Certain nationalities coming to Germany need a work permit, student visa, or family reunion visa to stay in the country. Make sure you check the requirements well in advance before traveling to Germany to avoid any problems at the border.
Read the following sections to find out all about:
- Immigration in Germany
- Who needs a German visa?
- Types of German visas
- Short-stay German visas
- Long-term German visas
- Asylum seekers and refugees in Germany
- Residence and citizenship in Germany
- Arriving in Germany
- Appeals and complaints
- Useful resources
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Immigration in Germany
As the most populous and economically powerful nation in the EU, Germany attracts many people each year who visit, live temporarily, or settle. In fact, German authorities approved 185,570 first-time visa applications in 2021, behind only Italy (274,095), France (285,190), Spain (371,778), and Poland (967,345). These figures decreased significantly from recent peaks in 2019 due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. However, they are expected to pick up again over the next couple of years.
Like many EU/EFTA countries, Germany operates a two-tier immigration system. EU/EFTA citizens can travel and live in Germany without visa or permit restrictions. However, anyone from outside the EU/EFTA needs a visa if they stay longer than three months. Germany is also part of the Schengen Area, meaning that it has no border controls for nationals from 25 other European countries.
Just over 14% of the German population (11.8 million) is foreign-born. Nearly twice as many have a migrant background (22.3 million, or almost 27%).
The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge – BAMF) is the government agency responsible for issuing visas and integrating new arrivals in Germany.
Who needs a German visa?
Citizens from the European Union (EU) or European Free Trade Association (EFTA – consisting of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland) don’t need a German visa or residence permit. They simply need a valid passport or ID card to show at border control. EU/EFTA citizens can stay for more than three months if they are working, training, studying, looking for work, or have sufficient funds to support themselves.
Certain family members of EU/EFTA nationals can travel and stay in Germany without needing a visa.
Citizens from outside the EU/EFTA generally need a German visa to come to Germany. Certain countries have agreements with Germany that allow their citizens to stay for up to 90 days without a visa. However, they will need a German visa or residence permit to stay longer than this. The EU also plans to introduce the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) by the end of 2023. This is an electronic visa waiver system that will be a requirement for anyone from these 62 countries staying in the Schengen Area for less than three months.
If you are from a country that doesn’t have a visa agreement with Germany, you will need to apply for a visa to enter, and you will need a German residence permit if your stay is longer than three months.
Different rules apply to ethnic German resettlers descended from German nationals living in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, who can automatically obtain German citizenship. Special rules also apply to Jewish migrants coming to Germany.
UK nationals in Germany since Brexit
Following Britain’s withdrawal from the EU, effective from 1 January 2021, UK nationals are now subject to immigration controls in Germany and other member states. The UK is one of the 62 nations whose citizens can travel visa-free to Germany for up to 90 days. However, UK nationals are not allowed to take up employment or any economic activity in Germany during this period. Additionally, family members accompanying UK nationals will need a visa if they are not from a country with a visa agreement in place.
Those from the UK wanting to stay in Germany for more than 90 days will need a relevant German visa or residence permit relating to their stay.
Types of German visas
There are essentially two types of German visas:
- Short-stay visas, also known as Schengen type C visas, which are valid for stays of up to 90 days in any 180-day period
- Long-stay visas, also known as type D National visas, are for stays of over 90 days.
Short-stay German visas
Short-stay visas allow you to visit Germany for no more than 90 days within a period of 180 days. You must have a reasonable purpose for entering Germany, enough money to fund your visit and departure, and health insurance coverage for the entire stay.
General information about short-stay Germany visas
You can apply for a short-stay German visa at any of the following:
- German embassy or consulate in your home country
- Visa application center
- Embassy/consulate of another Schengen country
You will need to provide the following:
- Completed visa application along with accompanying declaration form
- Two passport photos
- Valid passport or travel ID
- Details of your return flight
- Accommodation details for your stay
- Proof of health insurance
- Proof of sufficient funding to cover your trip, currently amounting to at least €45 a day
- Information confirming the purpose of your trip
- Any relevant documentation relating to the purpose of your trip
Short-stay visas typically take around 15 days to process. As part of the application process, you will need to attend a short interview at the embassy, consulate, or application center. The visa costs €80, €40 for children aged under 12, and is free for children under six. You usually cannot extend or exchange this visa unless there are exceptional circumstances.
You can use a tourist visa for vacations or visiting family or friends. However, you will need to provide proof of relationship if staying with relatives, or a letter from the tour organizer if you are traveling as part of an official tour. If people you are staying with are covering any of your expenses, you can include proof of this (for example, bank statements or receipts) as part of your evidence of sufficient funding.
Business visas cover business meetings, events, conferences, and other purposes relating to work or self-employment. You will need to provide a letter of invitation from the host organization in Germany, or a letter of permission from your employer in your home country.
Visa for official visits
This visa is for:
- Events held by intergovernmental organizations
You will need to provide a letter of invitation from the host organization with your other documents, plus a note from the consular department if you are traveling on official diplomatic business.
