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Visas & Work Permits in Germany

The Guide to Visa Types and Work Permit Requirements

Germany has a range of different visa types, from work permit and skilled worker (“European Blue Card”) visas to self-employment visas, family reunion visas, and more. If you plan to relocate to Germany, you will need to apply for a temporary residence permit, while you can apply for permanent residence (known in the US as a green card) after living in the country for five years.

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Applying for a German visa is a crucial step on the journey to living and settling down in the European country. If you live in Germany with a residence permit for at least eight years, you could be granted German citizenship (naturalization). You should also be eligible for a German passport, recently ranked the joint third-best passport in the world alongside South Korea. In this section, you can learn about the different types of visas available and associated costs.

In general, German visa applications can take between six and 12 weeks to process, so make a start on this task around four or five months before you move to Germany.

When applying for a German visa you will need to meet certain German visa requirements, including proof of income and health insurance.

Long-stay visas for Germany cost approximately 75 EUR (80 USD) while short-stay visas (for up to three months) usually have fees of 60 EUR (70 USD).

In addition, Germany passed a new immigration law in December 2018 that is similar to the immigration point systems you see in countries such as Australia. This made it easier for employers to recruit skilled workers from outside the EU. You can find out more in our Working in Germany section.

Work Permits and Employment-based Visas

Over the past few years, the German government has tried to encourage the immigration of highly qualified professionals by relaxing work permit and employment visa laws.

Germany’s Work Visa Requirements

If you are an EU citizen, you can work in Germany without a work visa as if you were a German citizen. However, non-EU citizens need a visa or residence permit to take up employment. This permit should show to what extent you have permission to work in the country. It replaces the functions of the old work permit.

The cost for a German work permit (employment visa) is 75 EUR (80 USD). You will also need to complete Germany’s work permit visa (or employment permit) application form, called Antrag auf Erlaubnis einer Beschäftigung in German, and get a residence permit or Antrag auf Erteilung eines Aufenthaltstitels.

Business Visa

If you want to come to Germany just for business purposes and you are not from the EU or a country included in the visa waiver program, you will need a business visa. A German business visa allows you to visit and stay in Germany for up to 90 days in a six-month period. You need a business visa if you want to come to Germany to perform business, sign contracts, go to meetings, and other related appointments.

Family Reunion Visa

For most non-EU nationals, the subsequent immigration of a spouse and/or children comes with fairly strict requirements.

You should try to apply for a family reunification visa as early as you can, because it is common for there to be a backlog of applications to be processed. There were around 1,000 applications for this type of visa each month in 2019.

Family Reunion Visa Regulations
  • You must earn sufficient income to support your family financially.
  • You need to provide housing for your family.
  • In some cases, your spouse must prove basic knowledge of the German language.
  • Your children must be younger than 18 and unmarried.

If you have immigrated as a skilled professional or you are an EU/EEA national, none of this applies.

There are also separate regulations for nationals of the following countries:

  • Andorra
  • Australia
  • Canada
  • Honduras
  • Israel
  • Japan
  • Monaco
  • New Zealand
  • San Marino
  • South Korea
  • United States

Also, if you want to get married in Germany, you and your fiancé(e) may need the following documents:

  • Passport
  • Birth certificate, and birth certificates of any children you have together
  • Proof you have been in Germany for at least 21 days (e.g. a Meldebescheinigung)
  • Proof you are single
  • Application from the Standesamt or civil registration office (after you apply there in person with your partner)

The following may also be required:

  • A Certificate of Freedom to Marry, No Marriage Affidavit, or Certificate of No Impediment, which prove you are single
  • Marriage certificates from any previous marriages
  • Proof of financial means, e.g. bank statements or salary slips

Usually, the person already residing in Germany should provide proof they can financially support the immigrating family member. You can give a declaration of commitment or a “Verpflichtungserklärungen” (VE) to prove you have sufficient funds to support them.

The German authorities will assess if they believe you and your family have the means to support yourselves in Germany based on the evidence you provide. 

Skilled Migration and the European Blue Card

EU nationals, as well as people from Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland, do not need a visa or official permission to hold a job in Germany. However, migration of employees from EU countries to Germany may not be enough to compensate for the lack of qualified employees. Therefore, there is an opportunity for skilled third-country nationals to get a work permit or a skilled worker visa (aka “EU Blue Card”).

The German government first encouraged skilled labor migration around the year 2000 when they introduced a Green Card for IT specialists. By now, these regulations have been revised several times.

If you have an undergraduate or graduate degree, and you have secured a job before you move to Germany, with a salary of at least 55,200 EUR (61,400 USD) as of 2020, you are eligible for an EU Blue Card, which costs 140 EUR (160 USD).

