How much you will earn as a software developer in Germany

By Jörg Kleis

“How much money am I going to make with my new tech job in Germany?” You need a clear understanding of this issue. It’s not just about a number - no matter if you’re coming by yourself, with your spouse or children. Here are your 10 yardsticks to get the full picture.

1. Moving abroad means career development

Most engineers who book their get2know call with us know what they want - better salary, better work-life-balance, exposure to new tech and teams - and maybe you’re reading this after having had your get2know call with us already.

Whatever your motivation may be to live and work in Germany, it’ll be about career development. Naturally, that is why you should look at it from a long-term perspective. It will be a decision you’re making at least for the next couple of years, or even forever.

But, what do we mean by career development? Well, your experiences will let you grow as a person and you won’t be the same. Years later, most people look back with gratitude and pride. Financially though it will all depend on where you’re coming from (how much you’re making now), and what the market is offering based on your stack/skills (how much you can make some day).

2. See your first annual salary is your new starting point

Our coachees’ income span, those who successfully landed a job through our program, from their first year salaries ranges from 45.000 to 95.000 EUR. That’s because we’ve had all sorts of professionals in our program - seniors, juniors, frontend developers, data scientists, you name it. We’ll turn to more figures later.

In general we’ve seen people earn 2-3 times, even 4-5 times more. The younger you are now, the more likely that’ll be so. Again, it all depends on where you’re starting from which is why we can’t provide one answer for everyone. But, even if your first German salary isn’t that much higher than your current income, it’ll only be just that - your first salary, a starting point.

After 24 months we’ve seen people increase their salary by up to 30%. For instance, Javascript developers who came here with a gross salary of 60k EUR are then making 72-75k EUR. The same applies to developers with other languages as well as testers, data engineers and scientists. Full Stack developers tend to get higher salaries, testers less than developers.

3. You can make 100k+, but…

Sometimes people ask us if they can also make 100k+ EUR and our response will always be: Probably yes, but only in the future. Why is that? Quite frankly, you’re not yet at the level of a German engineer. Neither do you know the language nor are you familiar with processes and corporate standards. That is also why it’ll take some time for you to reach that level.

Here’s our advice: Stick to your first job for the first 18-24 months. Your priority during that time should be settling down, making friends, traveling Europe. Prove you’re loyal and reliable, and don’t defect the minute a headhunter comes knocking, or else your CV will be “burnt” (from switching too often too soon). Resisting that temptation will matter because once you switch your LinkedIn to Germany headhunters will love you.

After 12-18 months you can ask for extra benefits, even a raise. When doing so, be aware of cultural nuances. Whether or not you wish to explore other opportunities after 18-24 months is up to you. Yes, those who switch jobs every 3-4 years also end up getting paid better. But, switching or staying with an employer should not just be about salary. We’ll come to that.

4. Work-life balance? What your employment contract will say

Another part of “understanding salary” covers the legal framework it’s based on. Your employment contract will state your remuneration and contain several equally important clauses. You will most likely be looking at a 40-hour work week with overtime being compensated beyond the 8th hour of each month - either in money or leave days.

On top of that you’ll be looking at more than 25 leave days. We’ve seen contracts granting up to 30 days off each year - and you are obliged to take them. Beyond that you’ll get the benefits of at least 9 public holidays (depending on the Federal State you’ll live in). So, if your contract gives you 28 days + 9 public holidays you are essentially looking at 1.5 months off.

Unions here are strong and labour laws in Germany are generally considered employee-friendly. Yes, you’ll be required to deliver high quality work and be a professional each and every step of the way. But, please understand that public debates here have evolved beyond “just salary”. It’s about corporate culture and team, work-life balance and purpose.

5. Germany is a welfare state

Now, let’s bring those salary figures to life. Say your gross annual salary is 72k EUR then that will be a monthly gross income of 6k EUR. Note that the first false conclusion you can draw here is to mistake those 72k with the overall cost to company, which they aren’t. In our example cost to company for a 72k annual salary are around 85k EUR. Why is that?

Please, understand you’re not just moving to Germany, but into a specific system. So, if you aren’t from Europe, it’s crucial to know how that system works differently. You don’t just pay taxes (see below), but your social security is partially covered by your employer. It’s the welfare state system.

Moving into a welfare state system means major taxes and social security deductions, yes. Depending on how much you make we are talking 30-40%. And those who make more pay more as well. As a software developer you’ll be upper middle class here which is also why you’ll pay more taxes than your colleagues Nico or Annalena from HR or Marketing.

Don’t worry too much about it though. You’re getting something in return: a safety net that catches you in case general life risks and challenges kick you in your behind, which by the way is the general idea of a social welfare state. You can generally count on Germany being stable, peaceful and safe with a high living standard that catches people when they fall.

6. Any income is before taxes and social security

Let’s proceed by using another example. Say you get an offer stating 60.000 EUR then that will be your gross annual income. Gross (German: “Brutto”) again means it’s before taxes and social security deductions which get automatically deducted from your monthly pay and go into what? That’s right! Your safety net, which means they are for

  • your income tax (20-40% depending on your wage) and
  • your social security, that covers your
  1. Healthcare (entirely) including healthcare for your husband/wife/kids
  2. Pension fund (you can always top up through private retirement plans)
  3. Unemployment insurance (after having paid into this fund for 12 months you’re entitled to 60% of your former income for 12 months in case you lose your job)
  4. Accident insurance (for when you have an accident at work or on your way to work)
  5. Nursing care (for when you get old or sick and need professional care)

The rest is your net (German: “Netto”) income and goes from your employer directly into your bank account and is what you end up keeping for yourself to do whatever with. The good thing really is that all of the above are covered, no matter how serious it gets.

