Find out if you can apply for German citizenship or permanent residence, and what benefits they offer. This guide explains also how to get German citizenship via marriage, descent, birth or naturalisation.
Residents in Germany can apply for German citizenship or permanent residence in Germany once they have been living in Germany on a German residence permit for a certain period of time.
Typically after eight years foreigners are eligible to apply for German citizenship, although there are time reductions if you are claiming German citizenship through birth, descent (parents) or marriage to a German citizen. German permanent residence can be applied for after five years, although exemptions also exist for shorter time requirements.
Looking at the German citizenship requirements, some foreigners prefer to stay living in Germany on a permanent visa, although they cannot claim the same rights as German citizens, such as voting. In either case, however, residents can live in Germany for the rest of their life.
This guides explains the processes and conditions for applying for either German citizenship or a German permanent resident permit, explaining which option would be suitable considering your circumstances.
German citizenship or permanent residency?
There are three ways to live in Germany indefinitely: permanent EC residence, a settlement permit and applying for German citizenship. The first two German permanent residences are very similar, the main difference being that the former allows you to live and work elsewhere in the EU while a settlement permit (or German permanent residence) is limited to Germany only. A German permanent permit, however, can be obtained sooner than a permanent EC residence in certain cases, for example, highly skilled workers can apply for a settlement permit immediately.
German citizenship offers the same rights as a German citizen, including the right to vote, consular protection, free movement and unrestricted access on the labour market. As a German citizen, however, you must renounce your current citizenship – unless you are exempt to have German dual nationality – and are subject to citizen and social duties, for example, court or electoral services. German dual nationality is typically offered to EU citizens and certain other categories, as well as to those who are unable to renounce their current citizenship (for example, refugees and asylum seekers).
It is still unclear how the British exit from the EU will affect the approximately 100,000 British expats in Germany. In any case, British expats are protected until EU negotiations are formalised, which will take a minimum of two years from when the UK initiated the process in March 2017. German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel has suggested that the EU should consider offering dual nationality to young British citizens – who largely voted to remain – ‘who live in Germany, Italy or France, so that they can remain EU citizens in this country’. British expats may be asked in the future to apply for a Blue Card, an approved EU-wide work permit that allows highly skilled, non-EU citizens to work and live in any country within the European Union, excluding Denmark and Ireland.
EC permanent residency requirements
If you have been living in Germany on a residence permit for five years, and satisfy certain other conditions, then you are entitled to stay living in Germany indefinitely on a permanent EC resident permit. Once you have this permit, whether it’s from Germany or another EU country, then you can live elsewhere in the EU permanently, too.
To apply for this type of permanent residence in Germany, you must:
- have been living in Germany for five, uninterrupted, years;
- have a secure livelihood with health insurance and provision for retirement (pension);
- have adequate living space (at least 13sqm per person);
- possess adequate German language skills and a basic knowledge of German life, legal and social systems (by taking an integration course);
- not have a criminal record.
If you hold a permanent EC resident permit from another EU country, to stay in Germany longer than three months you’ll also need to have a valid passport or ID, and provide information on your planned employment or study.
German permanent residence
A settlement permit – or German permanent residence – is another way you can stay in Germany indefinitely. It is very similar to the permanent EC residency except it does not allow you to move around the EU, and, in certain conditions, you can get it much sooner than five years.
Some examples of exemptions for getting German permanent residence earlier include:
- Highly qualified workers may be issued with a German settlement permit immediately.
- Graduates of a German higher education institute may be able to get a German permanent residence after two years.
- EU Blue Card holders can apply after working 33 months (or just 21 months with a level B1 language certificate).
- Self-employed people, with an established business and secure livelihood, may be able to get permanent residency in Germany after three years.
Depending on your own circumstances, you may have to prove that you have adequate German language skills, are able to support yourself financially, have health insurance, and do not have a criminal record.
For more information on these types of permits, and to apply, you’ll need to contact your foreign affairs office. To find yours, click here.
How to get German citizenship
Once you have been living permanently in Germany for eight years, you can apply to become a German citizen.
Becoming a German citizen not only means you’re more fully integrated into, and accepted by, German society but it also gives you the same rights and legal status as other German citizens – which German permanent residence permits do not.
With German citizenship, you will have the inalienable right to live in Germany, have basic constitutional rights (such as the freedom of assembly and association), you can vote, move freely through the EU, have consular protection and be exempt from certain German visa requirements – plus be eligible to become a civil servant.
Below are some German citizenship requirements depending on your reason for applying for German citizenship.
How to become a German citizen via naturalisation
If you want to become a German citizen via naturalisation, most people need to pass an hour-long naturalisation test – on legal and social aspects of life in Germany – and fulfil certain basic requirements, listed below.
To get German citizenship, you must:
- have right of residence at the time of your German citizenship application;
- have been living in Germany permanently and lawfully for eight years (seven if you’ve attended an integration course or six in special integration circumstances);
- be able to support yourself and dependent family members without the help of welfare or unemployment benefits;
- have adequate oral and written German language skills (equivalent to level B1 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages);
- have no criminal convictions;
- be committed to the constitutional principles of freedom and democracy.
If you do not fulfil every single condition, then you may be granted a discretionary naturalisation, if it is deemed that your German citizenship would be in the public interest.
If you are required to prove your adequate German-language skills, one option is to 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 naturalisation test. Find the closest integration course venue. Other ways to prove your German language skills include showing a Zertifikat Deutsch certificate or equivalent language certificate, or presenting a high school certificate or university diploma from a German education institution. You can find a variety of language schools in Germany.
