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REVEALED: These are the best and worst paid jobs in Germany

Thinking about changing your career or wondering which states in Germany have the best salaries? Here's the lowdown.

REVEALED: These are the best and worst paid jobs in Germany
Specialist doctors earn a high salary in Germany. Photo: DPA

Online careers portal Gehalt.de analyzed a huge amount of data on the salaries of workers in Germany over the course of last year to find out which jobs pay the most — and the least.

As part of the firm’s 2019 Gehaltsatlas (salary atlas), the firm also looked at how the different regions of the country play a role when it comes to an employee's income, and the pay gap between men and women.

SEE ALSO: The Local Jobs – English-language jobs in Germany

SEE ALSO: 10 ways to optimize your application for the German job market

Here are the jobs that made it out on top in this year's study, listed in terms of median gross income per year.

Top 10 best paid jobs

1. Senior physician – €115,317

2. Mergers and acquisitions specialist – €99,635

3. Fund manager – €83,641

4. Medical specialist – €80,722

5. Account manager – €75,671

6. Regional sales manager – €74,528

7. Actuary – €71,042

8. Sales management – €67,699

9. Security trader – €64,784

10. Business developer – €62,551

As is the case in many other countries, some of the highest paid professions in Germany are in the medical and financial industries.

Traditionally, senior doctors have always been well paid in Germany and nowadays they earn about €115,300 a year, according to the research. That's compared to €116,900 last year.

To put this in perspective, kitchen workers in restaurants and hotels — which is the lowest paid job in Germany according to the study — earn over than €90,000 less than senior doctors.

Fund managers take the second spot with a median salary of €83,640, followed by medical specialists who earn a median salary of about €75,670.

The other professions on the list involve the financial, sales and business industries.

According to the study, most top jobs require some sort of a degree, while jobs filled by unskilled workers tend to be on the lower end of the pay scale.

Here are the jobs in Germany with the smallest salaries, listed according to median annual gross income.

Top 10 lowest paid jobs

1. Kitchen worker – €21,907

2. Hairdresser – €23,202

3. Waiter/waitress – €23,619

4. Call centre worker – €25,200

5. Receptionist – €25,372

6. Cashier – €26,572

7. Cook – €27,195

8. Dental assistant – €27,993

9. Carer – €28,002

10. Commercial driver – €28,436

Again, similarly to other countries, most of the lowest paid jobs in Germany belong to the service industry.

Kitchen workers receive a low pay on average in Germany. Photo: DPA

SEE ALSO: 'Language is a huge barrier': What it's like for internationals working in Germany

Large differences in pay across Germany

How much workers earn doesn’t just come down to their profession — it also depends on the state they live in.

Employees in the south of Germany are paid significantly higher salaries than the rest of the country, according to the the Gehaltsatlas (Wage Atlas) which analyzed more than 490,000 pieces of data as part of its research.

This could be down to many factors, including the cost of living in particular regions. 

The highest salaries are paid in Hesse, according to researchers. On average, salaries in the central German state are at €51,435 — that's 14 percent higher than the national average salary of €45,000.

In fact, workers in Hesse can look forward to an average of more than 39 percent more income than an employee in the nor Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, where the average salary is €34,155.

It's mainly thanks to the banking metropolis of Frankfurt and strong pharmaceutical industry that Hesse is in the top position.

Baden-Württemberg is in second place with an average salary level of €48,870, 8.6 percent above the average, followed by Hamburg (€47,655, 5.9 percent above), and then Bavaria (€47,295 and 5.1 percent over).

North Rhine-Westphalia, which has a strong aviation and telecoms industry, is also around the national average, with €45,360. 

The remaining nine federal states are below the national average salary. At the bottom end of the scale are the eastern German states. 

Graphic courtesy of Gehalt.de.

With 94.5 percent, the capital Berlin achieves a high salary level compared to the other eastern federal states. Employees here receive an average income of €42,525. However, the cost of living is also higher here, Philip Bierbach, managing director of gehalt.de, said.

“Berlin's attractiveness is leading to ever higher rents and an increasing number of commuters in the capital,” he added.

Hesse top state for young graduates

The study also compares the salaries of young professionals — and here, too, Hesse is the most attractive federal state, again followed by Baden-Württemberg, Hamburg and Bavaria. At the bottom of the table are the eastern states, with Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania lagging behind.

According to the study, university graduates in Hesse receive an average gross annual salary of €52,657 in the first three years of their career. Meanwhile, employees in the state who've completed an apprenticeship or trainee course earn an average of €35,117.