You can apply for a medical visa for treatment in a German hospital or specialist center. In addition to the standard documentation, you also need to provide:
- Letter from a doctor or medical specialist in your home country confirming that you need treatment abroad
- Confirmation from the institution in Germany that they have agreed to provide the treatment
- Proof of upfront payment for the treatment or evidence that your health insurance covers it
Visa for cultural and sports events or film crews
This very particular visa is for those participating in cultural events, sports, official filming, or religious activities. You will need to provide event information, for example, an official program, invitation letters, or tickets purchased. For filming events, you need to provide information about the film, a list of crew members, a letter from the filmmakers, and proof that the visa holders are qualified and authorized as a film-making crew.
Trade fair and exhibitions visa
This visa is for events relating to work or leisure. You will need to provide a letter of invitation or proof of ticket purchase to confirm your attendance. In addition, you also need to give the business license details of the organizers.
Training or internship visas are for students staying for a short time, and for training visits. You will need to show confirmation of acceptance onto the course, or a letter confirming the internship from the host organization. If the placement involves paid work, you may need a work permit from the local employment agency. It’s advisable to apply early if this is the case.
Some nationals need these visas to pass through Germany by plane or boat, for example, if you are changing flights in Germany. The cost of this visa is €60.
Long-term German visas
Long-stay German visas, or type D national visas, are for stays in Germany of longer than three months. If you’re a national of a country that needs a visa to enter Germany, you will need to apply for a visa and residence permit before you arrive. Otherwise, you can either apply before you arrive or apply for a residence permit once you are in Germany.
There are several different work-related visas for long-term work in Germany. These are:
- Skilled workers with vocational qualifications – for workers qualified in vocational fields, for example, construction, hospitality, or plumbing
- Graduate workers – for those qualified to at least degree level
- Skilled workers without training or qualifications – for IT specialists with at least three years’ experience
- Scientists – for researchers and PhD students
- Intra-corporate transfer (ICT) employees – for managers, specialists, and trainees
- Self-employment and freelancing – to start your own business if you can show proof of funding and demonstrate your idea will benefit the German economy; or for freelancers with a necessary license to practice one of the liberal professions
- Au pairs – 12-month visa for au pairs aged under 27
- Internships – for students wanting to carry out professional work experience
- Working holidays – for nationals of certain countries aged 18-30 to take part in a program lasting up to 12 months
- Volunteering – to take part in European Voluntary Service (EVS) activities
- Visas for nationals of specific countries – citizens of 16 countries can get a residence permit without any qualifications if they have a job offer in Germany
These visas typically last for as long as your job contract, up to five years. After this, you can usually apply for a permanent German residence permit.
If you are a graduate or a skilled worker with vocational qualifications, you can get a work visa to look for a job for up to six months. Everyone else needs a job offer to get a German visa for work purposes.
There are four types of long-stay study visas in Germany:
- Student visa – for full-time higher education learning at a college or university
- School visas – for school exchanges, language courses, or attending an independent German school for an extended period
- Vocational training visa – for either school-based or in-company dual training at a German technical college, vocational college, or vocational school
- Language course visa – for German language courses lasting up to 12 months
As with work visas, these German visas are typically for the duration of your placement. You can take up part-time work on a student or vocational training visa, but this is restricted to 10 hours per week on the vocational visa.
If you graduate from a German educational institution, you can stay in Germany for up to 12 months to look for a job on a vocational visa, and up to 18 months on a student visa.
Family reunion visas
Spouses/partners and dependent children under 18 (older if they meet certain conditions) can apply for a family reunion Germany visa. In addition, the following relatives can also apply:
- Family members of German nationals – parents or dependent children aged under 18, plus other dependent relatives in certain circumstances
- Relatives of EU/EFTA nationals – children aged under 18-21 (if EU family member is employed), plus grandchildren, parents, and grandparents if they are dependants
- Family members of third-country nationals – other dependent relatives in certain circumstances
Family members joining on a reunion visa have the right to seek work in Germany. However, anyone traveling as a dependant will need to prove that the relative they are joining has enough money to support them. They will also need to live in the same household as a family unit.
General information about long-stay German visas
The application process for long-stay German visas is largely the same as for short-stay visas if you apply in your home country before entering Germany. However, if you apply once you are inside Germany, you will need to visit your local immigration office (Ausländerbehörde).
In addition to the standard documentation, you will typically need to provide:
- Proof of the reason for your stay, for example, job contract, confirmation of study placement, or marriage certificate.
- Evidence of necessary qualifications needed for your job or study placement, along with German recognition of any foreign qualifications or certificates.
- Proof that you can understand German at a level that corresponds to your job or study. If you are an adult applying on a family visa, you typically need to demonstrate a basic level of German.
Long-stay visas generally cost €75, or €37.50 for children. Your spouse and any dependent children under 18 can apply with you, although they will need to make their own visa application. Alternatively, they can apply later for a family reunion visa.
