German residence permits

Types of permits and application procedures

Excluding EU citizens and citizens of Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland, who are only required to register with their local Einwohnermeldeamt (registration office), everybody staying in Germany for more than 3 months must obtain a residence permit.

Residency permits are handled by your local immigration office (Ausländeramt). In order to apply for a residence permit, first register your residence at the local Einwohnermeldeamt (registration office), where you can also get the application forms for a residence permit.

Citizens of the United States of America, Albania, Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, Japan, Republic of Korea, Macau, Malaysia, Mauritius, Macedonia, Mexico, Monaco, Montenegro, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, San Marino, Serbia, the Seychelles, Singapore, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Taiwan, Uruguay, the Vatican and Venezuela may apply for a residence permit after entering Germany without a visa.

Citizens of other countries are required to apply and obtain a visa prior to entry (an option also open to US citizens) at a German embassy or consulate in their country of residence. People working in Germany and residing outside the country (frontier workers) should apply for a residence permit at the local authority of their place of employment.

When applying for a residence permit, you must produce some or all of the following documents:

  • a valid identity card or passport with visa
  • two biometric passport photographs
  • your birth certificate and your marriage certificate (if applicable)
  • proof of health insurance 
  • your residence registration  (Anmeldebestätigung)
  • proof of means of support (usually a letter from your employer) or - in case of students or non-employed - of adequate financial resources (Finanzierungsnachweis - around €700/month). The self-employed do not have to prove their financial situation.
  • your rental contract (if applicable)
  • a Certificate of Health for Residence Permit (Gesundheitszeugnis für Aufenthaltserlaubnis), which can be obtained from any German doctor or local health office (Gesundheitsamt). Certificates cost around €150 from a doctor or around €75 from the Gesundheitsamt.
  • a Certificate of good conduct (Führungszeugnis), which can be obtained from your home country's embassy or consulate.

In addition and depending on your status during your stay in Germany you will also have to prove its purpose by one of the following documents:

  • Employees: proof of employment or offer of employment (usually an employment contract or letter from your employer)
  • Students: proof of your registration at university
  • Self-employed: proof of your status, such as membership of a professional or trade body, a VAT number or registration on a trade register
  • Frontier workers (i.e. persons working in Germany who live in another EU Member State and return there at least once a week): proof of your employment status and proof that you are resident in that member state

Before going to the local immigration office, you should call to check out the latest details. Requirements change frequently, so you should try to get as much information as possible. An Ausländerbehörde is not exactly a fun-place to spend your time, so try to avoid multiple visits because you are missing a document! Also check opening times, as most immigration offices are closed in the afternoon.

Be prepared for a long wait, in most cases you can identify the Ausländerbehörde by the long queue in front of it. Try to arrive early to minimise the wait. Take a good book or something to keep yourself busy while you queue.

When your turn arrives, you will be called for an interview which usually takes around ten minutes if everything is in order. The official will go through your documentation to check it is complete. If anything is missing, you will be sent away and have to come back another day.

Your application for a residence permit will usually be processed within one or two weeks. In this time you will be covered by a certificate stating that you are awaiting a residence permit.

Your residence permit is only valid when displayed together with your national identity document. If your passport expires while you are in Germany, once you receive your new passport you will have go through the whole residence permit application process again! If your passport is due to expire in the near future, renew it in advance to avoid the hassle of applying twice for residence.

Non-EU citizens

Non-EU citizens are governed by the Ausländergesetz (Aliens Act) and are accorded different statuses depending on the reason for residence.

In order to enter and stay in Germany, third-country nationals always require a residence title (Aufenthaltstitel). The Residence Act Aufenthaltsgesetz) essentially distinguishes between three different residence titles: the unlimited settlement permit (Niederlassungserlaubnis) and the limited resident permit (Aufenthaltserlaubnis) with a special title through the Blue Card EU and the permanent stay permit for the European Community (Erlaubnis zum Daueraufenthalt - EG). Other important differences in terms of the legal positions of third-country citizens also depend on the purpose for which the limited resident permit is issued.

Aufenthaltserlaubnis – Limited residence permit

The Aufenthaltserlaubnis is a limited residence permit. For some groups of people, however, it becomes the basis for any long-term stay in Germany. In other words after a certain duration of residence in Germany and after certain conditions are met, holders have the right to apply for an unlimited settlement permit (Niederlassungserlaubnis). The Aufenthaltserlaubnis is generally only issued for specific reasons for coming to Germany. The rights that are granted with an Aufenthaltserlaubnis (e.g. entitlement to employment, subsequent immigration of dependents), depends in many cases on the purpose for which the Aufenthaltserlaubniswas issued (e.g. employment, training, recognition of refugee status, temporary protection etc). It does not automatically give you the right to work.  

Employment

A residence permit only ever allows you to take up gainful employment (employee or self-employment) if the residence permit expressly entitles you to do this. The following procedure generally applies for employees: The immigration authorities (Ausländerbehörde) check whether the general legal prerequisites for foreigners are fulfilled for issuing an Aufenthaltserlaubnis. If these are fulfilled, the immigration authorities request approval from the Bundesagentur für Arbeit (Federal Employment Agency) for taking up employment in a job. Approval is only then given if the job cannot be filled by a German, EU citizen or other employees given preferential treatment (e.g. third-country nationals who have been living in Germany for a longer period of time). This is known as the Priority Principle (Vorrangprinzip). After specific periods of time have lapsed, it is possible to be given the same access to the employment market as German and EU citizens.

