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LIVING IN GERMANY

Everything that changes in Germany in October 2021

From paid-for Covid testing to a new law aiming to make signing up to contracts in Germany fairer for consumers, here's what's changing in October 2021.

Everything that changes in Germany in October 2021
The clocks go back in October as we enter winter time. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Oliver Berg

End of free Covid rapid tests

The German government is planning to severely restrict access to free Covid rapid tests this month in a move aimed at encouraging more people to get vaccinated. 

From October 11th onwards, people eligible for the Covid vaccination – but who choose not to get jabbed – will have to pay for the antigen tests from their own pocket. They are likely to cost around €15 to €20. 

READ ALSO: Who will still get free Covid tests in Germany

As Germany requires that people show proof of vaccination (geimpft), recovery from Covid (genesen) or a negative test (getestet) – known as the 3G rule – to enter many indoor spaces like restaurants and cinemas, it could get expensive for those who choose not to get vaccinated. 

Some parts of Germany are also only allowing vaccinated or recovered people to enter places like bars and restaurants – but only if the owner of the venue opts for this model.

Meanwhile, vaccinated people who travel abroad and usually get a free rapid test will no longer have that chance. 

Up to this point, the cost of antigen Covid tests have been covered by the state. 

Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Peter Kneffel

Tax return deadline

Don’t forget – the new deadline for self-submitted tax returns is coming up soon.

The previous deadline of July 31st this year was extended by three months due to the pandemic. So those who submit their own tax returns – like freelancers – have to get their paperwork to the tax office by October 31st 2021.

People who prepare their tax return with a tax advisor have a deadline of May 31st, 2022.

The sick note goes digital 

The yellow certificate – or gelbe Krankenschein – which doctors usually use to declare employees in Germany unfit for work, is getting binned. 

Instead, doctors will be able to send the sick note electronically to health insurance organisations. This change will come into force from October 1st, and all medics will have to get on board by the end of the year. 

However, employees will for the moment still have to hand in a paper incapacity to work certificate to their boss.

But this will be a thing of the past soon. By July 1st, 2022 it will also be handled digitally by doctors and health insurers. We’ll keep you posted. 

As we reported in August, doctors in Germany can issue sick notes by telephone for some conditions until the end of the year. 

READ ALSO: The 10 rules you need to know if you get sick in Germany

Reunification Day

Germany will celebrate Reunification Day on Saturday, October 3rd, marking 31 years since east and west came together.

This is a public holiday in Germany but sadly as it falls on a Sunday, most people won’t get a day off for it. 

New law on fair consumer contracts

From October 1st, the first part of the new Fair Consumer Contracts Act will come into force as part of the government’s aim to strengthen the rights of consumers. 

The law is intended to stop companies from tricking people into agreeing contracts over the phone, as well as providing fairer rules for overlong and complicated contract terms and notice periods. It concerns things like energy supply contracts, contracts for fitness studios, newspaper subscriptions or contracts concluded online.

As part of the changes, gas and electricity contracts will have to be concluded in writing from October onwards – not just over the phone. For a contract to be effective, it must be “in text form”, for example by email, SMS or as a letter or fax, says the German government.

READ ALSO: Why households in Germany face even higher electricity bills

Electricity bills in Germany are expensive. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Patrick Pleul

The act also says that companies are no longer allowed to use their general terms and conditions to coerce their customers into assigning claims to money. This would make it possible, for example, to claim for money back in the event of flight cancellations instead of having to settle for a voucher.

Meanwhile, contracts with a minimum term of up to two years will remain possible in future. But consumers should have much more freedom in choosing and structuring their contracts and benefits, the German government says. To protect consumers, stricter rules will apply to termination in the event of an automatic contract extension for an indefinite period. Customers will be able to terminate monthly in these cases from March 2022.

Price comparison rule at service stations

One for the drivers: from October 1st, service stations in Germany with more than six multi-product dispensers will be required to show a comparison of the prices of their available energy sources.

Consumers will then be able to see at a glance what the costs are for different types of fuel per 100 kilometers. The price comparison overview should be displayed either at gas pumps or on the sales floor. The different units used by shops (liters/ kilograms/ kilowatt hours/ cubic meters) have so far made a direct comparison of costs difficult.

Stalkers to be punished more severely

Germany is coming down harder on people who commit stalking offences from October 1st.

Anyone who regularly stalks or repeatedly harasses another person may end up in court sooner than before under the tightened laws.

