Nationalities that don’t need a visa for any purpose
EU citizens and those of Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland.
Nationalities that don’t need a visa for stays up to three months
Citizens of the United States of America, Albania, Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, Japan, Republic of Korea, Macao, Malaysia, Mauritius, Macedonia, Mexico, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Palau, Panama, Paraguay, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, San Marino, Serbia, Seychelles, Singapore, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Taiwan, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Vatican City and Venezuela, who may also apply for their residence permit after entering Germany without a visa.
You can enter Germany without a visa, as long as you don’t plan to do any paid or self-employed work. If you intend to stay longer or wish to work, you have to apply for a visa (you should be able to file the application from your embassy/consulate in Germany).
Nationalities that require a visa for any purpose
In this case you will need a visa even for short visits. This is true for most African and many Asian countries. A list of the countries can be found here.
More information on visas for Germany can be found on the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs website.
Visas are generally linked to a specific purpose of your stay in Germany (i.e. tourist visas, student visas, business visas, etc.). The type of visa depends on the reasons given for coming to the country and is the same as the different types of residency permits; the only difference that the visa is issued outside of Germany.
Once you have entered Germany, you may be issued a residency permit for the same reasons stated in your visa. The purpose of your stay cannot be changed within Germany, e.g. you cannot enter on a student visa and then get a work residence permit. If you wish to change your residency status, you will probably need to first leave the country to then apply for a different type of visa! Consider carefully the reason you give for your visa application as this can have expensive implications later.
Citizens of Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea and the United States of America can obtain a visa or a residence permit after entering Germany. Citizens of all other countries planning a longer stay have to apply for visas at their nearest German embassy before arriving in the country.
Documentation and waiting times
For a visa application, you will have to produce some or all of the following documents (contact your local embassy/consulate for exact requirements):
- passport with at least 3 months validity beyond the end of the visa period requested, with two blank pages available for the visa;
- application form(s); number dependent on nationality of applicant;
- 2 passport photographs;
- proof of adequate means of financial support during stay;
- proof of medical insurance;
- proof of purpose of visit and/or a hotel reservation and/or a return ticket;
- letter from employer or place of study. If self-employed a letter from a solicitor, accountant, bank manager or local Chamber of Commerce;
Please check the exact requirements on the website of your local German embassy. Here you can find a list of German embassies abroad.
Applications should be made far before the planned departure date, since processing times can vary. For short stay visas this will be between two and ten working days, but long stay visas or work visas can take up to several months. If you apply for a visa outside of your home country, your application will be referred to the German embassy there, and may take longer to be issued.
The Schengen Area
Germany is a signatory to the Schengen Agreement, which enables free circulation of residents within Schengen Area countries. A visa granted by one of these countries is valid in the whole Schengen Area. Travelling within the Schengen Area is legally the same as travelling within Germany. If you enter Germany with a tourist visa, you will be able to stay in Germany and/or any other country in the Schengen Area for up to 90 days during any 6-month period.
There are 26 Schengen member states, including 4 outside the EU. As of February 2015 they are: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.
- Although you can leave the Schengen Area and come back in as many times as you need during your 6-month visa validity, the total amount of time you can stay in the Schengen area cannot exceed 90 days.
- A short stay visa type C granted by one of the Schengen countries is valid in all other member countries.
Countries outside the Schengen Area include the United Kingdom, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania, and Bulgaria. However, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia and Cyprus are scheduled to implement the agreement over the next few years.
Trivia: Schengen is the place in Luxembourg where the original treaty was signed in 1985.