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Applicant Question: Does it make a bad impression if I ask for a refund?

For Karim, the first interview went really well. The 100 EUR spend for the train ticket was well invested: The atmosphere in the company was good, the head of research & development took an extra 2 hours and then took him on a tour through the company. When Karim left, the manager said that he would get in touch with him. But that took almost 6 weeks. No one said anything about reimbursing the travel costs. Recently, Karim received an invite to a second face-to-face interview. The question now is, what about the travel expenses? May Karim ask the company about it or does it make a bad impression?


Reimbursement of interview travel expenses by law

Reimbursement of travel costs for interview

According to section 670 of the German Civil Code (Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch), the applicant has a legal right to be reimbursed by the employer for the funds spent on the interview.

If a job applicant is invited to an interview, the employer as a rule has to reimburse the expenses which the applicant could deem necessary given the circumstances.

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In this respect, there is no difference in how the applicant found out about the job. Irrespective of whether it was through a personal recommendation or an advertisement for a job. Even if you have applied to a “lemon company”, i.e. because you simply want to exercise interviews, you are entitled to reimbursement of costs.

The crucial factor for the right to claim a refund is when the employer has expressly invited the applicant to an on-site interview.


Exceptions and peculiarities

#1: Employers may avoid paying

The employer has the possibility to exclude the reimbursement of the interview costs.

The prerequisite for this is that the employer notifies the candidate of this fact when calling him or her to the interview.

In some cases, companies mentioned in the job advertisement that they will not pay the costs. This renders the legal claim invalid.

#2: Employers may limit the costs

Some companies have simplified and streamlined the matter of travel expenses.

Usually, it is common to state certain upper limits. Frequently, the rail ticket amounts to the applicant’s place of residence are taken as a reference. In most cases, the restriction applies that only second-class travel is permitted. If the applicant chooses instead to take the car, the train ticket price is taken as the upper limit.

What actually happens in practice is that the company’s generosity increases the higher the position. If an important position that is difficult to fill is advertised, the chances increase that the costs for hotel and meals will also be covered by the potential employer. Even graduates I know of have flown quite a lot across Germany during their application phase

#3: Candidate fails to keep the interview

Shit happens. They happen even in scheduling such important meetings as an interview. A train is delayed due to a personal injury. Buses in the city take an interminably long time as there are several construction sites in the city. This may happen to all of us. Well, at least I was once stuck in a train heading in the opposite direction 🤣.

When something like this happens at an interview appointment, this is just plain nasty. On the one hand, it creates an unreliable impression of the applicant. Secondly, it’s probably impossible for the company to respond in a flexible way to a two-hour delay. This is true even more when the whole afternoon is planned out with interviews.

Note: The company isn’t obliged to reimburse the costs of the interview that can no longer take place.

#4 Attention with Zeitarbeit (temporary employment agencies)

“Pure” temporary employment agencies conduct interviews with the aim of hiring the applicant themselves. In this case, the company is the potential employer and obliged to reimburse travel costs.

The problem is, though, that many are mixed service providers who do both temporary work and headhunting or placement or work as a “Personalberatung”. Sometimes it’s really difficult to figure out from the outside. To avoid misunderstandings, it’s best to ask beforehand.

My recommendation is you ask “formlos”, but in writing. Then the company will have to respond to you in writing as well. Then you have documentation for your records in case any misunderstandings occur later on.

#5 Attention with Headhunters (Personalberatungen)

Headhunters work on behalf of the company looking for experienced professionals with a special profile.

Headhunters work on behalf of their company clients, they do not hire candidates themselves. In practice, different arrangements are common. Sometimes the headhunter pays the travel costs, sometimes the hiring company pays, or payments are excluded altogether. There’s room for maneuver here, it’s a grey area. To avoid misunderstandings, clarify the type and extent of travel expense reimbursement with the company in advance.


What costs exactly are covered?

Unless otherwise agreed, according to the regular case law of the labor courts, all travel expenses that the applicant was entitled to consider necessary are reimbursable.

Let us look at the standard case. Usually, we talk about the cost incurred for your transport from your place of residence to the place of the interview. The costs for both the journey there and back to your place of residence will be covered.

Naturally, you want to avoid inflating travel costs on your own authority and without consulting your employer of choice.

Train, metro, or bus

Bus and Train picture

If your current place of residence and the prospective place of work are far apart, the potential employer must pay the ticket costs for the train journey. This is usually a 2nd class ticket.

First-class travel only has to be paid for in the case of outstanding positions where the applicant can expect to travel in keeping with his or her rank.

Car

A red oldtimer beetle

If you travel by car, you can basically charge the actual costs incurred. However, it is not easy to determine and prove these costs in individual cases.

