- Purchase the complete Expat Arrivals Germany Guide (PDF)
Over the last few years, it's become difficult for non-EU nationals without specialist skills to find employment or get work permits for Germany.
While the government has implemented policies to protect jobs for locals, citizens from certain EU-member states have the right to live and work in Germany without restriction. But those hoping to stay for longer than three months will need to get a residency permit. Those who have sought-after skills may qualify for a specialist professional residence permit.
It's important to note that, while most EU citizens can work in Germany without a permit, citizens of newer member states such as Bulgaria and Romania have to get one to work in certain sectors.
Expats from outside the EU will need to apply for one of three types of work permits for Germany.
General employment permit for Germany
Expats who apply for general employment (arbeit) need a firm offer of employment from a German company and a vocational qualification.
The general employment permit is fairly difficult to obtain, mainly because the German government prefers jobs to be given to German nationals wherever possible – so employers have to justify why a foreign national would be more suitable for the job.
Specialist professional residence permit for Germany
Several types of expats can apply for a specialist professional residence permit for Germany. Most applicants are graduates with specialist skills. University professors, managers with several years of experience, and those with very specific skills can also apply for this type of permit.
It helps if applicants can prove they have German language skills. They must also prove that they have sufficient funds to support themselves while in the country, have a firm offer of employment and can submit their degrees and qualifications.
Self-employed residence permit for Germany
The third type of work permit is for expats who are self employed or planning to set up a business. To get a self-employed residence permit, applicants need to demonstrate how their specific skills are required in the particular area of Germany they plan on settling down in.
Those who want to set up a business need to show that their business will make a positive contribution to the local economy – by employing local staff, for instance. Applicants must also prove they can fund the startup of their business as there are limited business funding opportunities for non-German nationals.
Expats planning to apply for this type of visa should draw up a detailed business plan illustrating its long-term goals and the steps they'll take to achieve them. It's likely to be in their favour if they have a similar business elsewhere.
Self-employed residence permits are usually granted for three years to give the business a chance to get off the ground. When it comes to renewal, the permit will be extended indefinitely if the applicant can prove it's been a success.
*Visa and work permit regulations are subject to change at short notice and expats should contact their respective embassy or consulate for the latest details.
►Learn about German business etiquette and work culture in Working in Germany.
"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.
Expat Health Insurance
Cigna Global can tailor an international health insurance plan to perfectly fit the needs of you and your family. With 86 million customers in over 200 countries, Cigna Global has unrivalled experience in dealing with varied and unique medical situations and delivering high standards of service wherever you live in the world.
Sirelo has a network of more than 500 international removal companies that can move your furniture and possessions to your new home. By filling in a form, you’ll get up to 5 quotes from recommended movers. This service is free of charge and will help you select an international moving company that suits your needs and budget.
Free Moving Quotes
ReloAdvisor is an independent online quote service for international moves. They work with hundreds of qualified international moving and relocation companies to match your individual requirements. Get up to 5 free quotes from moving companies that match your needs.