If you’re planning to find employment in Germany, you might need a work visa. Check which requirements apply to your situation.
Depending on where you’re from and how long you want to stay, you may need a German work visa and a residence permit to take up employment in the country. There are different types of permits, most of which are available if you have found a job in Germany.
Here’s a detailed overview of what you need to know regarding:
- Working in Germany
- Who needs a German work visa?
- Types of German work visa
- Short-stay German work visas
- Long-stay German work visas
- Work visas in Germany for students
- German work visas for self-employed, freelancers, and entrepreneurs
- Work visas in Germany for seasonal/temporary workers
- Volunteering and work experience in Germany
- Work visas in Germany for family members
- Appeals and complaints about German work visas
- 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 a graduate, entrepreneur or parent with a young family, their dedicated team can provide help and assistance for all your German work permit needs.
Working in Germany
Germany has the 4th largest economy in the world and the largest in Europe, thanks to world-leading industries such as car manufacturing and chemicals. This makes it an attractive country for people to relocate to for work. In addition, it has good universities, multicultural cities, and reasonable living costs compared to many other economically powerful countries.
Furthermore, Germany scores well on the OECD Better Life Index. The average net disposable household income is $38,971, and 77% of working-age people have a job. Although the economy is strong and there is an ethos of hard work, only 4% of Germans work very long hours compared to an OECD average of 10%. Working in Germany also means a guaranteed minimum wage and good social security benefits.
Similar to other EU/EFTA countries, Germany has a two-tier immigration system. EU/EFTA residents can move to Germany freely and find employment, while third-country nationals usually need a job offer and a permit to work there. There are 11.8 million foreign-born residents in Germany. Many take up high-skilled roles and fill shortage professions. In fact, migrant workers have played a key role in filling labor market gaps in Germany in recent years.
The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge – BAMF) is the government agency responsible for issuing all visas in Germany, including work visas.
Who needs a German work 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 work visa or residence permit. They simply need a valid passport or ID card to show at border control. Unemployed EU/EFTA citizens can stay for more than three months to look for work or take part in training.
EU/EFTA citizens staying longer than three months must register with their local residents’ registration office (Einwohnermeldeamt).
Certain family members of EU/EFTA nationals can come to Germany and work without needing a visa.
If you are a third-country national coming to work in Germany, you will need either a work visa or permit. You will also usually need a job offer before relocating. Sixty-two countries – including Australia, Brazil, Canada, Japan, and the US – have agreements with all Schengen Area countries, which allow their citizens to travel visa-free and stay for up to 90 days. However, they can only take up specific short-term employment or work-related training during this time. For stays of longer than 90 days, they will need a work-related residence permit that lasts for the duration of their employment.
If you are from a country that doesn’t have a visa agreement with Germany, you will need to apply for a work visa to enter, and you will also need a German residence permit if your stay is longer than three months.
UK nationals 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, unless it’s for specific short-term work or economic activity lasting less than three months, UK nationals will need a permit to work in Germany. Additionally, family members accompanying UK nationals will need a visa if they are not from a country with a visa agreement in place.
Certain family members of UK nationals living in Germany before 1 January 2021 and benefiting from the Withdrawal Agreement can come to Germany and work without needing a visa under similar terms to family members of EU/EFTA nationals. Find out more about the rights of UK nationals living in Germany on the German Ministry of the Interior website and the UK government website.
Types of German work visa
There are generally three types of work visas in Germany. These are:
- Short-stay work visas – valid for up to 90 days (three months) and not renewable.
- Long-term work visas – for anything lasting over three months. They are usually valid for 1-5 years, depending on the type of work. Many are renewable.
Short-stay German work visas
Short-stay German work visas are for work-related visits lasting less than three months. In general, Germany doesn’t offer temporary work positions for this duration. However, you can get the Schengen C short-stay visa to cover any short work assignments. These include:
- Business visa – to cover short-term work assignments, meetings, events, and conferences
- Visa for official visits – if you are part of a government or intergovernmental organization coming to Germany for negotiations, consultations, or events
- Visa for cultural or sports events or film crews – for work relating to the arts, culture, or sports
- Trade fair and exhibitions visa – for one-off industrial fairs or exhibition events
You will typically need to show proof of the purpose of your visit. For example, this could be:
- A letter of invitation
- A short-term employment contact detailing the start and end date of your employment
- A ticket to show your attendance at an event, fair, or exhibition
In addition to this, you’ll need to have sufficient funding to cover your stay. This currently amounts to €45 per day.
