Once you have decided to travel or move to Germany, your first step will be to check your entry requirements. Whether you are required to apply for a visa, what kind you need, and which documents are required to apply for it – all this mainly depends on two key aspects: your country of origin and your purpose for relocating.
You should keep in mind that your visa will not necessarily include a residence permit and/or work permit. A so-called Schengen visa usually allows you to stay in Germany and other states within the Schengen area for up to 90 days.
However, a Schengen visa does not permit you to take up any paid jobs in Germany. If you would like to get a job, join a family member, attend university, or explore the country during a working holiday, your visa application will change accordingly. In addition, you will also have to apply for a residence and/or work permit.
When it comes to visa regulations, a major distinction is drawn between nationals of EU/EEA member states and so-called third-country nationals (i.e. people from everywhere else). Expats from the EU have far less red tape to put up with.
Visa Regulations: EU Nationals
If you are a national of an EU member state, of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, or Switzerland, you normally are not required to get a visa or a residence and/or work permit. As long as you have sufficient funds, successfully run your own business, or get a confirmed job offer, you can simply move to Germany whenever you like. However, you have to register with the local authorities and the German Aliens Authority.
There is a slight exception to this rule for Swiss nationals. Although they are not required to have a visa or a work permit, they are required to procure a valid residence permit upon arrival.
Visa Regulations: Third-Country Nationals
Generally speaking, third-country nationals are required to procure a visa for their visit or stay, regardless of their reason for moving. However, Germany has abolished the visa requirements for selected countries. This means that their citizens do not require a visa if they’d just like to stay in the country for 90 days. This exception applies to tourists, business travelers, and people on social visits.
States with this type of visa regulation include Anglophone nations like Canada and the US, quite a few Latin American states such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Mexico as well as some Asian countries like Japan, Malaysia, and Singapore. To check if you are required to get a visa, have a look at the country overview of German visa requirements provided by the Foreign Office.
Moreover, there are certain states whose citizens can enter without a visa and then apply for a residence and/or work permit within three months. The required documentation strongly depends on your reason for relocating (e.g. to study, to work, to set up a company, to retire…). Until the application process is completed, you normally get a temporary residence permit valid for six or seven months. You should also be able to financially support yourself during your stay. This exception only applies to expatriates from the following countries:
And then there are also a few countries whose citizens can enter without a visa and apply for a residence permit afterwards, but only if they do not intend to take up paid employment. This special rule regarding visa waivers includes nationals of:
Everybody else must apply for a visa well before their departure. Which type of visa you should obtain is dependent on your motivation for coming to Germany. We will deal with these regulations in the next part of our guide. In-depth information on your visa is also available via the German Foreign Office or the nearest diplomatic mission.
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