Are you an expat living in Germany? Find out how you can become a citizen with our guide on how to get German citizenship.
German citizenship means you’ll be able to live in Germany indefinitely. This will give you the right to vote, consular protection, free movement and unrestricted access to the German jobs market. For foreigners in Germany, nationality offers much more stability.
The good news is that expats can usually apply for German citizenship if they’ve had a German residence permit for a certain number of years. However, if you’re only just moving to Germany, see our guide to German visas and permits.
This guide covers the following:
- Citizenship in Germany
- Citizenship by birth in Germany
- Citizenship by descent in Germany
- Getting citizenship by naturalization/residence in Germany
- Citizenship test in Germany
- Getting German citizenship by marriage
- Citizenship as a refugee in Germany
- Passports in Germany
- Dual nationality in Germany
- Losing or renouncing German citizenship
- Citizenship appeals and complaints in Germany
- Useful resources
Schlun & Elseven
Schlun & Elseven are a well-established law firm offering clear and professional legal advice for expats moving to Germany. Whether you're an entrepreneur or a young family, their full-service immigration team can provide dedicated assistance for every step of your relocation to Germany.
Citizenship in Germany
The German Federal Foreign Office is in charge of citizenship in Germany. The process of becoming a German citizen is notoriously bureaucratic; there tends to be a lot of paperwork and it can be quite complicated.
That being said, there are a lot of expat citizens living in Germany. According to Eurostat, 115,400 new citizenships were granted in Germany in 2017 – the third highest in the EU.
In addition to being able to vote, get consular protection and unrestricted access to the job market, German citizens also have to take on certain responsibilities.
These include integrating into German society, obeying all German laws and you may have to serve in the German military.
There are three main ways to get German citizenship:
- Naturalization: you’ll have to fulfil certain requirements set by the German government to qualify, such as living in the country for a certain amount of time. This varies depending on the grounds you’re seeking citizenship.
- By right of blood: if your parents are German.
- By right of soil: if you are born in Germany.
Citizenship by birth in Germany
If you’re born in Germany, you will often automatically get German citizenship. This is called ‘by right of soil’.
If neither parent is German, there are some important additional requirements. The child can only get German citizenship if, at the time of birth, at least one parent:
- had been living in Germany for at least eight years
- had permanent residence status in Germany
- is Swiss.
In these cases, the child will also be entitled to take the nationality of the parents.
When the child is between 18 to 23-years-old they will then have to choose whether they want to keep their German nationality, or that of their parents.
Citizenship by descent in Germany
Citizenship by descent refers to the ‘by right of blood’ circumstance.
A child is automatically considered a German citizen from birth if they are born to at least one German parent. This is irrespective of whether the child was born in Germany or abroad.
This is also the case if a child is adopted by German parents when they are under 18-years-old.
However, if a child is born outside of Germany to a German parent, who was also born abroad after 1 January 2000 and hasn’t returned to Germany, then the child can’t be a German citizen by descent.
The only way around this issue is to register the birth with a German embassy or consulate within one year. It’s also possible to get around this ruling if denying German citizenship would mean the child is stateless.
Any child born to one foreign parent and one German parent, or to a parent holding German dual nationality, will get citizenship of all their parents’ nationalities.
However, this is only temporary. When the child reaches 18 years old, he or she has five years to choose between German citizenship by descent, or the nationality of the parents.
If a child has a German father who is not married to the mother, acknowledgement or legal establishment of paternity is required before the child turns 23 in order to claim German citizenship.
Getting citizenship by naturalization/residence in Germany
Most expats will need to apply for German citizenship by naturalization.
There are many requirements you’ll have to fulfil before you can apply. They include:
- Living in Germany on a residence permit for at least 8 years
- Living in Germany on a residence permit for at least 7 years, and attended an integration course
- Being able to speak and write in German to a good standard (equivalent to level B1 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages)
- Being financially able to support yourself and your family without any help from the state
- Not having a criminal record
- Passing a citizenship test (more on this below)
- Renouncing any previous citizenships.
If you are required to prove your German-language skills, you can attend a full integration course and obtain the ‘DTZ – German test for immigrants’ certificate.
Part of the integration course also tackles several themes covered by the citizenship test. Check online to find the closest integration course venue.
You could also use a Zertifikat Deutsch certificate or equivalent language certificate. This includes presenting a high school certificate or university diploma from a German education institution. You can find a variety of language schools in Germany.
How to apply for citizenship through naturalization/residence
If you meet all of the requirements listed above, you can then apply for citizenship. Parents and legal guardians should apply for children aged under 16.
You can get an application form from your local immigration office, city council, regional district office or town council. The application costs €255 for adults and €51 for children under 16-years-old.