The Blue Card allows individuals to stay in Germany for four years. After 21 to 33 months, you may obtain a settlement permit (permanent residence permit). If you can already speak B1-level German, you might be accepted after just 21 months.

Your spouse and dependent children are also allowed to enter the country as soon as you get a Blue Card, and they can get a work permit as well.

Graduates and Shortage Occupations

There are concerns in Germany about a lack of talent in certain industries and how this could impact businesses in the country in the future. The German chancellor Angela Merkel has said: “We know that many sectors and businesses are looking for skilled workers. Without sufficient skilled workers, a business location cannot be successful.”

There are approximately 1.2 million job vacancies in Germany and the Skilled Labour Immigration Act comes into force in March 2020. The German governments expect the new law to bring in an extra 25,000 skilled workers every year. The law will also make it easier for prospective employees with vocational, rather than academic, qualifications to come to Germany to work.

While this skills shortage presents a challenge for Germany, it presents an opportunity to skilled workers wanting to relocate there, and talent is being sought in countries, like India, Mexico, and Vietnam.

If you have an academic qualification and professional experience in a field with a current shortage of qualified staff (e.g. IT, engineering, healthcare), also known as a “shortage occupation,” the minimum salary requirement needed to legally work in Germany is lower than demanded for other graduates.

Graduates entering shortage occupations have to earn at least 43,056 EUR (47,890 USD) annually (as of 2020) working under the same conditions as their German colleagues. This is much less than other graduates who must earn at least 55,200 EUR (61,400 USD).

If you are highly skilled and/or you have an EU Blue Card, there are some extra benefits. For example, you might not have to wait for approval from the Federal Employment Agency to work in Germany.

Trialing a Points-Based System

From October 1, 2016 to September 30, 2019, a points system called PUMA (Punktebasiertes Modellprojekts für ausländische Fachkräfte), was trialed in the German state Baden-Württemberg.

The idea was that the system would allow employment for third country nationals if they achieved 100 points, based on various attributes that could make them a valuable addition to the country’s workforce. They also had to have an apprenticeship degree or Berufsausbildung that was comparable to a German apprenticeship degree.

The skills and circumstances that gained you points were:

  • German language ability (100 points for B2 level skills, 25 points for A2 level skills)
  • English or French language ability (25 points)
  • Relatives in Baden-Württemberg (50 points)
  • Previous stays in Germany (50 points) or elsewhere in the EU (25 points)

After working for two years in Baden-Württemberg, participants in the PUMA program are now allowed to work in other German states and for other employers. The trial has ended.

Although the program failed to provide a perfect solution for immigration requirements, the German government is still prioritizing welcoming skilled foreigners into the country. The government introduced the Skilled Workers’ Immigration Act and the Act on Temporary Suspension of Deportation for Training and Employment, in 2019.

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Self-Employment Visas

Note that you only need a business or self-employment visa if you are coming to Germany temporarily and specifically for starting a business.

If you are from a non-EU country, you can get a self-employment visa or “temporary residence permit.” A temporary residence permit for a self-employed foreigner lasts up to three years.

After this three-year period, you can apply for a permanent “settlement permit.” You will have a good chance of a successful application if you have carried out your planned activity and have sufficient finance to support yourself and any dependents living with you.

Self-Employment Visa Process

If you want to come to Germany for long-term self-employment, you need to apply for a residence permit as well as permission to start a business at your local foreigners’ office in Germany. It is smart to talk to experts about residence permits, labor, business, and tax laws before starting business or becoming a freelancer in Germany. InterNations GO! is ready to help.

Moreover, if you are from an EEA country, the US, Australia, or Canada, you can live and work in Germany for 90 days before getting a residence permit as long as you have a valid passport.

Germany Self-Employment Visa Application Form

If you want to apply for a German freelance visa, you should fill out this form. The sections are: 

  • Basic information
  • Your photo
  • Family history
  • Your address
  • Your work in Germany
  • Why you are in/moving to Germany
German Freelance Visa Process

To get a German freelance visa, you must follow these steps: 

  • Get health insurance
  • Complete the Financing Plan and Capital Budget forms
  • Schedule an appointment with the Foreigners Registration Office (Ausländerbehörde). You can often make an appointment online. If you need your visa immediately, it is best to go to the office in person. You might have to wait more than an hour

And you also need the following documents:

  • Passport
  • The form called “Antrag auf Erteilung eines Aufenthaltstitels” (application for issuance of a residence permit)
  • Financing plan
  • Revenue forecast
  • Resume
  • Proof of qualifications, e.g. certificates
  • Professional certificates, if relevant
  • Any permits required for your profession, such as a certificate in hairdressing
  • Proof of health insurance coverage
  • Proof of earnings
  • Proof of accommodation
  • If you are older than 45, you will need proof of a pension plan, unless you are from the Dominican Republic, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, the United States of America, and Turkey
Germany Self-Employment Visa Requirements and Costs

If you are not from an EU member state, your application can be approved or rejected on a case-by-case basis. The following criteria will be verified:

  • The viability of your business idea
  • Your business plan and previous experience
  • Your available capital
  • A potential economic or regional need for your business activity

There are also special regulations concerning foreign investors and entrepreneurs. If you invest 250,000 EUR (278,000 USD) in a project beneficial to the German economy and create five or more jobs, getting a permit to live and work in Germany can be easier.

