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Information on spending time abroad

Before, during and after your time abroad

Planning is vital if you intend to spend a longer period of time abroad. The following valuable information, compiled by Dr. Ruth Maloszek, gives you an overview of what you should bear in mind before going abroad in order to be as well prepared as possible when you set off and are aware of what needs to be done during your time abroad.

The following information has been checked carefully. However, we cannot accept liability for the content.

Please feel free to contact the internationalisation representative at your faculty for advice in any individual instance.

Is the time I spend abroad taken into account for pay grade purposes when I return to employment at FAU?

  • If you are employed at a university or research institution in Germany and intend spending a period of time conducting research abroad, you must bear in mind that when you return to employment, your research activities abroad do not usually count towards claims based on collective agreements (such as age bracket, periods of employment and service, probation period).
  • If you are employed as a public servant, when you return from spending time doing research abroad, the time you spent abroad can only be accredited under certain specific circumstances. The details should be clarified beforehand with your employer. Special rules apply when you work at European institutions.
  • The point of contact at FAU is the Department of Human Resources (P).
  • Legal advice in all matters relating to university or public service law is offered by the German Association of University Professors and Lecturers (Deutscher Hochschulverband).
  • See “Stelle

Do I need a work permit to work in the host country?

  • As a German citizen, you do not require a work permit to work in another EU/EEA state or Switzerland. In these countries, EU citizens enjoy freedom of movement and are entitled to a residence permit.
  • German citizens who intend to carry out research in a state outside the EU, the EEA or Switzerland should find out about the regulations which apply to them by checking with the diplomatic mission of the host country in Germany. The same applies to people of another nationality who currently live in Germany but would like to spend time conducting research in Europe or beyond.
  • Scholarship holders do not generally need a work permit. However, they do need a visa and residence permit before they can carry out research abroad (see section ‘Visa and work permit’):

I will continue to be paid my salary whilst I am abroad. How does my salary affect my scholarship?

  • In the case of doctoral candidates in post-doctoral programmes, any ongoing salary payments usually count towards the basic amount of the scholarship.

What charges and taxes are deducted from my scholarship?

  • In Germany, research scholarships are tax-free within the context of Section 3 (44) of the German Income Tax Act. They are not subject to social security contributions.
  • In the host country, each scholarship holder is obliged to take steps to ensure that they are either exempt from paying taxes or meet the requirements to become entitled to a tax refund. The party providing funding should be informed immediately if this is not possible.
  • See ‘Taxes

Should I keep my German bank account, open a new account abroad, or keep my German account and open a new account?

  • If you are in paid employment, you will usually need an account in the host country for salary purposes. It is best to ask which account is most suitable in the host country, your host institution may be able to help.
  • A scholarship is paid into a German account.

Is there any way to avoid the high charges incurred for withdrawing money abroad?

  • Internet banks such as Ing-DiBa or DKB offer a wide network of partnerships with banks across the globe which make it possible to withdraw cash without incurring high costs.
  • Watch out for hidden costs which may be incurred via the exchange rate when withdrawing money. There can be major differences from bank to bank.
  • Please also note that a charge may also be incurred for your bank account in Germany when you accept a job abroad, as some bank accounts are only available free of charge when your salary is paid in regularly (exception: DKB).

Am I covered by my liability and accident insurance when I am abroad?

  • German liability insurance does usually also cover damage incurred anywhere within the EU. However, it depends on where your place of residence is and the contractual situation is not clear once you move abroad. Contact your insurance provider to find out whether they will also provide cover for you once you have moved.
  • Private accident insurance usually also applies in other countries within the EU if the terms of the insurance do not stipulate any limitation on time or place. However, you must make sure to inform your insurance provider that you are moving abroad.
  • If you do need to file a claim, all medical examinations and evaluations have to be carried out in Germany, which is why it may be worthwhile considering terminating the policy (in time) and taking out a new insurance policy in the EU country where you will be based.
  • Please check with your insurance provider and compare the various options and prices to decide which is best for you (keeping or cancelling your original policy).

What happens to my scholarship if I am ill for a long period of time?

  • If you are ill for a long period of time, you may have to withdraw from your scholarship. If the reason for withdrawal is not your fault – as is the case if you are ill for an extended period of time – you are not usually expected to pay back the portion of the scholarship which has already been paid.
  • See ‘Health insurance

Should I cancel/pause my existing (German) health insurance? What makes most sense?

