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Visas & Work Permits in Germany

The Guide to Visa Types and Work Permit Requirements

It’s essential that you choose the right German visa type for you, but this can be tough when there are so many available. Keep reading to learn more about German visa application processes. We cover permanent residence visas and work permit visas, explain how you could be eligible for the Blue Card, and more.

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There are many benefits if you are a permanent resident in Germany, and we discuss them throughout our guide. However, before you apply for a German visa, you’ll need to think about which option is best for you. From family reunion visas to employment visas, there are lots of possibilities to explore. Whichever visa you go for, you’ll need to meet certain requirements, including proof of income and health insurance, and register with the local authorities as soon as you move into your new home.

Throughout this guide, you will find everything you need to know about the German visa application process in more detail, including the documents needed, as well as how to get German citizenship.

Work Permits and Employment-based Visas

Nationals of EU or EEA member states do not need a residence permit. Moreover, if you’re moving to Germany for work or study or have a way to financially support yourself, you can enjoy full mobility within the EU. However, upon arrival, you still need to register with the local authorities.

Types of Residence Permits

The following section solely focuses on the available types of residence permits. It also explains how to register with the local authorities after you’ve moved to Germany.

All foreign residents from non-EU member states need a residence permit for planned stays longer than 90 days, regardless of their country of origin.

A short-term visa for visitors can only be extended under special circumstances, e.g. if you fall seriously ill before your intended date of departure. Note that all German short-term visas, also known as Schengen visas, cost 60 EUR.

Usually, you have to apply for a visa plus a residence permit (and work permit, if relevant) at an embassy or consulate. Nationals from a few selected countries can also obtain these 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 via a diplomatic mission.

For a typical expat moving to Germany, the following kinds of residence permits might be of interest: the temporary residence permit, the Blue Card, the EC long-term residence permit, and the permanent settlement permit.

A temporary residence permit (Aufenthaltserlaubnis) is the most common type. It’s generally valid for one year. How often it has to be renewed 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 that needs to be renewed after three years. However, if the same person only has a limited employment contract for the next two years, their residence permit will run out after around two years as well.

As long as your personal situation doesn’t change, the renewal of your residence permit is mostly a formality. However, if you change employers, stop working, or separate from your spouse, all this can impact your residence status. In such cases, it’s best to contact the local Ausländerbehörde (Aliens Registration Office) immediately, and also consult with an immigration lawyer.

Germany’s Work Permits and Visa Requirements

If you’re not an EU national, you will probably need your employment visa and residence permit before you enter Germany. You can get these from the German representation abroad (Ausländerbehörde) in the country in which you live.

Whether your permit is approved depends on a few factors, such as:

  • If you have a confirmed job offer.
  • If the vacancy cannot be filled by either an EU national or another immigrant who applied before you.

If you’re successful, a work permit will be granted for one year on average. However, renewal is possible. If you are considered a highly-skilled employee, you may receive a different kind of permit valid for several years.

An Opportunity for Third-Country Nationals

EU nationals, as well as people from Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland, don’t need a visa or official permission to hold a job in Germany. However, intra-European migration may not be enough to compensate for the lack of qualified employees. Therefore, getting a work permit and skilled worker visa (aka “Blue Card EU”) has become easier for selected, well-paid third-country nationals.

Nowadays, an employment permit for Germany is usually issued together with their residence permit. Plenty of people holding a German residence permit are allowed to start working in Germany too unless their residence title explicitly says otherwise. Nonetheless, immigration laws do remain rather strict except for the cases mentioned above.

Moreover, no other document can replace your residence or work permit for Germany. If caught without either, both you and your employer may have to pay high fines. And without such permits, no insurance company will cover you in case of workplace accidents or occupational diseases.

Country of Origin

Your specific work permit requirements for Germany could strongly depend on your nationality. If you’re a citizen of an EU member state, you don’t need to apply for one.

Citizens of other states usually need to apply for a work permit for Germany from abroad, together with their visa. Handing in your work permit and visa application forms from within Germany is only possible for expats from a few selected countries (Canada, the US, Australia, Israel, New Zealand, Japan, and South Korea).

Once you kick off the process, the German diplomatic mission will contact the immigration department (Ausländerbehörde) in Germany. In turn, this office gets in touch with the Federal Employment Agency.

The agency can then approve your application, issue the permit, and submit it to the Ausländerbehörde. From there, it’s passed on to the diplomatic mission where you originally submitted your application.

If you’re interested in an employment visa for Germany, go to the nearest German Embassy or Consulate and:

  • Bring a valid passport and at least one copy
  • Supply several passport photographs
  • Pay the required work visa cost
  • Provide additional documents (e.g. a certificate of good conduct, a job contract, diplomas, and references, etc)

Details regarding the visa application process may vary according to your country of origin. Please contact your local German Embassy to check the exact work visa requirements.

If you’re already employed at the foreign branch office of a German company, this is likely to speed things up.