A freelancer visa for Germany costs 60 EUR (70 USD) while you will have to pay 140 EUR (160 USD) for a residence permit.

If you are from the US, Canada, or Australia, you can arrive in Germany before you apply for a freelancer visa. Please bear in mind that the process can take around three to four months.

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Residency Permits: Temporary and Permanent

Germany provides such a great home that many expats want to know how to become a permanent German resident. To qualify, you must live in the country for at least five years. Until then, expats interested in staying in Germany long-term will need to apply for a temporary residence permit.

Regardless of their country of origin, all foreign residents from non-EU member states must have a residence permit for stays longer than 90 days. Note that a short-term (90-day) visa for visitors can only be extended under special circumstances, such as if you fall seriously ill before your intended date of departure.

Nationals from EU states and the United States of America, Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Switzerland, and the Republic of Korea can obtain a permit after arriving in Germany.

For a typical expat moving to Germany, the following residence permits may be of interest:

  • Temporary residence permit
  • EU Blue Card
  • EC long-term residence permit
  • Permanent settlement permit

How to Become a Permanent Resident in Germany

In a few rare cases, a permanent residence permit is granted immediately. For instance, highly qualified people, such as scholars and academic teaching and research staff, can receive a settlement permit immediately if they can financially support themselves and show that they have adapted well to local culture.

They will still have to take a naturalization test, like anyone applying for German citizenship, including questions about the history of Germany, its people, and its laws. They must get 17 answers correct out of 33 to pass.

How to Get Permanent Residency in Germany

Just like obtaining a German visa, the German permanent resident application and its related requirements are strongly tied to your nationality and your reasons for coming to Germany. Nationals of EU or EEA member states do not need a residence permit. For those who do, the permanent resident fee for Germany stands at 255 EUR (287 USD).

If you are moving to Germany for work or study or have a way to financially support yourself, you can enjoy full mobility within the EU. But remember that upon arrival, you still need to register with the local authorities.

If you have graduated from a German university and hold a temporary residence permit for paid employment, you can submit your German permanent residency application form after two years.

The Immigration Office

Whether or not you have already obtained a visa before your arrival in Germany and are a non-EEA national, you will still have to go to the local immigration office (Ausländerbehörde or aliens office) in order to get a regular residence and/or work permit, if applicable.

If you do not need a visa to enter Germany, then you have three months to apply for a residence permit at the immigration office.

Documents Needed to Confirm Residency in Germany

To confirm your residency in Germany as a foreign national, the following documents may be required:

  • Your registration card from the municipal authorities (Einwohnermeldeamt)
  • A valid passport
  • Recent biometric passport photographs
  • For employees and jobseekers: an employment contract
  • For students: an official confirmation of student enrollment at a local university
  • For pensioners: proof of retirement benefits
  • Evidence of financial support (e.g. a student grant, letter from your employer, salary slip, or a recent bank statement)
  • Proof of health insurance plan
  • Birth certificate
  • Marriage certificate

These requirements may vary according to your country of origin and the reason for your stay in Germany. If you are not sure which documents to bring with you, call or email your local immigration office.

The fees can also differ from city to city and by case. For example, in Munich it costs about 100 EUR (113 USD) to obtain a residence permit for one year.

Last but not least, check with your nearest embassy or consulate if you need to register there as well. This is completely independent of any registration with the German authorities and depends on your country of origin’s own regulations.

Residency in Germany

Once you have moved to Germany, you need to register with the local authorities (polizeiliche Anmeldung or police registration). The local registration procedure is mandatory if you have applied for a German visa from abroad. Note that you need to apply for a residence visa first.

You must schedule an appointment for a personal interview—you cannot just turn up at a German mission and apply for a visa. The residence visa costs between 56 and 100 EUR (62 and 110 USD) to be issued and 49 to 96 EUR (55 and 110 USD) for an extension. Turkish citizens must pay a maximum of 28.80 EUR (32 USD).

All residents, whether they are German citizens, EU nationals, or third-country nationals, have to report their residence to the local authorities (Einwohnermeldeamt). Every change of address must be reported within one week of moving to a new residence, or within two months of living at a hotel or a friend’s place. When moving to another town, you need to register once again at your new location.