Die Blaue Karte EU -The Blue Card EU

The Blue Card EU is a special title among the residence permits. It allows people from third-country states to stay for 4 years. In order to get the Blue Card EU you need a university degree or a similar qualification. Moreover people who are applying need to proof their employment in Germany in a job that fits their qualifications. The salary must exceed a minimum of €47,600 gross per year (2014 - figure is subject to change). For skilled workers in natural sciences and technology, Mathematics, IT and for medical professions the minimum level was €37,128 in 2014.

After 33 months of such an employment the person gets a permanent settlement permit if he can proof that he paid the compulsory contribution to the annuity insurance or anything similar. With proper knowledge of the German language (level B1) you can get the permanent settlement permit after 21 months. Highly qualified workers for whom exists a special economic or social interest in Germany can achieve a permanent settlement permit right from the beginning. If a person meets the requirements will be decided on an individual basis in this case.

A following spouse doesn’t need any knowledge of the language and is allowed to work right after permanent settlement permit has been granted.

Niederlassungserlaugnis – Permanent settlement permit

The Niederlassungserlaubnis secures permanent residence in Germany. It has no time or spatial restrictions and gives you the right to take up gainful employment without having to undergo further approval by the Federal Employment Agency. This unlimited settlement permit generally entitles you to take up any form of gainful employment (exceptions apply only to a few professions, in particular the medical profession, e.g. doctors, and for receiving civil service status).

The Niederlassungserlaubnis should be applied for as soon as all conditions are met. In the majority of cases this settlement permit will not be issued immediately. There are exceptions, however, for highly qualified people. People also receive a settlement permit directly on arrival in Germany who are accepted by the Federal Republic of Germany for special political reasons (e.g. Jews from the former Soviet Union). All other groups can only receive a settlement permit after a specific period of stay in Germany. Depending on the purpose for which the residence permit ( Aufenthaltserlaubnis) was issued, you may be entitled to a settlement permit ( Niederlassungserlaubnis) if other preconditions are fulfilled.

The following conditions must generally be met in order to receive a settlement permit:

  • Possession of a residence permit ( Aufenthaltserlaubnis) for at least five years
  • Five years of employment, including payment of social insurance contributions
  • Secure livelihood
  • Sufficient accommodation for you and your family
  • Sufficient knowledge of German
  • Basic knowledge of the German legal and social systems

For spouses it is sufficient if the partner is employed and pays social insurance contributions. For children there are wide-ranging exemptions. They are generally entitled to a settlement permit if, at the age of 16, they have possessed a residence permit for five years. There are also special regulations for issuing settlement permits for recognised refugees. They can usually already receive a settlement permit after three years.

Erlaubnis zum Daueraufenthalt - EG - Permanent Residence Permit for the European Community

This title has nearly the same conditions as the permanent settlement permit. It also allows people to work and secures permanent residency. In contrast to the latter it provides the possibility of mobility within the European Community and to get limited residence permits in other countries at the same time.
A person can never obtain both of the permanent residence permits at one time in Germany. There a special groups like refugees who are excluded from this title.

Residency for the Purpose of Studying

Foreign nationals can be issued with a residence permit for the purpose of studying or for applying for a university place. A study applicant may stay for a maximum of nine months. Those who obtain university admission can obtain a residence permit for two years, which is normally extended until the end of the study. During the period of study, students may work up to 90 days or 180 half-days. It is also possible to carry out part-time work made available to students at the universities.

On successfully completing the studies, the residence permit can be extended up to 18 months for the purpose of seeking employment. In order to receive a residence permit for taking up employment, however, the job must accord with the university qualification and it must be permissible for the job position to be filled by foreign workers. (This generally presupposes that the job cannot be carried out by Germans or other foreign nationals given precedence, in particular, EU citizens).

Residency for the Purpose of Vocational Education and Training

A residence permit can also be issued for the purpose of vocational education and training. This generally requires the approval of the Bundesagentur für Arbeit (Federal Employment Agency) unless determined otherwise by legal ordinance or inter-governmental agreements. After finishing the vocational education the permit can be extended up to one year to find a job according to the qualifications.

Here  you can find further information.

Further reading

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Other comments

  • Mike Woodiwiss - Spectrum International, 18 August 2009 Reply

    Residency permits

    I believe it is no longer necessary for EU citizens to have residency permits as described in your article?

    • katerina herzog 07 Mar 2012, 04:37

      residence ship...

      I am German and live in Cyprus ( EU ) and there you need to get a permanent residence ship....

    • kathrin herzog 14 Mar 2012, 04:57

      residence ship

      in Cyprus ( which is also in the EU ) you need it... again... first they said no...
      this year ...its a yes...

    • Timo Laine 01 Feb 2013, 11:30

      Solvit should solve these problems

      Kathrin,

      This is late, but perhaps it'll help either you or someone else... I believe the Cyprus authorities shouldn't require any residence permits on you.

      Anyway, the EU commission has a body named Solvit which will help eu-citizens when they have problems regarding eu-rights with local authorities. See the link:

      http://ec.europa.eu/solvit/site/index_de.htm