The penalties will also be tougher: previously a maximum of three years’ imprisonment could be imposed for stalking, but now five years’ imprisonment is now also possible. Furthermore, from October, digital cyberstalking will also be expressly punishable – for example, if someone accesses their victim’s social media accounts or movement data.

Application deadline for bridging assistance III extended until end of year

For companies affected by the Covid pandemic, financial support aid is being extended. Bridging Aid III Plus has been extended to the end of December. The assistance was due to expire at the end of September.

Companies with Covid-related sales losses of at least 30 percent are eligible to apply.

The Restart Assistance Plus for solo self-employed people will also be extended. For the period from October to December, the solo self-employed who are struggling due to Covid can receive additional support of up to €4,500  from the federal government.

The so-called “Restart Premium,” which was intended to ease the transition from lockdown to reopening, will not be continued.

You get an extra hour of sleep or partying

It’s hard to believe we’re already heading into the last part of the year, but here we are.

During the night from Saturday October 30th to Sunday October 31st, clocks in Germany will be set to winter time. At 3am the clock will go back one hour, back to Central European Time (CET).

The good news is that we all get an extra hour of sleep. The bad news is that it’s going to get darker earlier in the evening. 

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For members

LIVING IN AUSTRIA

Austria vs Germany: Which country is better to move to?

Thinking of a move to a German-speaking Europe but aren't sure about Germany or Austria? Here’s what you need to know.

Austria vs Germany: Which country is better to move to?

Both Austria and Germany are German-speaking countries with similar cultures and a high standard of living.

But in many ways, the similarities stop there and life in Austria can be very different to Germany (and vice versa) – depending on which part of the country you live in. 

So which of these two Central European countries are better to move to? Let’s find out.

Taxes

The tax systems in both Austria and Germany are complicated, so it will of course depend on your individual circumstances as to where you’d pay less tax. 

In Austria, the general income tax rates for 2022 are:

0 percent for up to €11,000 in earnings.

20 percent for €11,000 to €18,000.

32.5 percent for €18,000 to €31,000.

42 percent for €31,000 to €60,000.

48 percent for €60,000 to €90,000.

50 percent for €90,000 to €1,000,000.

55 percent for earnings above €1,000,000.

FOR MEMBERS: Explained: How to understand your payslip in Austria

While in Germany the tax rates for 2022 are:

0 percent for earnings up to €9,984.

14 to 42 percent for €9,985 to €58,596.

42 percent for €58,597–€277,825.

45 percent for €277,826 and above.

As you can see, it’s likely you will end up paying more income tax in Austria than in Germany – especially in the higher earnings brackets.

Then there are mandatory social security payments to consider, which cover healthcare, pension and unemployment insurance.

In Austria, both the employer and the employee are required to pay social insurance contributions. The amount will depend on income up to a ceiling amount of €62,640 per year or €5,220 per month.

In Germany, there is a similar system (both employer and employee pay) and the average total social insurance contribution for employees is around 20 to 22 percent of your annual salary.

In the case of self-employment, individuals in both Austria and Germany make payments directly to the social insurance provider.

How much you ultimately pay in taxes and social insurance will depend on how much you earn. In Austria you can expect to pay out around 30 percent of your gross earnings, while in Germany the amount is usually slightly higher, i.e. 36-38 percent. 

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about your German tax return

You could end up paying more in income tax in Austria. Photo: Firmbee / Pixabay

Visas

For people from non-EU countries that want to move to either Austria or Germany, a visa is required.

In Austria, there are three types of work permit to apply for: restricted (for one year), standard (two years) and unrestricted (for five years). What you can get will depend on your situation.

There are also student and graduate visas, as well as a start-up founder route, which requires a €50,000 investment in a company. 

Another investment-style visa in Austria is known as the Self-Employed Key Worker permit and involves investing €100,000 into the Austrian economy, as well as the creation of new jobs or technologies.

FOR MEMBERS: How to apply for a residency permit in Austria

In Germany, there are several visa routes including a job seeker permit for recent graduates of a recognised university, study permit, work visa, au pair visa, internship visa or a self-employment/freelance permit.

Like in Austria, there is also an investment route in Germany for people that want to set up a business in the country. There is no official minimum amount of investment but there is a recommendation that it should be at least €360,000.

In Germany, there is also the ability to apply for dual citizenship. The law currently allows EU citizens to take German citizenship without relinquishing their country of origin, but the government has pledged to overhaul the rules to allow all eligible foreigners to apply for dual citizenship in Germany.

