German immigration and residency regulations

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Moving to Germany? Our guide to obtaining a Germany residence permit or visa will set you on track.

Germany operates a relatively straightforward permit system with the major distinction drawn between short and long stay visitors. Short-term visitors are those staying in the country for less than 90 days while anyone else counts as a resident. Work permits are rolled up into residence permits, offering a somewhat less bureaucratic approach than in some other countries.

Residence permit
Like in many other European countries, citizens from the EEA (EU plus Iceland, Norway and Lichtenstein) and Switzerland are free to live and work in Germany. The only requirement is to register with the appropriate office of the town hall in their local area (usually called Einwohnermedeamt or Bürgeramt). An exception to this applies to Romanian and Bulgarian nationals who require a residence/work permit to work in Germany.

Once a citizen from these countries has lived in Germany lawfully for five years without interruption they will gain the right of permanent residence. This five-year period also applies to the family members and spouses of EU citizens.

German immigration and residency regulationsGenerally all non-EU citizens who wish to work or study in Germany require a visa, if staying longer than 90 days. However nationals from a number of other countries are allowed to enter without a residence permit and then apply once they arrive - countries include those in the Schengen Agreement as well as United States, Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.

A full list of countries can be found via this link.

In addition nationals from some other countries can enter without a permit as long as they do not intend to work in Germany - Andorra, Brazil, El Salvador, Honduras, Monaco and San Marino. There are some restrictions in place such as needing to have a biometric passport, so the guidance should be consulted before traveling to Germany.
All other nationals wishing to stay in Germany for more than 90 days and who want to work or study in the country need to obtain a visa before entering the country. German consular authorities may issue a 90-day visa, which then allows a person to enter Germany where they can then contact the local Alien’s Office (Ausländerbehörde) after arriving in the country.

Examples of documents required:

  • Passport
  • 2 – 3 passport photos
  • Employment contract
  • CV and qualifications, such as degree certificates
  • Driver’s licence and/or utility bill

Working in Germany
Access to the German labour market is prioritised in favour of European citizens in the first instance, meaning that EEA and Swiss nationals can work freely in the country. The exception to this is for Bulgarian and Romanian nationals who will need an EU work permit until 31 December 2013.

Generally citizens of other countries can only work in Germany if employers cannot fill positions with European nationals. The exception to is for highly qualified individuals, particularly in areas of science, as well as other high-level professional workers (especially in business and industry), who are earning more than EUR 84,600 per annum. Highly qualified personnel can receive a settlement permit (Niederlassungserlaubnis) immediately and their family members are also entitled to work in Germany.

The right to work is included in the residence title that allows you to live in the country. It states whether you are allowed access to the labour market and to what extent.

Most nationals must obtain a residence title before entering Germany and this is applied for at the consular authority in the home country. They will send the visa application to the local aliens authority locality in Germany where you intend to live, which will make a decision in consultation with the local labour office. Therefore you must know in advance where in Germany you are planning to live.

Typically you will need some or all of the following documents when applying for a residence permit:

  • Passport (with at least 3 months remaining before expiry)
  • 2-3 current passport photos
  • Birth certificate
  • Security questionnaire
  • Proof of basic knowledge of German
  • Health insurance
  • Proof of financial means
  • Employment contract with relevant job details (e.g. occupation type, place of employment, salary, duration) (for employees)
  • Copy of certificate of German company registration (if applicable)
  • Copy of the company’s certificate of association
  • Letter of sponsorship

The processing time for applications usually takes several months.

Self-employed workers are welcomed to Germany but they must satisfy some criteria relating to their self-sufficiency. These include being able to provide either a superior economic interest or a special regional need, together with having a positive effect on the economy. Also relevant is the ability to secure financing. Residence title will be provided if the person can invest EUR 250,000 or higher and creates five jobs.

In addition to the ones mentioned above, the following documents are usually required:

  • Description of the firm (including business plans, financing, projections, marketing, employment provided) (for self-employed people)
  • Proof of qualifications and CV (for self-employed)

Bringing your family
A foreign spouse of a German citizen must show proof of German language skills when applying for a visa, before arriving in the country. Under the terms of the amended Immigration Act 2007, foreign spouses must be able to prove that they have a basic knowledge of German as a minimum.

Documentary requirements for all family reunion applications:

  • Passport
  • 2 - 3 passport photos
  • Birth certificate
  • Security questionnaire
  • Letter of invitation from the family member in Germany
  • Copy of the German based person’s federal identity card (or passport, registration card and valid residence permit)

Spousal applications also require:

  • Marriage certificate (if applicable)
  • Certificate showing the applicant’s name appears in the ‘National Indices of Marriages’
  • Signed family reunion declaration
  • Proof of basic knowledge of German
  • Copy of the federal identity card or passport of fiancé in Germany
  • Copy of valid residence card for fiancé in Germany
  • Confirmation from the German Registry Office (Standesamt) that an application for marriage has been successful (if applicable)
  • Formal Obligation of the German Residence Law, given by the fiancé in Germany at the aliens authority (Ausländerbehörde) (if applicable)
Parental applications must include:
  • Confirmation of the parents inclusion on the NSO Index
  • Marriage certificate
  • Proof of legal custody

Student permits
About 180,000 foreigners currently study in German universities each year. If you are studying on a short course (less than 90 days) then you can stay in the country on a short-term visa. However, anyone wishing to study in Germany for more than 90 days will require a visa before arriving in the country.

Individuals from non-European countries who require a residence visa can generally apply to the German consulate in their home country for a 90-day visa and then contact the Alien’s Office (Ausländerbehörde) for a residence visa upon arrival in Germany.

Documents required:

  • Passport
  • 2 - 3 passport photos
  • Confirmation of a study place in a German institution
  • Evidence of pervious academic performance
  • CV
  • Candidate statement regarding the motivation to come to Germany
  • Proof of financial support for one year in advance (EUR 7,908)
  • Proof of basic knowledge of German
  • Health insurance coverage (either privately or from a locally operating public insurer (Allgemeine Ortskrankenkasse or AOK)
  • Birth certificate (for a minor)
  • Notarized declaration of parental consent (for a minor)

A person is eligible for naturalization once they have lived legally in Germany for eight years and have permanent residence status. The individual must also declare their allegiance to democracy, have sufficient financial support for themselves and their family members and not have been convicted of a crime.

Spouses and minors may apply for naturalization at the same time, even if they have not lived in Germany for the eight-year period.

Applicants for citizenship are required to show knowledge of German and achieving a high level of competence can be beneficial in reducing the period of residence required to six years.

In addition naturalization applicants must pass a test demonstrating knowledge of the German legal system, society and living conditions.

The number of people taking German citizenship increased substantially over the last 25 years, tripling between 1994 and 2000. Partly as a result of this the law on nationality was reformed in 2000, which led to a drop in the number of naturalizations. In 2010 the figure stood at 101,570.

The most common ground for citizenship is on the basis of 8 years legal residence in Germany and possession of a settlement permit or valid residence permit.

Children born in Germany to non-German parents automatically acquire German citizenship at birth, as long as one of the parents has lived in Germany for at least 8 years and has the right of permanent residence.
Taking on German citizenship means renouncing a person’s previous citizenship. Exceptions to this rule are made where the other country does not allow renunciation of citizenship, in refugee cases or for citizens of the EU and Switzerland.



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