Moving to Germany: Guide to German visas and permits

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Find out which German visa or permit you need to visit, live, study or work in Germany, and how to apply for the correct German visa or permit.

Certain nationalities need to apply for a German visa or permit to visit, live, work or study in Germany. In general, you don’t need a visa or residence permit if you’re a citizen of the European Union (EU), European Economic Area (EEA; EU plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) or Switzerland. Citizens from outside Europe typically need a German visa or permit to enter or live in Germany. This essential guide will help you find out which German visa or permit you need for your particular situation.

Who can live and work in Germany?

EU/EEA/Swiss nationals

The Federal Republic of Germany is one of 26 countries making up the ‘Schengen’ area, allowing free movement for citizens of the following countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland. They have one common visa and no border controls between them.

Under the Freedom of Movement Act, if you’re a national from one of the countries in the EU or EEA, you also don’t need a visa or other permit to visit, live, work or study in Germany.

Swiss nationals also enjoy freedom of movement within the EU but have to apply for a purely declaratory residence permit for Swiss nationals from the Aliens Authority (Ausländerbehörde).

All other EU and EEA nationals can enter, stay and work in Germany with just a valid passport or ID card, although you do have to register with the residents’ registration office in the town in which you live within three months of entering the country.

If you don’t hold EU/EEA citizenship yourself, but wish to join a close family member in Germany who does, you will, depending on your nationality, have to apply for a visa to enter the country and then you’ll receive a ‘residence card’ from the Alien’s Authority (Ausländerbehörde).

For more information, see our guide for EU/EEA/Swiss citizens moving to Germany.

Non-EU/EEA/Swiss nationals

Some citizens from outside the EU/EEA and Switzerland will need a German entry visa (a Schengen visa), and almost everyone else will need a German residence permit.

Citizens from certain countries – including Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, the Republic of Korea, New Zealand, the United States of America, plus several countries from central and south America – don’t need a Schengen visa to enter Germany for stays of up to three months (90 days) but do need to apply for a residence permit within those three months if they wish to stay longer or to work.

If your country doesn’t have an agreement with German, you will need to apply for a Schengen visa to enter Germany and stay up for three months (90 days) or for a permit called a ‘residence title’ if you want to stay for longer than three months and/or work here.

Find out if you need an entry visa for Germany here.

Moving to Germany: Getting a German visa or permit

Do you need a German visa or permit?

German short-stay visas: less than three months

Depending on your nationality, if you will be stopping briefly in a German airport (even for a few hours) en route to another destination, you may need a transit or airport visa. It only allows you into the international zone of a German airport.

If you are leaving the airport, even for less than a day, you may need to get the three-month Schengen visa. Schengen visas allow you to enter Germany (or any other country in the Schengen area listed above) for up to three months (90 days) within a six-month period.

You must apply for a Schengen visa at the German embassy or consulate in your country of residence, so check out the website for your own German embassy or consulate. The Federal Foreign Office website has detailed information on all aspects of Schengen visa regulations. You can download a Schengen application form now in German/English, Spanish, French, Russian or Chinese.

If you enter Germany on this visa, you cannot change it to a German residence permit once you are in Germany, except in exceptional circumstances. You will have to leave, apply for the residence permit from aboard and re-enter the country.

German residence permits: longer than three months

If you want to stay in Germany for longer than three months, for whatever reason (eg. to work, complete a vocational training course, or be reunited with your family), you will need to apply for a visa plus residence permit or ‘title’ before you arrive – unless you are a national from one of the countries that doesn’t require a visa to enter Germany, in which case you can apply from within Germany.

Types of German residence permits

There are several residence permits that apply in Germany:

  • The most common permit is the residence permit, which is usually valid for one year and can be renewed so long as your situation – eg. employment, marriage – stays the same as when you were originally granted the permit.
  • The EU Blue Card is a residence permit with enhanced conditions for highly qualified migrants and their spouses.
  • The settlement permit and permanent EC residence permit, as their names suggest, are both permanent residence permits. They are usually only granted after five years of residence (and if you fulfill other conditions) but they can be issued to highly skilled workers immediately and to other groups after two or three years of residence.

Your reason for wanting to come to Germany and your educational and professional qualifications will determine which residence title you can apply for. You will need to meet some general requirements, including holding a valid passport and being able to prove you have enough money to support you during your stay.

Most people have to apply for a residence permit via the German embassy or consulate in their country of residence. You can find the contact details of yours here.

Family reunification

Unless you are an EU/EEA/Swiss citizen (or your relative in Germany is), if you want to come to Germany to be with a partner – a spouse or registered/civil partner – or other close family member, you will need your own residence permit. You and your relative must also fulfil other criteria, for example, your relative must possess a residence permit, have somewhere for you to live, and show sufficient finances to support you. In some cases, you will also have to prove that you have basic German language skills, although exemptions apply.

For more information, read our overview on German permits for family reunification.

Studying in Germany

You can get a nine-month residence permit to come to Germany before being admitted to a German university (as long as you have the required qualifications), or a longer one to study in Germany on a full-time university course. You will need to prove that you have the necessary finances during your course and you may have to prove German language proficiency. Most universities have very comprehensive and helpful information about residence permits on their own websites.

Permanent residence in Germany

Once you have been living in Germany for a number of years, you can apply for a permanent residence permit. A permanent residence permit allows you to stay in the country indefinitely but you don’t have the same rights as German citizens – you can’t vote, for example. If you wish to have the same constitutional rights and legal status as any other German citizen, and you fulfil certain conditions, then you can apply to be naturalised after eight years of residence.

To find out more, see our guide to permanent visas in Germany.

Asylum seekers and refugees

See the BAMF website for information on asylum law.

Electronic residence

Since September 2011, the residence title (the label that was stuck into the passport), residence card, permanent residence card and paper ID cards have been superseded by an electronic ‘credit card’ residence title. Existing ‘paper’ titles will retain their validity until August 31, 2016.

Getting a visa or permit in Germany: German visas and permits overview

Working in Germany

If you’re a national from a country in the EU, EEA or Switzerland, you are free to work in Germany without restriction, with the exception of citizens of the newer member state Croatia, who will need permits potentially up until 2020.

Everyone else can only work in Germany if their residence permit allows it. There is no separate work permit in Germany and the right to work – and to what extent you can work – will be detailed on the residence permit that you apply for before you enter the country (see above).

To read more about working in Germany and to understand which permit you need for your situation, see our guide to work permits in Germany.

For more information:

Contact the German embassy or consulate in your home country, or the BAMF Information service:

Monday to Thursday: 9 am to 3 pm
Friday: 9 am to 2pm
T: +49 911 943 6390
E: [email protected]

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