Visa & Administration
How to Get a German Residence Permit
Just like obtaining a German visa, acquiring a German residence permit is strongly tied to your nationality and your reasons for coming to Germany. First of all, nationals of EU or EEA member states do not need a German residence permit at all. As long as they move to Germany for work or study or have some way to financially support themselves, they enjoy full mobility within the EU. Upon arrival in Germany, they still need to register with the local authorities, though.
For an expat from outside the EU, a German residence permit is usually issued for the purpose of employment or education in Germany. It is also possible to get a residence permit for joining a spouse or parent living in Germany. However, in the last case, your German residence permit does not necessarily include a work permit for Germany.
The duration of your German residence permit usually reflects your personal situation, i.e. your living and working conditions. You can normally renew your permit if your situation doesn’t change. For example, if you keep working for the same company year after year, your German residence permit should be renewed as a matter of course. (Please also read our guide on German work permits for more information on how to enter Germany for employment.)
The following article only focuses on the available types of German residence permit. Furthermore, it explains how to register with the local authorities after you’ve moved to Germany.
Getting a German Residence Permit: Types of Permit
All foreign residents from non-EU member states need a German residence permit for planned stays longer than 90 days, regardless of their country of origin. A short-term German visa for visitors can only be extended under special circumstances, e.g. if you fall seriously ill before your intended date of departure.
Usually, you have to apply for a visa plus German residence permit (and work permit, if necessary) at an embassy or consulate. Nationals from a few selected countries can also obtain it after arriving in Germany. There are just a few exceptions to this rule, especially for asylum seekers and political refugees. Obviously, they don’t have to go through the regular application process for a German residence permit via a diplomatic mission.
For a typical expat moving to Germany, the following kinds of German residence permit might be of interest: the temporary residence permit, the Blue Card, the EC long-term residence permit, and the permanent settlement permit.
A temporary German residence permit (Aufenthaltserlaubnis) is the most common type. It’s generally valid for one year. But how often it has to be renewed strongly depends on your employment status, your occupation, and your nationality. For example, a US expatriate who has an unlimited job contract with a company based in Germany may receive a permit to be renewed after three years. However, if the same person only has a limited employment contract for the next two years, their German residence permit will run out after around two years as well.
As long as your personal situation doesn’t change, the renewal of your German residence permit is mostly a formality. But if you change employers, lose your job, separate from your spouse, etc., all this can impact your residence status. In such cases, it’s best to contact the local Ausländerbehörde (Aliens Registration Office) immediately. Also consult an immigration lawyer for further advice.
The EU Blue Card is a temporary German residence permit plus work permit for highly-qualified employees. It’s easier to apply for than a regular employment visa. At the moment, you need a university degree and a confirmed job offer with an annual salary of 44,800 Euros or more. Expats working in engineering, IT, medical care, or the natural sciences may also qualify for a Blue Card if they earn at least 34,944 Euros per year. A German residence permit based on a Blue Card is normally valid for up to four years. The spouses of Blue Card holders get both a residence permit and a work permit for Germany, too. Moreover, it’s easier for expatriates with Blue Cards to obtain a permanent settlement permit.
Getting a German Residence Permit: Settlement Permits
Most foreign residents can apply for a permanent German residence permit – a “settlement permit” (Niederlassungserlaubnis) – after five years. Some people may get it sooner: For example, if you are a non-EU national married to a German citizen, you could file your application for a settlement permit after three years. If you have graduated from a German university and hold a temporary German residence permit for paid employment, you can even try to get a settlement permit after two years.
However, you need to fulfill various other conditions: You have to prove some basic knowledge of the German language, Germany’s political system, and German society. Moreover, you need to show that you are able to earn a living and that you have made financial contributions to Germany’s national pension plan for five years. Proof of accommodation is also required.
In a few rare cases, a permanent German residence permit is granted at once. For instance, if you invest at least 250,000 Euros in a German company, you, your spouse, and your dependent children will get the settlement permit immediately.
The so-called “EC long-term residence permit” is almost identical to the German settlement permit. It was mostly introduced to comply with a new EU directive. However, if you obtain the EC long-term residence permit in Germany, this allows you to move to other EU member states. Unlike people with a regular German residence permit or settlement permit, you receive full access to the labor market and social security schemes in the European Union.