Asylum seekers and refugees in Germany
With around 1.24 million refugees and 233,000 asylum seekers as of mid-2021, Germany hosts more displaced people than anywhere else in Europe. Half of the refugees living in the country in 2021 were from Syria, and by April 2022, Germany had registered 316,000 Ukrainian refugees. In addition, there were 148,200 first-time asylum applications in Germany in 2021, accounting for 27.2% of the EU total.
You can apply for asylum in Germany through the BAMF. You can do this in several places, including:
- Border control
- Any police station
- Local immigration office
- Any asylum center, for example, a local arrival, decision, and return (AnkER) facility
Once you have made your application, it will be processed through the BAMF, and you will receive a temporary residence permit. Asylum seekers in Germany are distributed across the federal states through a quota system. Some are housed in reception and accommodation centers, while others get private accommodation. The process can take a few months, during which time the authorities will interview you and check your case. Asylum seekers receive €354 a month if privately accommodated, or €135 a month in an asylum center. They can work without restriction in Germany after three months.
To make an application, you should provide the following if you have it:
- Any form of ID you have, for example, passport or birth certificate
- Documentation detailing your reasons for seeking asylum if possible, for example, court order, arrest warrants, threatening letters, or witness statements
- Any other information that may support your application, for example, medical letters
Decisions on asylum applications in Germany
The BAMF will review your application and arrive at one of the following decisions:
- Granting of full refugee status in Germany
- Acknowledgment of entitlement to asylum
- Offer of subsidiary protection
- National ban on deportation
- Rejection of application
You will receive a residence permit valid for three years if you have refugee protection, or one year if you have subsidiary protection or are granted a deportation ban.
If your application is rejected, you will be given 30 days to leave Germany (or one week if your application is rejected as ‘manifestly unfounded’). You can appeal the decision through the German administrative courts. If this is not successful, you can take your appeal to one of the following:
- European Court of Justice (ECJ)
- Federal Constitutional Court of Germany (BVerfG)
- European Court of Human Rights (ECHR)
Residence and citizenship in Germany
EU/EFTA nationals don’t need to apply for a residence permit to move to Germany. However, they need to register with the local residents’ registration office (Einwohnermeldeamt) if staying for longer than three months.
Third-country nationals will need to apply for a German residence permit if staying for longer than three months. If you need to apply for an entry visa, you will usually do this through the German embassy/consulate or visa application center in your home country, along with your visa application before you arrive. Otherwise, you can do this through your local Immigration Office (Ausländerbehörde) within the first three months of your stay.
Types of German residence permits
There are essentially three broad types of residence permits in Germany. These are:
- Temporary residence permits – usually valid for up to five years. These permits may be valid for shorter periods, for example, one year, but you can renew them. They will be linked to the purpose of your stay.
- EU Blue Card – this is a four-year permit for highly skilled and qualified migrants that allows holders to travel to and work in other EU/EFTA countries.
- Permanent residence permits – you can usually apply for this after five years of living continuously in Germany on a temporary permit. This is shorter in some cases, for example, two years for skilled workers who have graduated from a German university and 33 months for EU Blue Card holders.
Residence card costs vary slightly across the German states, and depend on the length and purpose of your stay. Temporary permits are usually €50-100, while permanent permits can cost €110-150. The EU Blue Card is currently €110. You will have to pay to renew any of these permits.
Once you have lived in Germany for eight years (in most cases), you can apply for full German citizenship and get a German passport if you meet the eligibility criteria.
Since 2011, Germany has issued electronic residence permits.
Residence permits for UK nationals living in Germany after Brexit
Although UK citizens are now subject to German immigration controls since the implementation of Brexit on 1 January 2021, those living in Germany before that date can benefit from the Withdrawal Agreement. This means that they can apply for a new residence card through their local immigration office (Ausländerbehörde), which gives them the same rights as they had as EU citizens.
The new residence card is valid for either five or ten years. After eight years of continuous residence, British nationals may apply for German citizenship. The deadline for applying for the new permit was 30 June 2021.
Family members of UK citizens living in Germany before 1 January 2021 can also apply for residence through the scheme. This applies to spouses/partners, children under 21, and any dependent direct ascendant or descendant relatives.
Arriving in Germany
All new arrivals in Germany need to register with their local residents’ registration office (Einwohnermeldeamt) if staying for longer than three months. You should do this within two weeks of arriving. Registration is required for tax and social security purposes.
Other things you may want to consider during the first days of arriving are:
- Registering for healthcare in Germany
- Opening a German bank account
- Sorting out your utilities and telecommunications
- Getting a German SIM card
If you want to learn more about German culture and society or fit in with the locals, you can enroll in one of the many integration courses.
Appeals and complaints
If your visa application has been turned down, you can appeal the decision with the German embassy or consulate within one month of receiving the verdict.
If you are unhappy with the outcome of your appeal, you can take it to the administrative courts in Germany within one month of receiving the decision.
- Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge – BAMF) – German government body responsible for immigration, visas, and permits
- Federal Foreign Office (Auswärtiges Amt) – government information about visas