Here’s what a German paycheck (“Lohnabrechnung” / “Abrechnung der Brutto/Netto-Bezüge”” looks like where you see which deductions are made to your gross income (in German).

7. Do the math yourself!

Next, go ahead and use this online Gross-Net-Income Calculator. As a single you are “tax group/category 1”, as a married couple you are “tax group/category 3”. You’ll find that the government favors families with kids so that distinction is relevant. Make sure you unselect “church membership” and choose one of the 16 Federal States (Bundesland) by googling your future hometown (or just choose any for now). Here are some examples for you.

Remember that “net” is showing what you end up having in your bank account to spend as you like. So, unless you have any expensive hobbies, being single with a net income of 2.500 EUR really is a decent salary to start with in Germany (see cost of living below). In fact, with a net income of 3.700 EUR per month (75k gross per year) you already belong to the top 10% of German wage earners, simply because the middle class is still rather large.

Yes, the deductions may look like a lot, but living in a welfare state has its advantages. After all, your money is going into free education, free health care, good roads and public transportation, clean neighborhoods - and the police are doing a good job. Naturally, we as Germans would always find something to complain about, but all in all it’s really a decent system.

8. How much you can ask for

How much can you expect as a software developer? There are several aspects to a professional answer: Let’s start with what Honeypot’s Developer Salaries Report 2021 says:

Please, keep in mind these are A-VER-AGE numbers. Average meaning values representing a middle point. Neither does it mean that you as a software engineer can’t make more, nor that you should ask for more. Got it? Because how far the spread is, can or will depend on the following:

  1. The size and type of the company you’ll be working for. Is it a startup, a software boutique firm, a medium-sized family business, a multinational corporation? Is there an investor in the background? Please, keep in mind that the respective (established or rising) industry plays a big role in all this as well.
  2. The place where you’re going to be working - and most likely living. Like elsewhere, cities come with different price tags in Germany. In general, the more urban it gets, the more expensive, which shouldn’t be a surprise to you. In general, salaries in the South and in bigger cities like Frankfurt, Munich and Hamburg are better than in the rest of the country. Over the last years Berlin has really caught up in that department. Salaries used to be much lower, but have increased steadily. On the other hand, housing and rents for apartments are equally expensive in the mentioned cities. Follow the link for some statistics on the average price per square meter you’ll be looking at when renting a place. However, please take note that all German cities have good access to the city center to commute to from outside, either via public transportation or car. We’ve seen quite a lot of successful coachees from our program settle in the outskirts because quality of living is equally good and commuting didn’t take too long (30-40 minutes).
  3. You! Despite the mentioned factors, the question of how much you are able to ask for will largely depend on you; that means your knowledge, skills and project experience as well as the demand of the stack you’ll be using (Go / GoLang vs. Java vs. Javascript). All in all, as you’ve probably already imagined, the stronger the better.
Average rental price per square meter in different German cities.

Oh, and one more thing. Germany uses EUR, not USD. We are just raising the issue since one of our clients from Pakistan who landed his job in Germany with our help made that little mistake in his application where he asked for 60.000 USD (50.000 EUR). Next time!

9. Your expenses and cost of living in a nutshell

First, housing will be your no. 1 living expense. An appropriate measure here is to use 30-40% of your net income. If you make 60k EUR per year as a single, of which you’ll be receiving around 3k net per month into your account, then you can get yourself a 40-50m² apartment for around 1.000 EUR , and you’ll be left with 2k per month to spend.

However, from those 2.000 EUR you’ll have to cover the following extras that cost around 100 EUR per month in total: Your cell phone contract (10-20 EUR), Internet and electricity at your place (40+40=80 EUR), public radio and TV “GEZ” (18 EUR… don’t ask, long story). For groceries and food as a single you’ll probably be looking at 300 EUR per month.

10. Your salary is only one part of the package - here’s the rest

Last comes the longest chapter of this article - because it’s the most important one. Yes, we know that most of you (understandably) care about salary. However, and this is a common misperception, your salary is only one aspect of several that decide whether any offered package is a good deal altogether. So, what is a good deal?

First, companies offer benefits alongside your salary. They are not just doing this to lure you into the job, but because they can deduct the costs for such benefits from their income to save taxes. That is also why you should always consider asking for a benefit first, and a raise second. It’s simply far more attractive to them than giving more to the government.

Besides higher social security you’ll also pay higher taxes if you just ask for a raise. Take a look at the numbers again (see table above). For example, a raise from 60k to 65k really means 200 EUR more in your account each month. Yes, that’s not bad either. But, what about benefits like public transportation ticket, free gym or sports club, lunch tickets, company bike, remuneration of costs for your visa or relocation expenses? Think about it.

On top of that, please remember it’s the 20s of the 21st century. So, work isn’t everything. Yes, getting the job done is important. But, only a healthy work environment will keep you healthy. It’s as easy as that. Cut-throat cultures with bad leadership will break you. Make sure, and this is so important, that you join a team that you really like. Please.

Make sure the company culture is appealing to you, personal development opportunities play a vital role, investing in staff and management training is done on a regular basis. You can ask for a career plan. Again, make sure you get a good deal on your leave days (28 or more). If you ask us, this last paragraph is what we would especially be looking for in an employer.

We hope this helped. If you haven’t yet booked your get2know call with us and you’re interested in learning more about how we can help you find a job as a software developer, Data Scientist, Engineer or Tester watch our FREE 30-minute video training on how to find a job in Germany, which also shows you how our program works.