A graduate in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, on the other hand, receives an average salary of €35,057 in his or her first few years in the job, and employees who've completed an Ausbildung (training) earn on average  €23,380 per year.

Pay gap differences

The study took into account a range of factors, including the so-called unadjusted pay gap between men and women (this means that variables were not taken into account), which is currently around 22 percent in favour of men.

Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania scores particularly well in terms of gender equality. At 16.4 percent, the  pay gap is the lowest here – and 2.7 percent lower than in the previous year.

The highest gender pay gap is in Baden-Württemberg, where the salaries of women and men differ by 26.5 percent.

SEE ALSO: In eastern Germany, the gender pay gap favours women

The Bundesrepublik, which will celebrate 30 years of reunification in 2020, is well known for having salary differences between the east and west of the country.

The pay gap is however, shrinking. The gap between east and west is 23.9 percent — but has dropped by 1.3 percentage points compared to 2017.

The average salary in the east is €39,567 and in the west it's €47,320.

The median salaries for Germany. Graphic courtesy of Gehalts.de. 

The east-west divide is also evident within one occupational group: skilled workers. For example, an environmental engineer in the east earns around €39,400, the study shows, while his or her colleagues in the west receive around €54,000 a year.

Stuttgart is top-earning state capital

Compared to all the other state capitals across Germany, Stuttgart fares best when it comes to employee wage levels. The Baden-Württemberg capital's wage levels are around 124.8 percent, meaning salaries are 24.8 percent above the nationwide average.

Trailing closely behind is Munich in second place (124.4 percent). Düsseldorf in North Rhine-Westphalia comes further down in third place (117.7 percent), followed by Wiesbaden in Hesse (115.6 percent),  Mainz in Rhineland-Palatinate (105.1 percent) and Hanover with 103.7 percent.

SEE ALSO: Six golden rules for creating the ideal German cover letter and resume

The rest of the state capitals were all under the national average.

At the bottom of the list were capitals in eastern Germany. In Schwerin in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, wage levels are 78.3 percent of the nationwide average. Potsdam is in 15th place (84.2 percent) and Erfurt in Thuringia in 14th position, had a similar percentage.

The leading sectors in Germany when it comes to income

If you're curious to know which industries in Germany lend themselves to the highest salaries in the country, among the most attractive nationwide are professions in the pharmaceutical, automotive and banking industries.

In Hesse, the top sectors when it comes to salary levels are jobs in banking, pharmaceuticals, financial services and aviation.

SEE ALSO: Where are the vacant jobs in Germany & which industries are most in demand?

In Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg, professions involving computers and office machines as well as the electronics, investments, aviation and automotive industries fare best when it comes to high income.

Sectors such as pharmaceuticals, telecommunications, process engineering and banking lend themselves well to high-paying jobs in the country's most densely populated state, North Rhine-Westphalia.

Meanwhile in Berlin, the biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, aviation, banking, and environmental sector, including energy and water, offer jobs that are typically well paid.

Across most federal states, on the other hand, the industries that tend to be the worst paid include jobs in retail, tourism, call centres, bars, hotels and restaurants, in the crafts and trades as well as in the social care sector.

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WORKING IN GERMANY

7 tips for how to survive as a freelancer in Germany

Taking the decision to go it alone and freelance in Germany can be a daunting prospect. But, if you do it right, it can be an exciting and liberating path. Here are some of our top tips on how to survive.

7 tips for how to survive as a freelancer in Germany

1. Get a tax advisor

The German tax system is complicated, even for Germans. All the associated paperwork uses the Amtsprache (authority language) which is more like legalese than ‘normal’ German, and mistakes when filling out tax forms can cause you, at best, a massive headache and, at worst, a costly fine. So it’s best that you employ someone who knows what they’re doing to help you out.

That person is called a Steuerberater (tax advisor) in Germany. They will help you register with the tax office, correspond with them and submit your tax declarations.

Be aware that, in Germany, different deadlines apply for tax returns depending on whether you employ an official tax advisor or not. If you are doing the tax return on your own, the deadline for submitting your annual tax return is earlier than if you use a tax advisor’s services. 

READ ALSO: What NOT to do when you’re freelancing in Germany

When looking for a tax advisor, a top tip is to use your network to get recommendations. Ideally, you want someone who will do more than just fill in the forms for you, but who will actually advise you on how best to manage your business finances so that you can make tax savings.

2. Keep your accounting in order

The better you keep your own accounts in order, the easier it will be for your tax advisor to compile your tax declarations and therefore the cheaper their services will be.

As a freelancer, there are a lot of costs you can deduct from your taxes – from train tickets, working materials, to meals out – so it’s best to keep hold of all your receipts and to keep them in good order.