In Austria, dual citizenship is only allowed in very few cases, so Germany comes out on top in this round.

Digital nomad friendly?

Unlike Italy, which recently announced the launch of a new digital nomad visa, there is no specific visa for digital nomads in either Austria or Germany.

However, Germany does have a freelance visa called Aufenthaltserlaubnis für selbständige Tätigkeit. It allows freelancers and self-employed people to live in Germany for up to three years, and costs €100 to apply. 

There are several different categories of self-employment, such as journalists or artists, but keep in mind that these do differ from state to state. 

Applicants also need proof of self-sustainability (income) and an address in Germany.

Austria, on the other hand, has the Self-Employed Key Worker visa (detailed above) but it requires a financial investment and is not really suitable for digital nomads, so Deutschland wins this one.

Cost of living

Both Austria and Germany are known for having a high cost of living.

However, Germany is significantly cheaper for some everyday items like bread and domestic beer. Germany is also cheaper than Austria when it comes to eating at restaurants, but is much more expensive for items like rent and petrol.

Here is a breakdown of some of the average living costs in both countries, according to Numbeo.

Austria

Rent (one-bedroom apartment, city centre): €723

Loaf of bread: €1.94

Domestic beer: €1.07

Utilities (monthly): €217

Petrol (1 litre): €1.71

Meal for two at mid-range restaurant: €55

READ MORE: Austria unveils €2 billion relief package to fight rising cost of living

Germany

Rent (one-bedroom apartment, city centre): €886

Loaf of bread: €1.63

Domestic beer: €0.57

Utilities (monthly): €234

Petrol (1 litre): €2.20

Meal for two at mid-range restaurant: €50

Please be aware that these average costs can increase in larger cities or popular tourist destinations, or decrease in more rural areas and smaller towns.

A customer wearing a face mask makes purchases at a German supermarket

The cost of living is cheaper in Germany for some items. Ina FASSBENDER / AFP

Lifestyle and culture

Life in Austria is very much influenced by the concept of Gemutlichkeit. In English, it means “comfort” or “cosy”, but in the context of Austrian culture it means “enjoying life”.

The benefits of this aspect of Austrian culture is that there is a healthy work/life balance in the country and people make an effort to spend time with friends and family. The downside is that there is sometimes a lack of urgency, especially with bureaucracy or official matters.

Austria is also a Catholic country, which is evident in some laws and customs, such as Sunday trading laws (most businesses are closed on Sundays) and a Church Tax.

READ ALSO: What is Austria’s church tax and how do I avoid paying it?

But then there are other elements, like Vienna’s famous coffee house scene and the outdoors lifestyle that can be enjoyed in the mountains. The result is a culture that is rooted in tradition while also looking on the bright side of life.

Germany, by comparison, is a much bigger country with a more diverse culture, especially between regions like traditional Bavaria (which has a similar culture to Austria) and Berlin, which is home to a modern international population and a party-loving crowd. 

The differences in Germany can be pronounced. While it may be hard to communicate with someone in English in smaller towns of the former east of the country, ordering in German in some parts of Berlin will be met with a blank stare and a request to speak English. 

However, there are a few aspects of German culture that apply across the country. For example, people are generally punctual and hardworking, and they like to take care of each other and have fun.

There are a couple of false stereotypes about German culture too – most notably that the people are cold. The reality is that most Germans are friendly and welcoming, even if there is a tendency to be honest which can at first be difficult to get used to. 

When it comes to whether Austrian or German culture is better, it depends on what you’re looking for. If you want big cities and more professional opportunities, go to Germany. If you want a smaller country with interesting traditions, then Austria is the place to be.

Nature and landscapes

Germany might have the Bavarian Alps with the Zugspitze rising to 2,962 feet above sea level, but that’s nothing compared to Austria’s Grossglockner mountain which is 3,798 metres above sea level.

But Germany does have a coastline along its northern borders – something that land-locked Austria can’t compete with.

Germany’s coast is split between the Baltic Sea and the North Sea and stretches for over 3,700 km – including islands and bays. Just don’t expect Mediterranean vibes in northern Germany.

While temperatures can be warm in the spring and summer months, both the Baltic Sea and North Sea are cold waters. This doesn’t stop German holidaymakers though who flock to the white sand beaches and pretty islands along the country’s northern coastline every summer. 

So if you would like to live in a country with the possibility of one day living by the sea (without having to relocate elsewhere), then Germany is the place to go.

On the other hand, if the mountains are calling, then head to Austria where you can spend your days exploring the Alps.

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