Not everyone needs to take the German naturalisation test. Exemptions occur if you:
- are under 16;
- have graduated from a German school or a German university in law, social, political or administrative sciences;
- don’t meet the testing requirements through illness, disability or age are exempt.
Before you can acquire German citizenship you must also renounce your former nationality, however, German dual citizenship is allowed if:
- you’re from an EU member state or the former Soviet Union;
- you’re the child of parents from the US;
- you’re from a country, such as Morocco, Syria or Iran, that does not allow their citizens to relinquish their citizenship. In these cases you can have German dual citizenship.
German citizenship by marriage
Marrying a German citizen doesn’t automatically make you a German citizen yourself. Certain German citizenship requirements have to be met, including having been married for two years and legally residing in Germany for at least three years. If you get married in Germany after arriving, the process for claiming German citizenship by marriage can take longer.
German citizenship by descent
A child is considered German from birth if they are born to at least one German parent, irrespective of whether the child was born in Germany or abroad. However, a child cannot claim German citizenship by descent if they were born to a German abroad and their German parent was also born abroad after 1 January 2000 (and have not yet returned to Germany), unless it would mean a child is stateless or the birth is registered with a German embassy or consulate within one year.
Any child born to one foreign parent and one German parent, or to a parent holding German dual nationality, acquire all nationalities respective to their ancestry, however, only temporarily. When the child reaches 18 years old, he or she has five years to choose between German citizenship by descent and 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.
German citizenship by birth
If neither parent is German, a baby born on German soil automatically takes German nationality provided that at the time of birth at least one parent had been living in Germany for eight years and had German permanent residence or is Swiss. In these cases, a child is also entitled to take the nationality of the parents. This only applies, however, to children born after 1 January 2000; the claim period for children born before then has already closed.
Apply for German citizenship
Parents or legal representatives can apply for children under 16 years of age; those aged 16 or over can submit a German citizenship application themselves. The German citizenship application costs EUR 255, plus EUR 51 for each child.
Depending on where you live, you’ll need to get a German citizenship application form from your local immigration office, youth migration service or the town council or local authority. If you are located in an urban municipality, your local authority is the city council; if you live in an administrative district in Germany, you can contact your regional district office for help.
To find out which authority handles German citizenship applications in your area, you can ask your local advice office, regional advice office or local foreign affairs office. Your local citizenship authority will provide you with the information and documents you need for your specific case.
If you are abroad when applying for German citizenship, you need to seek advice from your local German embassy or mission.
Preparing for the German citizenship test
The German citizenship test, with an allocated time of one hour, consists of 33 multiple choice questions on different areas – ‘Living in a democracy’, ‘History and responsibility’ and ‘People in society’ – including some 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 naturalisation authorities.
The German citizenship test costs EUR 25, and the local naturalisation 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.
You can prepare for the German citizenship test using the government’s free Online Test Centre, while some Federal Länder also offer naturalisation courses to help you prepare (ask your local naturalisation authority). 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.
Cost of becoming a German citizen
German permanent residence costs around EUR 260. To become a German citizen via naturalisation costs EUR 255 (or EUR 51 for accompanying children), although low-income earners and large families might be offered to pay less or in instalments. Fees are typically cheaper for getting German citizenship via marriage, descent or birth, although your local authority will advise you.
German dual citizenship
While most nationalities must denounce their nationality in order to get German citizenship, German law permits certain people to hold two citizenships in certain circumstances.
German dual citizenship can be granted in the following situations:
- Children with one German and one foreign parent, or a parent who has two citizenships, automatically acquire all the citizenships of their parents.
- Resettlers of ethnic German descent and their family members (admitted along with them) do not have to renounce their previous citizenship when they acquire German citizenship.
- Germans who acquire citizenship of another EU country or Switzerland do not automatically lose their German citizenship.
Any child who acquires German citizenship by right of being born in Germany or naturalisation and who holds citizenship elsewhere must decide by age 23 whether to retain their German citizenship or give preference to the other citizenship.
Even if you hold German dual citizenship, you are still wholly viewed as a German citizen by German law and have the same rights as any German citizen. However, if you chose to live in your home country (or any country where you hold citizenship) you will lose your right to claim German consular protection; instead, you will be viewed by your home country as one of its citizens and thus their services apply.
How to lose German citizenship
If you hold German citizenship and acquire another nationality (except the nationality of one of the EU member states or Switzerland) you could lose your German citizenship. If applicable, the only way to avoid losing your German citizenship is to obtain permission to retain your nationality by the German authorities before acquiring a new foreign citizenship. If you don’t notify your German municipal office or German mission abroad when you acquire another citizenship, you could risk a penalty. In general it is possible to get German citizenship again in future if you still meet key conditions.
German nationals required to perform military service who voluntarily enter the forces or comparable armed groups of a country of which they are also a national without the consent of the district draft board lose their German nationality automatically.
For advice, you can contact the competent German mission covering your place of residence.
German citizenship contacts
- Federal Foreign Office: Requirements for German citizenship and FAQs
- BAMF information service: +49 911 943-0, Monday to Friday, 9am to 3pm, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Find your closest advice office, regional advice office or immigration office.
- Moving to Germany: Guide to German visas and permits
- Working in Germany: Getting a German work visa
- German visa for joining a relative or spouse in Germany
- A guide for EU/EEA/Swiss citizens moving to Germany
- A guide to German student visas