Pension in Germany: Everything You Need To Know As An Expat

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Tobias Sjöström

Germany, known for its robust social security system and powerful economy, offers a comprehensive pension structure that promises stability in the golden years. However, for expats and international job seekers, the nuances of this system can be a little overwhelming, given the language barrier and unfamiliar regulations.

Understanding the German pension system is not just about ticking off a box in the myriad of bureaucratic procedures one encounters when settling in the country. It’s a crucial aspect of long-term financial planning, offering peace of mind and ensuring that the years spent working in Germany contribute significantly to your future financial well-being.


  • Germany’s pension system is robust and offers layers of financial security.
  • The state pension (public pension) is based on a point system related to income.
  • Company pensions can vary, but offer additional retirement benefits.
  • Private pensions, like the Riester and Rürup, offer flexibility and tax benefits.
  • Under certain conditions, expatriates may opt out or seek refunds on contributions.
  • Proactive planning, diversification, and expert advice maximize pension benefits.

The Pension in Germany Explained

To truly comprehend the workings of any financial system, it’s essential to understand its foundational elements. The German pension system is built on a three-pillar structure, designed to provide a comprehensive safety net for its retirees.

The Three Pillars of the German Pension System

State Pension (Public Pension). Serving as the mainstay for most working individuals in Germany, the state pension (gesetzliche Rentenversicherung) is a compulsory scheme for employees. Its foundation rests on a pay-as-you-go system, where current workers’ contributions are used to fund the pensions of the retirees. Over the years, depending on your earnings and the duration of your contributions, you accrue entitlements which, upon retirement, translate to your monthly pension payouts.

Company Pensions (Betriebliche Altersvorsorge). This pillar encompasses pensions provided directly by employers. It’s a supplementary scheme, adding a layer of financial security atop the state pension. While it’s not mandatory for companies to offer this, many do as part of their benefits package to attract and retain talent. For expats, understanding the nuances of company pensions, especially their portability, is vital.

Private Pensions. Recognizing the need for additional financial security, especially in an age of increasing life expectancies and shifting demographics, the German system has a third pillar in the form of private pensions. These voluntary schemes, like the Riester or Rürup pensions, are incentives for individuals to save for retirement, often with tax advantages. For expats, this can serve as a flexible tool for long-term financial planning, aligning with individual needs and future plans.

Significance of the Statutory Pension Insurance (Gesetzliche Rentenversicherung)

The majority of workers in Germany, from craftsmen to office employees, are enrolled in the statutory pension insurance. As one of the largest public pension schemes in the world, its influence is undeniable.

It’s the cornerstone of retirement security for many, ensuring that individuals receive a regular income once they hang up their work boots. For an expat, being familiar with this system is vital, as it often forms a significant chunk of their pension portfolio in Germany.

Understanding the State Pension (Public Pension)

State Pension In Germany (Public Pension)

For many workers, both domestic and international, the State Pension is the backbone of their retirement plan in Germany. It functions as a social insurance, ensuring that individuals, after years of hard work and contributions, receive a regular pension once they retire.

Eligibility Criteria for Foreigners

Minimum Contribution Periods. To qualify for a German state pension, one typically needs to have contributed for at least five years. However, periods of contribution in other EU/EEA countries can also count towards this, ensuring a broader coverage for international workers.

Differences between EU/EEA nationals and non-EU nationals. For EU/EEA nationals, the coordination of social security systems within the EU ensures that your rights are preserved even if you move across countries. It implies that the periods you’ve worked in different EU/EEA countries can be cumulatively considered for your pension entitlement. On the other hand, for non-EU nationals, bilateral agreements between Germany and several countries ensure that the pension rights are protected, but the specifics can vary based on the agreement with each country.

How Contributions are Calculated

Current Contribution Rates. As of the last update, employees and employers each pay half of the total pension insurance contribution, which is a fixed percentage of the gross salary. The exact rate can change, and it’s advisable to refer to the latest guidelines or seek expert advice.

Income Ceiling for Contributions. There’s an upper limit to the salary on which pension contributions are calculated, known as the ‘contribution assessment ceiling’. Earnings above this ceiling aren’t subject to pension insurance contributions. This ceiling is revised periodically.

Related: The minimum wage in Germany

Benefits and Monthly Payouts

The standard age of retirement in Germany is gradually increasing and is expected to reach 67 by 2031. However, early retirement options do exist, albeit with reduced pension payouts.

Factors Affecting the Pension Amount:

The monthly pension isn’t just a result of the contributions you’ve made, but also other variables like:

  •   The total duration of your contributions
  •   The average income of insured persons during your contribution period
  •   Any periods of child-rearing, care-giving, or unemployment which might be creditable

Your “pension points” are calculated based on these, which then determine your monthly pension. An annual pension information statement is sent to contributors, detailing the accumulated points and estimated pensions.

