduation, you can apply for a jobseeker’s visa. This will allow you to enter Germany for a period of months after completing your studies to look for a job.
Getting your qualifications recognized
For some jobs in the German civil service, you will have to get your qualifications recognized and not just for the purpose of obtaining a residence permit, but also because many jobs require proof that you have completed further study such as a Masters degree or a PhD.
If you want to work in a regulated profession (e.g., as a doctor or lawyer), you will need to have your foreign academic qualification recognized. During this procedure your qualification will be checked to see if it is equivalent to a German one or not. It can take up to four months and it can cost up to 600 Euro or more, depending on the specific case. You can find out more about the process on the recognition information portal belonging to the German government.
If you want to work in an academic, non-regulated profession, i.e. as a researcher, computer scientist, mathematician or economist for example, then you don’t have to have your qualifications recognized. But you can check whether your degree is part of the regulated professions in Germany on the Employment Agency's website (in German) and ec.europa.eu (in English).
Knowledge of the German language is not usually mandatory to work as a scientist, researcher or professor in Germany as English is the default language for most research. However, speaking German will make it easier for you to progress in your job and will make your day-to-day life easier. However, in other areas, for example in public authorities or educational institutions, more advanced language skills (at least level B2) may well be a prerequisite.
Salary expectations in the German civil service
Most academic employees in Germany are paid according to collective wage agreements that are dependent on the federal state you work in. Employees in the public sector are paid according to the collective agreements of the public sector, and civil servants according to the respective salary scale.
For example, scientific employees or junior research group leaders at universities and non-university research institutions are paid according to the collective agreement of the federal states or the federal government, whereas junior professors and professors, who are considered civil servants, are paid according to the so-called W pay scale.
Benefits of working for Germany’s public service
A big advantage in the public service sector is that all employers have an excellent work-life balance. Flexible working time models, flexitime and overtime compensation are all part of the structure.
Depending on your position and your employer, there are also several great benefits on offer for public sector employees. The so-called non-cash benefit can consist of cheaper electricity, gas and water rates, monthly tickets for public transport, access to company cars or even a company apartment.
The civil service also offers a very secure job that is not as dependent on fluctuations in the economy. Because public sector jobs are important for the functioning of the state, they can’t be cut at will, which gives you a high degree of job security.
Looking for a job? Check out open positions in Germany’s public service.