Social security

Leaving Europe | Departure conditions/formalities | Germany

Social security is mandatory and covers health insurance, pension schemes, unemployment benefits, accident and long-term care insurance.

The decisive factor of the German social insurance laws is the regular place of employment. This also complies with European legislation.

Should an employment relationship involve work both in Germany and abroad, according to the case law of the German Federal Social Court ("Bundessozialgericht"), the focus of activity must be determined. Within this, integration into the corporate organisation and the requirement to observe instructions as well as the payment of a salary will be taken as indications.

Problems may arise in the event of temporary stays abroad due to these aspects (e.g. in the form of gaps in payments into a pension scheme).

To avoid this, the legislator has passed § 4 SGB IV that provides for extension of the German Social Code to secondments abroad.

§ 4 Transmission

(1) Insofar as the regulations on mandatory insurance and entitlement to insurance are based on employment, they also apply for employees sent to locations outside of this area of application as part of an employment relationship within the scope of this code if such a secondment is limited due to the nature of the employment or in advance by contract.

(2) Paragraph 1 applies accordingly for persons in self-employment.

The condition for continued mandatory insurance and entitlement to membership of the German social insurance scheme is that a secondment abroad is limited to a certain period within the scope of an employment relationship in Germany. The employee sent abroad then remains a member of the German social insurance scheme although they are no longer in Germany – the original area of application of the German social insurance law pursuant to § 3 SGB IV.

European legislation has an equivalent effect and takes precedence over the German laws during secndment within the European Union. With regard to countries outside of the EU, it must be established in each instance whether a bilateral agreement exists with the country of destination, in which case, the regulations of this agreement will then apply.

A tripartite validation structure, which is rather difficult for laypersons to understand, consequently exists to determine the applicable social laws in the event of employment within a different social law system.

In a first step, it must be verified whether the legislation of the European Union (and specifically Regulations (EC) 883/04 and 987/09) applies. In this case, the applicable national social insurance legislation can be determined. If this is not the case, it must be determined in the next step whether an applicable bilateral agreement exists from which the applicability of the social legislation of an agreement country can be determined.

If no applicable agreement exists, the regulations on transmission of the German Social Code set out in § 4 SGB IV will apply.

In Germany, fellows do not receive a salary in the sense of § 14 of Book IV of the German Social Code, hence no social security contributions are payable.

If you are going to work abroad in the context of a fellowship programme you should first find out whether you are exempt from statutory social security ("Sozialversicherungspflicht") - which may be the case in Germany under certain circumstances. The fellow status does not include any insurance coverage. However, sufficient health insurance coverage is required by law, which means that fellows must take out (statutory or private) insurance for themselves.

If you are going to work abroad on the basis of an employment contract you are not exempt from statutory social security. In general, if your stay abroad is within the scope of a secondment abroad and you remain in an employment relationship in Germany, you continue to be subject to German laws. If you begin a new employment relationship abroad, the social security regulations of the host country normally apply.

Citizens of the Member States of the EU, citizens of EEA States and Switzerland are covered by Regulation (EC) 883/04. This regulation covers the rights to and transferability of social security benefits within the European Union. There are two basic principles in Regulation (EC) 883/04:
  1. You are insured in the country in which you exercise your professional activity.
  2. You are subject to the legislation of only one Member State at a time.

The relevant basic principles apply if and insofar as a there is a bilateral Social Security Agreement ("Sozialversicherungsabkommen") between Germany and a non-European country. You need to check whether a Social Security Agreement exists between Germany and your target country and which branches of insurance are covered by them. The German Liaison Office for Health Insurance Abroad can provide further information.


Further information

  • Secondments abroad
    Information for employees who are temporarily sent abroad within the framework of their German employment. Country-specific forms and instructions as well as information on responsible contact persons.
    Deutsche Verbindungsstelle Krankenversicherung - Ausland
  • EURAXESS - The European Services Network
    EURAXESS Services is a network of more than two hundred centres located in 35 European countries. As a researcher, these centres assist you and your family to plan and organise your stay in a foreign country.
    European Commission
  • EURAXESS Links
    EURAXESS Links is a networking tool for European researchers, scientists and scholars abroad. EURAXESS Links exists in Asia, Brazil, China, India, Japan, and North America. It keeps European researchers in these regions fully informed of EU research policies, career opportunities in Europe and opportunities for collaboration with Europe. In addition to e-mail alerts, an e-newsletter and the web forum, networking events are organised on a regular basis.
    European Commission