Company Pensions (Betriebliche Altersvorsorge)

Company Pensions In Germany (Betriebliche Altersvorsorge)

Supplementing the foundational State Pension is the Company Pension – an element of the German pension system that brings a certain allure to the employment package. Often used as a competitive advantage by companies, this layer of pension planning provides an extra cushion of financial security for retirees.

For expats, it presents an opportunity to enhance their retirement savings, but it’s essential to understand its nuances to harness its full potential.

Definition and Importance of Company Pensions

Company pensions, often referred to as ‘betriebliche Altersvorsorge’ in German, are retirement benefits offered directly by employers. Unlike the mandatory state pension, offering company pensions is at the discretion of the employer.

Due to its increasing popularity and benefits, many companies integrate it into their benefits package.

Types of Company Pension Schemes

There are several models through which company pensions can be provided, each with its set of characteristics:

  • Direct Insurance (Direktversicherung): The employer takes out a life insurance policy for the employee, with premiums paid from the employee’s gross salary. Upon retirement, the employee receives either a lump sum or regular pension payments.
  • Pension Funds (Pensionskassen): Institutions that operate much like insurance companies. They collect contributions, invest them, and later pay out pensions.
  • Support Funds (Unterstützungskassen): Older than other forms, they function as separate legal entities financed by the employer. The employee has a legal claim to benefits, but not directly to the assets in the fund.
  • Pension Schemes (Pensionsfonds): Resemble pension funds but with more investment flexibility. They promise a certain benefit but can adjust based on the fund’s performance.
  • Direct Promise (Direktzusage): The employer commits to pay a specific pension amount upon the employee’s retirement. The liabilities are backed by company assets, and in some cases, insolvency insurance.

Benefits for Expats and How to Maximize Them

  • Flexibility: Some company pension schemes offer flexibility in contributions, allowing employees to adjust based on their financial situations.
  • Employer Matching: Many companies match the employee’s contribution to a certain extent, thereby amplifying the savings.
  • Tax Advantages: Contributions to company pensions can often be made before tax, providing immediate tax savings.

Portability of Pensions When Changing Jobs or Leaving Germany

One of the common concerns for expats is the transferability of their company pension, especially if they change jobs or countries. The good news is that the rights to the company pension are usually retained.

If you switch jobs within Germany, in most cases, you can transfer your accrued pension rights to your new employer’s pension scheme.

If you leave Germany, depending on the bilateral agreements and the type of pension scheme, you might still be entitled to benefits. However, the specifics can be intricate, and professional advice might be required.

Private Pensions

Private Pensions in Germany

Beyond the safety nets of the State and Company Pensions lies the realm of Private Pensions – a voluntary, yet potent component of Germany’s retirement landscape. As the global workforce becomes more mobile, and careers span multiple countries, the flexibility and personalization offered by private pensions become increasingly vital.

Overview of Private Pension Options in Germany

Private pensions in Germany allow individuals to take control of their retirement planning, permitting them to invest beyond the confines of state or company schemes. They come in various forms, each tailored to cater to diverse financial needs and situations.

Key Products for Expats

Riester Pension (Riester-Rente). Designed to offer an additional savings option with state incentives, the Riester Pension is especially suitable for those with a taxable income in Germany. Contributors receive allowances and tax benefits, with the assurance that the capital saved is guaranteed upon retirement. 

Rürup Pension (Basis-Rente). Particularly attractive for the self-employed and high-income earners, the Rürup Pension offers significant tax advantages. While it doesn’t come with the direct state subsidies that the Riester does, its contributions are tax-deductible up to a certain limit, making it an efficient tool for tax planning.

Benefits of Investing in Private Pensions

  • Flexibility: Unlike the more rigid structures of state or company pensions, private pensions often allow contributors to adjust their premium payments based on their financial situation.
  • Tax Benefits: Contributions made towards private pensions are often tax-deductible, offering immediate tax relief and efficient long-term planning.
  • Guaranteed Capital: For products like the Riester Pension, the capital you pay in is guaranteed, ensuring that your base savings are secure.
  • Estate Planning: Many private pension products have the provision to name beneficiaries, ensuring that in the event of the contributor’s demise, the capital goes to the designated individual.

Tax Implications and Advantages for Expats

Tax efficiency is one of the compelling reasons to consider private pensions. As these contributions reduce your taxable income, they can provide substantial relief, especially for high-income earners.

However, the exact tax implications can vary based on the specific pension product, your income level, and other individual factors. Therefore, while the overarching principles remain consistent, it’s prudent for expats to seek personalized tax advice tailored to their situation.

Opting Out & Getting Refunds From Pension

As dynamic as the world of expatriates can be, there may come a time when an individual decides to leave Germany, or perhaps, chooses a different avenue for their retirement planning.

Whether it’s a change in career path, personal circumstances, or relocation, it’s essential to know how one can opt-out of the pension system or even, in certain situations, get a refund.