In many cities, you can register at a special municipal office (KVR, Bürgerbüro, Stadtbüro, Bürgerservice, Meldestelle, etc). There you receive a registration card—a paper slip with your address and the date of your move. This is not a substitute for a residence permit. It is merely an official document that shows where you are currently living.

Documents Needed for Local Registration

You need the following documents to register where you live in Germany:

  • A simple registration form (which you can get at the town hall or download from their official website)
  • A valid passport
  • A copy of your contract for renting a home in Germany (or a written statement from whomever is providing your accommodation)

A landlord might ask you for a residence permit before handing out a rental agreement, to ensure that you are legally allowed to reside in the country on a long-term basis. In this case, you can register with the temporary address of your first residence (e.g. a hotel, a serviced apartment, or a friend’s home).

Once you have obtained the official residence permit, a change of address requires minimal effort. There can be a small fee for registering with the local authorities, usually less than 10 EUR (11 USD).

Application for a Temporary Resident Permit

A temporary residence permit (Aufenthaltserlaubnis) is generally valid for one year. How often it has to be renewed depends on your employment status, occupation, and nationality.

For example, a US expatriate who has a permanent job contract with a company based in Germany may receive a permit that needs to be renewed after three years. If the same person only has a limited employment contract for the next two years, their residence permit will expire after around two years as well.

Temporary Resident Permit: Requirements and Fees

If you plan to come to Germany for no more than 90 days in a 180-day period, and you are not from the EU or the United States of America, Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Switzerland, or the Republic of Korea, then you will need a short-term or Schengen visa for a legal stay.

Short-stay Visa Fees

60 EUR (70 USD):

  • Airport transit visa
  • Stays up to 30 days
  • Stays from 31 to 90 days (single entry)
  • Stays from 31 to 90 days (several entries)

75 EUR (80 USD):

  • National visas (e.g. family reunion, study, etc)

Free of charge:

  • for scholarship holders from a German science organization;
  • for spouses of EU citizens.

As long as your personal situation does not change, the renewal of your residence permit is mostly a formality. However, if you change employers, stop working, separate from your spouse, etc., all this can impact your residence status.

In such cases, it is best to contact the local Ausländerbehörde (Aliens Registration Office) immediately and consult with an immigration lawyer.

Permanent Residence

If you are relocating to Germany long-term, you should review the process you need to follow to get a permanent residence permit. For instance, you have to legally live in Germany for five years before you can apply for permanent residency. There are many benefits to obtaining permanent residence in Germany.

Germany permanent residence benefits include:

  • unlimited residence in Germany;
  • the ability to work for any organization in Germany;
  • free movement in the EU and outside the EEA;
  • access to education and other training;
  • welfare benefits;
  • easier access to grants and loans;
  • social security.

Germany Fiancé and Family Visa Processes

If you want to join a partner or relative in Germany, you could choose to go through the spouse or family reunion visa process. You can get permanent residency by joining a spouse or parent living in Germany.

If you want to join your spouse in Germany on a family visa you must be at least 18 years old. As a couple you must fulfil these permanent resident visa requirements:

  • Your spouse in Germany has a residence permit allowing them to work.
  • You have some knowledge of the German language.
  • Your spouse in Germany has health insurance cover and sufficient finances to support the family.
  • Your spouse in Germany has accommodation big enough to house the family.

If the partner already living in Germany fulfils one of the following criteria, their spouse will not need to know the German language to obtain a visa or residence permit:

  • Have an EU Blue Card.
  • Be in Germany as a researcher or highly skilled person.
  • You or your spouse is a citizen of Japan, Israel, Australia, the United States, Canada, or the Republic of Korea.

How to Get a Family Reunification Visa

If you want to join your spouse or family member in Germany, you will need a visa. You must:

  • apply at the German embassy or German consulate in your country;
  • register with the local Einwohnermeldeamt once you move to Germany.

Your spouse or family member in Germany must go to their local German embassy and:

  • show their passport;
  • show your marriage certificate or proof of your civil or registered partnership;
  • ask their local embassy or consulate if they require other documents.

The family visa costs 75 EUR (85 USD) for adults and 37.50 (43 USD) for children under 18.

The duration of your relative’s residence permit will often reflect their personal situation, i.e. their living and working conditions. Getting an extension is usually not a problem if their situation does not change. For example, if they keep working for the same company year after year, their residence permit should be easily renewed. For support with visas and other relocation documents when settling in Germany, contact us.

Do you want to relocate? If you have never moved abroad, the process will be overwhelming, and if you have, you know the burden that lies ahead. Whatever stage you are at, InterNations GO! can help you with a complete set of relocation services, such as home finding, school search, visa solutions, and even pet relocation. Our expert expat team is ready to get your relocation going, so why not jump-start your move abroad and contact us today? Best to start early!

Updated on: March 19, 2020

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