How to apply
You can apply for a short-stay Schengen visa at a German embassy or consulate in your home country, at any worldwide visa application center, or online via VIDEX. You will usually need to provide the following:
- Completed visa application form and accompanying declaration form (unless applying online)
- 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
These 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 cost is €80, €40 for children under 12, and free for children under six. You usually cannot extend or exchange this visa unless there are exceptional circumstances.
Short-stay visas are valid for a maximum of 90 days or a total of 90 days within a 180-day period. You cannot renew them afterwards, apart from in exceptional circumstances.
Long-stay German work visas
Long-stay visas in Germany are known as type D national visas. They are for stays lasting for over three months. There are many different forms of long-stay work visas in Germany, including:
- EU Blue Card – for university graduates with a skilled job offer paying a gross annual salary of €56,400 (or €43,992 for most STEM jobs).
- Graduate workers and holders of vocational qualifications – for other professional work where the salary doesn’t meet Blue Card requirements.
- Partially recognized qualifications – for workers with vocational qualifications not fully recognized. This visa allows you to train in Germany while working on getting other necessary qualifications.
- IT Specialists – for skilled IT workers without formal qualifications but at least three years’ recent experience and a job offer with a gross annual salary of at least €50,760
- Job seekers – for university graduates and those with vocational qualifications who haven’t got a job offer in Germany. This visa is valid for six months and allows them to look for work and transition to another work visa/permit if they find a job.
- Vocational training – for those with an apprenticeship contract with a German company. You can also get a 6-month visa to look for a vocational training contract if you are under 25 and speak German to at least B2 level.
- Intra-corporate transfers (ICT)– for managers, specialists, or trainees with companies based outside the EU that have a branch or subsidiary in Germany
- Au pairs – for those under 27 who want to come and work in Germany as an au pair. These visas are valid for up to one year.
- Visas for nationals of specific countries – for residents of 16 countries that have agreements in place with Germany. This visa allows individuals without professional qualifications to come and work in Germany if they have a definite job offer.
You will typically need an offer of work with a German employer unless you have a visa that allows you to come and look for work. In addition to this, you’ll need to have the necessary qualifications for the job and meet German language requirements (B1 in most cases, but B2 for some posts).
How to apply
You can apply for a long-stay Schengen Visa at a German embassy or consulate in your home country, at any worldwide visa application center, or online using VIDEX (in German). If you are from one of the 62 countries whose citizens don’t need a visa to enter Germany, you can apply for your work-related residence permit from inside the country at your local immigration office (Ausländerbehörde). Make sure you do this within three months of arriving.
Typical requirements for supporting documentation are:
- Completed application form
- Two passport photographs
- Valid passport or photo ID
- Proof of health insurance coverage
- Offer of employment in Germany, unless you are applying for a job-seeker visa
- Evidence of academic or vocational qualifications relevant to the post
- Proof of annual salary for positions where you need to earn a minimum (your employer can complete this form)
- Evidence of knowledge of German language if required (usually B1 level)
- Proof of a clean criminal record
Applications typically take between one and three months to process. However, for some skilled worker visas, your employer can apply for a fast-track procedure, which usually takes around 15 days.
Long-stay visas cost €75 for adults and €37.50 for those under 18. Certain groups also qualify for reduced prices or fee waivers.
The length of your long-stay visa tends to depend on your employment contract. Most visas and permits are initially for one or two years but are renewable as long as you are still employed. Some visas, for example, the au pair visa and job-seeker visas, cannot be extended. The EU Blue Card comes as an initial multi-year visa valid for four years and renewable.
If you want to change your job in Germany, you may need to switch to another visa or permit. First, you will need to check the conditions of your existing visa/permit. If in doubt, contact your local immigration office.
