Simon Goodall, 37, a copywriter from London, lost his job in Munich six months ago. He explains what it’s like being without work – and shares what he’s learnt
Munich is full of very loud church bells and I live next to one of the noisiest. Every 15 minutes the tranquillity of my studio apartment is interrupted by a harsh cold clang courtesy of a Bavarian Catholic church. One for quarter past, two for half past and three 15 minutes later. The hour is marked by four clangs, then the counting of the time.
As I sit in my bedroom/office trying to conjure up my next move, it’s a jolting and unwelcome reminder of the speedy passage of time in a foreign land. If that bell tolls for anyone, it tolls for me: the unemployed expat. It’s telling me to go home, to get a job, to do something.
Being unemployed is tough wherever in the world you are living, but as an expat it is both a unique challenge and unique opportunity. The danger of isolation is greater, the challenge to find work can be harder, but on the other hand, the spirit of adventure and change that most expats possess gives them a competitive edge when it comes to enjoying their free time and finding new work.
I try to use my expat status to the best advantage, particularly by staying active in the expat communities and clubs that are plentiful in this international city. If I want to meet and make connections with people working in international firms or English-speaking environments, there are few better places for me to be than one of the many sports clubs, social clubs, or networking clubs that are hosted by sites like InterNations andToytown. The people you meet in these clubs and communities are usually understanding and supportive.
It’s important not to give in to homesickness, which is likely to be exacerbated by unemployment. Many expats move abroad for work. Take that away and your reasons for being in a place can look very shaky. Should I search for jobs here, or back home, or maybe somewhere else?
On the flip side, unemployment is also a good opportunity to make yourself feel more at home and better integrated. Previously I was spending nine hours a day in an English-speaking office, where most of my colleagues were non-Germans. Now I am spending much of that time out and about in a German-speaking town, interacting with local people as much as possible, learning more about the language and the place.
In this context, even watching local television counts as a productive activity.
There is also a big advantage for me in staying in Germany: I am a lot wealthier here than I would be in the same situation back home. For the first year of my unemployment, as a European citizen living in Germany who has been in full-time employment for a year or more, I receive 60 per cent of my previous wage as a state benefit (Arbeitslosengeld). This is a substantial reduction in means, and of course I have stopped buying luxuries and going on expensive holidays, but it’s not a total change of lifestyle. In England I would be on something like £70 a week — very little spending power indeed if it’s your only source of income.
As long as the UK remains in the European Union, British people will continue to have almost identical working and residency rights as the locals, anywhere within the union. This means I can stay in Germany as long as I wish, even as a benefit claimant. This is in contrast to my friends from places outside of Europe whose visas are directly linked to their jobs. Your level of entitlement does depend on your nationality and if I was not a European citizen my allowance would be much reduced.
By European standards, Germany’s unemployment benefit provision is not that high. Many European countries have more generous schemes where the recently unemployed receive 70 per cent or even 80 per cent of their previous wage, and in some cases this provision can last well over a year.
As an expat you might be surprised how much support you can get from the state, even after living in a country for a relatively short period of time.
On top of the basic welfare payments, there is a wealth of retraining and additional support schemes available to jobseekers in Germany – make sure you are in the know. Talk to other people in the same situation and keep asking questions.
It’s also helpful to get out of the house by finding somewhere to go to apply for jobs. I’m lucky to have the Bavarian State Library reading room at my disposal, where I can enjoy a really pleasant working environment, free wi-fi and a glorious bell-free quietness. I also have my favourite cafes and beer gardens dotted around town where I can go and read the paper (in German of course).
Isolation can be a particular danger for the out-of-work expat. For me, staying in touch with people and getting out and about is the first priority. This keeps me fresh and engaged and ensures that when the right opportunity comes along, I will be ready for it.