Be prepared to spend a lot of time assembling your documentation and waiting in line. As some permits have to be applied for from your home country, you should start this process well in advance of your move to Germany.
German immigration laws are complex and confusing for many foreigners (and for most Germans as well!). At Just Landed we have tried to give an overview of the most important legal aspects and application procedures you need to consider. Due to the complexity of the subject, we cannot provide detailed information for every situation. We hope this guide will be helpful to get you started on working out what you need to do.
When coming to live in Germany, you will probably need to go through the process in the following order (each step requires documentation from previous one), although there are some exceptions:
EU citizens and some other nationalities do not need a visa for Germany. Visa applications take some time and the type of visa will affect your residency rights, so choose accordingly. To see if you have to apply for a visa, check this table. Residents from countries marked with a “no” can enter Germany without a visa, and stay up to 90 days. Whether you have to apply for your visa in Germany or before coming to Germany depends on your country of origin. Please check the exact requirements here. The general fee for visas is 60 euros, but there are some exceptions.
If you plan to stay and live in Germany, you will have to register at the local residence registration office (Einwohnermeldeamt).
Residence and settlement permits:
Everybody staying in Germany for more than 3 months must officially obtain a residence permit (excluding EU and EEA (European Economic Area) citizens, Swiss nationals, citizens of Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea and the United States of America ).
Ever since the Immigration Act was introduced in 2005, the government of Germany has made a distinction between (permanent) settlement permits and (temporary) residence permits. You can obtain a residence permit for one of the following purposes: education or training, gainful employment, international-law, humanitarian, political or family reasons. After 5 years this temporary permit can be changed into a permanent one if you meet all the additional requirements: secure income, no criminal record, adequate command of the German language. You can find more detailed information here.
Since 2005 the (temporary) residence permit can also permit you to work in Germany. The old system of separate work and residence permits does no longer exist. When you are applying for this permit outside of Germany you will have to go to a local German mission and inside Germany to the missions or foreigners authorities.
Germany is a bureaucratic country and bureaucrats love documents. Be prepared to fill in many forms, take them to different offices, have them stamped numerous times and spend a lot of time waiting in line. Before leaving home, you may find it essential or useful to get:
- a passport valid for the entire period to be spent in Germany
- if you are going to study, a notification of university admission or confirmation of application;
- proof of financial resources;
- visa (not a tourist visa), if applicable;
- originals and certified (!) translations of your birth certificate, secondary school leaving certificate, possibly academic qualifications and your insurance documents. Certifications can be made at German diplomatic and consular missions;
- confirmation of health insurance cover or, for students from the European Union, a European health insurance card;
- book of vaccination certificates, if you have one. Check at the German diplomatic presence in your home country whether you need any vaccinations;
- an international driving license if you need one (EU citizens do not);
Also note that regulations are subject to frequent change. Information can be obtained from German embassies, consulates, immigration offices and the German ministry for foreign affairs. These institutions are often overloaded with immigration requests. This may partly explain why German officials are not known for their friendliness and why some foreigners feel intimidated by the authorities. If your legal situation is complex, consider hiring a lawyer or immigration expert to represent your interests or to advise you.