  • The European health insurance card only helps for brief trips abroad on holiday.
  • In the case of illness, it is the place of residence which applies, not your nationality. If you move your place of residence to another country within Europe, you are not usually covered by German statutory health insurance.
  • We would recommend contacting your health insurance provider for advice and/or the office for cross-border healthcare at eu-patienten.de
  • Taking the USA as an example: If an employee who is employed temporarily in the USA and continues to be covered by statutory health insurance in Germany becomes ill whilst employed abroad, the health insurance will refund the (German) employer the incurred costs up to the amount that would have been incurred in Germany.

Where can I find more information on having insurance periods accredited and claiming for benefits?

  • Ask your insurance provider in Germany or the host country.
  • See ‘Social insurance

I am covered by health insurance in Germany and I would like to be treated by a doctor/dentist/in hospital in another country within the EU. How does this work?

  • If you are covered by health insurance in Germany, you have the right to seek medical treatment in another EU member state, in Switzerland or in the EEA countries Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. Whether or not your health insurance covers the costs depends on certain factors, however.
  • If you are covered by state health insurance in Germany, you cana) have the treatment approved in advance by your health insurance provider. Your health insurance provider will issue form E112 or S2. You can use this in the country in which you are being treated to prove that you should be treated in the same way as a person covered by state health insurance in that country and that your health insurance provider will cover the costs, orb) pay the costs incurred yourself at first. You can then apply for a reimbursement after the treatment, like a privately insured patient. Guidelines available at www.eu-patienten.de give a breakdown of the advantages and disadvantages of each option.
  • If you are not covered by state health insurance, the costs you can claim for are stipulated in your private health insurance contract. Please contact your private health insurance provider directly.
  • A national contact for cross-country healthcare in other EU countries is available as a contact in each EU country.

What happens to my care insurance contributions while I am abroad?

  • Funding providers recommend not giving up existing insurance for a temporary placement abroad, as otherwise you may be affected by additional waiting periods and higher costs if you want to re-enter at a later date. (See, for example, funding guidelines for Alexander von Humboldt funding).

How are travel expenses paid?

  • That depends on the funding provider. The large funding providers such as DAAD generally provide a lump sum payment to cover travel expenses. In this case, the funding provided for travel expenses also covers subsidiary travel expenses (e.g. visa fees, costs for immunisation etc.). Foundations sometimes pay for travel expenses on the basis of the costs which are actually incurred, reimbursing the costs which have already been paid (e.g. Gerald D. Feldman travel grant), although there is usually the option to apply for an advance payment.

What effect will time spent abroad have on my pension?

  • It is possible to continue being covered by pension insurance whilst abroad by paying a small optional contribution to your pension insurance provider in Germany. This may be of particular interest to mobile researchers who have to be careful to meet the requirements for a minimum qualifying period entitling them to draw a pension.
  • We would recommend talking to the human resources department at your current employer and the ‘Deutsche Rentenversicherungs Bund’ or the respective pension insurance provider before going abroad.
  • See ‘Social insurance

Does the time spent abroad count towards my pension?

  • Time spent abroad as part of a scholarship does not count.
  • If you have an employment contract/job, wage tax and obligatory social insurance contributions are paid, meaning that the time abroad will also count towards your pension.
  • see “Social insurance”

Where should I pay my insurance contributions during my time abroad?

The two main rules governing the obligation to pay social insurance contributions are:

  1. You are generally insured in the country in which you are working.
  2. You are always only subject to the legal provisions of one single member country.

Both these basic rules apply

  • a) under EU law, i.e. for citizens from EU member states, EEA states and Switzerland, and
  • b) if a bilateral social insurance agreement has been agreed between Germany and a non-European state (list of countries), depending which branches of insurance it applies to.USA: The social insurance agreement with the USA only covers pension insurance.
  • c) If no applicable agreement applies, German social law stipulates as follows: if the provisions governing insurance obligations and entitlement are based on employment, they shall also apply to people who are employed within the area of validity of the German Social Security Code and are sent to an area outside this area of validity if the deployment is necessary for the job or is for a fixed term agreed in advance by contract.

Do I have to pay social insurance contributions whilst spending time abroad with a scholarship?

  • In Germany scholarships do not count as remuneration, meaning that social insurance contributions do not have to be paid.
  • If you go abroad as part of a scholarship programme, you should first clarify whether you are also exempt from paying social security contributions (seelist of countries from DVKA).
  • As a scholarship holder, you are not covered by any insurance. However, sufficient health insurance cover is prescribed by law, so scholarship holders have to arrange their own health insurance (either state or private).