Skilled Migration

Over the past few years, the German government has tried to encourage the migration of highly-qualified professionals by introducing a new residence title for Germany. The aging population and a shortage of engineers, IT specialists, and healthcare staff, have become major challenges in the country.

As Germany is primarily looking for qualified specialists, critical skills enhance your chance of getting a work permit significantly. Expect detailed questions on your job offer, your chosen field of employment, your current occupation, your desired salary, and so on.

Also, you have to submit a completed form called “Ausländer- beschäftigung” from your future employer.

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’ve secured a job before you move to Germany with a salary of at least 52,000 EUR (as of 2018), you’re eligible for an EU Blue Card. The Blue Card allows individuals to stay in Germany for four years. After two or three years, you may obtain a settlement permit (permanent residence permit). Your spouse and dependent children are also allowed to enter the country right away, and they can get a work permit as well.

If you have an academic qualification and professional experience in a field with a current shortage of qualified staff (e.g. IT, engineering, healthcare), or a ‘shortage occupation’, the income limit is lower than it is for other graduates. Then you have to earn at least €40,560 annually (as of 2018), working under the same conditions as your German colleagues.

If you qualify as one of these top-level immigrants, there are some extra benefits, for example, you don’t have to wait for approval from the Federal Employment Agency.

Immigration of Family Members

For most non-EU nationals, the subsequent immigration of spouse and children come with fairly strict requirements. Family reunion visas are subject to various regulations, for example:

  • You earn a sufficient income to support your family financially
  • You can provide housing for your family
  • Your spouse must prove basic knowledge of the German language
  • Your children must be younger than 18 years of age and still be unmarried

However, if you have immigrated as a skilled professional or if you’re 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
  • The United States

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

  • Passport
  • Birth certificate
  • Proof you have been in Germany for at least 21 days. You can get a Meldebescheinigung (registration certificate) from your nearest Anmeldeamt (receiving office).
  • Proof you’re single
  • Birth certificates of any children you have had together
  • Application from the Standesamt (registry office)

The following may also be required:

  • A Certificate of Freedom to Marry, No Marriage Affidavit, or Certificate of No Impediment
  • Marriage certificates from any previous marriages
  • Your finances

If you or your partner are foreign, your paperwork may have to be checked by a regional court.

Trialing a Points-Based System

Since fall 2016, a points system, called PUMA (Punktebasiertes Modellprojekts für ausländische Fachkräfte), has been trialed in Baden-Württemberg, Germany. The idea is the system would allow third-country nationals employment if they achieve 100 points, based on various attributes that make them a valuable addition to the country’s workforce.

Some skills that gain you points include:

  • German language skills
  • English or French language skills
  • Relatives in Germany
  • Previous time spent in the country or elsewhere in the EU

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Self-Employment Visas

Germany’s Self-Employment Program for Expats

If you want to come to Germany for self-employment, you also need to apply for a residence permit, as well as for the permission to start a business here (note that business or self-employment visas are only required if you’re coming to Germany temporarily and for business only).

Moreover, if you aren’t 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
  • 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 is often relatively easy.

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Residency Permits: Temporary and Permanent

For an expat from outside the EU, you might be wondering how to become a permanent resident in Germany. You can usually obtain permanent residency in Germany for the purpose of employment or education, and if you want to join a partner or relatives, you could choose to go through the spouse or family reunion visa process.

If you want to work in Germany on a family visa, your relative must either have a residence permit allowing them to work, an EU Blue Card or be in Germany as a researcher or a highly-skilled person.

How Much Does it Cost to get Permanent Residence 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. The permanent residence application fee for Germany is usually 135 EUR, but it rises to 200 EUR for the self-employed, and 255 EUR for highly-skilled workers.

Furthermore, the duration of your residence permit usually reflects your personal situation, i.e. your living and working conditions. Getting an extension is usually not a problem if your situation doesn’t change. For example, if you keep working for the same company year after year, your residence permit should be easily renewed.

Residency in Germany

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

All residents, whether they are German citizens, EU nationals, or third-country nationals, have to report their residence to the local authorities (Einwohnermeldeamt). Moreover, 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’re currently living.

For your local registration, you need the following documents:

  • 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 an apartment in Germany, or a written statement from whoever 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 Germany 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’ve 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.

The Aliens Registration Office

Regardless of whether or not they have already obtained a visa before their arrival in Germany, non-EEA nationals still have to go to the local Aliens Registration Office (Ausländerbehörde) in order to get a regular residence and/or work permit, if applicable.

If you don’t need a visa to enter Germany, then you have three months to apply for a residence permit at the Aliens Registration Office.

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 biometrical passport photographs
  • For employees and job-seekers: 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. student grant, letter from employer, payslip 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’re not sure which documents to bring with you, call or email your local Aliens Registration Office. The fees can also differ from city to city and from case to case. For example, in Munich, it costs about 100 EUR 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 regulations.

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Updated on: October 22, 2019

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