Therefore, it is currently customary to charge EUR 0.30 per kilometer traveled. This applies to the outward and returns journey.

Taxi

Travel expenses for taxi drive to employer

The company’s location is not always close to a bus stop. Or there may be no bus at the time of your interview. In such cases, take a taxi and have the costs reimbursed. Usually, the HR department will notify you of this beforehand. Or simply ask if there is a bus connection they can recommend to you. If not, your only option is to take a taxi. Another option is for the company to organize someone to pick you up or give you a lift. Simply ask beforehand, so you prove to be well-informed as well as willing to cooperate.

Flight / Overnight stay and accommodation costs

Costs for accommodation and meals may also be incurred. This is the case if the applicant cannot arrive and depart within one day.

Or because the selection procedure is lengthy, such as in the case of assessment centers that last several days. The company is then obliged by labor law to pay for these as well.

In any case, please consult with the inviting company beforehand. However, it’s usual for the company to inform you about this with the invitation. After all, you have to budget for it. Larger companies might book a room for you in a hotel with which they have special contracts and get a bulk discount.


How to claim travel expenses?

Reimbursement will be made after the interview. There are these two options:

#1: The company informed you along with the invitation

Super, if you have already received information about the reimbursement of costs with the interview invitation.

You probably got a form already. Everything is listed here in detail: Contact person, the details, and whether a copy of the original ticket should be enclosed.


#2: The company did not say about refund

That’s fine. All you need is a written invitation to the interview. Then, once the interview is over, you have the right to request reimbursement of costs. As a rule, you can only submit a claim for costs that you can prove by a receipt.

This can be done “formlos” when you get back home. As far as I know, even though I am not a lawyer, the claim only becomes time-barred after three years.

Thinking about the best timing of the request for a refund, I believe it would be best after a refusal. Well, at least if the company didn’t hand you a form for the refund in the first place.


Things to include in the travel expenses statement

If you write to the company asking for a refund (see template), I would always enclose a copy of it but keep the original.

Car

Train, metro, bus, taxi

Accounting for travel expenses is an administrative task of the HR department. They are available to answer any questions you may have. The invitation to the interview already gave you a contact person who you can talk to if you have any questions.


Refund of travel expenses by Agentur für Arbeit

If you live in Germany and are registered with the employment agency, you can apply for reimbursement of costs, conveniently done via online upload. However, this is only possible if the application is submitted before the interview date.

The Employment Agency may also offer its services to individuals who have not yet worked in Germany. Financial assistance in the form of unemployment benefits can only be granted if a person has been working in Germany for at least 12 months.

The Employment Agency may also cover 100% of the costs for a Guiding & Coaching program by me, even if you haven’t yet any work experience in Germany. If you want to learn more, book a free call with me.


Bottom line

Applicants are in a weaker position vis-à-vis companies. For this reason, the law stipulates that the expenses for a written invitation to a personal interview must be borne by the inviting company.

If in doubt, I highly recommend contacting the company’s human resources manager before the interview to confirm that the costs are covered by the company.

Please take into account that the reimbursement to your account may take some time.


FAQ about the reimbursement of travel expenses

You thank them very much for the conversation. That you enjoyed it. And you ask who you can send the travel expenses to. Then use the sample letter to request to pay you back your expenses.

No, absolutely not. It’s a common procedure. It doesn’t reflect badly on you simply because it’s a matter of right.
You’re not improving your situation as an applicant by not having the reimbursement. Remember that the application stage is costly and involves a lot of work for you.

The reimbursement of travel expenses is an administrative process and has nothing to do with any personal feelings. Also, it has nothing to do with gratitude or unthankfulness. No need to feel uncomfortable, nor it’s a sign that you can’t afford the journey from your own resources.
Submitting a request for reimbursement is standard. Your manager probably even doesn’t know that you have waived it.

That’s a bit of a philosophical question because you couldn’t care less. But if you’re curious, let me offer these two explanations:

First: The company probably didn’t even think about it. Or the person responsible for the invitation probably didn’t think about it. Some companies don’t have a human resources department dedicated solely to recruiting. But it doesn’t change the fact that they will reimburse you immediately. That won’t make the company go bankrupt.

Second: The company simply doesn’t think it’s their job to tell you about it 😁. Upon your request, the company will of course reimburse the costs. But if you don’t make a claim, they won’t cry either.

No, that is not the case. Compensation for a day of leave taken by the applicant for the interview, on the other hand, does not have to be paid.

No way. It’s totally irrelevant for the question of reimbursement of costs whether an employment relationship actually comes into being.

Claim your travel expenses no matter what. It doesn’t matter at all why you don’t sign the contract.