- Purchase the complete Expat Arrivals Germany Guide (PDF)
Expats will need to get their paperwork in order and make sure they have the right visa for Germany before relocating.
As a member of the European Union, Germany permits citizens of other EU states to enter with nothing but their passports and entitles them to live and work in Germany without a visa. But once there, they will still need to get a residency permit.
Non-EU citizens travelling to Germany for a short stay may need to apply for a Schengen visa, which usually takes about two weeks. Non-EU expats planning to live or work in the country will need to get the necessary work or residency permit.
Tourist visas for Germany
Germany is signatory to the Schengen Agreement, so nationals of other Schengen countries won't need to apply for a tourist visa before they arrive. Their passports are stamped upon arrival and they can stay for 90 days.
Aside from the Schengen Countries, citizens of the UK, US, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand can stay in Germany for 90 days or less without a visa.
Schengen visas for Germany
Most non-EU citizens have to apply for a tourist visa at a German embassy or consulate ahead of time. It's best to apply well in advance – it's possible to submit three months before the planned departure date.
Schengen visa holders can visit other Schengen states, but if they do plan on travelling to other countries, they should apply at the consulate of the country they arrive in or the one they plan to spend most of their time in.
It is important to note that Schengen visa holders don't have permission to work or conduct business in Germany and other member countries.
Business visas for Germany
Expats wanting to travel to do business in Germany need to apply for a business visa which requires a formal invitation from a German company. They'll also need to provide evidence of their visit, including the duration of their stay, and a guarantee for any costs involved.
Even someone visiting the German office of their current employer would need a business visa.
Work permits for Germany
Most expats who intend to settle and work for longer periods will need a German work permit (arbeitserlaubnis). The requirements will differ depending on where they're from.
While citizens of most EU states won't need a permit, those from newer member states such as Bulgaria and Romania may require one if they plan on working in certain sectors.
Anyone planning on living in Germany needs a residency permit, regardless of where they come from.
Residency permits for Germany
Applications for a residency permit (aufaenhalt) must either be done in person at a German embassy or consulate, or through the immigration authorities in Germany. Since EU nationals have the right to live and work in Germany, getting a residency permit is simply a formality.
There are three different types of residency permits for non-EU citizens who intend to work in Germany. The first is for general employment (arbeit), the second is for professionals with specialist skills and the third is for self-employed foreigners. In most cases, it's essential that non-EU expats have their residency permits approved before they arrive.
Expats will either be granted a limited or an unlimited residency permit once their application is approved, which will depend on their country of origin and reasons for being in Germany. Permits attached to a fixed-term contract are granted for the same length of time as the contract states.
*Visa regulations are subject to change at short notice and expats should contact their respective embassy or consulate for the latest details.
Expat Interviews"I did not have a problem with a visa. My company’s headquarters is in Germany and they took care of the paperwork as part of the transfer process of getting me from Chicago to Germany."
For more on Marisa's experiences as an American expat in Germany, read our interview with her.
Are you an expat living in Germany?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Germany. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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