As an expat, if you want to live and work in Germany, you will need to apply for a residence permit. This is also known as an Aufenthaltstitel in German. There are different types of permits available depending on your reason for relocating to Germany and your nationality. This can be very overwhelming and perhaps a little confusing at first – especially if you want to ensure a quicker path to a settlement permit – but we will walk you through the basics.
Remember, Germany has many rules and processes, so starting as soon as possible is very crucial for your planning to ensure you are prepared for any hiccups that may occur along the way and so that you can feel confident that you have selected the best path for your needs. So, let’s get started!
This article will provide information on the different types of permits, whether you require one, and how to apply.
Do I require a German residence permit?
Whether you need a German residence permit will depend on your nationality and the amount of time you are planning on spending in Germany.
EU and EEA citizens: Citizens of EU/EEA countries have open access to the German labour market. Expats from these countries can freely live and work in Germany without a visa or residence permit. However, if you stay in Germany for more than 3 months, you will need to register at your local citizens’ office (Bürgeramt).
Swiss Citizens: Nationals of Switzerland also have freedom of movement within the EU! Super cool, right? But if you want to live and work in Germany, you will still need to apply for a special declaratory residence permit for Swiss nationals at your local Foreigners’ Office (Ausländerbehörde).
Non-EU / EEA citizens: Citizens from outside the EU and EEA may need to apply for a German residence permit. Let’s see what you will need to consider in order to know if you will need to apply for a German residence permit!
- Short stays (business and leisure): A German residence permit is not required. You do not need a residence permit for business or leisure stays in Germany of less than 90 days. Although, depending on your nationality, you may require a Schengen visa.
- Short stays (taking up employment): A German residence permit is required. If you plan on working in Germany, even if you are staying for less than 90 days, you will first need to apply for a national visa and then convert it into a residence permit.
- Longer stays: A German residence permit is necessary. If you will be staying in Germany for more than 90 days, you will need to apply for a residence permit. Residents of Australia, Israel, Japan, Canada, the Republic of Korea, New Zealand, and the United States of America may enter Germany without a visa and then apply for a residence permit from inside Germany. Citizens of other countries will need to apply for a national visa (this visa functions as a provisional residence permit) at the German mission in your country of residence before you travel to Germany. Once you have arrived in Germany, you can convert your visa into a residence permit at the Foreigners’ Office.
Types of German Residence Permits
For those wanting to live and work in Germany, there are 2 main types of residence permits.
- Temporary residence permit (Aufenthalterlaubnis): The temporary residence permit is the most common type of permit issued to expats in Germany. It is generally valid for 1 year. After the first year, you will need to apply again. We recommend starting this process after 6 months and not waiting until a month before your permit expires. At this point, you might get a longer extension based on how well you can prove you are successfully integrating into Germany and learning the language, and given the circumstance of your visa has not changed. You can find this information linked to the purpose of your stay and the information you provided in your visa application (if you submitted one).
- Permanent settlement permit (Niederlassungserlaubnis): After residing in Germany for a certain amount of time, all expats possessing a residence permit are entitled to apply for a permanent settlement permit. This is usually 5 years, but can be less for highly-qualified workers or graduates of German universities. The settlement permit grants you the right to remain in Germany without time restrictions, making it an attractive option if you would like to stay indefinitely.
German residence permit application procedure
The application procedure for a German residence permit can seem daunting, especially if you don’t know what to expect. There are several steps that you must take before you can apply for a residence permit, including: registering and obtaining health insurance, being able to prove a certain language level in German, and being able to prove you can financially make it in Germany.
Unfortunately, depending on the city you are applying to, you are looking at months of wait time to get an appointment to submit your application, and often months after that to hear back about your application. So, the sooner you get started, the better. Another pro-tip after learning the hard way – create a notebook to keep ALL of your documents and copies of your application. This is so important, as it will help you be able to track your permits, applications, and important information like your pin number that you will receive with your residency title as well.
To apply for a residence permit, you will need to make an appointment at the Foreigners’ Office. This can be very intimidating, especially if you are unfamiliar with the processes and the German language at a mastery level. It helps to have someone by your side to help make sure your application is properly filled out, talk to the Bürgeramt office to ask questions, and set up appointments. We are not lawyers, but we can help guide you through the process and ensure you have completed everything correctly.