“When I looked at my first payslip, I thought something was wrong”

In Germany as in France, many people cross the border every day to go to a neighboring country where salaries are much higher. Daily life Die Zeit interviewed three employees about this professional choice which is also a lifestyle choice.

Mike Klein, 35, was a landscape gardener in Germany. One of his colleagues then spoke to him about his life as a cross-border worker in Luxembourg and salaries twice as high. Mike Klein therefore decides to do like him and begins training as a roofer. “When I looked at my first payslip, I thought something was wrong.” In fact, he discovered a sum that he thought was too high, i.e. 2,700 euros net per month for an apprentice roofer. In 2021, he changed careers and became a road and civil engineer.

“In my home country, I would earn around 800 euros less per month.”

If salary motivated his decision, today, Mike Klein also says he is concerned about his retirement: “I don’t want to have to collect returnable bottles to make ends meet when I’m old. This is what my retirement could look like if I was still working in Germany.”

Carl Puttmeier (not his real name), 39, also works in Luxembourg while residing in Germany. Accustomed to expatriation with experiences in China, Canada, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, he opted for a cross-border life. “I don’t regret it to this day,” he summarizes. This senior executive “does around 40 kilometers round trip to Luxembourg every day. It’s worth it, because real estate there is not affordable for average earners. It would not be possible for us to finance a crèche for every child. So we endure traffic jams and long journeys every day.” His children are in German crèches and kindergartens, but Carl Puttmeier was able to take advantage of the longer parental leave granted in Luxembourg, then reduce his working time to 80%, as is permitted for twenty months by the Luxembourg law, and benefit from higher family allowances. However, he wishes to emphasize that, like all cross-border workers, he pays taxes in his country and spends his money there, thus contributing to local economic vitality.

For Anna Schramm, 35, cross-border life is also conducive to family life. She raises her children in Germany and works in Switzerland as director of a church community. She also founded her consulting business for cross-border workers. She appreciates the flexibility that Switzerland allows: “My motivation for this job was not only the salary, but also the part-time work which allows me to spend time with my children. What I like about the Swiss job market is that it is more volatile. Due to the relaxation of protection against dismissal and the short duration of parental leave, there are many entry-level positions, and it is easier to find a new job there than in Germany.”

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