What should you expect from a good salary in Germany?
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For anyone who has spent any time on some of the popular expat forums or on Q&A sites such as Quora, I’m sure you have seen a version of this question resembling the title. And more often than not, the person asking the question often gets less than helpful answers.
Ask a stupid question and you’ll usually get a less-than-helpful answer. Why?
Because it is obvious that such a vague question is dependent on so many different factors.
What the person really needs to be asking is something much more specific, such as:
What is a good salary in Germany for an engineer with a masters degree and 5 years’ experience, who wants to live in a major city, have a good-sized 1-bedroom apartment in a decent neighbourhood and be able to afford a couple of holidays a year?
Now we’re talking. We can calculate that pretty accurately. Because at Live Work Germany we don’t like giving vague or less-than-helpful answers!
So if you’re asking this question, we want you to be aware of the different points which you must consider.
We can then hopefully guide you in the right direction and provide you with enough information and tools to help you to answer this question for yourself.
If you don't have time to read all the way to the bottom, then grab our FREE download below which covers some more detail around average cost of living, so as you can work out for yourself how far your salary will go:
It depends on the city / region
Salaries tend to be higher and there are more jobs to choose from in the most prosperous major metropolitan areas. So, on the one hand, you will most likely find it easier to get job offers in these areas, but on the other hand your biggest expense will be rent, and this is going to be considerably higher than in other parts of the country.
We recently looked at this conundrum and evaluated whether the higher cost of rent negates the salary benefits. Definitely worth doing the sums and considering rent as a percentage of your net income rather than just the pure Euro amount.
It depends on your level of education
Lower end jobs and entry level positions tend not to pay the salary premium to make it worthwhile to live in what is a relatively high cost country. Especially when you consider that Germany has high rates of taxation and very high contributions for health insurance and social security. We already covered typical salary deductions to give you a flavour of what is taken from your gross salary.
Graduates have better opportunities, especially those with a degree or especially a postgraduate qualification in a mathematics, science, computing or engineering (MINT) field. Germans love academic qualifications and place a premium on this. If you have a lot of letters after your name, take advantage of this in salary negotiations.
It depends on how much professional experience you have
The German Federal Agency For Employment publishes what they call the white list each year of skilled trades and professions where there are worker shortages. This is a shortlist of job descriptions: If your area of expertise is on there, then your chances of both finding a job and earning a decent salary are very good. This is especially true if you have the right qualifications, several years of relevant work experience and can speak some German (or are able to learn up to B1/B2 standard before you apply for jobs).
If you have a more generic arts or social sciences degree, and little or no relevant work experience in the field you wish to work in, then your chances of finding a well paid job are going to be significantly lower.
It depends on what your goals are for considering the move
If your main objective is financial and your primary goal is to migrate for economic reasons, then your perception of what constitutes a good salary in Germany is going to be a lot different than somebody who has moved here for romance and just needs to find any type of work to be able to help pay the rent and the bills with their German partner.
Likewise, if the driving factor behind the move is to gain relevant work experience to help accelerate your journey up the career ladder back home, salary is likely to be less relevant than a challenging and rewarding work environment which facilitates a steep learning curve.
It depends on your lifestyle expectation (after taxes and rent)
Someone who is content to live in a modest apartment, rarely goes out and does not spend much money on discretionary items such as clothes and holidays can survive on a lot less than someone who expects to have a nicer place to live, frequently eat out and socialise, and regularly take foreign holidays.
Think what your lifestyle at home is like. Will the salary you are likely to earn in Germany facilitate a better lifestyle than what you have back home? If not, then what are the other push or pull factors which are making you consider the move? We already covered the cost of living in Germany in an earlier article.
It depends on whether you have children
This one may sound obvious, but a certain salary if you’re single or married without kids may be considered sufficient, whereas it may not cover enough to have a comfortable existence if you have the extra expenses associated with having a family.
Finally, now we can tackle the question!
Great, so now we have covered the basics of what you need to consider when asking this question. This is important because it is supposed to get you thinking for yourself to be able to answer the question of what constitutes a good salary in Germany for YOU, in YOUR current situation and with the lifestyle and standard of living which you expect to be able to enjoy.
Now let’s give you a rough idea of what you can expect to afford with a few different scenarios.
To get an idea of what you are likely to earn, the website Gehalt.de gives a very good basic overview of salary ranges in specific occupations. Leo Dict is your friend to help you translate the occupations. While it may not provide absolute exact information for your case, it certainly gives some figures to play around with.
So, armed with this, here are a few scenarios, assuming you are single with no dependent children.
These figures listed below are all GROSS salaries by the way. To calculate what your NET salary would be i.e. after tax and social contributions, this video walks you through what you need to know to work this out.
€30,000 per year
- HOUSING: You will need to live in shared accommodation if you're in a more expensive area, or a small studio apartment otherwise.
- TRANSPORT: You will need to cycle or take public transport, unless you compromise elsewhere.
- DISPOSABLE INCOME: You will be able to afford:
- Going out once or twice a week, as long as it is not expensive cocktail bars or restaurants or exclusive clubs.
- Membership of a gym, sports club or other similar hobby
- One decent holiday a year or a couple of extended city breaks
- Regular groceries with a few treats now and then
- Regular, i.e. non-designer, clothes shopping
- A sandwich or simple canteen meal for lunch at work
- SAVINGS: Very little unless you are really frugal
€50,000 per year
- HOUSING: You will be able to afford a decent 1-bedroom apartment in major cities but may need to compromise on location. Perhaps a 2-bedroom or larger apartment if you're outside of the more expensive metropolitan areas.
- TRANSPORT: You could afford to run a car if you need one, but this may be considered a luxury in the bigger cities because the public transport network is so extensive
- DISPOSABLE INCOME:
- Everything as mentioned for €30,000, plus:
- Not really needing to pay much attention to costs for your weekly grocery shop
- You will be able to splash out more on holidays, or enjoy a couple more weekends away
- Eating out for lunch most days.
- More varied entertainment options such as concerts, theatre, more exclusive nightlife venues etc.
- SAVINGS: You should be able to put away a couple of hundred € each month into a private pension plan or investment fund.
€70,000 per year
- HOUSING: You will be able to afford a decent 1-bedroom apartment in the most popular and sought-after areas of the major cities, or a 2-bedroom or larger apartment if you're willing to compromise on location.
- TRANSPORT: You could afford to buy a new car if you needed one, but this may be considered a luxury in the bigger cities because the public transport network is so extensive
- DISPOSABLE INCOME:
- Everything as mentioned for €50,000, plus:
- Parking garage or private space for your car
- Perhaps a more expensive hobby such as skiing or kite-surfing
- Being able to shop at higher-end stores for more designer clothes and electrical equipment
- 2 or 3 holidays a year, including a more long-haul destination or a week long winter sport vacation
- Weekends away
- SAVINGS: You should be able to put away around €500 each month into a private pension plan or investment fund, obviously depending on how extravagant your lifestyle otherwise is.
We have also put together a FREE download which contains much more detailed information and more data points. Just click on the button below to get this in your inbox!
For all of these examples, we have assumed that you are not liable to pay church tax, just to keep things simple.
Of course, these numbers are approximate: It depends to a large extent on how well someone manages their finances and how extravagant / frugal their lifestyle is!