2 euros and 50 cents lie on a receipt in a beer garden. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Peter Kneffel

In Germany, you’re obliged to keep hold of receipts for two years, in case of a tax inspection, so it’s a good idea to photocopy the type of machine-printed receipts you get from restaurants so that they stay legible for a long time.

There are also a few things to be aware of when writing your own invoices. Firstly, make sure that you include your tax number. This isn’t the 11-digit Steueridentifikationsnummer that everyone gets when registering in Germany, but the 10-digit Steuernummer you get from the Finanzamt after registering yourself as a freelancer. 

Most companies won’t pay you if you don’t have this on your invoices so make sure you include it.

You should also make sure that you number your invoices properly – ideally in ascending order so that you can easily keep track of them. You are not allowed to issue two invoices with the same number and if you do so and the finance office notices, you could face an inspection of your whole accounting system.

There are numerous great accounting software programmes you can use to help you, such as Lexoffice and Sevdesk and, even if you have to pay for them, the costs will be tax deductible!

3. Find out if you’re eligible for financial support

In Germany, there are several opportunities for freelancers to gain financial support and to cut their outgoings, and its worth finding out if you’re eligible for them.

If you’re claiming unemployment benefits under ALG 1 and are thinking about becoming a freelancer, the employment office offers a special type of financial support to help you to get your freelance business off the ground.

Called the Grundungszuschuss (“foundation grant”) the payment is a six-month grant equalling your monthly entitlement under ALG 1 plus €300 towards your insurance costs can be applied for those in receipt of this unemployment benefit.

READ ALSO: Will freelancers benefit from Germany’s €300 energy allowance?

If you are engaged in some form of artistic profession in Germany – which can include journalism to pottery – you may be entitled to membership to the Kunstlersozialkasse (artists’ social insurance).

Being a member of the KSK means you only have to pay half of your health insurance and pension contributions, and the KSK will pay the rest.

4. Work out how much you think you will earn

As with starting any business, you need to have some idea of your expected earnings from the outset.

If you’re just starting out as a freelancer, or have some freelance gigs on the side of an employment position, then it might be worth considering registering yourself as a Kleinunternehmer (“small business”).

As a Kleinunternehmer, you can currently earn up to €22.000 per year without having to charge VAT and having to submit only yearly tax declarations. 

An income tax declaration form lies on a table. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Hans-Jürgen Wiedl

Be aware that if you are registered as this kind of freelancer, you must include the following sentence in your invoices: ‘Gemäß § 19 UStG wird keine Umsatzsteuer berechnet’ which means ‘In accordance with Paragrah19 of the German VAT law, no VAT has been added to this invoice.’

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about your German tax return in 2022

If you think you will earn more than €22.000 per year, you will need to pay Umsatzsteuer (VAT) and will have to submit tax declarations in advance and more often. Depending on how much you earn, this could be every month or every quarter. 

5. Get your insurance in order

In Germany, it’s a legal requirement to have health insurance.

If you’ve just made the move from employment to being a freelancer and want to keep the same health insurer, you should get in contact with your health insurance provider straight away to tell them about your change of circumstances. They will ask you to re-register and to tell them your projected freelance earnings for the year, so they can amend your monthly fees.

If you don’t keep your health insurer provider updated, you could continue to be charged the higher rate that you had from your previous salary.

The insurance cards of the health insurance companies DAK, AOK, Barmer and Techniker-Krankenkasse TK lie with euro notes under a stethoscope. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Daniel Karmann

It’s not just health insurance you need to think about as a freelancer. It’s also wise to think about protecting yourself from any sort of claims that could arise as a result of any working mishaps. 

If, for example, you lose your laptop which contains confidential client information, you need to be protected against claims.

That’s why it’s good to have both Betriebshaftversicherung (business liability insurance) and Rechtschutzversicherung (legal protection insurance).

6. Plan your time wisely

All of these bureaucratic obligations take time. So it’s really important that you take account of that when planning your time. For example, planning half a day a week to deal with your invoices, filing, emails to clients, and conversations with authorities can be really beneficial when scheduling your working time. 

7. Grow your network

As a freelancer, networking is absolutely crucial to success. 

Keep an up-to-date profile on websites like LinkedIn and German equivalent XING and keep in contact with anyone you’ve ever worked with, no matter how brief the contact was. 

Having a network is not only about getting more clients, but also about building a support network in your field to exchange advice, tips and generally for your own enrichment. 

Participating in workshops related to your field, going to seminars, and meet-ups, can be great ways of broadening your network. 

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