Opting Out of the Pension System

For most employees in Germany, contributing to the state pension system is mandatory. However, certain groups, like some self-employed individuals, have the option to opt out. If you fall into a category where opting out is possible:

  • Ensure you’re fully aware of the long-term implications. By not contributing, you may be forgoing future pension entitlements.
  • It’s advisable to consult with a financial planner or pension advisor to weigh the pros and cons tailored to your specific situation.

Refunds on Pension Contributions

Under specific circumstances, individuals who’ve contributed to the German pension system and then left the country can apply for a refund of their contributions. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Waiting Period: Generally, there’s a waiting period of 24 months from the time you make your last contribution (and after leaving Germany) before you can apply for a refund.  
  • EU/EEA Nationals: Due to the coordination of social security systems within the EU, citizens of EU/EEA countries usually cannot claim a refund. Their contributions remain preserved, and they can claim a pension upon reaching retirement age, even if they are residing in a different EU country.  
  • Non-EU Nationals: For individuals from outside the EU, the possibility of a refund largely depends on bilateral agreements between Germany and their home country. If no such agreement exists, they might be eligible for a refund after the 24-month waiting period.
  • Tax Implications: Before seeking a refund, understand the potential tax implications both in Germany and your home country. In some cases, refunded contributions can be considered as income and might be taxable.

Company and Private Pensions

Company Pensions. The terms for opting out or getting refunds from company pensions vary based on the specific scheme and employment contract. Often, vested rights apply, meaning after a certain period of contribution, the accrued benefits belong to the employee, even if they leave the company or Germany.

Private Pensions. Opting out or seeking refunds from private pensions is more flexible but might come with penalties or fees. It’s crucial to read the terms of your private pension agreement and perhaps consult with a financial advisor.

The Role of Bilateral Agreements

Germany has bilateral social security agreements with several countries to ensure that the rights of their citizens are protected when working abroad. These agreements play a significant role in determining whether a refund is possible and how pensions might be paid out.

Familiarize yourself with any such agreement between Germany and your home country to navigate the process effectively.

Tips for Expats on Maximizing Pension Benefits

Pension Tips for Expats

Navigating the German pension landscape as an expat can be intricate, but with foresight and strategic planning, one can fully harness its benefits. Whether you intend to retire in Germany, return to your home country, or journey elsewhere, optimizing your pension entitlements ensures a more comfortable and secure retirement.

Here are some actionable tips tailored for expats to maximize their pension benefits in Germany.

Stay Informed and Updated

Regular Reviews. The pension landscape can evolve. Periodically review your pension status, accrued points for the state pension, and any updates in the system.

Educate Yourself. Familiarize yourself with German pension terminology and basic principles to make informed decisions. This helps in understanding annual pension statements and any other official communication.

Consider Supplementary Contributions

If there are gaps in your contribution years, consider making voluntary contributions to the state pension. This can bolster your pension entitlements, especially if you’re nearing retirement.

Diversify Your Retirement Savings

While the state pension is a robust foundation, it’s wise to diversify. Explore company pensions if offered and consider private pensions tailored to your financial goals.

Seek Expert Advice

Financial Planners. An experienced financial planner familiar with the nuances of the German pension system and the needs of expats can be invaluable.  

Tax Advisors. To maximize tax benefits and understand the implications of various pension contributions, a tax advisor can guide you effectively.

Understand Portability and Transferability

If you’re contemplating a move out of Germany or a job switch, understand the transferability of your company pension. Being proactive can prevent potential losses or complications.

Preserve and Consolidate

For those who’ve worked in multiple countries, consolidating global pensions, when possible, can simplify management and maximize benefits. Understand bilateral agreements and EU regulations to streamline this process.

Consider Early Retirement Implications

If considering early retirement, be aware of any reductions in monthly pension payouts. Weigh the benefits of retiring early against potential reductions.

Related: Learn how to get SCHUFA in Germany

Additional Resources

  • Deutsche Rentenversicherung (DRV): The German statutory pension insurance website offers in-depth information on state pensions, the contribution system, and international matters. English Website.
  • Bundeszentralamt für Steuern (BZSt): This site is essential for understanding tax-related implications, especially if considering private pensions or withdrawals. English Website.


What is the new pension age in Germany?

Germany is progressively raising the pension age, aiming to reach 67 years by the year 2031.

How much pension will you get in Germany?

The pension amount in Germany is determined by several factors, including your earnings, years of contributions, and current pension values. Each individual’s pension will vary based on these factors.

How old do you retire in Germany?

The standard retirement age in Germany is currently transitioning to 67 years by 2031. However, early retirement options exist, with certain conditions and reductions.

ABOUT Tobias Sjöström

Meet Tobias, our trusted Lead Financial Guide at Tobias hails from the beautiful city of Frankfurt and brings an unparalleled wealth of financial knowledge and expertise to our platform.

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