Work visas in Germany for students
Students from EU/EFTA nations don’t need a visa or permit to work in Germany. However, they can only work 20 hours a week during term time. If work hours go above this, they will need to pay social security contributions.
Those from non-EU/EFTA countries on a German student visa or residence permit can work up to 120 full days (or 240 half days) each year while studying. If you want to work more than this, you must apply to your local immigration office (Ausländerbehörde) for a work permit. The exception to this is if your university employs you as an academic assistant. In this case, no restrictions apply.
You can work up to 10 hours per week on a vocational training visa if you have a placement. In general, students on language course visas, student application visas, and short-stay visas cannot do paid work in Germany. Likewise, you cannot work self-employed or as a freelancer on a German student visa.
If you are a postgraduate student carrying out academic research or a Ph.D. at a German university, you may be eligible for an EU Blue Card, which gives you the right to look for and take up work that meets your qualifications.
Non-EU/EFTA students in Germany can extend their residence permits to look for a job once they graduate. This extension is 18 months for university graduates and 12 months for those who complete vocational training.
German work visas for self-employed, freelancers, and entrepreneurs
You can come to Germany and start up your own business or work as a freelancer (Freiberufler) in one of the liberal professions. In this case, you will need to demonstrate that your business idea will benefit the German economy. This means producing a viable business plan and showing evidence of the necessary skills/qualifications plus proof of funding to start your business. To qualify as a freelancer, you will need to prove your qualifications and any required licenses or memberships of relevant professional bodies. Additionally, you will need to show proof of your pension arrangements if you are over 45.
Work visas in Germany for seasonal/temporary workers
Germany doesn’t have a specific visa for seasonal or temporary work. However, non-EU/EFTA nationals can apply for a short-stay Schengen Visa to take up seasonal work for up to 90 days, or a maximum of 90 days within any 180-day period.
You will need to fill a seasonal work position with one of Germany’s agricultural businesses and agree to work at least 30 hours per week. If you meet these requirements, the Federal Employment Agency will issue you with a short-term work permit. You may need to pay social security in Germany if you are not employed or self-employed and making social insurance contributions in your own country. Employers usually cover health insurance for seasonal workers. However, you may need to arrange your own coverage if this is not the case.
You can also use a short-stay Schengen Visa for temporary work in any short-term shortage occupations in Germany. Again, you will need to have an agreement in place to come and work for a limited period with a German employer. The Federal Employment Agency has information on temporary visa opportunities for shortage occupations in Germany.
Volunteering and work experience in Germany
There are a few different German visas for gaining work experience or volunteering. This is useful, for example, if you are a student and want to improve your CV. You can volunteer in Germany short-term for 90 days or less on a Schengen tourist visa. However, bear in mind that you cannot do paid work on this visa. For short-term work experience or placements in Germany, you will need a Schengen business visa.
There are three long-term German visas relating to volunteering and work experience. These are:
- Internship visa – for students in other countries to undertake a work experience placement with a German company
- Working holiday visa – available to residents aged 18-30 in certain countries to work while traveling for up to 12 months
- Volunteering visa – to take part in schemes such as the European Voluntary Service (EVS) during your studies or while you are on a gap year
For each of these visas, you will need an agreement in place with the German company or organization before making your application. The application process is similar to that for other German visas and the costs for long-stay visas are €75 for adults and €37.50 for under-18s.
Work visas in Germany for family members
Germany has three different categories of family visas to join relatives already living in the country. These are:
- Family visa to join German nationals in Germany
- Visa to join EU/EFTA nationals in Germany
- Family visa to join non-EU/EFTA nationals in Germany
Each family visa allows the holder to work in Germany without prior permission or additional permits.
If you are joining a relative who has a long-stay visa and permission to work in Germany, you will also be allowed to work.
These types of visas cost €75 for adults and €37.50 for those under 18.
Appeals and complaints about work visas in Germany
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. VisaGuide.world offers tips for writing a good appeal letter.
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
- German Federal Foreign Office (Auswärtiges Amt) – government information about visas
- Federal Employment Agency (Bundesagentur für Arbeit) – government agency responsible for employment in Germany