What happens with the obligation to pay social insurance contributions if I am employed/have a contract with the foreign institution?

  • If you have an employment contract covering your time abroad, you are obliged to pay social insurance contributions.
  • If you spend time abroad without continuing to be in employment in Germany, you will be liable to pay social security contributions in the country in which you are working (see the two basic rules governing social insurance obligations).
  • If you are spending time abroad as part of a deployment, in other words if you continue to be in employment in Germany, you are generally subject to German legal regulations.USA: The German legal regulations governing social security will apply if your deployment to the USA does not exceed five years (60 months).
  • Example: if an MSc fellow with an employment contract in Germany is deployed to a third country, this is classed as a temporary deployment abroad. In this case, German social security law would continue to apply. The deployed employee would remain a member of the German social security system, although they are temporarily not in Germany.

Where can I get more information?

How good do I need to be in the language of the country where I am going?

  • For the application, the funding provider is usually satisfied with indirect proof of an ability to communicate with the host/supervisor abroad.
  • However, it is certainly worth becoming more proficient in the official language(s) of the country to make daily life a little easier.

What happens with my job if I accept a scholarship whilst I am employed?

  • If your job is financed with project funds, it is not possible for it to be extended after the planned end of the project.
  • In the event of a ‘regular job’, please first arrange the details of your absence with the Chair.
  • Accrediting periods of employment and service.

What tax do I need to pay on my scholarship?

  • The tax office classes scholarships abroad as a contribution towards living costs and not as a wage paid in return for work. Accordingly, a scholarship is not counted as a formal employment subject to tax.
  • Scholarships to promote research, or encourage scientific or artistic training or education are exempt from tax if they are paid from state funds or from international institutions in which the Federal Republic of Germany is a member. Scholarships issued by associations or foundations are also exempt from tax (Section 3 (44) Income Tax Act).
  • In order to be classed as a contribution to living costs exempt from tax, the scholarship has to be sufficient to cover the costs of living and make it possible for the research to be conducted, but not exceed that. According to the Income Tax Act, it must serve either to promote research, or encourage scientific or artistic training or education. The scholarship holder should not be obliged to provide a set scientific or artistic contribution in exchange.
  • Please note: If the first university degree was obtained more than ten years ago, doctoral candidates and postdoctoral researchers have to pay income tax on their scholarships.
  • Your tax office can clarify whether you have to pay tax on your scholarship. If so requested by the scholarship holder, the tax office can issue a certificate stating whether or not the criteria for tax exemption are met.

Do I need to declare my scholarship in my tax return?

  • Scholarships should generally be declared in your tax return but are not normally subject to progression (i.e. they are not usually taken into account when calculating the tax rate applicable to you).

Do I need to pay tax on the scholarship in the host country if I spend time doing research abroad?

  • Many host countries offer tax incentives for scholarships similar to those offered in Germany. In addition, most have double taxation agreements which state that scholarships from abroad are not subject to taxation in the host country.

Where do I need to pay tax during my time abroad if I am employed/have a temporary job abroad?

  • If Germany is still your place of residence and you are employed by a German institution, you pay taxes in Germany. All tax incurred is deducted automatically from your salary and forwarded to the tax office as income tax.
  • If you are not resident in Germany, you are partially liable to pay tax in Germany if you obtain income from permanent or temporary work in Germany which is not carried out in a self-employed capacity.
  • On the one hand, unilateral tax relief regulations apply (Section 34c, 34d Income Tax Act) in order to prevent a taxpayer becoming subject to overlapping tax claims from various states. These regulations are derived from the principle of taxation according to the ability to pay. It should make no difference whether the income is generated and subject to taxation in Germany alone or whether a foreign country is involved.
  • On the other hand, Germany has also agreed (bilateral) double taxation agreements (DBA) with most states. These agreements stipulate which state will waiver their claim to taxes due to them under national law. DBA’s do not stipulate an obligation to pay tax, they simply allocate or restrict taxation rights.

Do some double taxation agreements include special tax regulations for researchers who are working in another state for a fixed term? Who decides whether these regulations apply in any individual instance and what is the procedure?

