For members


Why you should consider becoming an English teacher in Germany

Teaching the English language is one of the most common expat jobs in Germany. The Local’s Shelley Pascual - a former English teacher - tells you what you need to know to get your foot in the door.

Why you should consider becoming an English teacher in Germany
Illustrative photo: Deposit Photos/monkeybusiness

When I flew from Canada to Germany on a one-way ticket in 2012, one of my goals was to forge a new career as an English teacher.

Since I didn’t have a qualification in education or any teaching experience, I was rather surprised when I was able to land my first gig – a two-week-long crash course with an individual pupil – two months after I arrived.

I remember the minimum prerequisite at most of the language schools I applied to was a Bachelor's degree, which I had. During my first year in Germany I also completed a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) course online as I thought it’d improve my chances of finding more work.

It probably did, as I was able to find steady work in the industry over the next three years – but more on that a bit later.

At the time I lived in Braunschweig – a middle-sized city of about 250,000 inhabitants in Lower Saxony. And what I did is essentially what any job-seeker does: I sent out loads of applications and got in touch with all the language schools in town.

After doing some research, I knew my best bet would be private language schools as teaching at a state school wasn't an option without the proper qualifications. I also expected to be freelancing as I’d heard full-time jobs in the industry – for instance in a company as an in-house trainer – were few and far between.

I didn’t mind being a freelancer, though. I liked being able to design my own schedule, choose which companies I wanted to work for as well as how many private one-on-one lessons I wanted to take on.

On the question of whether you need to be a native English speaker to be successful, Billie Bruhn, who is a manager for the Language Training Center (LTC), tells The Local: “It depends. The majority of clients prefer native English speakers – but they appreciate non-natives too.”

Teaching English also seemed to me to be a relatively easy industry to get into in Germany because you don’t necessarily need to be fluent in German. I didn’t when I first started out, and neither did a few of my colleagues. But as I began to learn the language I definitely noticed the ways in which being able to speak German was helpful, such as understanding why my students made certain mistakes.

READ ALSO: 10 mistakes English teachers in Germany are sick of hearing

“Some clients prefer trainers with basic or intermediate skills in German but others are flexible; it can go both ways,” says Bruhn.

Germany has so many big companies like Siemens, Mercedes and BMW and they all take English training very seriously, says Dale Coulter, academic manager at TLC International House Zurich-Baden and former Berlin resident.

The country is also home to many international companies with staff in need of training, adds Coulter. “Many of their departments are willing to pay serious money for English training,” he says.

Several months into my new career, as I got more and more work, it became apparent that I could earn a decent income in the field. I also got the impression that there was a healthy demand for English language learning in general.

About a year in, I found myself taking on fewer children’s lessons and focusing increasingly on training Business English. Over the following two years I had a full-time schedule of one-on-one and group lessons with executives and professionals in the offices of large international companies – I couldn’t have been happier.

I had heard from friends (many of them also English trainers) and colleagues that teaching English in big cities like Berlin was poorly paid in comparison.

As a Business English trainer in Berlin, one can expect to earn between €15 and €40 for teaching a 45-minute class, according to Coulter. But in Braunschweig one could earn this amount (or more) for a 30 minute class.

“There are fewer trainers in small cities and therefore less competition than in big cities like Berlin and Munich,” says Bruhn.

SEE ALSO: Braunschweig – The German city that deserves to be put on the map

Despite the advantages of not working in a metropolis among a larger pool of English speakers, there were also challenges that came with the profession.

As with all new things, especially for someone who hadn’t formally studied teaching, it was a steep learning curve for me in the beginning (though in hindsight this was a challenge I thoroughly enjoyed).

The job isn’t for everyone, either.

Although English trainers encompass a wide range of personalities, “you have to be a people person and a good listener,” says Bruhn, adding that it helps to be interested in languages, culture and in self-development.

I couldn’t agree more. What I’d add to that as well are leadership skills and being comfortable with performing to a crowd (especially on days when you're leading a lesson of 12 adults who don't feel like reviewing grammar as you have planned).

Looking back on my former career, I did more than just teach English. As language is always attached to culture, I shared my culture as a Canadian with my students. When I taught bankers and economists, I had to verse myself in their specialities too.

And I still haven't mentioned that it's a rewarding profession. When I started to see my students' English and their confidence speaking it improve over time, it was fulfilling in a way that I can't even describe.

So what are you waiting for? If you’re looking for a career change or simply want to experience life in Germany, teaching English may just put you on the path to personal and professional success. It sure did for me.

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For members


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.