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 helpful in get you started 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:
- Visas: 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. 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.
- Residence registration: If you plan to stay and live in Germany, you will have to register at the local residence registration office (Einwohnermeldeamt).
- Residence permits: Everybody staying in Germany for more than 3 months must officially obtain a residence permit (excluding EU citizens and citizens of Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland). After completing your residence registration, you need to apply for your residence permit at the local immigration office (Ausländeramt).
- Work permit: Once you have your residence permit, you can apply for a work permit at your local labor office (Arbeitsamt). EU citizens and citizens of Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland do not need a work permit to work.
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 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.