The complete guide to German visas and permits

The complete guide to German visas and permits


Do you need a visa to go to Germany? Find out which permits you need for your move with our guide to German visa requirements and applications.

Certain nationalities need to apply for a German visa or residence permit to visit, live, work or study in Germany. Before visiting or moving to Germany, it’s important to check Germany’s visa requirements otherwise you could be denied entry.

In general, you don’t need a German visa (short term) or residence permit (long term) if you’re a citizen of the European Union (EU), European Economic Area (EEA; EU plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) or Switzerland. Citizens from outside Europe generally need to apply for a German visa or permit before coming to Germany.

This guide explains who needs a German visa to go to Germany and the conditions for immigration to Germany. It also explains Germany’s visa requirements and how to prepare your German visa application.

Do you need a visa to go to Germany?

German visa requirements for EU/EEA/Swiss nationals

The Federal Republic of Germany is one of 26 countries making up the ‘Schengen’ area, allowing free movement for citizens of the following countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland. They have one common visa and no border controls between them. If you’re a national from one of the countries in the EU or EEA, you also don’t need a visa or other permit to visit, live, work or study in Germany.

Swiss nationals also enjoy freedom of movement within the EU but have to apply for a purely declaratory residence permit for Swiss nationals from the Aliens Authority (Ausländerbehörde).

German visas

All other EU and EEA nationals can enter, stay or work in Germany with just a valid passport or ID card, although you do have to register with the residents’ registration office in the town in which you live within three months of entering the country. The contact details and location of your German city’s registration office can typically be found on the city’s official website. Make sure to bring a valid EU/EEA passport, as well as your rental contract or proof of residency.

If you don’t hold EU/EEA citizenship yourself, but wish to join a close family member in Germany who does, you will, depending on your nationality, have to apply for a German visa to enter the country and then you’ll receive a ‘residence card’ from the Alien’s Authority (Ausländerbehörde).

German visa requirements for non-EU/EEA/Swiss nationals

Germany’s visa requirements differ for those coming from outside the EU. Certain non-EU citizens will need a German entry visa (a Schengen visa), and almost everyone else will need a German residence permit to stay longer than 90 days.

Citizens from certain countries – including Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, the Republic of Korea, New Zealand and the US, plus several countries from Central and South America – don’t need a Schengen visa to enter Germany for stays of up to three months (90 days). However, if they wish to stay longer or work, they will need to apply for a German residence permit within those three months from inside Germany.

If your country doesn’t have an agreement with Germany, you will need to apply for a Schengen visa to enter Germany and stay up for three months (90 days), or for a permit called a ‘residence title’ if you want to stay for longer than three months and/or work there.

Find out if you need a German visa to enter Germany here.

Types of German visas

Short-stay German visa: less than three months

If you are visiting Germany for a period of three months (90 days) or less, you can apply for a short-stay Schengen visa. These can be granted for tourism, short work-related or study stays, or for other purposes such as to attend seminars or trade fairs.

You need to apply for a Schengen visa at the German embassy, consulate or mission in your country of residence. The Federal Foreign Office website has detailed information on all aspects of Schengen visa regulations. You can download a Schengen application form in German/English, Spanish, French, Russian, Arabic or Chinese, or pick up a copy from your country’s German embassy or consulate. You can also find an online version of the form (in English).

You should submit your completed German visa application in person to the embassy or consulate office in your country. If you plan to go during peak travel seasons, it’s best to begin the application process as early as possible, as wait times can accumulate in embassies. It takes between two and 10 business days to process a 90-day German visa.

If you enter Germany on this visa, you cannot change it to a German residence permit once you are in Germany, except in exceptional circumstances. You will typically have to leave Germany, apply for the residence permit from abroad and then re-enter the country.

If you are stopping briefly in a German airport (even for just a few hours) en route to another destination, you may need an airport transit visa if you are from one of the following countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Mali, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Turkey.

An airport transit visa only allows you into the international zone of a German airport for a maximum of 12 hours. There are some airports, however, for which an airport visa isn’t required to pass through the International Transit Area, such as Cologne/Bonn, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Hamburg and Munich.

If you are leaving the airport, even for less than a day, you may need to get the three-month German Schengen visa. This also applies to leaving the International Transit Area of the airport to check in again or pick up luggage. Schengen visas allow you to enter Germany (or any other country in the Schengen area listed above) for up to three months (90 days) within a six-month period.

Visas for Germany

Long-stay German visa: longer than three months

If you want to stay in Germany for longer than three months, for whatever reason (eg. to work, complete a vocational training course or be reunited with your family), you will need to apply for a German visa plus residence permit or ‘title’ before you arrive – unless you are a national from one of the countries that doesn’t require a visa to enter Germany, in which case you can apply from within Germany.

It can take up to several months to obtain a long-term German residence permit, so it’s important to start the process early.