  • Many, but not all, double taxation agreements which Germany has agreed with other states include special provisions applicable to certain teaching and research periods abroad stipulating that the researchers will either be exempt from tax in the host country or that the country of residence has the right to taxation. In most agreements, the special provisions only apply for periods of up to two years. As the special provisions vary greatly, no general statements can be made. Each agreement has to be checked individually: some specify that the tax-payer has to be a university lecturer or teacher, others don’t.
  • The criteria for which teaching and research activities and which institutions are covered by the special provisions vary. In some cases, the special provision only applies to remuneration which is not earned in the country where the tax payer is working. You should consult with the pertinent tax authorities at the beginning of your time abroad to check whether your teaching or research is covered by one of these special provisions. They will check whether all prerequisites have been met. If so, they will provide a tax exemption certificate and stipulate to what extent you are exempt from income tax in the country in which you are working and liable to pay income tax in your country of permanent residence.
  • Some states require you to submit a tax declaration even if you are exempt from paying tax. The part of income covered by the special provision has to be indicated separately in the income tax declaration.

I am working at a research institute based in Poland as part of a project. Does the institution have to pay income tax to Germany for me?

  • Generally speaking, only employers with business premises or a representation in Germany are obliged to forward income tax to the tax office. If the research institution does not have a branch in Germany, you are responsible for paying your income tax yourself.

I am going to go to the USA for two years with a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowship and then complete the prescribed return phase back in Germany. The EU has entered into a contract with my current employer (FAU) for the entire duration, to ensure that I continue to receive my salary. Do I have to pay tax on this scholarship?

  • First of all, each individual case has to be looked at to determine whether the sum paid by the employer is classed as a scholarship or a wage under US and German taxation laws. According to the German-American double taxation agreement, scholarships are usually exempt from tax. Wages, however, are generally subject to tax in the USA. By way of exception, however, Germany may have the right to tax wages if the employee is a university lecturer or teacher, they are in the USA for advanced study or research or for teaching at a recognised university, college, school or other educational institute or a public research institute or another institute for research work, they are in the USA for no more than two years and their work there is in the public interest.
  • German tax law applies to the return phase. German tax law provides for tax exemption for scholarship holders if certain prerequisites are met by the funding provider, the funding procedure, the extent and the purpose of the scholarship. Wages have to be taxed.
  • See “Salary

Where can I get further information?

What is the legal framework for foundations, what can they demand from recipients of funding and what not (e.g. amount of additional earnings)?

  • The Foundation Act only clarifies the legal framework for setting up foundations and changing the purpose of the foundation etc. Foundations decide themselves on the amount of additional earnings they are willing to accept.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of a scholarship or a job, what are the differences?

  • As a scholarship holder, you receive a monthly scholarship (basic amount), plus an equipment grant per month and a child allowance if you have a family. A scholarship is not an employment relationship, in other words neither the university nor the funding provider are your employer. The scholarship is tax-free and is not subject to social insurance contributions. This means that you do not automatically have any pension, care or unemployment insurance, and no health or accident insurance either. Please check with the university for local rules governing accident insurance. For international doctoral candidates, the DAAD offers group insurance at a comparatively reasonable rate.
  • If you are employed whilst completing your doctoral research, you are classed as being in an employment relationship with the university or the respective institution. As an employee, you are obliged to pay income tax and are at the same time covered by pension, care and unemployment insurance.
  • Before signing the contract, it is worth checking whether your employment contract is concluded on the basis of Section 2 (1) WissZeitVG (reason for temporary contract: qualification) or Section 2 (2) WissZeitVG (reason for temporary contract: third-party funding only available for a limited period of time). This affects the possible extension of your contract in the case of maternity or parental leave: you are only entitled to have your employment contract extended or continue in employment for the amount of time you were off on leave if the contract was concluded on the basis of Section 2 (1) WissZeitVG, but not if it was concluded on the basis of Section 2 (2) WissZeitVG.
  • The following applies for MSCA: an MSC fellowship is generally granted as a full-time position, for which income tax and obligatory social security contributions are incurred accordingly. It can only be classed as a scholarship if national legislation prevents an employment contract from being concluded.

Anyone whose place of residence is outside the EU can enjoy the benefits of tax-free shopping in a number of shops in Germany, saving 19 percent VAT. This regulation also applies to German citizens who live abroad. The first option is that the salesperson issues a ‘tax-free’ certificate for the purchaser. The purchaser then has this stamped at customs and redeems it at the ‘refund’ counter at the airport. You are refunded the tax you have paid in advance (in return for a fee). The second option is that the salesperson fills out an ‘export and customer certificate for tax purposes’ (Ausfuhr- und Abnehmerbescheinigung für Umsatzsteuerzwecke). The purchaser gets it stamped at customs, then returns it to the retailer, who refunds the money directly. This can take quite a long time, however. As many small shops are not familiar with ‘tax-free shopping’, a form from the Ministry of Finance in Munich often proves helpful. However, the retailer is not legally obliged to issue the papers. A problem which often occurs when you go to claim a refund from customs is that the souvenirs are in the suitcase, which is already on the way to the plane. Please also be sure to have all the proof you need. The fact that your place of residence is outside the EU must be entered in your passport and you must have the receipts for the goods you bought to hand.

