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EXPLAINED: Could people in Germany soon be working until the age of 68?

A dramatic warning issued by an expert commission to the government has said that Germany faces a “financial shock” if it doesn’t raise its retirement age soon. So will we all have to work for longer in the near future?

EXPLAINED: Could people in Germany soon be working until the age of 68?
An elderly man uses a computer. Photo: dpa | Andreas Gebert

A report issued this week by the Economy Ministry’s advisory council warned that Germany will have to deal with “shocking increases in financing issues for the statutory pension system from 2025 onwards”.

The council said that the only solution was the unpopular step of raising the age of retirement to 68. But the proposal has been met with fierce criticism from left-wing parties.

What is the current retirement age in Germany?

The age of retirement in Germany has been slowly increasing since the year 2012, when a government reform raised it from 65 to an eventual age of 67.

Currently, the age of retirement is being raised by a month each year. People who were born in the year 1956 and are celebrating their 65th birthday this year will have to wait until they are 10 months past their 65th birthday before they can celebrate their retirement.

READ MORE: How does Germany’s pension system measure up worldwide?

Then, starting in the year 2024, the age of retirement will be raised by two months every year until it hits a ceiling of 67. That means that people born in the year 1964 will have to wait until their 67th birthday before they can start to enjoy the third phase of their life.

Why are government advisors calling for it to be raised even further?

As Germans live longer while also having less children, the demographic makeup of society is changing dramatically. While the proportion of working age people to retirees is currently three to one, it is expected to increase to three to two by the year 2060.

That means that there are ever fewer working age people paying into the state pension system to support a pay-outs for an ever larger population of pensioners.

The expert commission’s report predicted that, should current demographic trends continue, the proportion of the state budget that would flow into the pension system would rise from the current size of 26 percent to 44 percent by 2040.

“That would break the federal budget and would not be financeable even with massive tax increases,” warned Klaus Schmidt, who led the commission.

He further warned that increases in state financing of pensions would come at the cost of investment in digital infrastructure and education.

How has the report been received?

It has been met with stinging criticism from left-wing parties.

The left-wing Linke party described it as “an anti-social act of cheek” and promised to “defend the rights of pensioners with tooth and claw.”

They point out that one in five Germans still don’t live to their 69th birthday.

“The numbers speak for themselves: the higher the retirement age, the fewer people who will ever be able to enjoy their pensions,” the party’s social affairs expert Sabine Zimmermann said.

SEE ALSO: Germany plans reforms to avoid double taxation on pensions

The party say that, because life expectancy is higher the more one earns, raising the retirement age effectively means redistributing wealth from the poor to the rich. They want the retirement age to be brought back down to 65.

Praise for the report came from the Federal Employers’ Association, who said that “this conversation needs to be had, and it needs to be had honestly”.

The association warned that if action wasn’t taken on pensions, then Germany would soon have more people receiving benefits than paying into the system.

Are the report’s findings likely to be implemented?

There is almost no chance that the reports finding will be implemented by the current government.

With a national election just over three months away, the coalition won’t want to back a policy proposal likely to unpopular on the doorstep.

The Social Democrats have out and out rejected the report. SPD Chancellor candidate Olaf Scholz accused the expert commission of getting its maths wrong.

Describing the report as a “horror scenario” that was intended to create fear, Scholz said that “I won’t discuss any further increase in the retirement age.”

READ ALSO: Old age poverty in Germany set to rise significantly

The CDU also distanced themselves from the findings.

Economy Minister Peter Altmaier (CDU) said that the retirement age should remain at 67, adding that ‘“that has been my opinion for years”.

After the election, the tone from the CDU could change though, as warnings about the financial viability of the current system have come from various quarters in recent months.

Similar proposals to increase the age of retirement have come from economic institutes and the Federal Bank, all of which predict that the current arrangement is not sustainable in the long term.

The Federal Bank’s proposal goes even further, encouraging the government to push the retirement age up to over 69.

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RETIREMENT

Reader question: Can I get a retirement visa for Germany?

Unlike in EU countries such as Portugal or Spain, Germany does not have a visa specifically for pensioners. Yet applying to live in the Bundesrepublik post-retirement is not difficult if you follow these steps.

Reader question: Can I get a retirement visa for Germany?
Two pensioners enjoying a quiet moment in Dresden in August 2020. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Sebastian Kahnert

Due to its quality of life, financial security and health care, Germany snagged the number 10 spot in the 2020 Global Retirement Index. So just how easy is it to plant roots in Deutschland after your retirement?

Applying for a residency permit

As with any non-EU or European Economic Area (EEA) national looking to stay in Germany for longer than a 90-day period, retirees will need to apply for a general resident’s permit (Aufenthaltserlaubnis) under which it will be possible to select retirement as a category. 

READ ALSO: How does Germany’s pension system measure up worldwide?

This is the same permit for those looking to work and study in Germany – but if you would like to do either after receiving a residency permit, you will need to explicitly change the category of the visa.

Applicants from certain third countries (such as the US, UK, Australia, South Africa, Japan, South Korea, Israel, Canada, and New Zealand) can first come to Germany on a normal tourist visa, and then apply for a residency permit when in the country. 

However, for anyone looking to spend their later years in Germany, it’s still advisable to apply at their home country’s consulate at least three months in advance to avoid any problems while in Germany.

Retirement visas still aren’t as common as employment visas, for example, so there could be a longer processing time. 

What do you need to retire in Germany?

To apply for a retirement visa, you’ll need proof of sufficient savings (through pensions, savings and investments) as well as a valid German health insurance. 

If you have previously worked in Germany for at least five years, you could qualify for Pensioner’s Health Insurance. Otherwise you’ll need to apply for one of the country’s many private health insurance plans. 

Take note, though, that not all are automatically accepted by the Ausländerbehörde (foreigners office), so this is something you’ll need to inquire about before purchasing a plan. 

READ ALSO: The perks of private health insurance for expats in Germany

The decision is still at the discretion of German authorities, and your case could be made stronger for various reasons, such as if you’re joining a family member or are married to a German. Initially retirement visas are usually given out for a year, with the possibility of renewal. 

Once you’ve lived in Germany for at least five full years, you can apply for a permanent residency permit, or a Niederlassungserlaubnis. To receive this, you will have to show at least a basic knowledge of the German language and culture.

READ ALSO: How to secure permanent residency in Germany

Taxation as a pensioner

In the Bundesrepublik, pensions are still listed as taxable income, meaning that you could be paying a hefty amount on the pension from your home country. But this is likely to less in the coming years.

Tax is owed when a pensioner’s total income exceeds the basic tax-free allowance of €9,186 per year, or €764 per month. From 2020 the annual taxable income for pensioners will increase by one percent until 2040 when a full 100 percent of pensions will be taxable.

American retirees in Germany will also still have to file US income taxes, even if they don’t owe any taxes back in the States. 

In the last few years there has been a push around Germany to raise the pension age to 69, up from 65-67, in light of rising lifespans.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Could people in Germany still be working until the age of 68?

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