Work in Germany: Getting a German work permit
If you want to work in Germany – and you're not from the EU/EEA or Switzerland – you'll need a work permit, which will be linked to your residence status in Germany.
While Germans are ranked as the 7th hardest working Europeans, spending on average 41.2 hours a week in the workplace, they also enjoy an above average amount of holidays. So it's work hard, play hard in the Federal Republic. But unless you're a national from the EU/EEA or Switzerland, you'll need a residence permit if you want to work in Germany. The right to work – and to what extent you can work -– will be detailed on your residence permit.
If you're joining a relative who has permission to work in Germany, you will also be allowed to work. However, in most other cases, citizens from countries outside of the EU/EEA/Switzerland can only work in Germany if the position cannot be filled by a worker from the EU/EEA/Switzerland – or if they are highly skilled or highly qualified.
As Germany is keen to attract professionals into the country long-term, such as natural scientists (biologists, physicists and chemists), engineers, IT specialists, other senior personnel and academics, these people are granted preferential permits.
Types of German work visa
Permits for general employment
If you are coming to work in general employment (that is, a job that does not require you to be highly skilled or highly educated), you will need to apply for a residence permit for the purpose of general employment, and you will only be eligible if the position cannot be filled by a worker from the EU/EEA or Switzerland. You will need to have a vocational qualification and a firm offer of a job in Germany (and show both evidence of your qualification and an employment contract or letter of intent).
The permit is usually granted for one year and is extendable as long as your situation remains the same. After five years, you can apply for a settlement permit or EU right of residence in order to stay in the country indefinitely.
To apply for a residence permit, contact the German embassy or consulate in your home country/legal country of residence. You can get online application forms in different languages here:
Permits for university graduates
Do you have a university degree? If you're a foreign graduate coming from abroad, hold a recognised university degree and have sufficient funds to support you during your stay, you can come to Germany on a six-month residence permit to look for work. You are not permitted, however, to undertake any work while you're looking.
Foreign graduates from German universities who want to stay and look for work can apply to extend their existing residence permits for up to 18 months (and work unrestricted), as long as they have evidence of their degree, have health insurance and can support themselves financially.
Once you have found employment you can apply for a residence permit for employment. As from August 1, 2012, if you have a recognised university degree comparable to a German degree, and a firm job offer with annual gross earnings of least EUR 46,400 (or in the case of highly qualified people in mathematics, natural sciences or technology, or medical doctors, a salary of EUR 36,192), you can apply for an EC Blue Card (Blaue Karte EU).
This is usually granted for four years (or the duration of your contract) and gives you certain benefits. If you don't meet the income requirement, then you will have to apply for a residence permit (see above).
EU Blue Cards
To apply for an EU Blue Card you need:
- a university degree from a German university or equivalent from a foreign university; and
- a guaranteed job in Germany with an income of EUR 46,000 EUR (EUR 36,192 in shortage occupations).
- Residence for four years (or duration of employment contract).
- Permanent residency after 33 months (21 months if you have achieved level B1 in German language proficiency).
- You can stay outside Germany in non-EU countries for 12 months without the EU Blue card expiring, and move to another EU country (except the UK, Ireland and Denmark) for the purpose of highly qualified work after 18 months without the need for a visa.
- Family members can come to Germany and work immediately without restriction or the need to prove German language skills, as well as receive all the other benefits.
To apply, go to the website of the German embassy or consulate in your home country/legal country of residence. You can find the contact details and website address of all the German embassies and consulates here.
Permits for highly skilled workers earning EUR 84,600+
Those who fit this category can apply for a settlement permit, entitling you – and your family members – to live and work in Germany indefinitely (if you were to come to Germany on a regular residence permit, you would have to be resident for five years before applying for a settlement permit). You will need to have a specific job offer and the permission of the Federal Employment Agency.
Permits for students
Do you want to undertake a professional or vocational training course?
You can be granted a residence permit to come to Germany for professional or industrial training (which must also have been advertised to German nationals or privileged foreign nationals) with the approval of the Federal Employment Agency.
If you're a graduate of a German college abroad you may be granted the same permit without the approval of the Agency. You can work up to 10 hours a week on this permit, which lasts for two years (or the duration of the training, if less than two years). You can extend your residence permit for another year while you seek work. For more information see the website of the Federal Employment Agency.
Permits for self-employed/freelancers
If you want to come to Germany to set up a business, you can apply for a residence permit for self-employed business purposes. It is valid for three years and can be extended if the business is successful.
You need to prove that the business will fulfill a need in Germany, benefit the country economically and be fully financed by a bank loan or your own capital. You'll need to have a viable business plan, relevant experience, and show how your business will contribute to innovation and research in Germany.
When you apply, you will have to provide evidence of all of these things, plus proof of pension provision if you're over 45.
Freelancers can also apply for a residence permit for self-employment, which are those defined as self-employed people working in science and engineering, the arts, professional writing or teaching, or who offer a professional service, such as a doctor, dentist or lawyer.
You will need to provide evidence:
- that there's a need for your services in Germany;
- of your qualifications; and
- that you can finance yourself.
See here for more information on setting up business in Germany, and details of the German Chambers of Trade, Commerce and Industry.
Permits for scientific researchers
If you want to come to Germany a researcher, then you need to have a ‘host' agreement (contract) with a research institute recognised by BAMF, which will confirm the details of the research that you will be carrying out, and that you are properly qualified and financially secure.
Residence titles for researchers are valid for at least one year (or the duration of the research if less). You can work in the same field while you are undertaking the research, and travel to other parts of the EU without a visa.
See here for a list of recognised research institutes and a sample ‘host agreement'. Another organisation, Euraxess Germany, provides comprehensive information on research jobs and funding opportunities.
Researchers may also be able to apply for the EU Blue Card, or a residence permit as an employee, self-employmed or as a highly qualified person, depending on personal circumstances.
Partners and relatives – who can work?
If you have come to Germany to join a family member or partner, you will also be able to work if your relative/partner has been authorised for employment, has a permit for research or an EU Blue Card, or is a highly skilled worker with a settlement permit.
For more information, see our guide on German permits for family reunification.
Finding a job in Germany
To find a job in Germany, you can search our own jobs pages at jobs.expatica.com. For more information on working in Germany, as well as work opportunities via their Job Exchange, see the Federal Employment Agency. For guidance, information and job vacancies for jobseekers, see European Employment Service (EURES).
For more information:
Contact the German embassy or consulate in your home country, or the BAMF Information service:
Monday to Thursday: 9 am to 3 pm
Friday: 9 am to 2pm
T: +49 911 943 6390
- Moving to Germany: Guide to German visas and permits
- German visa to join a relative or spouse in Germany
- A guide for EU/EEA/Swiss citizens moving to Germany
- A guide to German citizenship and permanent visas
Note: The information given here is for guidance only and you should seek specific advice from the German embassy or consulate in your home country.
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