In addition to the form, you’ll need to supply the following documents to prove that you meet the naturalization requirements:
- Bank statements to prove your financial position
- German residence records
- Proof of your German language skills, mentioned above
- Receipts to show you’ve paid the fees
- Naturalization certificate from passing the citizenship test
When you have collected all completed documents, you need to submit your application to the office which originally issued the application form.
Citizenship test in Germany
In order to apply for citizenship, you’ll need to have passed the German citizenship test. The test lasts for one hour and consists of 33 multiple choice questions on different topics. These include ‘Living in a democracy’, ‘History and responsibility’ and ‘People in society’.
In addition to this, there will also be specific questions about the particular state in which you live.
You have to answer at least 17 questions correctly to pass the test, and you can re-sit the test if you don’t pass. If you pass, you’ll be given a certificate to present to the naturalization authorities.
The German citizenship test itself costs €25. However, you’ll have to pay a further €25 to get the certificate you need for your application.
The local naturalization office in your area can tell you where your nearest test centre is so you can register. You need to bring a form of ID on the test day.
There’s a free Online Test Centre to help people practice for the test. Furthermore, some Federal Länder offer naturalization courses to help you prepare.
The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) has more information about the test including how to prepare, free online tests, and where to take it.
Citizenship test exemptions
A few people are exempt from taking the citizenship test. These include:
- children under 16-years-old
- anyone who cannot take the test due to old age, illness or because of a disability
- those with a higher education degree in politics, law or social sciences from a German university.
Getting German citizenship by marriage
Marrying a German citizen doesn’t automatically entitle you to a German nationality.
There are additional requirements you’ll have to meet – you must have been married for at least two years, and been a legal resident in Germany for at least three years to qualify.
If you get married in Germany after arriving in the country, the process for claiming German citizenship by marriage can take longer.
To get a German citizenship by marriage, you’ll need to apply for naturalization and fulfil all of the requirements needed, in addition to the marriage requirements.
For more information, read our Guide to getting married in Germany.
Citizenship as a refugee in Germany
For anyone living in Germany as a refugee, the process of applying for German citizenship by naturalization also applies.
The same conditions must be met, and refugees must also give up their home country citizenship.
Passports in Germany
You might want to get a German passport (deutscher Reisepass) once you have your German citizenship.
To apply, you’ll need to make an appointment at the citizens’ office in your municipality, and must attend in person as your fingerprints will be taken for a biometric passport.
You’ll need to provide the original and one photocopy of the following:
- passport application form
- current passport
- birth certificate (if it’s not in German or English, you must also provide a translation)
- marriage certificate/extract of German family book (if applicable)
- German naturalization certificate (if applicable)
- recent proof of address
- two recent identical passport photos
As of 2012, all children must also have their own passports, which parents must apply for.
It usually takes three to six weeks to receive your new passport.
Dual nationality in Germany
Most people will have to give up their nationality in order to get German citizenship. However, certain people can hold two citizenships:
- Children with one German and one foreign parent, or a parent who has two citizenships
- Re-settlers of ethnic German descent and their family members (admitted along with them)
- Those from countries that do not allow them to give up their citizenship
- Germans who acquire citizenship of another EU country or Switzerland.
There are also special cases when it comes to dual citizenship between Germany and the UK, and Germany and the USA.
Children born with one German parent and one parent from the USA or UK can retain both citizenships – although, in the case of the UK, this may change depending on the terms of Brexit.
If you hold German dual citizenship, you are still viewed as a German citizen, and have the same rights as any German citizen while you are living in Germany.
However, if you choose to live in the country of your other citizenship you will lose your right to claim German consular protection and can only claim the services of the other country.
Losing or renouncing German citizenship
A German citizenship is not necessarily permanent. Although you can’t renounce your German citizenship, you can lose it.
So, if someone of German nationality wants to renounce their citizenship to avoid an obligation such as paying German taxes or talking part in military service, they will not be allowed to do so.
However, you can lose German citizenship by:
- being offered citizenship from a country that’s not in the EU or Switzerland. If you don’t notify your German municipal office or German mission abroad when getting another citizenship, then you could get a penalty
- joining military forces of a country where you hold another citizenship without getting the permission of the German authorities
- being arrested for illegal activities – this only applies to those whose German citizenship was obtained through naturalization.
You can reapply for naturalization if you lose your German citizenship. The process will be the same, and you will have to give up all previous citizenships.
Citizenship appeals and complaints in Germany
There is a chance your citizenship application could be refused. If this happens you can appeal the decision. You need to do this within one month of receiving the refusal.
However, you can only appeal if you think the decision to reject your application is unfair. So, if you think this is the case you’ll need to send a letter explaining why you disagree with the decision. This can be sent either by post or email (as long as it includes your signature) to the Office of Administration.
It’s advisable to provide all documentation you think might strengthen your argument.
If your application is rejected again, you have the option to file a court case against the authority (Verwaltungsgericht). You might want some professional legal help at this stage, as you’ll have to provide the legal information relating to the case.