Types of German residence permits

There are several German residence permits that allow non-EU citizens to move to Germany for longer than three months:

  • The most common permit is the temporary residence permit, also needed for general employment, which is usually valid for one year, except for certain cases, such as an unlimited employment contract, in which case it can be up to three years. It can be renewed so long as your situation – eg. employment, marriage – stays the same as when you were originally granted the German residence permit.
  • The EU Blue Card in Germany is a residence permit with enhanced conditions for highly qualified migrants and their spouses. This application is easier to obtain than for regular employment, as it is often expedited by the employer, but it includes a minimum salary requirement of  € 50,800 per year. This visa is usually valid for four years, and it also allows the spouse to live and work freely in Germany.
  • The German permanent residence permit is usually only granted after five years of residence (and if you fulfil other conditions) but it can be issued to highly skilled workers immediately and to other groups after two or three years of residence.

Most people have to apply for a residence permit via the German embassy or consulate in their country of residence. You can find the contact details of your closest German embassy or consulate here. Since 1 September 2017, the fee for all types of German visa is €75.

Your reason for wanting to come to Germany and your educational and professional qualifications will determine which German residence title you can apply for. You will need to meet some general requirements, including holding a valid passport and being able to prove you have enough money to support you during your stay.

Below are some other reasons or purposes under which you can be eligible for a German residence permit.

Working in Germany

If you’re a national from a country in the EU, EEA or Switzerland, you are free to work in Germany without restriction. Everyone else can only work in Germany if their residence permit allows it.

There is no separate work permit in Germany and the right to work – and to what extent you can work – will be detailed on your German residence permit that you apply for before you enter the country.

Family reunification permits in Germany

Unless you are an EU/EEA/Swiss citizen (or your relative in Germany is), if you want to come to Germany to be with a partner – a spouse or registered/civil partner – or other close family member, you will need your own German residence permit. You and your relative must also fulfil other criteria, for example, your relative must possess an official German residence permit, have somewhere for you to live, and show sufficient finances to support you. In some cases, you will also have to prove that you have basic German language skills, although exemptions apply. Additionally, any dependent children applying under the purpose of family reunification cannot be older than 16 years, otherwise they may be required to apply on the basis of another purpose, such as studying.

Family visas in Germany

The government also passed a rule that expedites the visa process for family members of German visa applicants. This is intended to prevent the separation of families, resulting from the previous extra administration and consequent delayed acceptance sometimes experienced for family members’ applications.

Permits to study in Germany

If you haven’t been accepted to study at a German university yet, you can get a three-month, non-working German student applicant visa to come to Germany and fulfil the admission requirements, as long as you have the required qualifications (such as a certified proof of secondary school completion or other degree).

After successful admission, you can then apply for a regular German student permit to study in Germany on a full-time university course, which also includes authorization to work 120 days per year. If you’ve been admitted to a university prior to coming to Germany, you’ll need to apply for Germany’s three-month student visa, which can be converted into a German student residence permit within three months.

You will need to prove that you have the necessary finances and health insurance coverage during your course and you may have to prove German language proficiency. Most universities have very comprehensive and helpful information about residence permits on their own websites. Read more on studying in Germany.

Permanent residence in Germany

Once you have been living in Germany for a number of years, you can apply for a permanent residence permit in Germany. The typical requirement is five years although there are exceptions, such as for spouses of German citizens or graduates from a German university with a temporary work visa.

A German permanent residence permit allows you to stay in the country indefinitely but you don’t have the same rights as German citizens – for example, you can’t vote. If you wish to have the same constitutional rights and legal status as any other German citizen, and you fulfil certain conditions, then you need to apply for citizenship in Germany.

Citizenship in Germany

Foreigners can apply to be naturalised after eight years in Germany, after which they will be granted German citizenship and have the same rights as German citizens, such as the right to vote. The time requirement can be reduced in certain situations, for example, it’s only seven years if you have taken a German integration course.

Asylum seekers and refugees

Nearly 200,000 people applied for asylum in Germany in 2017, accounting for just over 30 percent of all first time applicants in EU Member States. In early 2016, the German parliament tightened regulations for asylum seekers in Germany, including new requirements for jobs, education and permanent residency. The Asylum Procedure Act can be viewed here, or visit the BAMF website for information on asylum law.

Electronic residence

Since September 2011, the residence title, residence card, permanent residence card and paper ID cards have been superseded by an electronic ‘credit card’ residence title. Existing ‘paper’ titles will retain their validity until August 31, 2021.

German embassy contacts

Contact the German embassy or consulate in your home country, or the BAMF information service, to ask about the German visa or residence permit application for your individual situation.

Monday to Friday: 9 am to 3 pm
Friday: 9 am to 2pm
T: +49 911 943-0
E: [email protected]


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