Further information: www.zoll.de

Are my relocation costs to and from the foreign country covered?

  • That depends on the funding provider. DAAD, for example, provides a contribution towards removal costs upon request after returning from a scholarship lasting at least six months, unless the costs are covered by a third party.

What insurance cover do I have?

  • For certain insurances (particularly health insurance and liability insurance) it is important that you have been insured continuously and without interruption. You should make sure that you are not left without insurance cover for any period before, during or after your stay abroad. We recommend clarifying any questions arising in this respect as soon as possible.
  • In spite of the European single market, it is still difficult for consumers to take out insurance policies which are valid across borders. Moving to another country in the EU allows you to benefit from the conditions on the insurance market there, which might be more interesting or suit you better than those available on the German market.
  • Generally speaking, life insurances offer insurance cover throughout the world for an indefinite period. You should still check, however, that there is not a clause which states that insurance cover no longer applies if you have been abroad for more than six months.
  • Social insurance, health insurance, liability and accident insurance

Am I insured via my funding provider?

  • As a rule, the funding provided within the context of postdoctoral programmes does not cover health, accident and private liability insurance for time spent abroad. You can, however, opt to take out insurance yourself via the DAAD. An offer for group insurance from the DAAD is attached to the documents granting an Alexander von Humboldt scholarship for information, but we would recommend looking into other offers as well.

Information on the DAAD group insurance is available at https://www.daad.de/versicherung.

When do I need a visa/residence permit?

  • As a German citizen you are entitled to travel into another EU/EEA state and Switzerland without any further formalities. You do not need to apply for a visa. However, if you intend staying in another EU/EEA state for longer than three months, you must register immediately with the relevant authorities in the host country, and obtain confirmation of your right of residence from them.
  • German citizens who are planning to spend time doing research in a state outside the EU/EEA/Switzerland must contact the diplomatic mission of their host country in Germany in advance to find out what rules apply to them. The same applies to people of another nationality who currently live in Germany but would like to spend time conducting research in Europe or beyond.
  • As visa and customs regulations vary from country to country and are often subject to change, you should contact the diplomatic mission (embassy or consulate) of the future host country in Germany and clarify the immigration formalities in good time before departure.
  • We recommend contacting the staff responsible for scientific or cultural matters at the German diplomatic mission shortly after arriving in the host country. Just in case, you can also register on the crisis prevention list kept by the Federal Foreign Office.

Do funding providers pay visa costs?

  • This depends on the funding provider. The DAAD usually pays a contribution towards travel expenses, the amount of which varies depending on the host country. In this case, the funding provided for travel expenses also covers subsidiary travel expenses (e.g. visa fees, costs for immunisation etc.). This also applies to postdoctoral scholarships. The Alexander von Humboldt foundation, for example, does not reimburse immigration and visa fees incurred.

I am going to spend two years researching in France. Where is my first place of residence for this period and what happens with my place of residence in Germany?

  • According to German law, the question of which place of residence is the main place of residence (Hauptwohnsitz) and which is the secondary place of residence (Nebenwohnsitz) only applies if the resident has several homes in Germany. Homes abroad don’t count. If someone living abroad only has one home in Germany, then this is the only place of residence in Germany and is therefore the main place of residence (Hauptwohnung). If you keep your home in Germany whilst you are abroad, then you do not de-register, register a change of address or have the address changed on your ID card or in your passport.
  • If you choose not to keep your home in Germany for the time you spend doing research abroad, you need to de-register and it is noted on your ID card/in your passport that you do not have a place of residence in Germany (‘kein Wohnsitz im Inland’).

The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation claims that time stands still whilst you are abroad. In this also the case with other foundations?

  • The legal regulations in question are stipulated in the Wissenschaftszeitvertragsgesetz (Act on Academic Fixed Term Contracts). According to WissZeitVG, scientific and academic staff may be given fixed term contracts for a total of up to twelve years. However, the maximum of twelve years can be extended by up to two years for spending time abroad (Section 2 (5)). No foundations offer scholarships for a duration of more than two years.